Dienstag, 5. Juni 2012

A month of movies: May.

This month, the good comes in two forms: The more or less easy, as in "The Descendants" (trailer), "Tomboy" (trailer) and "Shame" (trailer) and the vastly more difficult, but all the more rewarding "Poliţist, Adjectiv" (trailer) and "Faust" (trailer). The bad is just very simple and on a slippery slope of not good enough ("The Help", trailer), touching not half as funny as intended ("The Dictator", trailer, and "Religulous", trailer, and finally reaching plain horrible ("Immortals", trailer - just why did I see that movie again?).

The short -
Go and see: Shame.
Well worth watching: Poliţist, Adjectiv (Police, Adjective), The Descendants (DVD) & Tomboy.

Also deserving a chance: Faust (DVD).
If you're white and in need of cheering up: The Help (DVD).
Forget about: The Dictator, Religulous (DVD), Immortals (DVD).

The long -
The rules: Only movies seen at cinemas during the month referred to in the post title and recent DVD releases (which will be noted as such) are eligible. This excludes films seen on video or television. Also excluded are movies from festivals, which may or may not get treated in separate posts. Premieres and previews, however, are fine. The reviews are listed in alphabetical order. Finally, ratings are given on IMDB's 1-10 scale. These rules, likely to be broken at the discretion of yours truly, solely exist because no rules are fun, and we cannot have that here, now can we?

Faust (DVD release). An ambitious film, to be sure. The camera pans and slurs as in a daze; the dialogue and plot is strong on ellipsis; Faust's and Mephistopheles' thoughts are heard in a mumble that is constantly accompanying the pictures, and when the hubbub of others is added in, we hear a genuine Babel of voices that through their distinction each are recognizable, but hard to follow as a whole. Most original ideas, and over time effecting as much disturbance in the viewer as Faust is inhabited with. At times though, the weirdness dissolves into incoherence. Sokurov and his Mephisto draw a depressing image of humanity, possessed by ambition alone, but not even effectively doing good - a sign of it only being loosely based on Goethe's play. Faust, forever spurred on, struggles with that concept, but in vain: Knowledge never made him a better man, just old. When he triumphs over Mephisto in the end, there's no sense of release or change, because he's forever trapped in his own directionless ambition. 7/10

Immortals (DVD release). Are you serious, Tarsem Singh? Exposition by talkative, scantly clad oracle? Ensuite, the usual: Legendary heroes (if not heroic legends or Gods) do epic deeds in locations of vast dimensions. Even if you ignore the careless slapping of names taken from Greek mythology onto random acts of action and violence, the film is one giant parade of facepalms and cause of offense to any creature whose central nervous system is coordinated by something at least resembling a brain. 2/10

Poliţist, Adjectiv (Police, Adjective). See full review here. 8/10

Religulous (DVD release). Bill Maher does what he does best, he provokes. He isn't without point, as he rarely is, and certainly not without wit, but the way he drives his point home and the way he presents himself and his ideas is off-putting, to say the least. His intolerance and condescension towards those who believe is annoying and not without its own zeal. More than a few times he is completely ignorant about the subject matter and even then still not prepared to at least listen to what others say, but rather interrupting and belittling them. He doesn't understand, and out of that lack of comprehension and the unwillingness to make an effort spews hatred, barely disguised as bitter humour and opinionatedness. He preaches doubt, but doesn't show much himself. He has little to back up his sweeping generalizations. Bill Maher may be in the camp of reason (and after this movie still one wonders why), but he has yet to grasp that crusading for reason is not any different than fighting for the other side, as are the results. 4/10

Shame. Provocative in theme and execution, "Shame" tells the story of an ambitious young businessman who is addicted to sex. When his unstable sister visits, his world carefully constructed around his secret fractures. They share a tormented relationship, and what exactly is causing the tension between them is alluded to, but we're not presented a resolution. The long shots are only the most apparent aspect of the visual style that Steve McQueen already successfully used in "Hunger" and reprises here. That doesn't come as a surprise, since he's relying on the same crew for his second feature. We also meet Michael Fassbender again, whose performance is so crucial for understanding his haunted character. New is Carey Mulligan in perhaps her most difficult role yet, because it's a break from the quiet and considerate young women she usually plays. Also features an excellent score. 9/10 

The Descendants (DVD release). In its best, this film can be wonderfully low-key and subdued, with a quiet Hawaiian music playing in the background and leaving the stage for its protagonists to interact. There are some precious scenes where George Clooney's character loses his cool. Precious because his characters always are very similar, to each other and, more to the point, to him. In those moments we get to see his actual acting and it's good. Then there are the truisms in the voice-over, which are less good. In fact, the entire narration could very well have been skipped altogether - the connections and relationships are easy enough to guess from the images and dialogue. Nevertheless, "The Descendants" is a fine movie because it takes a known theme and plants it in an uncommon environment, and then just let things evolve naturally quiet. 8/10 

The Dictator. A poor comedy movie with an abundance of cheap laughs, half of which misfire. Too much is too easy to anticipate and too obvious, and the few genuinely funny parts - which, the same as in "Borat", draw most of their attraction from overstepping accepted boundaries and being offensive - can't make up for it. More of the latter, less of the same! 4/10

The Help (DVD release). The entire film is a calculated appeal to emotions, simple, perhaps at times effective, but ultimately unsatisfying. It's a trivial feel-good tale and lacking any effort to seriously deal with the themes of segregation, racism and exploitation in the American Deep South it presents. In that regard, it's a film (and book?) of White Girl's Burden relieved. I'd rather watch and read "To Kill A Mockingbird" again and so should you. 5/10 

Tomboy. Coming along like an easy summer breeze, "Tomboy" was a pleasant surprise in its lightheartedness and gentle telling of a complex theme. The situation is this: Laure, a ten-year old new in town, on a whim pretends to be Michaël and is thus accepted into a group of other kids. Evading detection by parents for the longest part and supported by a clever little sister, a few weeks of carefree play, puppy love and role-probing follow. Gender has never been dealt with so relaxedly. The only signs of a problem are the start of the school year looming ahead and the mother's guarded behaviour towards Laure's tomboy-ishness. But when the secret is finally found out, the brief moment of catastrophe, of an identity falling apart is stopped short by new acceptance. Perhaps this is an overly simple ending little grounded in reality, but it's also perfectly fitting in tone. 8/10

Previous months of movies: January, February (no post), March, April.

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