Wednesday, July 18, 2012

MOVIE REVIEWS #38: "ALBERT NOBBS", "GOON," "THE RUM DIARY", "THE TREE," "TOMBOY," "THE MILL AND THE CROSS", "THE WAVE," "BLANK CITY" and MORE!

Okay, big week this week. Lots of movies this week, and I'm going to be watching a lot more this weekend, as I'm going to attend and report from the Las Vegas Film Festival. I won't be there every second, but I'll be documenting everything I can when I'm there, so there's gonna be a couple reports from there in the next upcoming blogs. I'm glad I'm finally starting to get some comments being made, but I still want people to make and post their TEN GREATEST TV SHOWS. I've gotten a few, but I want to get more, 'cause in the future, I'm gonna be following this up as we document each list, and keeping track of what gets picked, and how often. Speaking of TV, the Primetime Emmy nominations are going to be announced tomorrow morning, don't think I've forgotting, but because I'll be busy at the festival, my analysis of the nominations are going to be pushed to next week, but I will get to them as Emmy night really starts approaching. Also, approaching, we're less than a hundred hits away from 10,000, not bad for our first year! So everybody, get a few people to check out this blog, and let's blow past 10,000 and start making our way towards 100,000!

Alright a lot of movies to get to, so without further adieu, onto the movies!

ALBERT NOBBS (2011) Director: Rodrigo Garcia

4 STARS

It took Glenn Close decades for "Albert Nobbs," to finally be made into a feature film. She originated the role Off-Broadway, back in 1982. She's had this part pestering inside her for years, and she's good at it. She wrote, acted, produced, and even wrote lyrics to the songs for "Albert Nobbs", and yet, I found myself constantly wondering whether she should've chosen to cast someone else.  Albert Nobbs (Oscar-nominee Close) is a woman, who disguises herself as a man, in the late 1800s, Ireland. Why? Because it's easier to find work if you're a man during this day and age. She works as a butler at a nice hotel. No one suspects she's actually a woman. Days she works, and at night, she stays in her little private quarters where there's sparcely any furniture short of a bed, and a few items. Hidden underneath a loose board, she saves money, dreaming of one day opening a tobacco shop, possibly taking in a wife. Despite having been witness to some of the upper crust's debauchery, she's so single-minded, it seems like she may have missed most of what's before her eyes. For the first time, her charade becomes threatened when Hubert Page (Oscar-nominee Janet McTeer) spends the night. He's been hired to paint a bit of the hotel, and the owner, Mrs. Baker (Pauline Collins) decides to have Hubert bunk with Albert for the night. After Albert is exposed, she tries to beg Hubert not to tell, not realizing that Hubert is also a man, posing as a woman. She tells her story, about heading out in her husband's clothes after he passed, and his wife, Cathleen (Bronagh Gallagher). This seems to confuse Albert, shocked to find that a woman has married a woman, but it inspires Albert to begin courting a wife of his own. He sets his eyes on Helen (Mia Wasikowska) a young maid at the hotel, who Albert is taken with. She gets warned multiple times that Helen is trouble, and is going with Joe (Aaron Johnson), the hotel's new boiler room helper and fix-it guy, who's scheming to get to America, and is willing to use Helen to scheme money from Albert, if she can. It's an awkward courtship at best, but a genuine one from Albert, even though he's obsessed with his dream tobacco shop. It's hard to tell whether or not Albert is gay, a transvestite, or just doing what she can to survive. In a wonderful monologue, she admits that she doesn't know her own real name, and when orphaned at age 14, he started to pass as a guy so as not to be attacked, and for work. It's possible that this is the closest Albert has even come to even thinking about sexuality. I mentioned that Close might have miscasted herself in the role. Ten or fifteen years ago, she wouldn't have been miscast, and still she gives an amazing performance, but she does seem out-of-place in a role that probably is better-suited for a lesser-recognizable actress, and a younger one. It especially seems weird when Albert starts courting Helen, since Wasikowska, a great actress, one of my favorites, but she's 23, and she's playing her age, and Glenn Close, one of our greatest actresses, and she's quite beautiful, but she didn't get her first movie role 'til she was 30, and that was 30 years ago. It plays into Albert's naivete, but it still seems strange. The make-up, which also got an Oscar nomination, helps, but it's not like we're not familiar with Glenn Close's career up 'til now. It doesn't play the way they're trying to play. I'm still highly recommending this film though, and despite that age problem, there's a lot to like here. The first hour, is especially good, Janet McTeer's performance, I thought was quite special, maybe moreso than Close's even. Close also made a very smart choice for director, with Rodrigo Garcia. They had worked together on two of his previous films. He made "Mother and Child," last year, which made my ten best list, and he's incredibly good at writing and picking stories, about women, all kinds of women, and showing the relationships and connections between them. He makes this movie, about as good as it could've been, a lot of that is him. I wonder a bit still about, how good the film, could've had it been made, years earlier like it should've been, but this is still quite and memorable film.

