THE SQUID AND THE WHALE ****
I’ll start by saying I’m tempted to give Noah Baumbach’s film five stars, so I guess that tells you where I stand with this one. I have to confess that I wasn’t a fan of KICKING AND SCREAMING and didn’t see MR. JEALOUSY, so my bar of expectation wasn’t raised very high. But, man, what a pleasant surprise! This was the movie I wish THE ROYAL TENANBAUMS had been, an excruciatingly humane portrait of an upbringing light years away from my own, yet somehow it managed to strike a deeply personal chord within me. And that is the greatest compliment I can bestow upon Noah Baumbach, who appears to have finally found his own personal voice after years of searching (he himself admitted this at the press conference). Jeff Daniels delivers an Oscar-worthy performance, and the rest of the cast just drills Baumbach’s script. Moving at a breakneck pace and clocking in at just under 90 minutes, the film nonetheless builds to an unexpectedly emotional conclusion. Not to mention the fact that there’s a scene in which Daniels and the phenomenal Owen Kline play ping-pong!
This is a tough one, for while I think Bennett Miller’s film is a really commendable achievement, I never really FELT it at any point. Like, every single thing about it was flat-out great: the performances, the cinematography, the production design, the script, everything. But by the end of the film, I still felt detached from it. I don’t know why (or how) this happens, but it does (quite often, actually). Fortunately, for Miller’s sake, it’s how I feel about most Oscar-winning films, a top-notch production that doesn’t warm my soul. So I see good things on the horizon come awards season. Especially for Hoffman, who is a shoo-in for a Best Actor nomination, if not the trophy. But I’m still giving it four stars, because I think it deserves it. Don’t know if I ever need to see it again, but I have a hunch that if/when I do, it will hit me much harder.
SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE ****
Park Chan-wook’s final film in his Revenge Trilogy is another operatic onslaught of sheer cinematic bravado. But whereas OLDBOY blew me away, this one felt kinda like more of the same. Still, this is an example of the type of eye candy that I can enjoy based on its visceral impact alone (like most people with Hollywood action films, I suppose). But whereas the special effects in STAR WARS leave less of mark on me than last night’s episode of “Wheel of Fortune,” Chan-wook’s electrifying direction wows me at almost every single moment. Of course, a day later I’ve forgotten what the movie was about, but at the time my attention was completely held. Hence, the four-star rating.
It’s strange, but watching MANDERLAY, though I found it to be as juvenile and gimmicky as DOGVILLE, I thought it was a better film. But now that I have some distance away from it, I would say that they both suck in equal measure. Maybe if I were nineteen I’d think this brand of cinema was “daring” and “brave” and “exciting,” but now it just reeks like the tighty-whiteys of a mischievous little fifth grader. I don’t know, I can see it from the other side, I guess, but it comes down to sitting in a theatre and watching something and letting it affect you the way it affects you. Unfortunately, the latest work from Lars von Brecht just seems obvious to the point of embarrassment. Can’t wait for the stunning conclusion (which I think is called WASINGTON). Maybe Grace will end up in the Oval Office, getting ass-raped by Roosevelt as she recites the Emancipation Proclamation into a pool of her own vomit. That would be awesome.
TALE OF CINEMA ****
Take out the zooms and I give this film two stars. Seriously, though, TALE OF CINEMA is a lovely, intriguing work. Hong Sang-soo’s elegiac tone poem is as much a tribute to the power of cinema as it is a sad discourse on friendship squandered. This is the first film of his that I’ve seen, and it only makes me want to see more. The scene with the hapless “hero” trying to explain himself to his mother after a failed suicide attempt is laugh-out-loud funny, while the rest of the film coasts on a raft of sadness. Good, good stuff.
(More to come, kids, don't worry...)