Sunday, April 27, 2014

Weekly Round-Up (4/20/14 - 4/26/14)

A River Called Titas (Ritwik Ghatak) ***1/2 - I've been wanting to explore director Ritwik Ghatak's filmography after falling completely head over heels for The Cloud Capped Star. I didn't like this QUITE as much as that film but it's still quite an excellent one nevertheless. This is about a fishing village along the titular body of water focusing largely on a woman who was widowed at a very young age (and apparently not allowed to re-marry). It's rather unconventionally structured in that in sometimes flows into certain narrative tangents (much like a river!) but it remains a mostly riveting drama about a specific way of life with a rather surprising somewhat feminist bent on it. Very much recommended.

Nymphomaniac (Lars Von Trier) *** - I debated whether or not I'd review Volume I and Volume II individually or as a whole. I decided to review the entire film as a whole. Like with many Lars Von Trier's works, this film has elements that I admire and elements that are extremely problematic. The first volume is quite strong. It's intriguing, thought provoking and boasts one of if not THE best performance Uma Thurman has ever given (it's my favorite scene in the entire two volumes). Volume II is the more problematic of the two with Lars Von Trier going into his usual tics that made quite a few of his films hard to love. The graphic, in your face sexuality is largely more clinical than particularly erotic. The cast is strong. Even Shia LaBeouf held his own. It's really too bad Volume II didn't live up to the promise of Volume I.

Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola) **** - This is actually a rewatch. I saw this again on Blu-ray. It's still a magnificent film. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Weekly Round-Up (4/13/14 - 4/19/14)

Ordet (Carl Theodore Dreyer) **** - A close-knit family of famers' respective faiths are tested when the pregnant wife of the eldest son dies in childbirth. People who know me knows that I'm not religious (though not an atheist either). Though I'm not the biggest believer, I still found this a profoundly moving film. It's heartfelt, earnest yet also intelligent and not at all preachy (something that Christian movies that Kirk Cameron churns out sorely lack). Beautifully acted and directed, there are a lot of things here for people of all faiths and lack thereof. You need not be a believer to be moved by this moving testament to the power of faith and the existence of miracles.

Transcendence (Wally Pfister) *1/2- I was excited for this film. It's the feature directorial debut of Christopher Nolan's favorite cinematographer, Wally Pfister and it boasts a great cast and a very intriguing premise. Unfortunately, any potentially interesting idea is quashed under a whole lot of hooey that's alternating boring (a word I try to use sparingly in my reviews) and ridiculous. It's frustrating because there are sparks of an interesting film which a better script and director would've fleshed out more. It clearly wants to say something intelligent and profound about the relationship between humanity and technology but the results on screen are anything but. Johnny Depp sleepwalks through his performance, almost literally phoning it in with a vague impression of HAL-9000.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson) **** - I love Wes Anderson's films. That's no secret. I thought he would never equal or top Moonrise Kingdom but he just did with this film. Though it would not convert non-fans of his work, this extremely intricately designed, shot and uniquely structured film is a joy to behold. Ralph Fiennes gives a hilarious performance as Monsieur Gustave who is the concierge of the titular place as he takes under his wing his immigrant lobby boy. The film is filled with Anderson's trademark style which some people may find annoying (but not me) but it does not lose sight of the story and characters. You remain invested in both which is really quite a feat. Very funny but also ends up kind of dark and even sad. It is my favorite film of 2014 so far.

Stranger by the Lake (Alain Giraurdie) ***1/2 - I've heard about this film mainly due to its graphic gay sex scenes (with a couple of shots that are unsimulated) but that's doing this film a wee bit of a disservice. What it is really is an unconvential gay love story/thriller about a man who frequents a lake infamous for gay cruising and falls for a man who he just witnessed murder his last lover. If you aren't too squeamish about having to sit through lots of full frontal male nudity and the aforementioned gay sex scenes, this is quite a wonderful film. It feels like a Michael Haneke film, almost (but with lots more penises) and beautifully photographed and acted. This is another one of my favorite films of the year.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Weekly Round-Up (4/6/14 - 4/12/14)

I was gonna post this earlier but I forgot.

