Friday, May 28, 2010

Iron Man 2

I really think that the Iron Man films have been in somewhat of a class of their own, at least when it comes to their genre. As others have opined (like Ebert), "Iron Man 2" doesn't exactly stack up to the first, but what it does is perpetuate the enjoyable style that Jon Favreau has found. He achieves that with the heavy-metal music (an element that was thoroughly enjoyable from the first seconds of "Iron Man") and extremely well-done cinematography, which edges beyond the sober compositions of such films as "The Dark Knight" and "Spider-Man," being (as Ebert put so well) "high-octane." I especially was affronted and somewhat delighted by the use of first-person camera that is put into effect here.

But let me set something straight: I don't think is as bad of a film as you've probably heard. I won't swat off the fact that the film, as others noted, goes practically nowhere during the beginning half, but then again, it's really a bit of a setup. Tony Stark, played again by Robert Downey, Jr. in what may be his career-defining role for many, guards his superhero suit and says the U.S. government can't get in on it. There's a somewhat bizarre scene towards the opening of the film where comedian Garry Shandling plays a Senator Stern who's desperately trying to convince Stark to hand it over and where Stark employs flagrant behavior and strange ways of eluding him.

This scene also introduces Justin Hammer, played by Sam Rockwell in what has been called by many an excellent performance, which I'll second. Hammer is a rich guy who really, really, really doesn't like "Anthony Stark," as he calls him. He dislikes him so much that he's built an entire fleet of "Hammer Drones," with the help of a person to be named later. What Rockwell does is cash in on his regular screen persona and adds the right touches of menace to pull it off. His fleet of bodyguards/men play off of him in a really good way as well. His part, among others written by Justin Theroux, is, as others said, superb, especially in the "Ex-Wife bullet" monologue that many have mentioned. He has a hilarious quip about "Ulysses."

Let me swing back to the "person to be named later," who is who we see throughout the beginning and opening credits in his native Moscow. This is Ivan Vanko, who's beloved father passes as the film opens and who has a real dislike as well for Stark. This is enough to make a similar suit, which is not in fact plagiarism, as Stark's father apparently was associated with Vanko's in some way. He becomes one severe case of Whiplash, what with his (as said before) "whips of electricity" that he uses. Mickey Rourke was criticized by Anthony Lane of the New Yorker for his accent, and although Lane often makes over nitpicks of the American mainstream, he does draw his Russianness out a little here when talking to Hammer, who gives him a chance to help him become even richer (as a supplier to the U.S. as opposed to Stark, who refuses).

There is one good performance given by Samuel L. Jackson to, as he makes another "Kill Bill: Vol. 2"-type "appearance" (as people have said) as Nick Fury, who tries to give Stark a tip from the Avengers, of which he is the director. Don Cheadle is a very good replacement of Terrence Howard, who I'm very sure can't deliver with the same emotional power as Cheadle (to add to the fact that Cheadle can perform the same sort of acting that Howard pulled off before). And also, there are minor roles by both Scarlet Johansson as Natalie Rushman, who flirts and kicks the crap out of people when she needs to (apparently she's Black Widow) and Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, to whom Stark hands over Stark Industries to while he's being Iron Man, which apparently now is a full-time job. Note also, as others have, "how Jon Favreau places himself into the action" as Happy, Stark's "bodyguard" who has a lot of difficulty taking out just one goon.

Structurally, you could say that there is something to be desired. I felt for large portions "What is this about?," but that got taken care of. The ending was, as Ebert would say, "a standard finale," and also, as my friend said, "complex," and I would agree. But to say I didn't enjoy it would be lying. I would disagree with those who complained that the film had (as many have said) "too many villains and too many subplots" (I think it was People magazine who directly said this, but it was reiterated by many others, including the Playlist) as if that was (entirely) a bad thing. I think this could have cobbled the film a little bit, but it really helped it out, too. A coda: Tony Stark has one of the most beautiful houses in the history of cinema, and a real tragedy is seeing what he misguidedly does to it throughout the film. B

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Award Winners (Cannes 2010 Competition)

I have just finished watching the telecast of the awards ceremony and there are some interesting winners. I realize I am doing exactly what Indiewire and InContention (as well as the Cannes website) did before, but I want to reprint the results for everyone here to see. In the format of those three.

