Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Film Week

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

On the surface it sounds silly: a street fighter and a whale trainer meet and fall in love. But somehow there's a sincerity to it, a depth of... not emotion, necessarily, but connection, that makes it all work. It's like director Jacques Audiard takes an American genre piece and looks at it from a fresh perspective. What could be a slick tragedy piece becomes about the emotions that people become involved with. Matthias Schoenaerts is a street fighter having a hard time taking care of his five year-old son. He moves in with his sister and gets a real job, but he's a fighter and can't resist doing it. Marion Cotillard is a whale trainer who loses her legs to an orca and is bound to a wheelchair. Two broken people whose paths cross, and who each provide support for one another. There's a sense of conviction on the part of all involved that really makes the film work. ****

THE GIRL (2012)
Have you ever noticed how forgettable and inconsequential HBO movies seem to be? This is a handsome movie about Alfred Hitchcock (played by Toby Jones) and his obsession with Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller). It starts off interestingly, with Hitch's obsession slowly growing, leading to a clumsy, scary pass at Tippi in the back of a car. When she rejects him, filming The Birds becomes about essentially torturing Tippi for turning him down. Marnie becomes about punishing her; as Hedren later says in the film, taking a real woman and turning her into a statue. It's juicy meat for a biopic, but the film just isn't up to the task. I don't know exactly what goes wrong, but it just starts to slip away and then disappears into boredom. Miller and particularly Jones are good in their roles, but the film doesn't seem to have a take on its own material. It's just sort of empty, and I can't really figure out why. Missed opportunity. **

Yes, it's kind of a slight movie, but I don't care. It's all about human connection with me, and that's worth more than resolution sometimes. I was very satisfied with this charming film about a magazine intern (Aubrey Plaza) who investigates a classified ad looking for a partner to travel in time with. Mark Duplass, whom I just liked last week in Your Sister's Sister, is the man obsessed with going back in time to correct a mistake. I liked that the movie was more about the poignant connections two strangers can share, and the very human desire to fix our mistakes and erase our stupidities, rather than the craziness of the concept. I think the concept is beside the real point, which is obsessing over the things we've done and wish we hadn't. **** (And hey, Kristen Bell cameo never hurts. Hell, sometimes it can be the only good thing in a movie...looking at you, Serious Moonlight.)

LIFE OF PI (2012)
Let's get this out of the way first: visually, this movie is compelling, stunning, and totally beautiful. I saw it in 3D, and it's the best use of 3D I've yet seen. There are some sequences (such as a shipwreck, an island of meerkats, an encounter with a whale, and a vision of the universe in the eyes of a tiger) that will probably never play out quite as beautifully in 2D. The movie is so beautiful to look at that it would be easy to get lost in the visuals alone. But the story--which deals with essential dichotomies, such as whether animals have souls or merely reflect the emotions humans put into them, or the nature of parable--is mostly up to the visuals. What I have an issue with is the device. This is a story of faith, and I have no problem with that, despite not being a man of faith; faith is an essential component of a parable, and this story is a parable. And I do like the way the film tries to deal with the nature of man's relationship with the divine; in fact, I love the way the movie uses the great images of a boy and a tiger, both lost at sea together, as symbolism for that nature; saying, in effect, that the boy's attempts to make some kind of peace with the tiger in a way that doesn't kill either one of them is that battle with our inner relationship to the natural world and our place in the universe personified. What I don't like is the device of Pi as a grown man (Irrfan Khan, one of my favorite actors, who is so good in this movie) telling his story to a white novelist (Rafe Spall). The novelist seems inorganic. None of his questions are the questions a real person would ask, but are there to make sure the audience doesn't miss the point that the film makes on its own much more lyrically: that parables, survival, and belief in any god require faith in oneself. It doesn't need to spell it out; the conflict is there from the beginning: is there a soul in the things around us, a being, a divinity--or is it simply the characteristics we give it, reflected back at us? Pi's symbolic struggle to make peace with that and peace with his own nature are compelling enough without the messages about the nature of God. I think it's the one spot on what is otherwise the best 2012 movie I've seen so far, and I think it could have been handled better without losing Khan and without having spell it all out. It doesn't derail the film, but I don't like having it there because, ironically, it doesn't seem to have faith in the intelligence of the viewer. But, as I said, it's the one moment that bothers me, in a film of such breathtaking visual and emotional beauty. ****

