Archive for April, 2010
3.5 Stars out of 4
There’s a magnetism to Canadian director Atom Egoyan’s ‘Chloe’. It has great performances that dare to be melodramatic and a build that moves at a hypnotically slow pace and then moves in for the kill. Be captivated by Chloe, not for its startles, but for its ideas. Everything was sabotaged from the beginning. She seemed like just a call girl, innocent enough, sympathetic, and willing to do any job. You don’t know whether to despise these characters for their voyeur psyches or credit then for their desperate nerve. But Egoyan plays his cards right here. He builds the tension off a searingly taut narrative. This film is so subjective that you can’t help but question everything that happens. Is Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) reliable? Is Catherine’s (Julianne Moore) husband David (Liam Neeson) having an affair? What is so engaging is that the conflict ensues from an initial capricious action by the wife. The contrived acquaintance of Chloe and Catherine serves a frightening purpose: this could have all been avoided if Catherine was not so self-absorbed.
Catherine is convinced David is having an affair. He converses with students on a daily basis online, but he asserts that it is strictly academic purposes. ‘Chloe’ is an attack on curiosity. If we try to wonder too much, we will lose hold of reality. Talk about paranoia. Chloe is hired by Catherine to tempt her husband. She’ll play a school girl to possibly rattle his bones. Will that trigger David’s possible fetish? He seems like a good guy, but is there something deep that turns him on? Chloe claims she does what she does because she strives to find something that is loveable in everyone. Her motives are haunting. She is indeed a terrific lier. Or is she?
After one meeting, Chloe recounts everything with a passive aggressive subtlety. All she did was say hi to David, borrowed his sugar, and smiled at him, in which he responded with a smile as well. Chloe notes to Catherine that she doesn’t usually work for married clients. Catherine looks at Chloe. Something has been triggered. Catherine shoots back: your client is my husband, not me. This is an acute revelation in ‘Chloe.’ Egoyan is smart. He dishes out clues with quick shots of dialogue that resonate together into an intriguing amalgam. Perhaps this whole scheme is not about tempting David, but actually Catherine. Is this all for her sexual intrigue? You need to start asking: what is going on?
‘Chloe’ seeps into Catherine’s life very gradually. She shows up at her work, pretending to be a long-time friend, she flirts with Catherine’s newly single son Michael (Max Thieriot). Chloe becomes more of a daunting dream, an object of Catherine’s fantasies if anything. Chloe is so voluptuous that her presence on screen is utterly melting. It is not that we are supposed to like Chloe (oddly enough she is likeable…interesting) but we are supposed to fall for her. Be caught by her beauty in an alluring gossamer for the film’s duration.
A critic called this film a contemporary Fatal Attraction. But Chloe relies more on suspending your belief if anything. None of the events in this film are believable through Chloe. But she tells everything so vividly that Egoyan pinpoints her cunning stories by showing her interactions with David as succinct breaks from the story. There is no talking. It’s all about what Chloe is saying and how Catherine reacts. It is about these two women, not the silly affair speculation. Egoyan knows that territory is too familiar.
The ending is a slight misstep. Egoyan moves from slow-seductive build to even tension to overblown conclusion. It ends as all these types of films do — everything goes over the edge and push must come to shove. Why the needless closing conflict? From that, the tension loosens.
But Chloe is far from arbitrary. All the scenes happen for a reason and Egoyan pushes the film to cheese territory. He almost dares you to laugh at the drama, declare it hokey, and then call it a day. But Egoyan draws you in, because he takes risks. He gives his settings an almost ostentatious glimmer, with characters that breathe melodramatic temperaments. But Egoyan circumvents that path. He refrains the audience from the pointless plot additions and lets the film build gradually. What is so scary is that I don’t think Chloe finds something loveable in everyone, but rather something to be obsessed about. But so does Catherine in a way. And arguably, she and Chloe, shown through a daunting character parallel, are just the same.
I will note that you will either love this film or hate it. But look past the simplistic-mellow glimmer, it is more equivocal than that.
I SAY: SEE IT.
