Saturday, March 28, 2009

Revolutionary Road


Revolutionary Road follows the rhythms of a married couple who recognizes the hopeless emptiness of their middle class suburban lives, almost chooses a different path, but threats from within and without make the status quo seem both attractive and inevitable. The veneer of the art direction is beautiful and works well with the lush color and light of the cinematography, Kate's performance is layered and outstanding while Leo's feels mostly Big; in typical Hollywood style, the (beautiful) score is too close, the camera sweeps in for closeups too often and the ending drags on to very specific conclusions for about 10 minutes longer than is needed.

+++1/2

Thursday, March 26, 2009

THE CONFESSION


This very thin short short has fine production values but a premise that makes it only worth the shortest youtube treatment, certainly not the full fledged production treatment that it's credits indicate it received. Everything about its execution is competent and engaging; the premise just feels tired.

+

Herb & Dorothy



This documentary tells the story of how Herb, a NYC postal worker and Dorothy, a public librarian, were able to, on their meagre salaries, amass a significant collection of art; ultimately the story is more of a celebration of sacrifice, passion and commitment. The narratives by so many important artists, collectors, exhibitors and agents is perfectly counterbalanced by the utter unpretentious ordinariness of Herb & Dorothy themselves.

++++1/2

(website to find out when it will screen near you, or on PBS. See it!)

Sparrow



Con-men brothers meet their match in a mysterious woman who is followed by a cadre of destructive body guards; mixing visual tropes from the French New Wave with contemporary conventions of the heist film, the movie twists and turns toward a conventional and satisfying conclusion. The music and cinematography are delightful, and in many ways the film is just off-beat enough to win the weary-of-cliche' viewer -- but the character-weakness in one particular character (I don't want to spoil, here) annoyed me to the point of being bumped out of about 15 minutes of the film...

+++1/2

Monday, March 23, 2009

PIG


A fairy tale return of a girl to her childhood neighborhood slowly turns as dark and foreboding as the original Grimm's. The pacing, artistic direction and performances from this film are standouts, it manages to coax a kind of emotional response from the audience that shorts can rarely build, and after building such high stakes, also manages to finish with an ending that both satisfies and feels honest.

+++++

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Good Bye Solo



Within the first minute the film, William has asked Solo to take him somewhere so that he can commit suicide; it's a rich premise, but it unfolds into a far more insightful, beautiful, carefully-earned story about our ability to change ourselves, and our ability to change those around us. In Barhani's third film, he brings his commitments to realistic mise-en-scene, characters and acting to a story that allows two adults to navigate a complex, deepening relationship at a moment when some of their best and worst moments converge; the holy moments in this film manage to be both mythic and mundane and (as always) drenched in ordinary beauty.
+++++

Chop Shop



Ale and Izzi dream and laugh together in the happiest moments, but Bahrani's close examination of their life in Willets Point in the yards of the chopshops never makes their work and hope out to be a drudgery or misery; he invites us to reconsider the meaning of good work, good dreams and what-should-be-enough by looking at lives poised more precariously on the boundary of safety and security. The naturalism of the mise en scene and the acting style are masterfully balanced by sophisticated cinematography and a rigorously cohesive aesthetic sensibility; the spiritual power of this film seems to eminate equally from the subtle narrative intensity and the visual insistence of beauty's stubborn persistence.

+++++

Milk


This Gus Van Sant biopic of the life and achievements of Harvey Milk manages to retain the beautifully gritty realism that defines the mise en scene of most of Van Sant's oevre, but trades in the arty meditative tone from some of his best pictures for the accessible and winning pacing he used in Good Will Hunting. Besides the remarkable music, camerawork, directing and (most of all) performance by lead Sean Penn, I think the most laudable feature of this flick is the way it connects middle mainstream America with a time and a place and a cause that still feels faraway from most of our stripmall inflected, zoning-law-lovin', suburban conformist lives.

++++

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Wrestler



The Wrestler tells an epic story, but about a decidedly un-epic world, a world that feels like it could only be the underbelly of a better world, or maybe an unflinchingly honest look behind the facades that we all arrange to make sense of our worlds. The truth of every performance (in a story about how performances can swallow performers) moves incrementally, inevitably toward a tarnished glory that feels utterly earned and hopelessly true.

++++

Sukiyaki Western Django


This mythic tale of greed, war, love, betrayal and revenge includes shoot-outs and duels shot in visuals superceding the imagination of even visual hyperbolist Zack Snyder (the answer to the question of how a culture steeped in internationally produced Westerns might respond -- in hyperrealistic terms); a breakneck ride through an unforgetable world.This stylized Western spares no moments in numbing any expectation of realism regarding sets, acting styles or violence, and the sooner you are relieved of these mainstream Western conventions, the more you'll enjoy the indulgent spectacle that this film provides.

+++1/2

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie


Bunuel's classic resonates more the longer I tread water in suburban middle age; the understated humor and the poses of the characters and the sets delight throughout. The film, which follows a set of upper class friends through a series of soirees, often thwarted or almost thwarted by the social unrest and ferment that their lives of luxury and oblivion casually ignore and suppress, has been labelled surrealist, but it's tone, timbre and critique are so poignant that it looks more like "reality" than absurdity -- oh wait -- are those two the same thing?

+++++