GOON (2012) Director: Michael Dowse

3 STARS

A disappoint guy walks up to the bar. Bartender says "What's wrong". Guy says, "I just came from the Spectrum. I bought a ticket to see the fights, and instead, a hockey game broke out." That's an old joke, but it certainly seemed appropriate for "Goon". If that guy wanted to see fights, he would've gotten them in this movie, which seems to portray hockey as a bunch of guys skating around, waiting for the next fight to break out. A goon is hockey terms, is a guy who's on the team, not on the first line, but probably the third or the fourth, who's main job is to beat the hell out of the other team. Usually you put him on a star player to try and knock him out, or at least, make him think twice about trying to score as much as he can. You don't have to teach me about goons, as a lifelong hockey fan, and Flyers fan, a team once referred to as the "Broad Street Bullies," for the their size, and their willingness to fight, I certainly appreciate those guys on the team, that don't do as much scoring, but always find themselves bloodied and toothless on the rink. (I wonder what Dave Schultz thinks of this film.) Based supposedly on a true story, the "Goon," is Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott), a former bouncer who goes to a minor-league hockey game with his friend one day, and finds himself getting into, and winning a fight in the stands, with one of the other team's player. This catches the eye of Halifax's Coach Oglivey (Richard Clarkin), and being in last place, he decides to take a chance on him. They need a goon to protect their egotistical star Xavier Laflamme (Marc-Andre Grondin), and Glatt can fight, we just need to teach him to skate. Chad's a nice guy, but he does what is asked, and pretty soon, he becomes one of the best goons in the league, right around the time Ross Shea (Liev Schrieber) a legendary NHL goon, is just about ready to retire. He also starts dating a hockey fan, Eva (Alison Pill), who sees that Chad's a nice guy despite his job, and despite having a boyfriend, she starts going with him. Not an unusual practice for her actually, she sleeps around a lot, but it's a little different with Chad, and as she tries to deny it, she knows it. "Goon," isn't exactly what I'd call a realistic film in terms of hockey. It's about the equivalent of those "Blitz" video games are to the actual NFL I guess. Lot more blood and violence than hockey, but I got into the film anyway. Scott is good here as Glatt, who's not the smartest guy in the room, or the most talented, but he's smart enough to know that he isn't. He'd like to think he can be a pretty good hockey player at some point, but deep down, he knows that his job, is basically being a bouncer on skates, but as long as he's happy, he seems okay with it. There's a few typical sports movie cliches, but "Goon"'s not your typical sports film. The film it actually reminded me the most of is "The Wrestler," oddly enough, as they're both character studies of people who abuse their bodies for their careers. It's not nearly as good a film, but it's also not aiming that high. "Goon," is a comedy, and a funny at times, but I mostly appreciated it as a character study, and I think it was a good one.