The Palme d'Or (Best Picture of the Competition)
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

The Gran Prix (The Runner-Up)
Of Gods and Men by Xavier Beauvois

Best Director
Mathieu Almaric, On Tour

Best Actor
Javier Bardem, Biutiful AND Elio Germano, Our Life

Best Actress
Juliette Binoche, Certified Copy

Best Screenplay
Poetry by Lee Chang-dong

Jury Prize
A screaming man by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

My Last Cannes Predictions

Somewhat informed by Mike D'Angelo and Michael Phillips predictions.

Palme d'Or: Poetry (Lee Chang-dong)

It also very well could be D'Angelo's prediction, Of Gods and Men.

Gran Prix: My Joy (Sergei Losnitsa)

Best Actor: Javier Bardem (Biutiful)

Best Actress: Juliette Binoche (Certified Copy)

Like Mike D'Angelo said, "it could also be Lesley Manville."

Best Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives)

Best Screenplay: Wang Xiaoshai (Chongqing Blues)

Last addition, as ceremony is going on, as people noted about Burton's festival love (D'Angelo and others)

Jury Prize: The Housemaid

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Films I've Recently Seen That I Haven't Written Reviews About

Black Narcissus (1946), Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger
Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2005), Michael Winterbottom
Ballast (2008), Lance Hammer
35 Shots of Rum (2009), Claire Denis

Seen parts of:
Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980), Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Clean (2006), Olivier Assayas

Friday, May 21, 2010

Exit Through the Gift Shop

The best, most interesting documentaries are always about crazy subjects and their perpetuators. This is one of the reasons why "Exit Through the Gift Shop" is one of the best documentaries ever made. This film restores your faith in "the medium," as it has been referred to by my doc enthusiast friend. It does all the things an ideal great film should, such as altering your perception of the world, and inspiring you to create art. It is a life-changing experience.

If Banksy is synonymous with "street art" (commonly referred to as "graffiti"), then, on a much smaller scale, Thierry Guetta is synonymous with documenting it. He originally was just an obsessive moviemaker who filmed literally everything he did, not in a Josh Harris/"We Live in Public" sort of way, but just to have an image to capture the way he looked at the world at a certain moment. Apparently, he stumbles upon (I believe) his cousin, who is an artist who makes mosaics of Space Invaders. From there, he takes off and goes and follows many, many different ones.

At first, he can't find the creme-de-la-creme, Banksy. He's the most well-known, having pulled off such "stunts" (as they are referred to) as putting his own paintings inside of art galleries, painting walls to look like they have holes in them, and (at one point) "camouflaging an elephant" (which got attention from pissed-off "animal rights activists"). Guetta eventually finds him, and develops a very complex relationship with him that, as said before, "leads into places you may or may not have guessed him to go."

Street art is at times minimalist, at times humorous, and at times awe-inspiring. This film reflects that. It is a very long 87 minutes, but I'm very glad that is so. "Exit Through the Gift Shop" is giddy and at times, as a friend said, "unrealistic." This could be seen as both a strength and a flaw. All-in-all, this is a very valuable film. A

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cannes Candidates - 2010, Seventh Day (Revised Edition)

Like my previous ones, in the style of Nick Davis/Nick's Flick Picks. All synopses are from the
Cannes website (including the way they are set up). All credit for that goes there. I copied and pasted, pretty much. ;)

Palme d'Or
1. Poetry (Lee Chang-dong)
Synopsis: "Mija lives with her middle-schooler grandson in a small suburban city located along the Han River. She is a dandy old lady who likes to dress up in flower-decorated hats and fashionable outfits, but she is also an unpredictable character with an inquisitive mind. By chance she takes a "poetry" class at a neighborhood cultural center and is challenged to write a poem for the first time in her life.
Her quest for poetic inspiration begins with observing the everyday life she never intentional took notice of before to find beauty within it. And with this, Mija is delightfully surprised with newfound trepidation as if she were a little girl discovering things for the first time in her life.
But when she is suddendly faced with a reality harsh beyond her imagination, she realizes perhaps life is not as beautiful as she had thought it is..."
2. Another Year (Mike Leigh) >>> I know from Ebert now that this film probably won't leave without some award.
Synopsis is: "Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. Family and friendship.
Love and warmth. Joy and sadness. Hope and despair.
Companionship. Loneliness. A birth. A death. Time passes....." (Read more at Ebert's blog)

3. Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beavois)
Synopsis: A monastery high in the mountains of the Maghreb, some time in the 90s...
Eight French Christian monks live in harmony with their Muslim brothers.
But violence and terror are slowly taking hold of the region. Despite the ever-growing danger that surrounds them, the monks' resolve to stay - whatever the cost - grows stronger day by day...

Presumably out: A Screaming Man (Mahamat Saleh-Haroun) >>> D'Angelo's "C" grade was enough to tell me that this film doesn't have the greatest chances.

Synopsis of this film: Present-day Chad. Adam, sixty something, a former swimming champion, is pool attendant at a smart N’Djamena hotel. When the hotel gets taken over by new Chinese owners, he is forced to give up his job to his son Abdel. Terribly resentful, he feels socially humiliated.
The country is in the throes of a civil war. Rebel forces are attacking the government. The authorities demand that the population contribute to the "war effort", giving money or volunteers old enough to fight off the assailants. The District Chief constantly harasses Adam for his contribution. But Adam is penniless; he only has his son....

Gran Prix:
1. Outside of the Law (Rachid Bouchareb) Synopsis:
After losing their family home in Algeria, three brothers and their mother are scattered across the globe. Messaoud joins the French army fighting in Indochina; Abdelkader becomes a leader of the Algerian independence movement in France and Saïd moves to Paris to make his fortune in the shady clubs and boxing halls of Pigalle. Gradually, their interconnecting destinies reunite them in the French capital, where freedom is a battle to be fought and won.

2. My Joy (Sergei Losnitsa) Synopsis:
"My Joy" is a tale of truck driver Georgy. Georgy leaves his home town with a load of goods, but he is forced to take a wrong turning on the motorway, and finds himself in the middle of nowhere. Georgy tries to find his way, but gradually, against his will, he becomes drawn in the daily life of a Russian village. In a place, where brutal force and survival instincts overcome humanity and common
sense, the truck driver’s story heads for a dead end...

3. The Frankenstein Project (Kornél Mundruzco) Synopsis:
Long ago, a young man fathered a child without ever knowing what became of him. Now 17, his son Rudi returns home hoping to reunite with his family after years spent in an institution. Returning to his mother, he hopes to find acceptance, affection, and most importantly, who his father is, but finds that he is not welcome. Almost by accident, Rudi slips into a casting session. The director of the film is transfixed by his innocence and thinks he has found his lead. But a terrible event soon compromises Rudi’s good intentions. He becomes a hunted murderer, and the director realizes that Rudi, this peculiar and silent boy, is his son and his own monstrous creation. The director now has no other choice but to accompany his son on his inevitable, brutal path and their common search for redemption.

Others: The Housemaid (Im Sangsoo)
Synopsis: Lee Euny is hired as a housemaid in an upper class family. Soon enough, master of the house Hoon will become her lover. The family’s world will begin to fall apart.

Presumably out: The Princess of Montpensier (Bertrand Tavernier): To quote Guy Lodge: "My considered verdict of Tavernier's "Princess of Montpensier": zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzprettypeoplezzzzzzzzz." This seems to be the consensus (garnering a pitifully low D'Angelo rating). And this won't win awards.
Synopsis: France, 1562. The wars of religion between Catholics and Protestants rage against a backdrop of intrigue and shifting alliances.

Marie de Mézières, a beautiful young aristocrat, and Henri de Guise, one of the kingdom's most intrepid heroes, are in love, but Marie's father promises her hand in marriage to the Prince of Montpensier. The prince takes Marie back to his chateau, where she is tutored by Chabannes, the Protestant deserter he protects, who soon falls in love with the young woman. Then, on their way back from battle, Henri de Guise and the Duke d'Anjou, the heir to the throne, stop at the chateau. Henri and Marie realize their feelings for each other are as strong as ever...

