Saturday, July 31, 2010

Benning, Moore & War



Put Annette Bening and Julianne Moore at the top of this year's Best Actress race, they are the heart and soul of The Kids Are Alright. They play a married couple that go through the same issues any other hetero married couple would go through. Bening with her devious but honest smile is a tour de force as Nic, a woman that only wants the best for her children, even when she can sometimes come out looking harsh and honest. Julianne Moore, playing Jules, is her wife. Jules feels isolated and resorts to an affair with their kids' sperm donor Paul -magnificently played by Ruffalo (almost a sure thing for next year's Supporting Actor race). The scenes between Moore and Ruffalo are tremendous, sexy, touching and extremely honest.

Paul owns a restaurant but is haunted by the wasted potential of his life, meeting Jules and the kids makes him want a family to settle down with. Jules already has that and commits to the affair only for excitement and the isolation her partner has brought on. The hot sex they have brings much needed intimacy to Jules' sex life, If you don't believe me check it out for yourself it's ragingly hot. Ditto Moore, who's both sexy and terrific in her best role in years. Being the huge Julianne fan that I am, I cannot help but warmly welcome this comeback.

Much credit must be given to Writer/Director Lisa Cholodenko, who infuses realism and indie spirit to the film. Cholodenko -36- hits a career peak with the film. While her first two features (High Art & Laurel Canyon) had the potential, The Kids Are Alright shows it wasn't just anything. Born and raised in California's San Fernando Valley, Cholodenko makes high art out of family manners. Her personal life -she also had a kid through sperm donation with her long time partner Wendy Melvoin- makes this a personal and rewarding independent effort, even when the film hits through melodramatic bumps in its last third. Judging by the critical acclaim this film has gotten, expect it to get some well deserved awards in the months ahead.

★★★



If there's one documentary that should be seen this summer it's this one. Restrepo -directed by the team of Tim Hetherington & Sebastian Junger- will likely be seen in the years to come as one of the finest documents of the war in Afghanistan. The stuff captured here is at times jaw dropping as a platoon of U.S Soldiers get deployed to Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, one of the most dangerous spots for violence in the region. As the days go by and the casualties grow Junger and Hetherington start to focus on the bonding these soldiers have to one another and the way they manage to stay clam in a walking hell such as this one. They name their outpost after one of their fallen friends, his ghost lingers throughout the movie as these soldiers cannot shake their fallen comrade.

This isn't for the weak of heart. Restrepo might be about war and mortality but it isn't an indictment or critique of war. It stands on its own ground and doesn't make any assumptions about how these soldiers got there and why. The braveness that I saw in their faces was overwhelming. One soldier is asked "why are you here in Afghanistan". His response? "for my country". Junger and Hetherington's film is a knowing tribute to those that are still out there fighting the fight. The footage they have captured here is tremendous, as they put their own lives on the line filming soldiers in combat and on the brink of losing it. The film's most gut wrenching moment comes when a soldier is killed in battle and the reaction that ensues. If watching documentary is your thing, check this one out.


★★★

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Christopher Nolan & his amazing mistakes



I've already chimed in on Inception a few days ago -that can be read HERE- but I'm still not done talking about Nolan and the constant mistakes he seems to be making in every film he releases. That is not to say Inception or Memento or The Dark Knight are not memorable experiences but they have a coldness and detachment to character that is very evident and almost frustrating to watch. Nolan is a man that is all about Ideas and structure- in fact he's a master @ those things. The concepts in Inception are brilliant and unforgettable, so are the payoffs and images that he imposes on the viewer. Nolan has a knack for creating visually stunning imagery that takes your breathe away, I can think of a few in his Batman movies and the lasting image of Leonard Shelby covered in tattoos and haunted by his dead wife in Memento. He is one of the great creators of the past 10 years of film, I haven't necessarily disliked any of his feature length movies with the exception of his film school-felt debut Following- which debuted in 1998 at sundance.

One thing I found very disconcerting about Inception was the way Nolan handled the action- his use of hand held camera was at times nauseating and completely devoid of comprehension. Ever since those Paul Greengrass Bourne movies came out, it's been a hip thing to use hand held camera for any and every action scene, which -instead of realism- can sometimes bring a feeling of dizziness. This struggle with action is not new to Nolan. Don't get me wrong The Dark Knight had some awe inspiring set pieces but Nolan can sometimes suffer from a case of too much is not enough. He gets excited with something and never lets it go- hammering down at his audience like an excited fanboy. Then again Nolan is only 40 and still has time to master his ingeniously original ideas into coherent action. You expect a movie such as Inception to create a backlash. It's riddled with ideas and is one of the most original movies you will likely see in 2010. Is it the best one? probably not.

Originality always comes at a cost and Inception will most likely puzzle and provoke the most timid of audiences. In other words, the world Nolan has created isn't for the A-Team crowd. Just like any of his previous efforts, it has flaws but its beating heart is undeniably real and in the right place. The male characters that populate his movies are flawed men with a haunted past. I can think of Leonard Shelby seeking revenge for his dead wife in Memento, Bruce Wayne building a better Gotham and still troubled by his dead parents in The Dark Knight, Al Paicno's detective Domer haunted by his past and not able to sleep in Insomnia & Leonardo Dicaprio's Cobb in Inception, a man that cannot face the facts and still tries to create memories of his wife in his very dreams. Now if only Nolan can control himself for a change and bring subtelty to his game, then maybe we can talk about a true master of his game. For now we are left with his undeniably messy but brilliant films which I've rated below

Following C
Memento A
Insomnia B+
Batman Begins B+
The Prestige B+
The Dark Knight A-

Monday, July 26, 2010

Salt



It wasn't supposed to work but it did. Salt starring Angelina Jolie is a high wire act of suspense mixed in with breathless action & excitement to spare. It's one of the funnest times I've had in a theater all year- which says a lot about the quality of film in 2010. The plot is outrageous but it works because a competent director is at work here. Philip Noyce, the director of Rabbit Proof-Fence and The Quiet American, knows how to stage action- unlike Christopher Nolan, who's still learning the dos and dont's. He stages Jolie in the most over the top set pieces you will ever see, which is all part of the fun and why Salt is a a master class in action. It actually reminded me of the first time I saw Brian De Palma's Mission Impossible- a film which shares similar traits to Salt & which was a clear influence from top to bottom. Just a real blast all around.

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