Monday, November 16, 2015

The Last Few Films I've Seen, November edition

1. Love (2015)- A sobering elegy about the disastrous decisions made just before and after sex. Close to Noe's masterpiece, "Irreversible".  Full review on Dallas Film Now.

2. Polytechnique (2009)- Denis Villenevue's black and white dramatic retelling of the 1989 Montreal Tech school massacre is austere and shocking, but most surprising is the way it ends on a somewhat uplifting note that defies the misogynistic reasons for the shooter's rampage. Weaving back and forth in time to follow several students before and after the incident, "Polytechnique" was made just before Villenevue began to score in Hollywood with "Prisoners", "Enemy" and now "Sicario" and its worth tracking down. Like these other films mentioned, it delves into aspects of damaged psychology that, ultimately, ends on a pitch perfect resonance and proves one of the victims (played wonderfully by Karine Vanesse) chooses not to be defined by the tragedy itself but the decisions she makes with her life after the violence.

3. Heaven Knows What (2015)- Belonging up there with "White Star" and "Christiane F.", Josh and Benny Safdie's heroin-junkie drama is filled to the brim with hollow eyed people and a pervasive atmosphere of desperation that (I only imagine) must encompass this lifestyle. Based on the memoir and starring the ex-junkie herself Arielle Holmes, "Heaven Knows What" starts on a histrionic note and never quite lets up after that. It's strong cinema though and lingers in your mind.

4. Armor of Light (2015)- Documentary on two hot button topics (gun control and religious rhetoric) that never quite fully develops into a cohesive whole. Reviewed on Dallas Film Now.

5. Marfa Girl (2014)- Larry Clark's latest film tones down the risque teenage sex a bit, but it's no less incisive into what makes his awkward protagonists click beyond smoking pot and hanging out. I suppose I should quit looking for substance in his films. But the greatest omission "Marfa Girl" makes is completely alienating the wondrous West Texas landscape of Marfa in favor of shabby home interiors and concrete skate parks. His hippy characters nip at the edges of the progressive lifestyles there yet it fails to leave an indelible impression.

6. Dark Places (2015)- After the success of "Gone Girl", the scramble to 'cinematize' more Gillian Flynn novels ensued and this was the next. Not in a position to judge its relevance to the novel, the film itself is a hodge-podge of thriller aspects that feels overwrought. Also, the lead character played by Charlize Theron, tries to come off as some sort of moody, empowered 'everywoman' but the nuance isn't realized.

 7. The Wicked Go To Hell (1955)- Robert Hossein's directorial debut is a cool blend of prison escape drama and crime exploits once the two escapees hole up with a beautiful hostage in her seaside home. Like a dry run for his later film "Falling Point", Hossein is obviously enamored by the languid darkness that hides just beneath the pleasant surface as the beach itself, eventually, literally swallows the men whole.

8. Truth (2015)- The problem with James Vanderbilt's journalism drama about 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes and anchor Dan Rather's flawed reporting on W. Bush's war record isn't the backlash it's received since, but its utter sense of self importance. Every scene between Rather (Robert Redford) and reporter Topher Grace is monumentally strained. The usually wonderful Cate Blanchett acts as if the entire effort is a noble act of self sacrifice. Director Vanderbilt telegraphs every emotion and scene with sledgehammer authority. A huge disappointment.

9. Fedora (1978)- Billy Wilder's swan song is a terrific inversion of the noir genre.... the scandalous Hollywood darkside drama.... and one of William Holden's finest performances as the private dick caught in the middle.

10. Lan Yu (2001)- Working my way through most of Stanley Kwan's films. I can see why he never gained major international acclaim and overshadowed by the more prolific Wong Kar Wai, but "Lan Yu" (and even more specifically "Everlasting Regret") are interesting explorations of identity and shifting cultural paradigms that he probably should have gotten more notice.

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