Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Revolutionary Road (Sam Mendes, 2008)

***
USA



In order to warrant putting your name across one of the great literary works of a given century, you have to bring to it life, something fresh - something more. And Sam Mendes' adaptation is unquestionably something less. The context of the harsh idyll of 1950s Connecticutt and the notion of whether this is the culprit that has oppressed the Wheelers or whether the Wheelers have done their own oppressing but blame only their environment: that is, the crux of Richard Yates' wrenching novel - well, that is gone. The notion of Frank Wheeler being prematurely shoved into marriage and his dad's job, and of April Wheeler's life amounting to the perpetual crushing of a horrific cry of anguish. Fractions of these do translate, and there are glimmers of an authentic-seeming and telling dynamic between the Wheelers that hints at something bigger and shattering, but inevitably they are something of a pale copy. The majority of the film is pale, and also stiff.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Milk (Gus Van Sant, 2008)

***
USA



It's difficult to criticise this hagiography of the patron saint of gay rights in times when said rights are taking a fresh trashing. But Harvey Milk's legacy has nothing to do with an ensemble of earnest, nobly-intentioned actors purging hefty chunks of exposition to try reduce an unwieldy man's life into a two-hour running time.

That said, for as long as you're watching Sean Penn, it's as though you're watching a much better movie. Beyond the fact that he sells the exposition and manages a phenomenal bit of mimicry, and beyond the fact that nothing about his posture and cadences and goofy grinning is remotely recognisable from previous Sean Penn joints, it's always gratifying to follow a generous, wonderfully tactile and vibrant character thriving over the my-personality-is-defined-by-a-neat-chronology-of-unceasing-dignity creed of the biopic.

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Quantum of Solace (Marc Forster, 2008)

***
UK/USA




Dubious psychoanalysis and fluffed-up topicality have infiltrated the superhero genre, so that now Daniel Craig has to play Jason Bourne playing James Bond. Fortunately no one told Mathieu Amalric about the series' gloomy-sexy revamp. It's a shame he didn't grow a moustache in time so he could twirl it and also that no one passed him a fluffy white cat so he could stroke it. He resurrects a brand of hysterical Eurotrash villain that I at least presumed extinct since the 70s. He's either playing in a different movie to the rest of the cast or he is the only one among them to pinpoint the cheap and shiny and delightfully convoluted bit of trash hiding behind the murky hand-held world-economy-referencing gloss.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Changeling (Clint Eastwood, 2008)

***
USA



If the world were a Clint Eastwood picture, it would run very very smoothly, since any prospective threat to the system would announce itself efficiently, whether by slurring their words, smirking lasciviously, breaking into a loony grin, resembling a lesbian or adopting an irregular, indecipherable yet malevolent accent while sending a bereft mother to the nuthouse for undermining their power.

Despite Eastwood's harried tactics, it's impossible not to get drawn into this tale of true and sensational events surrounding the disappearance of 9-year-old Walter Collins from his mother's home in late-20s California. The two face expressions - half-stifled anger and wrenching cries - which Angelina Jolie selects to represent Christine Collins do win over your sympathy, inextricably linked as they are to the fact that there once truly was a Christine Collins, whose child really was abducted, who - with frightening conviction - was saddled with a dodgy replacement, and who - for habitual reasons of convenience and patriarchy - was committed to a psychiatric ward when crying foul.

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