The Official Review Thread of 2011

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Postby ITALIANO » Wed May 11, 2011 6:03 am

Damien wrote:Marco, was the film a success in Italy, or was it just a small art house release? I know it's been a favorite on the festival circuit.

Well, this time you have seen an Italian movie that even I haven't seen! It was shown at every possible festival, and got prizes and very good reviews, but was distributed only for a very short time in cinemas last year, and unfortunately almost nobody got to see it. I'm surprised - pleasantly surprised actually - that it has been shown in the US, or at least in New York. And it was shot in a beautiful, raw, rural area, Calabria, which for sentimental reason I feel rather close to (I once had - don't laugh - a three-years relationship with a local policeman from there. I mean, one can't deny that even in love I look for challenges!).

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Postby Damien » Tue May 10, 2011 8:48 pm

Le Quattro Volte (Michelangelo Frammartino)

This beautiful, contemplative, quietly heartbreaking film is without dialogue and examines the cycle of life separately through an old man, a baby goat a tree, and charcoal in a small, isolated Italian village. To try to describe it and and talk about transmigration and the inter-connectedness of souls makes it seem banal and all New Age-y, which it is absolutely not. It's a mysterious, mesmerizing and magical work (as well, as being, at times, unexpectedly funny.) And once you see it, you'll be forever in love with goats
9/10

Marco, was the film a success in Italy, or was it just a small art house release? I know it's been a favorite on the festival circuit.

============================
Water For Elephants (Francs Lawrence)

I'm very happy whenever Hollywood Hollwood makes an old- fashioned, unabashedly romantic love story. It's unfortunate, however, when the result is as leaden as this one. The film follows the book's narrative fairly closely, but lacks its verve and the pacing is lugubrious. A major problem is the casting of Christoph Waltz (playing a character that was melded from two people in the novel). The character is bi-polar (at a time before that term was coined) and in the book is suavely charming in his up moods, which makes his descents into sadism so disturbing. But as soon as you see that very limited actor, Waltz, on the screen, you know he's a shit -- the tension the character brings to the narrative in the novel is simply non-existent in the film. RoPat and Reese Witherspoon make an appealing couple, and the film does have a nice ambience. It's unapologetic about its romanticism, and I appreciate that.
5/10




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Postby Sonic Youth » Mon May 09, 2011 9:57 pm

THOR

Dull. Dull, dull, dull, dull, DULL!

More later...
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Postby anonymous1980 » Sat May 07, 2011 9:03 am

SCREAM 4
Cast: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Marley Shelton, Adam Brody, Anthony Anderson, Mary McDonnell, Erik Knudsen, Alison Brie.
Dir: Wes Craven.

I spent my adolesence watching the Scream films. It helped me give an appreciation for horror films of the slasher type. The third was showing signs of weakness and age so I'm glad they stopped so I was very cautious about the fourth so I went in expecting something better than the third, at least. And it was. But it's nowhere near as good as the first two (most especially the first). But it has some good laughs and good scares and some cleverness. It's still the one horror franchise I'm willing to pay money to see. Extra points for giving a shoutout to Peeping Tom.

Oscar Prospects: None.

Grade: B-

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Postby Sabin » Sat May 07, 2011 12:04 am

Thor (Kenneth Branagh)
13 Assassins (Takeshi Miike)

I figure I can lump these two together because I have about the same to say about both of them. This is not to say that they are of the same quality. Nothing could be farther from the truth. 13 Assassins delivers on every level that Thor does not. They come from vaguely the same mindset of righteous indignation and chest-thumping badassery, but one is a pale imitation of the other.

13 Assassins starts slow as hedonistic Lord Naritsugu is deemed unfit for rule by several surrounding him. They task Shinzaemon Shimada (Kôji Yakusho) with assembling enough assassins to remove him from power. And as we do in these stories, the team is assembled. This is a bit dryer than usual without the usual fun coming from eccentricities and task-mastery, but it works. They set out on the road, they are joined by a bandit, and they cut Lord Naritsugu off at the pass, forcing him to convene with his men in a town they have designed to purpose only his demise. Then we embark on what I can only describe as an entire third of the film's worth of sword-fighting awesomeness. That's really it. I didn't have a strong emotional connection to this, and it's atypical for Miike only in that aside from some graphic beheadings and setting up Naritsugu's debauchery early on, it doesn't have his usual squirm-inducing torture porn visuals. However, the devil-may-care attitude with taking the audience to a specific place is on grand display.

