The Official Review Thread of 2009

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Re: The Official Review Thread of 2009

Postby Sabin » Tue Oct 25, 2011 11:44 am

DOUBLE POST.

I still have one or two stragglers from 2009 I need to catch up on like 35 Shots of Rum. It's getting harder and harder for me to make a top ten. I think a lot of this can be credited to a distinct shift for me in the measure of the greatness in the films that are coming out. When I first started going to the movies, it seemed like I could look at a film and declare it a masterpiece. This isn't a case of a fledgling cinephile falling in love with the medium. I felt it during The Lives of Others, Children of Men, The Assassination of Jesse James..., Everyone Else, WALL*E...masterpieces. But now I see several films that simply seem like indicative of future talent. I think this is because it was easier for a filmmaking to make a low budget feature, see it break through the climate of obstinance, and go onto make a second feature with a bevy of financial and emotional support. That's not the case now. This past decade was bereft of the talent of the 90s. So instead we're seeing interesting films and promising films as these interesting, promising filmmakers try to brave the morass and create something capable of being seen at all.

With the advent of digital distribution, the medium is changing. Movie stars are not actors anymore, they are attachments to ensure a return on deposit, and really that is it. I'm crossing my fingers for guys like Antonio Campos.
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Re: The Official Review Thread of 2009

Postby Sabin » Tue Oct 25, 2011 11:40 am

Afterschool (Antonio Campos)

Over dark we hear the sexual moaning of a porn. We cut in to see a child laughing on youtube. This is not a crude juxtaposition. Both the porn and the child laughing probably have between them several million hits on youtube.

Two very attractive blondes, Ann and Mary, known amongst their peers as coke bunnies overdose in the campus hallways of a New York prep school. Their overdose is accidentally caught on camera in its entirety by A/V Club dweeb and dorm room shut-in Robert (Ezra Miller). The school is awash in mourning, which quickly causes a campus-wide War on Drug. Robert and his grieving AV Club member Amy are charged with creating a memorial largely because Robert was the first person there and not because he had any form of contact with the deceased. They lose their virginities to each other in a park. In a warmer film, they would heal it out together, but Robert is functionally retarded. His roommate, Dave, who serves as a campus-wide drug-dealer and womanizer is not. Amy is initially attracted to Robert because he seems nicer, but he's not. His eyes are in a perennial dazed squint like his entire life is viewed through a youtube channel. No sooner does Robert tell Dave about his sexual conquest do he and Amy begin to pair up. It begins as an adolescent joust of one-up-manship, but eventually we come to understand that Dave is genuinely begrieved by his involvement in the twins' deaths. Robert loses Amy because he never connected with her more than in a voyeuristic fashion, because he never opened up to her.

There is a lot going on in the situation I just presented. Chief among them driving the narrative is enlisting the aid of somebody completely wrong to create a memorial. Robert looked like the right guy because he was there when they died and because he looks like someone who could be a filmmaker. But he isn't. He can't create a memorial for anybody because he is a voyeur. He only knows what something looks like through a screen. Secondary among them is Robert's ability to register pain or rather more pain than one. He knows that the girl he just had sex with is lost to him, and he goes to a dark place which is all the more darkened because he doesn't really deserve her. It only looks on paper like Dave is the asshole trying to get her, but really he's going through something that requires companionship. Robert doesn't know what companionship is.

Obviously when Robert reveals his memorial it's not what they want to see or here. Rather it's a combination of putting on a "Tragedy Face", speaking of people as they were really known (hot girls from a distance), and an expressionistic statement about turning away from the problem. It's a cry for help that none (especially not Michael Stuhlbarg's Mr. Burke) are really capable of addressing any more than the death of the young girls. This is not to say that Robert really deserves special treatment, but he clearly as much the elephant in the room as the Talbert Twins. I think Afterschool speaks something resonating to the ability of the prior generation to relate to the current one especially with the exponential rate of technological advances but more so the indoctrination of the current one at such an early age. Afterschool is about control. One generation's ability to control the next and the new generation's ability to control themselves in a world of unparalleled outside influence. The very porn that Robert is so enamored with derives from is all about control, and as we learn from the end of the film the ability to control anything even a problem even the elephant in the room is a vicious circle.

