Sunday, February 2, 2014

Weekly Round-Up (1/26/13 - 2/1/13)

The Damned United (Tom Hooper) **1/2 - Okay. People who know me know I'm not fond of sports. I'm not fond of soccer/football to say the least. But that doesn't stop me from loving a number of sports films. This isn't one of them. This film is about the rise and fall and rise again of hotshot football manager Brian Clough. Though the film is very well-crafted and the performances are pitch-perfect. I mean, you can't go wrong with Michael Sheen and Timothy Spall, performances, I found myself really not giving a shit for over 2/3rds of the film as a non-soccer/sports fan. It got interesting in the last 30 or so minutes but by then it was too little too late. I would ONLY recommend this to people who are interested in soccer/football.

Mud (Jeff Nichols) ***1/2 - A superb coming-of-age film about two boys who meet up with a wanted fugitive and decide to try and help him out. I have yet to see Take Shelter but based on this, I think Jeff Nichols is definitely a directorial talent to watch. This is an excellent piece of work. Matthew McConaughey is, of course, quite outstanding as the title character, the wanted fugitive. However, more attention should be given to Tye Sheridan who plays the more prominent boy. He anchors the film's emotional weight like a pro. It features some great cinematography too. Overall, I highly recommend it.

Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho) **** - FYI: This is the ORIGINAL director's cut of the film. There are a lot of great filmmakers coming out of South Korea now. My favorite among them is Bong Joon-ho who makes all these VERY unique, very different genre pictures and knocks them out of the park every time. His English-language debut is yet another jewel to this crown. Indeed, this is one of the best English-language debut of a foreign director in a long, long time. Set in the post-apocalyptic where most of humanity is wiped out by a failed attempt to solve global warming, a caste system forms inside a perpetually moving train which contain the remnants of humanity. The crappy poor from the tail-end of the train revolt against the higher-classes up in front. It's simply one of the best science-fiction dystopian in a long, long while too. It has a very cynical, somewhat nihilistic view of humanity. The film gives you a lot of chew on and think about while at the same time giving you some REALLY exciting action sequences with spurts of stunningly choreographed brutal violence. Plus Tilda Swinton's appropriately scenery-chewing turn as one of the antagonists is really something to see. This film will be talked about for decades to come.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (Liu Chia-Liang) ***1/2 - As of this writing, it is Chinese New Year. That and the fact that Run Run Shaw recently passed away made me think it's about time I check out another kung fu movie. This is said to be one of the best. And it is. A young man from a village escapes the tyrannical rule of a general and trains in kung fu in a Shaolin temple. Very basic plot. But it's so much fun to watch. I once looked down on this genre due to the badly dubbed versions that once ruled the airwaves of afternoon TV of my childhood but now with subtitles, I'm seeing it in a whole new light and I have been catching up on the classics of this genre. Highly recommended for both fans and novices alike.

The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg) ***1/2 - A pre-school teacher's life is turned upside down when he is falsely accused of molesting a little girl in his care. This very serious subject matter has been filmed a lot of times, often in embarrassing, preachy histrionics through the lens of made-for-TV movies. This one is far from it. Thanks largely to Mads Mikkelsen's superb performance. He is also supported by a strong cast. Special mention has to be made to Annika Wedderkopp who plays his "victim" and Lasse Fogelstrom who plays his son. It's no masterpiece but it's still a strong, solid drama.

Black Girl (Ousmane Sembene) ***1/2 - I admired Moolaade greatly so I thought I'd check out one of Ousmane Sembene's other works starting with this early short feature from 1966. A young black woman is hired as a maid/nanny for a white French family when she's taken to France, she suffers verbal abuse from the matriarch of the family. It's short and simple yet such a strong, biting condemnation of racism even back then. This made me dislike The Help a hell of a lot more.

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