* Bobby, directed by Emilio Estevez. An admirable directorial and acting effort, it tells the story of Senator Bobby Kennedy’s assassination in 1968. As the date obviously shows, it was a turning point in American history. But more than that, the events find a strange echo in today’s situation. The film however, although not entirely apolitical, focuses on a huge group of characters around the senator –about fifteen of them at least. The ambitions of the film are nothing short of grand, and indeed, it might be too ambitious; but the fact remains that it succeeds in telling its story, and most importantly, its message. And a beautiful message it is, as the last ten minutes reach one of the most intensy emotional climax in recent years. The trouble is, before those final, epic minutes, the film’s rhythm tends to drag a little bit. Because it has so many characters, and because each of those need to be developed so that the viewer can sympathize with them, it might seem uneven. Ultimately, some characters stand out and others don’t.
A word on the fantastic cast – all the actors outdid themselves, especially Freddy Rodriguez, Sharon Stone, Demi Moore and Lindsay Lohan. Their performances are ones of the finest among a stellar, top-notch cast (also noteworthy perfs are Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, Martin Sheen, Laurence Fishburne). Definitely a movie I’d recommend to anyone who’s a wee bit interested in contemporary history.
* Blood Diamond, directed by Edward Zwick. There is loads to say about this film, but I’ll just say this first; I thought, honestly, that the film was overrated. Edward Zwick’s directing is downright blend, to be polite. Boring at best. There was something about it which really annoyed me. Some choices were just of bad taste, too Hollywood-ish, too Americanized, whatever you want to call it. I mean, the sweeping, majestic landscapes (yes it’s a gorgeous country, but over-the-top when used so heavily); the bad guys running all around but never catching them… some things just felt wrong. The screenplay, which was fine if not a bit bleak, deals with the diamond trade in Sierra Leone and the civil war which was brewing at the time. For such a sensitive subject, you might want a director who actually feels involved, and whose filming is energetic and engaging. Zwick settled for mildly concerned instead, and as a result, the finished product is not as amazing as it should have been. The relationship between the characters were also quite clumsily written, and although the film is not entirely devoid of emotions and ideas, it was simply trying too hard. It’s a pity because you could feel it had things to say. On the hand, both editing and photography were neat. James Newton Howard’s scoring was a bit louder than what we’re used to with him, but it was good nonetherless.
About the 5 Oscar nominations, though… Djimon Hounsou’s performance surely deserved the nod, but Leo DiCaprio’s Billy Costigan from The Departed is more memorable than this character. There’s been a lot of confusion about whether Leo should be lead or supporting this year, and The Departed being such an ensemble film ended up hurting the chances of all its actors… So the Academy went for Blood Diamond instead and Leo got nominated as lead for this particular film, which is understandable. But both his Departed performance and character were better, in my opinion.
* Snow Cake, directed by Mark Evans. Here’s a lovely, charming film which was funny and thoroughly enjoyable. It tells the story of a lonely and traumatized man, Alex (played by Alan Rickman) and an autistic woman, Linda (a brillant Sigourney Weaver). There’s some really tragic elements to the story -the death of her daughter, the burden of the past; and yet, it all feels so true-to-life and natural, you just can’t help laughing and crying along. It feels so great to see honest storytelling -don’t ask me what I mean by it, it’s just… There’s such a great sincerity in this movie, in the characters it depicts, in the situations it shows. It’s the kind of small film which intentions are nothing less than to move the viewer, and it succeeds brillantly in doing so. All the hardships in life are usually made so cliché in films, but it’s not the case here at all. There was a great attention paid to details which I really loved. And needless to say, Alan Rickman absolutely fitted the part.
