Trekking across China and Russia on a train does appeal to me, oddly enough!
A lot of movies again this week,
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992, James Foley, United States Of America) ***
There are some fantastic elements to Glengarry Glen Ross, but there’s also a lot of stagnation. My interest waned at points during James Foley’s film, and at first I wasn’t sure why. Jack Lemmon is great as the loser who will always be a loser, and Ed Harris is just as great as the angry middle man. The film did comment nicely on business and the way that we conduct business. It also had some interesting things to say about masculinity and the role of men in the world as we move into a more modern age. However, near the end when Al Pacino was blowing up I was reminded of why I am not a fan of his overacting. I also realized in that moment that subtlety was slowly bleeding out of the film and being replaced with on the nose commentary that was far too obvious. The more I thought about Glengarry Glen Ross the more I knew why it didn’t completely click with me. It’s a well made play, but in the end it’s simply a filmed play. While I can go for that at times, 2008’s Doubt is a great example, I felt that Glengarry Glen Ross was too stagnant in stretches and lacked enough energy to really engage me.
Harakiri (1919, Fritz Lang, Germany) **1/2
I will admit that I may not have been in the right frame of mind for this Harakiri. I had intended to watch the 1962 version, but it turns out that the title Netflix recently added to their instant service was incorrectly labeled as the 1962 version. The Harakiri currently on Netflix Instant labeled as the 1962 version is in fact that 1919 Fritz Lang version. I was actually digging this film quite a bit, until about the halfway point. The first half of the film seemed to be taking an adroit look at how the exclusionary policy of Japan in the early twentieth century was not something that was going to be good for them. Then for some reason Herr Lang turned the film around and had the European foreigner pegged as the bad guy who ultimately led to the death of the main female and by way of allegory traditional Japanese culture. The two disparate halves resulted in an extremely disjointed film. The visuals supplied by Herr Lang were also tepid to a fault, and ultimately I felt like Harakiri was a bit of a wasted effort.
Antichrist (2009, Lars von Trier, Denmark/France/Germany/Italy/Poland/Sweden) ***
This was my first Lars von Trier movie, and even after hearing about the guy for years I was not prepared for what I watched. There is certainly a lot of craft on display in Antichrist, from the direction all the way down to the editing and acting. It’s also clear to me that Herr von Trier is speaking form a very dark place in regards to relationships, responsibility and the battle between masculinity and femininity. But, near the end of the film I began to question the methodology of Herr von Trier. He has things to say and he was creating a lovingly crafted film, but the more gruesome the film became the more I questioned his decisions to go down that street. Herr von Trier could have said the same things without the shock tactics, but I guess that’s kind of his bag. I did respect elements of Antichrist, but overall it was an overly indulgent mixed bag.
Das Fräulein (Fraulein, 2006, Andrea Staka, Germany/Switzerland) **1/2
Andrea Staka is coming from a place that is foreign to me. I am not a foreigner in a new country trying to find my way, a woman, or someone stricken with a terrible disease. I am human, however, and that does allow me some insight into the characters Frau Staka has created, and if the surrounding film had held up more I would have liked Das Fräulein more. The film sets up two rather strong characters and a third, older, character who never gets her due. I was compelled by the journey of all three characters, but as the film neared its end it became aimless and meandering. Frau Staka picked a specific issue for Das Fräulein, and she thoroughly examined said issue, but didn’t know or understand how to have her film finish examining said issue.
Yeojaneun Namjaui Miraeda (Woman Is The Future Of Man, 2004, Sang-soo Hong, France/South Korea) ***
The men in Sang-soo Hong’s film are self-centered, unfortunately I don’t think he respects his audience to understand that. I was cool with Yeojaneun Namjaui Miraeda from an aesthetic perspective, and even from a base storytelling front. However, as the film elapsed the theme of the film began to wear on me. Especially when it came to the character of Lee Mun-ho, and the way they handled his final moment of infidelity. I knew at that point that he was self-centered and that both male characters had betrayed the lead female character by being so self-centered. The way the film ended with Mun-ho seemed excessive and a way of piling onto the theme that wasn’t needed. I appreciated the initial emotional honesty of Yeojaneun Namjaui Miraeda and I’m hoping that any future films I see from Hong-ssi will retain that emotional honesty but lose the heavy handed pounding of the theme as the movie rolls on.
Warm Bodies (2013, Jonathan Levine, United States Of America) **
There’s nothing more frustrating than a film that can’t figure out what it wants to be. Warm Bodies wants to be funny, but it also wants to be serious, and it can’t figure out how to properly mix the two. The film cuts into its serious moments with bouts of humor, and vice versa. Almost without exception that technique undercuts the mood/tone of the film and leaves Warm Bodies feeling like a film without an identity. I also had some major issues with the establishment of the rules of the universe of the film, or how the rules are shucked aside all the time in favor of moments of stupidity. A character is told she needs to stay quiet and hidden, then a moment later they are joy riding in a loud car. We’re told that the Bonies will eat anything with a heart, then later they let a bunch of creatures with beating hearts walk away from them. Speaking of the Bonies, they look incredibly stupid, and move like the worst of fake CGI creations. The make-up also leaves something to be desired as it is very inconsistent. Yes, I had plenty of issues with Warm Bodies, but that’s because it’s not a well made film.
Transsiberian (2008, Brad Anderson, Germany/Lithuania/Spain/United Kingdom) ***1/2
Transsiberian is a taut little thriller that is a bit of a throwback to old Hollywood thrillers. The ending does get a bit too action oriented, but for the most part the film is an above solid character thriller. Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer are the highlights of the film and really do help to give Brad Anderson’s movie a lived in quality. The positives and negatives of their relationship are believable, and that makes the spiraling out of control nature of the events surrounding them very easy to believe. There are some tense moments in Transsiberian, and film wonderfully uses the cold landscape of Russia. It’s not going to reinvent the wheel, but Transsiberian makes for an interesting, and exciting, viewing.
Peggy Sue Got Married (1986, Francis Ford Coppola, United States Of America) **1/2
Kathleen Turner is magnetic in the lead performance. If only the rest of the performances had been able to match her, or the narrative had been able to sustain any sort of substance. Nicolas Cage and Jim Carrey had me wanting to throw things at the TV with their far too affected “look at me, aren’t I zany” performances. The narrative opens up so many threads to get to its ultimate point, but upon the films resolution it leaves just about every thread open save for the main one. Peggy Sue Got Married is a whimsical film and it has its moments, but outside of Miss Turner’s lead performance there isn’t much to recommend about Peggy Sue Got Married.
Half Nelson (2006, Ryan Fleck, United States Of America) ***
Ryan Gosling and Shareeka Epps are great as the leads in Half Nelson. The film itself is solid, but I felt that it was too aimless in too many moments. A lot of the film felt like it was swimming in the middle of the ocean and had no idea which way to go in order to get home. But, when the film focused on the relationship between Mr. Gosling and Miss Epps great things happened on screen. It was in the introduction of so many bare bones peripheral characters that Half Nelson began to lose me. The two leads were fully realized, but the world they inhabited felt almost unrealistic at times. In a film that was striving for realistic grit to have so many moments and exchanges between characters come across as unrealistic didn’t strike me as a great thing. Half Nelson is a well made movie, but it’s too rough around the edges, and not in a complimentary way. The two leads give splendid performances and they are more than enough reason to make the time to see Half Nelson, sadly the rest of the film isn’t up to par with what Mr. Gosling and Miss Epps are doing.
A lot of movies this week, but no truly great ones. Transsiberian comes the closest and that’s why Transsiberian is taking home movie of the week honors. Until next week, watch more movies!