kenjari: (Eowyn)
Last night, I saw Mad Max: Fury Road with Other Kenjari and [ profile] jasons_227. It delivers on everything it promises. Which means yes, it is a two hour car chase, but it is the best damn car chase I will likely ever see. I enjoyed it immensely.
The visuals and the pacing were really well done. George Miller definitely knows what he is doing. The way he tells you so much about the Max's world in only a couple of minutes with just a bit of voice-over and minimal action is wonderful and the perfect way to open the film. After those opening minutes, the movie proceeds to be packed with some of the most exciting action I have ever seen. The stunts were amazing, and just enough of it was over the top to keep me hooked. I also really love the way Miller makes his vision of post-apocalyptic Australia so weird. There are malformed creatures, people in strange garb, lots of oddly tricked-out cars and motorcycles, unfamiliar yet fully comprehensible slang, and a cult based on cars, gas, and Valhalla. Not to mention the truck that is a massive amp stack and stage for a guitarist with a souped up guitar that shoots flames. With bonus taiko-style drummers on the back. Did I mention how much fun all of this is?
Mad Max: Fury Road is also one of the most feminist action films I have ever seen. Not only is the lead female character, Furiosa, Max's equal in terms of toughness and capability, she is also his equal in terms of importance to the story. She's also not the only important woman in the movie - there are close to a dozen named women with speaking roles. And, the movie passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. Most importantly, though, it is the women's goals that drive the narrative, and the actions of Mad Max and (eventually) Nux support those goals. It is the men who join up with the women and who end up becoming part of the women's mission. It is the women who win with the help of the men, not the other way around.
kenjari: (Me)
Wild (2014)
I was surprised at how much I liked this movie - it was definitely more than the aims-to-be-inspiring chick flick I was half expecting. Reese Witherspoon gives a really good, restrained performance as Cheryl Strayed, a woman whose grief over her mother's death causes her to seriously lose her way. In order to extricate herself from the mess she's made of her life and get back to the person she wants to be, Cheryl decides to hike the Pacific Coast Trail, a trip of a few thousand miles and a few months. It's grueling and Cheryl is clearly not fully prepared. But she gets by on sheer determination, brains, and the help of a few kind strangers along the way.
The cinematography was very good - the west coast is gorgeous. It made me want to go hiking out there, too. I also very much liked the way the film wove in flashbacks to Cheryl's earlier life and the things that brought her to the trail. They weren't entirely sequential, they were sometimes fragmentary, and sometimes came at unexpected points, so it was more like the way real memory works. It avoid over-sentimentality and brought the viewer closer to Cheryl.

Life on Mars (UK version, 2006)
This series falls into the genre of British people solving mysteries, and it was quite good. It follow Sam Tyler, a Manchester police detective in 2006 who has a serious car accident and wakes up in 1973. He's still in Manchester and still a detective, but things are very different. Not only does Sam have to function in 1973, he also has to try to figure out what has happened to him: is he dead, in a coma, hallucinating, insane, time-travelling?
The mysteries themselves are often quite clever, but it is the interactions among the characters that really make the series. Sam often clashes with his superior, Gene Hunt, who is very old-school and brash. In fact, he and Sam make a nice inversion of a typical cop show trope. Here it is the experienced chief who is the renegade and the new guy who is the one who want to reign things in and go more by the book. I also liked the sweet and slow-boiling romance between Sam and Woman Police Constable Annie Cartwright.
Watching Sam try to deal with what has happened to him is also interesting. Not only does he have to try to figure out what is going on, he also has to cope with connections between his 2006 life and his current existence in 1973. The episodes where he meets his parents as they are in 1973 are particularly poignant. The show never does fully explain what has happened to Sam. The ambiguity works, though. And there is a follow-up series, Ashes to Ashes that more fully explains things, but it's not available in the US yet.

