Micro Film Reviews (And One Longish one) For January
Here’s a roundup of the films I saw in January On First Release Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (AVP 2) – Dire; really dire. The original Alien films, especially the first two, were amongst the best treatments of feminism in popular film. Fast forward to AVP2 and it‚Äôs as if feminism, Ripley and a generation of […]
Here’s a roundup of the films I saw in January
On First Release
Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (AVP 2) – Dire; really dire. The original Alien films, especially the first two, were amongst the best treatments of feminism in popular film. Fast forward to AVP2 and it‚Äôs as if feminism, Ripley and a generation of interrogating the problems of Sci-Fi never took place. Women are relegated to being nothing more than appendages to men. All that counts is the space between their breasts and their thighs, since they only exist to pleasure or procreate. The monsters are nowhere near being the scariest thing in this film!
American Gangster – Compelling, harsh and thoroughly plot-driven. Russell Crowe’s fantastic energy more than compensates for Denziel Washington‚Äôs occasional wooden moments. Really solid cinematography and visual design. Excellent.
Atonement – Gripping, intelligent and well-crafted. One of the best musical scores I’ve heard in a long time. Really solid performances, visually memorable and in the end deeply satisfying. Possibly the best war film of the decade and the scene on the beaches of Dunkirk is one of the most visually stunning and morally challenging moments in recent cinema.
The Darjeeling Limited – It‚Äôs filmed in India, it looks like India, it borrows music heavily from Indian films and yet it almost totally fails to evoke India. Of course, that‚Äôs because this isn‚Äôt a film about India at all Rather it is an asinine, contrived, achingly pretentious and relentlessly narcissistic film about a dysfunctional family looking to reconcile itself regardless of the consequences to anyone around them. India is nothing but a quirky, fashionably hip backdrop. Ethnicities are dropped into the scenes based on how they look, rather than how they might function, socially or geographically within the plot. The tragic death of a child is treated as little more than an opportunity for the self-enlightenment of the main protagonists. Temples are nothing but colourful backgrounds to a childish, post-hippie-trail version of enlightenment (while the dark skinned faithful all sit, subserviently, in the background). If the film has any saving grace it is India‚Äôs own relentless colour and harshness, coupled with some great performances from Amara Karan and Irfan Khan. But, really, that is far from enough to save this nasty little film.
The Edge of Heaven – Despite a contrived plot and some inconsistent acting, this film reveals itself as a thoughtful, compassionate and visually interesting drama at the crossroads of German and Turkish culture. As a study of the issues raised by migration and cultural alienation (such as third culture childhood), this is more than worth a look.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age – It takes a rare cinematic ‚Äúskill” to transform a powerful story, based as it is on a momentous period in history and in turn into such a turgid, dull and uninspiring film. It’s not just the cartoon characterisations that sink this movie (Elizabeth as Braveheart, Sir Walter Raleigh as Errol Flynn, The Gimpy King of Spain and a historically inaccurate Jesuit straight out of the Da Vinci Code), it‚Äôs also the rudderless musical score and lack of visual courage and imagination.
The Golden Compass – After having made such a successful transition to the stage, it seemed reasonable to assume that His Dark Materials would also make for an impressive series of films. But, this opening instalment is so vapid and evacuated of meaning that it left me with me hoping that the series will die right here and that no sequels will be made. If reviews and poor box office takings are anything to go by, that hope may well be fulfilled.
The Kite Runner – Outstanding, rewarding and tightly focussed film-making, which is saying something given the range, in time and geography of the plot. There‚Äôs a beautiful heart within this dark, challenging and at times uncomfortable film. Inventive and beguiling score (and use of in scene music), confident use (or absence) of colour and solid development of characters make this a very satisfying movie experience.
My Blueberry Nights – Stunningly shot, wonderfully scored and beautifully paced. Yet, despite these strengths (and great performances from Natalie Portman and Jude Law) this film never managed to rise above it‚Äôs road movie setting. That said, it may be the most beautiful road movie ever made.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets – Silly, but diverting matin?©e-style movie. Sure it‚Äôs contrived. Sure every obstacle is overcome with ridiculous ease. Sure, the car chase through London is a geographical impossibility. But, this is cinema that doesn‚Äôt take itself too seriously and doesn‚Äôt promise anything more than a few laughs and some undemanding entertainment. Ideal for a long-haul plane flight or a rainy afternoon.
