Friday, 15 March 2013

Flight



It’s been many weeks since I watched this, but I’m still playing catch-up.
Denzel Washington is on top of his game as Whip Whitaker, an airline pilot who often flies while under the influence of both alcohol and drugs (he uses the drugs to counteract some of the effects of the alcohol). You just know this is going to catch up with him sooner or later. In this case, it does not take long before Whip finds himself in a crisis situation which will force his lies into the open.
Lies lie at the core of Flight: lies people tell themselves (i.e. denial) as well as lies they tell others. Whip is a master at lying as he hides his alcoholism from himself and others. The aforementioned crisis requires that his lies become more creative and more dangerous, impacting more and more people. Whip is a good man and he wants to get out of the hole he has dug for himself, but it’s a very steep climb indeed. How long can he continue to get drunk and lie before everything falls apart?
All of the acting in Flight is excellent. Don Cheadle and Bruce Greenwood are particularly effective in supporting roles. But it’s John Goodman as Harling Mays, Whip’s best friend and supplier, who steals every scene he’s in. Flight is well-directed by Robert Zemeckis and features an intelligent screenplay by John Gatins and some very good cinematography.
The ending of Flight didn’t quite work for me (too Hollywood?) and there seemed to be some mixed messages in the film indicating a failure to think through some of the plot elements (especially in their impact on our sympathies), but overall Flight deserves a very solid ***+. My mug is up.

Blood Pressure



Blood Pressure is another low-budget Canadian film you will probably never have a chance to see. Once again, that’s a shame, because, for a small Canadian film, this is definitely worth a look.
Blood Pressure opens with the reading of an anonymous letter written to the protagonist, Nicole, a woman whose life has begun to feel weary and pointless. Nicole is the mother of two teenage children, for whom she is primarily the cook, lunch-maker and ride-provider. Her husband is on the road a lot (he has to travel to Winnipeg of all horrible places) and seems to take her for granted, ignoring her talk about a vacation to Mexico. And her work at a pharmacy, where her boss watches her every move and word like a hawk, is anything but life-giving. 
The letter recognizes Nicole’s frustrations and the writer tells her that she deserves much better. If she would like to explore the potential of a more fulfilled life, all she has to do is put the enclosed green card in her living room window. If she does not do so, she will never hear from the writer again.
Blood Pressure does a good job of showing how Nicole’s unhappiness leads her to placing the green card in the window, but I didn’t buy her failure to wrestle with the obviously terrifying invasion of her privacy before doing so. Nicole ends up getting more letters and is set up with a variety of free activities which will make her come alive, but the invasion of her privacy becomes so blatant that she should be terrified about what’s happening to her. 
The viewer, at least, is meant to feel constant suspense as we await whatever horrific resolution we feel must be in store in spite of the many pleasures the anonymous writer is providing for Nicole. I will say no more about that resolution, even if you are unlikely to see the film. I was not altogether satisfied by it, but at least it wasn’t predictable. 
Insofar as Blood Pressure was exploring the way so many people today feel stuck in a rut, unable to find their way to a more fulfilling life, the film was satisfying and thought-provoking for me. But I wasn’t sold on the possible solutions offered to Nicole. Of course, that may be one of the points of the film, revealing how relatively ineffective those solutions were in comparison with the thrill Nicole felt in her connection with her mysterious admirer. Perhaps the film is saying that ultimately what we are all looking for is that magical connection with someone who understands us and makes us feel special and valued. 
Blood Pressure is directed by Sean Garrity and stars Michelle Giroux as Nicole. Giroux isn’t outstanding, but she does well enough. Jonas Chernick is effective in a major supporting role. The camera work felt a little amateurish, but completely forgivable in a low-budget Canadian film. All in all, a solid *** effort. My mug is up.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Keyhole



Coincidentally (or not?) this is yet another very bizarre dream (nightmare?) -like film which may also be about a filmmaker’s love of movies and where I also had no clue where the film was going or what it was trying to say. If I think about this coincidence too long, it gets spooky. Of course, since Keyhole is directed by Winnipeg’s own Guy Maddin, you know going in that you’re going to get a very weird film.
Keyhole is a black and white film (film noir?) about a gang of criminals in the 1930‘s spending a night in the house of the gang’s leader. What the leader knows, but the other gang members do not, is that the house is haunted by a variety of ghosts which tell something of the strange history of those who lived in this house.
Keyhole features gorgeous cinematography, an interesting score and decent acting. The atmosphere and unique style make the first hour quite entertaining, but the film fades in the last half hour, seeming to get so carried away by its dark and twisted story that all attempts to find a cohesive plot are lost. An interesting oddity for arthouse film lovers only, I give Keyhole ***. My mug is up again, but it contains an even stranger brew.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Holy Motors