THE RUM DIARY (2011) Director: Bruce Robinson

2 1/2 STARS

The prose of Hunter S. Thompson is some of the most magnificient pieces of writing made in the last-half of the twentieth century, but it never seems to work when we translate that work to screen. I think I know why, and the reason is somewhat obvious. The first-person nature of Thompson's work, gonzo journalism, as it's called now, where you take as many mind-altering substances as possible and then write about your experiences as you see them, all have the point-of-view of Thompson, and one of the things that film has difficulty with, is a first-person perspective, especially one so unique. "The Rum Diary," adapted from an early Thompson novel that was published after his suicide, about his early days as a journalist in Puerto Rico, has some moments, but overall, you feel like you're only getting a second-hand tale, from a first-rate observer. The Thompson stand-in is Kemp (Johnny Depp, who helped get the novel published as he was friends with Thompson after portraying him in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"), who between drinks write some in-depth articles for a small paper in San Juan. He meanders from place to place and person-to-person, as we do. His boss, Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) doesn't like him much, as he never meets his deadline, although he finds a friend in Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi), another reporter who understands that reporting an English-language paper in Puerto Rico, is pretty much the bottom of the barrel in the journalism world. What he uncovers and investigates is some form of real estate development deal, that's on the precipice of altering Puerto Rico forever. There's some other good actors who come in and out of the movie like Aaron Eckhart, who comes in, usually point to some large model that seems to be either in their office, or on the beach, on in their office on the beach, and apparently, something illegal is going down. I honestly can't remember all the specifics, and I really couldn't care less, although for Kemp, he sees this as a miscarriage of justice, and is determine to write about it, despite being fired. The last part of the movie involves an attempt to break into the newspaper in the middle of the night, and begin publishing the story anyway. There's a few notes at the end, talking about how this event is what supposedly transformed forever Hunter Thompson, as a fighter of the status quo, determined to undermine power whenever he can. I think I personally would've enjoyed the journey, but it's kinda like a guy at a bar, who won't shut up about some place he went to and how great it is, and all you want to do is drink your drink in peace. I had some hope for "The Rum Diary", especially with Bruce Robinson directing it. He directing one of the best drunken road trip films with "Withnail & I," but he hasn't directed in almost 20 years until now. He does what he can, he also wrote the script, but if ever there's a writer who's work should remain in print, it's Hunter S. Thompson.

THE TREE (2011) Director: Julie Bertoccelli

2 1/2 STARS

I don't know how they did or where they found it, but the tree, that's at the center of "The Tree," actually looks a little bit like a family tree. A giant, wide bark that twists and turn as much as the branches, which spread out far and wide, so much so that this tree actually gives shade, and not just, an illusion of shade depending on the location of the sun. When Peter O'Neil (Aiden Young), suddenly finds himself unconscious, with his pickup truck still moving and his eight-year old Simone (Morgana Davies) standing up on the back, and it slowly crashing into the tree, it shades the entire truck. Maybe I've lived in a desert two long and tress like these are far more common in the world than I thought, but it was impressive nonetheless. Peter's was unconscious, because he had suddenly died, and now his wife, Dawn, (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is alone, going through a bad depression where he uselessness is borderline intolerable, especially to the older of her four kids. Simone comes to believe that her father is now inside the tree, and that she's still able to hear him, and talk to him inside the tree. It's a nice idea, and just enough of a whimsical fantasy for a kid to have, but the tree begins to be a problem. It's clogging up plumbing systems throughout the area. The O'Neal's toilet at one time, is opened to find it filled with frogs. The neighbors are fed up, and have begun protesting to have it cut down, but there's steadfast refusal from Dawn, and especially Simone, who come to truly believe in the tree's magical powers, even after a massive storm, leads to part of the tree, crashing through the O'Neal's house. "The Tree", is a metaphor, that is the one thing the movie makes completely clear. For awhile, I was willing to go with it, but it didn't stop unfortunately. "The Tree," was literally the root cause of all the problems. (Sorry for the pun, but I had to.) It just slammed this metaphor, so thick and so forced it upon us, that there really isn't much to the movie, outside of the tree. I got it. I got the first, I got it the second. The frogs were a cute touch, but we're getting it, and getting it, over and over, and again and again. I started off well, and interesting, but I just can't recommend "The Tree". Good idea, but it's one of those where, you gotta know, when it's too much, or when it's too subtle,... and it's was just too much heavyhandedness, for me, and by the end, I just lost interest. Can't recommend it.

