This Week In Cinema: February 24-March 02, 2013

being john malkovich

My own head is crazy enough that I wouldn’t for the life of me want to take a trip into someone else’s head!

I watched a lot of movies this week, I was also bed ridden with a fever all week. My thoughts on these films may be crazy, piss-poor, or some odd combination of the two. You’ve been forewarned,

The Stoning Of Soraya M. (2008, Cyrus Nowrasteh, United States Of America) ***

I have no problem with melodrama, but sometimes a story is so good that it doesn’t need any added drama. The truth of the story of what happened to the real life Soraya M. is troublesome and effective enough. There was no need to add in melodramatic bits like shots of birds fluttering away as she is being stoned to death. I didn’t need to be shielded from what was happening to this woman. I felt cheated in moments like that, and in the final sequences of the film which felt far too much like a movie and not a real story. The acting from Shohreh Aghdashloo and Mozhan Marnò as the two lead actresses is the main reason to watch this film. Their performances are nuanced and feel completely real. The majority of The Stoning Of Soraya M. is a tough and gritty watch, but I do wish those behind the film had left the melodrama behind.

Being John Malkovich (1999, Spike Jonze, United States Of America) ***1/2

The mind of Charlie Kaufman is something I will never be able to fully grasp. That’s why I find his films so fascinating, because his mind works in ways that I wish my mind could work. Being John Malkovich doesn’t make any sense, but it makes perfect sense. As confusing as that last sentence may be it most adequately describes my feelings on Mr. Kaufman and his films. Being John Malkovich is very funny, but it’s also extremely thought provoking. Spike Jonze takes the screenplay by Mr. Kaufman and adds his own visual flare to the picture. In the end I’m pretty sure that Being John Malkovich is about male inadequacy in the modern era, but whatever my interpretation may be I’m sure that I watched a great movie in Being John Malkovich.

Ba Wang Bie Ji (Farewell My Concubine, 1993, Kaige Chen, China/Hong Kong) ***

Kaige Chen’s film is sumptuous looking, but it’s also hollow at its center. The problem I had with Ba Wang Bie Ji was that the further it got into its run time the more I realized that it had exhausted all of its dramatic flavor. By the end of the film it was obvious where things were heading and the film took on a melodramatic tone that I didn’t appreciate. The first hour and a half of Ba Wang Bie Ji is compelling and interesting, but the final hour and twenty minutes are dragged out and full of too much padding. The performances were all decent, the cinematography and set design were great. However, I felt that the direction was lacking, and as the film lost its focus so too did my interest wane.

Ordinary People (1980, Robert Redford, United States Of America) ***1/2

The truth that lies at the center of any family can be devastating. Whether we are willing to admit it or not there are issues within a family that we sweep under the rug. Ordinary People is about what happens when people decide to look past the put on happy faces and dig into what makes their family tick. The realizations that come with such digging are not always welcome, in fact they often create the need in some family members to put on even more of a face. Robert Redford does at times resort to ineffective melodrama to examine the American family in the late 70s-early 80s. However, for the most part he allows for his actors to play their parts and convey the drama through the actions of their characters. Ordinary People isn’t a fun watch, but it is a compelling time spent with a family that self-destructs under the weight of their put on faces.

In The Name Of The Father (1993, Jim Sheridan, Ireland/United Kingdom/United States Of America) ***1/2

In a lot of ways I miss the old Daniel Day-Lewis. In performances like the one he gives as Gerry Conlon you can clearly see a great actor at work. While it is true that you can see a great actor at work in his later performances, his acting in In The Name Of The Father is bereft of a lot of the grandstanding and look at me style that has come to dominate his later output. It helps that In The Name Of The Father doesn’t just rely on Mr. Day-Lewis, it leans heavily on the anchoring presence of Pete Postlethwaite as Gerry’s father, Giuseppe Conlon. The events that happen in the film are sickening, and I enjoyed how for the most part Jim Sheridan avoided melodrama in favor of classical drama. In The Name Of The Father is a tough watch, but it is a rewarding one.

The Conversation (1974, Francis Ford Coppola, United States Of America) ***

I would have loved The Conversation if it weren’t for one very long sequence that was completely out of place with the rest of the film. Gene Hackman is brilliant, the score gets under your skin, and the tension is drilled home effortlessly. However, the party sequence that takes place after the convention simply does not fit with the rest of the film. Harry Caul never shows himself to be the type of person who would allow outsiders into his private work space. There’s nothing about the character of Harry that lines up with the party scene. It exists as a contrivance, a sequence inserted in order to move the plot along. It’s clumsily inserted and detracts greatly from the rest of the film. I still enjoyed The Conversation, but that one sequence helped to immensely lessen what should have been a great film.

