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|2179 reviews in total|
Gorgeous, insane and utterly brilliant. I'd seen a few Peter Greenaway films prior to this, but none of them have particularly worked for me. This one just blew me away. Michael Gambon plays a crook who has bought a share of a fancy French restaurant. This means he can spend every night sitting in the middle of the restaurant loudly barking his particular brand of rudeness at his minions (including Tim Roth and Ciaran Hinds) and his put-upon wife (Helen Mirren). Mirren is so sick of her life she wanders off to the bathroom to have anonymous sex with a book-reading customer (Alan Howard). After a few nights of this, Gambon catches on and, well, the results aren't that pretty. Two things in particular stand out in this one: first, Gambon. Holy crap, he is one of the most brazen bastards ever to be seen (and especially heard) in the cinema. The performance is utterly brilliant. I hate this guy, don't get me wrong, but I could listen to him yell for hours and I wouldn't stop laughing. Second: the production design. It's one of the neatest looking films I've ever seen. Shot on an elaborate sound stage, the restaurant (and its exterior) are color coded. It's brilliant. My favorite bit of it are the urinals in the men's room: a shoulder-high pillar in the very center of the bathroom with the urinals on each side, so the urinators have to stare right into their neighbors eyes as they pee. The story has an allegorical meaning, apparently about Thatcher, but at this point that's only a historical footnote. The film holds up great with all its nuttiness. My only minor complaint: the last sequence is a tad too straightforward. But, really, I absolutely loved this. It's one of the best films I've seen in a while.
A Bergmanesque drama about mortality and religion. In the opening scene, Pierre Arditi dies in front of his girlfriend, Sabine Azema, but then miraculously comes back to life as if nothing happened. It changes his outlook on existence, and the two go through something of a spiritual journey. Their best friends (Fanny Ardent and Andre Dussollier), both pastors at their church, try to guide them via their religion, but they don't quite buy into the Christian views. This film certainly has its interesting points, and the acting is very good. The religious and philosophical discussions are a bit flat and certainly not up to Bergman's level. Whatever I could have enjoyed in this film, though, is absolutely ruined by a horribly annoying editing gimmick: the film is comprised of very short vignettes, which is fine, but when one of these scenes ends, the film cuts to a black background with snow (or perhaps dandruff) floating around in front of it. A pretty image, once, but these shots last anywhere from ten to thirty seconds, and this must happen a hundred times. I would say these snowy shots take up a good 30 minutes of this 90 minute film. To boot, they are accompanied by a loud, obnoxious, dissonant musical score. Resnais might as well have just shouted "BRECHT!" between each scene. At least it would have been faster!
Resnais explores the concept of Utopia in three, intermingled timelines in this musical comedy. Actually, the film is so confusingly told that I had to read up on it a little before understanding it. Generally, though, it's a pretty enjoyable little film. In the modern timeline, a group of educators gathers at a castle at a symposium for alternative education. Geraldine Chaplin makes a bet that she can get the shy Sabine Azema to fall in love with Pierre Arditi. Vittorio Gassman also co-stars in this timeline. Another plot line follows the builder of that castle (Ruggero Raimondi) as he attempts to create a Utopian society after WWI. Fanny Ardant co-stars in that timeline. The third section is kind of an operatic fantasy. The production design is really neat, but I was at a loss as to what was going on there until very near the end of the film, where it became a bit clearer. The film is occasionally a musical, and the music is pretty decent.
Absolutely ludicrous Liam Neeson thriller (which is a genre now), but, frankly, it's just a lot of fun. I found myself smiling and giggling at the silliness of it all, but damned if I wasn't enjoying myself the whole time. Neeson plays an air marshal who receives a text shortly after his flight commences that, if a load of money isn't deposited into an untraceable bank account, a passenger will be killed every 20 minutes. The film is clever enough to make it impossible to guess - or, alternatively, you pretty much suspect everyone and hope like Hell they don't pull out the old Liam-Neeson-has-multiple-personalities-and-is-doing-it-himself twist. The film is hilariously convoluted with plenty of plot holes. When the villain is revealed, they say "You'd never believe how easy it all was!" They are correct. I would never believe it. I still quite enjoyed watching it.
Miyazaki's swan song, most likely. It's an animated biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, a Japanese aircraft engineer who developed the Zero, the plane which would eventually bomb Pearl Harbor and do kamikaze attacks in WWII. The man himself was a pacifist (at least according to this film). Most of the film just deals with the man's love for flight, which obviously makes the story very dear to Miyazaki. In fact, a good portion of the film takes place in Horikoshi's dreams, where he can invent any crazy contraption. First and foremost, the film is gorgeous. Though it mostly deals with the real world, it finds the beauty in it. As good as the film is, it isn't one of Miyazaki's best. It's a little long-winded and slow (definitely don't take your kids to it, even if they're big Ghibli fans). Miyazaki kind of neuters the militaristic history of Japan at that time. You can feel some terrible stuff going on in the background, but, outside of the Germans, whom our hero visits at one point, all the characters whom we meet are perfectly nice people. I would have liked a more detailed picture of history at the time. Also, the romance that is depicted in the film, which is entirely invented, is a tad too maudlin (though it is quite nice up front). And, though I won't hold it against the film itself, the English language dub is awful. This may be due to the film's specific, Japanese setting, but I really felt the voice actors were just dull as Hell. I hate to say it, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead role is the worst. The least offensive performances come from Martin Short and Mae Whitman (the latter is a professional voice actress who is great on Avatar: The Last Airbender, though she is best known for her role as Michael Cera's dull girlfriend Ann on Arrested Development). I wish I had just seen the subtitled version instead (it was playing here, but at an inconvenient theater). I might like the film better seeing it subtitled. All those criticisms don't amount to too much, though. It's a wonderful film.