Defiance (2008)
I really liked this film about the Bielski partisans, a group of around 1000 Polish and Russian Jews who hid in the woods during WWII. They did so for about two and half years and thus survived the war and successfully built a community in the forest, with a school, medical clinic, workshops, etc. The movie centers around Tuvia Bielski (Daniel Craig), the eldest of four brothers, who was the leader of the partisans, and his younger brother Zus (Liev Schreiber), who leaves the forest community to fight with a group of Soviet partisans nearby. Defiance thus gets to explore both survival and resistance in the face of the Holocaust, and it makes for a great story.
The performances are very good. I was particularly impressed by the way Craig was able to rearrange the muscles of his face to look Polish (Other Kenjari commented that he looked somewhat like my father in the film). He gave Tuvia a fitting mix of sadness, resolve, and resignation. Liev Schreiber was also good as Zus, a much more intense and volatile person than Tuvia - Scheiber was very intense but also very layered.
The film-makers make great use of a series of parallels throughout the movie. First, there are some great juxtapositions between what is going on in the forest encampment and what is going on with the Soviet partisans. Then, there is the extended invocation of the Exodus when the Bielski partisans have to move their encampment, complete with a river crossing. It makes for some very striking storytelling.


May. 11th, 2014 09:03 pm
kenjari: (Me)
A few weeks ago, Other Kenjari and I watched The Grandmaster, a 2013 film by Wong-Kar Wai about martial arts Master Ip Man,who taught Bruce Lee. It's not at all a typical kung fu movie, but it's just as enjoyable. The cinematography is gorgeous - it all has an old-fashioned warmth that really captures the early 20th century settings of most of the film. The fight choreography is wonderful, and Kar Wai's direction is more thoughtful and contemplative than most movies of the genre. Kar Wai also tells the story with just the right amount of sentimentality to bring out the emotional highs and lows without so much that things become sappy. It's well worth watching.

Last night, we went to see the long-anticipated Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch's recent vampire movie with Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston. It was every damn thing I'd been hoping it would be. Jarmusch's slow pacing worked beautifully - his lingering on images or events and sparseness of plot events really let me live in the world he created. Swinton and Hiddleston are absolutely perfect as vampire lovers, one of whom still finds the world and her existence in it interesting and worthwhile and the other of whom is not quite sure he's really up for going on. But this is anything but a tired story of someone finding a new lease on life. it's much more interesting and cooler than that. I really loved the way their relationship was portrayed - they really truly did act like people in a longterm relationship that has not lost its passion or immediacy. The significant looks, the casual draping of limbs across each other while lounging or sleeping, the deep comfort with and understanding of each other. It all rang true and was wonderful to watch. Also damn sexy. The use of colors, the soundtrack, and the recurring motif of a spinning shot taken from above were all delights for the eyes and ears. I need to see this film again, I need to own it for repeated viewings. You all should see this - it's possibly the best vampire movie ever made and also my favorite of Jarmusch's work.

Two movies

Mar. 31st, 2014 11:08 pm
kenjari: (illumination)
The Station Agent (2003)
This quiet indie movie was a real pleasure to watch. It centers around Finbar (Peter Dinklage), a man who moves to rural NJ after his only friend dies and the model train shop where he works is sold. He sets up house in an old train depot and intends to live a solitary life. However, Finbar's intended solitude is interrupted by Joe, the gregarious proprietor of a hot dog and coffee truck who likes to set up shop next to the old depot, and Olivia, a painter. The film centers around the unfolding of these three people and their friendship. Things happen, but there is no big, dramatic plot, but the movie never seems too slow or dull. It's simple and effective. The acting is amazing, especially Dinklage's performance. I particularly loved the fact that the movie did not rely on either a romantic triangle or a pointless existential tragedy to propel the narrative, as so many of these type of stories seem to.

Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
I think this is my absolute favorite of the Wes Anderson films I have seen. It was an utter delight from start to finish. It's a comedy, and a mystery, and a heist movie, with a little romance thrown in. The movie is set at the titular establishment, nestled high in the mountains of the fictional Republic of Zubrowka, in 1932. The story concerns M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) and the adventures that ensue when they become involved in both a murder mystery and an art heist. There is a lot of snappy dialog, witty humor, and some of the most ludicrous chase scenes I've ever seen. There's also time for a sweet romance between Zero and Agatha, a very clever baker (Saoirse Ronan).
One of the other pleasures of Grand Budapest Hotel is the sets. The film has a wonderful sense of place, especially indoor spaces. A lot of the time, I felt like I was actually in the rooms and buildings along with the characters. Anderson made frequent and effective use of hallways, doorways, and walls to frame scenes. Best of all was the terrific use of color palettes - every location had its own distinctive color scheme, from the bright pastels of the hotel in 1932 to the washed out greys and beiges of the Zubrowkan prison, to the brash golds and reds of the hotel in 1968.
Another pleasure was the cast. In addition to the lead roles mentioned above, there were many notable actors appearing smaller but equally fun and awesome parts. Willem Dafoe made a great villainous thug, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson had awesome cameos as other hotel concierges, and Harvey Keitel showed up as a hardened criminal/prisoner. And of course, Tilda Swinton, as one of the hotel's more notable guests.
kenjari: (Me)
Fargo (1996)
This is a delightfully strange movie from the Coen brothers. It's basically a police/crime drama, but looked at sideways. There's plotting and scheming, violent murders (the most gruesome of which is even based on a crime that took place not so far from my hometown), and clever detective work. But it all takes place in Minnesota and North Dakota in the middle of winter, the criminals are not so smart, and the detective is a heavily pregnant small town police chief. The humor is darkly off kilter and the scenery is flat, white, barren, and bleak. It's kind of the quintessential Coen brothers film, and I loved it.

