Reviews for March 12th, 2010
Directed by Kornél Mundruczó.
In Hungarian with subtitles. Mihail (Félix Lajkó), a young man, returns to his hometown village in Hungary where he plans on staying permanently. He reunites with his mother (Lili Monori) whose husband had died and now spends time with her new, ill-tempered lover (Sándor Gáspár). His family doesn’t quite welcome him as warmly as you’d expect though, but his sister, Fauna (Orsolya Tóth), whom he had never met before, treats him with respect and kindness. Just when you’re wondering where the plot will go after that point, it takes a rather surprising turn when Mihail and Fauna run off together to stay in a small hut alongside the Danube River. They plan to build a home on right on top of the river where they would move in together. When Mihail purchases logs to build the house as well as the pier connecting the house to the delta, the logger whom he buys the logs from doesn’t particularly like what’s going on between Mihail and Fauna---and neither do the rest of the suspicious, scorning villagers---but Mikhail has enough money from his old job at a zoo to purchase those much-needed logs. What will actually transpire between Mihail and Fauna as they spend more and more time together? Will their relationship become as perverse and unnatural as their family and villagers fear? Writer/director Kornél Mundruczó keeps the tension at a rather subdued level for the majority of the film as you’re waiting for, perhaps, some kind of foreboding darkness or sinister event to startle the peace and tranquility between Mihail and Fauna. Neither of them seems content and their mostly taciturn mannerisms hide their pain and sorrows beneath the surface. They do speak to one another, but they don’t really say much that’s particularly revealing or insightful except for a few explanatory details about Mihail’s past such as the significance of a silver cup that he brings along with him. It’s worth mentioning the picturesque scenery and exquisite cinematography filled with hauntingly beautiful images of nature that add a lyrical element to the film. Patient and intelligent audience members will appreciate the slow pace and the use of delicate symbolism, for instance, the delta itself which represents isolation, or water which represents freedom, tranquility and rebirth of life---although, technically, water can also take away life with its sheer power of destruction. At a running time of 1 hour and 36 minutes, Delta is quietly moving, well-nuanced, lyrical and breathtaking to behold. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Facets. Opens at the Cinema Village.
Directed by Paul Greengrass.
Based on the book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. During the U.S. occupation of Baghdad in 2003, Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) leads a team of soldiers who go on a mission to search for weapons of mass destruction in the Iraqi desert. He and his team don’t find any of those weapons even though that U.S. intelligence claims that they exist there. Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), a U.S. intelligence official, continues to insist that the weapons of mass destruction exist despite that Chief Miller questions the intelligence because all of the missions have been complete failures and, therefore, a waste of time and human casualties. Chief Miller wants to know the truth about the mysterious source named “Magellan” which, supposedly, provided the intelligence about WMD. He turns to Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), a CIA operative, and a reporter, Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan), to help him get closer to Magellan. The deeper he gets into the investigation, the more his life becomes in danger and he finds himself questioning the real purpose of the Iraq War as well as realizing that the government has been lying to him and to the American public. Screenwriter Brian Helgeland seems less concerned with delving into these provocative, important, timely political issues than in setting Chief Miller up for more action sequences. Helgeland offers very little in terms of intrigue and suspense because the path that Chief Miller follows to find and capture Magellan is very pedestrian and unsurprising. For example, how do you think Poundstone will react if he were to discover that Miller is about to reach Magellan’s whereabouts? Unfortunately, the rushed third act falls apart with a very contrived, oversimplified turn of events. Director Paul Greengrass, known for his previous films, Bloody Sunday, the Bourne series, and United 93, films too many scenes with very shaky camerawork if there were an earthquake during production. That shakiness not only creates nausea, but also a false sense of tension which should have come from the characters and screenplay instead. Interestingly, Green Zone shares the same director of photography with The Hurt Locker, a far more realistic and delicately crafted war film. At a running time of 1 hour and 55 minutes, Green Zone is an underwhelming war film that’s low on tension, surprises, cleverness and intrigue while high on nauseating camerawork and lazy oversimplifications. Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Universal Pictures. Opens nationwide.
