Never Let Me Go

This quiet, English, alternative history movie is surprising in both its subtlety and tenor. But for a few changes, it is like almost every English drama tempered by politics and class. Whether you look at Foyle’s War, Bleak House, or the more recent Any Human Heart. This is a coming of age story in an age that never was, but that could still be.

Deftly acted by some of my favorite new performers, Carey Mulligan being the top line here for me, it has the approach of a drawing room romance with a Japanese aesthetic.  The typically rich world is brush-stroked with indicators about the world outside the gated school and protected lives of the main characters. These aspects are done without comment or expectation, but they provide a wealth of thoughts to the watcher. The pace is steady but slow. The stakes high, but not life threatening. Well, not exactly.. let’s say that the threat against life is just accepted. The story carries you along in a sort of sheep-like stupor, which is oddly appropriate. Which isn’t so say that the emotions are not intense, they just are handled without strum and drang.

At its core, the story is driven by love and, despite its ultimate outcomes, remains positive if questioning. I have not read Ishiguro’s book on which this was based, and though it has remained in the tower of paper by my bed, it has definitely moved up the pile now. After which, I intend to watch this again to see what I intuited and what I missed and what may not have survived the transplant to screen.

Buried

Every once in a while you watch and recommend a movie simply for the skill it required. This fits that category and won’t likely disappoint on entertainment value either. I got to it thanks to notice it gathered from Ain’t It Cool (non-spoiler and spoiler reviews), and for that I’m grateful, as I would have otherwise missed this one.

Reynolds does a very credible job of acting out what is an okay script and story. Perhaps it is just that I found the surprises few and the minor characters annoying more than engaging that I feel this way, but my reaction to the story itself was luke-warm. It felt more like a stunt and a tad of a polemic. However, I was never bored.

For 90 minutes, the director managed to keep the movie interesting, despite taking place solely in a 6′, buried coffin. Through clever light ploys and angles, we get the claustrophobia and the tension but never really get bored with watching Ryan’s character or his surroundings. And, in most cases, it is so subtle, that you don’t even realize what he was doing, which only raised my opinion of him. The sound engineering is likewise impressive to put you underground with Reynolds.

So turn off all your lights to watch this one. Really feel and appreciate it for all you can. If the story misses, think about what you saw and how you experienced it without all those panoramas and explosions that most movies rely on to keep you going.

Goodbye Lover

More of a well done TV movie than a big screen event, but entertaining in its twisted way. In fact, this movie is so cynical, it makes me look Pollyanna. With a surprising cast and a wish to twist all memories of The Sound of Music into something less saccharine — a desire I can completely understand having performed in the show and seen it far too many times — it is worth the watch if you’ve got nothing better on tap or just want something a tad different than primetime is offering.

Oscar Reivew: 3 Speeches, 2 Disappointments, 0 Surprises

This is probably way late to the game, but I just couldn’t stay up and write it after the Oscars last night and then couldn’t get to it till now today. Hopefull, you will still find some of this relevant…

So, awards season is over, thankfully. The noise level had gotten pretty high over the last few weeks.

For my part, I only missed 3 picks last night (foriegn, short animated/live action) but that doesn’t mean I was happy with all the selections. I think that Geoffrey Rush and Chris Nolan got overlooked for Best Supporting and Original Script respectively, but I expected, though dreaded, that. I also expected King’s Speech to win, though Social Network is a better film, and Hooper to win, though Fincher’s job was way more complex and artful. The reason I count that as only 2 disappointments is that I gave up on the last two long ago, despite my own feelings to the contrary and I can actually see the two-horse race in the directing case.

Speech-wise, Kirk Douglas’ presentation to Melissa Leo and her speech was, by far, the best moment of the evening for me. The other two worth seeing were David Seidler for The King’s Speech script (very amusing) and the young Luke Matheny, who was likewise entertaining and fresh. There were many other touching speeches and good ones, but these three stood out as genuine and fun. And, for the most part, Franco and Hathaway were pretty much non-entities, so the whole presentation aspect had a negligible impact.

Awards are highly political animals and their value as judge is ephemeral, even if their value as marketing is not. It is true in every field. But we still love to watch and wonder and try to pick the winners. It is a hardwire problem our species has–we love to compete and rate and order things. It is how we survive. Absent physical danger, we apply the same instincts to everything around us, including art, that may or may not be best served by the effort. I may rail against it, but I participate just the same and I’m betting anyone reading this does to some extent as well.

Megamind

Megamind was viewed in a double-feature with Sex and the City 2, and it came off the loser. Yeah, really. I had actually queued this up second to “wash the taste” of the first out of my mouth–though it turned out, there was no bitter after-taste to Sex and the City 2 for us. Why bring all of this up? Because I really expected and wanted to enjoy this latest flip-side hero animation film.

However, it is no more than a soft 3 stars as it really became derivative, predictable, and aimed at 10 year olds. It isn’t that this doesn’t have moments, but it just never really satisfies or feels more than a big-budget Saturday morning special. Why do we use such great technology for such junk purposes? Despicable Me had similar problems for me as a film. Again, enjoyable, but just not something that I’d ever need to see again.

Perhaps all of these films just never meet my expectations since The Incredibles, which was a great film, not just a cartoon. Pixar is about the only studio that really understands that aspect, though I don’t put the Toy Story series in that collection. But look at Up or Ratatouille, which are great stories and films, that they are animated is somewhat secondary, though Ratatouille is a better film, in my opinion even if the opening of Up is a outstanding. If you’re hearing a lot of love for Brad Bird here, you are not deaf.

