Awards screeners are starting to come in hard & fast now, so here’s a hectic (and almost certainly incomplete) roundup of movies I’ve watched these last few weeks. In order of preference!
My Mother, My Bride, and I/Die Zweite Frau
Another cross-cultural love story from Europe, this time bridging Bavaria and Romania. Erwin Kobarek (Matthias Brandt) picks Irina (Maria Popistasu) out of a catalog, but his mother (Monica Bleibtreu) disapproves. One of my favorites at the Hamptons Film Fest. Hans Steinbichler, 2008. ****
I’m still kicking myself for missing this in the theater. Delirious, demented, delicious. Andy & Larry Wachowski, 2008. ****
Black Ice/Musta jää
I liked this twisted Finnish thriller in Berlin, and it got even better on second viewing in the Hamptons. Let’s hope it doesn’t just get remade, but also released in the U.S. Petri Kotwica, 2007. ****
This punk rock adaptation of Goethe’s classic is either a pretentious disaster or wildly romantic triumph. Possibly both. Either way, Hannah Herzsprung is out of this world. HIFF. Uwe Janson, 2008. ***
Dunya & Desie
Movie version of a long-running Dutch TV show about two teenage friends. Dunya (Maryam Hassouni), the daughter of Muslim immigrants, returns to Marocco, and her bubbly friend Desie follows. Thoroughly sweet & enjoyable. HIFF. Dana Nechushtan, 2008. ***
Bogdan’s on vacation with his wife and child when he runs into his old buddies who still call him Boogie and insist to take him out on a wild night. Perceptive and unassumingly real, Boogie snuck up on me. More from Danny Kasman. HIFF. Radu Muntean, 2008. ***
This gripping redemption story starring Trine Dyrholm won Best Narrative Feature and the audience award at the Hampton’s Film Fest. Marcy reviews. Erik Poppe, 2008. ***
Nothing But the Truth
Reasonably amusing fun-house mirror version of the Miller/Plame case. Could’ve used more Vera Farmiga — but that’s true of every movie. Rod Lurie, 2008. ***
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
I love the man as much as anyone, but the only HST movie I really need to see at this point is The Rum Diaries. Alex Gibney, 2008. ***
The Bad and the Beautiful
Kirk Douglas as selfish Hollywood producer who screws over Lana Turner. Highly entertaining until the wimp-out ending. Vincente Minnelli, 1952. ***
Curiously surreal crime/love story starring Isabelle Adjani and Gerard Depardieu in two roles. Andre Techine, 1976. ***
Ornella Muti! Mike Hodges, 1980. ***
Quantum of Solace
Seems like I was entertained. The editing blew. That’s all I remember. Marc Foster, 2008. **
Annika (Trine Dyrholm) falls in love with a rapist. Dyrholm is terrific but the movie pales compared to Der Freie Wille. HIFF. Pernille Fischer Christensen, 2008. **
As a major Star Wars geek, I tried my best to like this sci-fi coming-of-age story. But you know what the man says: there is no try. More from Karina Longworth. HIFF. Patrick Read Johnson, 2007. **
So lurid and godawful, we couldn’t stop. Cuba Gooding Jr. bonks Helen Mirren — with a gun! Lee Daniels, 2005. **
The Andromeda Strain
A long time ago, I was sent to bed after the first 15 minutes. Finally finished it. Dull science procedural was not worth the wait. More from Glenn Erickson. Robert Wise, 1971. **
What Just Happend
Rough going, but we held out until Bruce Willis shows up in wooly beard. Barry Levinson, 2008. N/R.
You may think of film criticism as a rather sedate pursuit, involving a lot of sitting around in the dark and scratching one’s beard. But in truth, the trenches of cinemania are treacherous ground. Never mind the blogger infighting and hordes of rabid fanboys waiting for you after you post — I’m talking about the real dangers that lurk in the space between the screen and your eyes, where auteur loyalty means nothing, empty buzz can finish you off before the opening credits, and the blood of the gullible is spilled by the bucket. Or at least, their patience.
What am I on about? Last week’s two major disappointments, the Flaming Lips’ bizarrely sluggish Christmas on Mars and the Coen Brothers’ vile Burn After Reading, which left me quaking with anger. Both reviews are now up on About.com.
It took two confirmed classics — and multiple viewings — to restore my faith: Antonioni’s endlessly baffling and beautiful The Passenger and the magical The Thief of Baghdad, one of the first movies I remember seeing. Not a bad way to lick your wounds and shore up resolve for the New York Film Festival, which begins screening for critics on Monday.
Christmas on Mars. Wayne Coyne, 2008. * (Review)
Burn After Reading. Joel and Ethan Coen, 2008. * (Review)
The Passenger. Michaelangelo Antonioni, 1975. *****
The Thief of Baghdad. Michael Powell, 1940. *****
Wild Reeds/Les Roseaux sauvages. André Téchiné, 1994. ****
It Happened One Night. Frank Capra, 1934. ****
Recount. Jay Roach, 2008. ****
The Long Good Friday. John Mackenzie, 1980. ****
Ikiru. Akira Kurosawa, 1952. ****
Hamlet 2. Andrew Fleming, 2008. ***
Autumn/Automne. Ra’up McGee, 2004. ***
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, 2008. ***
Mildred Pierce. Michael Curtiz, 1945. ***
Choke. Clark Gregg, 2008. **
Sukiyaki Western Django. Takashi Miike, 2007. N/R
It’s no secret that I love Star Wars — and not just “the old ones” but all six movies: their mythic scope, their conceptual and visual inventiveness, the cheesy characters and blunt dialogue, the structural complexity, the joy they take in speed and color. Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the all-new animated Star Wars adventure, is a worthy addition to the original six-film cycle, staying true to the spirit of the series while overhauling it in a number of important ways. Read the rest of my review on About.com.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Dave Filoni, 2008. ****
Also recently seen:
Like any critic who dared to show themselves less than impressed with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight juggernaut, I caught a lot of abuse for my dismissive review. Being called a mouth-breathing mountain dweller and a hat-wearing Brooklynite is fine by me, but when my nerd cred was insulted, I knew it was time for a fanboy throwdown: The Dark Knight vs. my favorite film of 2005, George Lucas’s much-maligned pop masterpiece Revenge of the Sith.
Click over to About.com to read why Star Wars beats Batman in every respect — and then I’ll promise to return to your regularly scheduled coverage of art house films, including the lovely In Search for a Midnight Kiss, Johnny To’s Mad Detective, and the much anticipated Fear(s) of the Dark.
It’s not that I can’t tell a killer whale from a serial rapist — it’s simply that the dumbest puns sometimes amuse most, especially when they offer mild relief for otherwise unbearibly grim tales of doomed love and ill-fated desires. Benten‘s fourth DVD release Der Freie Wille (The Free Will) streeted last week (yes, it’s a verb), and my review is up over on About.com.
All half-hearted joking aside, Matthias Glasner’s unflinching look at uncontrollable desires and evil urges is shot, acted, and told with such an uncompromising sense of purpose it’s almost impossible to endure (how’s that for a blurb guaranteed to jack up sales?) The fearless plumbing of the abyss on display here recalls Kinski and Herzog’s Woyzeck.
I’m responsible for the translation of the disc’s commentary track subtitles, a task that required putting each scene on replay loop, and as a result, some of the images and situations seem to have permanently burnt themselves into my subconscious. What did Der Freie Wille do to my free will, and can you blame me for trying to replace tortured Jürgen Vogel, both fists jammed into his parka, with a Disneyfied orca?
Der Freie Wille. Matthias Glasner, 2006. ****