Rare Exports (2010)
This Finnish film is an oddly fun mashup of horror and Christmas tales that draws on older legends about Santa and his helpers. I In the north of Finland, where the Sami people live, a mysterious company excavates a mountain they believe to be the resting place of Santa Claus. Two local boys have been spying on the operation, and it is the younger, Onni, who figures out that the Santa Claus the company has found is not the jolly guy with a red suit and white beard, but something more akin to Krampus. Onni eventually convinces the adults about what is going on and hatches a clever plan to not only save them from Santa Claus but also bring a lot of money to the town. It's surprisingly fun and just a bit twisted.

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
This is the most recent Coen brothers movie, and it is one of their best. The film follows the title character, a struggling folk singer in 1961 Greenwich Village, through a week of his life. Mostly homeless, Llewyn gets by through crashing on friends' and acquaintances' couches, and singing and playing guitar at clubs and occasionally as a session player. There's not much of a real plot - it's really more of a close examination of the lives and characters of Llewyn, his friends and associates, and the early New York folk scene. There's also a look into the purposes of art and what art and the world demand of artists. Plus, there are lots of really great performances of beautiful songs.
Llewyn, portrayed wonderfully by Oscar Isaac, is not necessarily the most likable guy, but he is very interesting. And truly talented, even if he can't quite overcome the hurdles in his path, even if he placed some of those hurdles there himself. And the cast of characters who surround him are equally interesting, even if they are only on the screen for a few moments. I especially liked John Goodman's appearance as an odd jerk of a jazz musician - the Coen brothers really know how to write for him.
It's kind of hard to describe precisely what is so amazing about this film, but it all just works so well. It's surprisingly quiet, and very deliberately paced so that you can really pay attention to everything and so that everything means something. It left me with a lot to think about, and I find myself thinking about it a lot. I know I'll want to see it over and over again.
kenjari: (Eowyn)
For my birthday, I went out with friends to see Thor: The Dark World, and enjoyed it very much. I really like the way the writers weave explanations of the Marvel cosmology into the plot without making it drag. I feel like these films do a great job of combining a compelling, action-filled plot with exploration of the world and how it works. I'm also increasingly impressed with the way Thor and Loki are written - they are very much opposites yet they are both complex and deep; you can't boil either of them down to a simple stereotype. Thor is not just a simple heroic fighter - he's got brains to match the brawn. Even better, Loki has never been a simple villain - the writers are really embracing his identity as a trickster in this movie. I do wish they would do better with Jane Foster. I sometimes get the feeling that the writers really want to write a more traditional and purely romantic girlfriend character, but keep getting tripped up by the need to make use of the fact that she is a talented scientist in order to make the plot work. I also really wish we could see more of Jane and Thor's actual relationship - it would be nice to have a couple of more substantial scenes of them interacting without it being 100% about saving the world or smooching.
Thor: The Dark World was really at its best when it was the Thor and Loki show. The way they snipe and bicker at each other is really amusing, and I love the way they are adversaries yet still have a palpable sibling bond. It's so much fun to watch. I also loved how their plot to deal with the dark elves played out, the way Jane, Thor, and Loki all got to play pivotal roles, and the combination of science and superpower it required.
The visuals were pretty stunning. I like the way each of the nine worlds has a very distinct look, ranging from quite alien to entirely recognizable. The design for the dark elves' ships was especially good - the ominous combination of the primeval and the high tech was very effective. The Viking funeral scene was absolutely gorgeous and touching. And I still like the warm timelessness of Asgard. I just hope Odin does not ask the giants to come and repair the damage the dark elves dealt to the buildings, because that would not end well.
kenjari: (Me)
In keeping with the end of October, Other Kenjari and I have watched three good horror movies over the last week.

