15 December 2008

Semester Round-up, Part I

I know I said I was going to do this for the summer movies as well, but that's a little far back and far too many movies to cover. So here's what I've seen since school began, and some short thoughts on them.

Vicki Cristina Barcelona
Anyone who knows me knows I'm a big Woody Allen fan. Needless to say, I enjoyed it. I thought it was much better than his previous two efforts, Scoop and Cassandra's Dream. The actors are all pretty great, though I tend to think that Scarlett Johansson's best work is ahead of her, meaning I think one day she'll be really great, but sometimes she just doesn't have the experience and insight to make a performance truly great. That said, she's more than competent in this role, and holds her own against the greats Bardem and Cruz. Spain is beautiful and this movie makes me want to visit. The film is beautiful too, and gets the right amount of emotion while still retaining that slightly cynical Woody edge.

Burn After Reading
I'm never quite ready for the body count in a Coen Brother's comedy. And this one is particularly violent, and it always caught me off guard. I thought the style and tone of it were great, with performances to match. It's refreshing to see a comedy that, and I know this sounds counter-productive, doesn't invest too much emotionally in its characters. It's able to keep its distance and see the people in all their idiocy, which is what screwball is all about.

Ghost Town
What an incredibly pleasant surprise this was. If you saw the trailer and thought it looked like a mediocre romantic comedy, you were right, it did look like that. The advertisements were awful. But the actual product was so much more, and delivers some of the most genuine emotions you're likely to see in a comedy this year. Though the concept is a little cliche, the way it transforms itself, especially toward the end, makes it all worthwhile. If you are a fan of Gervais, you especially need to see it. It's a fitting beginning to what I hope is a long film career.

Being a fan of Westerns, I went to see this without knowing really anything about it. And I'm glad I did. Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen have such great report, that without it the film would absolutely fail. I could have done without Renee Zellwegger's character, for the most part, though some of her silliness provided great material for Ed and Viggo. Jeremy Irons is great, and I'm always glad to see him.

There were critics who thought it intriguing and critics who found it unbearable. I find myself in both camps. The initial premise is really interesting and it is intially really engaging, but I was glad when it ended. Some of the scenes of savageness and brutality that humankind supposedly descends into when confronted with a global outbreak of blindness were a little hard to bear, and the ending seems very false after all that comes before it. An interesting exercise for director Meirelles, but little more than that.

If you know me, you know I like politics as I like getting my lip stuck under a man hole cover. So I was surprised at myself for wanting to see this. The good thing about it, and I know other critics have said this, is that it is relatively free of overt bias. It's fairly balanced, but in the end, not that interesting. We don't really learn anything we didn't know before. I think that his life and presidency are something we won't truly be able to judge until several years down the road. So this film will not be as influential as it could have been.

The Duchess
Extremely conventional, but that doesn't make it bad. There are always going to be films retreading the same dirt as previous films. There are always going to be movies about women being oppressed by a patriarchal society. This filmi in particular covers some of the same ground as the superior Marie Antoinette two years ago. That said, it's capable enough, especially in the nuanced and detailed performance by Ralph Fiennes. Keira Knightley does what she can, but this isn't her best material. For some reason, this film just feels out of place this year. Don't look for any attention come awards time.

Check back later for Part II!

No comments: