This is long overdue, I apologise for the lateness.
Last film reviewed was Miss Potter, if I remember well.
* First thing, though, is that I saw many films this month that I’d seen before. For exemple, I went to see 300 and Bridge to Terabithia again; reviews for both films are to be found in last month’s post.
* I also saw Sunshine again, which is definitely one of my favourite films of the year so far; the review is here.
* Finally, I saw Spider-Man 3 four times so far and it has really grown on me -my thoughts on the film are right here.
Moving on to the new reviews, then!
* Alpha Dog, directed by Nick Cassavetes. A very pleasant surprise, and a one-of-a-kind thriller/drama. The film is based on a real story and deals with drugs, sex, youth and more drugs. Sounds vulgar, but it isn’t really; the film shows what is borderline acceptable –corrupted adults, debauchery, women treated as objects etc. But it is also set in a very particular world, and the director goes to great lengths to show us that it is an entire, special universe, with different guidelines and moral codes. Cassavates takes the viewer in and never lets go. There’s a real edge and energy to his directing, which is very much appropriate for the story: multiple characters, fractured timeline. As a result, the movie is enthralling from start to finish, and all the characters get a serious screen treatment, which is quite rare in that sort of film. All the drama and drug dealing and whatnots make for great entertainement, but Cassavates chose to focus instead on the characters and their motives, and that is ultimately what makes the film more interesting for the viewer. It shows tremendous potential for both its director and cast -all the actors are absolutely brillant, including lead actor Emile Hirsch, but most especially, Justin Timberlake. The former N’Sync singer shows a natural talent for acting, and has incredible charisma and screen presence. Who knew? He was born for that part, it seems, and steals most of the scenes he’s in. Young Anton Yelchin also has a breakthrough performance as the innocent captive Zach. The writing material these actors were given is just incredible, too. Photography and production design are fine; the music, on the other hand, tends to be very loud and annoying, but that’s if you don’t like hip-hop, as I do. Overall, the film is highly enjoyable and worth seeing.
* Goodbye Bafana, directed by Bille August. This film achieved quite a treat, which is that I walked away from it feeling hopeful, and incredibly inspired. The fact that Nelson Mandela’s one of the main characters of the film probably had something to do with that… Seriously, though, the film is a beautiful reconstructio, of the unlikely friendship between Mandela (played with retention and intelligence by Dennis Haysbert) and his prison warden, James Gregory (a brillant Joseph Fiennes). The directing is quite humble, mostly making room for the storytelling –which is quite appropriate for a ‘historical’ piece. It doesn’t show sweeping, tragic scenes of the apartheid; but rather, how it functioned as an everyday way of life, which is in a way even more terrible. The film is never sirupy or showy, there is an admirable effort throughout its entire length to keep it real and grounded. The emotions are never blatant, and they creep slowly towards the ending, which is really emotional indeed. I also have to mention Dario Marianelli’s scoring, which is absolutely gorgeous.
I’d highly recommend the film to anyone who’s interested in South Africa’s history; or in seeing a simple, beautiful film.
* Jesus Camp, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. The chronicles of three children enrolled in an evangelist camp, this documntary offers a fascinating insight into this religious trend, a Christian minority which holds a tremendous amount of political power in the US. But more than an influential lobby, it is first and foremost the education and way of life many parents in America have chosen for their children. Many are thus sent to religious ‘summer camps’, where they are shaped and fashioned into dutiful fundamentalists; all this thanks to Rev. Becky Fisher, an evangelist mastermind among many. As a non-religious person, I was truely shocked to witness such events –children are literally forced to cry in order to express their religious fervour. The single-mindedness of these people is utterly stunning. To Rev. Fisher, it seems that there is no other, better way to practise Christianity than to indoctrinate these young minds. I really thought that there was a twisted reversal of all the Christian morals in some way, and it’s absolutely appalling to see people exploiting this as much as they can. One does feel really sorry for the children who’ll never know anything else. The documentary itself is crafted well enough, but its first goal is to be informative; and it does have quite a neutral, unbiased view, which is surprising considering the controversial subject the directors are tackling here. It’s a must-see for anyone who’s interested in that kind of topic, I’d say.
