Archive for August, 2008

Movie Review: In Bruges

August 15, 2008

Two Irish hitmen accidentally kill an innocent boy and are sent to Belgian postcard town of Bruges to hide out in this fun dark comedy. At times a semi-predictable action-packed film noir, at others a hilarious dark comedy, this film serves as the most glamorous travel campaign for Belgium since…well…since ever.

In a traditional odd couple pairing, Brendan Gleeson plays the somewhat straight man/heavy to Colin Farrell’s goofy bratty simpleton. The two have great chemistry as they careen through medieval canals and churchtowers, ordering “fag beer” in pubs, hysterically trying to blend in but unable to quell their rowdy ways. When they stumble upon a film set, we get introduced to a hot Belgian drug dealer, her nihilistic boyfriend, and a racist dwarf. And everyone’s having a quirky not-quite-brilliantly-written time until mob boss Ralph Fiennes comes to town.

In Bruges boasts a splashy candy-coating over a refreshing philosophical heart: Each hitman has their own tweaked code of principles that are constantly interfering with how they do their job. And everyone seems to be infatuated with the city of Bruges, which truly steals the show as the film’s most glamorous castmember. Ribbons of grief, regret, humor, atonement, and honor lace themselves throughout the film, ultimately ending in a giant bow on this imperfectly madcap love letter to Bruges.

Grade: B+

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Movie Review: The Diving Bell And The Butterfly

August 15, 2008

Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby suffers a brain hemorrhage resulting in “shut-in syndrome,” wherein he can control only the blinking of one eye. A seemingly endless gaggle of hot young nurses help him communicate and he eventually dictates his autobiography, from which the film takes its title. The real lesson: Get sick in France.

 

Director Julian Schnabel takes a great risk by presenting the majority of this true story from Bauby’s perspective, relying on voiceover to convey his thoughts. But these potential gimmicks work beautifully, as Bauby’s focus shifts from mourning to appreciation of beauty and the exploration of his imagination and memory. Schnabel’s painterly nature comes through in pretty but very unnecessary montages of garden landscapes, butterflies, glaciers melting, women’s hair in the wind. These chunks of visuality lend nothing to the story and detract from the ironic real action: the guy who can’t move. The soundtrack too feels mix-tapey and dominant, much like Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette; as if Schnabel had the songs picked out before he ever started filming.

 

Luckily, Schnabel’s brilliant casting compensates for his shortcomings. In the very definition of a nuanced performance, Mathieu Amalric is truly moving as Bauby. Emmanuelle Seigner is wonderful as Bauby’s estranged wife; she is at once sympathetic but maintains a pettiness and jealous nature that collides with the saintliness that typically comes with roles such as hers. Max von Sydow lends subtle power to his role as Bauby’s father, himself on the brink of senility. But the real breakout star here is Marie-Josee Croze as the speech therapist who gets Bauby talking and keeps him going. She is charming, endearing, and strong: More, please.

 

Grade: A

Movie Review: Into The Wild

August 15, 2008

Based on Jon Krakauer’s biography of Christopher McCandless, a rich white Atlanta college grad who eschewed all comforts in favor of flinging himself into a great roadtrip adventure, Sean Penn directs this tale of what happens to idealism when reality comes crashing in.

 

Filmed with a speedy sun-drenched dreaminess and a collection of cameos, Into The Wild provokes thought but ultimately leaves the viewer empty. The film never sold me on why I should care about this spoiled brat so arrogant that he enters the Alaskan wilderness totally unprepared, without so much as a proper pair of boots. And he is inexplicably treated as a prophet everywhere he goes, whether sanctimoniously helping two haggard hippies heal their broken relationship, opportunistically inserting himself into the life of an elderly widower, or hopping on his high moral horse and patronizingly refusing the advances of a trailer-park Lolita. All the while, McCandless wags his finger at his monstrous parents for wrecking him for life…and yet he selfishly leaves his little sister in their evil clutches.

 

The protagonist is so painfully self-obsessed that, in a particularly frightening scene, he taunts the brilliant Hal Holbrook into greatly endangering his hips as well as his life by climbing a precarious rockface. In another scene which got me yelling at the screen, he shoots a moose with lunatic faith that not only does he have the skills and facilities to preserve it, but that he as one man could possibly transport and consume such an enormous beast.

 

It comes as no surprise when McCandless’ arrogance brings about his ugly demise, presented with obligatory weight loss by Emile Hirsch (the real McCandless’ corpse supposed weighed less than 70 pounds). But Penn seems enamored with painting his hero as a natural, a visionary, an example of the triumph of curiosity and freedom. It’s not a bad film per se, it’s just a lousy protagonist.

 

Krakauer’s original title, Death Of An Innocent, begs the question, was McCandless truly innocent? Or was he naïve? Or was he, as I believe, a callous, wasteful, bourgeois egomaniac? There’s an undue mythology that people like McCandless have applied to personalities such as Henry David Thoreau as pillars of self-reliance and autonomy within nature: they fail to realize that Thoreau went home every day and had his mother make him lunch. Self-reliance, indeed.

Grade: C