Mama (2013)
This movie was wonderfully creepy and compelling. It starts out with the disappearance into the woods of two sisters, ages 3 and 1. Five years later, they are found living in an abandoned cabin, semi-feral. The girls are given over to the care of their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his rocker girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain). It soon becomes clear that the girls may not have been alone in that cabin and that they are not exactly alone in their new home, either.
Mama is extremely well done, and I highly recommend it. The direction is terrific. Andrés Muschietti makes great use of the contrast between foreground and background and does great things with the edges of frames so that the viewer is often very aware of things that are not on camera. I also liked the way the house was filmed - it seemed both big and claustrophobic, like there was a lot of space but it was very sharply divided and boxed off. I really appreciated Muschietti's restraint with jump cuts, too. His sparing use of them made them all the more effective. The effects are very good. Apparently, the person playing Mama is able to dislocate joints at will, so that there was less reliance on CGI. The performances are great - the little girls who play the sisters get just the right balance of creepy and innocent. I especially liked Jessica Chastain who really nails the tensions between Annabel's reluctance to take on a parental role and her desire to do right by Lucas and the girls.
mild spoilers )

Carrie (1976)
I think this version holds up really well, despite its age and low budget. It sticks tightly to the plot and moves along quickly, getting right to the meat of things.
Let me get my one complaint out of the way. The opening shower scene is way too heavy on the soft-core male-gaze titillation. It's much more a fantasy about girls locker rooms than any kind of reality. Plus, I find it hard to believe that anyone in Carrie's position, bullied at school and abused at home, would be that unselfconscious and relaxed in a public shower. The scene bears little resemblance to the way it is in the book.
The rest of the movie was quite good, though. Sissy Spacek aptly captures all the fragility of adolescence. Piper Laurie is really creepy as Carrie's mother, too. I especially liked how the film brings out the way in which this is a horror story on two levels. There's the more obvious horror of Carrie wreaking havoc on the prom. But the movie is pretty clear that there's ample horror in what is done to Carrie as well: the bullying, her mother's fanaticism and abuse, and that awful final prank.

The Shining (1980)
It has been years and years since I last saw this film, and there was a lot I didn't remember about it: how long it is, how slow the build up of the horror is. But it was just as good as I remembered it. Kubrick does a great job of making the Overlook Hotel itself a character - watching the movie you really feel it as a presence in its own right. I think the length and the slowness, as well as some really amazing use of music and silence*, helps to build and intensify the atmosphere of isolation and remoteness. I also like how it never really stops being creepy - even when the pace quickens and there is more action at the end, it never loses its feeling of creeping dread.

*The famous elevator of blood scene is done in either complete silence or just a simple, quiet drone, which is surprisingly effective.
kenjari: (Me)
I'm way behind on writing about movies I have recently watched.

This was a fun Netflix discovery, which we watched on the recommendation of some friends. It's an amusing subversion/parody of classic westerns that starts out in typical fashion with Sean, a gravely injured outlaw gunfighter, staggering into a remote town in the Canadian Rockies. Sean takes offense to the town blacksmith corralling and re-shoeing his horse, and challenges him to a duel. However, the blacksmith does not have a proper handgun, so Sean sets out to find and then repair a suitable weapon so that he can have his duel. Along the way, Sean gets to know the genuinely kind and decent townspeople, starts a sweet, understated romance, and eventually has his showdown,albeit not the one he was expecting. It's a cute and funny movie, but very light. It's a pleasant diversion and nothing more.