TOMBOY (2011) Director: Celine Sciamma

4 1/2 STARS



It's takes us about ten minutes in for "Tomboy," to tell us what those who walk into the film blind, might not figure out. Up until then, we've seen just a happy family of four, with one on the way. There's a precocious younger sister, and an overprotective older brother, or at least, that's the roles they're playing. It's easy to make that assumption. Laure (Zoe Heran), isn't a brother, but she dresses and acts like one. She's ten-years old, and when she's mistaken for a boy by those in the playgound, she doesn't correct it. His younger sister Jeanne (Maloon Levana), loves her sister, but Laure's getting older. Right on that line between teenager and kid, and right before their sexuality identity is more well-defined by their bodies. As the new kid in the neighborhood, she calls herself Mickael, and is soon accepted by the kids. Mickael's a good soccer player, and even starts seeing a girl, Lisa (Jeanne Disson). It's odd the coincidences of timing, as I had earlier reviewed "Albert Nobbs," another film about a girl disguising herself as a boy, but that was always as much survival technique as it was, a recognition of a person's personal sexual identity. Laure rejects wearing more feminine clothes like dresses. Her parents (Sophie Cattani and Matthie Demy) are distracted with the recent move to the Paris suburb, and with another kid on the way. At times, it seems that they're so clueless about Laure that at first, I thought maybe they were purposefully raising her as a boy. They're not, but they give their kids some freedom. A lot of girls go through a tomboy stage, when they're young, but many grow out of it as their bodies become more well-defined. (Kinda like the Alyssa Milano character on "Who's the Boss?") Of course, only recently have we even given much thought to people being born with one physical sex, but a different mental sex, and we're starting to try and recognize it in kids. I'm not quite positive of what to think about that yet, but in Laure's situation, and in "Tomboy," there hardly ever seems to be any wrong step. Every part of the film seems believable. In fact, writer/director Celine Schiamma gets some of the greatest performances out of children that I've ever seen. It's the second feature-length film of hers I've seen, after "Water Lillies," which was also a good film about girls in a Parisian suburb, who are exploring their sexuality. "Tomboy," is a better film, in many ways a more important film. It explores these issues in ways that they haven't been before. "Tomboy," seems realistic. I believed every step of the situation Laure gets herself in. It's practically inevitable that "Tomboy," would get made, but that doesn't mean it was going to be good no matter what. Celine Schiamma is starting to become a favorite director of mine, and I can't wait to see what she'll make next.

THE MILL AND THE CROSS (2011) Director: Lech Majewski

1 STAR

A detailed explanation of a painting, and some random Bergmanesque footage, does not a movie make. I seriously just want to end the movie review right there and move on. "The Mill and the Cross," was unbearably boring. The movie was mostly silent, and the dialogue they had, sounded like the most uninteresting art critic/teacher, ever. What the hell were they thinking? Seriously, did they get so bogged down in this concept, that they really didn't bother, taking a second look at a film and wonder, "Is this gonna be entertaining, at all?" Strangely, the concept, at least, the beginning part of it, is a decent one. Take a famous painting, in this case, "The Mill and the Cross," by Pieter Bruegel (Rutger Hauer), and use that as inspiration for a film. That's not unreasonable at all. In fact, a good film was made a couple years with this concept, "Girl with a Pearl Earring", but what they did with that film, was take the painting, which has some mystery involved in it's creation, so there's some room to be creative, and imagine a new drama from it. The filmmakers however, particularly director/co-write Lech Majewski, instead, is so infatuated with the painting, that the entire movie, is basically the painter, talking with his friend, Nicholas Jonghelick (Michael York) describing all the little details, and his reasoning behind the painting, as he's creating it. (I've posted the painting above. Image from Google Images..) It takes, all the life in this scene, portrays the reality of it. Quiet, dull, as though they're some kind pseudo-Bergmanesque imagery, to show that he's attempting to recreate the reality of the time in his art. You know, I can be impressed and infatuated with a painting at times too, but how often do you want to stand there looking at it for an hour and a half? You couldn't get me to do that with the Mona Lisa. This isn't a film, this an art history class essay. You couldn't have picked a worse medium to display this material if you tried. Filmmaking, is the editing of images to tell a story. A painting, is a single image that's used to tell a story. Some can tell amazing stories, but they are not films. I don't care how detailed it is, you can't just portray a painting, in the medium of film, and expect it to be a good movie. You can't expect it to be a movie actually. "The Mill and the Cross, is boring; it's slow; it's pretentious; it was static on the screen; it's dialog with mind-numbing and uneventful, and there wasn't enough of it... did I mention it was slow and boring. You know, I really hated this film. The more I think about it, the more I hate it. Of all the things one could do, with this painting as an influence, why would you come with something like this?