Persepolis – This film adaptation of Marjane Satrapi‚Äôs much lauded comic books is one of the most insightful and visually interesting films I‚Äôve seen in a while. It‚Äôs a film about a great moment in history (The Iranian Cultural Revolution), but seen through the quotidian experiences of a girl coming of age in turbulent times. There‚Äôs real wit, wisdom and humour at work here and some powerful ideas are explored in a very unpretentious manner.
27 Dresses – Cute, winsome and surprisingly entertaining. This is classic matin?©e fodder and the odd plot twists don‚Äôt deviate from what is, essentially, a light and jovial frolic. Katherine Heigl has the potential to go far if her talents in this film are anything to go by. Oh and did I mention the clothes? NO, not the gaudy bridesmaid dresses – but the rest of the couture for MS Heigl and co. Very impressive wardrobe design!!!
Warlords – Big, loud, violent and, for the most part, rather good. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this film is the lack of historical context (I‚Äôll admit to having been totally lost and having to research this after the viewing). That weakness may also be a strength, making the themes of brotherhood, grief and leadership acquire a more universal resonance. At a time when every Western historical war/drama feels like a re-run of Braveheart (see Elizabeth: The Golden Age), it is refreshing to see Asian cinema so boldly treading another path with it‚Äôs historical films. For that sense of vision alone, Warlords merits viewing.
Cloverfield – Yet another concept film. Yet another big, dumb, action movie. But, despite those portents of misery, this film is worth the price of admission.
The idea of building tension by revealing as little as possible about the ‚Äúmenace‚Äù is not new, it‚Äôs an idea that was best exploited in films like Jaws, Alien and The Shining. Moreover, the idea of a film being based on ‚Äúfound footage is also not new, it was popularised in The Blair Witch Project and probably had it‚Äôs beginning with Cannibal Holocaust. Cloverfield takes both these elements and for the middle act of the film, weaves some scenes of terrifying and churning intensity. Had the film stayed on this path of being near to the disaster, without a clear view of it, it may well have managed to do something great and genre-defining.
But, the power is totally sucked out of the film for a number of reasons. First, the overly long and poorly constructed opening is so vapid and narcissistic that it makes it hard to care about the poor characters stuck in this calamity. Second, as the film progresses, the edits become more and more contrived and the shots harder to imagine being made by an amateur working a consumer camera. Third, the more we find out about the monster the less we are impressed or scared of it (which is telling, because there is no lab coat wearing Dr HeresWhereTheMonsterCameFrom on hand).
So, in the end, what could have been a great film winds up being just another dumb action movie. I didn‚Äôt walk out, but I thought about it (had the film been any longer that might have been different). Despite the high concept, what we are given is little more than Godzilla for the post 9/11 cinema.
Croupier – I first saw this film in a thoroughly dishevelled state, while my wife and newly born daughter were still in hospital and I was too much of a wreck to face another night at home alone. It struck a nerve and it still scores some points years later. This is a bleak, tight, existential drama that is clearly not going to appeal to everyone. But, if you are in the right, slightly world-weary mood, it‚Äôs a real treat of a film.
Kenny – I haven‚Äôt laughed this much or this hard in a long time. Kenny, is Australian humour at its best and such stands in a rich tradition, from Paul Hogan, to The Castle and Muriel‚Äôs Wedding as an embodiment of the ‚Äúbottom-up‚Äù reading of Australian culture together with it‚Äôs strengths and shortcomings. That Kenny takes this perspective so literally not only ads to the laughs, but also to the biting edge of its satire and commentary. This is sweet, charming and inventively funny cinema.
Primary Colors – An old favourite that gets a viewing at least once a year in our home and is a must at US election time. Sharp witty satire of highest calibre. It never ceases to amaze me how few people have seen this film or how little critical acclaim it garnered on first release. This is easily the most frequently referenced film in our household and the perfect film to see in the run-up to ‚ÄúSuper Tuesday.‚Äù
Rescue Dawn – Rescue Dawn – Brilliant, moving, compelling. ¬†Best thing Herzog has done in a long time and possibly the best “Vietnam” film ever. ¬†Tells the story of Dieter Dengler, which is one the most amazing POW stories I have ever heard of. ¬†Great performance from Christian Bale, really stunning camera work and a fantastic score from Klaus Badelt.
Where Danger Lives – This year I‚Äôm diving back into Film Noir and thanks to a thoughtful Christmas gift this is where I‚Äôm starting. Unfortunately, Where Danger Lives is not a great noir movie. It contains all the elements, it‚Äôs fascinating for the way it treats the two conceptualised women (the eternally forgiving wed-able women and the mentally ill seductress), but that doesn‚Äôt make up for a patchy and absurd plot and a trite ending.