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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Review: Obvious Child (2014)

* * *

Director: Gillian Robespierre
Starring: Jenny Slate

If nothing else, Obvious Child is probably the most subversive romantic comedy of the year, a film which takes one of the least respected and most formulaic of cinematic genres and uses it as a Trojan Horse for a frank discussion about abortion and its surrounding issues. During a summer when discussion of women's issues seem particularly heated thanks, in part, to the US Supreme Court's decision that a corporate entity's "feelings" matter more than a woman's health, the honest and straight forward way that Obvious Child approaches and explores its subject feels particularly vital. This isn't to say that the film is perfect - for a comedy with a protagonist who is literally a comedian, the film isn't nearly as funny as you might expect - but when it hits, it hits, and it contains an exchange which I think perfectly sums up the problem with respect to public discourse of women's issues when one of the female characters angrily laments the fact that panels of old men are legislating women's bodies and her male friend responds, "Everything you're saying is valid, but you are scaring my dick off."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review: Snowpiercer (2014)

* * * 1/2

Director: Bong Joon-ho
Starring: Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Go Ah-sung, Octavia Spencer, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, John Hurt

Having now seen it, I can't really imagine how Harvey Weinstein could think that there's 20 minutes to cut from Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer. It runs at a robust 126 minutes but this is a taunt, white-knuckle science fiction thriller from beginning to end. Though it came at the price of sacrificing a large-scale theatrical release for an extremely limited theatrical run with simultaneous VOD release (which in hindsight I think will start to look like The Weinstein Company cutting off its nose to spite its face, as in what seems like an unusually quiet summer movie season this could have been at least a modest hit), Boon was able to successfully fight to keep his film intact - and thank God for that. This is a terrific film of incredible ambition and skilled execution. If you're lucky enough to have an opportunity to see it in a theater, seize the chance, but seek it out wherever you can find it.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Summer Not-Busters: Original Sin (2001)

Director: Michael Cristofer
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Antonio Banderas
Domestic Gross: $16,534,221

If Original Sin had come out a decade earlier, early enough to have ridden the wave of "erotic" thrillers that found an audience in the late 80s/early 90s, it might have been a decent sized hit (of course, if it had come out during that era, it probably also would have had to be rewritten so that it could star Michael Douglas). It has the elements that could have made it a hit during that era: hot actor, hot actress, a sultry, exotic location, a sexual charge combined with sexual danger snaking its way through the story. It even classes things up a bit by making it a period piece. By 2001, however, the genre had been out of favor for years, though I can see why MGM thought this could be the film to revive it: it had Angelina Jolie, fresh off her Oscar win and a hit in Tomb Raider, and Antonio Banderas, doing his Latin lover thing, fresh off a hit of his own in the form of Spy Kids, and it got a decent amount of press with regards to the sex scenes, with some footage having to be cut in order to avoid the dreaded NC-17 rating. Yet, when the film came out in the summer of 2001, audiences reacted with complete indifference and the film sunk like a stone at the box office. Perhaps there's simply no amount of Angelina Jolie nudity (and there is a ton in this movie) that doesn't get canceled out when the story is all about the emasculation of the male protagonist.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Review: In the Heat of the Night (1967)

* * * *

Director: Norman Jewison
Starring: Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger

Until recently, In the Heat of the Night was one of the few Best Picture winners that I hadn't seen. There's no reason in particular for this oversight; I always figured I'd watch it eventually, I just didn't feel any real urgency to get to it. Part of the reason was that I had the idea that the film was unlikely to have aged well, that like many Hollywood "issue" movies, the sharpness of its progressive bent would have dulled over time to the point where it either seemed "quaint" and old fashioned or possessed of the sort of well-meaning patronizing and reliance on stereotype that would now make it seem offensive. I assumed that in a year which saw a couple of historic films nominated for Best Picture, In the Heat of the Night was the happy medium between a pair of revolutionary movies (Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate) and a pair of "safe" movies (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and Doctor Dolittle). I was wrong on both counts. In the Heat of the Night is an excellent film that approaches its volatile material with such directness that it maintains its sting and continues to feel relevant even in light of the changes that society has undergone in the years since (though how much society has changed is up for debate).

Saturday, July 19, 2014

21st Century Essentials: Once (2007)

All eras have works of art that are fundamental to our understanding of not only the craft itself, but the culture from which it was created. The 21st century is still nascent, but it isn't too early to start creating a canon that demonstrates the heights to which film as an artform has reached since the year 2000. These are the essential films:

Director: John Carney
Starring: Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova
Country: Ireland

Guy meets Girl. Girl asks Guy to fix her vacuum cleaner. Guy and Girl play a song together. Love ensues. John Carney’s Once is a love story stripped down to its bare essentials, a naturalistic drama that plays out over a spare 86 minutes but resonates deeply. Headlined by musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, this musical about seizing the day and taking a chance remains as effortlessly charming and delightful as it was when it first burst into theaters and started capturing hearts left, right, and center to become one of the most acclaimed films of 2007. Once is a wonderful and very special film, the kind that can be imitated but can’t be duplicated because it’s the result that rare instance in which every element of a film has come together in perfect harmony.