Directed by Bong Joon-ho.
In Korean with subtitles. Yoon Hye-Ja (Kim Hye-ja), lives in a small Korean town with her mentally retarded son, Do-joon (Won Bin), and works as an acupuncturist/herbalist. Do-Joon and his good friend, Jin-tae (Jin Ku), hunt down and beat up a bunch of guys responsible for crashing their car into theirs in a hit-and-run accident. Afterwards, in an unrelated incident, the police arrest Do-Joon and implicate him for the murder of a teenage girl whose body was found slumped over a wall as if it were dirty laundry. His mother believes that he’s innocent even though the police remain utterly convinced that he’s the murderer, so she does everything in her abilities to find the real killer to prove the police wrong. Is Do-joon innocent or his is mother jumping to conclusions based on her motherly love? Director/co-writer Bong Joon-ho , who previously directed The Host, wisely chooses not to show the murder taking place until the very revealing third act. Until that point, though, you’ll find yourself at the edge of your seat as you wonder what precisely happened and why. Kim Hye-ja delivers a raw, brave performance as the mother that’s filled with just the right balance of anger, frustration and fragility. She’s a character worth rooting for because she’s smart, tough and deeply loves her son. The extent to which she goes to protect him won’t be spoiled here, though. Joon-ho creates a very intense atmosphere throughout the film that never lets go of its grip---the mood occasionally veers a bit toward creepiness, making you feeling as if you were watching a horror film. It’s also worth mentioning the surprising touch of comic relief which lightens the mood while offsetting the darker, heavier tones. The last half-hour has so many clever twists that you might find your head spinning around, but you’ll never feel cheated or roll your eyes because the twists are all character-driven and transpire logically by the internal mechanisms of the plot rather than as cheap gimmicks. At a running time of 2 hours and 8 minutes, Mother manages to be a riveting, intelligent and engrossing murder-mystery boasting an unforgettably brave and captivating performance by Kim Hye-ja.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Released by Magnolia Pictures. Opens at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Directed by Kristian Fraga.
This timely, honest and compelling documentary follows the experiences of First Lieutenant Michael T. Scotti in the U.S. Marines during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Michael took a home video camera and shot lots of footage throughout his deployment overseas from Kuwait all the way to Baghdad--a total of 300 miles. He provides you with a rare glimpse into what it was really like to be a part of the Marines. You get to watch Marines goofing around and cursing when they're not in battle. Or lining up to go to the bathroom in the dark, a task that's not as pleasant as one would wish it to be. Some of them hide out in a hole in the ground that's meant for fecal matter. The food they eat doesn't look particularly appetizing. As Michael admits, not all of them actually like one another, though. He also confesses that even though he hadn't slept for 90 hours, he's still got lots of energy and alertness. Director Kristian Fraga, who previously directed Anytown, USA, finds just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually. Wisely, he doesn't resort to preachiness or voice-over narration with the exception of Michael's own voice as he candidly expresses his thoughts and feelings while he films. Fraga also avoids hitting you over the head with anti-war messages or pro-war messages like the documentary Brothers at War did, so you're left with a lot of non-preachy footage to discuss amongst your friends and family. Many of the images and sounds speak for themselves and leave you with many intriguing questions, regardless of whether or not you're in favor of the Iraq War. Severe Clear would make a very appropriate and terrific companion piece to the visceral, devastating, Academy Award-winning film The Hurt Locker which dramatizes the intense experiences of American soldiers during the battles of the Iraq War.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by Sirk Productions. Opens at the Angelika Film Center.
She’s Out of My League
Directed by Jim Field Smith.
