Friday, 15 February 2008

A Great Start to 2008

Having recently discovered that there are in fact people out there who regularly read this blog, I felt compelled to write mini-reviews of the last four films I have seen, all of which were excellent. But if you are looking to find out what the first three of these films are about, you’ll have to look elsewhere. This is for Miriam.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a unique and beautiful emotionally-powerful film with a brilliant screenplay, great acting and great directing (Julian Schnabel). It is also one of the most inspiring films I have ever seen. To say more would require me to tell you the plot of the film. Perhaps most people who go to see it will already know the plot, but for those who don’t, there is a special experience waiting for you as you enter the film along with the protagonist and experience the film through him. That special experience is worth keeping the few of you who know nothing about the film in the dark. I think the film is longer than it needs to be, but that’s my only complaint. A very solid ***+

Juno (directed by Jason Reitman) has had the critics raving for months, making it one of my most eagerly-anticipated films. I was therefore slightly disappointed in the ordinariness of the film, though my expectations were so high that a slight disappointment was almost inevitable. Ellen Page is truly magnificent in the title role and her performance alone makes the film well above average. There is a realness (ordinariness) to the film and to the family life depicted in the film that is incredibly rare in critically-acclaimed films, which is another reason to cheer. It does beg the question of why the critics like the film so much, since critics frequently pan family films with similar values. Is it just because this film is so smart (great screenplay) and well-acted? If that’s all it takes, then I hope we can see more films like it, films that can provide positive role models instead of the usual dark and dirty drug-filled dysfunction of critically-acclaimed films. This is an excellent film but not as great (in my opinion) as some critics would suggest (Walter, it sounds like you and I are on the same wavelength here). Another very solid ***+

In the Valley of Elah (directed by Paul Haggis), on the other hand, verges on greatness. This is a subtle quiet thriller (by now you know that I am a big fan of subtle quiet thrillers and have little use for fast and flashy noisy ones) with an outstanding performance by Tommy Lee Jones and wonderful understated performances by Charlize Theron and Susan Sarandon. The film could have gone for the big drama, the big action, or the big romance, and it could have beat us over the head with its message about what it’s like to be an American soldier in Iraq (and, indeed, what it’s like to be an American in 2007). Instead, it went for soft and slow intelligence and tension, along with its moving natural performances. I loved it. ****

But my favourite film of the year, so far, is a very different kind of film. U23D is a pure concert film, combining footage from various stops along a U2 South American tour in 2006. I have been a big U2 fan since the mid-eighties and this brilliantly-made (the use of 3D is terrific – I frequently felt that I was standing in the crowd, right there in Buenos Aires) concert film contains most of my favourite U2 songs, as if they had made the film for me. It also has important things to say about the great religions of the world needing to learn to coexist and help create a peaceful world. Watching this film on what is said to be the largest screen in the world (London IMAX) was an awesome and mind-blowing experience that I will never forget. If you like U2 at all, do not (DO NOT!) miss the chance to see this at your local digital cinema. ****

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Walter's Top Ten (12?) list for 2007

I thought I’d break my silence by responding with a top 10 (12) list of my own. I should be clear that my thinking in such a list is more about favourites than a list about quality. I hope there is overlap, but I couldn’t care less if a movie is a quality movie if I don’t like it.

I should also point out that there are a lot of great contenders (incl. The Kite Runner, Atonement, and several others on your list) that would probably beat some of these out if I’d seen them, which I haven’t. So many movies, so little time.

So here are my top ten plus two honourable mentions:

12. The Kingdom. Didn’t expect this would make it and most of it doesn’t deserve to see such a list, but I was very impressed with the ending and felt that this ending needed to be pointed out. Vic, you can use this ending to point out both the potential and the hypocrisy of film when it comes to violence.

11. Paris Je’taime. Quite a different type of film – a collage of 18 short films set in Paris. I enjoyed it more than I’d expected. Some were unimpressively quirky, but others were quite moving and memorable. There was an unfortunate attempt to draw them together for a conclusion which was decidedly unsuccessful, but otherwise an enjoyably different experience.

10. Juno. I expected this to be higher on my list, and probably would have been if I hadn’t had my expectations built up too high. This is exactly my kind of comedy, but it just didn’t impress me the way I’d hoped. Something about it didn’t seem to hang together the way Little Miss Sunshine did. Still a very fun watch.

9. Ratatouille. In spite of such an untenable premise (mouse controlling a man’s movements by pulling his hair), that even though it was a cartoon still offended me a little, this was very enjoyable. It gets hard to force oneself to watch a cartoon without kids at home, but this was well worth the effort.

8. The Bucket List. I don’t know if this made many people’s top lists, but it seemed to end up striking the right chord with me. I tend to like Reiner’s balance of comedy and serious and it almost always stopped short of being cheesy. Nicholson and Freeman were fun to watch together.

7. Michael Clayton. Just like you said. Solid all around. Could have sold me a bit better on the opening scene with the horses (not a clear enough reason to stop and a little coincidental), but forgivable.

6. Gone Baby Gone. Just saw this and was quite impressed. Different balance of characters than you normally see and good ambiguous ending. Somehow its view of seedy Boston seemed simultaneously sympathetic and disgusted, and somehow that seemed right.

5. Waitress. It’s a little foggy now, but I recall liking it and finding it fresh and intelligent. I was a little annoyed at how the doctor was portrayed, but I suppose it’s possible that people can be that nice and that jerky at the same time.

4. Fracture. One of the best thrillers I’ve seen for a long time, and definitely the best at creating that old time mystery novel feeling. Very fun evening of entertainment.

3. The Lives of Others. Again ditto to what you’ve said on this one. I’ve just seen it again and it’s rich on so many levels - like a classic novel. One of the impressive themes is seeing both the potential of the artist and the danger of the artist being seduced.

2. Once. How many movies leave you liking the characters this much? The passionate music draws you in in a way that shuts off any logical reservations you might have, and the ending is perfect.

1. Reign Over Me. Probably it is unfair. I saw this movie at the theatre after one of the hardest and fullest therapy days of the year. Liv Tyler gives a tired and disappointed look after an impassioned reaching out for her troubled and stuck client (Sandler) that just about undid me (not a normal response of mine). Amazing the power a second-long gesture can have when played perfectly, though I doubt it affected many others. When I wrote about it at the time I complained about his trauma symptoms being overplayed, but I think I retracted that on second viewing. Still wished they’d given the plot about Cheadle’s marriage a bit more depth, but it still tops my list.

Finally, I thought I’d hand out a booby prize to the two biggest duds of the year that I wasted time on. One was Premonition for which I had no excuse - I’d been warned off but thought it should be alright. I was wrong. Silly plot. More disappointingly, A Mighty Heart was less viewable than most documentaries. Didn’t seem to go anywhere worth following - a tribute for tribute's sake, but not a movie. What do you think, Vic? I want to hear your booby prizes for the year.