Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday Reviews: Never Let Me Go. Also: CIFF Looms!

I'll be surprised if Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go stays in the Oscar hunt in any category except Best Original Score, even though Rachel Portman's maudlin and overly conspicuous music is, sadly, the only thing in the movie about which I can't think of anything nice to say. Well, the music and the wigs: just awful. The rest of the movie is either an intriguing failure or a seriously flawed success, depending on my mood; almost every element has moments of working and moments of falling short. Did you feel differently, or do you plan to see it? Full review here, including two paragraphs guest-written by the main character, Kathy H.

The multiplex has a welcome aura of real appeal these days, with The Town and Easy A pulling down numbers and high critical marks. Buried is also on the way to Chicago on Friday, packing the same enviable cred of impressing reviewers and filmgoers back at Sundance, so I'll aim to see one of those three this week.

The full lineup for the Chicago Film Festival goes public on Wednesday, so in whatever time I have left, I'll try to say something about that and offer up some early reviews about the three movies I've gotten to screen in advance, all of them carried over from Cannes. Michael Rowe's Leap Year and Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives come in about the same gradewise, though the former is sort of half full, using a taut, judicious shooting and editing to elevate a shaky premise, and the other, sadly, feels half empty, showcasing the filmmaker's ingratiating visual, tonal, and sonic trademarks through the first act, but then taking them nowhere truly satisfying.

Both films are easily worth a look, but neither is a patch on the Ukrainian showstopper My Joy, which starts as a kind of highway noir in the sunny but unsettling vastness of rural Russian highways but then gathers force as something more fractured, more uncanny, but equally gripping. Lots of movies sacrifice tension when they make a move toward national allegory, because you suddenly start seeing more or less how everything is meant to add up. By contrast, though, as My Joy raises its stakes and broadens its canvas, it actually becomes even richer and stranger, and the bravura technique astonishes even further. Standout passages, confirming Romanian cinematographer Oleg Mutu as even more of a world-class treasure, include a long sequence shot at a rural town market and a late, masterfully mounted rencontre among multiple characters at a roadside checkpoint. If you're reading this and already planning to hit the film festival in October, you've already got at least one movie on your docket that you owe it to yourself to catch.

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