The World's End
This is the final installment of the Cornetto Trilogy that started off with Shaun of the Dead and continued with Hot Fuzz. This time, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost send up the sci-fi apocalypse scenario and the Judd Apatow style man-child story in one fell swoop. In a complete departure from his role in the previous two movies, Simon Pegg plays Gary King, the gothy devil-may-care party boy leader of a group of young men (Peter, Oliver, Stephen, and Andy) who graduated from high school in the 1990s. Although he has not seen any of his mates in about 20 years, Gary, who hasn't changed much if at all, decides to round up the gang for a reunion in which he plans to finally complete their exhaustive pub crawl of all twelve bars in their hometown of Newton Haven. When Gary's four former friends all reluctantly agree, they return to their hometown and meet up with Oliver's sister Sam only to slowly realize that something has gone terribly wrong. They soon discover that alien invaders have been replacing the residents of Newton Haven with robot versions in order to effect a stealthy takeover of earth. The action and comedy intensifies as the group attempts to escape the town and warn the rest of the world, but the film never loses its focus or its heart.
I really loved this movie. It was fabulously entertaining and clever while still being intelligent and heartfelt. The World's End has a lot of really perceptive things to say about growing up and finding out that home is no longer what you remember it to be, reconciling your past, and, well, the end of the world. I love that Gary's Peter Pan state is not idealized, and the other guys' stable, mature lives are not ridiculed or denigrated. In fact, it's much the opposite - it's Gary who has missed out on something by never growing beyond his teenage self. Yet he is not a loser to dismiss, either - he is someone you care about. It's rare to see such an effective mixture of funny and thoughtful, and that combination is what makes this film work so well.
kenjari: (me again)
Pacific Rim was fucking awesome, and does pretty much live up to the hype. I have been eagerly waiting for this movie for months, and I was not disappointed. Some reviewers have commented that the plot and characters are a little thin, and while this is true, I don't consider it much of a flaw. Pacific Rim is in many ways like a classic 1930s movie musical where the plot and characters exist to set up fabulous dance numbers and make us care about them. (This is also true of some of the classic kung fu movies) Except here, it's all a framework for battles between kaiju and jaegers. And as such, the plot and characters work very well: they set up the battle sequences, give sufficient explanation for what's going on, provide motivation, and give us people to care about. The simplicity and straightforwardness is a plus because one always knows what's happening and why. The characters' decisions make sense.
The visuals and the action scenes are astounding. Del Toro really pulled out all the stops, and the result is terrific. The jaeger (giant mecha) are really well-designed - each has unique features and a distinctive look. The way they move and fight is extremely well-animated. The kaiju are huge and weird and frightening: for each one, there is something not quite right about they way they look or move. The battle sequences are terrific, with just the right amount of chaos and clarity. Each battle was different, too, so despite having a lot of battle sequences, Pacific Rim never felt repetitive. It's just a huge feast for the eyes, and very exciting, too.
Some other things I liked about the movie:
It's set a few years after the advent of the kaiju, so we're in the thick of it. Life on Earth has kind of adjusted to this new reality. There are kaiju attack shelters, pop culture references, etc. The jaeger and their command centers look weathered, used. The technology involved is understood and has even changed and advanced.
The lead female character, Mako Mori, is a fully realized character and not overly sexualized. She never appears scantily clad or in a sexed-up outfit. Even when she strips down to spar with Raleigh, she is in loose pants and a modest tank top. Plus, she's an interesting person with her own compelling back story and her own motivations. She's not there to provide motivation or tension for the male characters.
Best of all, Mako is not the token woman. There is at least one more female pilot shown, and others hinted at in the exposition. Plus, there are women shown among the crowd of support staff. And the final rousing speech is inclusive.
The comic relief bits are amusing but not stupid and still manage to add to the story and give us interesting characters.

ETA: Remember what it was like to be a kid and see one of the Star Wars movies for the first time, or one of the animes brought over to American TV, like Battle of the Planets or Robotech? Yeah, Pacific rim made me feel like that again.


Jun. 9th, 2013 11:27 pm
kenjari: (Me)
A while back, Other Kenjari and I watched a couple of movies.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
This was a very enjoyable action thriller, and pretty much delivered on everything you might expect of a Mission Impossible movie. There were many terrific action sequences, especially the very long one that takes place on the exterior of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. That whole sequence really made use of Brad Bird's Pixar-honed skills and imagination. I also liked the way the plot had the team pretty much fail multiple times before finally vanquishing the villain - it made the payoff more meaningful and really brought home how much the team had to operate on their own, without any institutional support.
Even though the Mission Impossible films have been, up to now, largely a vehicle for Tom Cruise, this one felt like much more of an ensemble piece. Much as I hate to admit it, Cruise can still bring it as far as an action movie goes. He's fun to watch in spite of all the weird religious cult stuff and drama-filled personal life. Simon Pegg was really good in his role as the computer expert on the team - it was part serious and part comic relief, and Pegg struck the balance really well. Jeremy Renner was great, too. I loved him in The Town and The Avengers, and he was just as good here. I especially liked Paula Patton's role, since she was not, refreshingly, set up to be a romantic partner or even source of sexual tension with or for any of the male characters.

