Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Film Week

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

THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1968)
It's certainly pretty in its composition (love the split screens and the art direction), and that song's good, but otherwise, there's not much going on. Cute movie, but lighter than air. **1/2

WOULD YOU RATHER (2012)
Bizarre horror flick with people in need playing a rich psychopath's deadly version of Would You Rather. I think the ending undercuts everything in a not very clever way. Incredibly intense movie, but not completely successful; it splits the difference between torture porn and actually making some interesting points about class and need. I bumped it up an extra half-star because Jeffrey Combs, as the rich psychopath, is so wonderfully Jeffrey Combs. ***

LA PISCINE (1969)
Excellent French film about jealousy, possessiveness, and how we are willing to act when our pride is at stake. Alain Delon and Romy Schneider are a couple on vacation who are visited by her ex-lover (Maurice Ronet) and his sexy teenage daughter (Jane Birkin). It's sensuous, but not prurient, as Delon and Ronet, old friends with tensions neither one will just address, try to humiliate one another through their loved ones. Director Jacques Deray uses a deft hand here, not hiding the emotional brutality but also presenting it in a measured way, through lingering looks and subtle phrases. Another movie from that time when audiences actually liked sex and considered it worthy of dramatic emphasis. ****

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (2013)
One of those controversial movies that's really only controversial because it presents sex in a very frank way. (I'm of course speaking of the content of the film, not the actual controversy surrounding the production.) The story is about Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos), a student who is exploring relationships. She meets and is immediately attracted to a college student (Lea Seydoux), and the two women become a couple. The film simply follows their relationship through the early stages, where passion is strong and constant, to later times when loneliness and routine and second thoughts come creeping in. Both actresses are excellent. The film's a great love story, but there is so much more in here. Adele's journey is represented in parallels of dinner scenes and political protests and fluid relationship dynamics. There are scenes in here about the importance and place of art in a world dominated by commerce, and individual freedom (and how that freedom can come at the cost of alienation). The art direction is gorgeous, with the symbolic color blue representing at various times curiosity, love, and sadness--the meaning changes as Adele's life changes. It's a beautiful, masterful film, in my opinion the best of last year. **** (It's on Netflix right now, I really recommend seeing it.)

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013)
I found this film uplifting, but mainly because it opened by playing on one of my deepest fears: that I'll go to a doctor and find out that I have something terminal, but that it's too late to do anything about it. (This fear was greatly exacerbated by spending so many years uninsured and the many deaths in my family that occurred between 2000 and 2007.) This is a character study about a man determined not to die from AIDS. The parts that resonated the most for me were the character's battles with the FDA and the medical industry over research into effective medication... this world is very, very frustrating and progress can be very slow, especially where money's involved. Matthew McConaughey is excellent in the lead. I was a little less impressed with Jared Leto; he was sympathetic but not entirely believable, and I found his performance a little more caricature than character. They couldn't have hired Laverne Cox? Still, ****

12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013)
Having seen Steve McQueen's films Shame and Hunger, I knew this was going to be intense. But I still wasn't prepared for how intense it really was, both emotionally and in its portrayal of human brutality. I think it's important that the film didn't shy away from its depiction--Steve McQueen likes to hold scenes for a long time, past the point of discomfort--but it's so hard to watch. It's fascinating, really, because this film could easily have come across as crass and exploitative; it reminded me of films like Mandingo. The reason it works is that Steve McQueen didn't direct it in a schlocky, trashy way, and the performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor as a free man who is kidnapped and illegally sold into slavery never loses its essential humanity. It's a stark, brutal film. I found the cinematography especially fascinating; such beautiful shots of the countryside, which only serve to make the human ugliness occurring in that vast scope seem even more abominable. One of the most powerful films I've ever seen. ****

NEBRASKA (2013)
Enjoyable film starring Bruce Dern as a man who thinks he's won a million dollars in a publisher's sweepstakes, and is determined to travel to Lincoln, Nebraska, to get it. His family--who insist he's being taken in--think he's losing it and it's probably time to put him in a home, but his son (Will Forte) decides to humor the old man and take him to Lincoln. What ends up being the heart of the film is a side trip to Dern's boyhood home town, and the the exploration of family dynamics and our relationships with our own pasts in a wry, bittersweet way. It's a funny movie, recognizably funny in a way that understands the Midwest. A lot of characters reminded me of members of my extended family. I've definitely been in that quiet room watching the football game, and I've had alcoholic family members tell me, in a surprisingly angry way, "Beer ain't drinkin'." It's quietly observant of human nature and very, very likable. ****

(One interesting thing I noted was that director Alexander Payne read the screenplay and wanted to direct it as far back as 2004, but didn't want to follow up one road trip movie--Sideways, the only film of his I don't really care a great deal for--with another. I think that's kind of interesting because I would say the last four movies he's made--About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants and Nebraska--are four road trip movies. Nothing wrong with that, just interesting.)

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

Hmm. Like Nebraska, DBC a lot. STILL haven't seen 12 Years, one of the 3 nominated films this season (w Captain Philips and Wolf of Wall Street) I missed, so far. I WANT to see it, I OUGHT to see it, and yet...