Monday, August 29, 2011

A Man Named Pearl (2006)

Documentary about Pearl Fryar, an elderly man with no horticultural training, who turned his three-acre front yard into a topiary wonderland that the Queen of Hearts would approve of. It all started in the small segregated Southern town where he lives, his new (predominantly white) neighbors assumed that the first black guy on the block wouldn't keep up his front yard. I suppose he went a little overboard. In the first ten minutes of the film, you see his strange and beautiful garden and Fyar obsessively tending to it, day and night. That first ten minutes are then repeated seven more times. Jesus, this felt longer than 75 minutes, it crawls to it's feature-length running time. This has as much content (and would've worked better) as a five minute local news piece.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Monday, August 22, 2011

Of Gods and Men (2010)

French drama directed by Xavier Beauvois that tells the true story of the killing of seven monks during the Algerian civil war. The majority of the film takes place in the remote monastery, where nine brothers (two managed to elude their assassins) live in peace and solitude. I know it doesn't sound possible, but for a film about monks this is surprisingly gripping. There is a tense scene early in he film where the terrorists come knocking, armed to the teeth, and the monks turn them away simply by being stalwart and using their smarts. The acting is great, and the director really captures the monastic life. They became monks to escape the world and devote themselves to religion, but the world starts encroaching on their idyllic lives in the name of a different religion. One of the monks quotes Pascal at one point: "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Blue Valentine (2010)

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play a married couple who we see at the beginning of their relationship, when they are madly in love, and at the end, when they are not. Big deal. They are both so unlikable and annoying as characters I didn't give a shit what happened to them. Written and directed with as much subtlety as an after school special by, actually, I don't give enough of a fuck to look up the hack's name. For the life of me I can't comprehend how this got such glowing reviews. I guess there's so much kid's stuff at the movies that this masquerades as important filmmaking. The actors aren't much better, they're either exploding in fits of method acting or moping around as if they had mercury poisoning. Glum people whining their way through their shitty lives, all presented with hand held camera and a guitar music soundtrack, and issued forth by the Weinstein Company for filmgoers looking for an intelligent night out at the cinema. Garbage.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Another Year (2010)

Mike Leigh is one of the few working directors whose films I'm always excited to see. His characters are the kinds of people we all know, but other directors don't bother with. In collaboration with his actors he constructs the story and dialogue, and miracles seem to happen. Miracles of acting and storytelling, they pack a wallop, and his films always linger in the mind. Even his lesser films (Secrets and Lies was overwrought, and Topsy Turvy very overrated) are pretty fantastic. Another Year concerns a happily married couple, together for nearly forty years. Gerri, a therapist (Leigh favorite Ruth Sheen) and Tom, a geologist (Jim Broadbent). Their occupations are not arbitrary; she being a therapist and he making sure the land on proposed building sites is firm and steady. It is essentially about their various friends coming to their home for get-togethers over the course of a year. The friends who keep coming back are the ones who seem to lack what the couple have: real love and stability. Their friend Mary (the incredible Lesley Manville) is the kind of friend who everyone reading this has at least one of. A friend who is always making the wrong decision, always choosing the wrong person to fall in love with, and incapable of breaking the pattern. Her loneliness is monumental. Her behavior starts becoming intolerable as she evolves from good time party girl to middle-aged alcoholic. She wants what this family has, and seems at a loss as to how to get it. Over time, she becomes an imposing dingleberry in their happy home. This is really wonderful stuff, and a lot of things are happening here character-wise. Mike Leigh is one of the most alert directors making films, his understanding of human nature is breathtaking. This is his best film.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Illusionist (2010)

An animated adaptation of an unproduced script by the late, great French actor/director Jacques Tati, directed by Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville). I can't say much about this, I'm a bit in shock. This is one the loveliest animated films I've ever seen. I'm trying hard to remember another one that can match the simplistic beauty on display here. The animated version of Tati himself is right on the money, it's as if he's been resurrected from the dead. Chomet really blends his own sensibilities with Tati's unique way of framing shots. A feast for the eyes, and every bit as moving as Pixar's Up! A wonderful movie.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Changeling (1970)

George C. Scott plays a composer who rents a haunted house. In the years following Rosemary's Baby, filmmakers tried injecting art, or class (or at least handsome budgets) into horror films. This is one of those attempts, and for the most part it lays an egg. There are a few chills, but this is very stodgy. Oddly, George C. screams only once. In every drama, comedy, and romance he was in, he screams his head off. But here, in a horror film, he only manages to scream once! Total ripoff.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Black Swan (2010)

I suppose this is the only way to make ballet exciting to young male filmgoers. Make it a horror film, and throw in some girl on girl pussy eating. Director Darren Aronofsky is a cheap sensationalist. When Requiem for a Dream came out, everyone was talking about that scene at the end where Jennifer Connelly has to shove a dildo up her ass in front of people to get her drugs. Well, millions of people, every day, put dildos up their ass, and often in front of someone else...I'm doing it as I write this. His fashionable, pretentious wallows have become a cliche. I've seen five of his films now, and I've disliked every single one of them. All his little tricks to make things slick (rumbling, gurgling noises on the soundtrack, CGI hallucinations) are on display here. Not to mention his thievery of Powell & Pressburger's dance masterpiece The Red Shoes (he even does the famous POV pirouette shot from that film). I hate to burst everyone's bubble, but he stinks. Too bad, because Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis are revelations in this. Sorry, Darren, when up against Powell & Pressburger, most directors, especially you, are gonna lose.