A fantastic little film directed by a woman in Saudi Arabia. That's astounding considering that women are pretty much not allowed to do anything there. Al-Mansour had to direct her cast from inside a van, because she couldn't direct the male crew out in the open. It's also astounding because Saudi Arabia has almost zero history in the art of cinema. It's shocking how well made this film is. Of course, the subject is the existence of women in the country. Waad Mohammed stars as 12 year old Wadjda, a wily young girl who does not like her lot in life. In particular, she wants to ride a bicycle, which is a huge taboo in Saudi Arabia (they're afraid it might break her hymen). Her mother (Reem Abdullah) is going through her own problems. After she had Wadjda, she can no longer have children, and her husband is trying to land a second wife so he can produce a male heir. Wadjda's attitude gets her in plenty of trouble at school, with headmistress Ahd (that's the actress' name, just Ahd) disapproving of every little thing she does. It sounds like the film is as oppressive as Saudi Arabian society, but it's actually quite joyous. Mohammed is so insanely lovable. I was hugely touched by the film.
Ramis' follow-up to Stuart Saves His Family was much more popular, but, I must say, it's a total dud. Michael Keaton plays a busy man who doesn't have enough time between his demanding construction job and his family (Andie MacDowell plays his wife). While on a job, he meets up with a scientist who offers to clone him. He now has a double, but soon that's not enough, so he gets a third. Then the two clones conspire and make a fourth. The three clones differ from the original Keaton quite a bit. The first time, it makes some sense. 2 is a bit more cynical, knowing that he's the clone who has to work. 3, for some reason, is gay. 4, since he's a clone of a clone, is a daffy moron. So Keaton is basically giving four performances here, so he has a lot of opportunity to show his acting chops. Unfortunately, by 1996, Keaton had pretty much hit rock-bottom, and he does little but mug throughout the movie. It doesn't help that the script flat-out sucks. No other actor has anything else to do, so it's all up to Keaton and he flops.
Whenever trying to memorialize the recently departed, I tend to seek out lesser known films by them, or at least films that I haven't seen. I'd always wanted to see this film, adapted from the Stuart Smalley sketches from Saturday Night Live. I remember Siskel & Ebert liking the film quite a bit back in the day, plus the star is now my Senator. And this is actually quite a good film. What's most surprising about it is it's actually quite serious for what it is. In fact, trying to get the serious subject to work while also trying to keep the same style of comedy the sketches had on SNL makes it a little tonally uneven, but I love what they were trying. Al Franken stars as Stuart Smalley, who hosts a cable access show called Daily Affirmations, where he reveals his many problems to his small audience and tries to work through them. As the film opens, his producer fires him. Soon after, his aunt dies so he goes back home to Minneapolis for the funeral. His family is hugely dysfunctional, with many drinking and weight problems. He tries to help. The film takes the problems entirely seriously. I mean, there is comedy, but the family dysfunction is never the butt of the joke. Al Franken is very good and the character is given more subtlety than he had on SNL. Vincent D'Onofrio plays his younger brother, Harris Yulin his father, Shirley Knight his mother and Lesley Boone his sister. Laura San Giacomo and Julia Sweeney also co-star as Stuart's friends. Not a great movie, but a nice one.
From Spain. I walked away from the programming thinking this had to be the one that would win. It's a super intense piece about a couple of Spaniards in Africa - they might be doctors looking to help rebels, or they might be there to "rescue" child soldiers. They have put themselves in much danger either way, and are quickly captured and face execution. This is intense - almost too much so, honestly. After a while, it starts to feel a little like misery porn. I also didn't care too much for the slick, Peter Berg-esque war filmmaking. But the setting deserves intense treatment, and, in the end, I found it quite powerful.
From France, Lea Drucker stars as a woman who has decided to take her kids and leave her abusive husband once and for all. This is a good suspense piece, with the director building that suspense through some nice long takes. Still, one thought kept running through my mind: this whole situation could have easily been avoided had the woman just called the cops. This is even mentioned by her coworkers, but Drucker simply dismisses it with "I don't have time." It kind of bugged me (and the annoying woman behind me, who kept whispering loudly to her husband, "Why doesn't she just call the cops?"). It also cheats several times to enhance the suspense, taking away from the realistic situation.
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