This month was particularly great; most of the films I saw in theaters can be defined as ‘good’. And of course, some of the films which were in competition for the Cannes Film Festival came out as well. We have been pretty lucky lately, I have to say.
* Lucky You, directed by Curtis Hanson. It’s no secret that Hanson is a huuuge favourite director of mine; I tremendously loved his latest film –In Her Shoes, and the release of this new film was thus highly anticipated, as seen in this earlier post. Well, it hasn’t disappointed me at all. I really loved it. It was everything I’ve come to expect from this director: smart, engaging, and most of all, well-written. The thing about this film is that it’s neither a drama or a comedy per se –it’s just this sweet story between a father and a son, and a man and a woman. I love films in which the director is not afraid to make it all characters-centered, and this is very much the case here. The story of Huck Cheever (brillantly acted out by Eric Bana) is a simple one, really; he’s a grown-up man who’s not exactly as great at dealing with his life as he is with dealing with cards… And relying on chance only also means facing the consequences of that choice. It’s the simple story of that man, which is not a journey or a personal odyssey or anything grand, but which I found very moving nonetherless, especially when he has to come to terms with his father (a great Robert Duvall). Also, I tend to dislike Drew Barrymore (for some reason, she’s annoying to me), but her part in this one was incredibly charming and lovely. Hanson knows how to film women; and his female characters are never weak, nor uninteresting. As are all of his characters, actually. Two words about the poker part: it creates great suspense and drama, as usual, but Hanson makes sure he’s settling the characters’ background and relationships before the grand, tense finale scene; thus making poker more compelling to watch, since the stakes are not only monetary… It also has some fine comedic moments (the screenplay is written by Eric Roth, who’s a master at about everything), but I cried a lot, so I’m inclined to say that this is a very good dramatic comedy. Visually, the film is also very satisfying; Las Vegas casinos and locations look neat, editing never feels strained and is naturally led by the storytelling. All in all, very satisfying indeed.
* Fracture, directed by Gregory Hoblit (I actually saw that one twice). Another enjoyable film, although of a totally different and very particular genre: court drama. Suspense and mysteries abound plenty in this one, too; a sign that this is a very successful thriller. The cat-and-mouse game between a suspected murderer and the district attorney appointed to his case to prosecute him takes on quite a dimension, especially because the criminal is played by Anthony Hopkins. This is one of his strongest performances in a long time; reminiscent of his Silence of the Lambs days. There’s this same devilish, manipulative twinkle in his eye; Hopkins is the perfect fit for that sort of role. But Ted Crawford, his character in this film, is a long way from Hannibal Lecter: he’s a respectable U.S. citizen who claims to be innocent. His opponent is Willy Beachum (yet another subtle and good performance from Ryan Gosling), a highly ambitious lawyer who first seems cocky and way too confident to lose this case. But Crawford soon outsmarts him, and the game is on… The depiction of the justice system, if not accurate (I have no idea, I’ve never been to a trial in real life), is at least fascinating and comprehensive. I also love that the character of Willy, who’s quite unsympathetic at first, follows an interesting evolution throughout the length of the film. I highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys a good court film, or a good and entertaining film. And yes, I admit I went to see it a second time partly for David Strathairn, who has a supporting role as Willy’s boss, but that I loved nonetherless.
* Zodiac, directed by David Fincher (I also saw that one twice). Not unsuprisingly, this is my second favourite film this month (the first one being the one at the end of the post ;)). First of all, the film isn’t what I expected at all. Because Fincher (Finchy! Sorry…) did such a great job at kicking the viewer right in the guts in his two previous films (Se7en, Fight Club), I thought this one was also going to be all flashy and dazzling. But you wouldn’t believe how he has actually matured and evolved; this film is grey, looks blank, lacks color (deliberately so and consequently not in a negative way at all); because it is first and foremost based on real events, and thus, very much grim and realistic. And this flouts every single convention in the ‘serial killer genre’. In fact, if one would want to define this film, adjectives would be missing: there hasn’t been a film quite like this one yet. The film spans over 2 hours and 40 minutes, and it’s basically a long discussion and debate on who the heck is the Zodiac and why hasn’t he been caught yet. Every little fact, piece of evidence or information about the geography is exposed to the viewer; and it makes for an utterly fascinating, attention-grabbing experience. It sounds contradictory but it’s not –the film is uneventful, slow-paced and bleak; and yet, yet… the obsession is very much there, in the characters’ heads, in the viewers’ minds. That’s the genius of it all, or so I thought. As a witness, you find yourself completely immersed, drawn into the San Francisco of the 1960s; and eventually, as the years go by and the killer remains unidentified, both the characters and the audience are driven to the edge. If every director could be as focused, devoted, clairvoyant, surprising and innovative as David Fincher, then cinema would be a much better place. And Zodiac remains one hell of a ride, but not in the literal sense: it’s everything you would not expect from a ‘serial killer film’. The intelligence displayed by Fincher in the approach he chose for this particular subject matter is admirable. Not any director could have pulled it off, trust me. The acting performances are solid all around (Jake Gyllenhaal pretty much owns his part, and Mark Ruffalo does a tremendous job on his character, who’s quite the anti-hero) and the photography is absolutely incredible (DoP is Harris Savides, one of the best, and one of Gus Van Sant’s frequent collaborators). Production design is efficient and adds impeccably to the reconstruction of reality as filmed by Fincher. However, this film will not please everyone, but not in a derogative way. I’m only saying this because it may seem too austere and informative to some. But I didn’t thought it was; on the other hand, it seemed to me that extra depth was brought to a film which was already dense and challenging. Hats off to you, Mr. Fincher, for being such a grand director.
