Film Brief: Disobedience

Disobedience is an unpleasant film, and not the good kind of unpleasant.  Strong performances flesh out the world of orthodox Jewish life in modern London, but there is not nearly enough here story-wise.  Nearly a non-movie.  4/10

Comparison Notes: recommended: Carol, Crazy/Beautiful, House of Sand and Fog; not recommended: the Iranian films The Salesman and About Elly bear a number of similarities

Dinner and a Game Night at the movies

Lets play a game, of sorts.  A guessing game.  Why does Mark have a blog?  Roger, in no way speaking as Roger Ebert would have, and, further, very much sallying his name, is generally in agreement with the Rotten Tomatoes consensus:

…a raucously funny film that has a knack for going right up to the edge of nastiness.

WRONG!  I was actually enjoying Game Night, if mildly, until the latter third or so when it bounced between implausibility and trite stupidity.  Lesser critics describe it as edgy; they haven’t any idea what true edginess is.

So what started off nicely in thumbs-up territory devolved into yet another silly pseudo-crime action flick with overly contrived “plot twists” and inane action sequences involving, for instance, airplanes that never get off the ground when attempting takeoff.  The best part of the film by far: Jesse Plemons (Fargo season 2)  If there is any reason to see Game Night, it is the hilariously creepy Jesse Plemons.  5/10

Comparison Notes: Recommended: Due Date, Neighbors; no opinion: Date Night

Film Brief: Spotlight

Spotlight - poster

The Rotten Tomatoes consensus:

Spotlight gracefully handles the lurid details of its fact-based story while resisting the temptation to lionize its heroes, resulting in a drama that honors the audience as well as its real-life subjects.

Film critics are journalists, and as such tend to be biased toward stories about journalists.  I concur with the Tomatoes consensus, but I wasn’t enthralled to the extent many critics were — this is not the best film of the year by a long shot.  Spotlight is very good, but it won’t pass the five-year’s test.  Or put it another way: recommended, definitely — but in no way must-see.  8/10

Spotlight - text block

To the Wonder of Roger Ebert

To The Wonder - poster

Sometimes I believe in fate.

John Gruber of Daring Fireball on To the Wonder being the last review of Roger Ebert, published two days after his death.

That it was this film, and not something more banal — say Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles VI, or The Avengers Chapter XVI: Cataclysm of the Abominable Silver Snow-Surfer — that it was this film must be seen as more than coincidence.  Yes, fate.

And it happens I agree entirely with Ebert, who bestowed 3 1/2 of 4 stars on To the Wonder.  So I will defer to him.  But first my two bits: To the Wonder is quite unique.  I was trying to peg it as something like an Iñárritu-made cross between The Loneliest Planet and Blue Valentine, but that doesn’t quite work.  The narrative style — as Ebert wrote:

Although it uses dialogue, it’s dreamy and half-heard, and essentially this could be a silent film — silent, except for its mostly melancholy music.

— this style I’ve never quite seen before — never used throughout an entire film.  It’s a style that turned a lot of audiences and critics away.  Storytelling many found too oblique.  I mused on this, and feel that more conventional dialogue-driven To the Wonder - text blockaction could have told the story in a stronger way — but that would be an entirely different film, and not necessarily for the better.

That’s because To the Wonder is full of lyrical beauty, with a strong yet ambiguous story at its heart.  It’s open to interpretation, and that’s not a bad thing in movies.  Ebert’s final review so aptly — for this movie and his life — concludes:

Why must a film explain everything? Why must every motivation be spelled out? Aren’t many films fundamentally the same film, with only the specifics changed? Aren’t many of them telling the same story? Seeking perfection, we see what our dreams and hopes might look like. We realize they come as a gift through no power of our own, and if we lose them, isn’t that almost worse than never having had them in the first place?

There will be many who find “To the Wonder” elusive and too effervescent. They’ll be dissatisfied by a film that would rather evoke than supply. I understand that, and I think Terrence Malick does, too. But here he has attempted to reach more deeply than that: to reach beneath the surface, and find the soul in need.


Availability: Netflix

Roger Ebert - Walk of Fame

A Most Wanted Man, No Matter How You Say It

A Most Wanted Man - posterGERMANS DON’T SPEAK to each-other in English with a German accent!  Unless maybe in English class in Hochschule.  Or perhaps if speaking with a Brit or American.  Case in point: Daniel Craig does not speak English in a Swedish accent in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  He’s not leaping around yelling “yumpin’ yimminy, yunior” either.

Beyond being a little irksome, the use of a German accent by Philip Seymour Hoffman in his last non-teeny-bopper film (he will appear in the next two Hunger Games films; this movie, I was surprised to find, was shot in September 2012) I found to be very distracting.  Normally something like that I can get used to, and eventually I did — but it was a sticking point the entire film through.

One of the reasons for this is that the film begins unclearly.  As I walked out of the theater, someone remarked “I’ve never been so lost in a movie in my life.”  Well the movie was hardly so complicated — in fact it was very much a simple, even one-dimensional tale.  But the use of language and accent in the beginning of the movie is very confusing — we are not immediately sure if Hoffman’s character and his workgroup are all Germans, or a blend of Germans and Americans, or what authority or auspices they are working under.

These matters sort themselves out quickly enough, and we come to realize that Hoffman — and seemingly everyone else in the movie — are indeed speaking German the entire time.  Again, the German speech is conveyed by actors speaking English in varying degrees of fake German or more generalized pseudo-European accents.  The language problem also prominently manifests itself with a key character, a Chechnyan national of Chechnyan and Russian descent who has illegally entered Hamburg — where most of the movie takes place — and who, rather mysteriously, speaks perfect German (or is it English?  No — this is German now) with no accent whatsoever.  What a mess.

* * *

Once you get past the language issues of A Most Wanted  Man, you are left with a not particularly exciting or compelling spy drama which has a few logic problems.  I suppose that notwithstanding the various accents, the performances are all pretty good.  And I did find myself fairly well engaged in the story, eventually.  About a third to half-way through the movie settles into a nice rhythm and becomes, well, entertaining.  But there’s not enough here for me to recommend.  Too much character posturing in lieu of plot.

A Most Wanted Man has received a lot of praise, but I think it’s another case of critics becoming confused between what good and not-good movies are.  Must be the same critics who heaped praise upon the similarly-themed Zero Dark Thirty.  A Most Wanted Man was a much better film, but that’s not saying much.   Still, there is something in all the performances — especially Hoffman’s — that endears the movie to me a bit.  5/10

A Most Wanted Man - still

Film Brief: Mean Girls

Mean Girls posterMean Girls (2004, Lindsay Lohan and Rachel McAdams) is one of those movies that is frequently shown on TBS and like stations, à la Wedding Crashers.  I kept running across it, for some reason always in the scene toward the end where all the girls are seated in the gymnasium.  It seemed like it would be a fun movie based on what I saw, and so, like any movie I run across on TV that I want to watch, I made sure not to watch too much of it lest plot elements be given away.

Mean Girls - text block



I needn’t have worried, for there are no plot elements of any value in this movie.  Mean Girls is a contrived, formulaic, and mostly awful high school-based non-comedy.  I was warned at the outset, when I saw it was a Lorne Michaels production — generally the hallmark of complete dreck.  The positive Tomatometer score makes me wonder if I was watching the same movie.

So as Nap-to-the-D would say:

This is pretty much the worst video ever made.

Well, not quite the worst.  But close.  2/10

Comparison Notes (all vastly superior): Heathers, Jennifer’s Body, Donnie Darko, Fast Times, Napoleon Dynamite, a whole slew of 80’s teen flicks, Superbad, The House Bunny