Saturday, September 27, 2008

R.I.P. Paul Newman (1925-2008)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin, 2008)

*****
France



Raw, unwieldy, rambunctious gorgeousness. Other than Almodovar, no one in the world makes movies as rich and alive as Arnaud Desplechin's. He sends you off on several bubbly tangents at any one time and inundates you with a generosity of spirit and novelistic detail, so that you're caught completely off-guard every time either of these tangents evolves into a complex revelation (and they all do). For two and a half hours (not nearly long enough, I say!) he gives you life at a higher register. You can only leave the cinema in a gratified stupor. You won't want to shake it off.

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Autumn Sonata (Ingmar Bergman, 1978)

****½
Sweden



Had Ingmar Bergman delivered this familiarly harrowing mother-daughter confessional in the lead-up to his masterful Cries and Whispers, it would have been held in much higher regard. Instead it was [and is] often greeted as practically an anticlimax, since it doesn't quite match the ferocity and lacerating insight of that other work. This is particularly unfair since: a) what work could?; and b) the layers, the questions, the conflicting and therefore revealing motives with which Ingrid Bergman (in what is unquestionably her greatest performance) and Liv Ullmann invest their roles are worth tears, adulation and multiple viewings, at least.

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In a Year with 13 Moons (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1978)

***½
Germany



With brutal commitment Volker Spengler plays Elvira Weishaupt, a transsexual with a mauled heart dissecting her past in search of the cause[s] behind her present state of [utter and harrowing] destitution.

To brand this Fassbinder's 'darkest' or 'most personal' would be an exaggeration, not to mention beside the point. But it is infused with a sense of purging and a despairing search for answers, which it is tempting to tie back to the then-recent suicide of Fassbinder's lover (the film was openly mounted as a coping mechanism).

1978 was otherwise no less busy than other years for Fassbinder - he had already delivered two features before this one was conceived and the film does bear the marks of a fast job, both positive and negative. The mad rush of invention and catharsis that comes from direct purging onto celluloid crystallises into sequences of galvanising force. But then there are others, particularly in the film's later sections, that don't really hold together, even if the concepts behind them are touching.

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Wall·E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)

****
USA



The title is an acronym for Waste Allocation Load Lifter - Earth class, and it refers to a lonely, diminutive cross between E.T. and Chaplin's Tramp, only ten times more adorable and a robot. For the most part, the Pixar team eschew dialogue, and with it the stale snark and pandering that plagues much of contemporary animation. Their film is as imaginative, melancholy-joyous and entrancing as anything since at least Toy Story 2, and what's more, in theatres at least, it is preceded by Presto, the most ingenious piece of animation (forgive all this hyperbole) since the Looney Tunes.

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