February 22, 2012

The Help (2011)

So Hollywood tries to tackle the issue of '60s south segregation, yet again, and yet again only gives us a glossy, inspiring, positive-outlook view. Yes there are so called “hard moments” and who knows, maybe someone in the audience might even shed a tear. Nevertheless, this is still a blond white girl’s story of how she rose to literary fame by telling black folks’ stories. I don’t know, maybe this can indeed function as some inspirational look back for black kids and “lessons learned” fare for white kids that otherwise wouldn’t look twice at the subject. maybe. and maybe not. maybe the long-lasting effects of slavery and segregation can’t possibly be summed up in a colourful southern tale with sassy black ladies and mean white women. I’m not one to tell. This definitely ain’t this year’s “Precious” that’s for sure, and it sure as hell ain’t anywhere close to Dogville or Manderlay (both of which starred a pretty white girl, curiously one that is also in The Help in Bryce Dallas Howard’s case, in the lead, but despite being written and directed by a Dane, still managed to be more poignant and relevant to the issue than The Help). I suppose it’s unfair to compare, as in the end, The Help is a well-made movie, targeting a certain genre, demographic and style, but one can’t help but wonder how different it could have been if it didn’t look so much like those Stepford Wivesque scenes from Edward Scissorhands. Overall, this can function well as the perpetuation or perhaps the thing that keeps the mythos of '60s segregation alive. After all, forgetting about it all together is still worse than remembering it in a nicely consumable format. Overall, good but not great. Definitely a must if you enjoyed the novel.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2012)

So here is something that seems like it was market-researched to jerk those tears. Little boy with social anxiety or maybe Asperger's? Dead father that is presented as the perfect dad in flashbacks? 9/11? echoes of the holocaust? can this get more pretentious? I’m not really sure how Tom Hanks can still be taken seriously, especially alongside Sandra Bullock, but maybe it is in movies like this, where director/screenwriter completely gave up on self-respect or decency, that those two are still allowed to “star” in. The kid is this most ephebic NAMBLA bait, that is paired up with “of all people” an old mute man that might or might not be his long lost grandpa (it totally is his granpa). Are you kidding me? I’d be offended if this was to be the movie that’s supposed to “make 9/11 all better”, and considering all the other offerings, this might just be it, (which I bet is what got it an Oscar nomination). If there is anything redeeming about this, is the always wonderful Max von Sydow (and to a lesser extent John Goodman and Viola Davis, of 2008 Doubt's “crying my snot out” fame). Von Sydow, in what must have been a brilliant stroke of genius, doesn’t say a word throughout the film, but manages to convey more emotion and authenticity than the whole cast combined. The “plot” conclusion, with the reveal of the little boy’s mom journey through new york, “preparing the way” for her kid to come and pull a fit on random people named black (and yes, he does go around town looking for and talking to “blacks”) is preposterous at best. Like what, you have nothing better to do with your single mom free time than to entertain your crappy kid’s pipe dreams? bitch please. Also, the fact that they’re Jewish and Hanks claims he “only became a jeweler because he wanted to support his family but really he wanted to become a scientist”? really? cliché much? I bet all Jewish jewelers are really just scientists at heart. Unfortunately the extent of his science goes as far as giving his kid a copy of Hawking's “A Brief History of Time” and making up some bs story about some long lost new york borough. Nobody Cares! this better not win the Oscar. or rather, hopefully it’ll win and convince everyone once and for all that the Oscars are bs.

The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito) (2011)

Almodóvar’s latest sexy Spanish romp is pushing his usual motifs more towards the horror genre, but like he claims, this is "a horror story without screams or frights". Most likely it is very accessible to the more squeamish  viewers that wouldn’t normally enjoy horror. In fact I’d almost have a sick fascination with getting people who aren’t into horror to see this, because truly there is nothing really disturbing in the images other than the psychological implications of the plot. When I first heard of this film, there was the immediate association with Franju’s 1960 “Les yeux sans visage” which is one of my favourite films, but alas, this is merely inspired by that film, and is in fact an adaptation of a later french novel published in 1995. Overall, this is an Almodóvar work throughout, complete with all the signature plot twists, color palettes and gender play that he’s perfected so well in his previous work. I can’t possibly say that this is his best yet, mostly because it fits in a different genre than his other work, but it nevertheless fits nicely within his cinematic oeuvre. It did keep me guessing up until maybe halfway in, when his daughter’s purported assailant gets captured, but that did not detract too much from enjoying the rest of the film. if anything, the slow progression towards the eventual reveal and conclusion just made it more compelling to watch, especially in Almodóvar stylish and passion-filled presentation. Banderas does a good job as the obsessed and ultimately psychotic plastic surgeon, and the beautiful Elena Anaya is convincing in the role of the captive with the secret known to all but us. Overall definitely worth the watch, not only for Almodóvar fans.

February 21, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Tomas Alfredson’s second feature, after 2008’s Let the Right One In (original Swedish version) is a much more ambitious and “serious” film. Adapted from the eponymous 1974 John le Carré novel, it presents us with many characters (portrayed by an ensemble cast of British actors, including John Hurt). Atmospherically and stylistically this is a masterpiece. in a sense, it is akin to what Mad Men does with '60s advertising ad agencies, except applied to '70s British secret intelligence. It presents that dreary, gray and brown, gloomy world of old men huddled up in rooms with cigarettes and mountains of documents while hypothesizing about soviet plots. It might not sound exciting, but visually I couldn’t resist but be completely engulfed by it. The plot is, as one would expect, rather difficult to follow. Not only does it start in medias res, in line with other le Carré work, but it also jumps back and forth between present and flashback, characters and events that at times I found myself going back to earlier parts of the film which seemed to make no sense when I watched them, but shape the part of the plot that I’m watching now and are essential to understanding it. It’s not entirely unpleasant (and can even be rewarding, when finally getting the whole picture, to understand what some parts were about) but it can be, at times, confusing (though one would think the spy world of the '70s cold war was just that). Overall enjoyable if you can get over the fact that at first it won’t make sense. Yes, there are many scenes where someone that was just introduced would utter some words with a British accent that seem to make no difference to the plot but make all the difference later on, so being attentive and alert to everything and everyone that is present can help, but once you get into the rhythm of it, the overall product is very rewarding.