Monday, September 06, 2010

Monday Reviews: In the Silence Before Twitter...

Before I opened my account in the late spring, I was as dismissive of Twitter as the next snob, thinking it was good mostly for alerting your friends that you were having trouble finding a parking spot, or that your latte was cold and you were running late, or that you were totally over your AP Government teacher. That's me, eating crow. I've really enjoyed the coerced concision, the exposure to other voices, and the opportunity to file very short briefs about the movies I see, to register first impressions and/or to take the place of longer reviews. As we move on from the Fifties and find out what the fall and winter hold in store, I've gone back and supplied Tweet-sized reactions to all the U.S. releases from 2010 that I screened before I added this extra feature of the site. Remember, too, that I now include these at the top of the dedicated page for each film on my main review site.

Accomplices (09, B): A perfect festival surprise, handling two-track plot with rare ease; well-acted, well-told within a conventional form

American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein (09, C+): Finkelstein well worth trying to penetrate but filmmakers haven't done it; structure too loose, POV too cautious

Chloe (09, D+): Moore's and Seyfried's ideas about their characters come to nothing as script and direction freefall into cheapness

Delta (08, C+): Artfully lensed, with some creeping power, but too many moves swiped from Festival Handbook of Slow-Build Morbidity (full review)

The Eclipse (09, C–): Not without its brooding chills and can't fault the leads, but adds up to precious little, and Quinn's embarrassing (full review)

Fish Tank (09, B+): Arnold gets such charge from images, actors, sounds; even when this one lapses or wanders, she brings it back with kick

Get Low (09, C–): First shot's a tone-setting keeper, but there's no movie beyond a mood and a rote climax; acted well but not memorably

The Ghost Writer (10, B): Early mastery of form and tone falter in the last third, but for spindly craft, nothing matches it right now

Green Zone (10, B+): Earns some gripes for stalled characters and naïve payoff, but very forceful, especially climactic triple-chase

How to Train Your Dragon (10, B+): Lilo & Stitch helmers reprise bouncy wit and keen feeling for child-animal rapport; inspired use of 3D

I Love You Phillip Morris (09, C): Everyone tries, but tone too flippant, and smug about its risk-taking; McGregor's sweet, Mann underused

Let It Rain (08, C+): Passable, but feels too much like it's still in idea stages: "What if we based our story loosely on Ségolène..." (full review)

Mother (09, B+): As in many Korean peers, piecemeal structure is problem and thrilling gift; for every bald patch, a staggering surprise

My Neighbor, My Killer (09, B+): What extraordinary doc lacks in finesse and structure it nails in emotional candor and eyewitness value (full review)

Prodigal Sons (08, A–): Brave, deft, top-level documentary; takes huge risk pairing transgender with mental illness, but it pays off

A Prophet (09, B+): No gainsaying Audiard's scene-level genius or the aliveness of his films, but genre feels trapped by overfamiliarity

Red Riding: 1974 (09, B–): Doubt I'll proceed; self-important air despite mid-grade plotting, and distractingly smudgy photography

The Runaways (10, B–): A literally unbeatable opening with nothing to match its verve, but good acting, worthy subject, artful moments

The Secret in Their Eyes (09, B–): Diverting mystery plus a bravura sequence shot, but ropey, a bit salacious, and stuck in Law & Order mold

The Secret of Kells (09, B): So gorgeously detailed and creatively designed it barely seems like the classroom dilution it essentially is

Shutter Island (09, D+): Undercooked scenario in grotesque grapple with overbaked presentation; Clarkson survives, Scorsese drowns (capsule review)

Summer in Genoa (08, C): Unclear why Winterbottom wanted to redo Don't Look Now but less ambitiously, with dangling ghost threads (full review)

Vincere (09, D+): I confess low tolerance for high-gloss Italian bathos, but nothing sustains the wailing, opportunistic spectacles

Finally, in case you still aren't a Twitter reader, and Lord knows I'm the last person to criticize a conscientious objector to any form of modern technology (including, you know, the car, the microwave, and the cellphone), I'm providing one last tip-off here to my recent reviews of last year's Venice Film Festival champ Lebanon (still playing at Chicago's Music Box), a highly rhetorical but affecting war film; the unusual, insinuating, zombie-flavored indie Make-Out with Violence, which Facets or someone ought to book for a midnight-cult run; the Australian import The Square (now on DVD), which I found disappointing but many fans of pulpy suspense will probably enjoy; Nicolas Winding Refn's Valhalla Rising (now playing at the Siskel Film Center), a stunted aspirant to Aguirre's mad throne; and the chintzy-looking The Last Exorcism (currently in commercial release), which increasingly spurns internal consistency but has much more up its bloodied sleeve than you might be guessing.

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Blogger James T said...

Alright, time for some (humble) VOR-related objections/questions.

I don't really object to "A Prophet"'s VOR but you made it clear that you thought it was a bit too familiar. So, doesn't that compromise its originality?

And even if I completely understand why you loved "Toy Story 3", I think the formula was present. Still, its way of touching the viewers was, for me, original and the execution was pretty great but it was predictable in some occasions.