* The Pursuit of Happyness, directed by Gabriele Muccino. Speaking of cliché -I have to admit, that before seeing it, I thought this film was a huge one. I could see the way it was and the way it would end. But I still went, and I was pleasantly surprised. The film was actually quite good, and touching in its own little way. Although the storyline is predictable, the characters are just very well-written. Will Smith’s performance, of course, helped tremendously in making it believable. Once again, a so-called ‘comedian’ actor shows off impeccable acting chops; and Smith’s Oscar nomination is entirely called for this time. The fact that his super-talented little son Jaden plays his child in the film also helps… What I liked most about it, though, is how unpretentious it was. The Big! Lessons! You’re! Learning! From! Life! were actually subtle. And it was all so heartwarming. Not in the syrupy, fake kind; more like genuinely heartwarming. I loved it, but wouldn’t want to see it again, because, yes, it made me cry buckets.
* Hannibal Rising, directed by Peter Webber. There’s nothing fundamentally bad about this film, except that it’s sort of ridiculous. Really. I don’t know how Thomas Harris’ books are like, but his screenplay for this film was just preposterous. As I was watching it, I was asking myself whether we were supposed to really believe in all that nonsense before our eyes. Let me explain: the film starts off as a realistic, revenge story, but then drifts into dangerous waters, that is a slasher film in which the serial killer is conducted and motivated by love. Yeah, right.
Technically, the film is quite good. It’s visible that Peter Webber did his best. So did Gaspard Ulliel, by the way. Of course, his character doesn’t seem to have any relation to Anthony Hopkins’ (oh, the irony), but that’s the screenplay’s flaw, really. Le Gaspard himself brings a certain poise and intelligence to the part. But the truth is, I only went to see the film for Kevin McKidd’s tiny, tiny role in it (yup, Fish and myself are hopelessly desperate when it comes down to Rome). So I didn’t expected much, and didn’t got much, really. I was sort of disgusted by the gloominess at the end of it, but nothing more. In other words: quite forgettable.
I wish Gaspard would go back to shooting with Gus Van Sant, now that’d be interesting…
* The Last King of Scotland, directed by Kevin Macdonald. There’s so many things to praise about this film, I don’t even know how to start. Suffice it to say that first, the film is part of an amazing revival in politically-engaged films; and second, Forest Whitaker’s Academy-Award winning performance is not disappointing at all. Now, here’s a film which will surely be deemed controversial (for its explicitely graphic use of violence and Idi Amin’s portrayal), but in any case, gets under the viewer’s skin. The directing was every bit as dynamic as expected, the suspense efficiently built -there’s a thrilling (in the ‘thriller’ sense, I mean) aspect to the film which I can’t quite put my finger on. The excitement and exoticism of it all is brillantly captured. Most of all, though, it features an unforgettable character, and that is Idi Amin Dada. The whole Oscar buzz around it is just nothing compared to what Forest Whitaker did with this character. I’ll just leave it this way -very much like Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Truman Capote, the performance was larger than life. There’s also James McAvoy fantastic turn as a selfish, not-so-naive protagonist. The film kind of made me think of The Constant Gardener. Ooh! I can’t believe I just wrote that… it’s not that good, of course, but still, worthy of the comparaison. The characters, the setting, the storytelling, the entire film was so well-crafted. It’s thought-provoking, gut-wrenching, chilling, and all kinds of awful. In short, definitely my favorite film this month (last month’s was Little Children).
* La Môme, directed by Olivier Dahan. Another musical ‘biopic’ except that it’s a FRENCH one, which makes me incredibly proud. Okay, first things first, I don’t see that many French films. That’s shameful and sort of a coincidence, but it’s the truth. Most French films just aren’t that appealing to me. This one, however, was different. Not necessarily because it was French, but because we don’t get to see that type of film much. Such an epic, dramatic film, I mean. The sheer length of the film was a challenge, and yet, I wasn’t bored for one second. The editing choice was quite brave as well, if not a bit awkward. Overall, the film looks absolutely gorgeous -from the production design to the sound mixing (which is astonishing, really).
