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Monthly Archives: May 2011


Ten Word or Less Review: It’s sad when kids die.

The trauma that comes with losing an infant child is unfathomable to most and an experience that few would relish to watch a movie about.  Rabbit Hole bravely tries to portray this expereince by examining a married couple 8 months removed from their tragedy.  Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart are the devistated couple grasping with life after their 4 year old son was accidentially struck by a car . The grim subject matter is directed with taste by John Cameron Mitchell, never suffocating under dourness, but something about Rabbit Hole keeps getting under the skin in the wrong way.

Eckhart and Kidman are Howie and Becca, a couple trying to lift the fog of despair that hangs over their daily lives.  With the immediate pain of lose now subsided, and just a crushing, dull ache in it’s place, they’re starting to deal with their residual, long term grief in different ways.  Howie finds group therapy useful but Becca thinks their fellow parents in lose are righteous, grief junkies.  Becca starts to shed evidence of their son from around the house which angers Howie to no end.  He isn’t ready to let these things go and thinks Becca’s being insensitive in trying to systematically ‘erase’ their son.  Becca though can’t stand the constant reminders which cause her so much pain.  Back and forth they go on their emotional see-saw.  Eckhart and Kidman achieve a convincing dynamic of a struggling couple trying not to completely fall to pieces and the film stands tall on their performances.  While this backbone of the story gets the movie to where it wants to go, it’s too often undermined by occasions that seem emotionally contrived and out of sorts.

Rabbit Hole keeps setting up one uncomfortable and strained situation on top of another and after a while it starts to grate.  Kidman’s character in particular feels like someone who has lost the ability to manage real world relationships as she constantly fails in her dealings with family and strangers.  It’s certainly intentional and built into the character on purpose, but it strains credibility on more than one occasion.  Despondent or not, who could give their dead kid’s clothes to their pregnant sister and not think about how inappropriate and weird it is?  It’s moments like this where Rabbit Hole fails to give its characters enough credit as they blunder obliviously through awkward situations making them even more awkward.  Director John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) could’ve done with less instances of this kind of insightlessness, it makes his otherwise touching characters flirt with being downright dense in places.  Helping balance out things the other way is an engaging subplot about Becca attempting to befriend the teenager who accidentially killed her son. Newcomer Miles Teller gets some of the best, albeit fleeting, material as a teen struggling to come to grips with the accident he’s at the tragic center of, channeling his angst into a comic book about multiple dimensions entitled Rabbit Hole.

It feels wrong to pick on a movie trying admirably to deal with subject matter as sensitive as this, but I still think there was a less manipulative way to work through the story in some places.  While it’s not perfect it does provide an honest point of view about how the lose of children to parents can be complete in its devestation. Eckhart and Kidman’s couple want desperately to save themselves but their reactions to the experience grow divergent with time and it slowly pulls them apart.  The movie implies their survival as a couple is possible, but guarantees nothing.  In the end it doesn’t say ‘everything will be okay’ so much as it says ‘everything simply will be.’

Ten Word or Less Review: French?  Animated?  Peculiar?  What went wrong?

Director Sylvian Chomet made The Triplets of Belleville eight years ago and I can still remember scenes, plot, characters and even the ramshackle, patchwork theater I saw it in on 4th St. as well as who I saw it with.  Yo M!  I finished watching his newest effort, The Illusionist, less than three hours ago and it’s already little more than a footnote in my mind.  I found a co-worker’s dramatic recounting of a trip to the dentist more resplendent with adventure than this faux, avant garde animated tedium.  Chomet has made an animated collaboration with French auteur Jacques Tati, the legendary helmer who gave the world Mr. Hulot.  And if you don’t know or care who that is, the director or the character, The Illusionist will be ten times less interesting for you than it was for me.

Tati’s Mr. Hulot is regarded in some misguided circles as a superior, French descendant of Chaplin’s Little Tramp.  But having seen two of Mr. Hulot’s so-called adventures he seems like little more than an oblivious, quiet guy who wonders around and bumps into things.  The Illusionist attempts a loose replication of this persona.  A wordless, down on his luck magician wonders from job to job, eeking out a living in 1959 as Rock & Roll mania stands poised to kill every old art form in its path, his included.  He performs for a Scottish village and the day he departs their company an impressionable girl stows away with him.  He feels compelled to provide for the girl, takes up new jobs to buy her things as she observes and befriends the strange gallery of weirdos who are his neighbors.  She eventually falls for a fellow across the street and he bids her adieu.  That’s it.

