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August: Osage County (2013)
Nest of vipers
Family nest or a nest of vipers. Perhaps both in the same time. Here we have Weston family, a severely damaged bunch. to say the least. Oklahoma plains, intense heat, and the death in the family. Booze and pills, little bonding- little whiff of incest. A mesmerizing movie to watch, first class actors spreading their wings, and still something just isn't right. Maybe the play borrowing a bit from Tennessee Williams, some from Edward Albee seems a bit contrived. Somehow a play that actors would kill for is in return killing actors. Grant it, it was a marvelous enjoyment watching these people bicker, snarl and repeatedly hurt each other. Is it really life? No it isn't. Still a movie that grabs you and even stays with you for a while. Not a bad feat after all.
Snabba cash (2010)
Dose of reality
Fortunately, thriller is not dead. Hollywood thriller is a desiccated corpse. It somehow keeps plodding stealing good ideas from around a world. This movie is awaiting a remake in Hollywood. Can't wait to see that disaster. What makes this Swedish thriller fresh and original is the hefty dose of reality and interest in it's characters. They are not just a bunch of crooks and psychopaths, they are human too. Young Swede with expensive tastes and little money, Chilean criminal with dreams and the Serbian enforcer with an 8-year daughter to care for. We see the glimpse of what they are made of. Nothing overly heavy and preachy, but just enough to fell real and plausible. And that is what Hollywood doesn't do. The audience they aim for, pimply, computer game addicted, 14 year olds just don't have the patience for anything else apart from explosions and non-stop action. So, thankfully comes this brilliant flick with 2 sequels to follow.
Hearat Shulayim (2011)
Smart and dark
Father and son, two scholars in obscure Talmud interpretations, compete with each other. Son is praised, esteemed and generously rewarded and father, frequently passed over, bitter and scorned. This smart dark Israeli comedy is much more about family and its unresolved issues than about prissy Academia. Blood doesn't always equal love and caring. It seems that sometimes it can be just the opposite. Family ties come with all the lofty, society expectations, but are they wanted and lovingly given? Or do they come with a steep price tag and loads of resentment. Joseph Cedar doesn't arrogantly try to give all the proper answers to all the unanswerable questions. He just asks and hopes for a careful thought and occasional melancholy smile.
The Awakening (2011)
After the World War I Europe was devastated. Millions of young men died in a senseless war, and many more perished from influenza. It was a fertile time for spiritualist hoaxes. Almost everybody was grieving and seeking comfort. This brilliant movie will sorely disappoint the ardent horror movie aficionados. The ones that have the endless patience to sift through dozens of moronic straight to video piles in fervent hope to find the right one. " The Awakening" is a different sort of film. Yes, there are ghosts and there are scares, but that is not the point. We all carry ghosts and demons inside ourselves like open wounds. Subtle filmmaking at its best, but definitely not for everyone.
Gangster Squad (2013)
Gritty 1949 Los Angeles, hard men and even harder women. Snazzy suits, bright red lipstick, sex and death, two sides of a same coin. Whichever side it falls on, you lose badly. But not as badly as this cliché ridden, not just tired, but deathly exhausted flick. This uneasy mix of " The Untouchables" and " LA Confidential", insults both movies. There is absolutely nothing wrong in being inspired with the great movies of the past end even paying a homage to them. The trouble is when you lack inspiration and blindly steal ideas from your much more talented peers. No amount of flying punches and bullets will hide the fact that emperor is naked and without a clue what to do. And please, no more slow motion gunfights, this is not a MTV music video, and we are grown-ups.
The Heat (2013)
I don't have a problem watching a commercial, cliché nonsense of a movie. Hell, I chose it myself, nobody pointed a gun in my head. So, I was completely prepared for, seen hundreds of times tired premise of incompatible protagonists growing to like each other, blah, blah, blah... But this offensive lack of any attempt at creativity or remotely fresh take on this overly familiar story is just plain unbearable. Good lord, who got paid to write this script, and who put in charge of this kind of money a person who would finance this lame 50 year old overblown comedy skit? Boring, predictable and just insulting to intelligence. And, by the way, what offends me are not F or dreaded C words, but lack of talent and artistic integrity.
La cara oculta (2011)
One definitely shouldn't have very high expectations from a thriller. It should be suspenseful, entertaining and at least remotely connected to basic logic. Another rule is viewer's ability to suspend belief and forgive an occasional plot hole.
So all that said, "The Hidden Face" is a nifty, slick little thriller with a hefty dollop of erotica and powder sugar dash of classical music excerpts meant for a new car advertising campaign. The twists and turns work pretty well if you are in a somewhat forgiving mood, but there is not much character development. These one-dimensional pretty people have as much depth as models in an advertising print. But then, I promised not to nitpick.
Nationalism and Fundamentalism
This imperfect documentary most of the time seems like a mockumentary. Ultra religious folks, home-schooled teenagers, loopy pastors, eccentric farmers and so on... Some viewers seem upset that the filmmakers didn't provide some answers to whatever happened to Kansas. I think they did. The lethal and usually explosive mixture of nationalism and fundamentalism. Some of these unfortunate evangelical Christians are so petrified of everything even remotely unfamiliar, that deceiving them becomes a piece of cake. For me, an idea that you should hold your church services in a theme park is as idiotic as it is blasphemous, but apparently not to these fine people. But then if your religion is about happy-clappy nonsense without any intelligent thought, you can actually be swindled by a fake Christian even if you happen to be a emergency room doctor. And on a somber note, few days ago a fundamentalist white supremacist on a rampage against Jews kills by mistake 2 Methodists and 1 Catholic. Frightened people are the most dangerous species on this planet. God help us.
Crime and no punishment, or????
After Zvyagintsev's first movie, "The Return", I desperately wanted to see more of his work. He made another movie that I couldn't find, and finally- "Elena". New Russia, few new rich, and not so new, many poor. The land of fake equality became a land of stunning disparity. And the same kind of ruthless, lacking conscience kind of person that thrived in communism, does ever so well in the pool of greed and self-absorption. It was always about money and power, anyway. Cruel world and cruel deeds. What would one do for those he or she loves, no matter how undeserving they are. Apparently everything, even kill. Human capacity for evil surpasses very few things, and the ability to justify evil tops everything else. Hence the world we live in. Very simple actually, but still beyond comprehension of billions.
Touching light comedy
If you ever desire to see age as a fact of life, not as shameful mishap, you'll have to turn to British. Something weird happened to the American culture. People never lived longer, but they were never more invisible as they get older. Faces pulled so tight that they resemble Halloween mask, moronic slogans about 60's being new 40's, and elderly shoved out of the way all around. Except, of course the elderly that never upset anybody about realities of aging. And here comes this gentle, predictable, but nevertheless deeply touching light comedy about getting to terms with the inevitable. A lively group of marvelous actors, some magnificent classical music, beautiful manor. Nothing too original, but still such pleasure. And now we can go back to being terrified of the thing we can't possibly avoid, aging. And we wonder at the state of the world.