This film isn't for everyone. Admittedly, it plays out like a long short film, but I found it devastating.
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Postby Mister Tee » Sun Jun 27, 2010 2:41 pm

Checking in very late with the '09 stragglers...The Last Station.

Hoffman is a man without style, to put it mildly, but didn't it occur to even him that a film ending in depressing death shouldn't begin as if it's Restoration comedy? Everything in the first hour is played as light farce, some of it quite labored. McAvoy's character feels hopelessly contrived to me -- his ostentatious uptight-ness, the ludicrous sneezing shtik. The hot-chick-who-insists-on-deflowering-you plot development remains, I see, the fantasy of the horny screenwriter. The only upside to this is, afterward, McAvoy seems visibly more relaxed, no longer having to pretend to be the hopeless virgin. But, as Italiano says, this entire strand of the film is a Hollywoody waste of time, utterly disconnected from what should be our main focus.

Plummer is pretty good as Tolstoy, but in what universe is that a supporting role? He and Mirren certainly have equivalent screentime. The voters' decision to cram him into the supporting slot -- in a year when his chances of winning were below zero -- seems to me all too symptomatic of how ridiculous recent Oscar finagling has become (in the process cheating true support folk like Mackie or McKay out of recognition).

Mirren is nicely, dryly funny for the first hour -- giving some of her best line readings in a while -- but she goes progressively further over the top as the film takes its "serious" turn.

I agree with Italiano that I'd like to have seen a film that examined in a more clear-eyed way the motives of the Giammatti character. When he expressed fear that the Countess and her priest would try to wangle a deathbed conversion, for the first time I saw a reasonable point of view, and wondered if there might be more behind it. But, in terms of the film, it was way too late, as the character's literal moustache-twirling had established him as pure villain. I know some around here just can't stand Giammatti, but for me he's done good enough work in Sideways and John Adams that I blame the casting folk and directors for sticking him with one-dimensional roles lie this.

All tolled, I'm not sure what the film was trying to say/accomplish. It wasn't painful to watch -- it had its funny moments -- but it didn't add up to anything memorable for me.

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Postby Mister Tee » Tue Jun 22, 2010 11:45 am

Jim Sheridan is very much a meat-and-potatoes, no-flair director, and if his films are memorable it's because of his feeling for/understanding of his characters. Brothers was a poor choice of projects for him, because the plot is too schematic (the contrast of one brother being released from jail simultaneously with the other shipping to Afghanistan is cartoon-level), and because the American family of the script is not in his wheelhouse the way his Irish characters have been. I realize this film is based on a non-American effort, but the script as written includes alot of standard American tropes -- notably the emotionally constipated, hard-drinking military Dad, whose character I think has not a shred of authenticity. In fact, for me, the film's entire view of the military feels as if it's the product of someone with no first-hand knowledge. (Unlike, say, The Hurt Locker, which, despite my lack of enthusiasm for it, I can't deny clearly felt like an insider's view) The only moments in the story that really rang true for me were the horseplay among the kitchen repairmen, and the scenes with the kids -- Sheridan does continue his good work with child actors.

But for me the story didn't work at all. I found Maguire's big traumatic scene in Afghanistan unbelievable -- not because I think such a thing can't happen, but because I didn't see the steps in Maguire's disintegration that would have made such a shocking change feel inevitable. And the other important plot element -- the Portman/Gyllenhaal relationship -- was shockingly under-developed. Yes, there was, as Portman says, only one kiss, but how important was that kiss? I imagine all of us have experienced single kisses that were instantly forgotten, and others have lingered a lifetime. Into which category did this one fall? I'm not sure the film really lets us know, and how we feel about the entire rest of the story rests on that.

Big disappointment overall for me.

