Archive for March, 2013

Giving Voice

Posted: March 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

MEA MAXIMA CULPA: SILENCE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD **** (out of five)

url url-1Before you say you can’t take another feature length documentary about sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests, know that Alex Gibney’s examination of the subject is both fresh and revelatory. Starting with the focused subject of abuses that took place in a single school – St. John’s School for the Deaf – by a single priest, over a specific period of time, and utilizing beautifully shot interviews with four of the survivors of that abuse, four decades later (their American Sign Language distinctively interpreted by actors including Chris Cooper, Ethan Hawke and John Slattery), the film gradually telescopes outwards to take in the much larger picture of this, and other examples of serious abuse, being ignored, hidden, shunted aside, or very peculiarly being dealt with by Church structures leading all the way up to the Vatican – and recently resigned Pope Ratzinger (“Benedict XVI”), who, it turns out, knew all about the St. John’s case – and many, many others, being in charge, before he was Pope, of the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” (formerly known as the Inquisition), which specifically dealt with investigating child sexual assault by Catholic priests.url-2

Gibney’s style is never hysterical nor burning with righteous anger; the crimes are horrendous enough on their own, and the four men at the center of the story are beautiful, poignant story-tellers. This is moving, inspiring, deeply committed and informed documentary making.

A Good Day to Die Hard ** (out of five)

imgresYou know you’re in trouble when an action film opens in Moscow showing a Russian criminal being held prisoner in a cell playing chess by himself. This is the kind of obvious cheesy badly scripted trope A Good Day to Die Hard is rampantly infected with. Next we see Bruce Willis as John McLane at a shooting range… of course. The terribly scripted dialogue between him and a random (black, of course, since there will be no other black people for the next ninety minutes) fellow cop lets us know that his grown up son is in trouble in Moscow. McLane buys a ticket to that city, launching a desperately sad plot; he goes to save his son, but really? The beginning of this film is incredibly slow for an action film which leaves us with dread despair. The last Die Hard was terrible – but will this one be even worse?

Subtle? Not this movie.

Subtle? Not this movie.

Luckily it’s not. Once McLane gets to Moscow – after an intensely long dialogue scene between him and his otherwise unimportant daughter – things start to happen, which is to say, shit starts to get shot at, blown up, crumpled and dead. We get what must be one of the most expensive car chases in history; if you enjoy seeing cars getting destroyed in Moscow, then this, without a doubt, is the movie for you. It’s about 20 minutes long and at one point I thought that that’s what this movie was going to be for the rest of it: just one long car smashing marathon, a Moscow Meltdown.

imgres-1But of course we need other action and we get it: gunplay, run play and some pretty ordinary byplay between McClane and his grown-up son (played ably by Australian Jai Courtney). John Moore directs the film with extraordinary craftsmanship and great technical detail; it’s quite beautiful to look at and Moscow provides some serious exoticism.  But it has to be said: the whole thing is so redundant. Why are we looking at this movie? Why does it exist? For Bruce Willis to put his kids through college? I’m sure that happened long ago. This is a competent movie devoid of raison d’etre. It may as well be dead.

Great Performances

Posted: March 22, 2013 in Uncategorized

Performance (originally A Late Quartet) **** (out of five)

url-1There are some magnificent moments in Performance (called A Late Quartet overseas, and obviously renamed to avoid confusion with the recent release Quartet). A chilly, precise, adult drama, set in a snow-covered New York among professional musicians of the highest order, Yaron Zilberman’s debut feature film is alternately restrained and full of intense drama, augmented by spectacular – and often spectacularly sad – string music.url-3

Amongst the members of a hugely respected, intensely dedicated string quartet, Fugue, ruptures begin to appear, seemingly set off by one member’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. The turbulence that follow is both generally human and highly specific to the rigid, studied life of the professional classical musician.

urlChristopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Imogen Poots and Ukrainian actor Mark Ivanir all give pitch-perfect performances, grounding the heavy emotion in realism and understatement. The cinematography (Frederick Elmes) is stunning; I’ve never seen New York shot quite like this. The whole thing feels very European; this is a simple plot expertly told, allowing space between confrontation, silence before eruption, the film’s pace and measure is so precise, I wouldn’t be surprised if it follows the structure of one of the gorgeous musical pieces played by the quartet. Well worth seeing, at a cinema with a great sound system.

e It A Review

 

I Give It A Year **1/2 (out of five)


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Rom-com in reverse I Give It A Year, from writer/director Dan Mazer, definitely deserves points for effort, the challenge undertaken being to reverse the structure of the traditional rom-com by having a couple marry before the opening credits and then present their marriage unravelling. This stated purpose is essentially achieved.