Best Actor:
1. Javier Bardem (Biutiful) Synopsis:
« Biutiful » is the story of Uxbal.
Devoted father. Tormented lover.
Mystified son. Underground businessman.
Friend of the disposed. Ghost seeker. Spiritual sensitive.
A survivor at the invisible margins in today’s Barcelona.
Uxbal, sensing the danger of death, tries to reconcile with love and save his children, as he tries to save himself.
Uxbal’s story is simple: just one of the complex realities that we all live in today.

2. Representative of Chongqing Blues (apparently the acting here is good)
Synopsis: Lin, a sea captain, returns from a 6 month journey when he is told that his 25-year-old son Lin Bo has been gunned down by the police. In his quest to understand what happened, he realizes he knew very little about his own son. He starts a journey back to Chongqin, a city he once lived. He will understand the impact of his paternal repeated absence on the life of his child.

3. Representative of Of Gods and Men

Others: Sean Penn (Fair Game),
Synopsis: As a covert officer in the CIA’s Counter-Proliferation Division, Valerie leads an investigation into the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Valerie’s husband, diplomat Joe Wilson, is drawn into the investigation to substantiate an alleged sale of enriched uranium from Niger. But when the administration ignores his findings and uses the issue to support the call to war, Joe writes a New York Times editorial outlining his conclusions and igniting a firestorm of controversy.

Soon after, Valerie’s covert status is reported by a high-profile Washington journalist. With her cover blown and her overseas contacts placed in mortal danger, Valerie is pushed to the breaking point as her career and private life collapse. After years serving the government, Valerie -a mother, a wife and a field officer with an impeccable record-now struggles to save her reputation, her career and her family.

Youssouf Djaoro (A Screaming Man) (who might still get this)

Best Actress:
1. Juliette Binoche (Certified Copy)
Synopsis: This is the story of a meeting between one man and one woman, in a small Italian village in Southern Tuscany.
The man is a British author who has just finished giving a lecture at a conference. The woman, from France, owns
an art gallery. This is a universal story that could happen to anyone, anywhere.
2. Lesley Manville (Another Year) >>> Ebert's predictions again
3. Yun Junghee (Poetry)
Others : Naomi Watts (Fair Game)

Best Director:
1. Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee...)
Synopsis: Suffering from acute kidney failure, Uncle Boonmee has chosen to spend his final days surrounded by his loved ones in the countryside. Surprisingly, the ghost of his deceased wife appears to care for him, and his long lost son returns home in a non-human form. Contemplating the reasons for his illness, Boonmee treks through the jungle with his family to a mysterious hilltop cave -- the birthplace of his first life...
2. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Biutiful)
3. Abbas Kiarostami (Certified Copy)

Others: Mike Leigh (Another Year),

Ken Loach (Route Irish)
Synopsis: Liverpool, August 1976. 5-year-old Fergus met Frankie on his first day at school. They’ve been in each others’ shadow ever since. As teenagers they skipped school and drank cider on the ferry over the River Mersey, dreaming about travelling the world. Little did Fergus realise his dream would come true as a highly trained member of the
UK’s elite special forces, the SAS.

After resigning in September 2004, Fergus persuaded Frankie (by now an ex-Para)to join his security team in Baghdad. £10,000 a month, tax free. Their last chance to "load up" in this increasingly privatised war. Together they risked their lives in a city steeped in violence, terror and greed, and awash with billions of US dollars. In September 2007, Frankie died on Route Irish, the most dangerous road in the world.

Back in Liverpool, a grief-stricken Fergus rejects the official explanation, and begins his own investigation into his soul mate’s death. Only Rachel, Frankie’s partner, grasps the depth of Fergus’s sorrow, and the lethal
possibilities of his fury. As Fergus tries to find out what happened to Frankie on Route Irish, he and Rachel grow closer. As he approaches the truth behind Frankie’s death,
Fergus struggles to find his old self and the happiness he shared with Frankie twenty years earlier on the Mersey.

