Sunday, January 1, 2012

Reviews

As usually is the case for me this time of year, I need a space to catch up with capsule reviews I've neglected to post upon seeing the film in question. I'll update this post throughout the season as I see more films.

Miss Bala

A skinny beauty pageant contestant (sincerely played by Stephanie Sigman) is becomes unwillingly embroiled with drug runners in the firecracker crime thriller Miss Bala, Mexico's submission for Best Foreign Language Film. Taking advantage of our aspiring model's slender frame, a brutal drug lord forces her to aid in smuggling drug money over the border, not to mention exploit her sexually. Writer/director Gereardo Naranjo keeps us as confused and uncertain as our frightened heroine is regarding the complicated politics of the drug dealers and their constantly shifting allegiances. We're never sure what chain of events will occur next. We only know that it'll be violent. Naranjo relishes in long takes; almost excessively, but they all look terrific.

*** out of ****
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Pina

Germany's submission for Best Foreign Language Film, and also one of the 15 finalists for Best Documentary Feature, is Pina, Wim Wenders 3D ode to the late Pina Bausch, renowned interpretive dancer and choreographer. For me, an objective review of this type of film is scarcely possible, as I am clearly not the target audience. Your response to this tribute piece will more than likely hinge entirely on your affinity for interpretive dance. If you're a fan of the art form, I can imagine that you'll be excited and invigorated by the unique 3D cinematic treatment that it's given here. You've never seen dance done quite like this on film. Gene Kelly himself would be impressed. Alas, if modern dance is not your thing (guilty), I dare say you'll find it quite a slog. I don't believe either the Documentary branch nor the Foreign Film committee (save perhaps the executive committee) will bite on this extremely atypical piece. The niche to which it appeals is just too small.

**1/2 out of ****
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Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids is a tale of two comedies. One is a romantic-comedy that only sometimes leans into chick flick territory, boasting precise and hilarious character work from a well-appointed cast. The other is a broad farce that has prompted many to relabel it “The Hangover” for women, generating hit-or-miss laughter from crude or outlandish situations. You don't need to be a mind reader to guess which comedy I preferred. Indeed, it's the more low key scenes in Bridesmaids that got more sincere laughter out of me, but the inconsistency between class and crass kept me from fully embracing it at all times. Still, as far as summer comedies go, you could do worse.

**1/2 out of ****
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J. Edgar

Eesh. No offense to Clint Eastwood, whose diverse career in Hollywood is nothing if not remarkable, but J. Edgar marks the third dull-as-dishwater film he's cranked out in as many years. Granted, most of the film's problems stem from Dustin Lance Black's by-the-numbers screenplay (the worst way to write biopics, don't ya know), complete with irrelevant chronological jumps that try vainly to forge thematic links between different eras of Hoover's life. Leo DiCaprio and his perpetually furrowed brow try their best to break out from under layers of latex aging makeup, with some success as well. A noble attempt at the very least. Poor Armie Hammer, on the other hand, looked quite suffocated beneath his plastic English-Patient-esque face mask. The film looks more or less like any Clint has made this decade, with desaturated cinematography and minimalist sets and costumes (not necessarily a bad thing). Deborah Hooper's subtle period-spanning threads are one of the few things in this film that fits perfectly.

** out of ****
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Albert Nobbs

Glenn Close's long-gestating passion project Albert Nobbs, based on the play which she herself originated from a George Moore short story, makes its way to the screen under Rodrigo Garcia's direction and Close's writing/producing. Close stars as the titular Nobbs, a woman masquerading as a butler in an Irish hotel in the late 1800s, with an Upstairs/Downstairs kinda vibe. Her end goal is to save enough to open her own tobacco shop and rid herself of her perpetual disguise, but she must tread a fine line to avoid being found out. The film is a sedate look at identity and confidence in one's self that never fully gets of the ground. The languid pace and soft-spoken performances can induce heavy eyelids at times, but there's often a sprinkling of dry humour just around the corner to prick you up. Pierre-Yves Gayraud's well-appointed costumes are pitch perfect.

**1/2 out of ****
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50/50

Laughter truly is the best medicine in Jonathan Levine's dramedy 50/50, in which 27-year-old cancer patient Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) struggles to beat a rare spinal tumour that threatens to cut him down in his prime. That such touchy subject matter could be treated as a comedy is something of a small feat. That the humour never strays into morbid territory is more impressive still.
Gordon-Levitt is superb, delivering a controlled performance that maintains his character's typically mellow demeanor but subtly infers the anxiety simmering within. One of the most emotionally compelling aspects of Will Reiser's terrific screenplay (which will hopefully eke out an Oscar nomination) is how it devotes balanced attention to how Adam's small circle of family and friends cope with his ominous illness. Everyone who cares about him responds in a different way; his mother (Angelica Huston) lets her overbearing maternal instincts take over, his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) starts to distance herself despite not wanting to abandon him, his timid sophomore therapist (Anna Kendrick) reaches out to him in ways that might not be up to professional standards, and his crass best friend (Seth Rogen) tries to put a happy face on everything, often in a well-intentioned but insensitive fashion. This kind of character-driven film requires the very best from its ensemble, and all players nail their respective roles with naturalistic ease.

