Monday, May 27, 2013

The Last Few Films I've Seen, spring edition

1. Detective Dee and the Mystery Flame (2010)- At the beginning, I was wondering how I was going to get through all the exaggerated wire-fighting and usual Tsui Hark bloatedness, and then the film clicked with me about the time the gang travels to an underground lair full of mythological weirdness. As a fairy tale, it works splendidly.

2. Oblivion (2013)- As an unrequited fan of Joseph Kominski's "Tron: Legacy", I had high expectations for this one. Visually, its terrific, but its rehashed narrative combining every science fiction film of the last 40 years is a bit much.

3. Pearl Jam Twenty (2011)- No idea why it took me this long to see Cameron Crowe's documentary about my second favorite band of all time! Crowe keeps his egotistical misty-eyedness to a minimum here, and I actually even learned something about the band. Full of great video clips and weaving a compelling story that pits Pearl Jam like a modern day Rolling Stones (complete with concert killings), "Pearl Jam Twenty" is a must for fans of the Seattle scene. And the moment that Eddie Vedder begins singing "Better Man" in concert, then the crowd takes over, and he leans back and just raises his arms in complete harmony is just a tender, magical moment that speaks volumes about the band and their following.

4.Trance (2013)- Danny Boyle's art heist-amnesiac thriller gets points for returning himself to the crazed, image splitting buoyancy of "Trainspotting", but when it's all over, it doesn't really amount to much. Everyone looks to be having tons of fun though.

5. The Lady Vanishes (1939)- A bit stodgy, yes, but this is Hitchcock firing on all groundbreaking cylinders, establishing the thriller genre and the death-on-a-train genre in one glorious swoop. I gasped when one plot point is explained in the fogged up window of a train and thought to myself just how ravaged a filmmaker Hitchcock has been over the last 70 years.

6. Daddy Longlegs (2009)- Ben and Josh Safdie's very uncomfortable ode to Cassavetes is most indebted to the performance of Ronald Bronstein as the wreck of a father to two young boys and the hell he puts them though. I've yet to delve into the films of Bronstein himself ("Frownland" has been called about as divisive a film as the mumblecore wave have crafted), but he's a palpable presence here and you sort of begin to root for him in an awkward way.

7. Broken City (2013)- Wahlburg is a P.I. caught up in city corruption with mayor Rusell Crowe... yawn.

8. Something In the Air (2013)-  The latest film from French auteur Olivier Assayas feels like his most personal since “Cold Water” in 1994. Both films feature a young man named Gilles (this time played by Clement Metayer) acting as the surrogate for Assayas himself, tantalizingly poised on the precipice of awkward adulthood. But where “Cold Water” dealt with interior feelings of belonging and amour fou (in the relationship with beautiful but dangerous Virginie Ledoyen), the stakes are a bit higher in “Something In the Air”. Set in Paris after the May events of ‘68, this Gilles and his close sect of friends find themselves mixed up in violent student activism… so violent that they accidentally hurt a security guard during a routine vandalism attempt and are forced to split up in hiding. And while the first third or so of “Something In the Air” deals with these subversive acts of revolution, the real thrust of Assayas’ narrative kicks in after this action, setting up Gilles, Christine (the wonderful Lole Creton), Alaine (Felix Armand) and their various lovers to seek out their own paths in life. The title, while initially evoking the revolutionary scents in the air, subtly changes to denote the forks in the road each individual takes with their lives. Assayas handles all this reverie beautifully, never losing his gentle touch on relationships and staying to true to the way he continually crafts a knockout finale. It may not all be 100% accurate, but the way in which Gilles the man on screen become Assayas the filmmaker is still precise, loving and attuned to the nuances of everyday emotions. I really liked it, if you can't tell.

9. The Iceman (2013)- Oh what have Lumet and Scorsese wrought? Ariel Vromen's account of true life 70's hit man Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) is overbearing, grungy and belligerent with little charisma and even less narrative center. Was this just an excuse for everyone to put on funny moustaches? Check. Other than that, "The Iceman" never builds towards any resolution, instead wallowing in 70's funk and macho bravado.

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