National identity is a very dangerous thing, but growing up is even more dangerous!
A lot of variety in the movies I watched this week,
Choses Secrètes (Secret Things, 2002, Jean-Claude Brisseau, France) **1/2
Jean-Claude Brisseau sure does know how to direct an exotic scene, and put a full on orgy on display in effective fashion. That being said most of the film feels like the worst example of French pretentiousness. I know that’s a critique that most will hate, and to be honest I’m not super fond of using pretentiousness as a critique. However, sometimes the shoe fits and in this case the pretentious shoe certainly fits. The lead female character is developed, but outside of her the other characters are sketches of human beings. They are what humans are when they exist only to serve notions within the thematic of a film. At times I was impressed with Monsieur Brisseau’s filmmaking in terms of framing and composition. But, those elements could not save Choses Secrètes from its innate French pretentiousness bogging down its supposed look at the dark heart of humanity.
We Bought A Zoo (2011, Cameron Crowe, United States Of America) ***
Outside of one shoe horned conversation between Elle Fanning and Scarlett Johansson about choosing people over animals, I found We Bought A Zoo to be a well done family effort. The thematic aims of Cameron Crowe’s film aren’t high, but what he presents is a film well made. He integrates the music with his visuals and the story in a fashion that allowed for the film to move along at a cohesive clip. The acting was fine across the board, including another undersung performance from Thomas Haden Church. There’s nothing world shaking about We Bought A Zoo, but it’s an interesting film that comes together nicely for a fine entertainment experience.
Scrat’s Continental Crack-Up: Part 2 (2011, Steve Martino & Mike Thurmeier, United States Of America) **
It is what it is, that’s about the best I can say about this short. It clocks in at three minutes, and Scrat’s Continental Crack-Up: Part 2 is no different than any other Scrat adventure. The animation is okay, Scrat does some things that are kind of funny, and the short ends. There’s not much to say about this short other than it being decent, not offensive, and existing.
Sicko (2007, Michael Moore, United States Of America) **
I agree with the core issue of Sicko, I want to make that clear. I do believe the American health system is a sham and those who are still fighting against universal health care are either delusional, idiotic, or making a lot of money off of the current system. I could deal with the lack of objectivity, and fairness in Sicko. I was able to look past the usual Michael Moore approach of ignoring fact checking in favor of sensationalism. I could even deal with Mr. Moore’s presence for most of the film. Then he went and loaded up a bunch of sick people and took them to yell at a guard tower at Guantanamo Bay with a loud speaker. That grandstanding took me out of the film, and it helped to undermine Mr. Moore’s point. He put the focus on him so heavily that the issue no longer mattered. That’s typical of Mr. Mooore, but it doesn’t make for a good documentary, let alone a good film. Sicko is another example of issues that need attention being sabotaged by the narcissistic personality of Michael Moore.
Adventureland (2009, Greg Mottola, United States Of America) ***1/2
A tender and sweet coming of age tale that is equal parts comedic and dramatic. Martin Starr is the stand out among the cast, but it’s Martin Starr so his ability to be incredibly funny shouldn’t come as a surprise. What surprised me was the sexiness and believablity of Kristen Stewart. I have found her no better than average in the acting department and far too boyish in the looks department in everything else I’ve seen of her adult career. In Adventureland she is cute, funny, and charming, needless to say I was very surprised. The ensemble cast works well in Adventureland and Greg Mottola’s direction is spot on and earnest. I have the feeling that as time goes on Adventureland will be a go to coming of age tale for cinephiles.
This Is England (2006, Shane Meadows, United Kingdom) ***1/2
Disaffected youth and adults who are too busy occupying themselves elsewhere is never a good combination. Shane Meadows presents a harsh view of England in the 1980s, but it feels as if it is an honest view. The commentary taking place in This Is England is subtle, because the film never actually comments within its main narrative. It leaves the commentary to the fringe elements of the picture. It is in the brief radio announcements that we hear how far removed the adults in power have become from the concerns of the youth of the nation. By utilizing the fringe as a means of commentary it allows the events within the main narrative to take place unencumbered by heavy handed message delivery. There are a few too many questions left unanswered, but all in all This Is England is a terrific film.
Snatch. (2000, Guy Ritchie, United Kingdom/United States Of America) **
This is the second film I have seen from Guy Ritchie, and so far I find him a dreadfully boring director. He uses lost of camera movement and flashy technique to mask the fact that his stories are so empty and shallow. Snatch. is supposed to be a funny crime gone wrong movie, but it’s an exercise in empty substance that is devoid of any laughs. I keep searching for things to like in Mr. Ritchie’s movies, but yet again in Snatch. I was unable to find anything to enthuse me as a cinephile. Those who like Mr. Ritchie can have him, he’s simply not a filmmaker I’m interested in.
Bloody Sunday (2002, Paul Greengrass, Ireland/United Kingdom) ***1/2
Ah, so this is the Paul Greengrass that everyone has been telling me about, eh? I was put off of Mr. Greengrass after his fairly uninspired efforts on two of the Bourne franchise films. Bloody Sunday does suffer from some of the shaky cam problems that thus far seem to plague my experience with Mr. Greengrass. This time, however, the shaky cam is easier to stomach because the action in this one feels naturally chaotic and jumbled. Escalation is the modus operandi of this film about government and activists gone wrong. Bloody Sunday builds and builds, then the dust settles and the final twenty minutes of the film are spent in a state of near shock. Bloody Sunday is sparse, but it is powerful, and it is very well made.
Naissance Des Pieuvres (Water Lilies, 2007, Céline Sciamma, France) **
If not for the voyeuristic qualities of Naissance Des Pieuvres I would have bought into the attempts at depth by Céline Sciamma. Unfortunately Naissance Des Pieuvres is too voyeuristic and features one character who for reasons that make no sense is given the qualities of possibly being mentally retarded. Such decisions make it hard to take the film seriously, and they made it increasingly hard to view the film as nothing more than an attempt at smut. I’m not willing to go full monty with the smut label, , but the film sure does hurt it’s coming of age tendencies with its leering moments.
Because Of Winn-Dixie (2005, Wayne Wang, United States Of America) **1/2
There is plenty to like about Because Of Winn-Dixie. It’s a genial, and well intentioned film. To be honest outside of a bumbling sheriff character who served no purpose I don’t have anything overly negative to say about this movie. However, I don’t have much of anything overly positive to say either. Because Of Winn-Dixie isn’t shabby, but it’s not the type of film that will light your world up. My wife liked it, my daughter liked it, and I kind of liked it, but there’s nothing that stands out about Because Of Winn-Dixie.
Rockaway (2007, Jeff & Josh Crook, United States Of America) 1/2*
A movie that very badly wants to emulate 1980s-1990s straight to video actioners, Rockaway fails miserably at its emulation. The main issue with Rockaway is that it isn’t any fun, and it tries to insert seriousness at every turn. Said seriousness drags any possibility of fun out of the film. The logic displayed by the main character in the film is pretty bad. However, I can deal with him being a complete freaking idiot. What I couldn’t deal with was the washed out and far too clean imagery of the film. If you’re trying to make a gritty revenge film, then shooting your film as bright as possible so that all the grit is removed isn’t the best decision. But, Oleg Taktarov is in this, and that’s where it gets its lone marks from me. He’s a terrible actor, but he’s the Russian Bear, so I get a kick out of watching him try to act. He can’t save Rockaway from being one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, I don’t think anyone could have saved this movie from that fate.
A lot of movies, but only a trio of great and worthwhile movies. Those three were bunched together rather closely in my mind. However, in the end This Is England takes home movie of the week honors. Until next week, watch more movies!