Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Film Week

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

It's surprising today to see a movie involving the Afghanistan War that's not so jingoistic. It's a character piece, but it's still very much a comment on the cost of war. Michelle Monaghan stars as a field medic who returns home from her tour of duty, only to find that the bond between her and her five year-old son doesn't exist anymore. She finds it hard to acclimate herself once again to a civilian life, and harder still to open up to anyone about it, and finds herself trying to force things. (It's hard for me to watch her lose her patience, especially with her son, because it reminds me both of my own problems with patience, of my mother, who was similarly impatient with me when I was five.) It's a compelling movie, and Michelle Monaghan gives probably her best performance in it. ****

Netflix recommended this Nicholas Sparks movie after I finished Fort Bliss, I guess because it also stars Michelle Monaghan. One day I'll probably make it all the way through a Nicholas Sparks movie, but Saturday was not that day. Since this one packs almost every romantic drama cliche into its first 15 minutes, I don't feel like I gave up before any surprising twists. *

The fourth film directed by Tommy Lee Jones, but only the second that I've seen. Hilary Swank stars as a woman living on the frontier in the 1850s Midwest, a spinster active in her farming community. She takes on the job of transporting three women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto and Sonja Richter) who have gone insane to a church back east. To help her, she recruits a man who is about to be lynched for claim jumping (Jones), and most of the film deals with their hard eastward journey. The movie is totally unsparing about the harshness and difficulty of the journey and of the time period, and none of the characters are either completely idealized or completely demonized. Swank and Jones in particular offer complex portrayals of people who are by turns hopeful, pragmatic, opportunistic, and desperate. It is haunting, at times uncomfortable, and totally unsentimental in its depiction, particularly in its depiction of the pressures women were put through in this time. Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography gives us a horizontal, endless frontier, an unforgivingly bleak backdrop that has no reassuring illusions about the Old West. I realize I've made it sound tedious and hellish, but I could not look away from this movie. ***1/2

V/H/S (2012)
A found-footage horror anthology with the conceit that all of the footage exists on VHS tapes. The various filmmakers have different levels of fun with the format. It shouldn't really work, I think, but it does. I think it probably helps watching it on a TV at home; if you look at some of the reviews, a lot of the negative ones call it unwatchable because of its shaky home video quality. But it delivers exactly what it promises, and most of it works. I know my wife was creeped out by it for days after. ***

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