Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Short Reviews of Recent FIlms

I've fallen way behind in my film reviewing - even just doing these kinds of capsules. Some of the problem comes from the fact that a couple films tend to get away from me - the capsules start to edge into full reviews, and then what? Actually - it would be a bit more accurate to say there are a couple films I've seen in the last month or two that I can't stop arguing with myself about. That sort of mixed reaction can really slow down the process... Anyway - there is no point waiting for those films to work themselves out to post about others - so - here are a few quicker reviews of recent films. This will have to do for now - I suppose these are, almost by definition, not the most interesting recent films - but there you go. That isn't really true - there are a couple gems on here - but they're gems that I don;t find it hard to figure out. So... anyhow:

Carnage - 10/15 - 2 sets of parents meet to work out something after a fight between their kids. Then they can't leave the apartment. Roman Polanski's latest, an adaptation of a play, a tour de force for the actors and Polanski, to make a visual feast out of one room and 4 people and an hour and a half of time.... There has been something of a run lately of films that struck me as being much better in the execution than the conception. I don't know if there is much to this story - it's rather bland and unrevealing, really, though there are some sharp lines - but the acting more than puts it over. The cast is absolute trumps, I will say. The men are hilarious - Waltz can get a laugh from almost anything - reactions, timing; John C. Reilly is his usual abrud self. The women play differently - Winslet and Foster are both more tightly wound, both play the characters a little straighter - but they give the men plenty to play against, and sneak in their own comedy along the way. Winslet especially gets some neat physical comedy moments - Foster seems willing to take the straight role, trying to take the Whole Thing Seriously while the rest of them riff - it works. And Polanski keeps it moving, uses the space, blocking, timing superbly. The film remains fun to watch, even if the story is, you know - drab. I liked it, even if it didn't amount to as much as it seemed to think it did.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - 8/15 - hey! Another film better in the execution! This time, I suppose, the gap is nearly insurmountable - and Fincher and his cast, for all their virtues, can only do so much with it. Everyone else in the world seems to have read these books - at least carried them around for a year or so - so I suppose there's not much point is talking about the plot. What do we have? Daniel Craig as a reporter who's just lost a libel suit to a guy who looks like a cross between Julian Assange and the guy who plays Nicolai Carpathia in the Left Behind films. He's then hired by Christopher Plummer to find out what happened to his granddaughter (or niece or grandneiece or something like that) Harriet, back in 1966. This is intercut with the misadventures of Rooney Mara in the person of Lisbeth Salandar, a girl with a dragon tattoo and some kind of supersleuth. Eventually reporter and hacker/spy/whatever she is join forces and solve the mystery and wreck Julian Assange Carpathia in a 30 second subplot at the end. Yay! It is very silly, very silly indeed - though Fincher and his cast make it seem like it ought to be interesting. It is saddled, I suppose, with a particularly obvious mystery to solve - and can't really build up any suspense when characters are put in peril since, I mean - there are two more books, right? So - that leaves Fincher working very hard to make the process of looking at old pictures and running google searches seem inherently interesting. He manages it too, mostly - he should stick to procedurals, though he'd be well advised to pick material that has something interesting about it. I am going to give way to my inherent cynicism and guess that the reason these books are so popular is because they are full of fake atrocities and icky sex and violence and really obvious plotlines that make anyone feel clever. The movies I imagine are popular because girls in leather are cool, and this one is particularly cool. Though probably not Aeon Flux cool, try as she might.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - 10/15 - classic spy novel made into a film by Tomas Alfredson who made Let the Right One In, with Gary Oldman heading a cast of the Finest British Actors... Story about uncovering a mole in British intelligence, told elliptically, very coolly - it looks great, widescreen compositions, barren forbidding spaces - but maybe is a bit too cold. I also suspect the act of compressing the novel into a feature film has pushed the story past clear comprehension - it seemed a bit of a mess... But it is a solid film, the performances are quite good, and it looks like the 70s on ice.

The Descendants - 11/15 - Alexander Payne's new film, with George Clooney as a lawyer whose wife is in a coma; he is also the trustee on a large estate that has to be sold. He has 2 daughters, 17 and 10 - he has not been the best father, and they are both a bit crazy - but they have to bond and all... They make the rounds of their families, telling the bad news about the wife (who is going to die), and bringing out various secrets and lies. And so on. It's interesting - a quiet, patient character study, with several people emerging - the daughters as well as Clooney. Understated and decent. It is hard to summarize - not that there isn't a story to summarize, though Payne does tend to approach the plot obliquely, through the characters - but because the plot does seem less important than the relationships that develop. Somewhere, back when it first came out, I saw a remark that it felt like a TV sitcom pilot. There's something to that. I know that sounds dismissive, but I think that describes the structure of the film very well - the story you see feels like setting up the central relationships, the new family unit. A lot of the story ends up deliberately deferring decisions - and the ending (Clooney and girls sitting on the couch, watching TV) feels like it is setting up more, rather than finishing what has come. You can imagine what comes next - the motherless family, the land issues and family issues left unfinished in the film. It would work. In any case - I liked it - a very satisfying film.

Le Havre - 12/15 - New Kaurismaki, and a wonderful little film - lovely and moving and funny, classic Kaurismaki. About a shoe shine man and his wife, living on the edge of poverty - she becomes ill, with something usually fatal. She lies about it to her husband though - meanwhile, he has run across a boy from Gabon, who managed to narrowly escape being caught by the police. So the man hides him, and tries to get him to London to be with his mother. The cops look for the kid - the man and his friends organize a concert to raise money to send the boy to London - in the end, another character is also redeemed. And - sometimes the doctors either get the prognosis wrong or do their jobs better than they know... great little film.

Outrage - 11/15 - one more big time auteurist film, a yakuza flick from Beat Takeshi, an unusually cold and dour one. Starts at a big meeting, where the top boss tells a major underling to look out for another gangster - so the underling tells his underling, Kitano, to get the rival. This sets off a series of ploys to shake down the other gangsters, push them out, force them to fight. It's very cool, the way Kitano's gang keeps escalating things, while the gangster on the other side can't figure out what is going on. This continues until the rival is broken - but then, the big boss starts going for the rest of them, especially when the rival turns up again. And so on - the top boss plays the rest of them against each other (Kitano's Otomo, his boss Ikemoto, another one, Ozawa, in between) - until they all burn one another up. It is single-mindedly nihilistic - the top bosses manipulating the people under them - the smaller fry attacking one another and consuming one another as they go, all burning up like paper in a fire. It offers none of the catharsis of his older gangster films - no one (important) goes down in a blaze of glory - people die sloppy, cruel little deaths, knifed in a prison yard, shot down naked in a sauna, gunned down by a dull confederate during a beach party, dragged from a car by the neck.... no one but the money men are left standing. You have to figure that is the point - the purposelessness of it all, without redemption or even glory.

No comments: