Friday, March 27, 2009

Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, 2008)

****½
USA



Jonathan Demme and Jenny Lumet assemble a dysfunctional-family-sized lunatic orgy of profoundly insulated, self-absorbed people and simmer it into a sober, pulsing, humanist slice of Dogme. Effortlessly they secure your patience and compassion even for several flaky personages you wouldn't hesitate to punch in real life.

In fact, it's downright disorienting that nobody seems to be excoriating the Buchmans for their over-privilege and hollow pretences to multi-culti-exoticism. But then the core of this elegant rarity among indie dramedies that set out to wage war on contemporary American upper-financial-bracket living isn't a collection of hipster jabs at the expensive and irrelevant surface. It's about the multitude of often contradictory notes that define a family dynamic. The delicate and the volatile, the cautious and the explosive, the healing and the scarring, the generous and the chilling: Demme, Lumet and their incandescent cast find ways to encompass it all.

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The Reader (Stephen Daldry, 2008)

**½
USA/Germany




Bernhard Schlink’s novel was a solid, moderately sophisticated, resolutely commercial exploration of enduring German post-Holocaust guilt, with its primary strength being its sifting of a prestige-packaged-out topic through the repercussions of an illicit erotic attachment between a pubescent wimp and an erratic cipher twice his age.

None of the book’s sincere questioning or sense of time and place survives this ossified, atrociously directed adaptation, whose chief reason for existing is several people’s ravenous Oscar-hunger. It’s a relief that the otherwise lovely Kate Winslet finally has hers, so that she can stop selecting parts based on their FYC-campaigns. But the performance itself is all wrong from her first tentative spurts of a flaky Tscherman akcent through to her insistence on emphasising the cuddly, misunderstood simpleton behind the outwardly cold Nazi and all the way through to her uneasy pitching of a youthful timbre against the dazzlingly 1930s-biopic-pasty aging make-up.

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Frozen River (Courtney Hunt, 2008)

***
USA



Melissa Leo is so down on her luck that she has to forego hair product, transport illegal aliens across a frozen river connecting the state of New York to Canada and participate in increasingly implausible plot contrivances in order to make sure her movie takes you exactly where you very quickly figure out it is going. In case you aren't entirely sure where that is, writer-director Courtney Hunt's unremittingly dour aesthetic will give you some extra heads-up. That said, Hunt does keep things relatively tight, the principals are all very very good and her protagonists are afforded more dignity than they generally get away with in festival-prize-shovelling liberal-guilt-driven indie crossover-hopefuls.

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Boogie (Radu Muntean, 2008)

****
Romania



Due to the unfussy low-key-ness and principal cast of unlikable slackers at quarter-life-crisis, it's too easy to miss out on the caustic insight and preciseness with which Radu Muntean and his script team capture the mindset of crushing disappointment at having inherited the paralysis that is responsibility towards others, which seems to be defining a generation throughout contemporary Eastern Europe, and probably further.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle, 2008)

**½
UK



Life in the slums of Mumbai is a video clip, the citizens of Mumbai communicate in expository dialogue and when Dev Patel tenses up his face in an expression that uncannily resembles other, lesser actors struggling to disguise their self-consciousness at being asked to emote before a camera and a 20+ person crew, it’s merely a sign of his time- [and logic-]defying love for an orphan that has blossomed into the face of Estee Lauder.

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Inland Empire (David Lynch, 2006)

****
USA



David Lynch introduces you to another peppy Hollywood starlet familiarly mixing an illicit romance with a Hollywood project shrouded in intrigue and Eastern European curses. Then he has his characteristically seedy avant-garde conceptual epic do all those phrases people use to describe films they can’t get a grasp on: obliterating conventions, overthrowing narrative, fragmenting, bifurcating, refracting upon itself, embracing dream logic, temporal what-not etc.

So yes, first and foremost, this three-hour cryptic-ominous sensory offensive is an unwieldy thing – exhilaratingly so for at least one full hour, before it starts veering back and forth between visceral absorbing horror and commendable experimentation falling embarrassingly flat (often due to crude miscasting). At all times however, it offers you the singular, enthralling experience of watching Laura Dern hit notes of astonishing force and rawness and clarity in phenomenally dodgy mini-DV resolution.

It’s hard to conclude on Lynch’s ultimate and core point, but it may very well have something to do with how assembling a glamourous identity (the prime Western commodity?) is only half-living, and how you must not only shed (and asphyxiate and disembowel and pulverise) this identity but embrace and transcend the absolute nadir of human experience (Hollywood Boulevard whoredom, some more disembowelling, oblivion) if you are to rise to a state of completeness and really live. So, all in all, proceed with caution, but by all means, proceed.

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