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Saturday, 7 April 2012

THIS WEEK: A Better Life / Drive / Vanilla Sky


From Chris Weitz, who is certainly what we might call a "hit and miss" film maker, comes a movie that sits nicely in the "hit" category.  Demian Bichir plays Carlos Galindo, a father working endlessly to ensure his son can enjoy a future, whilst avoiding immigration officials himself.  That is pretty much it; you couldn't have a more simple setup.

Directed with a similar eye we saw with About A Boy, this film is a charming and actually rather moving portrait of a father and son finding reconcilliation.  The characters are nicely fleshed out, their trials and tribulations staying very believable; no huge flashback or over-long exposition is ever needed to gather what you need to about why the father and his son are where they are, or why they behave how they do.  The performances from both guys aid this, with Bichir earning this year's Oscar nomination nicely!  Jose Julian does extremely well as the son Luis; despite his early apparent ignorance and his desire to be off the rails, he is never unlikable.  It is the underlying sense of there being somebody worth caring about that makes this whole thing work.

Beyond all of that, it is a nice, straightfrorward tale which tackles the Latino migrant struggle without being bias or mean-spirited, and actually does not lose faith in you as an audience to go with it to its final, natural conclusion.  It is nothing fancy, just a well-played film which, after settling into a groove after the slightly awkward opening twenty minutes or so, really works.  It is no blockbuster, and it is not quite what you might call feel-good, but it is well worth a watch.  3/5

Catch it if you like:  About A Boy, Kite Runner, Oranges And Sunshine


One of the best looking films of last year (how it wasn't up for a Cinematography award is beyond me), dripping with sexy style and boasting an astounding soundtrack that becomes a character all of its own, this film also features superb central performances from Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan.

Quiet and intense, Drive uses a look and gesture in place of lines of dialogue, holding of hands instead of an erotic sex scene, yet just as intimate, and wrings every ounce of tension from some surprising places.  It is an existentialist genre piece; a romantic, urban hero fairytale laced with flashes of explosive, tough violence.  Many have mentioned that it is over the top with its violence, but I can honestly say I believe that reaction is partly due to the fact the violence seems to come from nowhere; the reaility is the violence itself is nothing that graphic.  The violent moments play an important role in the chracter arc, they are short, sharp and shocking; they are quick to pass and we do not linger on them.  As a whole I do not think of this film as a particularly violent one.  Perhaps it is just me.

Drive has a silky, sexy slickness, an almost dream-like quality that brings Lynch's Mulholland Drive to mind, but with that is a focused, Scorsese-like directness to its narrative.  It will have, and indeed does have, its detractors for various reasons that I can see, but most of those reasons are ones for which I personally enjoyed the film all the more.  It is a movie that surprises you, a movie that draws you in; it is a strangely addictive, infectious, and I dare say even romantic movie, and it had to be in my Top 10 of last year!  4.5 / 5 

Catch it if you like:  Fear X, Mulholland Drive, Taxi Driver


A true divider of a movie, one which people seem to really respond to, either positively or negatively.  I guess that says a lot for Cameron Crowe's precision as a director in this case, if nothing else.  Inspired by the Spanish Open Your Eyes, arguably the better film, also startting Penelope Cruz, Crowe set about creating a film that, as he put it, would "meet you wherever you wanted it to", a film that would "find its greatest audience half asleep" as the film washed over them.  And so he has. 

David Aames has it all, he has inherited his father's company, can have any woman he chooses, and yet he finds himself in a nightmare after a car accident in which his "fuck buddy" dies leaves him physically scarred, suffering chronic headaches, and being charged with the murder of the one woman with whom he may have wanted a real relationship, a murder he cannot remember committing.  McCabe, David's court-appointed psychiatrist, has the job of unlocking David's mind and finding the solution to the puzzle.  To say more is to spoil the film, but the journey it takes you on is quite spectacular.  Tom Cruise, for all his apparent flaws in reality, is really rather good here, and he has a terrific supporting cast with him.  Most notable among these is Kurt Russell, playing McCabe, and Jason Lee as his best friend.

I had not watched this for some time before this week's viewing, and it has lost little of its initial shine for me.  Made by somebody who clearly has a strong affection for art, every frame is thought about, every piece of music is important.  Although its setup sounds like a standard psychological thiller akin perhaps to Jacob's Ladder, Vanilla Sky is really more of a moving exploration of humanity, of the people who touch our lives, and all the things that make us who we are.  And it is literaly all the things; with over 400 pop culture references, it is like an Andy Warhol installation.  Crowe's desire to make the film in this way becomes more interesting to reflect on after having watched it.  Vanilla Sky can make your heart soar with its conclusion; you can get more and more from it...if you choose to get on board with it in the first place.  Although I will confess it is not quite the masterpiece I remember watching at the theatre in the 90's, it still remains a very affecting piece of work for anybody who believes in the power of the art of cinema!  If you do not admire anything else, nobody can rightly argue that the opening scene is not brilliant!  4/5

Catch it if you like:  Director Cameron Crowe, Amelie, Magnolia

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