MOVIE: A Serious Man
3 Stars out of 4
It has taken me two viewings of A Serious Man to like it. The first time was a dull expedition into the absurd naturalism of Jewish culture. The Coen Brothers’ were really playing to themselves here and I found it as a very distancing experience. It turns out there is a way (if you are not Jewish) to enjoy A Serious Man: admire the Coens’ bravura, their timely quirky characters, and the sharp dialogue. To an extent this a comedy, to another extent this is relentless drama. A Serious Man, like many other Coen films, captures the motions of life in a particular society. This is not quite a screwball film because there is a deeper complexity to these characters than just dismissing them as fatuous. These are characters living tragic lives, controlled by the dynamics of their society. Here we find a comedy of manners where the characters’s choice reflect them and their decreasing integrity. They have religion, they have family, but they are never truly happy.
A Serious Man begins as a fable — dimly lit, 20th century setting, and archaic characters. A husband and wife believe a rabbi to be dead but he comes knocking at their door, very much alive. The opening acts almost biblical: we are not here to laugh, but to take in some kind of message. Something the Coen’s love to explore. Professor Larry Gopnik (the terrific Michael Stuhlberg) is in a pickle. His wife wants to leave him for the care-giving and benign Sy Abelman (Fred Melamed). It is unusually funny, every time Larry tells someone of his misfortunes (quite insecurely I might add) the immediate response is a shocked gasp of: Sy Abelman!? Larry is constantly demoralized throughout the film, but Stuhlberg plays it smart. He makes you care about the character, but Larry is not totally self-aware with his sadness. You’ll find him funny when he anguishes but you’ll also find this peculiar sympathy.
Even Larry’s son Danny (a great first-time performance by Aaron Wolff) is in trouble. But for reckless, purely teen purposes. He loses his walkman while listening to Jefferson Airplane and he owes money to a school drug dealer. This is the ’50s when kids smoked pot as much as they enjoyed ice cream. Danny is completely out of it, completely stoned. He deals with his boring, midwestern life by singing Hebrew songs and maintaining a decent high. Larry was never exposed to that. He is tied down to morals. He refuses to pass a failing student who needs the mark for university purposes, he is tempted by his voluptuous lady neighbour, and hesitant to judge his redneck other neighbours. Larry is trying to be a serious man but the mental conflict that inhabits him reduces him to a frivolous being.
This film is more for the Jewish folk irrefutably. The Coen’s jokes can fly past you without you realizing it and the era is so subtly composed that it would take great scrutiny to immerse yourself in it. The language in the script, though it is well-written, has the Hebrew dialectic that can drown out some of the jokes that are much funnier than they sound.
But the Coen’s know how to set up terrific set pieces. They craft peculiar side stories to stimulate these character’s afflicting lives. You would be a mere fool to turn down the story of the Three Rabbis which moves at a more anticipating pace than traveling down the Yellow Brick Road. Who is that third rabbi and why is he always ‘busy’? O, that is right, he’s thinking. Or care to indulge the convoluted story of the dentist trying to decipher a Hebrew code found behind a man’s teeth? The joke is that the Coen’s build all this tension for nothing. Larry asks the second rabbi what happens in the end and he replies that it does not really matter. It is just so fascinating.
The second half does become too serious; Larry becomes concerned with his loss of humanity. He’s given up on himself and that sombre attitude he is trying to develop. The process is intriguing as drama, but the Coen’s lose hold of the gag — we should still be laughing at these characters.
But the second viewing of A Serious Man was a worthy one. The Coen’s endure a absurd yet realistic approach to the fall of one man, caught up in his faith and crumbling substance as an important adult. No one can treat him seriously anymore and neither can he. And please, do not despise the ending to A Serious Man, but it keeps the message wide open. Think like that second rabbi and ask if a true answer is really important. In the end, all these characters were looking for was somebody to love. Do they ever? Not really, neither do they gain redemption, but the influential beat of the Jefferson Airplane song “Somebody to Love” interprets the film with this psychedelic and bitter-sweet gloom. Because when the truth is found to be lies, all the joy within you will die (as they wrote). And that is what The Airplane and A Serious Man taught us — the truth is a distorted revelation.
I SAY: SEE IT.
MOVIE: Enemy of the State
2.5 Stars out of 4
A SHORT REVIEW
I don’t feel dumber after watching Enemy of the State, but I definitely don’t feel any smarter. Tony Scott’s film had such potential to pull you into government secrecies but instead he centralizes the film around the action — the car chases, the explosions, and the gun shots amuck. Enemy of the State runs on great performances but also on colossal contrivances. Everything seems so played out, it is as if Scott is dealing us a new pair of cards that have not been shuffled. He will build at a predictable pace that leads to that eventual wildcard payoff. But Smith and Hackman are terrific and Tony Scott, as sensationalized as this film is, really induces the paranoia by revealing all the devices that are used as espionage and can penetrate our private lives. Enemy is loud and almost obnoxious at times, but it is one contrived fun time.
