Sunday, August 3, 2014

Weekly Round-Up (7/27/14 - 8/2/14)

Like Father, Like Son (Hirokazu Koreeda) **** - This is a wonderful film. I really should see more of Koreeda's cinema. He's sort of like a modern day Ozu or a Japanese Dardenne. This film is about a family with a mother and father and a 6-year-old son. Then they find out their son was switched with another family at the hospital. Under the hands of a lesser filmmaker, this would have been an overwrought family melodrama but Koreeda manages to treat the emotionally charged subject matter in such a way that it feels honest and real. It moves you without feeling cheap. It's easy to milk cheap tears out of this thing but thankfully, it does not. Spielberg is gonna produce a Hollywood remake. I strongly suggest checking the original first.

Dinner at Eight (George Cukor) **** - A high society wife plans a fancy dinner party in honor of some visiting royalty. The film basically takes a look at the lives of most of the invited guests one week before the party. Even though they're all technically in the upper-class, they all have their own problems: professional, financial, personal and a combination of all three. This film has superb acting and a very witty screenplay. Probably one of the best ensemble of actors put together on-screen with most of them absolutely shining especially Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Wallace Beery and Jean Harlow. It is a comedy and it is often very, very funny but I was surprised by how dark and sad it was sometimes! Thank you to the person who recommended this to me.

Laura (Otto Preminger) **** - The film centers on a murder mystery, a brutal murder of a young woman named Laura. A police detective is tasked with finding out the killer and interviews all the people in her life and soon finds himself falling in love with her. This is another one of those major films which I haven't gotten around to seeing. So many films, so little time! I finally got the chance to see it and I'm kind of glad I managed to stay away from spoilers because the third act is a twisty doozy and the last 10 minutes was a real nail-biter. The moody cinematography helps along with the great cast which includes Vincent Price in the most "normal", least creepy role I've ever seen him in. This is truly one of the best film noirs out there.

Hallelujah! (King Vidor) ***1/2 - By contemporary standards, this is definitely far from the most politically correct film not only race-wise but gender-wise as well. However, a mainstream film funded by a major studio with an all-black cast is kind of progressive in 1929. This is a musical about a man who just tries to do the right thing but he keeps meeting up with a devious woman who brings him down. The music, the acting (most especially Nina Mae McKinney as the woman sinner who I can't believe was only 16!) and the filmmaking are all very top-notch. Considering this is one of the earliest "talkies", the sound mix/recording is pretty impressive.

The Normal Heart (Ryan Murphy) *** - This is the Emmy-nominated (probably soon-to-be-Emmy-winning) HBO film adaptation of the Tony-winning Broadway play by Larry Kramer, a thinly veiled fictionalized account of his own experiences during the early years of the AIDS crisis. When I heard that this is being adapted for HBO, I thought, wouldn't this be a too preachy, or dated or even redundant since they already did And the Band Played On and Angels in America, already both really good films (well the latter more than the former) and the fact that Ryan Murphy is involved, would it even be GOOD? Well, it's no groundbreaking masterpiece but it's still a compelling drama with excellent performances (Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer and Joe Mantello are all outstanding) and of course their heart, so to speak, is in the right place. I would probably consider this one of, if not THE best thing Ryan Murphy has ever done.

Enemy (Denis Villenueve) *** - The premise is intriguing: A history teacher discovers that a bit player actor looks EXACTLY like him. Then it just gets weird. Although based on a Jose Saramago novel, this is more like Denis Villeneuve's attempt at emulating David Lynch (I mean casting Isabella Rossellini in a small role can't just be a coincidence, right?). High concept films like these rely on how it lands: Shocking twist, batcrap crazy and ambiguous. The film does a little bit of the latter two. It is intriguing work but I'm not sure I was completely satisfied with it. This could go either way. I can see people arguing about it for a long time. Gyllenhaal was terrific, of course.

Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn) ***1/2 - I have to say that this is probably my favorite Marvel movie to date. Let's face it. I was sold when I saw the machine-gun toting raccoon! It's the funniest Marvel movie but oddly enough, it's also the most emotionally resonant. Nearly every element of what makes a great popcorn movie is there. There's fun action sequences, hilarious moments and a strong emotional through-line as well as well-defined character arcs for every character. James Gunn, despite an increase in budget, managed to make his voice shine through. This is every bit as fun and more as Slither and he even managed to sprinkle in fun bits of references every now and then. I expect Chris Pratt to become a real star after this. I can't wait to see this again.

Diva (Jean-Jacques Beiniex) ***1/2 - The copy I saw of this film was unfortunately dubbed which I really dislike however, that didn't tarnish much of how much I dug this movie. This is a film about a delivery boy who becomes enamored of a classical opera singer who never wanted to record any of her performances but he secretly records a bootleg of one of her concerts. Then he somehow becomes involved in a case involving another tape which implicates a police officer in international prostitution and drug trafficking. The two plot lines don't really have anything to do with the other apart from the involvement of the delivery boy. It's like one plot was somehow shoe-horned in another plot.....yet it somehow WORKS! It's like a pulpy crime thriller wrapped in a nice classy plot thread about artistic compromise and the relationship of the artist and the audience. If that doesn't entice you, there's a really WILD chase scene in this one which is frankly kind of unbelievable. Thanks to the person who recommended this to me.


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