Jan 26, 2010

The Week in Movies 4

Sorry for the lateness of this article, I was busy all yesterday with some housekeeping; going through old review posts and revising the pictures to better fit the current look of the site (click around, have a look, it’s much cooler now).

18 - 24/01/2010

Princess Mononoke
DIR: Hayao Mayazaki

I continue to be disappointed by the much lauded work of Studio Ghibli. Princess Mononoke is a beautiful film, every frame is drawn to perfection, and the fluid animation is light years ahead of most hand drawn work. However, oddly like another film I saw this past week, the visual splendour of Miyazaki's imagery is offset by a story that seems to spend as much time yelling at the audience about looking after the planet as it does telling an actual story. I don’t mind a film having a political point to make, but keep it in the background, tell the story first. As eye candy Princess Mononoke is wonderful, but as a whole I can’t recommend it.

DIR: Yoav Shamir

Israeli filmmaker Yoav Shamir sets out to understand modern anti-semitism, in a rather depressing film. Shamir talks to a lot of people, Jews and gentiles, but never really comes up with any answers. What he does see is a lot of prejudice on both sides. On a trip to Poland with a class of 15 and 16 year old Israeli students he finds that the kids are so ‘prepared’ for anti-semitism that they see it even when it’s not there. This is an intriguing and disturbing thing; the politicisation of fear in teenagers, but Shamir never digs deep into this issue. In the end, Defamation presents a problem, shows us racism on all sides, but never really explores the issue in any great depth.

The Descent
DIR: Neil Marshall

One of the best UK horror films of the past decade. Marshall’s second film (following the silly, but amusing, Dog Soldiers) is a pure tension machine for its first hour. The sequences before the film’s monsters surface are genuinely unnerving. I’ve got two major fears; heights, and tight spaces and so the second act of The Descent played my nerves like guitar strings. The sequence that takes us from a tight collapsing passage in the middle of a cave system to a nail biting attempt to cross a seemingly endless chasm still has me curled up in a ball, biting my nails.

The film takes a shift in its last half hour, becoming a nasty little monster movie. Marshall handles this shift beautifully, as do his all female cast. Everyone acquits themselves well, but special mention must be made of Shauna MacDonald who, in short order, becomes one of horror cinema’s iconic ‘final girls’. The first twenty minutes plod just a little, but otherwise The Descent is a brilliant white knuckle ride, topped off with a visceral, thrilling, third act. Just ignore the sequel.

Happy, Texas
DIR: Mark Illsley
It’s a real shame that this very funny little film isn’t better known. The story has two escaped cons (Jeremy Northam and Steve Zahn) holing up in the small town of the title, where they have to pretend to be a gay couple who have come to help put n a beauty pageant for five and six year olds. Zahn gets all the best stuff, as his exceedingly dimwitted character Wayne Wayne Wayne, Jr is left to organise the pageant, while Northam plans the robbery of the local bank.

Northam is a slightly bland lead, but that’s made up for by Zahn’s hilarious performance and by the very funny screenplay (Wayne, to the hot local teacher (Illeana Douglas): “That gay thing is more of a hobby really”) as well as some priceless performances from an eclectic supporting cast. William H. Macy is very funny, and injects a little pathos, as the local sheriff who falls in love with Northam, while Illeana Douglas' quirky charm and individual looks are put to good use. It goes a little wild towards the end, trying to do a bit much with what feels like an obligatory bit of action, but otherwise this is a very funy and much underrated little charmer.

Un Prophete
[A Prophet]
DIR: Jacques Audiard

I wish I’d been able to see A Prophet cold. Without the weight of expectation that has come with the Grand Prix at Cannes, constant whispers about its brilliance and being named Sight and Sound’s best film of 2009 it may well have played better.

This is by no means a bad film. Tahar Rahim makes a barnstorming debut as a young man forced to harden himself and to learn to negotiate the politics of prison in order to survive, and the other performances are also excellent. The problem really is that nothing here feels very new. It’s a pretty standard issue prison movie (it also has shades of now defunct HBO show Oz). It hits the familiar beats of gang loyalties, corrupt guards, prison murders and beating in the showers.

I wasn’t ever bored during A Prophet’s two and a half hour running time, but nor was I ever especially engaged, I knew pretty much where things were going and the film proceeded largely as expected in, sadly, rather unremarkable fashion. If you’re going to see this film, I’d say it’s best to put the glowing reception out of your head, go in without expecting a masterpiece and I think you’ll find a better film.

Slepé Lásky
[Blind Loves]
DIR: Juraj Lehotsky

Blind Loves, which follows four blind people in their respective relationships, bills itself as a documentary, but much of it rings rather false, making me wonder (especially in the sequences dealing with Elena, who is about to have her first child and Zuzana, a teenager looking for love online) how much might have been restaged for the camera.

Besides this problem it’s also just rather dull. I didn’t really learn anything specific about relationships, or how they function differently for the blind. Blind Loves shows, in fact, perhaps its sole really interesting feature is that it shows us thing its subjects will never see, but it doesn’t really tell us anything about these people or their lives.

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