I SAY: RENT IT.
3.5 Stars out of 4
It took me at least two viewings to ‘get’ Christopher Nolan’s Memento. When I say “get it”, I mean I understand it as much as I do quantum physics. Well, not that bad, but Memento really requires an ignited brain and zero bathroom breaks. Nolan penetrates the mind but does not indulge in the whodunit mystery or Hitchcockian drama. Nolan finds his own genre here, one distorted fully by time. (continue reading…)
4 Stars out of 4
I must tell you how happy I was to find out that Martin Scorsese’s The Departed was an absolute piece of work. Most of these classic directors begin to die off and run out of ideas like Spielberg is slowly starting to do with releasing certain flops like War of the Worlds. Scorsese is known for releasing certain classics like Goodfellas (one of my favourites), Raging Bull, and Gangs of New York. However, he has created a few flops like New York New York that came out to very luke-warm reviews. For The Departed, I did not know what to expect. All I knew was that it was a movie that paralleled various movies like Infernal Affairs and Mean Streets. (continue reading…)
MOVIE: I’m Not There
3 Stars out of 4
“Like A Rolling Stone”, “Mister Tambourine Man”, “Blowin’ in the Wind”, and the list goes on. Bob Dylan has been recognized as an artist known for his lyrics and guitar playing, not his voice. People believe that Bob Dylan sings the meaning the life through his words and every chord he strums gives out the sound of peace. Me, personally, I am not a Dylan fan and I am not one of these people that know his life and understand the method to his writing, which is a big problem when seeing I’m Not There, the newest film of the guitar legend. In 2005, Martin Scorsese released No Direction Home, a bio-doc of Dylan’s “amazing” (apparently) life.
Now, I’m Not There, releases and it is a biopic, great! And it is a good movie, possibly even a masterpiece, but it is hard for myself and other less devoted Bob Dylan fans to truly appreciate this film to its full extent, because a lot relates to the inside life of Dylan. Most of you who are not Bon Dylan-savvy will have trouble following the movie and will find it overly quirky, animated and symbolic. Still, this film is well-directed and it gels all the songs perfectly into its quirky plots. Also, Cate Blanchett, who is definitely one of the most talented actresses nowadays, proves she still has it as Jude Quinn, a replicate of Dylan.
On the other hand, as a Dylan-savvy person, you should and will notice and appreciate the brilliant plot aspects of Dylan’s life that Haynes incorporates into every scene and also love the music and all the bleak environments Haynes sets up for Dylan’s slow and sad songs.
In the end, I’m Not There is a solid film, which I should be giving a higher rating, but since I don’t know enough about Dylan, it is difficult to give this film a great rating when I had a few knocks against it that most Bob Dylan fans would point fingers at me in frustration. I suppose that’s the problem with Bio-pics, especially when they revolve around Bob Dylan, because when it comes down to fully understanding the tales and wisdom that this artist gave out, I’m not there.
I SAY: SEE IT.
MOVIE: It’s Not Me, I Swear (Ce N’est Pas Moi, Je Le Jure)
3.5 Stars out of 4
It’s Not Me, I Swear (Ce N’est Pas Moi, Je Le Jure) is a 2008 French-Canadian film that has characters who are victimized by their environments–in this case, the suburbs. This is another Canadian film that threw through the cracks of the cinema introspection, and is truly an effective piece about characters who have only one redeeming quality: they are human. The film isn’t about characters trying to survive in the suburbs (something American Beauty, a spellbinding film, was about) but rather escaping it. The story doesn’t explicitly play off the boy who cried wolf, but more about the boy who cried fox (you’ll understand if you see it), though the animal analogy is still there, but just turned on its head. The fox doesn’t inflict on the boy’s wickedness but is the only good he can find. A fox is sly, subtly ferocious, and underestimated, like the boy. You could say the fox is a smaller scale version of a wolf, which is what we’re dealing with here–a smaller scale human: a little boy.