THE WAVE (2011) Director: Dennis Gansel

3 STARS

For a while, "The Wave," was very hard for me to watch. I knew what was happening, and instinctively, I knew how it would end up, and it became very difficult for me to actually literally sit down and watch it. I didn't look too deeply into why I had that feeling, and why, now keep in mind, I rarely do this, but I ended up playing the movie at a little faster speed than normal for part of the film, 'cause I really needed to get through it, and I just couldn't physical sit there and watch it, but now I wonder if it's possible that I did actually know what was going to happen. Here's a rarity, "The Wave," is a German film that's actually based on an American Television Special. The original was an afternoon special, and it actually won an Emmy for Best Children's Program back in the early '80s, and it's definitely scary to think that it can easily be adaptable to today. "The Wave," takes place in a German high school, where there's a special weekly class, intended to teach students the basic principles of autocracy. They have a choice between a couple classes, and most of them probably thought it was a lesser of bad choices, including the teacher Mr. Wegner (Jurgen Vogel) who doesn't want the class either, but since he's stuck it with it, he begins an experiment where the students begin to form an autocratic group. Placing this film in Germany, is right, and all the more disturbing. They think a group like the Nazis could never regain the power that they had, but within a week, they get caught up in this little group of their own called "The Wave". They start stepping in line, they start wearing white t-shirts to school and begin ostracizing those who don't completely join in with the group, in class, and outside of it. They have a Facebook page, and they star graffitiing a logo they created for their group, all over town. Pretty soon, it's getting out of hand. For some reason, it took three years for "The Wave," to hit American theatres, which is odd 'cause I actually think it'd be fairly popular here for a foreign film, especially considering the original was created here. For me, maybe I've seen the original or heard it at one point and subliminally remembered it, that disturbed me more than most films, or maybe the subject matter would've disturbed me anyway. I'm recommending it, 'cause it's effect is certainly memorable and powerful, and I think it got the reaction that it was aiming for. Personally, I have enough nightmares of high school that I don't really like the idea of an added "dictatorial cult-like kliq" be implanted into them. Although considering my high school, if someone had tried to do it, I wouldn't have been shocked if they had succeeded.

BLANK CITY (2011) Director: Celine Danhier


3 STARS


You know, I got to admit, that growing up on "Friends," "Sex and the City," and Woody Allen movies that it's a little hard to picture New York in the '70s. I've heard about it, I've seen movies, some TV shows, I've listened to the music that came out of that area, especially some of those CBGB house bands that would later be clarified as "Punk" or "New Wave", but from most accounts, the Studio 54 was a rare beacon of Caliguliatic light in otherwise roach-infested cesspool of New York. It is here that a community of renegade artists started making movies, and this Post-Warhol filmmaking created what eventually became the Independent Film Movement. "Blank City," takes a look at this era of No Wave filmmaking, with clips from the films, interviews with many of the directors, actors, and other noted New Yorkers to document this little known era of recent cinema history. I actually am being introduced to many of these filmmakers and artists for the first time through this film. Other than Jim Jarmusch and John Waterw really, I don't know a whole lot of the names and films being mentioned, although I remember seeing some old clips of some of them in other places over the years. A lot of them were on music documentaries, especially those on Blondie, as Debbie Harry was often an actor in these films, along with the likes of John Lurie and Steve Buscemi to name a few. They essentially took the techniques of the earlier avant-garde filmmakers, but really stressed narratives, oddly enough. The results were raw and ultra low-budget, if any budget at all (Half the time, they just stole the cameras or the film and got their friends to act), and surprisingly powerful, and they ranged from all genres. Horrors, camp, romance, political allegory, science-fiction, some of the first films to document hip-hop can be traced back to this era. "Blank City," is one of the more insightful documentaries about filmmaking I've seen in a while. Normally, most subjects involving film for documentaries are things I already know a little bit about, but not here. "Blank City," made me want to look up movies like "Smithereens," or "Permanent Midnight,"  and filmmakers like Eric Mitchell, Cassandra Stark, and Amos Poe. "Blank City," is a cool look at these Alphabet City filmmakers, and the beginning of the legacy that man followers aren't even aware that they created. Not that I wish the city was broke and poor again so that we can recreate New York City like the '70s and early '80s to get the kind of creativity that once thrived there again, but, let's say I have a time machine for a second....

