This Week In Cinema: June 30-July 06, 2013

the red balloon

My balloon would be green, definitely green!

A really good variety of films this week,

Dolphin Tale (2011, Charles Martin Smith, United States Of America) ***

Dolphin Tale manages to be the rare Hollywood family film that isn’t completely pandering. There are some sequences that are clearly designed to be overly manipulative, but on the whole the film presents intelligent characters navigating their way through a well thought out narrative and themes. Charles Martin Smith’s film doesn’t necessarily do anything spectacularly great, but it does manage to handle all of its family film elements in a workmanlike fashion. What can I say, I have a soft spot for a family film that manages to feel real and honest while still coming across as a flag waving member of its genre.

Se, Jie (Lust, Caution, 2007, Ang Lee, China/Hong Kong/Taiwan/United States Of America) ***

A strong recreation of one of my favorite times in history, but an overwrought and overlong one at that. The drama is present in Se, Jie, as are the elements of romantic entanglement. For whatever reason Ang Lee squeezes every ounce of melodrama that he can out of the existing drama and the result is less than special. Tony Leung Chiu Wai is great, but he’s almost always great so I’m not really writing anything new. Wei Tang is surprisingly reserved and able to use her eyes to great effect in her first ever feature role. I liked Se, Jie, but I didn’t like it anywhere near as much as I should have when the handsome production values and the great names involved with the film are taken into account.

La Pivellina (Little Girl, 2009, Tizza Covi & Rainer Frimmel, Austria/Italy) ***

A heartbreaking film, but also a very smart film. It took me a while to realize why a family of circus performers had been chosen as the leads of the film. However, in the final frame it becomes clear that the group of gypsy circus performers at the heart of the film represent something the directors feel is lacking in modern Italy, a sense of family. The character of Asia is representative of the majority of children in Italy. She’s been abandoned, her family has let her down and forgotten about her. It is only in the arms of a people shunned by the more civilized side of Italy that she can find a true family. La Pivellina handles its allegorical aspects astutely, but the film does suffer from too laconic of a pace. It’s well suited to the films neorealist style, but I felt it held the film back from ever establishing the momentum it needed to really drive its allegorical points home.

Meshes Of The Afternoon (1943, Maya Deren & Alexander Hammid, United States Of America) ***1/2

What can I say, I do love me some experimental films full of symbolism and great visuals that leave themselves up for lots and lots of interpretation. The film doesn’t have any semblance of a plot, but it doesn’t need one. Meshes Of The Afternoon is about the feelings it can evoke from the viewer and the way it can work its symbolism into film technique. Inferiority, gender roles, fear of petulant actions, and the washing away of fears are all open for interpretation in this short film. A haunting score buoys the visuals and helps to drive home the motifs and symbolism at the core of Maya Deren’s and Alexander Hammid’s fascinating short.

Validation (2007, Kurt Kuenne, United States Of America) ***

The base message of Validation is a cute one, a charming message if you will, and one that I can fully get behind. We all need to smile more and let a bit more sunshine into our life. The narrative behind Validation plays up its main theme, because that’s about all the short has in terms of thematic thrust. The other thing the short film has going for it is a pleasant sense of humor. That being said, I did feel the section where the main character validates political/popular figures was a bit of a bust. And, the ending was too coincidence driven for my liking. All in all, a pleasant enough short film, but that’s all it is, pleasant.

Le Ballon Rouge (The Red Balloon, 1956, Albert Lamorisse, France) ***1/2

A powerful and emotionally gripping film. The beauty of Le Ballon Rouge is obviously in the balloon, but more to the point it’s what the balloon represents to each individual viewer. I read a few discussions about the film where people declared the balloon to be a representation of the human spirit, another interpreted the film as being about love and friendship. I can see both of those interpretations, but I felt that the balloon was a representative of the youth of France post-World War II. It has a period of flightiness, it rebels against authority figures, it remains loyal to its own generation, until ultimately its own generation turns on it and causes its destruction. Key to me was the final sequence of the film taking place in the rubble of World War II, signifying that no matter how much we think we learn from our past mistakes we are a people that will repeat those same mistakes again and again. The technical aspect of the film left just as big of a mark on me as the interpretative meaning of the film. From the opening shot I loved the way that Albert Lamorisse framed his scenes. If not for an unfortunate gaffe in having an obvious adult take the place of the kid in the final shot, Le Ballon Rouge would have been a full monty film for me.

Winnie The Pooh And The Blustery Day (1968, Wolfgang Reitherman, United States Of America) ***1/2

I watch a lot of movies, I think that much is obvious due to the existence of this very blog. Sometimes I watch so many movies that I get lost in the technical minutiae of the films I’m watching. That’s why I’m happy when every once in a while I get the pleasure of watching a film like Winnie The Pooh And The Blustery Day. Wolfgang Reitherman’s film is simple in its animated and storytelling approach. Yet, in its simplicity it finds a joy that should be deep inside every human being. The joy of watching enjoyable characters teach life lessons without even trying to do as such. If anything, watching Winnie The Pooh And The Blustery Day has me interested in rewatching The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh. This short made a mark on me and I’d love to revisit that feature collection and see if my thoughts are still less than stellar about that one.

Jingle All The Way (1996, Brian Levant, United States Of America) **1/2

There were times when I couldn’t stop laughing at Jingle All The Way. I mean this both sincerely and ironically. Thanks exclusively to Arnold Scwarzenegger and Phil Hartman there are plenty of sincerely funny moments in Jingle All The Way. Mr. Schwarzenegger never gets the credit he deserves as far as his comedic chops go. He has genuine comedic timing and I almost always find myself laughing during his comedic roles. The rest of the film is, well, pretty bland and troubling. It brings to light the issue of consumerism, which I think is a legit issue. But, it doesn’t do anything with that issue and the scenarios it sets up only manage to be ironically funny. Ultimately I laughed a bunch at Jingle All The Way, but I wanted to laugh more and not roll my eyes at the story as much as I did.

Knuckleball! (2012, Ricki Stern & Andy Sundberg, United States Of America) **1/2

As someone who used to catch a knuckleballer and taught his little brother how to throw a knuckleball I have an affinity for the pitch. I was looking forward to a exploration of the knuckleball and its history, but that’s not what I got. I thought at first that this was a simple issue of a documentary not presenting what I was looking for in the film. However, the way Knuckleball! relays its information doesn’t work for me either. There are some serious structural issues in Knuckleball!, and it’s really frustrating with the way the documentary bounces around in time with nary an anchor in sight. Most frustrating of all was always the focus of the documentary. I wanted the history of the knuckleball, the story of the pitch throughout the years. Instead the film gave me a very superficial look at two modern knuckleballers- Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey. The baseball fan in me still enjoyed aspects of Knuckleball!, but the film buff in me was quite disappointed.

Return To Oz (1985, Walter Murch, United Kingdom/United States Of America) ***

A dark and exceedingly bleak fantasy film, but it works. Return To Oz is dodgy in parts, mainly those that rely too heavily on stop motion effects. They aren’t bad sequences per se, but they are dated and that certainly came through in this viewing. Fairuza Balk was a surprisingly affecting child actress, and I dug just about all the fantasy aspects of the film. Truth be told, I didn’t expect to like Return To Oz as much as I did. But, I went along with its zany idea of fantasy and had a pretty good time with the film. I’m not sure how faithful it is to the L. Frank Baum novels, but it’s a good film and that’s all that mattered to me.

Wrap-Up:

A decent batch of films this week. A few great films were up for consideration, but it’s the French classic Le Ballon Rouge that takes home movie of the week honors. Until next week, watch more movies!

Cheers,
Bill

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