The story follows Léon, a 10 year-old who plays hooky from school and raids and eggs neighbours’ homes while they are away. He isn’t your typical child and life for him is no nicer than he is. This is like the story of Alex (from A Clockwork Orange) as a youngling and speaking in French dialect. But where was arbitrarily psychotic, Léon’s will for attention is a result of his parent’s incessant fighting and lack of friends. Eventually, Léon meets Lea, a crush of his, who struggles with parental problems just as equally. The film forms a subtle love story of the two but the relationship is more focused on their connections as forgotten souls. Director Philippe Faradeau almost takes on a prolonged adventure story overwhelmed in harrowing mishaps but eventually, and wisely, eludes this.
Faradeau is compelled with the angelic aspect of the world. His continuous aerial shots are mesmerizing as it looks down on its self-regulating world. Antoine L’…cuyer (Léon) effectively portrays a boy who feels his abnormality is an impedance in his family so well that we care about him even though he isn’t utterly likeable. Once the ending unravels, it isn’t anti-climactic, it is fittingly ethereal and bitter-sweet. Is paradise found for Léon? Not necessarily, but the life that perhaps abuses him may have redeemed him.
I SAY: SEE IT.
MOVIE: No Country for Old Men
4 Stars out of 4
No Country for Old Men is based on the 2005 novel by Cormac McCarthy and the Coen Brothers use the script magnificently and create a true tour-de-force of a suspense film. Is it the acting, directing, filming, or plot? It is simply all of them. No Country meets the expectations that Fargo did in 1996. It has great acting, but it uses its environments as thy or one of the most primary characters, possibly the protagonist. However, in realistic terms, the protagonist is Llewellyn Moss, a retired man who stumbles upon 2.4 million dollars in cash that lay before a corpse in a scene of a drug deal gone wrong. From then on, the drama begins, but the film never has a slow moment, not even at the beginning. You get an intense scene at the beginning, with the arrest of Anton Chigurh, played perfectly by Bardem. From then on, mayhem ensues, but at a much more suspenseful and subtle level than other C or B grade thrillers that are out right now, such as Resident Evil 3 (**) and 3:10 to Yuma (***).
On another note, there are two peculiar aspects of this film that relates it to a Shakespeare play. Firstly, this play is King Lear; the two aspects are that there is no justice in the world and that balance is not always restored. Also, nearly all the deaths are done of screen, but are implied with a devilish sense of humour. For instance, when Chigurh eliminates a character, there is no weapon present, but you know that that person is dead because when he leaves the house, he looks at the soles of his shoes for a particular red substance.
At first, the ending seems to be a disappointment, but then you realize: “Yes, the film had to end this way!” because if it didn’t, the title, No Country for Old Men is not true to the story. Furthermore, there is a scene when a disabled man speaks to Sheriff Bell (Jones) and says, “You can’t stop what’s coming!” And that is the truth.
Lastly, the filming is unique, but not amazing. It has some excellent shots that are so limited that it causes the audience to turn their head to try to look through an object. For example, when Moss is hiding in a hotel and he hears a noise outside the door, the camera zooms under the door, but not enough to see the murderous creature outside (or is it murderous?). This forces the audience to tilt their head and see if they can reveal the culprit, though it is definitely impossible. On the other hand, this is not why No Country is a solid four stars, and by far the best film of 2007. It is, as said before, its captivating environments the Coen Brothers establish. It is significant to capture a particular aura for the Rio Grande deserts because the goal of this movie is to prove how this country is struggling with a moral apocalypse and that the need for justice must be kindled. No Country may not give you some bloody justice, but there is some blood, and it is one hell of a fine film. However, one more scene involving a coin flip would have made my day. It’s you call! Call it!
I SAY: SEE IT.
MOVIE: Vicky Cristina Barcelona
3 Stars out of 4
Some critics argue that Woody Allen’s films from (let’s say) the year 2000 to present, have generally been disappointing. Some blame its melodramatics or casting. Scarlett Johannsson has taken on the Diane Keaton role in Allen’s films and starred in his newer films like Match Point and Scoop, which I liked, especially Match Point, one of my favourites in years of Allen films. However, both these films along with Melinda and Melinda and Cassandra’s Dream received luke-warm reviews, at best. Now Vicky Cristina Barcelona comes, a film with everything going for it. It has Academy Award winner Jaview Bardem, who was apart of the Academy Award winning film for Best Picture, No Country for Old Men. Academy Award Nominee Penélope Cruz who elevated her career from a strong performance in Volver, a few years ago…Oh and you have Scarlett Johannsson! It’s not fair to say Vicky Cristina is a chick-flick; it is just a Woody Allen drama about a bunch of painters coated over with the colour of Barcelona and a sexy edge.
