Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sweet Darlin'

More reviews for the newsletter:

Lars and the Real Girl (2007) is pitch-perfect parable of humanity's potential for compassion. It is about a man and his 'love doll', whom he imagines to be real, and the town that embraces them both. The subject matter may seem inherently goofy, but the film is sweet and smartly funny. It's a feel-good movie-- however, every scene that could play out as sappy or cloying or a cheap laugh in any other film pulls back at just the right time. Extraordinarily scripted and cast. Standout performances by Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, and Paul Schneider as the Lindstrom family: Lars, his sister-in-law and his guilt-ridden brother, respectively. The family dynamic, especially with Bianca (the doll) in the mix is priceless. Perhaps the only misstep is that the studio released this film on the same date as Juno, whose Oscar-fueled marketing team will crush this gem like a bug.

I really loved Lars and the Real Girl. Schneider and Mortimer are fantastic. Maybe I was just touched by how un-jaded this movie is. It was full of some of the healthiest relationships I've seen onscreen in a long time. I also watched it right after I watched Time, which was similarly populated by characters whose loneliness drove them to act strangely. But they become less lovable in their desperation and completely estranged from society. Lars becomes eminently more lovable and integral to his community. I think Lars may be my pick for feel good movie of the year.

Time (2006, South Korea, subtitled) Tackling ideas of love, identity, and -yes- madness, Time is a drama about an insecure woman who, in an effort to keep her relationship alive, opts to get radical plastic surgery and become someone 'new' for her lover. The romance between the two leads is a little difficult to grasp since Ji-woo and Seh-hee are incredibly unhappy together and he just seems baffled by her weird behavior. Their love, instead, is represented onscreen by a giant sculpture of two intertwined hands making a staircase that the lovers visit from time to time. While jealousy, screaming matches and elective surgery spin the story to wildly melodramatic heights, writer-director Kim Ki-Duk keeps the visuals tightly controlled. His films are notable for their beautiful and thoughtful visual composition, and Time is no exception. Kim Ki-Duk is an extremely prolific Korean writer-director, and having seen several of his other films, it is hard not to compare Time to his other features. Time follows a similar cyclical pattern to my favorite (thus far) of his films Bad Guy (2001). He is also known for Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring (2003).

Since this is a rich theme that is incredibly well done in a few films, I've compiled a short-list of films featuring people literally cutting off their faces and putting on new ones (usually, previously owned faces): The Face of Another (1966, Japan), Eyes Without a Face (1960, France)-- a classic!, Seconds (1966) Rock Hudson is great-- dir. Frankenheimer, Faceless (1988) by cult director Jess Franco, Face/Off (1997) John Woo is over-the-top.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Owls Go

Podcasts of note: WNYC's Radio Lab and The Ricky Gervais Podcast
(also available for subscription through iTunes)

Recent reviews for the Video Americain Newsletter:

3/29/08 He Was a Quiet Man (2007, R) is a low budget indie movie from Canada starring Christian Slater, William H Macy, and Elisha Cuthbert (24). It's a very dark satire on office life that bears more resemblance to The Machinist (2004) than Office Space (1999)-- despite the obvious thematic similarities with the latter. Bob (Slater) hates his job, hates his bosses, and quietly plots to kill them all. Rather than showing how Bob is driven to this act of violence, the movie serves up the many quirks of his madness with morbid glee. Every day, Bob packs a red detonator button with his lunch in order to set off imaginary charges in the building. He loads his gun in his cubicle while listing the names of his coworkers. While these scenes are often bleak, CG effects give the film a hint of magical realism and playfulness. Slater puts in a very strong performance as an unlikely and tormented hero, and Elisha Cuthbert is well cast as a love interest, victim, and ladder-climbing office harpy. Quite a few twists and turns flesh out this film and make it an unpredictable and compelling story about frustration, ambition, and loneliness.

I liked this movie better upon further reflection. I'd just re-watched Untamed Heart with Christian Slater, so I picked it up to watch at home and was pleasantly surprised.

4/6/08 The Jacket (R, 2005) Time-traveling fantasy/thriller primarily set in a sinister mental institution. The film aims to be a psychological thriller with its dark sets, mysterious characters and arty flashbacks, but it is so soft-hearted that it works better as a creepy love story. The tagline ("Terror has a new name") doesn't suit the movie at all. Something more fitting (albeit not particularly catchy or enticing) would be: "The justice system and the military left me to die in this lousy jacket... My life is hard." Whether viewed as a twisted love story or a dark trip into a man's delusions, the 'mind-bender' script ambitiously piles in more material than the plot (or editors) can handle-- making it a pretty disjointed film. Adrien Brody stars as Jack, the Iraq War I vet/mental patient trussed up in the titular jacket for much of the movie. His watery, expressive eyes are used often and in extreme close-up. Also starring Keira Knightly, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Daniel Craig (who looks about 20 yrs older in this than in his turn as Bond last year-- weird). Executive produced by Clooney and Soderbergh (also exec-produced Michael Clayton, Syriana, A Scanner Darkly, and Wind Chill). If you want to see more of Brody's eyes in better films, check out The Darjeeling Limited, Dummy, The Pianist, or The Thin Red Line.

I watched The Jacket, like a lot of lame movies I've seen recently, On Demand. I had fun watching it, but it got worse upon reflection. The saving grace throughout was the highly inappropriate but not quite hot enough relationship between Jack and the little girl who may have been a figment of Jack's imagination. Figment or not, she is about 7 which makes him about 20 imaginary years her senior... until she grows up to be Keira Knightly with an American accent. All the nice things I was planning to say about it fell through the huge plot holes that just got bigger the more I focussed on them. Its main fault is that the filmmakers were too ambitious and should have stuck with one or two story threads. They could have played up the crazy its-all-in-jack's-head element, but it gets sidetracked by too much evidence that his time traveling is real. Alternately, they could have spun it more like The Time Traveler's Wife (book) and played up the bizarre romantic angle. Side note: I just discovered that book is being made into a movie to be released fall 2008 starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams (The Notebook). Interesting.