* School for Scoundrels, directed by Todd Phillips. Okay, one of my guilty pleasures (with a friend of mine, inevitably) is seeing Frat Pack films in theaters. We love everything Frat-Pack-related, however distant it might be. We love everything that involves either Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Jack Black, Will Ferrell, Luke Wilson or Steve Carrell. That’s just the way things are. Don’t ask.
So, this film. It’s minor Frat Pack, but Todd Phillips revolves around them. So does Jon Heder, who’s the leading actor in this film. And there’s the unmissable, hilarious cameo from one of the Frat Pack members, although I won’t spoil who… This is basic comedy, as basic as it can get. Heder plays a loser (not an adorakable one named Napoleon Dynamite, which is a film I loved!), who, because of his clumsiness at life, decides to take some classes from a teacher played by Billy Bob Thorton. And of course, Thorton plays an obnoxious, know-it-all, better-than-everyone sort of character, but funnily so. It’s very conventional in its loser-against-winner plot, but the humour is kept throughout the entire length of the film. It’s nothing too wonderful either, but it’s good enough. Characters are likeable and funny. But it doesn’t aim very high, it’s a sort of modest, small comedy. You have to be into that kind of film, I suppose.
* Irina Palm, directed by Sam Garbarski. A difficult film and a little gem, set in contemporary Britain, it tells the story of Maggie (an amazing Marianne Faithfull), a widow whose grandson is seriously ill. Unfortunately, the rare disease he’s contracted requires very expensive treatment. Out of desperation for some quick money, lacking of opportunities and income, Maggie accepts a job as “hostess” in one of Soho’s sex shops. She takes on there the pseudo Irina Palm, hence the title. This is, as it sounds, very dramatic stuff indeed, but the director is always careful not to be over-the-top or into too much sentimentalism. Maggie speaks little, she mostly keeps everything to herself; her courage is not depicted with sweeping, triumphant shots, but progressively acknowledged. Her situation comes more from a natural need to provide for her family and her grandson than from making things difficult for herself. In the end, this film is about self-sacrifice for others, and for family. And it’s never moralizing or obvious. Maggie is also surrounded by a gallery of vivid characters –first of all, the club owner Mikey, who comes across as the opposite of what he first appears to be; a very sympathetic character, played with great charisma by Miki Manojlovic. There are also Maggie’s son and her stepdaughter, the parents to the ill child, who of course, have a tragedy of their own, too. And finally, as Maggie lives in a very small town, there are her so-called ‘friends’, but who turn out to be nothing more than upper-class, gossipy neighbours. They do add a welcomed comic relief to the film. Overall, though, it’s still a very sad, touching drama, focused on one woman’s incredible courage and motherly instinct. Directing, not unlike the film’s protagonist, is restrained and simple; and it does a fantastic job at capturing each location’s atmosphere (the hospital, the small town, the busy capital city).
* Les Chansons d’Amour, directed by Christophe Honoré
* Le Scaphandre et le Papillon, directed by Julian Schnabel
Both films were reviewed in an individual post here. Rather quick reviews, but I can’t keep repeating myself, can I? Les Chansons d’Amour, in case you haven’t heard yet, is my favourite film this month and possibly of the year. I’ve grown so fond of it (actually went to see it three times), and the songs are just such a pleasure to listen to. I’ll grow tired of it. Eventually. But right now, it’s just delightful!
* 88 Minutes, directed by Jon Avnet. I don’t like criticising films in a negative way, but this one was tough. It was pretty bad. Kind of well exectued but poorly written and very far-fetched. It’s not exactly what you’d call an enjoyable thriller. It doesn’t hold the viewer’s attention as well as it should, or so I thought. Everything seemed strained, even the main character’s background, which is supposed to be relevant to the story, but really isn’t. The truth is, I went to see the film for Ben McKenzie and he had a very small, supporting role (he was still great, mind you *not biased*). Other than that… The rest of the cast was good (Al Pacino first), but the material they were given was so mediocre that I felt that they did the best they could, basically. I reckon that if you take it for what it is, an action sort-of-thriller story, then it might be entertaining. But I found myself utterly uninterested.
One more month which I’ll be reviewing, then I’m afraid I won’t be able to go to the movies as often as I do now! But who knows? In the meantime, I wanted to post the one-sheet for Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park which was recently revealed. The film’s release date, on the other hand, is postponed to the 24th of October for France (it was initially set for September the 5th, a week prior to The Bourne Ultimatum‘s French release). No idea if the film will be distributed in New Zealand or when, though… Anyway, I *love* the poster. You might argue that I pretty much love anything that has to do with this film, which would be a good point, and especially its director (who deserves his very own tag on my blog, that’s higher recognition than the Cannes prize!). But still, the design’s pretty neat. Doesn’t look like your typical promotional poster. Then again, I doubt this is your typical film. And Gabe Navins’ look is sort of sad, and/or inscrutable, and/or enigmatic etc. Very interesting, and bears well for the film.