In Vicky Cristina, it seems Johannsson is adapting more and more to her Keaton-like or arguably Woody-like characters, and has grown as an actress, in general. Bardem is charming here and with a much better haircut as Juan Antonio, a smooth Spaniard, with a temper and has secretive lust for his ex-wife Maria Elena, played by Cruz. Throughout this film, you wonder if Allen is after an ironic conclusion, like most of his films, or just wants to sight-see Barcelona through the lenses of a video camera. It is well-filmed in style, but lacks anything too ambitious. Perhaps Woody Allen wanted to make a risk-free film with acclaimed actors and actresses and a narrator (not Allen) who sounds like he is guiding you through a virtual tour of a hotel.
The ending of Vicky Cristina has Woody Allen style, and also has other excellent performances, but less well-known actresses like Rebecca Dean as Vicky, who is engaged to a boring, but successful businessman. And Patricia Clarkson as Judy Nash, a women approaching the elderly stages of life, who realizes she has spent her life with a man she “loves, but isn’t in love with.”
Overall, Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, is a film with attractive style in terms of scenery and casting, but there is nothing too new or original here. It is funny and has that one main song that plays throughout the film constantly, like most or all of his films recently. Be prepared for his next movie next year called Whatever Works, starring the hilarious Larry David from HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. Don’t let us down Woody.
MOVIE: Requiem for a Dream
2 Stars out of 4
I’m probably the lone soul who is questionable of this film’s potential brilliance. But after watching Requiem for a Dream with such high expectations, I found myself very ambivalent towards Darren Aronofsky’s direction. For a film that aspires to blow your mind through ecstatic filmmaking and surreal special effects, Aronofsky tends to abuse this power about halfway through the movie. It wants to be so crazy it just becomes too much after a while. It boils itself down to clichés and predictable character-relating narrative.
Now, Requiem does have a soaring soundtrack, with music by Clint Mansell, it really touches upon the sorrowful lives these characters are living. Ellen Burstyn and Jared Leto show why they are good actors portraying a son and mother caught up in their own crushing addictions.
But Aronofsky (“Pi” and “The Fountain” which I have yet to see) uses this idea narrowly. He takes the easy way out. Yes, the effects are cool at the end, very petrifying perhaps, but the meaning behind it is pedestrian. What Aronofsky alludes to quite brilliantly in the first half of the film are these characters’ obsessions with the media and surveillance. Aronofsky uses subtle references to this; for example, the director often portrays Leto’s character Harry being watched in security monitors as he performs hanky-panky with his sombre but beautiful girlfriend (Jennifer Connoly). There’s a scene when Harry and Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) are in a diner and Harry imagines robbing a police officer (who is sitting next to them) and playing keep-away with it. He is a rebel and he loves it. Even Sara (Burstyn) is obsessed with non-conformity: she takes diet pills that are illegal but she is willing to go against anything to drop that fat. Aronofsky even sets up a high angle in Sara’s bedroom as she changes (surveillance indeed). This idea Aronofsky is pursuing is brilliant. His split screen set pieces (a technique often used in the media, hmm…) show this theme he is following and also a parallel between these characters. It is viscerally effective and it is not self-indulgent.
But there is a turn in Requiem that dismisses any of these one brilliant concepts and forms a different storyline (something quite the opposite): a themeless narrative with self-indulgent camera work and over the top conflict. I wasn’t overwhelmed by Requiem’s climax, just insulted. Why Aronofsky feels the need to “conform” to that ending that loves how crazy it is trying to be is discomforting to me and for this film. The characters end up doing cliché things: prostitution, becoming hospitalized–things that screams emotional strife but does not imply it. Requiem works best on implication not explication and this film’s second half does too much of the latter which undermines its potential brilliance.
I understand this is based on a book and this is how it is to end, but Aronofsky abandons a theme with such tenacity that it is unforgiving that he fails to pursue it in the film’s entirety. As a result, this is a dream that I wish I would want to remember but just won’t.
I SAY: SKIP IT.