Wow! 
Or, more accurately: What on earth was that?
Unlike anything I have ever seen (always a good thing of course), though it reminded me of David Lynch and of Cronenberg’s recent Cosmopolis, Holy Motors is yet another 2012 film about a man riding through a city in a limousine. This time the city is Paris and the man is an actor of sorts moving from one ‘appointment’ to the next. At each appointment, the man (whose name is Oscar, which is certainly not a coincidence) puts on another outrageous disguise and goes out to play another role, usually in the company of others who may (or may not?) also be actors like him. 
Holy Motors is an incredibly bizarre film. Maybe insane is a better word. There is no explanation offered for why Oscar does what he does, there is no obvious attempt to explain what the film is really about, and I have yet to figure out what the title is meant to signify (if anything). There is just this surreal gorgeously-filmed collection of scenes which float through Paris almost like dreams. 
Each of the scenes represents a different film genre, from family drama to horror to film noir to romantic musical to thriller to sci-fi and so on. It must be meant as some kind of ride through the history of cinema, but is there more to it? I keep thinking there must be; maybe something about the masks we all wear as we encounter different situations in life? Holy Motors begs for a second viewing and so I may revisit this question soon.
Holy Motors was written and directed by French director Leos Carax and stars Denis Lavant as Oscar. There are no adequate words to describe Lavant’s awesome performance. It is difficult to compare his work with that of Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln because the roles are so different, but Lavant deserves an Oscar for playing Oscar.
Infuriatingly enigmatic, Holy Motors gets an automatic ***+ for being so weird and may get **** after I watch it again. But this French film is certainly not aimed at your average viewer, so be warned. My mug is up, but there’s a strange brew bubbling inside.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

A Late Quartet



Not to be confused with Quartet (which takes place in the UK), A Late Quartet (filmed in New York City) is about a string quartet (two violins, a viola and a cello). This quartet has been playing together for 25 years when the oldest of the musicians (Peter) is diagnosed with Parkinson’s. With Peter’s imminent departure from the quartet, the close-knit group (which includes a married couple - Robert and Juliette) begins to unravel, with one crisis after another.
Peter, a teacher who is much wiser when speaking to his students than he is in dealing with his own struggles, is played to perfection by Christopher Walken. In spite of his struggles, Peter remains the calm centre of the quartet when the others begin fighting. Robert and Juliette are played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener, who are also outstanding (as usual). The last member of the quartet is Daniel, played by Mark Ivanir, who also does well. The only other character of note is Robert and Juliette’s daughter, Alexandra, played by Imogen Poots.
A Late Quartet is a well-paced drama full of intelligent and thought-provoking dialogue and beautiful scenes. The cinematography is excellent and the score is as good as one might expect (the actors don’t actually play the score, but they were well-trained to look like they do). Directed by Yaron Zilberman, A Late Quartet may not be the masterpiece that Amour is, but it touched me in a way that Amour could not (maybe it was the music, which, despite the fact that Amour’s characters were also musicians, has a minor role in Amour). 
So while I am only giving A Late Quartet a solid ***+, I liked it better than Amour. An independent film which flew under the radar, A Late Quartet is a gem that I recommend to everyone.

Amour



I’ve watched seven recent films since my last review, so many short reviews are pending.

I caught Amour on the day of the Academy Awards, which I am so glad I missed (Seth MacFarlane’s film, Ted, was the worst film I saw in 2012, so it didn’t surprise me that he was capable of “We Saw Your Boobs”, which I thought was in very bad taste, as were, no doubt, other so-called attempts at humour). 

That Amour won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film was not a surprise. I had heard enough to assume it would also most likely have made my top ten of 2012 if I had seen it earlier. But although Micahel Haneke’s Amour is a brilliant film, well-deserving of its Oscar, it would not have made my top ten.

Amour features outstanding and haunting performances by Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant as Anne and Georges, an old loving couple facing the sudden decline of Anne’s health (including her mental health). It is a quiet, simple slow-moving film (not unusual for Europe) that feels both real and scary. We know how it’s going to end (because the film begins at the end), but that only heightens the suspense (not a thriller-like suspense but a love-suspense, hence the title). 

Amour is not an easy film to watch, perhaps because it is a little too brutally honest. But I wasn’t expecting a fun time, so I don’t think this put me off. And in spite of my high expectations, I never for a moment doubted that I was watching a masterpiece of a sort. In every sense, there is no doubt that Amour is a work of art. And yet, there was something about the film which troubled me. I’m not sure I can describe what it was, except to say that I would have expected a film about love to engage me at an emotional level much more than this one did.

I am going to give Amour **** because it is such a well-made film and so plainly deserves it. But it is one of those four-star films that didn’t touch me in a way that will make it a favourite. Still, I recommend it highly to European-film lovers. My mug is up.