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Postby ITALIANO » Thu Jun 03, 2010 3:41 pm

I finally saw The Last Station. It's not a good movie, but its subject is, of course, so fascinating that it's kind of watchable despite its flaws (actually one keeps trying to ignore its flaws till it's really impossible). It should have been made by Russians (though the only movie I saw before about Tolstoi was Russian and wasnt very good either), certainly not by Brits - who, again, show they can't "get" Russia and the unique Russian soul. They try hard - actors are obviously told by their (terribly unimaginative) director to be "emotional", but despite all the tears (of joy and of sadness) in their eyes, it's not natural and it shows. There is a totally unnecessary subplot on the love story between James McAvoy and a too-contemporary-looking young actress; it fails completely. And something more could have been done with the character of Chertkov - rather than ambiguous and complex as he should be, he's just your predictably oily villain from any American movie. It makes The Last Station easier for a certain kind of audience maybe, but that's not the kind of audience which would go to see this movie anyway.
Tolstoi was a genius - and this is not a word I use for anyone; most importantly, he was recognized as such during his lifetime and not only after his death, as it often happens. Playing such a character during his glorious last days would be any old actor's dream. But Christopher Plummer's Tolstoi is only a pale imitation of the greatest writer ever after Shakespeare; it's not his fault of course, and he has one or two moments when he suddenly, by chance maybe, comes close to the required greatness; he always has the right dignity though, and he was never a narcissistic actor, which in this case helps alot. If only the script had helped him, too...
Helen Mirren is very good though, and she's the only one who's believable as a Russian (maybe because she's of Russian origins, which I didnt know but Uri told me). She has a great role, the kind of role that nowadays "older" actresses rarely get. In a better movie, she' d be memorable; but even in this one she's still one million times better than Sandra Bullock.




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Postby OscarGuy » Sun May 02, 2010 7:25 pm

Oops. I saw the "Official Review Thread" and thought it was the 2010 one.
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Postby Big Magilla » Sun May 02, 2010 4:36 pm

OK, but shouldn't Nightmare be in the 2010 thread?

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Postby OscarGuy » Sun May 02, 2010 4:21 pm

If you liked the original Wes Craven masterpiece A Nightmare on Elm Street you will probably despise what has been done to it. I found it to be derivative, poorly conceived and Jackie Earle Haley is worse than I could have imagined when he was announced as the new Freddy. I can only hope that if there is a sequel, and it's likely there will be, that they find someone better to don the classic green-and-red sweater.
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Postby Mister Tee » Sun May 02, 2010 2:24 pm

I'm to Terry Gilliam as Eric is to de Palma -- generally a soft touch -- so take this for what you will: I found The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus his most satisfying film since Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Gilliam, like Tim Burton, can be counted on for a design concept that knocks your eyeballs out. The difference is, Burton's visuals often seem an adjunct to a story about which he can barely force himself to care; where Gilliam's stories, even when they meander, are intimately connected to the visuals he draws.

Dr. Parnassus is one of those films where the story can meander -- and parts of it, like the central bet with the devil, are pretty hoary. But Gilliam's visualization of all this -- particularly inside the imaginarium, but not just -- is often thrilling. The untimely death of Ledger no doubt caused major reworking of certain elements, and I have no way of knowing if the film would have been better/worse without this...but the use of Depp/Law/Farrell feels quite right as the film now exists. I can't say I was 100% happy with the climactic sequence...it felt like it wrapped things up simultaneously opaquely and too neatly. But any disappointment there is fairly minor compared to the pleasures the movie offers.

Ledger's final performance points up something perhaps not enough noticed: he was an actor largely without vanity -- playing a fairly despicable character, hiding himself behind masks and a scraggly beard. Once again we lament the performances of his we won't ever see. On the other hand, I become more and more interested in Andrew Garfield, who's quite good in this film. Can't wait for Never Let Me Go.

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Postby Mister Tee » Wed Apr 28, 2010 1:16 pm

I've watched a whole batch of '09 releases lately without commneting, so here's some short takes:

Revanche struck me as having the most intriguing elements of any movie nominated for best foreign film last year, but I didn't think they were blended together well enough for the film to be considered a complete success. I was certainly kept off guard by the turns in the story -- especially how what, early on, seemed the most important aspect (the flight from the club manager) ended up totally discarded -- but for me the developments out in the country, while they hinted at convergence, never quite got there, and the film felt like a draft of a good movie rather than the movie itself.

