Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Review: A Short Film About Love (1988)

* * * *

Director: Krysztof Kieslowski
Starring: Grazyna Szapolowska, Olaf Lubaszenko

The late Krysztof Kieslowski was, without question, one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century. Many storytellers can talk about ideas, but he was (and remains) one of the few who could dramatize an idea. The series that best demonstrates this ability is The Decalogue, a series of short films based on the ten commandments, from which two segments (this one and A Short Film About Killing) were later expanded into full length films. Though slightly altered from the segment as it appeared in The Decalogue, A Short Film About Love is still an excellent and thought-provoking film.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Review: The Skin I Live In (2011)

* * *

Director: Pedro Almodovar
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya

Pedro Almodovar is very good at what he does; I'd say that he's one of the most consistently excellent filmmakers working today. With The Skin I Live In he takes the admirable step of trying to branch out from familiar territory, but steps a little too tentatively and falls back a little too readily on those familiar tropes and techniques. It's still a good and often fascinating film (and beautiful looking even at its ugliest moments), but it's not quite everything that it could be.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Unsung Performances: Tilda Swinton in I Am Love

When I made my "Best of 2010" lists, Luca Guadagnino's sumptuous I Am Love came up again and again. It's a film that I admire a great deal and there's nothing I admire more about it than the central performance by Tilda Swinton. One of the most consistently great (and interesting) actors working today, Swinton never disappoints and often surprises with her ever shifting screen persona. Here she plays a much softer character than she typically does, but loses none of her usual intensity in doing so.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday's Top 5... Marilyn Monroe Movies

Note: for the purposes of this list I'm only looking at the movies in which she had a starring role, otherwise All About Eve, in which Monroe is fantastic but only features for about five minutes, would take the top slot.

#5: How To Marry a Millionaire

Suspend your disbelief long enough to buy that Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, and Lauren Bacall would have any trouble landing a millionaire. Monroe's performance as nearsighted Pola, who refuses to wear glasses, is one of her comedic best.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Book vs. Film: Fugitive Pieces vs. Fugitive Pieces

Basic Plot: After narrowly escaping from the Nazis (and watching his family be dragged off by them) in Poland, young Jacob Beaer is rescued by Athos Roussos, a Greek archaeologist who hides him for the duration of the war. Afterwards the two move to Toronto, where Jacob grows up to be a writer and is haunted by his past. He marries but the union is unsuccessful do to his inability to let go of the past and after their divorce, he finds love again but first must find a way to reconcile himself to his survivor's guilt.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review: Il Postino (1994)

* * * 1/2

Director: Michael Radford
Starring: Philippe Noiret, Massimo Troisi, Maria Grazia Cucinotta

Michael Radford's Il Postino (aka, the movie called The Postman that's actually good) is a lyrical and beautifully rendered story about love and friendship. Much rewarded at the time of its release, it is one of the few foreign language films to achieve crossover success with AMPAS, earning nominations for Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Adapted Screenplay (though it was not nominated for Foreign Language Film, as Italy chose to submit Giuseppe Tornatore's The Star Maker instead). Although it remains utterly charming, it does feel just a bit dated now, albeit still well worth a look.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Review: Melancholia (2011)

* * * *

Director: Lars von Trier
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsborough, Kiefer Sutherland

It probably says a lot about Lars von Trier as a filmmaker and/or person that he begins his tale of the apocalypse by showing that the earth will ultimately be destroyed, thereby removing any underlying sense of hope that might otherwise have marked the story. And yet, despite that, Melancholia may very well go down as one of von Trier's most light hearted films. Although perhaps not as challenging nor as provocative as some of his other recent work, it is nevertheless an entirely captivating and fascinating film.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

* * *

Director: Sean Durkin
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy

If this year follows the pattern of the last couple, which saw Jennifer Lawrence, Gabourey Sidibe, and Carey Mulligan breaking out of Sundance and riding a wave of critical praise to awards glory, then Elizabeth Olsen is well on her way towards a Best Actress nomination. With only a few film credits to her name (most of which were mid-90s vehicles for her sisters, the Olsen twins), she announces herself here as an actress to watch out for.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review: J. Edgar (2011)

* * 1/2

Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Armie Hammer, Judi Dench

Stately and handsomely mounted but ultimately a bit empty, Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar is less a story than a survey course on a segment of American history (and enduring political gossip). It is stacked with fine performances - led by Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover - but performances alone can only get you so far when the film itself succumbs to the worst habits of the biopic genre.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Great Last Scenes: American Psycho

Year: 2000
Director: Mary Harron
Great Because...: It manages to be the darkest moment in a film that is dark right from the beginning. To put it simply: Patrick Bateman is a fucked up guy living a fucked up, shallow existence - one in which he will forever be trapped and which may not even exist outside of his own head. Sort of fitting, don't you think?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Canadian Film Review: Margaret's Museum (1995)

* * *

Director: Mort Ransen
Starring: Helena Bonham Carter, Clive Russell, Kate Nelligan

Helena Bonham Carter is like a Venn diagram that shows the intersection of classy and crazy, equally at home in fare like The King's Speech and her films with the Merchant Ivory team, and as a host of creepy and freaky characters in Tim Burton's films. In Mort Ransen's Margaret's Museum she gets to do both at once, starring in a period piece about a hardscrabble mining town which eventually leads to her going totally insane. Good times.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Filmography: Leonardo DiCaprio

On Friday Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar hits theaters and with it the Oscar season truly gets started. Star Leonardo DiCaprio is an early frontrunner for a Best Actor nomination which, if it does occur, would shockingly only be his 4th nomination. Over the course of the last 21 years, DiCaprio's career has seen several phases, from childstar to cult heartthrob to superstar to serious and respected actor. Let's take a look back at his filmmography:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Review: Horrible Bosses (2011)

* *

Director: Seth Gordon
Starring: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell

Horrible Bosses has all the necessary ingredients for a great black comedy, but ends up feeling just a little bit undercooked. Yes, it has moments that, even if they don't quite attain greatness, at least deliver on comedy but with such a skilled cast you'd expect nothing less. If you see Horrible Bosses, chances are pretty good that you'll laugh, but I'd wager the chances are equally good that you'll forget the film completely not too long after.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Review: Bad Teacher (2011)

* * 1/2

Director: Jake Kasdan
Starring: Cameron Diaz

It's easy to review a movie that you either love or hate, it's harder to review a movie that you enjoyed but that, objectively, you know isn't really good. Bad Teacher is a movie that I liked a fair bit while I was watching it, but its flaws as a film (which are many) are always fairly prominent. It is, however, a huge leap forward for screenwriters Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, whose previous cinematic credit was the aggresively terrible Year One.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ebert's Greats #14: Seven (1995)

* * * *

Director: David Fincher
Starring: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman

Seven wasn't David Fincher's first feature film (that would be Alien 3), but it was the film that announced him as one of the defining directors of his generation. In lesser hands, Seven could have been just another gimicky thriller, a dark police procedural not unlike hundreds of other films of the genre. Instead, it's one of the greatest thrillers of the 90s, perhaps even of all time. Suffice it to say, going from Alien 3 to Seven is pretty much the exact opposite of a sophomore slump.