UNDERTOW (2010) Director: Javier Fuentes-Leon

4 STARS
The Peruvian film "Undertow," is one of the more unique films I've seen about grief, particularly hidden grief that one has to keep within themselves. Miguel (Christian Mercado) is married to Mariela (Tatiana Astengo). His a fisherman in a poor, traditional beach town, and he cares for his wife, who's pregnant with their first kid. Miguel was having an affair with Santiago (Manolo Cardona). It seems like nobody in the town knew, as they prepare for Tiago's funeral. He drowned himself in the ocean, but Miguel still goes out, and imagines the times he had, and the times he wishes he still had with him. At first, it's hard to even tell whether it's a fantasy or a flashback, but no, Tiago is a ghost. He's a figment that haunts Miguel. He's still in love with him. The town told many rumors about Tiago, like how he's always painting, but nobody ever sees any of his paintings.  , but as the family strives for the funeral to be in the ridgest of old-time tradition, Miguel is finding it harder and harder to keep Miguel out of his mind, and suddenly Santiago doesn't just start appearing, when he's alone. I mentioned the film's about hidden grief, and it is, but it's also about finding finding oneself. For Miguel, it happened too late, and only after Taigo's death did he finally come to terms with his-, no that's the wrong term, "come to terms with," accepted himself as homosexual. That he could be happy being gay. Could be. He's still married, he has a kid, that's almost here, and his lover has passed. Everything's too late for Miguel. There's often scenes shown where him and Tiago are holding hands, without anybody noticing. I think they're imagined in Miguel's mind, similar to Tiago's ghostly presence, it's not just him that's gone, but it's the life that could've been that left with him. "Undertow," is quite good; it's actually better than the way I'm describing it. I get a sense and a mood for this Peruvian village. One of those things where specificity is beneficial. I think I could make my way through this area of the world, and it makes the story of loss, that much more universal. "Undertow," is a solid first feature film from Director Javier Fuentes-Leon, hopefully he's got more coming soon. He's clearly got a knack for taking even simple stories and making them seem new and refreshing, and told in a different way than before. There's been some good movies out of Peru lately, "Undertow," is one more of them.

VENUS NOIRE (2010) Director: Abdellatif Kechichie

5 STARS

"Black Venus," or "Venus Noire," as I call it, is one of the saddest biopics I've ever seen. It's the story of Saartjes "Sarah" Baartman (Yahima Torres), a woman who lived one of the most degrading lives ever. She's originally from South Africa, where she had an unwed child with a Dutch settler and left her alone with a child, who ended up dying from illness when he was two. She desired to escape South Africa, whatever way she can, and she took a job as a carnival act for Hendrick Caezar (Andre Jacobs). On top of being, at worst a slave for him, and at best, an undervalued partner, her act is to be a so-called African savage that's been tamed enough to be shown off like King Kong to freak show crowds.  The performance is humiliating. She wears a body suit that showcases her large figure, and at the end of the show, she gets touched, usually on her ass, by members of the crowd. The show got brought to court for decency and taste concerns in London, but when the act moved to France, where they were more appreciative of the performance as an act, she performed for the upper bourgeoisie at the highest of social gatherings and parties. A lifetime of performing like this, would be a horrific life in of itself, but she then attracts the attention of some misguided scientists, who are fascinated by her body. The roundness of the buttocks, an unusually large labia, the curvature and muscularness of her body. The poke and pry every inch of her, believing that she is the missing link between apes and humans. As her act runs it's course, she spends the rest of her young life, working at a brothel, eventually dying from illness at age 27. The movie begins and ends with the prototype the scientists made of her, which they called, ironically, the Black Venus. Yahima Torres gives one of the greatest performances I've seen in years at Saartjes Baartman. She doesn't say that much in the film ironically. She testifies to the performance value of her stage act, and even then, she remains quiet, almost indifferent. She was determined to not go back to South Africa, and I think that's a clue, the infinite sadness of her life before, must've devasted her. She seems in another life, like she'd be a proud and powerful woman, but that women is beaten out of her, literally at times, but definitely metaphorically. "Venus Noire," is one powerful film about a woman who had a fascinating life, that absolutely nobody envies.

LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS (1999) Director: Guy Ritchie

3 STARS

You know, I'm not entirely sure what people respond to when they watch your average Guy Ritchie film. I've seen practically all of them, and honestly, I think the one I liked best, strangely enough, until now was "Swept Away," the most un-Ritchie thing he's done, and I might have been the only person alive who gave that film a somewhat likable review. He's clearly got a certain style, where he brings together a bunch of eclectic characters, and puts them in a situation that somehow they're all connected to, usually a heist, although if anybody can piece together any of his films from a beginning to end, explaining what exactly happened, I'd be shocked. That's not a problem per se, if I think too deeply watching "The Big Sleep," I'll miss a good movie, but sometimes I think he uses so many unusual shots and editing techniques, in order to be kinetic and different, that he dilutes any actual human interest we may have in the characters that his films may have had. "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," his first feature, and one of his best films, is a good example. He hasn't become so heavily influenced by flash in his filmmaking, so there's actually some substance in this film, but still, it's hard to follow the four-lads, Eddy (Nick Moran) the cardshark who enters a poker game somewhat unwisely with his three friends', Tom (Jason Flemyng), Bacon (Jason Statham) and Soap (Dexter Fletcher) money. He's in big debt to Hatchet Harry (P.M. Moriarty), so he's got a week to pay his debt, and they all decide to pull off a heist. In the meantime, another crime that Hatchet Harry pulls, regarding two valuable shotguns get botched a couple times, in a couple different ways.  Here, this film slows down enough for us to be properly introduced to the four guys at the beginnning of the film, and the movie isn't so rushed, that we can still somewhat reasonably keep track of them, and what they're up to, when they all come together and start on this heist, or sit down at a bar and start talking. The dialogue is Tarantino-esque, although not on the same level, but just interesting enough to listen to. For whatever reason, these stylized Guy Ritchie crime thriller/comedies, whatever the hell they think they are, are popular. Imdb's poll has "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," is ranked at 154 on their Top 250. I don't particularly get it, but at least with "Lock..." I hung on, until the end, and still managed to care about the result, while doesn't happen much in his other films like "Snatch." and "RockNRolla", where I kept looking at my watch, waiting for the energy to cool down. So for that reason, I'm recommending it.

THE MAGDALENE SISTERS (2003) Director: Peter Mullan

4 1/2 STARS

There's a line in the movie "Saved!" that I think about sometimes. They were talking about those places that claim they can cure homosexuality. It went something like "Places like Mercy House aren't their for the kids, they're their for the parents to send them". I'm misquoting badly I'm sure, but that idea of simply disowning or eliminating unwanted, supposed shames, is not new. "The Magdalene Sisters," takes place in Ireland in the '60s, and follows girls who are sent to a local Magdalene Laundry until they've been reprieved of their sins. There sins include childbirth out of wedlock, or attracting the attention of boys, and other so-called "sins," that the church will claim they'll take in the goodness of their heart. The Magdalene Laundries was supposedly where they'd learn to attone for their sins. What it really was, was a humilating slave labor, where the women would do all the nun's laundry all day. They'd be beaten if they ever talked, and when some tried to escape, they were sent back. One of them is named Rose (Dorothy Duffy), but they already have a Rose, so the nuns call her Patricia instead. One girl, Crispina (Eileen Walsh) is a bit of a simpleton. She's there for having a kid out of wedlock. Occasionally, she sees her kid, who's brought outside the gate by a friend who adopted her. Another girl, Una (Mary Muray) tries to escape, but then gets sent back by her father, who disowns her. What her career choice ends up being will certainly make you think. Bernadette's (Nora-Jones Noone) the leader of the group. Another girl is suddenly picked up by her brother after four years, because he's come of age and left the family to begin with. She sees the lavish food the nuns feast off of at lunch, and the money they take in for keeping these girls. She's accused of having sex too young, which she hasn't ironically, but guys make googly-eyes over her, and she doesn't do a particularly good job, making sure they stop, at least from one teacher's perspective. Sister Bridget (Geraldine McEwan), is the head of the institution, and she's as vicious a nun as I've heard them describe from those unfortunate enough to attend Catholic school. These laundries existed as recently as 1996. I mentioned that this story, based on actual women and events, took place in the '60s, but any resemblance to the decade inside the laundry, will never be noticed. It might as well be last century. "The Magdalene Sisters," is another chilling reminder of just how un-Christianlike the Catholic Church has a tendency to be, especially in places where they have real power over the people. It's not an easy film to watch, but it's a powerful one. Rarely has a shot of a girl looking into a shop window, staring at a washing machine, been so heartwrenching.

