Sunday, January 5, 2014

Weekly Round-Up (12/29/13 - 1/4/14)

Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine) ***1/2 - This film looks like as if it's a Girls Gone Wild video directed by Jean Luc Godard. And for me, that's not a bad thing at all. I was very wary to see this film because I've only seen Harmony Korine's script-only features, Kids and Ken Park (I'm mixed on the first one, not a fan at all of the second) but to my surprised, I really, really admired and liked this film. The shock novelty of seeing Disney Channel staples Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens doing drugs, drinking, partying and generally behaving very un-Disney-like lasts only for a moment then you're sucked in and mesmerized and shocked by the amorality of unbridled youthful hedonism. James Franco steals the film as the creepy and funny white rapper, Alien. The cinematography is also similarly top-notch.

Pineapple Express (David Gordon Green) **1/2 - I had no idea why I wanted to catch up on this in the first place but what's done is done. There are a few good laughs here and there but all in all, I think it's a tonal mess. Mixing brutal, realistic violence with broad comedy is not really easy. David Gordon Green is kind of a bizarre pick for making this film since he's usually known for his thoughtful indie dramas (he has since made more of these comedies to varying degrees of success). Seth Rogen and James Franco make a good team but this is not their best work.

Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach) **** - This film, I have to say, is a bit of a minor miracle. The title character could have easily have been the most annoying, irritating person on Earth: Immature, clingy, insecure. But thanks to a marvelous script and a wonderful performance by Greta Gerwig, Frances turns into a funny, oddly endearing character you find yourself rooting for despite all her flaws. The film's black & white cinematography makes this film feel like a modern day Manhattan and has the look and feel of a type of film that John Cassavetes or even Francois Truffaut would do if they were still making films to this day. It is one of the best films of the year.

Upstream Color (Shane Carruth) **1/2 - I really wanted to love this film. But I couldn't! First off, I appreciated how different it is and what Shane Carruth is trying to do. I've seen his previous film, Primer (which up until now, I'm still trying to figure out). This is a film that leaves nothing for me to chew on apart from the obvious craft that goes into it. Is it about aliens? Mind control? Psychic connections? Alternate dimensions? Who knows? Now, I love surrealist films. I love non-narrative films. I'm certainly open to both. I've loved films that were surreal and/or non-narrative. This one, I simply couldn't get aboard beyond the appreciating the technical and experimental aspects of it.

The Grandmaster (Wong Kar-Wai) **** - I saw the original 130 minute Hong Kong cut of this film. And I loved it. I haven't seen a good martial arts movie in a while. I love a good martial arts movie. I'm also a Wong Kar-Wai fan but I was a bit wary of this because the only Wong Kar-Wai film I've seen and disliked was a sort of martial arts film, Ashes of Time. I'm glad to say that this is not the case this time. The film is BEAUTIFULLY shot, designed and acted. Plus it has some really, really good martial arts scenes. I haven't seen any of the other Ip Man films (the man whose life story this film was based on) but this is a really, really good one. I have to say Zhang Ziyi gives one of her career-best performances in this one.

To The Wonder (Terrence Malick) ***1/2 - I don't understand how people who liked/loved The Tree of Life would turn around and bash this film. For me, this film expounds on the themes explored by the previous film by going into another type of love that has yet to be touched upon: the romantic, the passionate, the sexual, etc. The films are basically companion pieces that mirror one another. Whilst The Tree of Life was epic in scope, this one is far more intimate, as it should be because it delves into a far more inward spiritual and philosophical themes. As usual, it is beautifully shot and Terrence Malick again eschews more traditional structured narrative for something more visually poetic like only he can do. It's definitely not for everybody but I have to wonder why some critics are so dismissive of this one. It's not quite as great as The Tree of Life (few things are anyway) but it's still a Malick film and it's still far more interesting than most other people's films.

The Housemaid (Ki-young Kim) **** - Fatal Attraction? Pfffft. That's for sissies. This Korean film from 1960 (remade in 2010, I haven't seen that one) is about a music teacher who has a brief affair with his housemaid and then face dire consequences. The film starts out as like a domestic soap opera and spirals into a horror picture as the housemaid quickly plays mind games with the family. Lots of "oh shit" moments. Wow. Korean films are capable of being fucked up as far back as 1960. Definitely a film to watch.

The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman) **** - What a movie! It's at LEAST as good as Chinatown but with a bit more laughs. Elliot Gould is fantastic as Raymond Chandler's classic character Phillip Marlowe as he gets sucked into a web involving murder, suicide and adultery. It has all the twist and turns of a great film noir but with director Robert Altman's trademark humor and focus on character moments rather than a straightforward plot. I would probably rank this as among his very best. Such a supreme pleasure to watch. Perfect ending too.


Adam said...

I really liked pineapple express but the scenes with the friend that gets hurt worse and worse was a bit much

Bersercules said...

I don't know if I should see Spring Breakers. Jean Luc Godard seems to focus a lot on teenage boys with out any shirts on! Esspecially in one film you haven't seen: Gumbo! Its very creepy!!