Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Ten Last Movies I've Seen Worth Mentioning (no spoilers)

by Nick
La Moustache
A man wakes up and shaves off his moustache. When asking his wife for a comment she says that, no, he's never had a moustache. His colleagues don't react, and his friends deny that he's ever had one. Did he dream his moustache? And if his moustache didn't exist, what else doesn't exist?

There ain't a lot of existential comedies out there, and the premise of this one was fun enough for me to look it up. Vincent Lindon as the lead turns out to be the best part about the film. Has a pretty believable wtf-expression. Trouble with the film is that towards the end it does a 180 that leaves the viewer reeling and stranded, and though perhaps aimed to provoke afterthought, is more likely to provoke annoyance.


World Trade Center

Critical as I've been of where the film was coming from, I tried watching this without bias. And even though the first half hour is good, good enough, the last one and a half are boring as shit. Stone seemed to be going on auto-pilot. Seriously, how 'deep' was this film? Entertaining? Or did it 'move' anyone? I'm sorry, I don't care if that was what 'actually' happened, but there's only so much "I love my wife/husband" that I can take. Best part was staff-sergeant Karnes. A real original whose story one would have liked to have seen more of (thanks Brian for linking to that story).

Silent Hill
So, yeah, I was looking forwards to this. And it's a very pretty film... and, uh, yeah...

I'll agree with Chris that having played the first game I understood a bit more than someone without that kind of foreknowledge might have (poor bastards), but a good film should be able to stand on it's own, and this one doesn't even do that. There's some cool stuff, if like me you consider seeing a girl's skin getting ripped off in one tug 'cool,' but other than that the whole thing is a mess.

I've seen three Christophe Gans films now (this, Crying Freeman and Brotherhood of the Wolf) and all three have in the end had the same symptoms. Amazing-looking things, very moody, but with no grip whatsoever on story, either too much or too little, gaping plotholes and characters you ultimately don't care for.

But it's very pretty.

Election (Hak Se Wui)
Apparently some triads in Hong Kong have democratic elections. Don't know if this is true or not, but it's a hell of a premise for a movie. Trouble with the film is that it doesn't quite follow through on it. Branded as a 'political' gangster film, and a 'reinvention of the HK gangster film', the politics aren't that much part of the picture, sadly, as much as some of the still prevalent traits of a standard HK gangster film. I wouldn't call it 'reinvention' removing guns and having a grim, unheroic ending, when you've still got a martial arts sequence in the middle of a street and a larger part of the film is dedicated to a chase that seems totally arbitrary.

But the ending really is quite something, and the film has its compelling parts and actors. It just didn't quite deserve those amazing raves it's got from the HK film fan community.


Election 2 - Triad Election (Hak Se Wui Yi Wo Wai Kwai)
The first surprising thing to say about Election 2 is that you don't have to have seen the first one to see this one. The second surprising thing to say is that it's an amazing improvement over the first one. It's as if Scarface was followed by Godfather 2.

This could have gone on to become just a long series of brutal confrontations/executions, but instead it goes on to become what the first one should have been. It's a leaner (90 minutes), more twisted (shades of Abu Ghraib) and brainier film than the first, with a political message that actually hits home. Hits home in such a way that it's quite cool that the Chinese authorities let it slip past in this day and age.

I wouldn't say it's perfection, but this is a very good film. Well worth looking up if you ever see it on a cinema or dvd-stand.

Crank
Been looking forward to this for quite some time, and it did not dissappoint. Haven't had this fun watching a movie in a long time. Best beer movie of the year.

Da Vinci Code
Jesus Christ what a boring movie. After 15 minutes I just couldn't stand it and shut it off. I've read the book (enjoyed it for what it was) and still found the story hard to get a grip on. To not even speak of the murky, not moody, cinematography and the just wrong casting decisions (Hanks, Bettany and Molina). For fuck's sake, the thing was even crappily edited, which is something I usually only notice if it's a sub-par martial arts film.

Worst $750 million blockbuster of all time? You bet.

Nacho Libre
When I was a kid in Spain, I used to watch American wrestling on the tv. The commentary was in Spanish, and even though it was fun seeing people get hit, I couldn't quite figure out if it was for real or not. Something was obviously off. They were getting hurt, but it was like sometimes they wanted to lose. But if this was a jig, why were there thousands of people cheering like it was life or death? So one day I drag my dad to watch it with me, to tell me whether it's for real, and if not, what the deal is. He looks at it for a few minutes, and then looks at me; "Niclas, they are idiots."