To sum up, and to stop my diatribe, this is a perfectly fine film for older children, but not one I’d ever need to watch again nor could recommend strongly when there are so many better animations out there (one last pitch for Bird’s oeuvre: The Iron Giant).

Sex and the City 2

Sex and the City, as a show, was a guilty pleasure; a 22 min. bon-bon of silliness and fun with the occasional bit of gravitas and a whole lot of Kim Cattrall. Their first movie was entertaining, if over-the-top, and wrapped up the story lines that had been left swinging in the wind when the series wound down.

I agreed to watch this sequel, however, only for my wife, who is in the fashion business. I expected to really dislike it given all the reviews. I was surprised, and it had us examining why the reviews and box office were so bad, but more on that in in a minute.

The opening of this flick is worth seeing, just for the utterly outlandish and overblown wedding–self-consciously so and it even manages to keep topping itself. The story goes from there to life choices and real aspects of marriage. It is an enjoyable romp.. much more so than I expected.. despite its silliness and forced situations. And, of course, there is the fashion. One aspect of note: their make-up and lighting people should have been shot. Parker in particular, but all of the women generally, looked awful. The words “old hag” were used a couple times from our couch. They aren’t, but boy did the make-up and lighting not do them any favors.

So, if this movie was enjoyable, why did it fail so utterly at the box office? Three reasons I could identify:

  1. It’s a movie about opulence during one of the deepest parts of the recession. The Gold Diggers failed during the Great Depression for similar reasons. It was just too much of what people didn’t have.
  2. On a global front, it is a bit of a polemic against the middle-east and how it treats women. Frankly, it felt rather honest and, in its weird way, empowering, but definitely not favorable.
  3. It takes on the subject of couples who choose not to have children and doesn’t flinch. Frankly, it was probably this nail in the coffin that was the strongest and it says a great deal about our own society and its biases.

Overall, this is a solid 3 star movie, which I write with as much surprise as you read. The fact that we saw this as a double feature with Megamind… and the latter did not come across the better, shocked me, but there you have it.

For Colored Girls

This is one of those rare times where I will violate my own guidelines and rate something a 5 even though I probably wouldn’t buy it. The reason is that the performances and the direction of this play-turned-movie are extraordinary and should be seen.

I haven’t seen the play in a very long time, but still recalled a couple of the poems with utter clarity. But even with those distant echoes, the performers owned their moments and lived them believably and painfully. It is an amazingly relevant story, even today, making it as difficult and as joyful as ever to behold; and also why I don’t know if I’d want to own it and travel that road with these women again. Their raw emotion and honesty is utterly compelling and damaging all at once.

From an adaptation perspective, the way Perry slides in and out of the action to the poetry and weaves together the community of women is beautiful. If he was less hated in the industry for his attitude and union busting, he’d probably have had several nominations for his and his cast’s efforts.

Get Low

This is Indie film making at its near best. A story no studio would know how to market, loaded with talent and made with passion.

This quiet, powerful tale of a man at the end of his life follows no simple trope, though aspects of many. Duvall is all but unrecognizable, he sinks into his character so well and Spacek is, as always, engaging and believable. Even Bill Murray, who is a fish out of water in this town, is supposed to be a fish out of water. It just works. Slowly, inexorably, with humor, and with a little pathos. It just works.

Piranah

This is just a stoopid, silly, fun distraction. Done as a black comedy and unapologetically over-the-top, and filled with more enhanced upper female torsos than I’ve ever seen outside of a blue film, you just laugh till you cringe. Is it great? No. Is it entertaining? If you like this kind of bad monster flick, sure. As a re-imagining of the original, it does a pretty good job. There are some rather creative deaths (one in particular had me shouting at the set… it involves an outboard motor). With some great talent on board, especially the mom, surprisingly, and not so much Jerry O’Connell, who did what he was told, but it was too unbelievable a death scene that went on forever. With other fun cameos, and yes, lots of tail, it is what it is. And whether you’d like that, you probably know already…

Before Night Falls

starstarstar

Unfortunately, while this movie in an interesting insight into the culture of Cuba beginning around the time of Castro’s rise, it is a fractured story that is often hard to follow. Part of this is the scope of time that it covers, but it is also that the editing of the scenes is often very confusing. There are, however, a couple of performances and cameos that really are worth seeing, just for their uniqueness. I’ll leave it to you to peek at the cast list or not if you intend to watch. It is these performances and the historical aspect that raise this to a soft 3 stars for me.

Schnabel clearly has a fascination with tragic artists. While this attempt is far more a story than his Basquiat, it fails to help me appreciate the writing of the main character, Reinaldo Arenas. When watching a biopic, I want to either be informed about someone I already admire or, as is the case with most of Schnabel’s early subjects, learn enough to become interested the artist’s work. I’m not sure he succeeded here and I’m still left doubting his ability to control an epic story at this point in his career. Perhaps his later films improve… there is a glimmer of ability that shows a great eye and the control to elicit good performances, but it just doesn’t come together in a satisfying way.

Clearly there is something that keeps me coming back to Schnabel’s work and he is able to convince major talent in several disciplines to work with him. Perhaps it is his hypnotic visuals or simply the strong performances. I honestly can’t put my finger on it yet, but I’ll probably given him a chance with a more recent film to see if the aspects of his efforts that don’t work for me now improved. Which says something about his talent …

Art, writing, life explained… or at least commented upon…