Archive for January, 2011
Posted by christopher on January 31, 2011
Runtime: 107 minutes
Plot: Journey to the center of the sun.
Sunshine is a movie I was keenly interested in. While it’s somewhat dated today, coming out in 2007, the moment I first heard of it I was instantly captivated.
As a self-aware geek, I quite enjoy a sci-fi that is based in reality: futuristic but educated; full of imagination but plausible. And while any fact that I’ve read regarding our life-giving star Sol suggests it will well outlive humanity, the response played out in this movie is generally well founded and reasonably executed.
But before I get ahead of myself, in a quick summary: the sun is “dying” causing global cooling, which the viewer is led to believe is causing suffering, requiring a drastic response in the form of some kind of fusion-igniting bomb package delivered into the sun.
For me, the concept of the sun dying and our response was what initially sold me. And while the first quarter of Sunshine delivers interesting exposition, leading the viewer into a hopeful experience, executing a solitary space-oriented film is difficult without cliches: things go awry, difficult decisions need to be made, calamity ensues. And, again, while this experience in-and-of itself is at least entertaining, Sunshine delivers a twist which is alluded to and ultimately expected, leaving me to feel cheated and certainly let down by the overall experience. In other words, Sunshine turns from one genre, which I find interesting, to another. Yet the flip does not feel true; it feels forced, with characters and sub-plots introduced but not fully explored, which ultimately don’t contribute to the outcome of the overarching story. This leads me to believe that Sunshine was either born of an interesting concept that may have been better suited for a short film, or was forcibly modified in an attempt to potentially capture mainstream appeal.
Hope, however, is not completely lost. I actually did learn about space through the film–though through my own exploration, the film brought up the questions and was generally true to scientific consensus. In a similar vain and as I stated initially, the science fiction was well thought out; I can foresee the technology following a path similar to what was in the film, from the design of the spacecraft and how oxygen is maintained in long journeys to the more extreme earth room. The film also delivered realism in what longer-term space travel might feel like, what would be required from a psychological perspective, and how we may react to an abundant resource becoming scarce. On this note and finally, there are many moments of excellence where the actors and actresses reactions are captured, the camera focusing on their faces, both in awe and desperation, engaging me with the movie and character and balancing the drawbacks.
I feel I have been harsh on Sunshine. My expectations were high and ultimately not met. The ‘thriller’ aspects of the movie were too heavy, but the film does entertain and would be enjoyed by most.
The Last Station
Posted by will on January 26, 2011
Runtime: 112 minutes
Plot: The Countess Sofya, wife and muse to Leo Tolstoy, uses every trick of seduction on her husband’s loyal disciple, whom she believes was the person responsible for Tolstoy signing a new will that leaves his work and property to the Russian people.
Leo, or Lyev, Tolstoy, literary giant, leader amongst mere mortals, is probably best known for his works of realist fiction, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, neither of which I am familiar with nor, obviously, have taken the time to read. The faintest thing I know about Tolstoy’s masterpieces are that War and Peace is often symbolized as something rather long and monotonous and that they made a movie of Anna Karenina sometime in the late 90’s.
About Mr. Tolstoy I know little aside that he was a Russian pacifist and Christian anarchist. Apparently, his words would later have profound impacts on both Gandhi and MLK.
So, I came into the movie with an open mind, knowing that most cinematic portrayals are normally less than accurate, to see what The Last Station had to offer.
The film actually is centered around Valentin Bulgakov, a newly appointed private secretary to Tolstoy. There are a lot of small nuanced points and subplots to the actual primary tale but the story primarily follows the tug-of-war between Count Tolstoy’s wife, Sofya Tolstaya, and Tolstoy’s most devoted disciple and leader of the Tolstoyan movement, Vladimir Chertkov, over the signing of a new will. Bulgakov is caught in the middle and, is often times, left to mediate between the two sides. The most intriguing parts of this battle is the friction caused by Tolstoy’s idealistic principles (and thus, his resulting following) as opposed to Countess Sofya’s traditional and aristocratic views.
While there was much drama to be had over the course of the movie, I fail to find the purpose to make a movie about it (aside from the obvious “Let’s make a Tolstoy biopic” excuse). In the end, all of the sweat and tears shed over the new will seems pretty trivial. While this is certainly a key moment in Tolstoy and the Countess’ life, it is no more grandiose than your common everyday family drama and conflict you can find anywhere in the world. While there are certainly movies that carry the same themes, this vehicle seemed pretty petty and unimportant. Perhaps because I have no basic appreciation for Tolstoy do I find his final days pretty much “Whatever, dude”.
Another point of contention was the pace. I have noticed many of the movies I’ve reviewed recently I have complained about how much the movie dragged. I think there is something to be said about appropriate character development, movements within the story, and the fact I have been watching, almost exclusively, television series where a plot lasts normally in the 20 minute range. That all being said, there was a lot of overkill in the primary plots but little development in the subplots that ran throughout. Unfortunately, I would have liked to have seen less time spent on the meat and little bit more finesse to the secondary stories. Because of this, I felt like there was incomplete character development, especially in Bulgakov.
The strongest parts of the movies were the performances by the leads. James McAvoy turns in a solid performance as Valentin-in-the-Middle to the rock and sock’em Russians (Helen Mirren’s Countess Sofya and Paul Giamatti’s Chertkov). Christopher Plummer (Captain Von Trapp in the Sound of Music) is your Tolstoy, the apparent contemporary to writers with long white beards (I’m looking at you Walt Whitman). While the acting was solid and plausible to the characters it still felt like treading water to reach a conclusion I ended up not caring about.
The Man in the Iron Mask
Posted by will on January 7, 2011
Runtime: 132 minutes
Plot: The cruel King Louis XIV of France has a secret twin brother who he keeps imprisoned. Can the twin be substituted for the real king?
