Saturday, January 12th, 2008

Park Chan-wook – Chinjeolhan Geumjassi (1)

poster.jpg Would you? Or wouldn’t you? And are the artificial plot settings the question arises in only superficially important or does it change the quality of your answer that you may never be in a situation that’s remotely close to the one depicted in this movie? In other words, is the moral conundrum this movie seems to present only applicable within its own stylized universe? If even within that universe, the kathartic act falls short, and everybody seems more upset after it than before, should these people have trusted their instincts? And am I falling into Park’s trap, asking all these questions instead of just enjoying a wildly original ride?

sunshineposter.jpg The beginning of this movie is excrutiating. We observe the inner workings of a dysfunctional family, partly through the perspective of the suicidal academic uncle, and the acting and writing is excellent enough to make the pain of what is going on palpable. There also are funny jokes, made more poignant by the underlying darkness, and a developing plot of the little daughter embarking upon a beauty queen endeavor that is obviously doomed. A dark comedy is well on its way, but then the author and the directors couple take a wrong exit, and turn the whole thing into one more suada on how the importance of being oneself and the overarching formative power of familial love. That weary propaganda piece is hard to bear from a mainstream outlet, but to see a supposedly indie movie pander this, and betray all it was trying to show us in a feelgood finale pitting the family unit against the shallow and vain outside world, is hard to bear. The movie still has its nice moments, but overall is a disappointment.

Thursday, June 29th, 2006

Joe Wright – Pride and Prejudice (2)

prideandprejudice.jpg I am exactly a fan of the romantic movie genre, often citing its lack of explosions as a reason. More accurately stated, the romantic comedy and drama in general lack an element that allows me to overlook faults in plot or character exposition, or overall execution. This is because I am unwilling to let myself become emotionally involved with people whose existence has clearly been disproven by shoddy filmmaking. I harbor no such objections against unrealistic explosive devices, and I blame my genes for said unfounded bias.

Having said that, I did enjoy this newest version of Austen’s book a lot. Both for the believable historic background of lower class struggle and upper class overfed ennui, and for the entirely likable main characters, whose eventual pairing up I did look forward to. Donald Sutherland as the father was an added bonus that made it possible to ignore the somewhat annoying rest of the family. I found it interesting that the actors all agreed on the likability of the characters, when half the family were self-absorbed, hysterical and irresponsible, but given that I can see historic reasons for why this would have been so, it’s interesting more than really bothersome.

Monday, June 26th, 2006

René Clément – Purple Noon (2)

purple noon.jpg Better than its modern incarnation, this thriller might not capture Highsmith’s story completely, but it works fairly nicely as a movie standing on its own. The moral ending is disappointing in principle, but also because it’s unconvincing, it being such a stupid oversight for Ripley not to have gotten rid of the anchor, and it seeming unlikely that people would drag a yacht out of the water with its anchor still lowered.

liaisons.jpg I have seen Frears version of de Laclos’ awesome book multiple times, and wasn’t surprised that a movie from the 1950s fails to stand up to Malkovich, Close and Pfeiffer. I was surprised, however, to see the plot transplanted to the present, and Valmont and Merteuil made into a married couple, odd decisions both, and while interesting, not helping the movie. But the real weakness is Vadims failure to convey any of the intricate psychology of de Laclos’ plot and the beautyfully crafted letters it consists of. Having seen this certainly makes me appreciate Frears quite a bit more. And as a final note, I’m not sure I’d want to see another movie with eternally sulky femme banale Jeanne Moreau any time soon.

Monday, June 26th, 2006

Stephen Gaghan – Syriana (1)

syriana_poster.jpg The puzzle, it seems to me, is not how to find out about the multiple ways the current setup of commerce and power is defective, producing forces that can not help but be evil. Rather, it’s how to turn this realization into smething that has practical consequences, and not being forced into quiet resignation, because the mechanisms are too far removed from our daily life for them to be able to lie within our sphere of influence. The great thing, then, about movies like this one, is that in all it’s complexity and intricateness – and I didn’t find it remotely as hard to follow the plot as all the reviewers were whining, by the way. Sure, you miss some details, but the main pieces are in plain view – it creates the feeling that everything is connected, providing the unlikely hope that stems from the fact that even what we lowly watchers of movies do in our lives will make a difference, shifting the distribution of power.

thing.jpg I had heard that his movie was good, but I was surprised to find just how well this 1951 SciFi-Horror crossover has withstood the test of time. An intelligent script and believable characters, a stroy relying on try suspense instead of cheap effects, a truly frightening creature and well acted and filmed scenes all make this a gem worth remembering. While Carpenter’s remake, especially its intense atmosphere of paranoia, is superior in some ways, I would find it hard to compare the two overall. Which means that for its sheer age, Nyby’s version wins. Yay Nyby!
Don’t be mislead by the poster art, by the way, rarely have I seen a poster that was so far aesthetically and in content from the movie it represented.

Tuesday, June 20th, 2006

Duncan Tucker – Transamerica (2)

transamerica.jpg This could have been another movie using a feel-good story to enahnce understanding an accepance for a minority by depicting some of its members as struggling, but good humans-like-us. That is an approach that is both commendable for its beneficial impact on society mores and slightly suspicious for its tendency to avoid the more troubling aspects or consequences of the problem under study. On an abstract level this movie falls into this category, as the storyline feels improbably constructed from the standard ingredients of such fare, but the detail, and the performance of its leads, catapult it onto a different level. It’s too bad Huffman was up against Witherspoon’s more broadly appealing performance in Walk the Line at the Academy Awards.

elevator.jpg Jeanne Moreau’s sulking femme-fatale act is annoying to watch, and parts of the story don’t seem to make sense – why did Tavernier not escape through the floor after the elevator had gone almost all the way down to the ground floor? Why would a Jury let the murderer off easily, while being harsh on Moreau’s scheming wife? But these minor quibbles aside, it’s a very original story, and a very entertaining movie. As a window into history, I found the German characters, with their obvious postwar Wirtschaftswunder wealth and ruthless joviality particularly fascinating.

Saturday, June 10th, 2006

Terence Malick – The New World (1)

new_world.jpg A powerful meditation on innocence lost and the mixed blessings of civilization and progress, this is essential Malick. Of course that also means a healthy dose of pathos and a certain slowness of plot, but when so beautifully shot and arranged, who would want to bicker. I have not seen the story of Pocahontas told any other way before, and I don’t think I shall.