Presumably out: Bertrand Tavernier (The Princess of Montpensier) >>> He seems to be out of luck.

Best Screenplay:
1. Sergei Losnitsa (My Joy) - A placeholder, who may win, but since the other three people I have here I have winning in other categories, I need some other valid candidate( in Cannes you can't win twice)
2. Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee...)
3. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Biutiful)
4. Lee Chang-dong (Poetry) (this is valid for above reasons)

Others: Bertrand Tavernier, Jean Cosmos, Francois-Olivier Rousseau (The Princess of Montpensier) >>> Sometimes films not well liked win this award..., Wang Xiaoshai (Chongqing Blues)

To let you know: an ultimate viewing guide is ahead. And in the comments: are you tired of these Cannes posts? Do you want to read them? (I may or may not take these into account.)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Please Give

Nicole Holofcener has done something very good with "Please Give," a film that sometimes gives out perhaps cliched and flawed mannerisms. She's backed them with superb characters, ones that I was very engaged in. Not a lot happens in this film, which may lead some to call it "boring" like Rex Reed did, which it definitely isn't as a whole. It's very episodic, and I think it works and works itself out (as I remember, the beginning isn't stellar). The interesting lighting and cinematography when the characters walk down the street is done well (by Yaron Orbach), too.

Holofcener (whose other works I haven't seen) is said to chronicle "upper middle-class worries" or something of the like. That's the name of the game here. Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) are well-to-do owners of (according to my friend) a "mid-century modern" vintage store. They talk in the thousands on a regular basis. They get a lot of stuff from, as Alex quips, "the children of dead people." Kate, quite the humanitarian, feels guilt for this and other transactions she makes to get her store in order. She relieves this by tipping every homeless person she sees $20. Oddly enough, when the prospect comes up of expanding her house to where a deceased person used to live, she seems okay with herself.

Alex is impulsive, and tired of worrying and being a "partner" to Kate in everything. When the two hold a birthday party for the 91-year-old, cranky Andra (Ann Guilbert) who lives next door, he meets Mary (Amanda Peet), who's a spa worker who he flirts with and then sleeps with and also Andra's granddaughter. (Who would cheat on Catherine Keener, though?) We meet Mary before, and we realize she's a cynical, seriously mean person when in discourse with her sister, nice, quiet Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), a radiologist (and the source of a "bizarre," as my friend would say, opening montage of breasts having mammograms performed on them).

Add to this mix Abby (Sarah Steele), Kate and Alex's somewhat misguided teenage daughter. She obsesses over buying a $200+ pair of jeans, which seems a little excessive, considering that they look practically the same as the ones that Abby thinks suck really bad. She also looks up to Mary as some sort of fashion role model. The two, in the dinner scene, keep going on and on about things they hate, much to the dismay and utter boredom of those around them.

It's not altogether perfect, I can admit. But there are not a lot of problems, except for maybe a little bit of stalling in the final 15 minutes of the film. I enjoyed it, for its "observation" (as Lisa Schwarzbaum et al. would note), and its characters, who really make this film special (and "bizarre," as my friend said) and absorbing. B+

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cannes Awards Predictions - 2010, Two Days In

Having heard information from the first two days of the festival. I now know what the films are about, and I know the complete lineup.

Palme D'Or:

1. Poetry (Lee Chang-dong)
2. Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beavois)
3. A screaming man (Mahamat Saleh-Haroun)

Grand Prix:

1. Outside of the Law (Rachid Bouchareb)
2. My Joy (Sergei Losnitsa)
3. The Princess of Montpensier (Bertand Tavernier, everyone's giving good signs for him)

Best Actor
1. Javier Bardem (Biutiful) I got good vibes from reports I read (such as one from The Film Experience)
2. Sean Penn (Fair Game)
3. Youssouf Djaoro (A screaming man) or a representative of Of Gods and Men

Best Actress
1. Juliette Binoche (Certified Copy) She soars to the top after The Playlist (I believe) noted some of the poster girl status could have rubbed off.
2. Naomi Watts (Fair Game)
3. Yun Junghee (Poetry)

Best Director
1. Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives)
2. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Biutiful)
3. Abbas Kiarostami (Certified Copy)

Runner-Up: Bertrand Tavernier (The Princess of Montepensier), Ken Loach (Route Irish)

Best Screenplay:
1. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Biutiful)
2. Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives)
3. Wang Xiaoshuai (Chongqing Blues) - Heard from the Film Experience report it didn't do very well, but I think that this may have a chance here.

