Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Film Week

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

Apparently they do Simpsons theatrical shorts now? I thought it was okay. A little derivative, but well-animated. It was interesting that the cartoon had no dialogue and didn't rely too heavily on pop culture references... ***

Excellent Danish film about court politics, romance and idealism at the court of the mad King Christian VII of Denmark. Set during the Enlightenment, when Denmark had yet to follow the rest of Europe in a fit of progressivism, it tells the story of three people--the mad king, his reluctant queen, and his idealistic personal doctor--against a backdrop of frustrating politicking. Mads Mikkelsen is quite good as the doctor; Mikkel Folsgaard is excellent and sympathetic as a king with severe emotional problems who is misunderstood and virtually ignored by a council that regards him only as a figurehead to ensure their continued power. I don't know if it's strictly historical, but it's an excellent story and beautifully filmed. It's engaging and affecting; it doesn't forget that there are human characters at its center, people who try to change history and are shaped by circumstance, rather than ciphers of ideas. ****

I liked this film about the hunt for bin Laden, but I admit, I wasn't especially entertained or gripped by it. It's a docudrama, not a story, and as such there aren't really characters, but people who move through it and whom things happened to. It's well-filmed and edited, visceral and engrossing. I don't know about the torture debate or the vigilantism the film is being charged with, necessarily; I don't think the film is endorsing torture or showing us that torture worked (as some, including Glenn Greenwald, have charged) so much as just showing us this was a fact of what happened. The torture scenes are visceral and troubling enough that I really don't see how anyone could look at them and say that this is an endorsement of torture; it seemed really to be there to show Jessica Chastain's troubled reaction and later becoming inured to it as a fact of her job... I don't know, there's not really enough to the film for me to see a moral stance in either direction. Same thing with the vigilantism. Could we have taken bin Laden alive and tried him as a criminal? I still think so, but the film doesn't bother with the idea, probably because our government didn't seem to. Even when he was campaigning in 2008, Obama was talking about killing bin Laden, not capturing him. I think those are questions for a different movie, though. Zero Dark Thirty doesn't fail in raising them because it's not a movie about about that. It's just the facts of what happened, with no propaganda and no political discussion. And it's engrossing, but it's not great filmmaking. ***

Surprisingly likable movie that I expected not to like. Bradley Cooper, in his best performance (he's an actor I don't care for), plays a man just getting out of a mental institution who becomes involved with his father's weird sports superstitions, his shaky family, and a woman with problems of her own who may or may not be able to help him get his ex wife back. It raises a lot of interesting questions about what constitutes mental health, I think; certainly Cooper has rage issues, but is he any crazier than his father (Robert De Niro), who has OCD problems and has turned the smallest habits into mysticism that he believes affects the outcomes of sports games? It's surprising, too, how the film takes these oddball characters and turns its material into a conventional romcom that hinges on winning the big game. But it's a very likable movie that I found easy to relate to (what with my anger/emotional issues). Jennifer Lawrence, though...I haven't been convinced. Five movies now, and I just don't see the talent everyone keeps going on about. This movie worked for me in spite of her performance, which is a testament to the script and direction considering she's the big romantic lead. I'm sure that's just me. It's David O. Russell's best film since Three Kings, I think, but that might just be me, too. ***1/2

ARGO (2012)
Wonderfully entertaining and gripping film about the "Canadian Caper," in which an American CIA agent and the Canadian government got six American diplomats out of Tehran during the hostage crisis by pretending to be location scouting a Hollywood movie. It's an interesting bit of modern history that makes a fantastic movie, one of the best of the year. Ben Affleck has directed three great, entertaining films now, and I hope he really focuses more on directing instead of going back to acting in nine duds a year. It's a taut political thriller and a hilarious satire of Hollywood (Alan Arkin and John Goodman steal it), and very involving. The third act is especially great; Affleck raises the tension to an almost unbearable level, so much so that you are genuinely relieved by the ending, almost uplifted. That man knows how to manipulate an audience for effect. Great cast. I already want to see this again, and I think I'll probably see it many more times in the future. ****


Kal said...

The second I saw Arkin was attatched to Argo I knew this one was going to be a winner. I wish he could get an Oscar for the type of character that only Arkin can play. I would like to see your reveiw Catch-22. That Ben Hooflack. Boys one hell of a director. Who knew?

Roger Owen Green said...

Argo I loved. Silver Linings I liked. Haven't seen Zero Dark Thirty - possibly next, if I work up the gumption.

Starly said...

I agree with you about Argo - as soon as I saw it I realized that it was one of the best movies of the year. Of course, I haven't yet seen "Lincoln" so I will reserve judgement until then, but Argo was gripping and much like "Apollo 13"; even though we knew the outcome it didn't take away from the tension, excitement and ultimate relief.