Archive for February, 2013

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My Month in Films: February ’13

February 28, 2013

Mars

Total films seen: 24 (7 rewatches)

Best first time viewings
1. Little Odessa (Gray, ’94)
2. Rosetta (Dardennes, ’99)
3. The Wind Will Carry Us (Kiarostami, ’99)
4. All the Ships at Sea (Sallitt, ’04)
5. Where is the Friend’s Home? (Kiarostami, ’87)
6. Life, and Nothing More… (Kiarostami, ’92)
7. Mission to Mars (De Palma, ’00)
8. Side Effects (Soderbergh, ’13)
9. Honeymoon (Sallitt, ’98)
10. Bullet to the Head (Hill, ’13)
11. Through the Olive Trees (Kiarostami, ’94)

Worth mentioning
Manhunter (Mann, ’86)
Undertow (Gordon Green, ’04)
War Witch (Nguyen, ’12)

Worst
Snitch (Waugh, ’13)
A Good Day to Die Hard (Moore, ’13)
Hitchcock (Gervasi, ’12)

Best rewatches
Miami Vice (Mann, ’06)
Taste of Cherry (Kiarostami, ’97)
Before Sunset (Linklater, ’04)
George Washington (Gordon Green, ’00)
Snake Eyes (De Palma, ’98)
Before Sunrise (Linklater, ’95)
Public Enemies (Mann, ’09)

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War Witch

February 22, 2013

directed by Kim Nguyen, 2012

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War Witch is a rightfully involving, if slightly familiar African dispatch from Canadian filmmaker Kim Nguyen. It has already earned itself a best foreign language film nomination at this year’s Academy Awards and represents a bold new Canadian voice in director Kim Nguyen. The film follows 14-year-old Komona (Rachel Mwanza), who as the story begins tells her unborn child inside of her the story of her life since she was abducted by the rebel army at the age of 12. As endless wars in Africa wage on, War Witch succeeds in presenting an apt and lyrical depiction of feminine strength and survival. The narrative often sidesteps melodrama in favor of a flickering search for hope in a country ravaged by its own homegrown savagery.

Read full review at Sound on Sight

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Things We Learned from the Commentary: David Fincher’s ‘Zodiac’

February 19, 2013

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The work of David Fincher is often defined by the outpouring of information and data — and the ways in which they invade the physical space of his characters and their worlds. Not only does this information serve as the common narrative drive in films such as SevenThe Social Network, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but it routinely acts as a mirror into our own digital driven world of screens, monitors, names, dates, and codes. The auteur has made nine films since 1992, but few speak to the visceral complexity of his 2007 film Zodiac. The film follows the key investigators and reporters who became obsessed with catching the infamous serial killer, and how their lives were seemingly lost through their endless pursuit.

The director’s cut of the film offers two commentary tracks: one from actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr., producer Brad Fischer, screenwriter James Vanderbilt, and crime novelist James Ellroy, the other is a stand-alone commentary from director David Fincher. Having been born in 1962, the events in the film still remain close to Fincher as he would have been just a teenager around the time of the Zodiac killings (late 1960s and early 1970s). When it comes to commentaries, there are few who are as relaxed and informative as Fincher. From the start, he describes his oddly personal connection to the material with such inviting warmth. What makes this a vital and necessary commentary is the attention to detail that the viewer obtains through Fincher’s process driven approach to the material, perhaps a mirror into his protagonists’ obsessive manner. He’ll break down the most inconsequential scene and spit out the precise amount of takes that were spent to capture it.

Read full review at Sound on Sight

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The Informant!