Runner Up: Lee Chang-dong (Poetry), Sergei Losnitsa (My Joy) - I'm leaning towards directors who wrote their own scripts.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


"Babies" is baffling, trivially edited film by Thomas Balmes that has some sections that fall below the interest level of paint drying. This is not a slow film. It moves way too fast. It lingers on one of the babies for a period of under 15 seconds and switches to another very fast. Often the two actions are non sequiters. I cannot stress how tedious this makes the footage onscreen. By the end of the film, we barely know more about these tikes than we did at the beginning (especially about the Japanese baby Mari).

Why did Balmes let this happen? He's set up an interesting experiment here, of watching childhood across cultures. According to a People magazine article, 18 months was how long the production was. The post-production has ruined everything. What could have been personal and engaging if split into four, 20-minute sections is spliced together crudely with very little structural coherence. And to think: the editors here were Craig McKay ("Sin Nombre," "The Silence of the Lambs") and Reynald Bertrand ("OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies"), professionals.

Many people have enjoyed this film. People in my audience laughed at nearly everything. For some reason, this made it a very bizarre experience at the movies for me. If I wanted to really be digging hard I could knock the film as others did for a strange sort of "voyeurism", but that's sort of beside the point.

The film has been compared to that of the "home video" ilk, and this is definitely warranted. That is, if said home videos were put together as terribly as possible. Only in one place (which was the "walking montage" that Owen Gleiberman mentioned) is there actually any sort of effort put into making a bridge between the babies, and only in one other place (a sort of Snorricam-lite shot of a baby being rocked by his mother's activity) do you really have (as others said) "innovative filmmaking" and (as my friend said) insight into "being a baby."

But let's put it this way: this film was, for me, a total waste of my time. This could have definitely been avoided, but it wasn't. This film felt like the longest film under 80 minutes in a while. (I actually found time to check my watch.) The fact that I had bought tickets for "No One Knows About Persian Cats" and (though happily) bowed out at about the last minute didn't help how I felt. As others have said, "this is basically a film trying to exploit the cuteness of different humans and animals," and although a little of it washed onto me, I couldn't help feel a little awkward toward people around me and also a little depressed at how roughly an hour and twenty minutes (as my friend said, "Thank god it was that short") had been spent. D

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos)

Juan José Campanella starts his magnum opus "The Secret in Their Eyes" with a stunning opening sequence, one that many have referred to as "innovative filmmaking," which is definitely true. I won't get into it for you. I will just say that it won't find its modern parallel for a long time. And in its genre, neither will this film. In modern filmmaking, there are not mystery thrillers this good anymore. Sure, it's not entirely perfect from top to bottom, but, as Ebert has said, how many films actually are? This is one of those films that you could hack for being conventional, but then again, this is how one (at least I) would picture a mystery. Campanella puts it together as you like, and thus makes it very immersive. You want to run through the characters' histories, their backstories, just like they have been doing.

Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darín) is a counselor or something for the police back in the 1970's (as a friend said, this film "looks great"). He gets on a case about a 23 year-old schoolteacher who got sexually assaulted and killed. As another friend said, this hangs over Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago), the woman's husband. He won't be satisfied with the death penalty for redemption. "They just inject him and he takes a nap," he says to Esposito, "He won't get raped and murdered." Esposito says that the person responsible should get life, and Morales takes his word.

At this same time, Esposito is really madly in love with his supervisor, Irene (Soledad Villamil). As David Denby and my friend said, the film goes back and forth between past and present, so as to show the ends of the relationship that they have. Both I believe share an affection, but Esposito makes a decision that really shatters all that they could have had (ignoring the fact that she was engaged at the time). The real holdover in their relationship through time has been this Morales Case, which, like in the film "Zodiac," won't go away until solved for those involved. So, in the end, although the two different stories in the film seem unrelated, they fit into one another.