Cabin in the Woods
This movie is clever and scary and funny. And I can't say any thing else without massive spoilers )
Seriously, do not read these spoilers unless you've seen the movie.

Two movies

May. 5th, 2013 11:05 pm
kenjari: (Me)
Now that I'm done with grad school (except for that little bit of an incomplete), I have real leisure time. So I watched some movies.

Barfi! (2012)
This is a very sweet and funny Bollywood movie that very much recalls the humor and cleverness of classic silent films, especially those of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, as well as other classic sight gags from later films. The title character is a young man who is hearing and speech impaired. He fall in love with Shruti, a young woman who is soon to be married. Although she returns Barfi's feelings, she acquiesces to parental and societal pressure and marries her fiance. Barfi then meets and forms a bond with Jhilmil, an autistic woman. When she goes missing, Shruti is pulled back into the story, and a suspenseful mystery and unexpected love story unfolds.
I really loved how well-balanced this film was. It is funny without making buffoons of anyone, sentimental without being smarmy, and romantic without being swoopy. Barfi and Jhilmil are always treated as full people, with the complete range of emotions and the ability to direct their own lives. They are not there as props for anyone else's epiphanies or fulfillment. Also, Priyanka Chopra, who plays Jhilmil, gives just about the best portrayal of an autistic person I have ever seen, rivaling Dustin Hoffman in Rainman.

Brick (2005)
This strange film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who I like quite a bit) as Brendan, an adolescent loner who works his way into the criminal underground to find out what happened to his ex Emily when she goes missing. It's a gritty and dark film noir set among the high school crowd (not exactly set in high school, since most of the movie occurs outside of classrooms and hallways). The mystery seems straightforward at first, but gradually becomes increasingly complex as Brendan tries to find out not just what happened to Emily but why it happened.
Brick works really well as a film noir. There are shady characters, including two femmes fatale, more going on than is immediately apparent, attractive surfaces that hide a wealth of darkness, and lots of manipulation. It draws on and references other films in the genre really well, and even includes a nod to Twin Peaks. Setting this within the social scene of a high school almost fails but kinds of works. Nobody goes to class or even really acts like a teenager, but the setting does act as a nice set up for some of the ways characters communicate and interact. The juxtaposition gives the whole thing a slightly surreal quality, never letting the viewer settle into the familiarity of either the noir or the high school drama aspects.
kenjari: (illumination)
A few weeks ago, [ profile] violet_shade and I watched Devdas, a sumptuous Bollywood film from 2003. It follows the tragedy of Devdas and Parvati, lovers parted by class, snobbery, and foolishness in 1930s India. The story itself is very sentimental, almast to the point of being over-the-top. But it is a true feast for the eyes and ears: gorgeous sets, colorful costumes, and, best of all, incredible musical numbers. The singing and dancing is beautiful and works very well with the story. I loved all the numbers, and even re-watched them several times over the next week after viewing the film.
Yesterday, Other Kenjari and I went to see The Secret of Kells, a beautiful animated film about the Book of Kells, centering on Brendan, a young novice at an early medieval Irish monastery who gets caught up in the making of the book and who is aided by a forest spirit (sidhe?) named Aisling. The film had the look of a wonderfully illustrated children's book come to life. The animation thus had a mix of the simple and the intricate, with the contrast giving rise to a true wonder and beauty. Many of the scenes, particularly those set in the forest outside the monastery, were drawn to evoke the style of decoration and illustration found in the Book of Kells. It's not a flashy film by any means, but it is one of the most visually rich and enchanting films I've seen in a long time.
kenjari: (Default)
Julie and Julia
I really wish that this movie had been a straight biopic about Julia Child, starring Meryl Streep, because those were the most joyful parts of the film. The Julie Powell segments were not nearly as good. Powell just isn't the most likable woman - she often came off as whiny and self-centered. Working her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking seemed to very quickly become less of an interesting and fulfilling project for herself and more of a way for her to promote herself and feed her own self-image. However, many of the scenes of Powell cooking were pretty good.
Luckily, the Julia Child segments were magnificent. I loved the warm lighting and rich colors used in those scenes. And Meryl Streep was so very, very good. She is really nothing like Julia Child, and yet, her performance was so perfect, so convincing, that I utterly believed her. She portrayed Child as very lively, fun, joyful, and even sexy. I loved watching her.

