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Les Revenants (2012)
Moody, Creepy, Crafty
This series s tightly constructed, with gradual revelations and flashbacks. The events are so odd that most of it does not make sense until later, when more is revealed.
I had the sense that I was watching a collaboration by Atom Egoyan (echoes of The Sweet Hereafter and Exotica), Ingmar Bergman, and the writers of Lost.
I recommend seeing this.
Pros: Casting was done with a sharp eye. The resemblance between sisters was utterly convincing.
Cons: Casting did choose female characters according to a particular taste. The combination of their similarities with low lighting and face-away-from-camera shots made it sometimes difficult to distinguish a character.
The music track was maddeningly distracting. It was quite out of place, because the other production values were so solid. Repetitive, earworm material. One theme, I came to think of as a "Guitar Lesson Gone Awry". The title theme, I would dub "Toy Cuckoo Clock".
Margin Call (2011)
A Good Veterinarian Could Save that Animal!
Chandor has spun up an incredibly (if sadly) believable series of scenes. The very final scene pisses away all plausibility in a few seconds of runtime. I will not spoil the end here, except to say that an incredible coincidence comes out of nowhere. Chandor clearly intends to make a poignant metaphor. Instead, it hits like a freshman short story writer with a baseball bat.
The remainder of the film is understated and tense. The first third could be called lagging. Someone has advised not to allow the slightest hint of financial explanation. The scenes in which the predicament is discussed by a growing number of executives feel false. There is some throwaway trader jargon intended to provide authenticity without boring people who do not follow markets. When CEO character finally appears, his job is to play Doctor Watson. "Explain it to me as if I was a small child or a golden retriever." Really? The CEO would deliver that stock line? The function could not have been performed by any number of junior traders that crowd the movie?
The Brooklyn Bridge crossing scene is the opposite. It reads authentically, carried by Paul Bettany.
All told, the movie held my attention. It avoided the excesses of 1987's Wall Street (The Gordon Gecko echo). It steered clear of the nonstop foul language and scenery-chewing of Glengarry Glen Ross. I wanted it to be great. Maybe there will be a director's cut? Who knows? Some re- editing, and extra footage might bring it up a notch. Regardless, he absolutely must bury that final scene.
Mad Men: Love Among the Ruins (2009)
Margaret Sterling (Elizabeth Rice) is in for a shock. As Roger Sterling (John Slattery) examines his daughter's wedding invitation, he exclaims "November Twenty-third." We get a split-second closeup of of the silvery parchment. The invitation bears the date of November 23., 1963. That places her wedding on the Saturday that John F. Kennedy will be assassinated.
I cannot help but wonder if the series will try to do a treatment of the assassination over an episode or two. It seems so outside the scope of the rest of the show. It seems to prefer interpersonal and stylistic themes over the historical. The series did, however, spend an episode on the night of the Kennedy versus Nixon election.
Shadow Conspiracy (1997)
Film Noir References Can't Save Muddled Effort
In the first third of the film, homages to Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock kept me entertained. The second and third portions of the film grow progressively worse.
*** spoilers ***
Similarities to "The Man Who Knew Too Much": - "Bernard is murdered ... but before he dies he manages to reveal details of an assassination ..." Similarities to "North by Northwest": fleeing from relentless killers
More Noir: Giant shadow in the alleyway where Bobby flees, cast by light from burning trash barrels. The musical score swells in true 1940s-50s melodramatic style. Sparks illuminate the interior of the (power plant? sewage plant?) The back-lit figure comes down the stone stairs when Bobby is phoning Jake (Donald Sutherland). Shades of Welles. "Touch of Evil" is seen listed on the Georgtown Theatre marquee, after the sniper attempt on Bobby's life. Bobby tries to bug/eavesdrop on a corrupt conversation taking place on the waterfront, but has technical difficulties, much like Charleton Heston in Touch of Evil.
