The deluge continues...
[Continuing from here...]
Bad Education (Pedro Almodóvar)
Okay, so it wasn’t a fluke. Could spend the rest of this blurb waxing hyperbolic on the structure, which is at once impossibly snaky and even more impossibly confident -- as Edelstein noted, you don’t realize you’ve been drinking in a neo-noir until the third act. On the other hand, you’re never lost and, furthermore, the whole thing doesn’t degenerate into smelly blob of incoherence. Still. As thrilling as it is to follow Almodovar’s bread crumbs, there’s the sneaking suspicion that it doesn’t add up to much -- or rather, that its choosing of empathy over analysis doesn’t do that much for me. (“Passion,” which devours the frame during the finale, apparently equals “empathy,” by the way.) Again, still -- it’s not like I wish to denigrate the movie, which has me goosed for the next offering from a filmmaker by whom, as of 2002, I was mildly distracted at best. (I don’t even much get the femme-love-in All About My Mother, his alleged turning point.) Like Sam Raimi’s 2004 entry, it proves that Almodóvar’s undergoing the most ideal kind of maturation: the only thing’s that changed is the seriousness of his subject matter. Otherwise, everything’s the same and, furthermore, his old bag of tricks is seeming, in retrospect, more impressive, more filled with goodies. If this delirious exercise in truth-seeking doesn’t add up to much, as I said, it still doesn’t up to a Rashomon-like thesis -- if anything, Enrique’s simply irritated to be tangentially caught up in a thorny soap opera. And needless to say, its technique puts to shame the likes of (presumably) The Woodsman, which mistake patness for sympathy (again, presumably -- I mean, really, this can’t be far off). There’s nothing pat about this one, and at its best -- the song that drives the priest into quivering; the pool scene; even the fumbling about with the passed-out john’s wallet -- it evokes an ethereal quality that cuts right through the bone. Besides, Gael Garcia Bernal’s finally terrific -- all six or so of him. Grade: B+
The Village (M. Night Shyamalan)
[Spoilers -- as if you don’t already know them] Great. So the Shyamalan I skip in theaters turns out to be kind of interesting. The Twist™ of M. Night’s unsolicited riff off of A Chronicle of Corpses was spoiled for me back in July, but I reckon I could have guessed it about forty minutes in -- Shyamalan’s just doesn’t come up with enough ways for his cloaked beasties to show their stranglehold. What it does have, and which the others don’t, is a twist that actually expands on the film’s themes rather than, you know, twist the audience. (The mind still reels from the one in Signs.) The second gotcha smacks of reactionism and the archaic dialogue’s atrocious (“What is your meaning?” being a personal favorite). But Shyamalan evokes Val Lewton admirably and he isn’t quick to paint his baddies as baddies: he makes sure to show the consequences of their decision, making Hurt (alive for the first time in ages, even if one of his tortured lines begins with “What matter of spectacle is this that...” and proceeds to never end)...anyway, making Hurt, et al. sympathetic and vaguely human. And, of course, there’s the whole topicality issue. Speaking of which, am I the only one to notice the townspeople’s total lack of religion? Shyamalan seems hesitant to criticize their decision, as though it’s not such a bad idea. (Actually, it’s as though it’s Shyamalan’s utopia: nothing’s present that will get drive a wedge between people, the banter’s slow and drawn-out, and everyone’s on edge all the time.) He’s getting a little trickier with the way he maintains his little corner of the world: he doesn’t oversell anything and he rarely springs for the obvious scenes, excising confrontations that would happen in anyone else’s movies. Bryce Dallas Howard’s suitably intense -- the fingers shake with anticipation of Mandalay -- but why no love for Adrian Brody? His fumbling during the murder scene was killer stuff. Grade: B-
Hotel Rwanda (Terry George)
Pretty mediocre stuff, and not just because it’s a PG-13 movie about genocide. You might as well start with that one, a decision I applaud on an intellectual level but find, at the end of the day, pointless: with all the talk of machete chopping -- not to mention the year’s creepiest bad guy, the man on the radio -- its excision feels like willful ignorance, not to mention a way to pack the theaters full. Still, what really irks is the whole patness of it, the way it likes to pass glib, first-thing-that-pops-in-your-head solutions off as probing analysis. The whole thing feels like getting a small percentage of a story from someone who thinks they’re giving you the whole caboodle. Now, now: Don Cheadle’s effectively non-heroic and the movie springs to eccentric, gallows humor life during the scenes detailing his attempts to keep the place running have a nice gallows humor to it. For a stronger, but also more irritated, take, catch this guy. Grade: C+