District 9
I really liked this movie because it was very interesting and thoughtful. It dealt with issues of marginalization and exploitation while still being entertaining and having plenty of action. Plus, the special effects were rather stunning, without being too in-your-face about how amazing they were. It also had two things I really enjoy in sci-fi: a dystopian near-future and aliens who are extremely different from humans. Wikus' transformation had a strong kinship with Kafka's "Metamorphosis", especially in the way it revealed things about the people and institutions around him. The parallels between the MNU corporation and the Nigerian gang in District 9 were pretty interesting, too. One warning, though: if you are very squeamish or not strong of stomach, you may want to brace yourself - this film has a significant amount of gore and yucky stuff, which is often splattery.
kenjari: (Default)
Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels
Other Kenjari and I watched this on New Year's Eve. We were particularly interested to see how it compared to Sherlock Holmes, since the two films were made by Guy Ritchie. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels is a much earlier effort, so it's clearly lower-budget and smaller in scale. It's the story of criminals and would-be criminals in London's East End involving a large gambling debt and a heist to pay it off. Like Sherlock Holmes, it's got a gritty London setting, an intricate plot, charming characters, and clever action sequences. Lock, Stock is scrappier and has a plot that winds back on itself more.

Wristcutters: A Love Story
We watched this quite some time ago, but I forgot to write about it even though I liked it a lot. It's an indie film about a young man, Zia, who commits suicide and finds himself in a bleak yet mundane afterlife populated entirely by people who killed themselves. Zia ends up going on a road trip with his friend Eugene in order to find his ex who recently killed herself. Along the way, they pick up Mikal, a young woman hitch-hiking in search of the People in Charge. It's very wistful and sweet, and often funny. Amusingly enough, Eugene is based on Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello. And Tom Waits appears in the movie, as the proprietor of an establishment that is an odd combination of a summer camp, rustic resort, and retreat.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
spoilery )
kenjari: (Default)
Burn After Reading
This was not the best of the Coen brothers' work, but it wasn't terrible, either. None of the characters were truly likable, but they were all fun to watch. At times, I wondered if the movie was riffing not just on the modern espionage genre, but also on stereotypes and cliches about the cast as well. John Malkovich's character is intelligent and urbane, yet keeps erupting into tirades that are still somehow elegant. Tilda Swinton plays a cold, competent, and calculating woman. George Clooney is a charming womanizer with an over developed sense of self-importance. Brad Pitt is a wacky, quirky guy who stumbles into a more aggressive and adventursesome role.

The Rutles
This is Eric Idle's mockumentary spoof of The Beatles. Unfortunately, it is not up to the standard set by This Is Spinal Tap. There were some funny moments, particularly in the beginning, but certain of the jokes missed the mark. The song parodies were also uneven.

Invictus is a fine and successful film, with a lot to say about the way something that seems trivial or very far outside of politics and great events can come to have enormous symbolic and metaphoric power. Eastwood has a great eye for composition and lighting. I also liked his sense of subtlety when it came to portraying Mandela's work on reconciliation. Morgan Freeman was very good as Mandela, too. I think Eastwood is also aiming for a global rather than mainly American audience, which I found refreshing.

