Thursday, September 06, 2012

Movie Reviews

We've done high brow and low brow lately.  Here it is:

Yeah.  The 21 Jump Street re-boot.  Not much to say here.  It was medium to not-very funny.  Channing Tatum is charming, but this year in film has pretty much guaranteed that you already know that, even if you haven't seen him handle a comedic role.  The story is a mess and it's worth a chuckle.  Comedy is a tough game these days.  It's really hard to get it right and have you busting a gut from start to finish.  This didn't really do it for me.  Here's my question: what ever happened to unironic, non-pop-cultural-self-referential comedies like Police Academy?  Think about it.

I was super-hesitant about seeing this movie because I suspected that the source material was a mess and I'm not really into rape scenes in film.  I just don't have the stomach for it.  I'm also not a rabid David Finch fanboy.  This surprised me by being entertaining enough, but it's a bit of a hot mess.  Like, I'm not really sure how anyone took it seriously and how it didn't end up in like, shlock-horror-ville.  You've got Nazis, incest, rape, tattoos,'s such a giant mixed bag and the story is nearly incomprehensible.  I will say that the film looks stark and pretty enough, although I think David Fincher overplays the interior/exterior contrasts too much (Rooney Mara's Lisbeth's apartment is too blue and all the interior cabin scenes are too golden).  

We tried really hard to watch A Dangerous Method.  I mean, on paper, it looks fantastic.  Cronenberg! Fassbender! Viggo! Freud! Jung!  But then you reach the clunker and unfortunately she's put front and centre in this whole enterprise - Keira Knightley.  Watching Keira Knightly play crazy is an exercise in displaced embarrassment the likes of which I don't have the stomach for.  It's rare that I don't finish a film (or book).  This was one of those cases.  She is guilty of one of the most egregious cases of over-acting that I've ever seen and she relies on the most distracting facial contortion and tic that it makes you want to claw your own eyes out.  Also the pacing is glacial.  Also, the sets look really cheap.  Not good, my friends.  Avoid!

Fish Tank was the first in our little Fassbender double header (it's been a very Fassbender summer around here).  The film has a loose, improvisational, hand-held camera style that makes it feel impossibly real.  Casting young, novice actor Katie Jarvis (who came to the director's attention having an argument with her boyfriend at a bus station in one of the towns in which the movie is filmed) as Mia, a troubled, broody girl growing up in some East London projects, the film follows Mia after she's been booted from school for a few aimless days and weeks.  She gets into screaming matches with her  drunken, trashy mother, swears at her indolent sister, and half heartedly dreams of becoming a hip hop dancer (her dancing is atrocious - it's like, lazy hip hop - I wasn't entirely sure if the film is trying to purposely make her bad or if that's what's considered good dancing nowadays.  I'm pretty sure the director is trying to show how pointless all of Mia's imagined avenues for escape are.)  Into this world comes Michael Fassbender's charismatic womanizer, who is sleeping with the mom but also flirts dangerously with Mia as well.  Fassbender's character is the most disarming, charming sleazeball you've ever encountered and the masterfulness of the performance results in you never really knowing (like Mia) if he's really just a charming decent bloke or if you should listen to that frisson of distrust.  The movie also has a pretty dead-sexy (though icky) sex scene.  The performances from all the principal actors are excellent, even down to the little girl who plays Mia's bruised, foul-mouthed younger sister.  I highly recommend this.

Shame was a deep disappointment.  It is the second feature from director Steve McQueen and I've already rhapsodised about his first film, Hunger before.  This film is kind of colloquially known as the "Fassbender dangler movie" (or, at least it is by me).  Fassbender plays a sex addict who is visited by his sister (played by Carey Mulligan) and his life kind of unravels.  Now, I can't say enough how much I loved Hunger.  I also love Steve McQueen as a composer of shots.  He is a visual artist whose principle medium was film.  He brings that eye to his movie-making.  There are achingly beautiful shots in Shame - shots where your eye is drawn to the composition, the lines, the colours - every scene is a deeply pleasing aesthetic experience and sometimes you're aware of it and sometimes you're not.  There is an extended sequence where Fassbender's Brandon runs down a New York street and it will take your breath away.  Absolutely stunning.  Unfortunately, the story falls flat.  I get what McQueen is trying to do - he's trying to show Brandon's emotional detachment and the irony of how his sex addiction robs him (or is a symptom of?) his inability to really connect emotionally with anyone.  The problem is, that detachment leads to an emotional distance from the viewer that is then doubled by the aestheticization of the film.  So you're like, twice removed.  As a film about addiction, it is somewhat compelling.  It doesn't have the same showy tricks and flourishes as a Requiem for a Dream and I would argue that this makes it more interesting and thought provoking.  One scene in particular, when Brandon is going on a bender and engages in a threesome with prostitutes results in various shots of Fassbender's face as he's having an orgasm that mimicked the drawn, grotesque faces of meth addicts - I thought that was exceptionally clever.  However, the film falls flat.  Carey Mulligan is hopelessly, hopelessly miscast.  I think every time she's working in an American accent she's out of her league.  She's not that good an actress, quite frankly.  Some of the scenes drag on unnecessarily.  It becomes unnecessarily melodramatic near the end and veers off course.  It is purposefully sterile but it lacked the emotional resonance of Hunger.  I would definitely recommend it - for the visuals alone, but I was disappointed and saw major flaws.


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