Monday, December 31, 2012

Les Miserables (***)

Directed by Tom Hooper


For various reasons, musicals don't sell in Hollywood like they used to. As movies began to gravitate more towards sensibility and realism in the late 1960's, the spectacle of the Hollywood musical fell out of favor. There's something very stage-y about the old films like The Band Wagon and Meet Me In St. Louis, and I don't think it's much of a coincidence that musicals still run on the stage for decades to acclaim and popularity. Truth is, there's enough spectacle on the screen already, and singing doesn't add a whole lot. I'd love to see someone make another Singin' In The Rain type movie, but instead of singing about the death of the silent film, they'd be singing about the death of their beloved musicals. But I guess I shouldn't really be giving away free, uncopyrighted pitches here.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Django Unchained (****)

Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino


The last two movies that Quentin Tarantino has made deal with the two biggest eras of racial injustice in America's two-plus centuries of existence. His first one, 2009's Inglourious Basterds, dealt with World War II, in which the German Nazis did their best to exterminate the entire Jewish race in a few years. In that war, the Americans were the good guys. But in his latest movie, Django Unchained, we're moved to what is probably the blackest (forgive the pun) point in the short history of this country: African American slavery. In this era, Southern Americans were not so much the bad guys as they were ignorant orchestrators of centuries worth of oppression that was so deeply rooted in the social and economic infrastructure that it wasn't even considered evil, it was considered a way of life. The Nazis seemed deranged in their genocide, while Americans were straight up stupid and entitled - a very dangerous combination.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Amour (****)

Written and Directed by Michael Haneke


Amour is about something that almost everybody has to deal with eventually, but that's not talked about very much, and is almost never shown with such stark detail as it is here. Georges and Anne are both retired music teachers, in their eighties, living in Paris with what appears to be a wholly solid, long-lasting marriage that has produced at least one daughter (at least, that's what the film shows) and several successful students that have gone on to success in the music industry. After decades of being together, I'd imagine that it would seem like nothing could pull you apart from your life partner. But when Anne has a stroke, and her quality of life begins to spiral down quickly and dramatically, it seems to be the first time that their near-lifelong commitment to each other will be tested.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (**1/2)

Directed by Peter Jackson


There seems to be two kinds of people in the world. One type has read all of J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings books and sang the praises - high and loudly - of every frame of Peter Jackson's trilogy of film adaptations, even going on to further suggest that these three bloated films (all three hover around three hours, with the last one spilling way over) could be even longer with all the material that was left out of the screenplay. Another type (my type, in case that wasn't obvious already) never read the books and found the three movies to interminable - like cinematic waterboarding - and the thought that any of the movies could be even a second longer, makes this type of person ponder a manic, hard-to-keep-your-hand-off-the-knife kind of lunacy. Like Democrats and Republicans, these two types of people not only disagree but fail to see anything but stupidity in the other side's logic. So, alas, Peter Jackson went ahead and made The Hobbit into three movies, the first of which just came out, bringing the two sides clashing again, but I'd bet only one side is actually going to pay money to see it.

Holy Motors (***1/2)

Directed by Leo Carax

Holy Motors is a strange movie. But it seems strange in a David Lynchian sort of way, that seems to cry out for meaning - for a puzzle to be solved. (As opposed to strange in a The Master sort, which is mostly just eccentric and aimless, and by the end seems to be exactly about being aimless.) I have never been a huge Lynch fan. I consider Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr. to be two tremendous movies, but I don't know why. If you want so strongly to imbue a story with a foundation of metaphor and meaning, why make it so difficult to understand? Why make putting the puzzle together so much work? Well, you can only bang your head against a wall so many times before you realize what a dumb activity it is, and that's how I feel about finding meaning in Holy Motors. I just sat back and enjoyed the fantastic limousine ride.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Skyfall (***1/2)

Directed by Sam Mendes


I'd been staying away from Skyfall despite the craze over the latest James Bond film. Not because I had some reservation about the franchise, or that I had found that - based on trailers and reviews - that I didn't think the movie was that good. It was more because I have such unfamiliarity with the franchise (with Die Another Day being the only other film that I'd seen), that I didn't want to jump in with a story without true appreciation for its past and history. Kind of how I'm weary of watching the TV show The Wire because I find the concept of watching 60 one-hour episodes unbelievably daunting. But after the constant imploring of many friends, I finally buckled and saw the movie (over a month after its initial release, but I digress) discovering that the franchise's past films do not really hold any stock in just how remarkable a film it is.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Rust and Bone (***)

Rust and Bone
Directed by Jacques Audiard


The gulf between the roles that Marion Cotillard plays in her commercial American films and the ones in her native language seems large enough the fit a cruise through. Consider the ferocity of her Oscar-winning performance in La Vie en Rose and try to think if she's ever even done anything that commanding and demonstrative on an American screen. Perhaps it's not a fair comparison, because there are few actors who are ever as good/better in there second language (Javier Bardem?) - and she did come close in one particular scene in Nine, but that movie was an absolute garbage apart from that one glowing moment. Rust and Bone - part gritty love story, part redemption tale - gives Cotillard her first role with real meat since her pre-Oscar career.