Landmarks - half-buried Poseidon(?) statue is a little like the statue of Liberty scene in Saboteur (1942).
Altogether an enjoyable B Movie to catch on cable some night. Worth it for the cast, score and some of the cinematography.
Weaknesses: OK, the UAV attack on the president, while before its time, came off as silly. The helicopter looks too much like a toy to be menacing, and is easily brought down by a clump of party balloons. If the assassin could get such a large package into the room, why not bring a bomb? How does Jake get into the banquet hall with the pistol? Weren't there metal detectors in 1997? Also weak and inexplicable is the cracker motorcyclist who appears from nowhere, and chases Bobby through the subway station. If they were going that far over the top, why not have the villain drive down the escalator, instead of the stairs? Sam Waterston, engaging in Law and Order, and effective in The Killing Fields (1984), phones in a shrill monotone here, especially in his first scene in the oval office with Sheen. Donald Sutherland has done better with similar characters in Commander and Chief (2005, TV), and JFK (as Mister X).
Having assembled a remarkable cast, beautiful score, and so many allusions to great Noir scenes, why does George Cosmatos leave out so many critical plot points? Who are the "Shadow Conspiracy"? At one point, Hamilton mentions that they tap phones and monitor politicians for signs of corruption. Sounds more like a public service than a menace. What was the content of the president's speech, which would have been so earth-shattering? Make us care.
Why does Charlie Sheen always hook up with older women in these B-Movies? Linda Hamilton is nearly a decade his senior, and Lindsay Crouse (the archaeologist in The Arrival) was born in 1948, *seventeen years* older than Sheen! Perhaps after the sex scandals, they feared the liability involved in casting him opposite young starlets. Chuckle. Linda Fiorentino, in "Beyond the Law", is 5 years older. Nastassja Kinski, born 1959, appeared opposite Sheen in "Terminal Velocity (1994).
Critical scenes like cheese that does not age well
Overall, Scarface is a very entertaining and engaging movie. However, there is a critical them that was presented in a very dated fashion, which makes it come off as ridiculous.
I'm talking about Tony's relationship with Gina. Now this is an interesting angle: Tony's strong obsession with his sister proves to be his undoing. However, there are three or four shots in the film in which Tony trains his intense gaze upon her. He is worried that her virtue might be sullied, or that she might become part of his crime world. For instance, it happens in the Babylon club, when Gina is dancing with a man that Tony does not like. Tony looks on from the sidelines.
Each time one of these "staring scenes" begins, some horror-synth music ramps up, and the camera zooms on on Tony's eyes. Giorgio Moroder supplies the music throughout. The zoom-and-music effect tells us nothing about the nature of the obsession -- is it lust? Possessiveness? It causes us to break out of the fictional dream and think, "hey, this is like a cheap horror film," and "oh yeah,it's Brian De Palma and his old habits."
In my opinion, the flaw is damaging, but is discretely contained. De Palma should release a "director's cut" that (at the very least) gets rid of the cheesy synth music. Then, the real drama can carry the scenes, the film can rest as a timeless (if overwrought) classic, unmarred by fads and over-dramatic effects.
Stealing Beauty (1996)
Storyline Goes Unfulfilled
Stealing Beauty didn't move me a whole lot. The plot-- a young virgin going back to her mother's old haunts to try to discover the identity of her father-- was an interesting one. I like the twist that her mentor in this situation was an older man who was dying (Jeremy Irons). Beginning with a good story is not enough, however. The film seemed to rely on beautiful setting and beautiful people to generate interest at any given moment. Liv Tyler, though easy to look at, has all the depth of a lipstick model (which she may very well have started out as). I found it humorous that everyone in the small settlement took an interest in her virginity or loss thereof. This generated an interesting tension, but not enough to maintain a feature length film. After a fantastic film like "The Last Emporer," worthy of some best-of-all-time lists, Bertolucci delivers a disappointment here.