This is the movie loosely based on the 1939 same-titled film, also loosely based on a tale from Alexandre Dumas’ d’Artagnan Romances which, this story in particular, is loosely based on the real L’Homme au Masque de Fer, a prisoner arrested as Eustache Dauger in 1669. Yet, you probably remember it as that box-office success with future-star Leonardo DiCaprio who was coming off absurd amounts of outrageous triumph from his role in Titanic from the previous year. The mid-90’s prepubescent 14-year old girl in you probably remembers this as the movie with not one but two Leos (!!!).
What you might not remember is that The Man in the Iron Mask is a predictable, plodding film that has a few recognizable faces (Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Peter Sarsgaard, and Hugh Laurie to name a few) but nothing much to offer other than a little splash of action and adventure, awkward cuts of romance, a reunion of the O.G. Musketeers, and did I mention … two Leos?
After forgiving the campy dialogue, ridiculous slapstick elements, and slow forming story, the thing that was most cringe-worthy, I found, was the stiff and unforgiving acting. And, to top off your cocktail of misery, it seemed the poisonous effect was contagious throughout the cast. To think, the person who put the most life in his character was Gérard Depardieu (the only actual Frenchmen out of the four Musketeer actors), the oafish, drunken, STI-riddled boor. While the other three played up their hackneyed roles (the converted Jesuit priest who can still kick some ass in the name of the Lord, the mourning patriarch who was wronged by the king, and the distinguished military hero who is now under employ of the Man), they do so with such uncertainty and stiffness I couldn’t decide if particular parts of the movie were either painful or laughable (painfully laughable / laughably painful?).
And back to Leo. Both of them. Re-watching this film after a number of years, and seeing a good portion of Mr. DiCaprio’s body of work, this certainly was not his best effort. I mean, who could blame him? He was playing not only dual roles, but dueling roles as well. There is one thing I have noticed, from a personal standpoint, and this movie only helped to reinforce it. Leo has this particular and distinct vocal tone and inflection that he seems to always employ, whether he’s playing a con artist, historical megalomaniac, Rhodesian mercenary, or literary figure of tragedy … he always sounds the same, regardless of flavor of accent. While, my judgement is that he is a very, very talented actor, I always have a hard time blurring the line between him and whomever he is playing (because of his voice particularities). You might as well replace the “DiCaprio is …” perceptions with the “DiCaprio as …” realities in my judgement.
Off the tangent and back to the film. For what it’s worth, which is not too much, The Man … is certainly, in some small measure, entertaining (mindlessly, almost) but a very dated work that doesn’t hold a lot of potential as something you want to re-watch. But then again … it is two Leos.
Posted by abby on January 5, 2011
Runtime: 1 hour, 58 minutes
Plot: Georges, a television talk show host, and his wife Anne, are living the perfect life of modern comfort and security. One day, their idyll is disrupted in the form of a mysterious videotape that appears on their doorstep.
I once heard someone say that walking blindly into a Michael Haneke movie was like walking blindly into an emotional meat grinder. At the time, I hadn’t seen any of the Austrian director’s movies, but was aware of his reputation for directing realistic, coldly dramatic films like “Funny Games” and “The White Ribbon.” If you’re even vaguely familiar with Haneke’s usual subject matter, you know that cinematic portrayals of warmth and good times are not his strong suit by any means. So it was with growing interest (and a little trepidation) that I decided to watch the director’s 2005 film “Caché.”
It turns out that “Caché” actually is like walking into an emotional meat grinder. The thriller is two hours of anxiety, drawn-out suspense and camera trickery specifically designed with surgeon-like precision to make the audience uncomfortable. The film tells the story of Georges and Anne (Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche), an intellectual French couple with a 12-year-old son, who start receiving strange videotapes of the exterior of their house accompanied by creepy, threatening childlike drawings. The tapes and drawings particularly bother Georges, who sees connections to someone from his childhood who he’d rather forget.
Probably the most unsettling aspect of the film is Haneke’s use of the camera as an unreliable narrator. It’s difficult to tell in many scenes in “Caché,” especially in the film’s last half, whether what we’re watching is a simple exterior shot, or if it’s something that’s been shot by the anonymous stalker. Some scenes reappear shot from different angles, letting the audience know that what we thought was a private moment wasn’t really private at all. Once the viewer realizes they’re watching the work of the voyeur, the effect is chilling. I felt at once betrayed and like I was seeing something I shouldn’t be, a feeling that made me sympathize with Georges and Anne, the victims, all the more.
“Caché,” by the way, translates into English as “Hidden,” and it’s obvious that the way people hide guilt, uncomfortable emotions and uncomfortable memories is Haneke’s major theme. The mundane aspects of Georges and Anne’s life, their friends, their son, their work, contrast starkly to their actions and arguments when the tapes appear in their house. Haneke clothes most of his characters in dull neutral colors that subdue any kind of expression of their personalities. The only facts the audience knows about the characters are what they tell each other, which isn’t very much. Characters who seem nice at first look like total jerks later on. The message seems to be that everyone has secrets they hide that keep people from knowing them fully.
It would be easy to compare “Caché” to movies of the Alfred Hitchcock variety. It’s not entirely incorrect—there are some similarities. But where Hitchcock’s movies were exciting, charming and darkly fun, “Caché” is a movie tailor-made to keep audiences from enjoying it. Michael Haneke creates a situation where the stakes are high, and viewers spend the entire film waiting for the other shoe to drop, expecting danger in every corner, but never feeling relief when it doesn’t come. “Caché” is a movie that’s put together by someone who absolutely knows what they’re doing, and it’s great to see a director with such a clear and dedicated vision. But that vision ain’t pleasant.