February 10, 2013

directed by Steven Soderbergh, 2009

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Note: This review was part of a Sound on Sight staff list counting down the best films of Steven Soderbergh

Not only is The Informant! one of Soderbergh’s more underappreciated efforts, but it further validates the gypsy-like manner in which the director successfully skips across genres with his own singular panache. This entry in the Soderbergh’s filmography would mark the sixth time he and actor Matt Damon have collaborated, a partnership that undoubtedly reached its peak with this 2009 effort. Damon plays Marc Whitacre, a middle-aged upper management member of ADM, a lysine developing company which finds itself in the middle of price-fixing investigation due to Whitacre’s seemingly nonchalant stab at taking over the company at the prospect that his colleagues could find themselves behind bars. While the film’s based on real events, the script by Scott Z. Burns does its best to cheerfully dramatize the real story behind Damon’s Whitacre. Sporting a wispy mustache and an even more accomplished hair piece, Damon packed on the pounds to transform himself into the titular unreliable narrator. When he’s not piling lies on top of lies at an increasingly baffling rate, he takes time out to let the audience in on what’s stewing around on his fallible “every man” conscience: ruminations on polar bears, the role of corn in our lives, and the meaning of kugelschreiber (it means pen in German); and while this sort of innocent narration could easily come across as maddening, its attempt at whimsically humanizing its protagonist is deeply felt. As the fabrications and myriad of falsities continue to add up, only then is the genius of Damon’s performance truly revealed; we’re both disgusted and empathetic to his cause. Just as Scott Bakula’s FBI agent Shephard tells his superior, “You can’t get bogged down by the words, “just look at the actions,” it becomes clear that Whitacre can’t even control his own tornado of deceit. Even as it stands as one big lark, The Informant! couldn’t be any more relevant as it depicts corporate greed and the cost of being the hero. While Soderbergh’s run in the aughts will be remembered for his more prestigious efforts, the commercial oddness on display here represents the director at his most cunningly carefree.

Read the full list at Sound on Sight

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Side Effects

February 9, 2013

directed by Steven Soderbergh, 2013

Side Effects

Note: The following review doesn’t contain any crucial narrative spoilers.

As it stands now, Side Effects will be Steven Soderbergh’s last theatrical feature for a while (after HBO’s Behind the Candelabra). The director has churned out an incredible four films over the last eighteen months, and now seeks other artistic sojourns for the time being. His hot streak over the last year and a half has led him to his latest, an ostensible corporate thriller that hopscotches around traditional genre confines while speaking to the in vogue dealings and usage of prescription drugs. It’s also a film about cool and impenetrable blurred surfaces that feed the viewer intel solely through the vernacular of its own predominant subject. The really fun and twisted aspect of Side Effects is how it all meticulously plays itself out, as the narrative devilishly aligns itself with the motives of Soderbergh’s most recent efforts.

The film stars young upstarts Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum as Emily and Martin, a New York based couple looking to get on the mend and make things right after the latter’s released from prison after a four-year stint for insider trading. Scott Z. Burns’ script wastes little time in establishing Emily’s bouts with suicide and depression – the film’s core springboard. Things get serious after she purposefully drives headfirst into a parking garage wall, luckily finding herself unharmed save for a minor concussion. Her psychiatrist (Jude Law) eventually prescribes her a hot new drug on the market called Ablixa, which is prone to curing anxiety while occasionally causing sleepwalking episodes. Most of this takes place in the film’s opening third; the final hour slowly morphs as it deposits the genre remnants of the first third into a vortex of noirish cat and mouse pulp. Soderbergh and Burns pull off the trick of subverting so many elements right before our eyes like grand magicians. To place it into a grander context, Side Effects is about a certain level of gamesmanship as its central characters grapple with one another while we the audience are left to piece together all of the signs. In one scene, a relatively minor character and colleague of Law’s Dr. Jonathan Banks speaks to the impervious actions of the narrative: “You should see what’s happening, and this is hard for you,” she might as well be speaking directly to the audience. To say that Side Effects is preoccupied with cloak and dagger corporate jousting is also a mistake. Much like Contagion (but existing on a much more micro level)it’s about the spreading of data to inform and progress the narrative. While the film isn’t as meta or even as cunning as something like Ocean’s Twelve, there’s a very familiar callback to the deluge of character trickery seen in the middle portion of the Ocean’s trilogy. In a world where everyone knows everything and information is easily accessible, the best weapon to have is leverage. Once the veil starts to slip, we’re left with a criminally entertaining piece of filmmaking that should only enhance with rewatches. There’s even a little De Palma DNA found here  as a flash of eroticism works itself into the saturated proceedings. By the end, Soderbergh’s digital photography and signature brio only up the ante, resulting in a finely tuned and vastly satisfying exit point for the director.

