Monday, March 28, 2011

'Win Win' Does Just That, But 'Sucker Punch' Swings and Misses

Admittedly, not the best year for film so far. Just two weeks ago, I reviewed the catastrophic Battle: Los Angeles and now, this week, we have another overbearing Hollywood effects extravaganza - Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch, which plays as sort of a greatest hits package for all films of its type from the past few years. 

Fortunately, the week was not a complete loss as I was delighted by Tom McCarthy's funny, well-executed and heartfelt - without being sappy - Win Win. It's yet another indie film about a questionably upright guy who makes good by helping out a troubled youth. I know what you're thinking - oh, another one of these?

Well, I'm happy to report that the film is solid, one of the year's few gems thus far. If you enjoyed McCarthy's The Station Agent and The Visitor, you'll most likely get behind this one as well. Check out my reviews for Sucker Punch and Win Win here.

This week's a busy one. But my ambitious moviegoing plan includes seeing James Wan's (apparently) frightening Insidious, Source Code and the well-received Le Quattro Volte.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Friendly Alien Invasion and Department of You Can't Handle the Truth

Check out my reviews for 'Paul' and 'The Lincoln Lawyer' on Douglaston Patch. This week, stay tuned for my notices on 'Win Win' and 'Sucker Punch.'

Monday, March 14, 2011

This Week at the Movies

Check out my This Week at the Movies post on Douglaston Patch in which I add some further thoughts on Abbas Kiarostami's "Certified Copy" and the gratuitous "Battle: Los Angeles."

This coming weekend, I'll review Greg Mottola's "Paul" and the new thriller, "The Lincoln Lawyer." I'm also vowing to get to "I Saw the Devil" before it leaves the IFC Center. So, potentially some thoughts on that one as well.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Even Better Than the Real Thing: "Certified Copy"

Abbas Kiarostami's "Certified Copy" is a strange, often beguiling, film, combining a long-running argument on the nature of artistic originality with a "Before Sunrise" story line, but throwing in a Bunuelian twist for good measure.

The picture, which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival last year and netted star Juliette Binoche a Best Actress award, will confound some, delight others and, for most viewers, do a little of both.

The film opens as English author, James (William Shimell), speaks in a Tuscan village on his latest book, "Certified Copy," which argues the value of a reproduction of a great piece of art. 

He meets a never-named woman (Juliette Binoche), who invites him on a trip to the countryside to view a piece of art. On the way, the pair discuss everything from Andy Warhol's paintings of Coke bottles to Binoche's family as architecture is reflected on their faces through a car's windshield.

At one point during their countryside visit, the duo stops in a cafe and are mistaken for a married couple by the taverna's owner, a woman. Binoche and the proprietress discuss the difference between how men and women view life and their work.

The film strangely, but subtly, undergoes a shift. Shimell and Binoche now behave as a married couple, arguing over his apparent snoozing on the eve of their 15th anniversary. They bicker as the wedding of a young couple takes place in the background.

Is Kiarostami taking a Lynchian detour? Is one half of the film reality and the other a copy? If so, which is better? The film poses these questions, but don't expect answers.

This is the director's first foray into filmmaking outside of Iran. Much like "Taste of Cherry" and "The Wind Will Carry Us," there are long takes in "Copy" and sequences of people driving for long periods of time in cars. Interestingly, there are also entire sequences in which Kiarostami cuts back and forth between the two actors, forcing them to speak to the screen as if they were conversing with the audience.

Alas, the film's final section does not retain the energy of the first third of the picture or the mystery of the middle section. "Certified Copy" will reward the patient viewer, although I did not believe it to be a masterpiece as some critics have hailed it. It's an ambiguous, but ambitious, little film that mostly works. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?: 'The Adjustment Bureau,' 'Take Me Home Tonight' and 'Uncle Boonmee'

Check out my notices on "The Adjustment Bureau" and "Take Me Home Tonight" as well as a few further thoughts on Apichatpong Weerasethakul's hypnotic "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" on Douglaston Patch.

This week, make sure to drop by Critical Conditions for my takes on Abbas Kiarostami's "Certified Copy" and "Battle: Los Angeles," in which aliens, inevitably, attack Earth.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Lush Life: The Eerie Poetry of 'Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives'

Apichatopong Weerasethakul's Palm d'Or winner "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" is a strange concoction - part Buddhist parable, part surrealist film, part ghost story and part jungle fantasia.

For most, the director, who also goes by "Joe," is not exactly a household name, but at least two of his four previous features - the lush "Tropical Malady" and "Syndromes and a Century" - were critical darlings. His latest picture is both his most accessible and mysterious.

Set in a forested section of Thailand, the story follows the film's titular character (played by Thnapat Saisaymar) as he moves in with his sister-in-law (Jenjira Pongpas) amid his slow decline due to a kidney disorder.

He is soon visited by two ghosts: his wife, who mysteriously fades in and out at the dinner table and son, who appears as one of the film's several "monkey ghosts," complete with glowing red eyes and ape features.

Boonmee's bed is made in a quiet room in his sister-in-law's house, where he looks back on his past as his kidney is drained each day. 

The film gets curiouser and curiouser as it goes - and also more mysterious and elegiac. Boonmee and his family sets out for a trip to a cave, traveling through the woods and spotting monkeys soaring above them in the tree tops. 

He has a dream in which he sees the future. Then, the action shifts and Boonmee's sister-in-law and a few relatives have relocated to a swanky hotel. Images on a television flicker as the characters' spirits leave themselves and head out to a noisy, music filled restaurant.

Some viewers might find it maddening that Weerasethakul provides few answers to the film's narrative riddles and eerie imagery. I find it refreshing. The picture's soundtrack, filled with birds and insects chirping as well as the occasional low rumbling, fill in when the film's sparse dialogue is not being spoken. 

The film follows a preparation rite. Boonmee awaits his death, looking back on his life as the spirit world mixes with the present and past. Thrown into the mix is a story of a princess gazing into a stream and catching the image of a younger self before engaging in a sexual encounter with a catfish.

You want context? Look elsewhere. "Uncle Boonmee" is a lush fever dream. You might not be able to fully explain it, but I doubt you'll forget it.