May 7, 2011

Viewing Log #7

Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, 2010). As intoxicating, seductive and sensual as it is mysterious and elusive, Certified Copy is that rare gem that confirms film's capability of magic. This is some meta-level narrative tinkering going on here, and though I'm certain that repeated viewings will clarify certain aspects as much as they might further blur their borders, even on first encounter, it's so absorbing a work of such obvious mastery on all levels that one comes away immediately certain that the medium has just clicked up another notch. Forget a plot explanation, which would be especially frivolous in this case; it's an emotional song, a pastiche of dynamic feelings and relationships (the characters, the filmmaker, the audience) so quixotic that trying to pin it down would be downright distasteful. Juliette Binoche's performance is possibly the best in a prodigious career. Add this one to your desert island list. [Rating: A]

Even the Rain (Icíar Bollaín, 2010). Yeah, sure, it's kind of obvious in theme, but there struck me as being more than enough feeling and sincerity present in Paul Laverty's script to circumvent a potentially problematic self-aware structure (it's a movie about power relations that's also about a movie about power relations). Appropriately dedicated to Howard Zinn, the film wears its liberal virtues on its sleeves and never condescends, even if it hand-holds just a bit. Its biggest strengths lie in its characters, which are believably dynamic and more than just mouthpieces, which seems harder and harder to come by these days. Arthouse for the NPR crowd. [Rating: B]

Source Code (Duncan Jones, 2011). Moon was the first movie I ever watched on Blu-ray, and it was glorious in all the non-technical ways, too. That film's dreamy Kubrickian tone is replaced by crackerjack glee in Jones' directorial follow-up Source Code, which tackles an initially routine Groundhog Day by The Matrix scenario with wit, intelligence, tangible empathy and just a dash of irreverence (and a very, very cute Michelle Monaghan). Jake Gyllenhaal (finally returning to the thoughtful sci-fi genre) is a soldier in a virtual reality simulation program in which he must find an enemy bomber fast enough that said enemy can be thwarted in reality, where he is expected to strike again. The simulation lasts eight minutes, and at the end of every eight minutes, he blows up. To divulge more would be cruel, except to say that the movie doesn't pull its punches, which are deep and lead to a sly kind of nirvana; what we ultimately see may not be as simple as it at first seems. [Rating: B+]

American: The Bill Hicks Story (Matt Harlock, Paul Thomas, 2009). Gracefully walking the line between fan-friendly greatest hits package and newcomer-friendly biopic, The Bill Hicks Story is a sufficient condensation of the rich, albeit short career and life of one of the great comedians of recent decades. A fan of Hicks' comedy since freshman year in college, I was ready to slam a film that didn't do him justice, which is not to say hero worship was on my list of desirables, either. Less about the man than the man's journey, American is made with obvious love for the late comedian, but also honesty about his choices, detailing the man's drug and alcohol addictions with a stern matter-of-factness that neither condemns nor approves. (Speaking as a fan, his staunch defense of smoking - he died of cancer - is particularly irksome.) His material - subversive, angry, hopeful, sometimes conflicting but always empowered and empowering - is presented in concentrated dashes, and serves as an excellent sampler package of some of his best material (a favorite: his demonstration of the ultimate commercial). Interviews and animations - often in the form of photographs digitally manipulated in a fashion that's cute without being syrupy or overwhelming - make up the majority of the film, which proves visually engaging and distinctive without demanding much of the eyes. If anything, the film could be longer, but perhaps such abruptness is appropriate for a film about a landmark life cut short. [Rating: B+]

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