I COULD NEVER BE YOUR WOMAN (2007) Director: Amy Heckerling

3 STARS

"I Could Never Be Your Woman," wasn't released theatrically in the U.S. for some reason originally. It's a little bit odd consider the filmmaker's involved. Writer/Director Amy Heckerling is most famous for directing "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," as well as such popular comedies as "Look Who's Talking," and "Clueless", and is generally considered one of the major women filmmakers working in Hollywood, and she got some A-list talent for this film. Rosie (Michelle Pfieffer) is the head writer for a sitcom called "Yo Go Girl," which is aimed for the teen and pre-teen market. It's one of those shows where everyone's in high school, even though all the actors are in their thirties. She's a single Mom, beautiful, but aging in L.A. terms, and spends her days trying to keep her daughter Izzie (Saoirse Ronan) from inevitably falling in love with some kid in school named Dylan. Rosie, is a little too much of a teenager personality to begin with, and Izzie seems to know this, and their relationship is an intriguing one, that can involve everything from the correct disposal of naked Barbie dolls to each of them helping the other with advice about men. Rosie's lovelife been dormant since her divorce from Nathan (Jon Lovitz) who keeps stealing stuff from the house that they argue over who bought. (I would've stolen the Welcome Back, Kotter boardgame too.) While looking for auditions for a part, she meets Adam (Paul Rudd) a very talented actor who's clearly smitten with her, and the feeling's mutual. He's in his twenties, and she says she's in her thirties, which causes Mother Nature (Tracey Ullman) to do a spit take. Oh yeah, Mother Nature is in this movie. She's basically used as an inner thought bubble for Rosie, as she gives off diatribes about how she can't stand how women are so focused on their careers, and delaying the natural evolution of settling down and having babies, and here's 40-year old Rosie, having fun with a much younger man. This idea of Mother Nature probably should've been cut, or maybe rethought, but it's so well casted and performed by Ullman, that I'd be reluctant to let it go too. There are some problems with the film, especially the last half-hour or so, which really doesn't work that well, and falls into some pretty bad rom-coms cliches. It takes a talented young actress like Ronan to pull off that scene at the talent show, where she's pretty good song parody artist. There's some good performance all around the film also by Fred Willard and Sarah Alexander, who I really never see enough of, ever. There's an interesting performance by Stacey Dash too; she plays the star of the TV show, playing a high school girl, and her and Heckerling are doing a bit of self-satirizing here, as she was in both the movie and TV series of "Clueless", which Heckerling created and also produced, briefly. (I'm one of the few that actually preferred the TV show to the movie, so that's partly why I bring that up) Pfieffer could be a stand-in for Heckerling as well to some extent here. "I Could Never Be Your Woman, is definitely not a perfect film. Rudd and Pfieffer's chemistry isn't great, it's not bad, but it's not great, and there does seem to be a few too many ideas being thrown together at the same time, it probably could've been smoother with a couple ideas left out, but overall, it's light, enjoyable, and pretty funny, and considering some of the romantic-comedies that have been in the theatres the last couple years, I'll take this film over most of them.
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