This Week In Cinema: November 24-30, 2013

what maisie knew

Lots of people dying in space lately, what the heck!

A heavy focus on 2013 this week,

Europa Report (2013, Sebastián Cordero, United States Of America) ***1/2

To look upon the surface of Europa Report is to see found footage, tension, a team unraveling, and a reveal that speaks to the horror genre. Cracking open the ice and looking beneath the surface reveals a belief in knowledge, the importance of exploration, and a desire to make the common good real. Where Europa Report really got me as a viewer was in its ability to meld the two worlds. This is a film that is both intellectual and psychological. It makes great use of the found footage method, and avoids many of the cliches that have ruined many a potentially great science fiction film. It’s heady and enjoyable at the same time, Europa Report is surprising, and not in the most expected of ways.

Computer Chess (2013, Andrew Bujalski, United States Of America) ***1/2

It falters a tad near the end, but all in all Computer Chess is one impressive film. Andrew Bujalski recreates a place and time, and does so lovingly. He pokes fun at the 1980s, but he also pays homage to a simpler time when our future was perhaps more in doubt. However, Computer Chess is much more than a comedy or a satire, it’s also a film with some deep thoughts about intelligence, humanity, and what the future does hold. Mr. Bujalski uses a collection of enigmatic characters to propel the film along, until a point is reached where eccentricity is no longer the focus. The ideas behind the film take over, and in the end humanity is shown to be as feeble as it is glorious.

Escape From Planet Earth (2013, Cal Bunker, Canada/United States Of America) **

Not an offensive animated film, but not a great animated film either. The animation itself is pretty good, with crisp and clear lines that evoke setting rather nicely. The blandness of the characters, story, direction, and humor is where the film really let me down. I wasn’t expecting a top grade animated film, but a more remarkable one. Escape From Planet Earth is completely forgettable, and swimming in the sea of animated film being forgettable is never a good quality.

Dirty Wars (2013, Rick Rowley, Afghanistan/Iraq/Kenya/Somalia/United States Of America/Yemen) ***

A decided lack of focus, that’s the main problem I had with Dirty Wars. The narration is much to blame for this, as it almost always tells us more than we need to be told and goes off on tangents that aren’t necessary. There’s a potentially great film in Dirty Wars, but the end result isn’t great because of how unfocused the narrative feels. Another issue is that while atrocities are committed in war the doc never fully commits to telling both sides of the story. The government is propped up as a big bad evil and none of their valid explanations are ever thoroughly explored. It’s more than likely that the valid arguments of the government are hogwash, but by not exploring them Dirty Wars doesn’t allow the viewer to truly see whether the reporting is right or the government is right. Still, I enjoyed the doc, it does tackle a sensitive subject in an interesting light, but it could have been much better.

TWA Flight 800 (2013, Kristina Borjesson, United States Of America) **1/2

I believe the conspiracy theorists on this one, and that’s very sad in light of the documentary. The topic covered is compelling, but the filmmaking is sloppy and does a great disservice to the theories being put forth. Let’s have our main reporter sit down and talk metallurgy and radar screens with two medical doctors, that makes perfect sense. Better yet, why don’t we wait until the final couple of minutes to introduce the idea that there were actually three missiles, and not just one. Facts are damning, and Kristina Borjesson doesn’t seem to understand that. She spends most of her film damning the official TWA investigation with facts. That’s when the film is at its best. At one point the film attempts to take apart an NBC news report, decrying how manipulative it is. The film ends with two of the interviewees and the main reporter walking amid the TWA memorial. That bit of manipulation is especially galling in light of the films previously harsh view of manipulation. It’s disappointing when shoddy filmmaking lets down a great subject.

P2 (2007, Franck Khalfoun, United States Of America) **1/2

As an example of impressive cleavage, very few film can top P2 and the chest of Rachel Nichols. Unfortunately that’s not enough to make a great film, and P2 comes up short in most other categories. It tries at first, with a pretty good premise and great usage of a locale. I was especially impressed with the elevator water scene as a way of using setting to great effect. I was also impressed with the performances of Wes Bentley and Miss Nichols, both of whom were pretty great in roles I feel they made as much out of as they could. As it progresses the novelty of the premise, and setting, wears off and the cliches start to roll into the garage in bucket loads. By the time the dog gets it I had checked out, because when your end solution is to always go for the cheap and easy, what’s the point?

WarGames (1983, John Badham, United States Of America) ***

A decent theme and a fun adventure give way to a lot of silliness. The silliness isn’t all bad, it just that as the film nears a close the silliness takes over so much that it’s overbearing. Before that there is the decent theme, a kind of truth that I think just about anyone can get behind. There’s also the fun had with the very early idea of computer hacking and the natural charm of Matthew Broderick. The film as whole isn’t as great as I had remembered, but it’s still darn good.

What Maisie Knew (2012, Scott McGehee & David Siegel, United States Of America) ***

A strong titular lead performance is almost wrecked by the insistence of the film to make the child too damn precocious. The actress, Onata Aprile, plays Maisie as plan as could be, but the directors film her in far too cutesy of a way. All in all What Maisie Knew is a strong film, but it too often relents to its lesser desires. Well formed drama gives way to misery porn, as the terrible acts of child abuse pile up I couldn’t help but wonder when the film was going to move away from the misery. It finally does, and it offers a very movie ending, one that is in no way realistic but oddly satisfying. In a nutshell that’s What Maisie Knew, a movie that is unrealistic at times, but ultimately satisfying.

Wrap-Up:

A pair of very strong 2013 releases were tops this week. Of those two films the stark science fiction of Europa Report won me over more and that’s why it takes home movie of the week honors. Until next week, watch more movies!

Cheers,
Bill

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