OLR – “A Case of Murder”

Picked this up secondhand. It’s sad to have to write another negative review of a South African film. Another casualty of cinema. A really weak, tepid, and poor film. All the acting is hollow, especially Steve Hofmeyer’s. All he could was shout and howl and fake grunt. The score is dated and the post-production way dated. No idea how this film was given a thumbs up at Strasbourg Film Festival. A resounding boo.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0348565/

Posted in Film by minademian

Reviewing “The Shining”

“The Shining” is a searing piece of work, a film that sears itself on your emotions, imagination, and senses. Halloran’s line of “events leaving traces of themselves behind” sets up the rest of the film in a way that, even after a second viewing, still crawls up behind you and sodomizes your expectations. Torrance’s descent into madness spills over into reality and our earlier suspicion of the whole family, being open to the paranormal – seeing ‘dead’ people’ – is confirmed. Danny Lloyd’s character does see into the past and present, into the hidden motives of his father, Shelley Duvall’s does communicate with her son telepathically. Or not? We never know.

All the classic hallmarks of Kubrick’s style are present: poetic slow pans, the juxtaposition of serene classical music against scenes of destruction of humans, and the haunting experimental music that brings tension and suspense to a rapid boil.

Reviewing “Shutter Island”

This may be Martin Scorsese’s foray into the terrain, usually lorded over, by Michel Gondry, Spike Jonez, and Christopher Nolan. “Shutter Island” fuses the quick cuts, the splattering blood, the blood congealed around dead bodies, the rapid camera movements back and forth, into a psychological narrative, reminiscent of Charlie Kaufman’s work.

It’s my strong view that, if hindsight was accessible through an app on our web browsers, Soderbergh should have looked at the ending of this film to bring about the twist and ending in “The Informant” with the development and wrap up of Mark Whitacre’s fate. I couldn’t help but juxtapose the final conversation between Dr. Cawley, Dr. Leehan, and Andrew, with the conversation between Mark Whitacre, Mark Shephard, and Whitacre’s wife. Scorsese’s handling is masterful yet complete; it hits us and suddenly realize the world in which we have been for the last 2 hours. DiCaprio shines in this role, comfortably wading between the hard-ass, the resolute, the reminiscent, and the extremely vulnerable. With “Inception” and “Shutter Island” behind him, DiCaprio shows us that he can traverse the terrains of psychological horror and thriller just as much as John Malkovich or Heath Ledger.

Beautiful, striking, and measured photography. A lot of DiCaprio’s dream sequences seem to be Freudian dream interpretations down to the last tittle. And watch out for the Dinah Washington epic number in the credits; you won’t miss it if you pay attention.

Reviewing “White Wedding”

“White Wedding” is like going to a coffee shop, the best one you know, ordering their best cappuccino. You take out a toolkit. In front of everyone sitting at this coffee shop, you strain out the luscious cream and throw it over your shoulder. You pull out a bottle of tepid, mildewy water and throw it in to weaken the java. And you then mix it altogether, along with drops of aniseed and pig poo from prepared pipettes, and then knock it back like a cheap tequila.

This elaborate analogy applies to this film. This is when filmmaking goes really wrong. There’s nothing redeeming about this film. There’s nothing even ha-ha funny about this film. I struggled to stay alert and awake. I finished it only to be able to write this review with a clear conscience. The screenplay is fatally flawed and the supporting cast are weak, to be merciful, and do little to cover up or, ideally, improve the flat, mediocre performances by Rapulana Seiphemo and Kenneth Nkosi. The scene in the boere bar was so badly handled and executed that it should be left in the toolkit as a pigment to be used for another project. Or not at all. There must be another way to portray Afrikaaners in this country other than beer-drinking, trigger-happy oafs who are cardboard cutouts of yesteryear. It’s just so over now, you know.

The juxtaposition of Rose and her friend, and Tumi and Elvis, is not developed enough and it’s not given any time to mature or ferment in the barrel. It’s rushed and we are expected to just coo and pine, and tickle its little pink feet.

This film is another poor example of South African cinema, going through all the usual stereotypes in expected fashion, as if lying on their backs to make a quick buck. I really don’t understand how people ranted and raved about the hilarity of this film back then, when it was released. This is not in the league of Tsotsi or Jerusalema in any way. This is more like the “Mr Bones” franchise, but stereotypes this time perpetuated by black people rather than insensitive white people.