Kirk (Jay Baruchel), a young, insecure man, works as a TSA employee, and hangs out with his bizarre group of friends, Devon (Nate Torrence), Stainer (T. J. Miller) and Jack (Mike Vogel). His ex-girlfriend, Marnie (Lindsay Sloane) refuses to take him back. One day, a sexy blonde woman, Molly (Alice Eve), shows up at the airport and accidentally leaves her cellphone behind at the checkpoint before boarding the plane. Molly meets up with Kirk to retrieve her cellphone from him at a party and, soon enough, the two begin dating even though he’s socially awkward, kindhearted, average-looking guy while she’s a blonde bombshell. Basically, he’s a 5 and she’s a 10, so he feels special that she’s paying attention to him in the first place. His mother (Debra Jo Rupp) and father (Adam LeFevre) seem ecstatic when he brings her home. Her parents, though, don’t quite warm up to him after an embarrassing first-meeting with them. Will Kirk find a way to boost his self esteem? Will Kirk and Molly’s relationship survive? What kind of flaws might Molly have? If Molly were truly smart, she wouldn’t take the relationship with him too seriously after seeing his crazy, obnoxious and rude family who initially assume she’s a prostitute. Co-writers/directors Sean Anders and John Morris don’t quite know how to milk this derivative premise for enough laughs to sustain the entire film. A truly great romantic comedy, i.e. When Harry Met Sally… or, more recently, 500 Days of Summer , should find the right balance between comedy and drama while avoiding contrived or corny situation. Most of the sight gags here, which include a bodily fluid scene that’s not nearly as funny as the similarly gross-out scene in There’s Something About Mary, are so obvious that they can be predicted from a mile away, so once they finally occur, you’ll find yourself rolling your eyes. Anders and Morris should have either taken more risks with the comedy because, after all, it has already earned its R-rating, or grounded its drama more into reality. The character of Kirk doesn’t really have enough memorable or interesting qualities to make him stand out as a character. Baruchel and Eve do bring some charm and charisma onscreen, but the most amusing, radiant and scene-stealing performance here belongs to Krysten Ritter who plays Molly’s best friend, Patty. At a running time of 1 hour and 44 minutes, She’s Out of My League is mildly amusing and charming, but often bland, tedious and not nearly as funny as it could have been with a gutsier and more imaginative screenplay. Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Paramount Pictures. Opens nationwide.
Tales from the Script
Directed by Peter Hanson.
This fascinating documentary focuses on forty-six former and current Hollywood screenwriters as they discuss how they started in the business and confess the different struggles that they each went through. Have you ever wondered why a Hollywood film’s screenplay might seem like such a mess and so dumbed down? Or why one screenplay has so many writers attached to it? Writing a screenplay is much easier said than done and, according to a number of screenwriters, studio executives don’t even read the scripts anymore, so it all pretty much comes down to the sales pitch. Writer/director John Carpenter candidly admits that he’s terrible at pitching. Frank Darabont, writer/director of The Shawshank Redemption says that he never really expects to make a film that would live up to the greatness Shawshank because lightning rarely strikes twice. Other writers talk about how the industry has changed throughout the years so much that studio execs are a bunch of philistines when it comes to understanding quality writing; all they care about it is making the profit, profit and more profit---not a particularly surprising revelation, though. Most screenplays go through more re-writes than you’d think they do, and by the time the test screenings are over, the final version of the film is often very different than the version that would have been made via the first draft of the screenplay. In one of the funniest interviews, Guenevere Turner, writer of Bloodrayne, imparts her crazy experiences working with the crazy director Uwe Boll when he used her unfinished screenplay draft to shoot the film and changed so many things around by the final version of the film that barely 20% of her script made it onto the big screen. Director/co-writer/co-producer Peter Hanson and co-writer/producer Paul Robert Herman, the documentary's originator, wisely incorporate amusing clips a variety of films such as Get Shorty, The Muse and Adaptation so that the documentary wouldn’t merely be a series of talking heads. They also structures the film into chapters which make it easier for audiences to follow. At a running time of 1 hour and 45 minutes, Tales from the Script isn’t shocking or surprising, but often amusing, honest and filled with interesting kernels of confessions from a wide range of lively screenwriters. Number of times I checked my watch: 2 Released by First Run Features. Opens at the Quad Cinema.