Again: although the actors all do a fine job, there is little emotional connection in this film. But the astonishment of the film's central set-piece is unbelievable. He shoots with a long lens that isolates faces in action with blurred back and foregrounds for extended periods of time which obscure some of the details of the fighting. The emphasizes the exhaustion of battle rather than the detail of every single slash. Had Miike not varied up the action quite a bit, this could have been a muddied choice, but it ultimately proves quite visionary. No five minutes of the fight are exactly like another. One in particular turned me into a thirteen year old again. The Lord is led into one cul de sac only to find it full of swords embedded into every aspect of wall and pillar. This becomes a place designed for its assassin to grab a sword in each hand, slash, and leave the sword impaled with another within grasp so he is not to waste time removing the blade. I can't begin to do justice how entertained I was by these (if not every) five minutes of this sequence.

But there is little to grasp onto by way of emotional connection, which ultimately I don't mind because Miike isn't really going for that. It's still a damn fine time and the summer extravaganza to beat. A film that does a better job of emotional connection is one that I found ultimately ruinous and could have taken a cue from 13 Assassins in a perfect world. That film is Thor, a film of two parts: one of fairly sweet romantic comedy between fallen Norse God and Earth scientist, the other is shitty pseudo-Lord of the Rings Asgardian battle. This is a film that does not trust its audience for a second. We open with a glimpse of Jane Foster (Portman) and her team watching a storm that piques her interest in wormholes, and it's a credit to Portman that she sells herself as a scientist more than she should. We then cut to Asgard for a half hour as we are introduced so ineffectively to this mythos, to the interrupted coronation of Thor as king, to a battle with terrorist Frost Giants, to his banishment, etc. None of which is necessary. There is so much more pleasure to be gained from an absence of certainty as to whether or not this guy is who he appears to be. One aspect of this film dances on the foot of the other and the result looks like the end of They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Just exhausted and lame.

Basically, you can have your Asgard battles, but it'd be a better idea to set it there for the entirety of the film. And you can have your Earthbound fish-out-of-water rom-com, but you should probably play up the uncertainty. But the choices that this film has made overstuffs the narrative to the point where those involved edit it to something that seems like a trailer for a film. None of the fights are well-shot. None of the relationships have time to develop. So close to nothing in this film works as a film that can stand on its two feet outside of the casting of Thor and Loki, who are both played by quite talented actors. Chris Hemsworth is quite good and funny as a buffoon-ish He Man perennially getting trounced on Earth. He's like Chris Pratt from Parks and Rec. And Tom Hiddleston has a tougher part as Loki, who looks just like Alan Cumming, a morally ambiguous figure who has the film's strongest emotional arc, and tries in vain to keep it from being undercut by the film's truncated narrative.

At one point, Kat Dennings calls the hammer Mjolnir something like "myuh myuh". That's kind of how I feel about Thor. It's just myuh myuh.
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Postby anonymous1980 » Sat Apr 30, 2011 6:58 am

THOR
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgaard, Kat Dennings, Clark Gregg, Idris Elba, Colm Feore, Ray Stevenson, Rene Russo, Jaimie Alexander, Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas.
Dir: Kenneth Branagh.

Making a film adaptation of Thor is extremely tricky. Lots of things could go wrong. It could've easily have been a campy, loud and stupid. That's why it's such a minor miracle that director Kenneth Branagh delivered such a solid piece of pop entertainment. This film is a near-perfect balance of great action, operatic drama (somewhat Shakespearean, I mean it IS Branagh, after all) and humor (all the laughs to be had are intentional but not trying-hard snarky type of humor). NOTE: Stay until after the end credits.

Oscar Prospects: Strong contender for Art Direction, Costume Design, Visual Effects, Makeup, Sound Mixing and Sound Editing.

Grade: B+

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Postby The Original BJ » Tue Apr 26, 2011 12:08 pm

Yes, Certified Copy is very much in the Before Sunrise/Before Sunset vein, but I think that pair is superior because the impact of those films really lands emotionally, whereas Certified Copy works more conceptually, however fascinating a concept it may have.

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Postby Sabin » Tue Apr 26, 2011 11:26 am

It really is like a cross between Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. I'm reasonably sure it's the greater movie than both if only because the conversations are less self-absorbed.
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Postby Damien » Tue Apr 26, 2011 9:10 am

Greg wrote:
The Original BJ wrote:That being said, it's certainly the most enjoyable film I've seen so far this year, and a great reminder that a movie can be both incredibly heady AND totally breezy -- I was completely surprised by how much fun it was to watch these two characters walk around beautiful locales, drink wine, and talk about art and life.

You make Certified Copy sound like Before Sunrise.