The category-winning Departures has precisely the opposite problem: it has all its pieces fall too neatly into place. There are nice touches/scenes along the way -- the rituals of embalming are given a real grace -- but the way everything slips into neat slots by the finale makes the film feel too schematic to be as affecting as it wants to be. (Though clearly it won over those older-skewing foreign film Academy voters. Was it because the prospect of death is a pressing issue for many of them?)

Pedro Almodovar's post-Talk to Her movies strike me as essentially 40s melodrama plots given fresh life via their framing (or seeming framing) as genre pieces -- Bad Education slipped into noir territory, and Volver at least posed for most of its length as a ghost story. Broken Embraces, it seems to me, didn't measure up to those preceding films because it never found a truly suitable framework. Without this, the order in which story details were revealed felt random. Even lesser Pedro is still well worth watching, but I kept having the feeling it should amount to something more. (Incidentally...my memory of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is quite faint at this point -- was the movie-within-the-movie a direct lift from it, or merely a striking facsimile?)

The Men Who Stare at Goats is pretty funny in its flashback sequences -- esp. if you believe some of it's based in fact -- but I found the present day action progressively more irritating, and was fairly bored by the finish.

Seraphine is a fairly interesting, elliptical biography. I could have used more information at certain points (like, why did it take her benefactor so many years after the war to return to France?), and the film did go on longer than my full engagement. Moreau is certainly good, and I can see why she received some critical kudos. But it's a fairly baity role (yes, even art films can be baity). I'd still stick with Swinton as the year's best.

Finally...I found The Invention of Lying a real disappointment. I think it's a terrific premise, one that deserved masterful execution, something of which I'd have thought Ricky Gervais wholly capable. But the film misfires almost from the start, as people, unprovoked, say outlandish things not because they can't lie but because they seem to have verbal diarrhea. Had these things been said in response to questions or prodding, the device might have worked, but the way it appears everything the characters say feels gratuitous. I also thought there wasn't enough explanation/use of the idea that in a world where people are incapable of lying, unadorned history (not fiction) would be the only art form. The idea was there, but not clearly or wittily enough expressed. Even more damaging: the film, for me, has a very large structural problem, hemming itself in with a modern Hollywood "our-hero-and-heroine-mustl-end-up-together" plot, which makes the whole thing feel fairly synthetic. Obviously skeptical satire and romance can exist hand-in-hand -- paging Preston Sturges, who had the perfect sensibility to run with this whole idea, come to think of it. But the predictable way it's used here, it flattens the movie, puts it in the realm of a Katherine Heigl/Jennifer Aniston movie. There are some redeeming aspects -- the way Gervais comes to his first lie is intriguing, and the religious manifesto address to the crowd is genuinley funny: the only scene that had me giggling uncontrollably. But mostly this is a wasted opportunity.

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Postby Eric » Thu Apr 08, 2010 11:26 am

Eric wrote::;):




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Postby Damien » Thu Apr 08, 2010 10:24 am

Big Magilla wrote:
Damien wrote:What in the world does the possibility that Bill Condon might be directing Twilight movies have to do with my reaction to a film with which he had nothing to do? ???

Similar tastes?

Actually, we have quite different tastes, except that we both like Bill Condon films. :D
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Postby Reza » Thu Apr 08, 2010 9:23 am

I love the fact that Damien will not allow himself to be cornered. Way to go!! LOL.

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Postby OscarGuy » Thu Apr 08, 2010 6:51 am

Not even Bill Condon as a director will entice me to watch this puerile crap of a franchise.

That Condon would even consider it makes me question his cinematic tastes.
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Postby Big Magilla » Thu Apr 08, 2010 1:48 am

Damien wrote:What in the world does the possibility that Bill Condon might be directing Twilight movies have to do with my reaction to a film with which he had nothing to do? ???

Similar tastes?

Hopefully he can do something with Kristen Stewart that the first two directors of the Twilight movies couldn't - snap her out of her zombie state.




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