* Love and Other Disasters, directed by Alek Keshishian. A not-so-conventional British rom-com which I enjoyed a lot. Although let me say this first: this is a very girly romantic comedy, very much targeted at women more than anything else. In short, you have to be a gal to appreciate it. It’s not mushy or anything like that, it’s just very much centered around women, and women-related concerns. The protagonist is Emily Jackson (played by Brittany Murphy), a fashionable journalist for the U.K. edition of Vogue. She lives in a very fashionable flat with her best friend, Peter, who’s also gay and a screenwriter. It all sounds very cliché, and it sort of is. The director approached this potentially dangerous material with flair and intelligence: the clichés are assumed and played with; and the film takes a considerably funny turn when Peter’s screenplay becomes the film itself… What I liked was this game between reality/fiction; here was this film, considering itself as such, and yet trying to make us feel that the characters’ life was a reality (and it probably is for a lucky, blessed minority). It sounds a bit confusing, but let’s just say that the director knew he was shooting a typical rom-com, and yet, tried to play with the conventions and the limits of that genre. Even if, in the end, it still is a very cute chick flick, with plenty of humour and heart. As a film per se, it isn’t great; but as a rom-com, it doesn’t get any better than this…
* Shooter, directed by Antoine Fuqua. I actually didn’t know he was the one directing this film (he shot one of the worst films I’ve ever seen), or I would have never wanted to see it. I was displeased to see his name coming up onscreen, but I guess this was my fault since I hadn’t bothered to check in the first place. The truth is I was somewhat misled by critics, who kept claiming this film was similar to The Bourne Identity, and of course, it really wasn’t. Quite the opposite, actually. To me, the Bourne films embody everything that is smart and thrilling in action movies; they really do. They focus on its protagonist’s past first, his search for answers on his own identity, and his inner dilemma when he finds out about it. Jason is not a hero, he hasn’t done noble things at all; the American governement is also to blame for this, but not entirely, too. There’s just a certain complexity to the characters’ feelings; and the theme of atonement, or redemption, was beautifully explored in the sequel. But Shooter? Is nowhere near that. It’s even at the far end of that.
There’s plenty of things in this films that I found unacceptable : plotholes in the screenplay, in the personality of the hero (which isn’t developed at all, and consequently, you don’t actually care for what happens to him); but most unbearable of all was the unsufferable, simply idiotic black-and-white vision. Bad guys in the governement are baaad and eeeeeeviiiil, and the hero is good, noble and can actually justify what he’s done with a good dose of patriotism. Also, there are all those political undertones about current events (the Iraq war, mostly), which are admirable because the director is clearly not pleased with the US governement; but are so clumsily tied in with the rest of the film, that you can’t help feeling dismayed at the attempt. The entire film is of rather bad taste, I daresay. Photography and locations are the only thing worth saving in this mess.
* Nos Amis les Terriens, directed by Bernard Werber. I rather liked this mockumentary (as they are apparently called) but it requires a very sharp, dry sense of humour. I wouldn’t recommend it to everybody, because it’s very particular in its own little way. Humans are depicted and dissected as animals, under the foreign eye of a narrator who is of another world, or galaxy. Hilarity ensues, naturally… It’s quite difficult to describe what makes it so funny; it probably arises from the narrator’s lack of understanding when confronted to the irrational human behaviour and quirks. Seeing it from his point of view surely makes us strange creatures indeed. It’s quite upsetting, you do feel a bit ashamed to be human! One thing that was lacking, though, is the depths to which the film could have gone into. It only focuses on a group of humans (two couples), and on trival subjects. What of violence, and war, and politics, and all those things that shape the world we live in? There isn’t a single mention of all the atrocities that can be perpetuated by humans, or of how fucked-up the planet gets as time passes by. I know the director probably wanted to emphasize the comedic aspect of it all, and didn’t figure a way to make fun of certain things (because there isn’t one). But it’s still a shame, because there are so many things to be denounced and criticised, and he did nothing of it. It’s still an interesting, offbeat film…