Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Class (Laurent Cantet, 2008)

*****
France



High school was like this. Exactly like this. Seemingly it still is: barely ever pleasant, or productive, or un-mind-numbing, or unexhausting.

Laurent Cantet doesn’t present you with any people or places that you don’t already know or that you care to revisit. And yet, the children are hypnotic, the tensions are vital, and the dynamics electrifying.

No one in the cast of mostly underage non-actors exhibits a glimmer of awareness of there being a camera in the room and the situations seem to develop day by day, spontaneously, so you don’t notice a plot until one’s just about wrapped. Purely as an achievement in logistics, it’s staggering; and as a piece of cinema – vibrant, exhilarating.

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher, 2008)

***
USA



No one will argue that this sentimental-whimsical behemoth was designed and produced with a concrete purpose in mind beyond bagging a bundle of Ampass gold (and maybe dollars). David Fincher apes Robert Zemeckis, Brad Pitt ages backwards (the CGI gives much better face than he does) and the first two hours are soul-crushing. And yet, in the closing hour, as the odd tragedy at the core of F. Scott Fitzgerald's original short story breaks through, neither the pandering nor the staggering silliness that is the Hurricane Katrina framing device manage to fully mute its resonance.

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The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)


USA



The Tudors get sexed up for the Gossip Girl set. And when Anne Boleyn exchanges serene looks with her sister to imply the courts have set her free, director Justin Chadwick craftily cuts to a wide shot to reveal - gasp! - Anne has been sent to the scaffold instead!!

Eric Bana and his juiced up pecs play Henry VIII, Natalie Portman is a superbitch Anne, with Scarlett Johansson as her docile sister whose love for Luke Perry is bland and true. As ever Bana is stiff in all the wrong parts, Johansson is her usual blank self and while Portman grapples valiantly with a British accent and stolid period-speak, it's to little avail.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Duplicity (Tony Gilroy, 2009)

***
USA



Two warring corporations (each with an irrepressible scenery-chewer at the helm) send Julia Roberts and Clive Owen in smug pursuit of a priceless formula and erotic charge across places like Dubai, Zurich, Rome and New York. Sex never looked so difficult. Someone had the rich idea to surname Roberts' high tech conwoman something that sounds like 'Stanwyck'. Ah, if only...

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Elegy (Isabel Coixet, 2008)

***
USA



Ben Kingsley, Penelope Cruz, Patricia Clarkson, Peter Sarsgaard and Dennis Hopper portray several basic facets of Philip Roth's neurosis. Isabel Coixet oppresses you with good taste in the sincere hope that you'll overlook the white middle-aged male over-privileged egomaniac's festival of self-pity which she is facilitating. It isn't subtle, or incisive, or in any sense productive, but while it's on, it's sufficiently engaging. This is in part due to the shock of experiencing marketable faces in unapologetically adult-oriented fare, as well as partly to the sensitivity and questions with which said faces imbue the rather harried material.

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The Good Fairy (William Wyler, 1935)

***
USA



Sweet-faced, faintly tomboyish Margaret Sullavan is released from her orphanage to become an usher in a movie theatre. In due course she inadvertently seduces the Wizard of Oz, while falling in love with an even-smarmier-than-usual Herbert Marshall. The misunderstandings that ensue are naturally zany, and also a tad shrill and monotonous. The action takes place in 'Budapest', so that people can wreak havoc with surnames like Ginglebusher and Sporum and Schlapkohl.

A young Preston Sturges wrote the script, which seems laboured in the same way as his late-period misfires, but in a similar fashion also features some singular highlights: early on, an uncanny overwrought-movie-within-a-movie parody clearly signals the kind of brilliant lunatic that could later come up with a Sullivan's Travels or a Lady Eve.

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Ruggles of Red Gap (Leo McCarey, 1935)

***½
USA



This repressed-fish-out-of-water comedy's venerable reputation might lead you to expect something more polished and less dewy-eyed-jingoistic. That said, Ruggles, the Parisian butler won in a poker game by crass mid-Westerners, is perhaps the most understated and beguiling of the three remarkable and remarkably varied characterisations Charles Laughton gave in 1935. And he isn't even the pick of this terrific ensemble: As a drunken loon and Ruggles' original master, Roland Young brings an odd improvisatory deadpan rhythm to each of his scenes that feels decades and decades ahead of its time.

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