LIZ & DICK (2012)
Idiotic, cheap, and just kind of hilarious. Lindsay Lohan is predictably terrible stunt casting; god, we were so many of us just in love with her, and now it's almost impossible to remember why and how good she (briefly) was. The filmmakers really want to force the comparison between Lindsay and Liz in terms of being in the public eye, but Liz had the talent to back it all up, and Lindsay doesn't even come close. My wife and I kept watching it and pointing out how differently Liz would have acted those scenes in a movie. Grant Bowler is passable as Richard Burton; he gets the impression right, but doesn't inhabit the man as a character. And of course there's no time (or budget) to really get into the story; it's just a compendium of stuff that happened. It stops being funny after a while and just becomes numbingly bad. * for hilarity and pretty dresses.

Cozy, innocuous, delightful little movie of Francis Hodgson Burnett's book, featuring Shirley Temple and a heartwarming ending. I like Shirley Temple; I never saw a movie with her in it until a few years ago, and I just enjoy them when I catch them. Especially this time of year. ***

DAY 73 WITH SARAH (2007)
Kind of a mindfuck of a short film by Brent Hanley (who wrote Frailty) and starring Elle Fanning as a girl who will go to lengths that surprise even her to get back at her stepfather. Bizarre tone twist, but well-made and I'm not likely to forget it soon. ***

Interesting human drama involving a woman who marries a barge captain and travels up the Seine with him. She wants to see Paris, but he's quick to jealousy and guarded about her interest. It's sometimes a violently tormented movie, recognizing the passion of the husband for his wife and the desire of the wife to see more than she's seen back in her small village. From the beginning, the people who know her predict that she's only entering into the marriage for the travel opportunity; when she sneaks out to see the city, he assumes the predictions were correct and reacts poorly. It's tempestuous at times, but never melodramatic. There's a simplicity of approach that refines director Jean Vigo's vision, making it all about the people and their reactions to the situation they find themselves in, rather than the drama of the situation itself. ****

One of the most original horror movies I've seen in recent years. AnnaLynne McCord submerges herself in a daring, sometimes impressively gutsy performance as an unpopular, outcast high school student who has sexual fantasies about flesh and viscera and dreams of becoming a surgeon. It's a fascinating film that's very body conscious. McCord plans to lose her virginity while on her period, sniffs her tampon, pierces her own nose, and dissects a bird, among other things. It's a fascinating, extreme version of a young woman coming to terms with her body in an outward way. She wants to help her sister, Ariel Winter, who is suffering with cystic fibrosis, and she wants to come to terms with her relationship with her family, particularly her neurotic mother (Traci Lords). Their relationship is especially interesting; it seems like quirky family drama stuff, but the interplay of warped family dynamics and McCord's strange pathologies is complex and kind of frightening. Where Lords attacks, McCord feeds. The way the film only touches on commenting on mental illness, until its horrifying finale where the full depth of McCord's psychosis is made apparent, is especially interesting. What happens is horrifying, but it's nice to see a film about teen psychosis and alienation that isn't, you know, trenchcoats and shootings. McCord makes a lot of it work with her performance, which is at once monstrous and sympathetic, but the film is so bold and confident, sometimes even funny, that it won me over very quickly. ****

LA LUNA (2011)
A beautiful, quite Pixar short about the moon. I don't want to describe it, because that would rob it of its gentle power. ****


Matt said...

"La Luna" is probably my favorite cartoon by Pixar ever. I would love to see it somehow expanded into a full length feature. It was simply gorgeous.

Autumn said...

I saw La Luna in whatever film it was the opening for (I can never remember which one goes with which film) and it's my favorite pixar short, beautiful, funny and familiar. My husband's favorite is still the one with the magician and the rabbit though!

Matt said...

I think "La Luna" played in front of "Brave."