Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Recently Seen...

Quick capsules for some Hollywood movies I recently watched:  Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Moonrise Kingdom, and an old charmer, Simone Simon’s first Hollywood feature, Girls’ Dormitory (1936).

I can’t understand the hype surrounding Argo. A middling thriller where the politics is superficial and the triumphant Americanism predictable. More mumbling for dialog and the picture is half-over by the time you figure out who’s who. Fancy camera work, and taught editing make for a gripping climax, but nothing more. No real intelligence and the bathos of the superhero figurines coda is risible.

Stripping Zero Dark Thirty of its wider dimensions I found it overlong and disjointed. Politically it is propaganda and seems to have no sense of how fine is the line separating terrorism from the barbarism of torture, which is taken as a given and never held up to scrutiny. I found I had a lot of sympathy with the views expressed here Enlightened Barbarism: On Zero Dark Thirty and the Torture Debate. Technically, the attack on the compound is impressive, but again the slaughter of unarmed people woken from their sleep does not seem to interest Bigelow.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Silver Linings Playbook are both forgettable, the same old rehash of familiar themes, and far from any semblance of reality. Any poor bastard with a mental illness or a shy teenager would be plunged even further into despair when returning to the reality of their own lives after seeing this pap.

Moonrise Kingdom was surprisingly charming, and its nostalgic quirkiness embraces your heart. Great cameos. The girl Suzzy is a brilliant deadpan, nicely capturing the 60s vibe perfectly. Brilliant idea to have Francoise Hardy as her favorite singer. Great camera work and melding of Benjamin's Britten’s music.

Girl’s Dormitory (1936) has the old Hollywood magic. So elegantly made, and Simone Simon is lovely and utterly beguiling as a schoolgirl in a finishing school in the Austrian alps on the cusp of womanhood, and with a crush on her teacher, Herbert Marshall, who fits his role like a glove. Director Cumming & DP Gerstad do a great job, and deliver a brave ending for the period with on an screen kiss – but after graduation.

The Politician's Husband (UK TV Mini-series 2013)

The Politician’s Husband is an interesting study of the rivalry between a political couple, which confirms all our worst fears on the mendacity and moral depravity of politicians, where even family and friends are no strangers to treachery.
Great acting but pedestrian plotting and direction just hold it together over four episodes. A strength is the brutal portrayal of the politics of marriage and how vengeful misogyny can be found in ‘normal’ relationships, where sex can be just as much a weapon of vengeance as an expression of intimacy.

Broadchurch (UK TV Mini-Series 2103 ): Exceptional

Broadchurch which had a massive following in the UK over 8 weeks earlier this year, is about the investigation of the murder of a young boy in a small prosperous seaside town in Dorset. The performances from a stellar cast are top notch, and the high production values demonstrate the real strength of British TV, and the willingness to delve into life as it is lived by most of us, using actors who actually look and behave like real people.
At first I was reluctant to go to such a dark place, and then was compelled to continue watching as it drew me into a maelstrom of emotions driven by the need not only to find the killer but to comprehend the how and why of it all. The writing, the cinematography, and the direction are exceptional. The landscape is intimately involved and rendered in rich tones of aching beauty. A must-see.

To The Wonder (2012): Indulgent

Terrence Malick’s  latest film To The Wonder is disappointing. Flimsy and pretentious, with the masterful cinematography and elegant mis-en-scene largely wasted on the mannered antics of a clutch of shallow bourgeois mouthing banal verse over too many scenes of egotistical ardour, and of impossibly beautiful women if not endlessly dancing around like 10 year olds, moping about empty backyards, or running nymph-like through fields of wheat.
Indulgent film-making that mistakes talking about love over pretty pictures for profundity. The priest is the only interesting character, and we see too little of him. Are we supposed to care about the Affleck character because he is some kind of environmentalist? Most of the time he looks like the Incredible Hulk fitted-out by Ralph Lauren.