This is a film about passion, as the character Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella) discusses. (Sandoval is a drunk and unreliable screwup, but he does have some insight). He says a "guy" can change a lot of things, but not his passion. In this film, two characters, Esposito and Morales, have passions for the past. They are defined by this passion, especially in the film's climax, which shows that not every passion is born by its holder as a positive trait. This film has a very serious moral, which is not to dwell on the past too much, or else you are consumed by it. This is demonstrated partially in the way that the film sometimes confusingly switches between 1974/75 and 2000, showing that Esposito always is looking "backwards" (as opposed to Irene, who states herself that the past is "out of her jurisdiction").


What a great film this is technically. The cinematography is phenomenal. Aside from the opening sequence (whose masterful signature shot, of a porthole of a train opening up to show the entire station, is displayed in the trailer), you have the now famous "soccer stadium scene," which is quite amazing, especially in its mind-blowing opening shot. Félix Monti (as others have said) is a master at work, and this is one of the best reasons to see this film. Well-cast, one of the best technical films in a while, and a mystery film that is able to be delved into probably more than once (although, as they say, you'll know what's coming), this is the best film of 2009. A

A note: This film does share a plot trait with "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," which I did knock a couple weeks back for sharing a plot trait with David Fincher's "Se7en." I guess I'm more inclined to let it go as this film is made in much better taste and with much better skill.

Monday, May 3, 2010

City Island

"City Island" is a somewhat thick (as a friend noted), narratively flawed piece by Raymond De Felitta as a sort of love letter to a New York place, part of a genre that comes around every so often (with films such as "Brooklyn Lobster"). I'm guessing Felitta is from there (his bio on IMDB says he was born in New York City), so that's where all of the knowledge comes from (as well as the standard, good cinematography). The most important concept seems to be that there is a sharp divide between "mussel suckers" and "clam diggers," the former being veritable foreigners and the others being those who've been on City Island for their lives, "City Island born and bred." "Correctional officer"/prison guard Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia) inherited his house and is most definitely a "clam digger." He's situated his family there: his wife Joyce (Julianna Marguiles, good playing a type), and his kids, the smart-ass, ironic Vince (Ezra Miller) and "college grad" Vivian (Dominik García-Lorido). His two children I'm not sure will stay put there.

The film takes place over Vivian's spring break (but don't think she is the main character; she and Vince Jr. are totally underexposed). During this time, Vince the father finds his son Tony (Steven Strait) transferred to his prison. He takes him home, not telling him their relationship because Tony stresses that the mother was a "whore" and because Tony says if he ever found his father (who he thinks is dead), he would beat him up (this is because Vince walked out on the family).

While this is going on, Vince is taking acting class (taught by a fictionalized version of Alan Arkin; watch for his monologue on Marlon Brando). Here, due to a terribly cheesy assignment about "sharing your worst secret, Vince meets Molly (Emily Mortimer), a typical thespian (whose mannerisms are way, way over-the-top). In these scenes is where, as my friend said, the script gets "a little flabby."

Literally while this happening (often intercut for dubious effect), class-cutting, literally "too cool for school" Vince Jr. is trying to find porn sites of overweight women. The one he finds (and gets a membership to, which seemed, as my friend said in general about this subplot, a little strange) happens to be operated right behind the family house. Also, we have the dynamics of Joyce and Tony. (They make Vince the father puke at the end.) And, as the Playlist said about Liam Neeson in "Chloe," Vivian is "inconsequential beyond mentioning."

Well, this isn't a great or perfect film. It's actually pretty much a sitcom. But then again, as a friend said, this is one "entertaining" sitcom. It elevates to greatness in the antepenultimate, climactic scene that has a comic moment that makes one recall Bong Joon-Ho's "The Host" and the amazing and hilarious funeral scene, which it unwisely follows with a tack-on, "happy" (as a member of Metacritic said) ending. You could be smitten as many people have been. I was, partially. I never thought it was that bad, but it wasn't great most of the time (as Ebert said of "The Taking of Pelham 123"). B-