I quite liked Napoleon Dynamite. It had an oddball vibe that should have made me switch off, but didn't. Hess doesn't apologize for his characters being weird, nor does he try to redeem them.

Nacho Libre isn't quite on the same level, but I did laugh at some things, and the film is sweet enough to not dismiss out of hand. By no means a very strong film, or a great comedy, it still has some funny scenes and loveable characters. If you're into Black's shtick, you'll probably like it more than I did.

Half Nelson
All those tired of hearing another over-fifty film critic's long lamentation of the passing of the 70s ("the last golden age of cinema") and the subsequent peremptory condemnation of all American films since Raging Bull - moistily reminiscing on the spare, dusty look of The Last Picture Show - please raise your hand. I like McCabe & Mrs Miller as much as anyone, but I mean come on. Hang up, get off.

That said, seeing Half Nelson is a breath of fresh air. Seriously, no show-off acting! No quirky, comic sideline-character! No third-act monologue! I might appreciate these things done well, but seeing a film that wasn't dependent on them to tell a good story felt revolutionary, of all things.


I remember Ryan Gosling from this shit TV show that my little sister used to watch, Breaker High, and thinking (hoping) that this fuckface would never have a career after 21. Man, was I wrong, and glad I was. The Believer (a great film about being Jewish) might have been a stroke of luck, but he really delivered here. Knowing one or two young, idealistic (some not so) teachers in troubled urban areas, his role here isn't far-fetched, nor does he play it false. But the thing to really see here is the kid, Shareeka Epps, who is one of the very few fully believable child actors I have ever seen. If you need one reason to see the film, do it for her.

There's no clear three act structure, no satisfying climax, and no standout scenes or bits of dialogue. But in all honesty, this film really got to me. There's something to be said for the qualities of many of the films made in the 70s. Doesn't mean such films ain't made no more.

The Queen
I work summers as a guard over at the Royal Palace in Stockholm, so the question of the monarchy's legitimacy in the modern world, while not exactly urgently on my mind, is somewhat pondered from time to time. The Queen doesn't answer those questions, but it does deliver an interesting perspective.

You can tell Peter Morgan - also writer of reality-based dramas The Deal and Frost/Nixon, both also about confrontations - has meticulously researched this as well as could be done, but in the end it's not exactly United 93 you're getting here.

All those things I said I loved seeing missing from Half Nelson, well, they're here in spades. This brings with it both good and bad.

Director Stephen Frears opts for entertaining, but it's intelligent entertainment. Considering that it's basically a film about a family's decision of whether to speak at a funeral or not, and that most people know the outcome, there's a considerable danger that the whole thing could just sputter and die. That it doesn't, and that it chugs along without braking, is a real credit to Frears. There's some great, snappy, British dialogue, and the main characters of this piece are all fascinating people in real life (Michael Sheen as Tony Blair, especially) and seeing how they supposedly act behind the media scenes is perhaps the greatest thing about the picture.

Still, even if no thing feels unbelievable, some of the people represented feel just a bit sugarcoated. Thinking back on how they're seen in the media, I imagine these people having a bit more balls in real life and somewhat less sympathetic motivations.

But Helen Mirren, in the lead, is sure to win Best Actress. This might not be the British queen as most believe her to be, but it's a great piece of showoff acting, and it's the kind that usually wins Oscars.

One of the more enjoyable films I've seen this year, so far.

6 Comments:

Blogger Brian said...

Saw La Moustache a couple months back and hated, hated, hated it. "Provoke annoyance" is a very diplomatic way of putting it. To me, it's like an offshoot of my Harry Potter Theory, which basically says that magic is stupid if the only purpose it serves is to provide arbitrary plot points. La Moustache is an endless series of arbitrary plot points, only using insanity as the device instead of magic, only far more smug and self-impressed than the Potter series can ever hope to be.

I was moved by World Trade Center. Sorry you weren't.

My favorite line in Da Vinci Code, and the one I think sums up the movie the best, is when the one Opus Dei guy tells the other to keep their meeting a secret, as it has been for a thousand years. You'd think that after all that time, secrecy would be kind of a given, but apparently they need to remind each other after every meeting.

