Saturday, April 5, 2014

Incendies

I have had this film sitting around for ages and finally got around to seeing it. Why did I wait so long... this is an excellent film. The story of Jeanne and Simon Waran, a couple of 30 something twins in Canada who are rifling through the history of their mother Naral after her death. In her will, she leaves some cryptic instructions that lead to a search for family and history. With the story split about equally between the present day search and flashbacks of Naral's life as a young woman, we get a great view of what motivates Naral, and a great look at the ridiculous atrocities of war. The flashbacks (and some of present day) takes place in some fictional mid-east country that had undergone a war between christians and muslims (reminding me of Lebanon, or something similar). The search for truth is painful for the children, and yet they also see the value in knowing what has been hidden from them for their entire lives. So they pursue truth.
4 stars (out of 5)

The Lunchbox

Ila is a young Indian woman living with her husband and daughter in Mumbai. She is trying to rekindle the fire of her marriage by sending fabulous lunches to him while he is at work. And like nearly everyone else in Mumbai, she uses the dabbawala, an extensive lunch door-to-door delivery service. Renown for its efficiency and accuracy, Ila's lunches happen to get deposited at the wrong desk. After a couple days, notes start to get passed back and forth with the pail and a relationship is born. What is fabulous about this film is that the communication and development of the relationship happens via one note per day. The pacing of the film shows this, and drew me into the anticipation of tomorrow's lunch along with the need to continue with the other plain tasks of each day. How to be patient and impatient at the same time. Both Ila and Saajan are changed by their encounter, and we care about both of them. Add in fantastic scenes of life in Mumbai and comic relief from Auntie upstairs and you get an thoroughly enjoyable film.
5 stars (out of 5)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Killing Them Softly

Richard Jenkins, Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini... must be something worthwhile there. Sadly, we are mistaken. A couple of idiot locals get mixed up with the mafia by ripping off their closed door poker games. The mafia guys come in to clean up the mess. I think this was supposed to feel like Fargo, with idiosyncratic characters that are charming, and the mysterious mafia guys who talk about "them" and "they" as if the simple mentioning of names reveals too much. But it wasn't. It is too muted, too cool, too bumbling, in all the wrong places, making me just not care. So even though the DVD played all the way to the credits, it wasn't worth it. Skip it.
1 star (out of 5)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Prey

Franck Adrien is serving the last few months of prison sentence for bank robbery. He was caught and convicted, but the 2 million in cash was never recovered. His wife and kid on the outside, his partners buddies, and a former cellmate all lead Adrien to believe his stash is in danger. So he does the only logical thing. He escapes. And now that he is on the run, he draws the attention of one of France's up and coming super-star detectives to hunt him down. Why I like this? Adrien (played by Albert Dupontel) is a no nonsense guy. He sees what needs to be done, and finds a way to do it by being extremely quick in his planning and implementation while reacting to situations (and being "cinematically lucky" of course). He doesn't trust anyone, and doesn't hesitate to tell everyone that this is the case. And of course, every time he offers even a bit of trust, he gets burned. Add to this a feisty cop with good intuition and we have a great little game of cat and mouse. There is nothing unique or novel, but I found it engaging and exciting throughout. The second good, French, prison film I have seen recently (A Prophet).
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Noah

It has been a long time since I have been in a full theater. Usually this is fun for epic openings as the entire crowd gets into the film. Suffice it to say, there was more applause for a couple of the previews than there was engagement during the feature. Another clue as to the mediocrity was the fact that I found myself thinking about work, or other films, or books to read in the middle. Not overwhelming, and I came in with pretty low expectations. The film itself traces the life of Noah from seeing his father killed by the descendants of Cain in the opening scene, to getting the word from God to build the ark, to actually floating around on the boat. I did like that there was an attempt to get inside Noah's head as he tries to interpret God's commands. It turns out that God doesn't actually speak to Noah, but he has visions that are cryptic and need interpreting. So what was God's purpose for man in this destruction via flood? And how is Noah's vision & interpretation any more or less valid than other prophets and/or cult leaders in the past of present? Is scriptural/spiritual interpretation that leads to self preservation always suspect? Interesting questions at least. Too bad the film doesn't hold up its end with entertainment value.
2 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Heat

I found this on someone's list of all-time great heist films. De Niro is the heist crew leader and Pacino the cop who is chasing him. Add in Jon Voight, Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Ashley Judd, Amy Brenneman, Dennis Haysbert and Natalie Portman. This is fun. And nearly the polar opposite to The Yellow Handkerchief. Heat is 100% action with, at best, 1 dimensional characters. Every character is pretty stereotypical. Pacino is the gritty, driven detective who "Says what he means and does what he says", De Niro the criminal mastermind who has no attachments that "he can't leave in 30 seconds". The puppy dog assistant criminal, devoted criminal girlfriend, struggling parolee, enamored new girlfriend, etc. Everyone has their role and plays it and only it. Of course, in this case, there is not really a need to have multidimensional characters since the tense game of cat and mouse holds all of our attention. And you know this is done well because you are simultaneously rooting for both De Niro and Pacino to win the battle. You really want there to be some sort of outcome where they are both fulfilled and satisfied. You will have to watch to see whether this is the case.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Yellow Handkerchief

William Hurt is just released from a 6 year stint in prison and no-one is around to pick him up. He meets a couple of kids and travels with them to New Orleans in search of his wife. Through flashback and story-telling, we get a sense of Hurt's life. The two kids seem to just be around to listen to stories, and provide some variety. Not much plot, lots of character. After recently reading The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, and complaining that it wasn't that good because it didn't "do anything", I am surprised that I really like this movie, and it didn't "do anything" either. This is very nearly a zero plot, 100% character film. We meet Hurt's character and learn who he is by his small interactions with the kids, with strangers around him, and through his own professed confidence and self doubt. A road trip movie with no action. But still excellent. I suppose I will need to continue thinking about what makes a good film or book. It is clearly not just plot or character.
4 stars (out of 5)