Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Last Few Films I've Seen... winter edition

1. The Monuments Men (2014)- Clooney's World War 2 drama tackles one of my very favorite subjects, that of the Nazi's stolen art hustle out of the various European countries they occupied during the war. And, seriously, if anyone is more interested on the subject as the non-fiction fucking tragedy it was, check out the absolutely essential film The Rape of Europa. Still, "The Monuments Men" is a bit jazzy and Hollywoodized, but its still an admirable effort that manages to balance its tough subject with some genuine sentimentality. And Bill Murray is not getting nearly the pub he deserves for his supporting role. A really good film.

2. Barriers (1965)- One of Jerzy Skolimowski's first films, "Barriers" is a near incomprehensible art film that, I'm sure, would make a bit more sense if I had a grounded understanding of Polish government and literature during the radical 60's. It's visually inventive, just a bit of a chore to get through in that student film sort of way.

3. The Spectacular Now (2013)- This film's reputation of being a clear-eyed, well developed teen romance hits on all cylinders, eschewing the normal routines of the genre to focus instead on the disappointments and confusions of being a teenager. As Sutter and Aimee, Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are magnetic together, none more so than when they travel to meet Sutter's abandoning father (Kyle Chandler) and the frustrations of adult life hit them smack between the eyes.

4. Rolling Family (2004)- Argentinian filmmaker  Pablo Trapero has been a quiet favorite of mine for several years now after seeing "Lion's Den" and "Carancho".... two wildy different and exceptional efforts. This earlier film of his is much lighter on the surface, but just as relevant about the dynamics between people. When grandmother Emilia (Graciana Chironi) gets an invitation to her sister's wedding, she embarks with her family in on an RV road trip. It complicates matters that one son has had an affair with his brother's wife, teenager cousins are working through confused feelings of love and one daughter has a biker boyfriend in tow. Then there are the many troubles with the broken down RV itself. Trapero weaves all of this soap-opera drama together into a believable tapestry of one hellish road trip. And the final image of Emilia not only sums up the trip, but probably life itself.

5. Robocop (2014)- The basic question is... why? Verhoeven's violent masterpiece doesn't need a remake, much less a toothless, CGI-driven remake. Instead we get Sam Jackson hamming it up, a few toss-away one liners to appease us oldies, and  the very bland Joel Kinneman as the titular cop. Just pointless.

6. Static (1985)- Yes, I rallied about this in one of my Not on DVD posts a few years back and found a copy. God bless you Internet. Mark Romanek's debut feature is thoughtful and surprising in the way it shifts gears in tone and idea.... one minute its a bit of a goofy 80's comedy and the next its a devastating critique of the human psyche and our search to understand the impossible. Actor/director Keith Gordon (remember him!) stars as an unemployed man who believes he's created a device that allows everyone to see heaven. After the disdain of his family and girlfriend (Amanda Plummer) sets in, he tries to get attention through drastic and surprising measures. This one is out there and on ratty VHS copies and it deserves some renewed attention.

7. Empire State (2012)- I suppose I've lost faith in filmmaker Dito Montiel. After his lightning burst of a film, "A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints", had me proclaiming him as the next heir apparent to Scorsese, he's rattled off three or four pretty lackluster efforts. "Empire State" is another. When Liam Hemsworth and buddy decide to knock off the bank vault he works for, it not only gives them lots of chances to swear in a New York voice, but it brings cop Dwayne Johnson sniffing around. Montiel's ideas of tight family sacrifice and the macho bond between guys is there, but it all lacks real depth, voice and sense of direction.

8. Marquid de Sade's Prosperities of Vice (1988)- My first exposure to Japanese provocateur and experimental filmmaker Akio Jissoji is this visually spellbinding tale of de Sade's theater of the real, featuring plenty of baroque dialogue and soft core nudity. Beyond that, its a bore.

9. About Elly (2009)- Asghar Farhadi's last film before hitting international success with "A Separation" tells the story of a group of friends who vacation on a beach only to have their female friend disappear. Echoes of Antonioni are obvious, but its the deeper contradictions that come into play as the remaining friends squabble and rationalize. When the truth does come to light, in typical Farhadi fashion, the truth is much more resonant and destructive than anyone could imagine. While not his best film, "About Elly" shows Farhadi fully developed into the domestic-thriller master role he now occupies. My only complaint- the tremendously horrible subtitles that accompanied my copy.

10. Her (2014)- Perhaps it was the high expectations surrounding this one, but its whispy romance never took off for me.

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