Really, that’s it.  The Illusionist is so painfully thin that the exceptional artwork and animation wind up amounting to zilch.  It’s difficult to completely dismiss such a wonderful looking, mostly hand drawn, animated feature in this CGI overloaded age but the invisible story leaves you little choice.  There’s nothing substantial or attention grabbing to make you take notice besides the delicate craft of animation itself.  After 30 minutes or so you’re left with a hopeless wondering of, ‘Should I care about anything happening?’  And the answer is a resounding ‘No.’

Illusionist leaps off the pier of animation ambition and quietly performs an elegant belly flop on the viewer.  There’s nothing at stake, nothing to invest in, nothing to hold on to.  Plenty of critics have extolled the virtues of this cartoon creation and I’m sure they mean well.  But I think in their attempt to champion that which feels like the work of a person and not a corporation they’re missing out on the fact that Illusionist is incredibly slight and almost non-existent as an actual story.  Chomet has a wonderful eye for animated stories and it’s a shame he chose to spend and effort on this hopelessly slight effort from an over-rated voice from the past.

Ten Word or Less Review: Top notch stuff.  Seek it out and see it.

Look on the IMDB page for this film and you’ll see it classified as Drama/Mystery/Romance.  Movies have a hard enough time getting one genre right much less three, but Secret balances these multiple genres with an incredibly skilled touch, accomplishing a gripping story which never feels shallow, predictable or course.  It’s a hard-hitting murder mystery that knows how to turn the screws, as well as a story of unrequited romance that feels well honed and true to heart.

Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin), is a retired Argentinian detective.  Free of the work a day world Benjamin lingers on a troublesome case from 20 years in his past, the brutal rape and murder of Liliana Coloto, a beautiful newlywed who was killed in her own home after her husband went to work.  As he attempts to write a book about the events he drugges up feelings long buried and explores new thoughts and ideas pretaining to the case.  Secret juxtaposes Benjamin’s quiet life of now, unmarried, no kids, too much time, with his tumultuous existence of then, trying to solve a perplexing murder, dealing with his drunken best friend and co-worker, falling for a superior he feels unworthy of.

These dueling timelines and story arcs never feel at odds with one another or tonally out of whack.  Each part of its complex story compliments the other in odd and unpredictable ways.  Director/Writer Juan Jose Campanella shows great skill here with complex structure and pacing. Not only emotionally winding and complex it also requires a gutsy storyteller and Campanella doesn’t duck away from the harder parts of his narrative.  When Esposito walks in on Liliana’s battered body, the detective’s ground in cynicism fades away as he’s struck devistated with horror at the heinousness of the crime . It’s the kind of powerful scene too many American flicks shy away from.

The cast of actors mine the intimidating screenplay for everything that it’s worth and in addition are saddled with the trick of playing their characters at two very different ages.  Darin convincingly portrays Esposito as a brash young man and an older, lost soul whose watched opportunities pass him by.  We see him struggle then and now with his relationship to Irene (Soledad Villamil), a work place superior who sets him on his side with unrequited desire.  Past or present, Darin injects such an aching sense of repression towards this woman he’s so in love with that we can’t stand to see him not act.  Romance seems superfilous and ill-timed in most murder oriented mysteries, here it serves as the emotional backbone for the entire story and it has a fantastic payoff.

The Secret in their Eyes leaves a deep impression on the viewer.  In an age of disposable movies where a real emotion is nearly impossible to find, Campanella’s effort achieves near greatness.  For a director who’s spent most of his career confined to television (Law & Order: SVU, House, Strangers With Candy!) he’s turned in a remarkable cinematic effort that would make any master helmer a wee bit jealous.

Ten Word or Less Review: Good doc about one of a kind subject.

The fascianting subject of this documentary is Mark Hogancamp.  Several years ago Mark was beaten within inches of his life outside of a bar by five lowlifes who wanted to stomp him to death because they thought he was gay.  He wasn’t, he just really likes women’s shoes.  Mark lost most of his memory and physical abilites and had to start from scratch at the age of 35.  While he overcame most of the physical effects of the event, it left him with no desire for alcohol as an odd plus, his mental ones took some unforseen turns.

Seeking a way to cope with his anger and sense of lose, Mark built the town of Marwencol, a 1/6th scale WWII camp populated with G.I. Joe’s and Barbie Dolls, each one a stand in for someone in Mark’s life, including himself.  He constructs detailed stories about life in Marwencol with his 1′ avatar the center of attention.  Mark’s stories are sometimes touching, often savage, WWII tales which echo the reality Mark tries to live with.  His friends and family each have little substitutes that inhabit the small, weird world he’s methodically constructed.  In addition to this, Mark positions his figures in precise places and photographs them, accomplishing a bizarre but very sincere form of storytelling. His photo’s are often shining examples of miniature photography.

As a documentary Marwencol is a little unpolished and like Mark’s story itself, there’s no real conclusion to be found. The movie culminates with Mark’s work being put on display in a New York art museum, his feelings about which seem very conflicted. It’s a unique story and despite the rather minor feeling of the filmmaking itself, Marwencol will probably capture the attention of many who watch it.


Ten Word or Less Review: Thor.  Not a chore.  Kind of a bore.

Beating up on Marvel’s Thor flick would be like mighty Thor himself taking time to wail on some puny mortal who bumps into him and makes him spill his coffee.  He could do it easily, effortlessly and leave nothing but a bloody pulp in his wake.  But why waste the effort on something so intentionally slight?  Thor is probably better than anyone ever imagined it could possibly be, but nor is it impressive in any useful way.  It stands as a shining example of how ‘okay’ but disposable the most touted event flick has become.  What also speaks volumes is that the best single scene in the whole movie is a throwaway joke involving the title character being run over by a truck.

Thor is saddled with the thinnest of stories.  If you watched a preview you’ve seen the whole thing.  Thor’s a jerk and he acts like an ass.  His Dad Odin, Anthony Hopkins, strips him of power and cast him down to Earth hoping he’ll learn not to be a jerk.  He learns not to be a jerk.  Everything is swell.  That’s actually only half the story.  The other half of the story involves a bunch of people in large helmets walking around really big sets.  This movie must set some kind of record for characters wearing oversized headgear.  I mean these helmets are absolutely freaking gigantic.  I think if I wound up in Thor’s home of Asgard I’d take up the chiropractic profession because everyone must have incredibly sore necks.  All the imagination went into the hats because there wasn’t much left over for Asgard itself.  It’s basically a big special effect that feels unlived in by anyone or anything.  Someone needs to count how many scenes take place in the cosmic door way room which looks like a big record needle that plays the universe’s biggest copy of Dark Side of the Moon.  There’s an entire mythological civilization at our doorway and everyone just keeps leaving from or going to this one room.  Imagine a Star Trek movie where everyone just kept going to and from the transporter room over and over.

Thor’s best parts are the jokey, fish out of water bits.  New guy Chris Hemsworth is having a grand old time playing the hammer wielding god, he basically holds the movie together, and his scenes when he arrives on Earth work better than anything else.  Director Kenneth Branagh wrings some laughs out of this dopey scenario by letting Hemsworth play things to the hilt.  Instead of having Thor fret and gawk at the new world he’s stuck in he simply barrels through it with unmatched bravado.  He acts like a magnificent, oblivious asshole and could care less that the world around him no longer bends to his whims.  The movie even dares to poke the smallest of jokes at its own expense.  Natalie Portman is here to stare googly eyed at the muscle bound god and pretend to be a scientist.  That’s the extent of her part.

Thor is slight, forgettable summer nonsense.  Like just about all of these Marvel properties, despite the budgets and supposed ambition, it all feels surprisingly small in scope and they all end with the same big fight scene.  I’m sure Thor will go on to future cinematic adventures, he’ll be an Avenger next year, and maybe with a  little tweaking they might get somewhere with this thing.  His first adventure though a limited adventure flick for kids and comic book fans.