Sherrybaby (2006, Laurie Collyer, United States Of America) *

A lead performance can make or break a film. Sherrybaby relies so heavily on the performance from Maggie Gyllenhaal that it was doomed to fail. To cut to the chase, I never once bought Miss Gyllenhaal as a tough just released from prison former drug using bad ass. Whenever Sherry tried to act tough I couldn’t help but snicker or roll my eyes. There was no believability whatsoever in the performance, and that makes it very hard for a film to leave any sort of positive mark. The screenplay also hurt Sherrybaby, as I never bought into the world that Laurie Collyer was creating. Sherry was played up as the victim throughout, when based on what we were shown she was actually a user and abuser who deserved all the trouble she got. I had a hard time taking the screenplay seriously when it’s way of attacking gender issues was to show every male as powerless or looking to take advantage of Sherry in some way. Sherrybaby manages to be one thing and one thing only, and that’s an inauthentic failure.

Lianna (1983, John Sayles, United States Of America) ***

The dialogue is earnest and honest, and John Sayles manages to explore homosexuality in way that seems it was ahead of its time in 1983. Maybe I’m off about the 1980s, but I don’t recall many other American movies taking as honest of a look at homosexuality as Lianna does. The key to Lianna’s success is that it doesn’t treat its homosexual characters as anything different than regular people. They love, they lie, they want, they cheat, and they hurt just as much as they get hurt. Basically, they are trying to live their lives, and I am happy that movies like Lianna are willing to show homosexuals in such an honest fashion. All that being said, I did feel that Lianna was about twenty minutes too long and could have been helped by some editorial trimming.

Lost In Translation (2003, Sofia Coppola, Japan/United States Of America) ***

I enjoyed Bill Murray a lot in this one, and Scarlett Johansson was able to be up to the task of equaling those opposite her on the screen for a change. There was a lot I liked about Lost In Translation, but I didn’t feel there was a lot of meat to the film. Sofia Coppola wonderfully captures a moment in time, and comments on passing relationships versus long term ones. However, most of what Lost In Translation had to say it said very early on. The film as a whole is nice to look at, and Mr. Murray is very funny and tragic, but I would have liked more meat in what Lost In Translation was offering. This is my third film from Miss Coppola, and while she has shown herself to be a talented filmmaker, I’m not so sure that Miss Coppola is worthy of any of the buzz that has been attached to her film career.

Mulholland Dr. (2001, David Lynch, France/United States Of America) ***1/2

Mulholland Dr. is a tough film to discuss, but I can tell you one thing, it’s a pretty damn brilliant film. I didn’t like the neat as a bow tie ending, but I loved the rest of the film. There are segments in the film that made no sense as I was watching them, but I trust David Lynch so I went with the flow. I was rewarded as the entire picture came together at some point and the fever dream began to make sense. I won’t claim to understand all of Mulholland Dr., that would be a foolhardy claim, but by the time I finished watching Mr. Lynch’s film I had a more solid understanding of what the film was trying for than when I was watching it. Mulholland Dr. is funny, it is dramatic, it’s a brain teaser, it’s a heck of a watch when you yourself have a fever.

La Gran Final (The Great Match, 2006, Gerardo Olivares, Germany/Spain) **

Some movies aren’t for me, La Gran Final is a movie that is not for me. It’s not that I don’t care about football, or soccer if you want the American version, but it’s not appointment viewing in my household. I dig football, I’ll watch it from time to time, but if I don’t bother to watch the World Series if the Chicago Cubs aren’t playing in it then I’m not going out of my way to watch the World Cup under any circumstances. The comedy, the characters, the settings, and the football references all fell flat. I’m sure that die hard football fans will find La Gran Final more enjoyable, but I didn’t enjoy a second of La Gran Final.

Okuribito (Departures, 2008, Yôjirô Takita, Japan) ***

A decent film that can’t help getting in its own way in a few spots. There’s one sequence in particular that is troublesome; a montage is mixed with the main character playing his cello atop a wind blown field. In a film about honesty, family, death, and respect there’s really no need for such artsy pretentiousness. But it’s there, and it is quite the annoying moment. I’m still undecided how I feel about the comedic bits in Okuribito. They work fine by themselves, but the film never does enough to mix the comedic with the dramatic so that it feels like one complete picture. Still, I did enjoy the main performance from Masahiro Motoki, and the cinematography was nice. Okuribito is a nice picture, but it’s never more than that.

Wrap-Up:

Some great movies this week, but one stood out more than the rest. Being John Malkovich barely ekes out Mulholland Dr. to take home movie of the week honors. Until next week, watch more movies!

Cheers,
Bill

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