***1/2 out of ****
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Win Win

A frazzled high school wrestling coach played by Paul Giamatti takes in a wayward youth ad wrestling prodigy in Win Win. What starts as an opportunistic ploy to improve his wrestling team turns into a more important chance to improve the kid's life, and maybe even his own by extension. The humour of McCarthy's droll script makes this a very easy film to digest, but somewhere in the translation from page to screen the emotion got a little weathered – certainly not up to the standard of his swell 2008 feature The Visitor.

**1/2 out of ****
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Martha Marcy May Marlene

Rookie filmmaker Sean Durkin has an excellent debut with Martha Marcy May Marlene, an unnerving account of a young woman struggling to readjust after escaping an abusive cult.
Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) has been missing for two years when she finally contacts her older sister (Sarah Paulson) who happily takes her in. But even in the relative privacy of her sister and brother-in-law's summer home, Martha has a hard time relearning societal norms. She had been living in a commune in the Catskills where she'd been indoctrinated with the philosophies of a vaguely dangerous cult leader (John Hawkes), and her constant dreams and recollections of her bizarre experience result in deluded behaviours that her sister and brother-in-law cannot understand.
Durkin is clearly a talent to watch. His screenplay is an artful psychological study that unobtrusively guides the audience to their own understanding of what is dream and what is reality, what is paranoia and what is justified fear. The story does meander a bit, but his direction keeps it engaging. Olsen is superbly ambiguous, every facial tick revealing unspoken anguish and uncertainty. Some of the supporting performances are less naturalistic, but never glaringly so.

*** out of ****
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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Thomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the followup to his sensational 2008 horror Let the Right One In, is a calculated, minimalist espionage thriller that registers so subtly with its viewer that it might not even feel like it's registered at all, but give it time and you may find you're still thinking about after the credits roll. It has, indeed, registered.
Based on a John Carre novel, the story is set in 1970s London where former British Intelligence agent George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is forced out of retirement to help pinpoint a Soviet mole operating within the organization. Oldman and his tightly knit supporting cast (which includes the likes of Colin Firth, John Hurt, and Tom Hardy) give a collective performance that is quietly controlled, so as to keep the focus on Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan's attentive screenplay. It moves a bit slowly, but at least it allows its audience time to process all the little narrative cogs that compose the elaborate plot. The period is expertly evoked with nuanced detail by production designer Maria Djurkovic.

*** out of ****
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My Week with Marilyn

Boo boo be-doo. “Doo” is right, and it's probably the best word I could use to describe the mess that is My Week with Marilyn. Suffering from a severe lack of proper pacing, the story careens from scene to scene with the awkward timing of a Don Bluth cartoon. The script, while telling a story with all sorts of potential, is a hack job. Characters bluntly state expository details and thoughts that could have been more effectively internalized. The saving graces come in the form of a pair of performances; Michelle Williams, who becomes Monroe not only in body and voice, but in heart and soul, revealing frightened mix of ego, uncertainty, and addiction. Kenneth Branagh is appropriately theatrical as Marilyn's director Lawrence Olivier, providing the film with most of its few genuinely comic moments.

*1/2
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Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

If you consider yourself a thinking man/woman, you may not be particularly drawn to a blockbuster actioner like Brad Bird's foray into live action, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. But even vacuous popcorn entertainment, if done well, can be well worth your time and money. MI4 is a perfect example of easily accessible turn-your-brain-off fun. The plot may be convoluted and serves as little more than an excuse to string together action set pieces, but when said set pieces are as expertly executed as this (boasting swell sound editing and the best stunt work of the year), you can forgive its inherent narrative deficiencies. Highlights include a high-speed pursuit through a sandstorm, a daring infiltration of the Kremlin, and a skyscraper scaling that wreaked havoc with my vertigo!

**1/2
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Warrior

Without the same kind of awards buzz that was afforded last year's similarly themed The Fighter, Warrior kinda came and went without much ado. But those who are willing to give it a chance may discover a stirring tale of redemption and forgiveness. Nick Nolte superbly elicits pathos as the repentant father two estranged brothers vying for the top prize at a mixed martial arts tournament, and much like him, we the audience aren't rooting for one to win over the other, but for a reconciliation. While running a bit long, the knock-out editing keeps us riveted, especially during the fight-heavy second half.

*** out of ****

1 comment:

  1. I was tempted to catch Bridesmaids on home video, but didn't. A good friend of mine (also a movie buff) said that he liked J. Edgar and I think it looks alright. 50/50 I honestly never thought it was that great.

    By the way, if you want to see my Awards, the Tyler's Choice Awards, feel free. Here's the link. I'd love to hear feedback.
    http://www.rottentomatoes.com/user/847609/blogs/

    Enjoy :)

    ReplyDelete