It is quite a bit like Before Sunrise in structure and tone.
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Postby Greg » Tue Apr 26, 2011 9:05 am

The Original BJ wrote:That being said, it's certainly the most enjoyable film I've seen so far this year, and a great reminder that a movie can be both incredibly heady AND totally breezy -- I was completely surprised by how much fun it was to watch these two characters walk around beautiful locales, drink wine, and talk about art and life.

You make Certified Copy sound like Before Sunrise.
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Postby Sabin » Sun Apr 24, 2011 8:55 am

No.

Certified Copy will win indieWire's Best Picture, Director, Actress, and likely Screenplay awards though.
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Postby Reza » Sun Apr 24, 2011 1:05 am

The Original BJ wrote:And Juliette Binoche gives a dream of a performance.

Wonder if they will rememeber her when nominations are announced next year?

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Postby The Original BJ » Sun Apr 24, 2011 12:25 am

I haven't had too much time lately to write here, but to chime in on some of these significant '11 releases...

I've been wondering (worrying?) a lot lately if my taste is growing more mainstream, mainly because I'm getting rather tired of movies like Meek's Cutoff. The film certainly has some arresting images, and an impressive attention to detail that feels like it really captures what life on the Oregon Trail must have been like. But the character development is incredibly thin, and as far as the "plot" goes, well...I wanted a lot more story and a lot less wandering through the wilderness searching for water. I realize such a complaint is troubling to lob at a movie like this, simply because its entire aim goes against presenting the audience with a traditionally "gripping" narrative line. And yet, for all of its clear attempts to subvert audience expectations for this type of epic (most obviously in its use of the 1.33:1 aspect ratio), at what point do films like this upend conventions so much that they simply become anti-pleasure? I think most academic dissertations on Meek's Cutoff will be more enjoyable than the film itself...and isn't that a problem?

Speaking of dissertations...Certified Copy is through-and-through an artificially constructed conceit of a movie. And the one reason I'm less inclined to call it the masterpiece some have is that the concept worked a little more for me intellectually than it did emotionally. (Of course, the film builds a response to this critique into its very fiber -- why should the film work any less emotionally because it wears its conceit on its sleeve...when a viewer should be aware that EVERY film is a fake reconstruction of life?)

That being said, it's certainly the most enjoyable film I've seen so far this year, and a great reminder that a movie can be both incredibly heady AND totally breezy -- I was completely surprised by how much fun it was to watch these two characters walk around beautiful locales, drink wine, and talk about art and life. (When I hear something described as a narratively ambiguous auteurist puzzle movie, I don't usually expect something this relaxing.) And Juliette Binoche gives a dream of a performance.




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Postby Sabin » Sat Apr 23, 2011 5:16 pm

Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt)

I don’t know what to make of my reactions to Kelly Reichardt. When I first saw Old Joy, it seemed something devastatingly brilliant. Upon further reflection and reviewing, it is a very good film but it’s also intently minor to its core. Nick Schager refers to its NPR Greek Chorus, and I don’t know if he meant it derisively but there’s truth to it. Kelly Reichardt is a bemoan-er. I also had a similar reaction to her first feature River of Grass. I found Wendy and Lucy far too much to handle. It’s just a very forced piece of work, desperately attempting to recall The Grapes of Wrath in a modern day context. It did not work for me at all. And now comes Meek’s Cutoff, which I would like to say is her best feature, though I’m not sure how I’ll feel about it when the next one comes out, as seems to be a pattern for me and her.

It recalls an Anthony Mann Western as a party travels further into the Oregon Trail, led by a man who it becomes increasingly clear doesn’t know what he’s doing. Well, actually one of the first lines of dialogue spoken is whether or not to hang him. Later they ensnare a Native American who is tracking them and opt to let him lead them to water in lieu of shooting him. The irony of one prospective hangee advising the hanging of another is a perversity that left rather untapped, because Reichardt is more concerned with the minutiae of the fragile New American body, bonnets and all, against the starkness of this landscape, and less the subjective ironies along the way which perhaps Herzog would have mined. If they wouldn’t do or say it, it doesn’t happen. It evokes Aguirre in the drudge always further over the mountains. What held me in Meek’s Cutoff was how prevalent this minutia is. Reichardt is always framing people within the context of the wider landscape (boldly 4:3) doing something very minor as if it could possibly help them against, well, all THAT. The film opens with the obnoxious details of crossing a stream.

And then comes the ending. Now, this is a film that I found to serve as an act of remembrance, a small window into a different time, something impossibly grand on a Reichardt-ian small scale. And that is what she does: resolutely small films. Meek’s Cutoff manages to seem both predestined AND from a very first person perspective. It’s a very daring film, and even more interesting is that without intending to I first wrote “a very daring stunt”. This tells me that at least on some level I find Kelly Reichardt’s films to operate innately as calculated studies. This is certainly a very good one though.


