Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Film Week

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

DRIVE (2011)
My favorite film so far this year; the music, the atmosphere, most of the performances which are so good that I can overlook the fact that I like Carey Mulligan less and less every time I see her... This is firmly rooted in early 80s crime films... it's like Michael Mann and Brian DePalma had a baby and then sent it back in time so that it could make an excellent, rough crime thriller in 1982. It's one of those great movies like Thief that is, in its way, actually a Western. It's perfect. I love this movie. **** stars.

TOMBOY (2011)
Beautiful, surprising French movie about a girl who moves into a new neighborhood and pretends to be a boy. It's an interesting observation about gender... I don't want to say confusion so much as dissonance. The young actors are very sympathetic, and I was particularly touched by the relationship between the girl and her younger sister. **** stars.

TRUST (2010)
I never thought I'd say this, but I really have to give David Schwimmer a lot of credit as a director here. This movie is a cautionary tale about the sexualizing of teen girls and how the internet can be used to prey on them, but it actually manages to stay away from the preachy, Lifetime Original Movie tone that that description makes you think about. Here we have a 14 year-old girl who befriends a boy online, only to discover he's in his thirties. Being who I am, I was especially interested in the reaction of her father (Clive Owen), who is working on an advertising campaign that showcases sexy teenagers in various states of undress, and who comes to feel that he's made the world a place that makes it easier for teenagers to be taken advantage of by predators. At times chilling, this is a surprisingly good movie. A lot of that is due to the central performance of Liana Liberato as the teenage girl; she's a realistic character who isn't obtuse merely to keep the plot going. **** stars.

This one took me by surprise. I was expecting one of those oh-so-precious hipster love stories, but what I got was a surprisingly honest (and depressing) story about how love can be chipped away at, compromised, and eaten by such things as distance and hardship. I'm just amazed that someone is willing to tell kids that, you know, it doesn't always work out. It's refreshing. It's honest. It's sad, too, but a well-made movie. **** stars.

Another silly teen fantasy about glamour, romance, and escape. I've seen this dozens of times, and this one didn't really turn the engine over for me, possibly because I'm just kind of tired of Selena Gomez these days. I liked Leighton Meester in it, though. I want to see her do better movies. ** stars. Harmless, but dull.

Roger Ebert describes the layers of this film better than I ever could. I suggest you seek out his review of it. He gets at what makes this film so fascinating: that it's not really "just" a documentary about pet cemeteries, but something more, something kind of mysterious but at the same time really bare. Without hammering points home, Errol Morris simply lets his subjects talk, and in doing so reveals that how we view our pets, the animals we invest our love in, says a lot about how we relate to the central mysteries of existence. But without being precious about it. This is an amazing work. **** stars.

Nihilistic and depressing, beautifully shot, naturalistically acted (very well by Kirsten Dunst in particular) film about the end of the world. I think ultimately the point of Lars von Trier's film is that people who are depressed to the point of melancholy act better in a crisis because they expect bad things to happen. Excellent and highly compelling. **** stars.

I finally sat and watched this flick; I've been trying to for about 20 years now, but for some reason I never do. It's very much of its time, but elevated by Ray Harryhausen effects and some careful plotting. *** stars.

Beautiful movie about Jean-Dominique Bauby, based on his memoir, as he convalesces after a horrific stroke, leaving him paralyzed and only able to communicate with one eyelid. Mathieu Amalric is excellent as Bauby, but I especially loved Emmanuelle Seigner as his supportive ex-wife; there's a lot to her story, trying to help the husband who cheated on her. Excellent film. **** stars.

The second of Francois Truffaut's Antoine Doinel features, with Antoine drummed out of the military and trying hard to find a decent job and learn about women. I like the way Truffaut approaches the film wryly and with bouncy humor. ***1/2 stars.

Cute but predictable, or predictable but cute, one of those. Ali Larter is always so cute. Inconsequentially pleasant. Or pleasantly inconsequential. **1/2 stars.

Very powerful, moving story about Ernie Pyle observing and writing about a company of soldiers as they move through North Africa and into Italy. The film does take a viewpoint of awe in the military, but it tempers it with reminders that the people who put themselves through this hell of combat are human beings with their own dreams and fears. Coming right at the tail end of World War II, it feels less like propaganda and more like a thank you. Either way, it moved me. **** stars.


Some Guy said...

I'm glad to read you watched and liked "Gates Of Heaven". It's one of my all-time favorites.

Tallulah Morehead said...

True story: in 1955, when Earth vs the Flying Saucers originally opened, I saw it. I was 5 years old, and couldn't read yet. It opens with that faux-documentary opening sequence and --- I THOUGHT IT WAS THE NEWSREEL!!!!! I was petrified with terror! I thought it was actually happening! It did not help that the rocket base sequences were shot at an Edison power plant that was so close to my home that I could see it from my front yard, so the movie seemed to be taking place IN MY OWN NEIGHBORHOOD!!!!!

Only when it went on way too long for a newsreel did I snap to the fact that it was only a movie, and relaxed.

In his book Danse Macabre, Stephen King tells of seeing Earth vs the Flying Saucers in a kiddie matinee a couple years later, only to have the movie paused midway through, when the theater manager then announced to the kids that the Russians had just launched the first ever man-made satillite, Sputnik. Suddenly Menace From The Skies was scary, not fun.

Consequently, I retain a fondness for this silly movie, hampered as it is by the dullard acting of boring Hugh Marlow in the lead.

Oh, and ponder this: the final scene, of the hero and heroine sunning on the beach, ends with them running off into the ocean towards the setting sun, lovely and all, shot in Malibu.

BUT, it's supposed to be The Atlantic Ocean. Well, from America, the sun rises from, not sets into, the ocean, so apparently the characters had gotten up pre-dawn, to moonbathe before the sun rose, and then ran off into the ocean at sunrise. Who does that? Brr.

The overhead shots of the saucer parked beside the Patomic River were actually shot in Pacific Pallisades, with the Pacific Ocean playing the Patomic River. I've lived by the Pacific Ocean all my life, and I've sailed down the Patomic, and the Patomic is a LOT narrower than the Pacific Ocean. From one side of the Patomic, you can see the other side. There's no "surf" rolling in.

Anyway, they had no filming permit. That view of the beach was the view from Ray Harryhausen's back yard on the bluffs above the beach in Pacific Pallisades. They sent the actors down to the beach to shoot the scenes, while the cameras and the crew remained in Ray's backyard. Guerilla movie-making at its most convenient!

Jason said...

Hey, Frog, I've wanted to see THE STORY OF G.I. JOE for some time now (Ernie Pyle is s a hero of mine) but the DVD is out of print and rarely shows up on Amazon for a price I'm willing to pay. Just wondering where you managed to find it...

SamuraiFrog said...

Some Guy: I'm glad I finally saw it. It was literally the last day it was going to be on Netflix for streaming.

Tallulah: Excellent story. I noticed so much of it had to be California. Even black and white, I could tell the scenes on the beach were California; it was so obvious that I completely forgot where the movie was supposed to take place.

I can't stop saying "megacycles" with Hugh Marlow's lisp.

Jason: I watched it on Turner Classic Movies a few days ago. I just sort of managed to randomly catch it. I had no idea it was out of print.