But the true star here is Marion Cotillard. This is a once-in-a-lifetime, career-defining performance. No wonder so much has been said and written about it, because it’s absurdly good and intense. As I’ve posted earlier, I reckon she deserves an Academy Award and all the acting prizes out there, because she’s accomplished such a seamless and accurate work here, I’m not sure words can even describe it, really. You just have to go and see it for yourself.
* Letters From Iwo Jima, directed by Clint Eastwood. Well, what would you expect from Clint: a superb film, accurate in both its storytelling and filming, with this particular aesthetic that everyone has come to associate with his name. The companion piece to Flags of our Fathers, it depicts the battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese perspective, which is not only innovative but also surprisingly relevant. While Flags focused on how the soldiers were mythicized after the war, Letters is simply and purely a grand war film. As hellish as it can get. Throughout the lengthy running time, the audience can barely breathe -although the set-up before the actual battle is quite long, the viewer is never spared. Because of all the war movies, or the everyday depiction of violence, one would think things would become easier to see or understand, but it never does. The harshness and cruelty, not to mention the utter despair and sadness of war always hits us hard, and all the more so here, because it is so brillantly staged and told. As a director, Eastwood has reached the ultimate state of grace; like Scorsese or other great filmmakers, it all flows so smoothly and easily that the viewer cannot help being entranced by the spectacle before his eyes. But most importantly, it always go straight for the heart and never loses its focus. More than a film about history, it’s about humanity.
* Dreamgirls, directed by Bill Condon. This film made me feel incredibly cheerful -the equivalent effect of a spell which lasted for two hours non-stop. I have to say, I was a bit annoyed at first because it had such a big Oscar buzz, and to be honest, I was just thinking before seeing it, “let’s just stop with the musicals already! Can’t people be creative anymore?”… As it often is the case, my prejudices turned out to be completely unjustified. There are many flaws to be acknowledged in the film -the clichés in the characters, especially; but the truth is, it is packed with incredible energy and offers the sort of pure entertainement which is rarely seen nowadays. Bill Condon was the man to handle this project -he turned it into something that is so fresh and alive that you cannot help being captivated. I was certainly seduced, not to mention the fact that John Myhre’s production design was astoundingly beautiful. Now, did Jennifer Hudson really deserved that Oscar? Well, yes and no. Yes, because clearly, no one else would have been able to accomplish what she did here. And no, because dramatic as her performance might be, the Babel ladies and Little Miss Sunshine‘s Abigail Breslin were much more subtle in theirs. But it’s still fair to say Hudson is a real gem in this film, singing her heart and guts out. And Beyoncé, which I kind of really didn’t care about before, was fantastically beautiful and charming as the naive Deena. Then of course, there’s the matter of Eddie Murphy, who was good, but not exactly worthy of all the awards which were bestowed upon him (he was just different from what he usually is, that’s all). So performance-wise and technically, the film is pretty much outstanding. But you could see it coming, the film has a major weakness –that is the lack of complexity in its screenplay, which clearly comes from the fact that it was a Broadway show in the first place, and indeed, this is where it truely belongs. No offence, but let’s just stop with the musicals before it gets worse (and this comes from a girl who has Moulin Rouge! and Walk the Line among her favorite movies…).
* The Good German, directd by Steven Soderbergh. My feelings are shared on this one. On one hand, the film looked absolutely beautiful, the black-and-white images were splendid and the photography was a real accomplishment indeed. On the other hand, the screenplay had too many glitches, the pace was poorly handled, the story quite confusing, and not engaging enough. It was trying very hard to be an old-fashioned crime film, and indeed it was quite old-fashioned, but not successful on the whole mystery/crime side. There was something fundamental lacking in the film. It wasn’t really coherent, in the sense that it was supposed to tell about the post-WWII situation, but it didn’t exactly develop any reflection about it; rather, it focused on the main characters’ relationships, but without saying anything special about them either. It felt a bit emotionally dry. Whatever you’d want to call it. That’s a shame because both George Clooney’s and Cate Blanchett’s performances were okay (Tobey Maguire is hardly onscreen!).