...


Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami)

So, I’m just not going to get the chance to watch it again. I’m just too damn busy. I’ll come back to it later, but in the mean time…

I had a conversation with a friend the other day about how my process of movie-watching has evolved. There’s the first viewing to experience it moment for moment and then there’s the second to really process what it is. This is what I think that Certified Copy is:

They start off as a woman fascinated with a man and longing for his company, their conversations begin as a meeting of minds not unlike any number of irresistible scenes in such films, and then once they are recognized as a married couple by a waitress they begin the process of becoming one. I mentioned that Meek’s Cutoff is a calculated study. Ye gods, is Certified Copy one! But it’s one that absolutely boggles the mind with thought throughout. I sadly did not inform my girlfriend that there is a chance that the movie she was about to see might be a little abstract and she took it entirely literally that they were a married couple playing a game. This is clearly not the case, I believe (also she got mad at me for not giving her a head’s up and letting her see a movie that would let her feel stupid; I’m rather glad she was too sick to see Meek’s Cutoff today). They are first meeting AND they are a married couple. If this has been done before, I’m not sure, but it’s a dazzling premise at all times inviting us to ask ourselves the nature of “fake” vs. “real”, “copy” vs. “original”, etc. I’m a month at least off from first viewing it so I won’t dare to tackle any of the narrative ellipses in the film, but I doubt there will be an experience I have this year that absolutely captivated my attention so much throughout. A lot of films operate Academic studies and as anti-Academic studies, but Certified Copy is often anti-anti-Academic, in which Kiarostami is constructing something Academic around the anti-Academic trapping them in something they can’t process and is often leagues ahead of us.

SPOILERS!...




And then there is the final image. It is a narrative ellipses to the moment where Juliette Binoche looks herself in the mirror and pretties herself up before returning to the restaurant and Shimmell with a more confident, attractive presentation. Sad to say, that scene in the restaurant is probably the worst scene in the film. Kiarostami allegedly chose Shimmell because he was a non-actor and the contrast between artifice and craft (Binoche, in her most wonderful performance) would be fascinatingly striking. Unfortunately, Shimmell is just too good to serve that purpose but not strong enough to carry off the scene. Anyway, the final shot might just be Shimmell doing the same to return to the room with a great “place” of himself, perhaps to put aside his philosophical bullshit and be with her…I THINK. I’m not sure. I could be wrong. I need to rewatch it again to more fully gauge what the final image is an emotional and intellectual ellipses to within a greater context.

This is an elaborate way of saying that Abbas Kiarostami is way smarter than me. Way, way smarter than me. This is easily my favorite film of his. I’ve only really only seen A Taste of Cherry, which I got into an epic discussion about in the Cinephile Message Board that boiled down to me screaming I’M SORRY, BUT I HAVE TO CARE ABOUT HIM TO CARE ABOUT WHY HE’S KILLING HIMSELF, WHY HE CAN’T TELL ME WHY HE’S KILLING HIMSELF, AND IF THAT MAKES ME A DICK, THEN I’M A DICK. FUCK OFF. I am a dick. I don’t care that he’s killing himself. I can’t. at a certain point, the kittens in my head start playing table tennis, and that’s way more entertaining. However, the point I am trying to make at the risk of sounding philistine (and at the risk of being proven utterly wrong on a second viewing) is that by the film’s end I found myself unsatisfied emotionally. Having just seen perhaps the greatest non-abstract film about relationships I’ve ever seen the previous year in Everyone Else, I found myself desperately wanting something more to latch onto than an open window. Like with Meek’s Cutoff, I knew exactly what the final shot was going to be when it happened and I appreciate a filmmaker who knows when to cut [to credits] and run. But I loved these two people and I wanted to feel something more devastating between them.

Now that I know what it is, I await a second viewing to love it just as it is. Along with Dogtooth and Everyone Else, one of the truly great films of the new decade.
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Postby Damien » Wed Apr 13, 2011 10:11 pm

Hop (Tim Hill)

A real charmer -- a worthy companion piece to Hill's marvelous 2007 film, Alvin and the Chipmunks. EB is an absolutely adorable character, and James Marsden a likable human foil. The humorous dialogue is relatively sophisticated and often quite witty, the tone quite sweet and a couple of sight gags are priceless. There are some shortcomings in the area of inter-relationships among the characters, but overall the movie is a pleasure.

And the production design of the candy factory is a wonder -- a cornucopia of brilliant vibrant colors, with the various candy-producing machines so ingenious. If you've got a sweet tooth, don't see this one on an empty stomach!
6/10
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