And re: Fish Tank. (Spoilers)
I was a bit annoyed by how the film made us regard Connor as a next-to-perfect human being only to destroy that image later. And the horse mechanism to prove that "She's not all tough. She has a heart" seemed to me a little rediculous. Plus, if I got it right, the horse is supposed to symbolise her true nature or something, right?

I always, somehow, seem to be nasty when I am critical. I assure you that it's not against you (you probably know that already) or even the films. Just a bad way of expressing myself. Well, "Fish Tank" did bug me a little even though I liked it overall.

2:13 PM, September 06, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

James, I love these questions - can't respond to them now but will soon. Interestingly, though, I woke up this morning and thought, "I ought to bring Fish Tank's VOR down to a 4," and did. Had I already done that by the time you wrote in? I'm not saying that I might not push it back up later, but it's definitely a borderline case.

I don't think Connor seems "perfect" in the early and middle, though I can see what you would say that. For one thing, he's quite a showboater, and knows it, even when he's kind. Another way to put this is that he seems intent on making everyone attracted to him, even when it seems benign.

More later!

2:46 PM, September 06, 2010  
Blogger James T said...

No, the "5" was still there when I went to the page.

I am glad I added that "(humble)" because I know you usually have convincing answers. I totally hear you re:Connor. I guess I felt that the way he was presented left no one in the audience the chance to not be impressed by this cool, charming guy. I realise now that it was kind of a shallow reaction. And of course it's obvious that he's not so perfect when he knows the girl is watching and still goes on.

3:35 PM, September 06, 2010  
Blogger CCW said...

Nick, you're totally spot on about the strengths and weaknesses of The Runaways (and it's cool you singled out Stewart's solid work in it). Forgive me if I switch tracks entirely, but I'm dying to know more of what you thought of Zulawski's Possession and, particularly, Adjani's work in it.

8:28 PM, September 06, 2010  
Anonymous ZPJ said...

In regards to Valhalla Rising. It was very clear, and very fundamental to the story, that Mads Mikkelsen's character was NOT a Christian. I am starting to think that you need to pay more attention to the films you watch, and less time dreaming about new words to employ clumsily.

6:28 AM, September 19, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@ZPJ: That was the detail I felt shakiest about, so thanks for this. In the corrected version of the review I just posted, I confess to the mistake and explain why I made it - Refn lingers enough on the gruffly Christian-hating captors that I assumed whomever they'd capture and abuse (whose image is crosscut into several of these exchanges) must also be a Christian, but yes, there's plenty in the movie that disproves this.

Is it enough to admit that reviewers sometimes make mistakes? Admittedly, I get annoyed, too, when I catch one that matters in a piece of criticism. I don't really think I fail to pay attention at movies, nor do I spend the time dreaming of big words to misuse, but if that's the cup of bile you're serving up with my plate of lumps, I guess I'm supposed to take all of it.

9:38 AM, September 19, 2010  
Anonymous ZPJ said...

OK, I feel like a bit of a bastard now. Good on you for publishing a correction, I certainly was not expecting that.

For what it's worth I agree with your rating of Valhalla Rising. It was conceptually interesting and in many ways quite haunting, but the meaning for it's existence was always just out of reach.

1:59 AM, September 20, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

Hey, no hard feeling, ZPJ. The review needed correcting, and I'm glad you pointed out the mistake.

1:19 PM, September 20, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a terrible review of Valhalla Rising. Clearly you don't understand the concept of this movie. Also, your use of poking fun at the accents of the characters just irks me. If you weren't so ignorant, you'd be able to appreciate the level of character detail that this movie has when it comes to historical accuracy. I also don't understand your need for an "over-arching abstraction". This movie is minimalistic, clearly and i think you're trying to read too deeply into a film that acts ultimately as only an insight into humanity of the 1000 AD. I'd 16 years old and i feel several of your criticisms, while worded nicely, are juvenile and cookie cutter. Open your mind a little.

12:17 PM, December 09, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Anonymous: Well, I'm sorry you feel that way. I did admit in the review that I find Valhalla Rising fairly confounding, which can be embarrassing for a seasoned critic and filmgoer to admit. I just don't think I'm on Refn's wavelength, but I'm glad you got more out of it.

I dispute, though, that VR is "clearly minimalistic," both insofar as the style is as flamboyant in sound, visual texture, repetitions, and photographic scale as it is "minimal" in incident and dialogue. Even your own summary that the film "acts ultimately as only an insight into humanity of the 1000 AD" sounds a lot more ambitious than simple minimalism, no? As aggressively as the movie confronts its characters and its audience with questions of faith, martyrdom, and the unknown, I think it's worth entertaining that big ideas are circulating beneath and between these brute images, but I think the movie is working in too many directions, and too strongly from the filmmaker's gut, to articulate a clear sense of what those might be. I understand that you disagree and appreciate your input. (And don't be afraid to leave your name! I don't expect to be coddled from people's objections, especially when I see them coming as clearly as I did on Valhalla Rising.)

12:36 PM, December 09, 2010  

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