Mr. Seiphemo and Mr. Nkosi, you can do so much better. I know you can. This is not the best you can do. We need to move forward in this country, make great films, tell real stories rather than recycle stereotypes in a brainless way, hoping we can make just as much money as Leon Schuster.

“The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest”

What a way to wrap up the trilogy. The 3rd film brings back the punch and grit of the 1st film. The expected wide shot of Stockholm ends the trilogy. Again, the title of the film has been interpreted rather than translated; a literal one would be “The Hornets Nest that Was Stirred”. And it makes sense in terms of the film because as much as Lisbeth finds redemption and freedom, the story ends more about the shitstorm that ensued over her story.

More superior acting from Noomi Rapace in showing the resurgence of emotions in Lisbeth’s character. All the characters are three-dimensional and developed. The cinematography was uneventful, but not weak in any way. Again, we were spoiled in the 1st film.

We get a far richer experience of the Swedishness of the story in the 3rd film than the others. We see Sweden’s answer to the British stiff upper lip in the courtroom in the non-dramatic exit of the prosecutor, in the measured strain of the judges, and in showing a bit more about the country’s demographics through exploring, temporarily, the various immigrant characters involved in the plot. But the real testament of Swedishness is the ending, the final interaction between Salander and Blomkvist. It’s far from wordy, melodramatic, or emotional. Lisbeth finally thanks him, letting down her guard, and Micke just takes it for what it is.

A trilogy to be watched again and again, and owned.

Posted in Film by minademian

“Doubt”

I’ve been wanting to see this since I watched a Anatomy of a Scene episode on NYTimes.com. It was well worth the wait and viewing.

Three great actors – Seymour-Hoffman, Streep, and Adams – along with a silent fourth, the unassuming photograpy, make this film truly masterful. The exchanges between Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius were just gripping and mesmerizing, watching one character take charge for a while, then the other conquer, then the same fall. From an actor’s perspective, there’s so much to learn from, watching Meryl Streep take in Seymour-Hoffman then pounce then retreat.

This film is jarring because you never really know. It doesn’t give it away early in a flashback and I’m so glad it didn’t resort to some childhood memory or some psychologizing. You’re left to interpret every scene and encounter; is he right? is she right? is she delusional? is he a liar? You never know until the very end when it hits you not like a hammer but like a needle. And you feel the fluid go up your veins and soon enough it hits your brain. It’s that subdued yet incredibly powerful.

The power of suggestion, of gossip, of suspicion is often much more powerful than flat out fact or evidence, shown in Aloysius’ exclamation: “But I have my certainty!” And as much the film is a quiet commentary about the state of the Catholic church and the distrust sowed by the paedophile scandals, this film is also about the real people caught up in it, without weepy dramatization or sentimentality.

The photography is measured and controlled and in a few places, takes inspiration from still photograpy and art. The image of Sister Aloysius swept up in the wind, after her conversation with Miller’s mother, is truly beautiful. Also, the lighting and set design in this film also had a powerful impact. The contrast between the warm reds in the boisterous dinner scene with the clergy and the staid beige and black of the nuns tells you something.

A film to be owned, watched again, and to learn from.

Posted in Film by minademian

“August”

There’s just not enough story and plot to really make this film stand out or even memorable. You get to the end of it, at the unexpected climax, and you can’t help but wonder if there’s more. It can’t be just that, can it?

“August” is flashy yet true to the dotcom era in the excessively empty tech jargon, the news bites, and the bravado of tech types at the time. Josh Hartnett is fairly solid and doesn’t rely on neither melodrama nor Swedish ice. He does manage to bring about some vulnerability in his performance. However, his supporting cast wasn’t that strong, barring his brother Joshua played by Adam Scott. More grit and substance was found in the family scenes and in the side stories of Josh’s relationships than the main story of LandShark.

Not appalling to watch, yet just not memorable or impressionable in any way. This film just needed more meat on its bones.