I thought The Queen was great, too. I would disagree, though, that Mirren's performance was "showoff acting". Maybe you mean it differently than I do, but I thought it was pretty subtle. Obviously the makeup and costumes drew attention to themselves - she was the Queen, after all - but her character is so stoic and reserved that any kind of scenery-chewing or hysterics were out of the question.

10/24/2006 06:18:00 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

I think I liked the first half hour of La Moustache, that was initially amusing, and like I said before, Lindon is very good, but then it did get too tiresome. You're right, with that ending, smug is a good way to sum up the film.

I was moved by World Trade Center. Sorry you weren't.

I'm sorry you were. Boring, yet turgid. Maybe I didn't get it because I'm European.

I would disagree, though, that Mirren's performance was "showoff acting". Maybe you mean it differently than I do, but I thought it was pretty subtle.

No, she's not exactly channeling Al Pacino here. But subtle..

She's very good, but while she isn't running around screaming or laughing, there's a lot of quite obvious internalised emotion going on throughout the film, and I feel like Mirren reaches for sympathy points by showing her so conflicted. It's show off in such a way that Mirren knows perfectly how to portray inner anguish, and does so a lot throughout the film. And because all her emotions seem so clear to the viewer, which like I said is also a credit to her acting abilities, there's not a lot that I found very ambiguous in her portrayal.

To try and explain it in other words; you don't need to play Flight of the Bumblebee to show off, you might as well play Moonlight Sonata one-handed.

She brings out her big guns, and deserves credit for handling them well, but there's still something of an element of showing off involved.

Oh, and I should have added this to my review of Half Nelson. Saying that it's another film about "heroic inner city teachers" is lumping it in with films like Dangerous Minds, doing the film a disservice it didn't warrant. Plenty of other perspectives to take on the film.

You gonna review The Prestige? Love to hear your view. Don't you dare spoil it, though.

10/24/2006 07:20:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Saying that it's another film about "heroic inner city teachers" is lumping it in with films like Dangerous Minds, doing the film a disservice it didn't warrant.

Well, it's nowhere near as silly as Dangerous Minds and its ilk, but I don't think its really a million miles away from those movies, either. Just grittier and more self-consciously "honest". In the end, we still get the same reaction shots of wide-eyed kids taking in the wisdom of their teacher. We get the same school administrator who's upset that the teacher is a maverick who doesn't follow the approved curriculum. And we get the one student who takes to the teacher and is therefore saved from all the Bad Choices out there.

I don't think it's all that different just because the dude smokes crack, and I really don't think it's a much more accurate portrayal of inner city schools than most other movies.

Loved The Prestige, one of the most fun movies I've seen in a while. Having a hard time with an actual review though, a common problem for films I really like. So we'll see.

10/25/2006 06:28:00 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

...it's nowhere near as silly as Dangerous Minds and its ilk, but I don't think its really a million miles away from those movies, either. Just grittier and more self-consciously "honest". In the end, we still...

All right, I see where this argument is going. I see a fine juicy vegetable, you see just another tomato. There, discussion mapped out and done.

Having a hard time with an actual review though, a common problem for films I really like. So we'll see.

Tell me about it. There's only so many times one can write 'amazing,' 'interesting,' 'fascinating,' 'very good,' 'very well whatever,' before starting to feel like you're swallowing your own vomit. Someone really should publish some sort of thesaurus for critique.

10/25/2006 08:17:00 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

All right, I see where this argument is going. I see a fine juicy vegetable, you see just another tomato.

Mostly true, but not quite. It is a tomato, but one that's fresher and more nutritious than the average tomato. It's just that I don't really like tomatos. Or something.

One thing I will say about The Prestige is that it's very, very clever, but in a good way (I use 'clever' prejoratively sometimes, don't want to make it sound like I'm knocking it). But I guess that's something that marks the Nolans - they really think these things through. There's nothing sloppy or half-assed about any of their movies, everything works, especially in the last two. Very rare.

10/25/2006 09:26:00 AM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

The Queen is the best film I've seen this year. Completely engrossing, with excellent performances. I admired how it was at once a kind of fly-on-the-wall examination of an event that is still fresh in the mind, and a larger view of what modernization can do to entrenched institutions. Helen Mirren should start preparing her Oscar acceptance speech.

10/30/2006 07:18:00 AM  

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