Dark Horse

July 29, 2012 at 8:57 am | Posted in 2012 | 1 Comment

◊ ◊ ½

I have always been a great fan of director/writer, Todd Solondz (“Welcome to the Dollhouse,” “Happiness,” “Palindromes,” etc.).  He is so unrelentingly dark and cynical about human nature (sort of the anti-John Cameron Mitchell) that it is hard to turn away from the train wrecks he puts on screen.  “Palindromes” remains a favorite film of mine.  While I enjoyed this one, I would not say I loved it.  Why?   Maybe, in the end, because it wasn’t as dark as his others; in fact, it was at times almost sentimental.  Well, not quite, but almost.  The dark horse of the title is Abe, a thoroughly self-involved and unlikeable man-child in his mid-30s still living with his parents and doing nothing as second-in-command at his father’s company.  His lazy self-entitlement and arrogance cover a repressed self-loathing that expresses itself in the form of imaginary conversations in which the people in his life criticize him and point out the obvious: he’s worthless.  Meanwhile, he pursues Miranda, a woman whose self-hatred is not at all repressed and who is too miserable to resist his charmlessness.  She’s played with a sort of vigorous weariness by Selma Blair, who reprises the role from Solondz’s “Storytelling” (He frequently has characters from previous films show up in later ones).  The trip inside Abe is, I think, a pretty honest look into an entitled mind, with some of the thinking errors and self-hatred that fester there.  I found that to be a worthwhile film maker’s endeavor, even if I felt that it didn’t go far enough, explore deep enough and, ultimately, ended too easily.

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The Dark Knight Rises

July 21, 2012 at 8:50 am | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment

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Christopher Nolan had an almost impossible task in trying to live up to his last film, “The Dark Knight” (which was also the 25th film I saw in 2008 and was number 16 on my list).  He makes an admirable attempt but, ultimately, this feels like the weakest of the series.  It lacks the mood and aesthetic of the first two films; Gotham now feels like New York and not the gorgeous, dark monstrosity it was in “Batman Begins.”  Bane is a suitable enough villain and makes sense when you see this film as the last in a trilogy; this and the first movie are tied together in a way that gives a sense of completeness.  The plot takes Bruce Wayne on an emotional journey (literally resulting in the Dark Knight rising) that fills out his character and presents an evolution to him that fits with a final movie.  The trilogy definitely has a story arc and ends well, with a sense of completeness lacking in every other superhero series I’ve seen thus far.  And kudos to Anne Hathaway for pulling off Catwoman beautifully when I was sure she could not do it.

Intouchables

July 16, 2012 at 8:49 am | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment

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No, not the 80s Kevin Costner flick (that’s “Untouchables”).  This feel good French film (yes, you read that correctly.  Not a single rape scene) is “based on the true story” of a wealthy paraplegic and the street thug who took care of him.  The film evolves absolutely exactly, note for note, like you think it will.  The young thug helps the guy open up, live again and love life; along the way, the thug finds his heart and a beautiful friendship develops.  As such, it is hard to call it a great film but I’d be lying if I say I didn’t enjoy it.  It was charming and much funnier than I thought it would be.  Not a single bad thing happens in its 102 minutes and I didn’t mind at all.  Pure feel good fluff, but if that is what you’re in the mood for, you won’t get much better than this.

Beasts Of The Southern Wild

July 13, 2012 at 8:48 am | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment

 ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ½

A winner at both Sundance and Cannes, it is easy to see why this film has been so praised.  It is a wild, allegorical, powerhouse of a movie that wades gently into the waters of magical realism without drowning in them.  Taking place sometime around the present, the story inhabits the almost mythical world of a tiny bayou community called “Bathtub” made up of America’s oddballs and outcasts living in stilt houses that look like they might belong on a Terry Gilliam set.  It did not surprise me to discover the film is based on Lucy Alibar’s play, “Juicy and Delicious,” as its central themes are common ones to American playwrights:  survival in the face of the failure of The American Dream and the way in which we find and create our own forms of family.  The film is anchored by the startling performance of Quvenzané Wallis, just five years old at the time, who burns up the screen with her intensity, unflinching focus and sheer force of personality.  This young girl is the movie.  She is in virtually every single seen and the camera lingers on her face; it’s an unforgettable performance and makes the film.  The less you know about the plot, the better.  Suffice it to say it involves a bomb, a storm (possibly Katrina), a dying father, some giant aurochs and lots of seafood.  I could not recommend this movie more.

My Joy

July 10, 2012 at 8:46 am | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment

◊ ½

This year’s winner for Most Ironic Title award.  This Ukrainian film apparently caused a bit of a stir in Russia for its less than glowing look at Russian life.  The film follows a truck driver as he attempts to deliver a load of flour in rural Russia.  Along the way, he encounters corrupt cops, a prostitute, some thieves and a variety of others lacking any moral code.  After a severe beating, he is left in a small village, where he appears to be brain damaged and wanders for some unknown period of months relying on the random kindness of peasants, all of whom pay for it in some form of suffering.  Through these little vignettes and a few random side stories (told in flashback or otherwise tangentially related to the main story), we basically learn that all life in Russia is suffering and brutality.  Apparently, Russia (or at least rural Russia) is a place where self-hating and desperate people use whatever miniscule power they have to take out their rage on those slightly less powerful than they.  For all of this horror, it has the languid pace of a typical Eastern European film.  In fact, much of the film could be watched at 4x normal speed and the dialogue is so sparse, it could still be easily read (believe me, I tried it).  This said, it has a sort of stark beauty that also reminds me of other Eastern European works and, at times, of the German film, “The White Ribbon” (another laugh riot).  However, it was neither nearly so beautiful nor as haunting as that film.  It was, in the end, just brutal.

The Amazing Spider-Man

July 4, 2012 at 8:37 am | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment

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For a reboot that seemed to come too soon, I think this film does a better than expected job of differentiating itself from its recent kin.  Andrew Garfield makes for a more entertaining Peter Parker than he-of-the-excessively-goofy-facial-expressions (Sorry, Toby).  Not only is he capable of a greater range of subtle emotions but he has an affability and snarkiness that fit the character.  The greatest improvement in this film is the way it reclaims Spider-Man’s sense of humor from the comics.  He manages the snide comebacks that always seemed to me improbable in the comics (how do you make smart remarks while dodging punches?) and makes them seem natural.  Thematically, the film is interesting: it is visually darker and the NYC has more of a Gotham feel to it, yet it is tonally lighter, more endearing, and the characters are more human.  The overall story is no better/worse, believable or not than the other Spider-Man films and the special effects, though undoubtedly more polished, wowed me less than they did in 2003, when I was really taken by how fluid they were able to make his movements (well, at that point, I only had the old TV show to compare it to.).  I will say that the action scenes were much easier to watch (at least as compared to the last film): much cleaner and less frenetic; I could tell at all times what was happening on screen.  And what was happening on screen was Andrew Garfield’s ass in that suit.  My, my.  He just bumped Matt Damon as my #1 Hollywood crush.

Safety Not Guaranteed

July 1, 2012 at 8:36 am | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment

I really have little to say about this film.  It wanted to be “Juno” and wasn’t.  It reached to the point of straining for the same ironic, world-weary humor mixed with moments of earnestness but could only generate real laughs a couple of times in its 84 minutes.  I can’t see who I could recommend this film to; it was only mildly okay at everything: sincerity, insincerity, whimsy and absurdism.  Not terrible, just… well… not good.

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