Posted in Film by minademian

Exploring Woody Allen in OLRs – Part 2

“Annie Hall” seems to me to be the grandfather of most romantic comedies, even the true womb from whence “When Harry Met Sally” came.  It’s fast and acid-talking, it’s hilarious, and it’s wry in its commentary about actors, relationships, and society. Alvy’s running commentary about LA is priceless. Again, none of the striking photography of  “Manhattan” ,  but it makes it up for its ample of use of off-screen dialogue, wide shots of characters talking until they come closer to the camera, and the tight two-shot while walking. In short, Woody Allen-ness.

It was sad to see Alvy create the woman he wanted in Diane Keaton’s character, and then lose it. But that’s how life is.

To own and watch again and again.

Posted in Film by minademian

“The Last Temptation of Christ”

This is an engrossing, jarring, and deeply thought-provoking classic by Martin Scorcese.

I had heard a lot about this film as I was growing up and I’ve only watched it now. I think this was a wise choice, having gone through some Christian theological studies and looked the other way when the Da Vinci Code hysteria was swallowing up the masses. I thought this film would be the precursor to Dan Brown’s obsession with making Christ seem as human as humanly possible, but the opening credits of Last Temptation took care of that. As I realized that this is supposed to be an alternative exploration of the Christ story, I was at ease for some reason, although I’m never one to stop watching a film because it’s critical or uses artistic license of something to do with Christianity. I’m not that serious of a believer or practitioner right now.

The film has the landmarks of Scorcese’s style: the sudden splatter of blood, the tight beautiful photography, really natural and potent acting. The quick cuts, the slow pans and tilts.

All those technical notes aside, the most powerful aspect of this film is that it’s free. It explores the story of Christ freely. It doesn’t bow down or feel that it has to say something because the Synoptic Gospels said so. Kazantzakis’ disclaimer at the beginning of the film sets that up anyway. So, Scorcese does go wild with the material.

As someone who grew up reading the Bible over and over again, it was really exhilarating to see this story told in a starkly realist way. It didn’t have to go through the Christian Bleak test, where everything has to be dumbed and toned down because you’re talking about the Bible. Mary Magdalene’s prostitution is stark, smelly, sweaty; the silence and indifference is jarring. The detail in the weddings shown in the film – the music, costumes, food – is really engrossing. It really does show you that beyond the rendition of Wycliffe’s Scriptures, there were actually people in the times of Christ.

The dialogue is a bit flat and over poetic. I kept on thinking of Paolo Coelho but I realize that this may be taken from the novel. Aside: I do need to read the novel. But putting the stylized language aside, seeing Christ be so human and it done by Defoe in an engaging way that avoids melodrama is also very illuminating.

There are some really intelligent and dry twists in the film, like the meeting between Paul and Jesus. Very tongue in cheek and I’m sure legions of biblical scholars loved that bit. And the part, especially, where Christ gets old and Judas berates him for not having fulfilled the mission. Even the spin of Judas’ betrayal is interesting.

Coming to the movie with all the crap I’ve heard and read by Christians, I thought the last temptation was to be purely the sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene. It was really refreshing to see that it really was as Kazantzakis said it would be: the conflict between spirit and body. And to the dismay of many Christians, the last part of the film deals with Jesus’ sexual activity in the context of marriage and family, not lust or whoring. It’s interesting and mind-opening.

The music is visceral and I playfully made myself ignore that they were singing Arabic mawaweel (a poetic form set to song, usually in the Saba scale, that usually talks about lost love or sadness) in the 3rd century. 🙂 Overall, it’s well picked, performed, and adds emotional intensity to the film.

Definitely a film to own and learn from. It exemplifies taking a very sensitive subject and making something honest, according to a vision, not caring about its reception. It’s really important to Christians, no matter how blasphemous we’ve been conditioned to think it is, that Christ was after all human. This film just takes that to the logical limits of what it means to be human and what it means to make a choice willfully, mindfully, and with no excuses.

Posted in Film by minademian

Exploring Woody Allen in OLR’s – Part 1

“Manhattan” is hilarious, well-written, wryly acted, and beautifully shot. Inspirational to watch and learn from.

“Hollywood Ending” is big on witty dialogue, but lacks the striking yet simple photography of earlier Allen films. Funny nonetheless. Tea Leoni and Treat Williams kind of dissolve int the frenetic acid of Allen’s neuroses.

Posted in Film by minademian