Shwaas (Sandeep Sawant)
What this is is a kid has some questionable problem with his eye. His grandfather shleps him out to the city, where the doctors are really overextended and really distracted -- the bastard’s trying to make dinner plans and eyeballing his computer and over-cheerfully bouncing his head when he meets with them. Turns out the kid -- a Moppet, of course -- has to undergo an operation that will render him blind, which means he’ll have to wait in the overcrowded hospital before the radical operation. But how can he wait when he needs to see the beauty of the world (presented in retina-stabbingly hideous DV)? It’s actually a good subject, this exploring the medical crisis in India, and the first reel or so suggests a black comedy’s a-brewin’. But Sawant likes his targets made of straw and so avoids the prevalent topics that even dye-in-the-wool liberals are bound to make defenses for the film’s (and our) villains. Naturally, it was India’s official entry in the Oscars. (Didn’t make the cut.) Grade: C-
Oasis (Lee Chang-dong)
Essentially, and totally, a South Korean remake of The Other Sister. Comes with the requisite pluses: strong acting (Sol Kyung-gu particularly, who delivers the least predictable turn in memory); strong camerawork; wild tonal shifts that occasionally meld nicely; truth not Truth. But also the requisite negatories: lurid, patently SoKo twists mistaken for rawness; the fact that it’s still The Other Sister, griminess or no. Still, I can see why people have gone gaga over it: as a love story, it’s dizzying and unusual, with Moon So-ri never officially declaring her affections -- it’s more like a case of necessity (or settling for what you can get) than unbridled passion. But you know what? It’s still The Other Fucking Sister. Grade: C+
Zatoichi (Takeshi Kitano)
Kitano’s signature image, at least this time around, seems to be of Kitano himself, hunched over, giggling at something the other characters (and we) can’t deign to understand. But make no mistake: this is as generically crowd-pleasing as the Kitano will ever get, which means that as amiably goofy as things get, there’s still the elliptical editing, the persistent deadpan humor, the pretzeled structure, and the occasional discombobulating touch. (The arterial spray is the single most weirdly beautiful CGI ever.) Unlike other times at bat, Kitano doesn’t stretch past his reach: it’s a loopy romp with the year’s coolest-looking gore, and that’s about it. Underline and bold “loopy,” make that: even moreso than Moolaadé, this has to be the most toe-thumping film that’s not a musical of the year; the finale has the power to trick you into thinking you saw a truly life-affirming film. Grade: B
Just quickly, and smolderingly hot off the presses: yeah, I liked Constantine. What of it? Apart from being pretty well-crafted (Francis Lawrence, who has nothing but Will Smith and Britney Spears vids to his credit, is surprisingly confident and reasonably restrained), it has to be the most subversive Hollywood juggernaut in memory -- and I mean that entirely from a religious point of view. The idea is that, yes, there’s a heaven and a hell, a God and a Devil. However, both of them -- and their minions -- aren't terribly appealing. Talk of an annoying “rulebook” and the inanity of people living as though they're bestowed with “plans" are inevitably bandied about. But there's also the notion that, if you know what's up, the sole reason to go to heaven is because it's better than being in hell. But even there you have reams of hypocrisy and decidedly un-holy tactics: it's not every movie where [sigh...Spoiler Ahoy] the devil showing up is a relief, given that Tilda Swinton’s Gabriel turns out to be the bad guy. What's more, if Richard Dawkins’ treatise on the paranormal can be considered (paraphrasing from memory: “If someone manages to see a fairy right in front of them and isn’t drunk and has a working camera, I’ll believe in fairies”), it’s a worldview even atheists can get behind. Be prepared for uber-scenery chewing from -- literally, of all people! -- Gavin Rossdale.