Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

THE STREET FIGHTER (1974)
Sonny Chiba is like a crazed animal in this violent, classic kung fu flick; watching it just kind of wiped me out. It's a good movie, yes, but Chiba is so violently unpredictable that it gives this movie a sort of nervous energy that is at times hard to take. It's surprising that, as the hero of a fighting-the-man sort of movie, Chiba's character is such a dick. *** stars.

PUSH (2009)
Fun enough action picture about people with mutant powers fighting over some kind of MacGuffin or other. Like the X-Men movies, but without the precious fan-baiting and pretentious faux-grandiosity that make the X-Men movies so dull. This just jumps into being a silly action movie, explains its premise quickly, and it's enjoyable enough for what it is. I'm surprised how much I'm starting to enjoy Chris Evans in movies--I'm actually looking forward to seeing him play Captain America now, where before I was indifferent before--and I always dig Djimon Hounsou. And I like my Dakota Fanning, but she is so in over her head here as a precocious 13 year-old; compare what Chloe Moretz did in Kick-Ass to Dakota's silly posturing; she has no idea what to do here. Still, fun movie; I would see a sequel (which it clearly hopes to set up), but if it never comes, not the end of the world. *** stars.

EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES (2010)
As dramas about dying children go, this is more full of shit than My Sister's Keeper was. It's not offensive, it's just really boring and hard to pay attention to. * star.

TRUE GRIT (2010)
I have to admit, I had some trepidations about seeing this one. I was excited to see the Coen Brothers were making it--they're about the only filmmakers left that I trust to pull off a genuine Western anymore--and I wanted to see Jeff Bridges play Rooster Cogburn. But I wondered how hard it would be for me to separate it from the 1969 film starring John Wayne, which was probably Wayne's last great movie and probably my Dad's favorite movie (it's either True Grit or Jason and the Argonauts). Turns out I had no such problem--the Coens have mirrored the plot (taken from a book I've never actually read) but have approached it with a different tone. I'm still not sure what it is in the tone--a fatalism, maybe, or a certain sense of humanity--but whatever it is makes for a very powerful film. But more than the Coens' script or Roger Deakins' cinematography (how, how has this man not won an Oscar? he should've won in 1994 for The Shawshank Redemption), it's Hailee Steinfeld's performance as Mattie Ross that really makes this movie what it is. This is her story--the story of a girl determined to track down and bring to justice the man who killed her father--and though Mattie is confident and has one hell of a head for business (one of the best scenes in this movie is her negotiation with a horse trader, where she brooks no nonsense and keeps talking until she gets what she wants), Steinfeld never forgets that Mattie is a 14 year-old girl who often has to bluff her way through the world but nevertheless takes charge of her destiny and, if she has to, will take justice into her own hands. All of the performances are terrific in this movie--Jeff Bridges plays Rooster Cogburn without descending into a parody of a drunken, fading gunfighter; Josh Brolin plays Tom Chaney, the murderer of Mattie's father, as something of an animal trying to avoid a cage; and Barry Pepper... I haven't seen him in anything in years, but he's excellent here as Lucky Ned Pepper, an old enemy of Rooster's. I also want to point out Matt Damon's performance as LeBoef, a Texas Ranger on Chaney's trail who throws in with Rooster. He's very good; I think Damon is an underrated actor who will be sadly overlooked for this picture because of the sheer power of Bridges and Steinfeld and the film itself. But he plays LeBoef with an easily wounded pride and an attempt to be upright that I found very compelling. One of the best pictures of the year, certainly; it would've been in my Top 3 of the year if I'd seen it a week earlier. **** stars.

NO END IN SIGHT (2007)
Very frank documentary about the mistakes that were made in planning the invasion of Iraq and how they led directly to US forces losing the support of the Iraqi people and certain politicians indirectly creating the insurgency. There are a number of people interviewed here who were involved in trying to create a clean handover of power to an Iraqi government, and who were cut off, ignored, and shoved aside and who are very angry about it. They know--and say--exactly who was responsible here and delineate the exact decisions that were made. What emerges is a portrait of not just irresponsible politicizing, but an ineptitude at the highest levels of government. We see the insurgency growing and targeting US forces, and Donald Rumsfeld addressing the Press Corps on the same day and telling them straight out that this insurgency doesn't exist. And I never got the sense that he was hiding something, I just got the sense that he didn't care. And as we're told that President Bush couldn't even be bothered to read a one-page summary of a report on the Iraqi handover... how can there be any doubt that no one in the White House really cared what happened to the people in Iraq? One of the best documentaries about the war. **** stars.

STEAL A PENCIL FOR ME (2007)
Interesting documentary about a Dutch couple who met and fell in love just as the Nazis were invading, and who spent the war at Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, writing love letters to each other and hoping not to get caught. The movie doesn't flinch from the horrible details of the Holocaust, and doesn't try too hard to make the viewer feel uplifted. It's the simple story of a love that survived the greatest evil. ***1/2 stars.

GIRL 27 (2007)
Shocking documentary about a long-buried rape case that happened at a 1937 convention for MGM salesmen. Film historian David Stenn tracks down former MGM contract player Patricia Douglas, who tried to bring a lawsuit against MGM and the man who attacked her, and who was vilified for it in the press and destroyed by a town that depended on the movie industry to survive. ***1/2 stars.

3 comments:

Booksteve said...

I saw STREET FIGHTER in theaters new ("The first film rated X for its violence!") and was disappointed that it was TOO violent! It's not the violence, mind you (Heck, I watch Troma films!), it's just that even the most schlocky martial arts flick seemed to work for me in its own terms but this was just comically mean-spirited and I left with a bad feeling about it all. I did like Sonny's presence though and have since enjoyed him in both older and newer pictures.

Roger Owen Green said...

I saw No End In Sight in the theater at the time. It merely confirmed - but in a profoundly powerful way - what I'd been hearing and feeling all along.

Laura said...

I saw "True Grit" a couple of weeks back. You did an amazing review of it! I Loved it!!! You're so right about Matt Damon.
I hated him (couldn't get over The Talented Mr. Ripley)-until The Bourne Identity. Ever since that film I've loved him and most of his choices in roles.

((Hugs))
Laura