That being said, THOMAS NEWMAN SCORED THIS FILM, so I really concentrated on that more than anyhting else. And his score was quite impressive, as it often is. I know that it sounded a bit too loud sometimes, way louder than what we’re used to with Tom, but still… It was a typically Newman-ish score, with all the delicate little sounds you’d expect from him, and that quirkiness which is so characteristic of him. It’s just such a pleasure for the ears, his music. The Academy-Award nomination? Is deserved. Or so I thought…
* Notes on a Scandal, directed by Richard Eyre. Here’s a very potentially provocative film, but which in actual fact, really isn’t. The thing about this film is that the screenplay is absolutely fascinating. It is about a dysfunctional relationship between a young teacher, brillantly portrayed by Cate Blanchett, and an older lady who is a fellow teacher -a completely, insanely good-and-creepy Judi Dench. And there’s just so many depths to the story that I won’t even try to sum it up here… I loved it because it was both intelligent and very well-shot. There’s an incredibly well-built suspense and tension running throughout the entire length of the film, and the two lead performances are really solid and effective. Surely the story is sometimes far-fetched, but it never sounded fake or too dramatized. It certainly is gripping and mesmerizing in a sort of terrifying way. Plus, the very British-looking kid is terribly cute in it (and he’s my age). I have to add, Philip Glass’ scoring was terrific.
* Catch A Fire, directed by Phillip Noyce. First of all, I love this director; he made the achingly beautiful, poetic and tragic Rabbit-Proof Fence, which sadly was very little seen. In any case, I didn’t even know he was the director of this film; I only went because Tim Robbins is, well, Tim Robbins, meaning one of the best actors of his generation and one which I love very much. He’s the kind of actor (alongside Ed Norton, Joaquin Phoenix, Ralph Fiennes, Russell Crowe, Johnny Depp etc.) whose sole name can get me to the theater. Anyway. As expected with any film dealing with South Africa’s painful, painful history, the film was tremendously moving and very difficult to watch, all the more so because the end of the film (no spoiler, don’t worry) shows an interview footage with the actual person who went through all these events, and whose life is basically the entire subject of the film. That was such a beautiful gesture and ending… Now, the film itself. There isn’t much to criticise, really. It was just very powerful. How can one justify the terrorists’ use of violence, though, and condemn it at the same time? That’s quite a tricky question; but the film is never patronizing or judgmental. It is just trying to tell the story rightfully, and it does so with sincerity and delicacy. Derek Luke’s lead performance was awesome, so was Tim Robbins as an awful, discriminating policeman. Highly recommenced to anyone who’s interested in seeing a smart, moving, historical thriller.
One last thing I’d like to mention; Ewan McGregor was recently interviewed on French television, and I didn’t think there could be more adorable or charming… You can see the video here (registration is required to see the video, I believe). Sigh.
Edit : F***** hell, I totally forgot to review The Lives of Others. Shiiiiiiiiiiiiite, the thing is I really adored it! I must have lost my ticket or something -I can’t remember all the films I’m seeing each month, so I keep my tickets and review from then on. GOD. I’ll do it quickly…
Das Leben der Anderen was the most brillant, amazing film this month, alongside The Last King of Scotland. It featured an unforgettable trio of characters -Christa-Maria, Dreyman and Wiesler; had the most beautiful ending I’ve seen in a long time… it was also incredibly moving and subtle, despite the seemingly simplistic directing -or how to say a lot without actually saying anything. The unfolding of the story proves to be completely heartbreaking. There was just something deeply beautiful about this film. Some shots were memorable both for their simplicity and emotional content. And at the same time, the film had so many layers -on East Germany and freedom of expression (or lackthere of), on the nature of art… I highly recommend it, really. You’d be surprised to see how good it is.