The Holy Mountain (Alejandro Jodorowsky) ***1/2 - This film makes El Topo (also by the same director) look like a conventional narrative. I personally don't think it's quite as great as El Topo but this is still one heck of a film. The plot, if you can call it that, involves a man who resembles Jesus Christ who eventually finds a group of people who come from different planets who wish to be "enlightened". It's actually a hell of a lot stranger than it sounds and is filled with imagery and scenes that are grotesque, erotic, shocking, disgusting, oddly beautiful and often at the same time. A lot of it was like taking Un Chien Andalou, colorizing it, taking some acid and turning it up to 11. Some will be compelled to stop it after about 20 minutes but others will be mesmerized to the end. Obviously I'm the latter.

The Life of Oharu (Kenji Mizoguchi) **** - A fifty-year old prostitute in 17th century Japan recounts her life, starting with her fall from grace after falling in love with someone not of her class. What follows is an absolutely heartbreaking masterpiece of a film which depicts how really disadvantaged women were in Japanese society at least during that time. Masterfully directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, the film just breaks your heart again and again but still manages some flashes of humor and manages to maintain some humanity. By the end, I was really praying for somewhat of a happy ending....but I won't spoil it here. It's an absolute must-see. It's an outstanding film.

Rio 2 (Carlos Saldanha) **1/2 - I thought the original film was fine, nothing really special but entertaining and charming in its own way. I wasn't really looking forward to the sequel. The sequel doesn't really improve on the sequel. The plot is strictly by the numbers. By the time we get to the second act, any reasonable adult who has read enough stories and seen enough movies already know what's gonna happen. But it's still got some eye-popping animation, a few good jokes and the voice cast and music is fun (especially Kristin Chenoweth who was very wisely given a musical number). It's harmless, passable entertainment. Nothing really special.

Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch) ***1/2 - The answer to the question, what would a Jim Jarmusch vampire movie be like? Well, the Twilight may have tarnished the cool factor of an angsty vampire love story but trust Jarmusch to bring back at least some credibility to the sub-genre. This one's about a pair of music-loving centuries-old vampires reminiscing about the past and lamenting about the current state of humanity. It's not a horror film per se despite some horror elements. It's closer to Mystery Train than Dracula. It's beautifully acted, occasionally wickedly funny and features a cool soundtrack. It's not my favorite Jarmusch picture but still a solid piece of work from one of cinema's true mavericks.

Nightmare Alley (Edmund Goulding) *** - An ambitious sideshow mentalist wants to hit the big time and would do anything to get his way. Tyrone Power's outstanding performance as the mentalist is the main reason to see this film. Don't get me wrong. It's a solid film especially the last act but feels kind of minor especially when compared to the many classic film noirs of its day. Along Tyrone Power, one notable performance is Helen Walker as his psychiarist accomplice.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Weekly Round-Up (3/30/14 - 4/5/14)

Daisies (Vera Chytilova) ***1/2 - I've heard this film being praised several times and its director recently passed away so now's the time for me to check it out. As I expected it's a strange surreal film which eschews traditional narrative for a series of strange. cinematically playful vignettes involving two young, somewhat kooky women, many of it involving food of somekind. I don't claim to know what it all means exactly but I'm thinking it's an anti-bourgeous film of some sort. It's not for all tastes but it's a definite must-see for any student of film and for the cinematically adventurious.

The Bitter Tea of General Yen (Frank Capra) **** - Who knew Frank Capra had it in him? You know him for doing stuff like It's a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. This is a dark, tragic strange love story between a white Christian missionary woman and genocidal Chinese general (played in yellow face by a white actor). The politically correct among us might not get past the of-its-time blatant racism of the film. However in its own strange way, it is also kind of daring, humane and even sort of progressive. It manages to be a heartbreaking, moving love story in its own really odd way. I know it's not a popular opinion but this might be my favorite Frank Capra film to date.

NOTE: I'm gonna be on vacation next week so I might not be able to post my weekly-round-ups as scheduled! It might be earlier or it might be later.