Along the way, however, Mazer decides to give his dual protagonists two other people to fall for, thus, essentially, turning his anti-rom-com into two simultaneous rom-coms. This is a lot for anyone to handle (perhaps Woody Allen in his golden era?) and it creates serious problems.imgres-2

Basically, there is no way to make all four characters in this melange likable without sacrificing tension in the marriage; thus Josh (Rafe Spall), the husband in the marriage, comes off as a juvenile idiot compared to gorgeous, smart, successful Nat (Rose Byrne), yet we are still meant to root for him making it with lovely, appealing, über conscientious Chloe (Anna Farris). Meanwhile, Nat is pursued by the creepiest excuse for a romantic object in recent memory, industrialist Guy (Simon Baker, in a very strange, deeply unlikeable turn).

imgres-1It’s Byrne’s movie and she runs away with it, giving the kind of total rom-com performance – gorgeous, cute, wacky, vulnerable, physical, sexy and wide-eyed – that, in a great example of the genre, could’ve launched her Diane Keaton / Meg Ryan / Julia Roberts style into the romantic leading lady megasphere. But this vehicle is no starship; it’s a London cab: workmanlike, more old-fashioned than hip, and carrying two pricks.

 

Delusions of Wonder

Posted: March 10, 2013 in Uncategorized

Oz The Great and Powerful *1/2 (out of five)

Sam Raimi made his first feature film, The Evil Dead, for $90,000. Now he has made Oz The Great and Powerful – a prequel to The Wizard of Oz – for 2,222 times that. The result is a thousand times less entertaining.

Unfortunately, the film shoes away from Lesbo Action. See BLACK SWAN.

Unfortunately, the film shies away from Lesbo Action. See BLACK SWAN if you want Kunis Girl on Girl action.

The formless script sees magician Oscar “Oz” Diggs swept up in a typhoon from Kansas to Oz, where he helps the Good Witch (Michelle Williams, the only one in the film doing anything interesting with her character) battle the two Bad Witches (Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz – sisters with two completely different accents!), picking up a flying monkey and a China Doll along the way, both of whom can talk and neither of whom is nearly as cute as they – and the movie – thinks they are.

You spend a lot of stupid time with this "China Doll". Then you regret it.

You spend a lot of stupid time with this “China Doll”. Then you regret it.

Raimi starts the movie well, echoing the original film’s black-and-white to Technicolor switcheroo, and dropping Oz into Oz in a maelstrom of kid-in-a-candy-store 3D. Raimi’s not shot in 3D before and he throws things at you, old-school (ie 1950s style). Which is fine, because it’s fun.

Then everything sloooooooows the heck down. Somehow, a story that is meant to be full of wonder becomes very, very boring – perhaps the worst thing a film can be. Events move at a glacial pace; what story there is could literally have been told in forty-five minutes, but this bloated fiasco clocks in at well over two hours, and feels every minute of it, and then some. And then some. And then some.url-3

James Franco, as Oz, really makes many missteps here, overplaying everything, goofing around, pulling faces, and generally acting like a special effect. It’s close to a terrible performance, and that’s a shame for someone who has previously been building towards stardom, rather than ruining the climb. It doesn’t help that his character is extremely uninteresting, unlikeable, and generally boring; it also doesn’t help that there is so much extraneous sound design of him yelping, screaming, trilling and shrieking that he comes off as a cartoon character – a bad one. (Robert Downey Jr. was originally sought for the role, and he would’ve been much better – but there’s a reason he turned it down, which I suspect was the script).

If only the movie was nothing by images like this. But instead it has truly terrible dialogue.

If only the movie was nothing but images like this. But instead it has truly terrible dialogue. And it’s sloooooooow.

At one point a bunch of munchkins burst into song, and suddenly the film is full of life – and then the song abruptly stops, like the needle has been pulled off the record. It’s the perfect metaphor for the whole movie: at the beginning, there’s the brief taste of something good, but it’s just an illusion: there’s actually nothing there. Even kids will be bored senseless by this senseless, boring film.