Friday, 12 February 2010

Catching Up: Ten Mini-Reviews

Here are my long-promised mini-reviews of ten films I watched since returning to Canada in early November (the ones not yet mentioned on the blog), starting with the worst and going up from there:



The Time Traveler’s Wife


A forgettable romance about a time traveler. I usually enjoy time traveling films, but this one made less sense than most (and that’s saying something). **+



2012


I suppose a case could be made that 2012’s many symbols of division (between God and humanity, rich and poor, men and women and within the family) can be seen as a metaphor for life in the 21st century - all of these divisions will eventually result in the destruction of the world. A different case could be made that 2012 is played for laughs - it’s the ultimate disaster film cliché. Those cases could be made but I’m not going to make them. This story is absolutely ludicrous and the awesome special effects just draw attention to the insanity. It certainly is entirely formulaic as a disaster film, with cardboard characters, ridiculous dialogue and mediocre acting. The only actor who doesn’t embarrass himself/herself in this film is Oliver Platt. Roger, three and a half stars??? Ouch. **+



Coco before Chanel


Audrey Tautou gives another standout performance as ‘Coco’ Chanel. The film is well and beautifully done but the story it tells is just too boring to make this worth repeated viewings. ***



Julie & Julia


As usual, Meryl Streep is superb as Julia Child, and Amy Adams, her sidekick in Doubt, also does well enough. But, once again, this charming enjoyable comedy tells a story that’s just too boring to hold my attention (though I do appreciate old-fashioned comedies, so full marks for effort). ***



The Princess and the Frog


An old-fashioned and somewhat typical Disney animated film with gorgeous animation, an interesting story with a social conscience, and a decent Randy Newman score. I enjoyed it from start to finish but felt it lacked the grand themes and music of former greats like Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid and The Hunchback, etc. ***



The Fantastic Mr. Fox


Another animated film, this one completely different from the last, giving us a style and feel unlike anything I have seen before. But that’s what one would expect from director Wes Anderson. I really appreciated the sophisticated intelligent humour, aimed more at adults than children, and the quirky way the story was told. I also thought George Clooney was great as the protagonist. This is a film with much to say about community and humanization (or animalization?). Nevertheless, the style was too distracting for me and kept me from liking it as much as most of the critics. ***+



The Men Who Stare at Goats


Another quirky sophisticated comedy, this time underrated rather than overrated. It’s a wacky satire about the military. Sure it doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s very funny and it has some thought-provoking things to say about war and the military-industrial complex. Great fun! George Clooney and Jeff Bridges are two of the best out there and their performances alone make this film worth ***+.



The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus


This is a wild mess of a film from start to finish. Heath Ledger died during the filming and was replaced by Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. Impressive casting, and decent acting on all three parts (especially Johnny), but it still seemed weird. And yet? And yet I could not help enjoying every minute of this mess. After all, Terry Gilliam, one of my favourite directors, made it. He excels at making bizarre films unlike any we’ve seen before. There’s a lot to be said for that, and for the courage it takes to stand by one’s vision. Behind Gilliam’s mess are some thought-provoking and highly discussable ideas, especially on the theme of hope, and that’s always a good thing. ***+



Invictus


John Pilger’s scathing indictment of Invictus notwithstanding, Clint Eastwood has directed another winner with this mostly unsensational look at Nelson Mandela’s attempts to unite his divided country through sports. Eastwood is helped by standout performances by Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. One of the most impressive things about the film is the way every person in it comes across sympathetically - a fine achievement in humanization. Pilger claims the film is “an insult to the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa” and has a “subliminal theme [that] is all too familiar: colonialism deserves forgiveness and accommodation, never justice.” I understand where he is coming from, but think he’s a little too cynical (and I wonder what he means by justice), especially when people whose opinions I respect, and who have lived for years in South Africa, tell me they loved Invictus. ***+



The Road


Another end-of-the-world film, but ever so much better than 2012. I read the book by Cormac McCarthy in three days in December 2008 (reading a book in less than a month is something I haven’t done in decades). The film is so true to the book that I felt like I had seen it before. The Road is an incredibly gray, bleak and depressing film, but that’s what it’s supposed to be. The atmosphere created by the cinematography is perfect, just the right level of haunting horror mixed with drab never-ending despair (so not a Valentine’s Day film, in case you’re making plans, though the film does have a lot to say about love). What makes this film work are the perfect, understated and unsentimental performances by Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the father and son struggling to survive the desperate days ahead. Charlize Theron and Robert Duvall aren’t bad either, though they have small roles. Just missed my top ten. ***+


1 comment: