I know it’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these. Such is Oscar season. I’ll try to get through this day – I seem to be pumping out reviews with more ease these days – quickly, so if you’re reading this and it’s still the weekend, mission accomplished!
The first one the day was the only Canadian film I caught at the year’s festival in High Life. Why did I choose this to be my Canadian selection? A variety of reasons: Nothing else was playing at the time and the cast was one I appreciated (what with Timothy Olyphant and Joe Anderson). What did I get from this film? Exactly what you get from a film you’ve little interest in seeing – a fine, but superfluous product.
Drug films are a dime a dozen – this doesn’t disprove the theory that drug films (at least in recent years) have become lazily comprised and hackney. Although that does entail that the feature is of an exhausted premise, it does not, however, imply that the film cannot be a fine time regardless.
The story is about Dick (Timothy Olyphant) who is thrust into a risky situation after years of sustaining a mundane and statutory life style by old friend Bug (Stephen McIntyre) when he is released from prison. It takes only a few moments for Bug to get Dick fired from a job he’s held for months, and while not contented with the dismissal and loss of occupation, has faith in Bug’s plan to get rich quick.
The era in which the story takes place plays crucial as the angle of becoming wealthy plays entirely into the hands of malfunctioning new technology. Dick alters Bug’s plan plenty and the once dangerous plan becomes elicit – they plan on getting a good looking, friendly guy (who is later Billy, played by Rossif Sutherland) to approach personale at the bank and say that the machine is spitting out extra money, thus leading to Dick and Bug sauntering into the bank as repairmen; inevitably leading to them snatching as much cash as they can get their hands on. Of course complications in plotting arise thanks to various, miscalculated exponents, but none more vital than Bug’s vanity.
As per usual in films such as these, you encounter odd film references (be it literal or assumed through the mannerisms of the characters), screwy dark humor and cliche after cliche within character development. Like his character causes harm to the foursome attempting the heist, Bug is also the source of drawback in the script. He is so animated that is feels as if he written with the pen of Walt Disney; he never becomes a formidable antagonist what with his capricious behavior. If not for McIntyre’s scavenging the role for some semblance of a human, this would go down in film history as one of the worst displays of a bad guy in a crime film.
What this film boils down to is: Do you like idiot criminals? If you find these characters to be lovable goofs then you’ll certainly get more bang for your buck. If you’re like me and find dopey characters more a distraction from the plot than a necessity, you’ll most leave the film wishing you’d have seen a different feature. Regardless High Life is a fine time at the theater – bits of humor and tension connect that keep the viewer from being in a state of comatose and the performances are generally good. What’s interesting about this film is that it was adapted from a play by Gary Yates (who also co-penned the adaptation and directed the film). It isn’t a story that you’d expect to play out on stage and must have been far more interesting in that environment.
Funny, I went into this hoping for great work from Anderson and Olyphant – and while they were solid – I found Sutherland to be one fantastic talent. This guy needs more work, stat. [6/10]
Next on the day was Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s latest in Micmacs. Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not familiar with Jeunet’s work (I watched Amelie when I was 11, so not the most impressionistic of memories) but he did impress me with this, his most recent feature.
Very Marx-esque (Groucho and bros. – not Karl), Jeunet’s story about a solemn man named Bazil (Dany Boon) coming into his own within a group of eccentric individuals is as touching as it is hilarious. The film opens on a snappy briefing of Bazil’s life to the present – shooting through him getting canings as a child at Catholic school, witness his father being blown up by a landmine, being treated poorly by everyone and primarily every major event that would shape someone like him – a man working behind the register at a small video store. Structure-wise, this scene is parallel to Up and I feel that if this film will receive any applause, it will be thanks to the earnest, if minuscule seeming effort put in by Jeunet to fulfill his protagonist and set the tone for the feature. The tone, of course, is fanatically joyous and will leave you with a big grin come conclusion.
After being shot in the head at the beginning and losing his job because his employer figured he’d never wake from his coma, Bazil wanders aimlessly in life for a few weeks. With the notion that he can drop dead at any moment as the bullet was never officially removed (thanks to comedic doctors who made the decision based on flipping a coin), he is overly protective of himself and obsessive cautious of his surroundings. That is until he is taken in by the peculiar group of people that live beneath a salvage yard. With a mother-like head of the household, the most flexible woman in the world, an older man hard set on the notion of breaking a world record and what Bazil believe to be his true love – along with strange others – Bazil finds himself comfortable and with a family for the first time since he was a young lad.
In the back of his mind – or rather, within his mind – Bazil furiously contemplates taking down the company (well, now companies as two are forming to become one powerhouse in an additional plot) that killed his father. Coincidentally the same company that is branded on the bullet placed just outside his brain. Along with his new devoted friends, they set out to destroy internally as they (the weapon manufacturers) have destroyed externally.
As mentioned above, this is the creation of a silent comedy made with contemporaneity. Jeunet found himself a real star with Boon, whose potential has finally been capped. His slapstick humor, exaggerated facial expressions (especially when feeling the pain of the bullet in his head) and range of delivering lines – be it the breakneck conversations within his ‘family’ or the more somber, dopey deliveries when he feels unrequited love – identify him with the likes of Harold Lloyd. Harder to pull off for Boon as well, as he looks far more masculine than any other comedy star of the 20s.
Lightly designed, but with heavy steps, Micmacs‘ only drawback is that it follows the Marx’ film formula too well. The humor is enforced to a point of exorbitance and the galvanized dramatic element, while touching, does play off as overly palpable. Humor in bundles has never been a poor quality of any feature, but like fountain soda at a busy theater, expect to indulge in plentiful watered down scenarios.
A wacky romp across France – fans of Jeunet are bound to be pleased. As deserving of it’s standing ovation reception at TIFF as much as Favre the boos upon returning to Lambeau. [8/10]
It’s a fact that if you know me, you’ll be hardpressed to find someone else that is as devoted to Romanian New Wave as me. Hell, I’ve become so hooked on the wave that any film starring Anamaria Marinca or Dragos Bucur immediately makes my heart skip beats in anticipation. With Police, Adjective not only do you get Bucur in the leading role, but also Vlad Ivanov in a supporting role and Corneliu Porumboiu (writer/director of the fabulous 12:08, East of Bucharest) in the creative seat.
However, with Romania’s selection for Best Foreign Feature this year, not all is secure – this film will undoubtedly divide audiences. Occasionally you’ll hear the criticism for a feature be as simple as “it will test your patience”, well this is one of the few films where I’d agree with the consensus. Not that it makes the film a bad one. No, rather it makes it the most realistic depiction of man in a moral dilemma. Cristi (Dragos Bucur) is a policeman in modernized Romania. His job entails mundane tasks that, as unfortunately routine it is, is a ritual he must live by in order to provide for both himself and his live-in girlfriend Anca (Irina Saulescu) who is a student by day.
As Porumboui has stated in several interviews (and in the Q+A following the film), he has a fascination with words and how they are interpreted by every individual. Although there is seldom a word spoken in the opening 40 minutes, he explicitly prompts the importance of communication in the final two acts – even though neither are close to being verbose.
For the curious, Cristi’s assignment for the week is to stalk teenagers who partake in smoking marijuana in hopes of gathering enough evidence to take down one of their relatives who is bringing the drug in from another city. Never has crime been reduced to such a commonplace elucidation. If you’re not yet convinced the film is drier than a turkey left in the oven too long, sitting in the middle row of the cinema, I alone saw about 50 walkouts. This should be an adequate illustration.
It is only in the second and third act that you get any sensation of what Corneliu Porumboui is aiming to achieve. The initial sensation of his goal is projected when Cristi and Anca have a lengthy discussion about Mirabela Dauer’s “Nu Te Parasesc Lubire” – a song in which Mrs. Dauer uses the sky, the sea and various other natural elements as allegory for love. This dialogue both informative on the little intellect needed for one to become a police officer and sets up for how a conscience, like everything in life, can be misinterpreted or misunderstood.
The closing scene in Police, Adjective sums up the feature perfectly. It’s a film with a lot of build up, but little clout. Unless you find intellectual vigor and realistic plight virtuous, there is seldom for one to cling to positively with this. However, in my eyes, Police, Adjective – while the most extrinsic film about crime to be released this decade – is absolutely absorbing throughout its entirety, if a little elusive in capturing a thoroughly potent message. [9/10]
It has recently been announced that this film I’m about to review has received a December 2009 release to make it eligible for the Oscars. Can I say how much it delights me that the producers of the film feel the need to fasttrack this? I know little will come of this decision, but in a just world, Michael Shannon would get his first Lead Actor nomination.
My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? was the second of two Herzog films I saw at this years festival (the other being Bad Lieutenant). Similar to the Cage led vehicle, Werner’s latest relies a lot on three things: a capricious, emotionally distraught lead performance, a perturbed environment to thrive in and a peculiar and ominous musical score. However, unlike Bad Lieutenant, this needs an effective baroque atmosphere to be believable in the message it preaches. Suffice to say, Herzog was maladroit in his approach of the air the film thrives on – feeling more or less like someone attempting to imitate David Lynch; a key producer on the film. This leads me to believe Herzog tried to balance his vision along with Lynch’s to create an existential horror, but couldn’t contain the thought processes of two masters. Needless to say, this would’ve worked better if Lynch was given complete control.
What keeps the feature hopeful is Herzog’s sticking to the basis of horror. He takes a unique concept that is based off of a true story (which is more disturbing than the actual film) and breeds it with what audiences know as typical horror elements and Lynch’s idea of worriment – leaving little room for his own personal artistic involvement apart from his animal fetish. In this film, flamingos are his animal of choice – symbolic for a creature that his difficult flying, has to be oddly positioned to sustain balance and immediately captures your attention upon laying your eyes on it; everything Brad McCullum (Michael Shannon) is or wants. Easier to interpret than alligators, anyways.
Written by frequent collaborator of Herzog, Herbert Golder (who tends to do the archival research for Werner’s films) and Herzog himself, this fragmented feature revolves around an older woman being murderer by her son, Brad. The initial perspective is found with Det. Havenhurst (Willem Dafoe) who is trying to construct a puzzle with all the pieces around him to understand why. He puts in motion a plan that revolves around talking to an assortment of Brad’s friends – including his once girlfriend Ingrid (Chloe Sevigny) – to get a sense of how to deal with this peculiar situation. Through conversation we, like the detective, get a sense of the roots from which Brad stemmed leading way to one of the more off-putting, depressive character studies of recent years. It is only in constructing the visual and audible aspects does detriment befall the film.
I’m unsure how to go about discussing this film. It’s a mix and match of brilliance that is perceives notions of so many elements that can construct a human. Brad has a heart for the theater, an exasperating mother, the loss of a love and various other ingredients that are directed to being the main sources in materializing him and his motive. And while his motives and reasons for said motives are as plain as day, the rest of the feature muddles around itself; aiming to be both a surreal introspective into the mind and mentally intrusive for those viewing it. It’s a little inspired in both columns, but resorts to being weird far too much. For example, a midget walking around aimlessly with a wide-angle camera to the apprehensively strung score by Ernst Reijseger. These decisions do not accumulate into something horrific or even gravely distressing, but something memorable nonetheless.
It is one of the few films of the year that continues to grow on me with each reflection. I’m antsy to rewatch this film (whenever Toronto gets it again) and am sure nothing, if anything will come from it if not for more admiration. Herzog adapts to a style parallel to his own and while that isn’t exactly impressive when put in motion, it is an admirable poke at trying something new. Even if his new is Lynch’s old.
Whether it’s because of Shannon’s quaintly austere performance or some of the other bellicose aspects, My Son My Son What Have Ye Done? is a film that will leave a long lasting impression on you – regardless of initial reaction. [7/10]
The last on the evening was Hirokazu Koreeda’s (who is having quite an exceptional year with the US release of Still Walking…) latest in Air Doll. It stars one of the finest contemporary actresses in Du-na Bae.
Based off a Manga (a sort of commonplace comic book that originated in Japan), this drama about alienation is about a blow-up sex doll Nozomi (Du-na Bae) who comes to life and must keep her human existence a secret from her depressed divorced owner Hideo (Itsuji Itao) as she fears the worst.
A lot like Lars and the Real Girl in structure, Air Doll’s more saddened than humorous approach on the material is commendable, but exhausting. However, unlike the 2007 feature by Craig Gillespie, the town the protagonist resides in is far from unified and far less accommodating to her wanting to harmonize herself with them – especially her owner who only wants her for sex, whereas Lars was far more passionate and humanizing towards his doll. She gets many disrespectful glances (primarily for her preset maid’s attire) and doesn’t nearly have an apt grasp of the world – mistaking things like stockings on women for the company set ones on her legs and believing there are others like her out in the world.
So she does what’s typical when you begin life in a new town by getting a job. She pops into a small video store and begins work there. Immediately, the family that runs the store fall in love with her. Be it the fatherly figure that feels the responsibility to guide her ignorant mind to the likes of classic films as she proclaims she’s seen none or her first real friend – the elder man’s son – named Junichi (Arata). As expected, their friendship progresses and like all young men Junichi does have sexual needs which brings Nozomi back into her familiar state of feeling less like a human and more like an inanimate object. It doesn’t sound too depressing, but the way Koreeda hands the material with a sentimentalist’s hands makes it so.
The primary problem area the film encounters is it’s pacing. It starts off as if it were a quirky comedy, but yields to saturate the aura with a disheartening kiss. Koreeda essentially makes love to his feature with his adorning of the material. The only issue with this is that he wrote it, so it’s like watching a filmmaker masturbate romantically – it doesn’t make for high quality cinema.
Alas, a solid product does find it’s way out of what appeared to be an aloof trial – a sense sparked roughly midway through the film. If not for the pervasive and rather pointless extension of a final scene (that would’ve otherwise let me in tears), the film would’ve been rather head and shoulders above similar films about feeling desolate. It’s a fine feature that contains an abundance of earth within its performers, but Air Doll has the misfortune of being pumped with an air of self-infatuation rather than an air of admiration. [6/10]
Sorry for the wait (for those who were excited for my TIFF reviews). Oscar season happened, like it tends to. I’ll try to finish the rest of my reviews before the end of November, but as there’s a plethora of Oscar contenders that I cannot wait to lay my eyes on and a Michael Shannon retrospective that I’ve an inkling to do, don’t expect too much punctuality. Cheers to anyone reading – happy Oscar season!