Sunday, October 16, 2011

New Movies and All

The Ides of March

The actor Clooney is quickly becoming a cerebral director with this taut political tale that pushes into the foreground the three-card-monty act that enshrines the gamesmanship behind every political campaign. While assuming the role of Governor Mike Morris, a seemingly wholesome figure in a tight Ohio Democratic primary, Clooney is good, but "The Ides of March" has the gusto to create a film not about him, but the various campaign directors and interns that tirelessly work behind the scene. Bottom line, if one goes to see Clooney, than they may be sorely disappointed. In another terrific performance, Ryan Gosling is the real star, bouncing off legendary character actors like Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Jeffrey Wright as the election becomes embroiled in sexual innuendo, territorial back-stabbing and the leering press. Through it all, Clooney maintains a steadfast classicism that has become his directorial earmark. The most flashy moment- and probably the film's most invigorating moment- is a decisive scene which plays out in silence as the camera slowly pans in towards a car from across the street. Not only does "The Ides of March" hit the right notes cinematically, but the various twists and turns create a compelling drama that stands as one of my very favorite films of the year so far.


Joseph Levine's "50/50" is a fair representation of the Apatow brand- films that confront adult themes with a very childish sense of humor- and then about 30 minutes in it, "50/50" changes into something completely unexpected and overwhelming and smashes that brand to pieces. It's that good of a movie, led by a stunning, genuine performance by Joseph Gordon Levitt who deserves a nomination for his work here. Writer Will Reiser and director Levin ("The Wackness" and "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane") know exactly how to frame a story around real emotions, allowing the Seth Rogen style of humor to compliment the touchy prospect of a cancer-ridden comedy while maintaining its austerity to life and survival. There's so much good in "50/50" that I dearly hope its marketing as a raunchy comedy will not dissuade adventurous viewers. Strong supporting performances, especially from Anna Kendrick who has become so good in that uptight, purse-lipped manner of comedy, only heighten the comedy-drama and ground the more romantic elements of the film. With a film so encumbered by the air of death, its a completely life-affirming revelation of a young man's wide open future.


And the accolades just keep on coming here on this blog. Cindy Meehl's documentary on the real life horse whisperer, Buck Brannaman, is a gentle thing of beauty. Picking up with Buck as he currently criss-crossses the country, teaching horse classes 9 months out of the year, we slowly learn of his tragic childhood past and the things that keep him living today (namely his wife and daughter). Brannaman himself would have been a singular idea for a documentary with his childhood fame and descent into familial terror, but "Buck" concentrates on the good that emerged from those dark times, namely a serene ability to understand and calm troubled horses. We know its coming the whole movie and when the twenty minute scene where Buck 'talks' to an aggressive colt, it's a shattering moment that only the best documentaries enable.

Essential Killing

Jerzy Skolomowski's tale of survival could be called simplistic killing. It's sparse narrative- about an escaped Afghani (Vincent Gallo) and his single minded efforts to stay alive in the harsh cold wilderness- doesn't overlay a ton of political analogies. It is a bit much to ask an audience to sympathize with a possible terrorist, but "Essential Killing" never really gives us the chance with a darting, handheld camera that barely contains Gallo in the frame and resists the temptation to give meaning to anyone. It's also a dissonant work.... barely any dialogue is spoken (and not a single word by Gallo), much of the audio is derived from chatter on the military radios as the soldiers hunt their prey and the centrifugal force of emotion is given only at the last second as Gallo's eyes make a decision to kill or run. Technically, "Essential Killing" is riveting, but its overall impact is muted.

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