Sherlock Holmes
This was a lot of fun, and in many ways better than I thought it would be. Guy Ritchie clearly wants to reimagine Holmes and Watson as an action hero team, but, although I am far from an expert, he didn't seem to trample all over the characters and their milieu as much as I was fearing. The script also happily and cleverly makes use of the semblance of the supernatural as a device for the villain, a traditional mystery plot element. I also liked the way that some of the action scenes were intelligent in their setup and execution, using the mechanics of the environment and situation rather than relying on a lot of simple violence and property damage. I was also pleasantly surprised by the script's treatment of the female characters: there are two attractive women in the movie, yet, while they each have a relationship with one of the male leads, neither of them have a nude scene or a sex scene; both of them have independent and interesting back stories; Irene is very involved in the plot and action and has her own agenda. Also, the ending has clever and satisfying twist to it.
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Tonight Other Kenjari and I finally got around to watching that movie about a shy, introverted adolescent who develops a close romantic relationship with a new-to-town vampire. Yup, we watched Let the Right One In. It's a recent Swedish film and it's very good, although quite unlike American teenage vampire movies (or TV shows, for that matter). The main character is Oskar, a shy, intelligent, often bullied middle school student. He meets and forms a relationship with Eli, who has moved into the neighboring apartment with her "father". Oskar eventually figures things out and finds himself drawn into Eli's life (or unlife, as it were). It's very quiet and spare, and curiously un-romanticized. There's none of the kind of action or horror you'd expect to find in a vampire film, and no eroticism either. It's subtle, sometimes sweet, sometimes creepy, dark, and beautiful.
We also went out to the Coolidge Corner Theater this weekend to see the new Studio Ghibli movie Ponyo. It's as good as you'd expect - very cute, with beautiful visuals and an environmental theme. The animation is gorgeous, and includes the use of a couple of distinct styles, which is something I hadn't seen before in a Ghibli film. The narrative is on the simple side, but this movie is aimed at a younger audience than the last few - it's more on a Totoro level.
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We got A Mighty Wind from Netflix and watched it over the weekend. It's from the same people responsible for This Is Spinal Tap, and it is almost as hilarious. A Mighty Wind is about three 60s folk groups being reunited for a tribute concert. Some of the songs are hysterical - Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer have an absolutely dead-on sense when it comes to musical parodies and send-ups. Also, Eugene Levy is brilliant as a burnt-out singer/songwriter.
On Saturday we went out to see Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.
mild spoilers )
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On the 4th of July, Other Kenjari and I went out to see Public Enemies. It was a disappointment, but Johnny Depp was very good and rescued the film from being a disaster. Christian Bale, on the other hand, was surprisingly flat. My biggest problem with the movie was that it lacked a sense of direction or drive. I felt like it showed us a bunch of events but failed to have anything to say about those events or to create a sense of a larger story. There was also a tragically missed opportunity to set up any kind of compelling conflict or relationship between Dillinger and Purvis individually or between Dillinger's gang and Purvis' FBI team as groups. If the film had succeeded better on any of these points, I would have been able to forgive the camera work, which I often found too close in and tightly framed.
I saw The Last King of Scotland via Netflix, and really loved it. Forest Whitaker's performance as Idi Amin was absolutely Oscar-worthy. He gave a very complex and nuanced portrayal of Amin - he achieved a combination of charisma, bonhomie, danger, and menace that was both compelling and unsettling. James McAvoy was also very good, and I definitely want to see more of Kerry Washington, who played Kay Amin. The film also makes really good use of the fact that while Garrigan takes quite some time to realize what Amin really is and what is really going on, the audience starts out with that knowledge.
Last night we watched The Third Man. I very much need to watch more classic noir. I love the mystery and intrigue, and the slow unravelling of plots and schemes. Also, The Third Man is referenced by a lot of other films, most notably Miller's Crossing. I'm also pretty sure that Warren Ellis' comic Planetary references the film, too. I almost always find it gratifying to see the source material for images and dialogue that I've encountered in many other movies. Plus, The Third Man has some surprisingly surreal moments - the elderly balloon seller, the landlady who complains incessantly in German, Harry Lime's fingers reaching up towards the night sky through a sewer grate.


Jun. 13th, 2009 08:48 pm
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Other Kenjari and I saw Up last night. It is amazing, funny, exciting, and very moving. I really liked that Pixar made two unconventional choices with this film: the hero is an elderly man, and the love story focuses on a couple's life lived together rather than on how they got together. I liked the way Up was unafraid to take on some serious subjects amidst the entertaining adventure: love, loss, aging, absence, etc.
The first ten minutes could stand alone as a brilliant short film and it is one of the finest sequences Pixar has ever produced. It's also one of the most heart-rending - because of the opening and a later related scene, I very much regretted not bringing a box of tissues.
The pacing of Up is just about perfect, and the sense of adventure that permeates the film is infectious and exciting. The characters are endearing, the visuals are breathtaking, and emotional impact is huge. I was also amused by the nods to classic Road Runner and Snoopy cartoons. It's one of the most enjoyable and moving films I have ever seen.
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On Friday, my sister and I saw Drag Me To Hell, the new Sam Raimi horror movie. If you enjoyed Evil Dead 2, you will love this. It is thoroughly entertaining, and everything you'd expect from a Raimi horror flick. It's the perfect balance of scary and funny and has all the hallmarks of Raimi's horror style: the Dutch Angle of Doom, spirits who throw punches, a shed, and The Classic. I was also very impressed by the use of sound in this movie, both in terms of sound effects and the score. Raimi uses it to both ratchet up the horror and to create the horror all by itself. The sound design is rich and evocative. It gets a little loud at times, but volume is used judiciously.
Oh yeah, and the seance scene in the middle is absolutely brilliant.