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Bullet to the Head

February 7, 2013

directed by Walter Hill, 2013

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If you cast aside the sophomoric and familiar narrative of Walter Hill’s latest feature Bullet to the Head, what are you left with? All Stallone. All the time. The ageless action star of yesteryear is now 67, and can surprisingly still do his thing when called upon. The film follows his tattooed and roided out James Bonomo, a lifelong New Orléans criminal turned hitman who still finds pleasure in doing things his way – quick, easy, and to the point; a method that is looked down upon by Kwon, an up and coming Washington D.C. detective played by Sung Kang. The two are thrust into a traditional throwaway plot involving a common enemy represented by shady businessmen taking the form of Christian Slater, Adewale Akinnuoye-Ajbaje, and their intimidating mercenary Keegan, played by Jason Momoa.

While I can’t attest to being much of a Hill fan in general, Bullet to the Head plays like a brutally entertaining callback to the Stallone shtick of old: films unapologetic in their surface level offerings, each of which trudge alone with a brassy head of steam while never even contemplating the idea of looking back. When Stallone’s character isn’t furiously throwing his body around and engaging in bathhouse executions, he shares an unforeseen chemistry with Kwon; while the generation gap and set of rules that divide the two is rather large, each share some sort of mutual understanding that underlines their relationship. In between bouts of violence, the two ride around discussing the ethics of smartphones’ instant access to information. Most of the beauty of Bonomo’s detachment from modern technology is in the irony that his cars and secret hideouts come rigged with explosives. His language isn’t Google, as he’s the kind of lughead who walks into a bar and orders “2 bullets bourbon.” He’s estranged from his daughter, but feels comfortable dropping in on her in times of businesslike distress. Hill’s film moves at a decent clip, but is casually stripped of any narrative or character ambition. Other than the potency of the action (and there’s a lot of it), the thought of Stallone making us smirk after each reliably proofed one-liner is something of a tiny wonder. And while Stallone’s bursting veins and muscles are falsely manufactured, Bullet to the Head’s  aggressively kinetic pulse is not. Bonomo’s foes lay out their half-assed plan and we’re made privy to the resounding destruction that will undoubtedly ensue. It’s a film about the toll of violence and confrontations that almost always end badly. And here’s a film that thrives even when we can predict who the victor will be.

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My Month in Films: January ’13

February 1, 2013

snapshot00040Total films seen: 20

Best first time viewings
1. Zero Dark Thirty (Bigelow, ’12)
2. In Another Country (Sang-soo, ’12)
3. Red Hook Summer (Lee, ’12)
4. Gamer (Neveldine/Taylor, ’09)
5. Blood Simple (Coen, ’84)
6. Not Fade Away (Chase, ’12)
7. The Paperboy (Daniels, ’12)
8. The House I Live In (Jarecki, ’12)
9. Berberian Sound Studio (Strickland, ’12)
10. Promised Land (Van Sant, ’12)

Best rewatches
Holy Motors (Carax, ’12)
Before Sunrise (Linklater, ’95)

Worth mentioning
The Swimmer (Ramsay, ’12)
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (Hughes, ’87)
Near Dark (Bigelow, ’87)
Parker (Hackford, ’12)
Dark Horse (Solondz, ’12)
Celeste and Jesse Forever (Krieger, ’12)

Worst
The Hole (Dante, ’09)
Detachment (Kaye, ’11)
Daisy Diamond (Staho, ’07)
The Impossible (Bayona, ’12)

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