Friday, April 09, 2010

Movie Reviews

I'm really far behind in my movie reviews. Here are some short ones for films I saw a while ago, mostly in the run up to the Oscars:

The Most Dangerous Man in America is a documentary about Daniel Ellsberg who leaked the Pentagon Papers. It's perhaps my favorite doc of the year. I learned a lot about the story and found him fascinating. There were lots of interesting elements, including his original views on the war and how they changed, how he first came to the conclusion that he was wiling to go to jail and then figuring out what to do, and then the mechanics of how to leak the info. Great film.

The Blind Side was better than I expected while watching it but less good in retrospect. It's based on the true story of Michael Oher who went from homeless kid to the NFL with the help of a charitable family. It does spend too much time on Sandra Bullock's character and under-writes Oher's. There are enough good moments to make an entertaining film, but not enough to make a memorable one.

The White Ribbon is the latest film from Michael Haneke who made Cache (my most read movie review). It's about a small village in Germany before World War I. There are some crimes and mysteries and children who are abused and suspected. The black and white cinematography has been highly praised (and nominated for an Oscar) but didn't do much for me. However, it's long and slow and things are not resolved and the point was unclear (at least to me). I hated this film.

Coco Before Chanel is a biography of the early life of Coco Chanel starring Audrey Tautou (of Amélie fame). She starts as a performer, and then a mistress of a wealthy man and then starts to make hats and clothes. I didn't know her history or her fashions, so I mostly missed the foreshadowing of her influences until they showed the clothes (some of which wasn't until the fashion show montage finale). It was more about how two relationships allowed her to work her way out of poverty and their affect on her. Pretty good film, worth seeing.

Broken Embraces written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar and starring Penélope Cruz in the role she should have been nominated for (instead of for Nine). There's a lot of film here and I want to see it again to try to unravel all of its meanings. Harry Caine is the protagonist, a blind writer who used to be a filmmaker named Mateo Blanco. He's helped by a longtime assistant Judit and her son Diego. A young man comes asking him to work on a screenplay but he refuses. We learn that a businessman name Ernesto Martel has died and his affects Caine though we're not sure how. I will say it involves Cruz's character Lena. Finding out the backstory reveals a suspense thriller but the film is about more. There are films within the film and tons of film references including some obvious ones to his previous films. I'm sure I caught only a small fraction of them. It's sumptuous to look with tons of color and thought provoking shots. The average film goer should enjoy this, but the film geek should love it.

Taken is crime thriller about a former spy (Liam Neeson) trying to rescue his daughter who was kidnapped moments after arriving in Paris. There are a bunch of Borne-like action scenes (Neeson as action star) strung together with brief but interesting detective work and use of his old contacts. Neeson is always the smartest guy in the room and that is the basis of his success in all the fights, which did go far in helping me suspend my disbelief. If you squint enough you might accept it all, but not really. Still I was pretty entertained.

The Young Victoria won the Oscar for costumes (of course) and was nominated for art direction and makeup. Emily Blunt plays the 19th century queen during her ascension to the throne and her early reign as she fell in love and married Prince Albert (Rupert Friend). At the start of the film she is to succeed her uncle, King William. If he dies before her 18th birthday, her mother wants her to appoint Sir John Conroy as regent to rule and of course the headstrong teenager doesn't want this and neither does the King. Meanwhile there are all the suitors and one of them is her pen pal Albert. It's a cross between Elizabeth and The Blue Lagoon and you can probably guess which part I liked more.

Ajami was nominated as best foreign film from Israel. I just found out while writing this that it was made by first time writer-directors (one Israeli one Palestinian), with non-professional actors, and many improvised scenes. The title is the name of a poor neighborhood in the Jaffa district of Tel-Aviv. The film tells several stories Pulp Fiction style, that is they intersect and are sometimes not in chronological order. There are crimes, murders, mistaken identity, doomed relationships, revenge, justice, etc., but not not a lot of politics. These are stories story of individuals, trying to find their way in a place where circumstances dictate lives. It was good and compelling but a little too confusing at times. I followed the big things, but lost track at times of who was who and how their motivations related between stories. Still, well worth seeing if you like this kind of thing.


Megs said...

I saw Blind Side and Young Victoria on the plane. For the former, I was surprised Bullock won the Oscar for it as I didn't think her role required much emotional changes, acting, 'digging deep inside' to produce results.

For Young Victoria, I was confused half the time as to who people were, good v/s bad, and especially in the parliament. And then the movie just ended. Like they were tired of making it, so they stopped.

Howard said...

Agreed that Bullock's character didn't have an arc in the film, but she was in most every scene and carried the film (unlike Streep who was in just half of Julie & Julia) and did do both emotions (strong willed and chocked up) well. I liked Carey Mulligan in An Education.

YV was a little confusing at times, but I'm glad they didn't completely simplifiy people to good/evil too much. And I agree on the abrupt ending.