Mini-Review Round-Up: November 2012

I had quite a review drought to end 2011 so I think the remedy for this kind of post would be to have the post be cumulative monthly. Therefore, after each qualifying film a short write-up will be added to the monthly post. The mini-reviews will be used to discuss Netflix and other home video screenings. Theatrical releases, regardless of how they are seen whether in an auditorium or on VOD, will get full reviews.

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

Ghosts of Ole Miss

If it were in anyway possible, it’d be interesting to examine this 30 for 30 entry in a vaccuum. The reason I say that is: as a film about the integration of Ole Miss with a unique subplot about the undefeated football team that played and was overshadowed by sociopolitical unrest on campus during that year, it’s intriguing. However, the film purports to examine the team and be a testament to the team, to memorialize the forgotten squad. While there are plenty of interviews with players about on campus events and quick chronicles of game events and results, the team becomes a subplot in a film supposedly mainly about them. The struggles of integrating the school ought not be overlooked, but when there’s little overlap between the tales aside from time and place structural balance becomes hard to find.

The film does very well to examine the cultural morass that many face, southerners in this case, that exists when you’re trying to balance pride, heritage and also acknowledging past failings and dark moments. Some of the voice over is very well-written and poetic in a way that seems unique to the south, as much as the music is lyrical and local. However, this personal connection also fights for time with the football team’s tale and the exposition of the events surrounding the integration. Ultimately, the film succeeds by giving you barely enough to get by on each angle, but it would’ve been better served by restructuring and/or delving further into each aspect.

6/10

Benji

It’s a method I generally try to avoid, but perhaps the best way to discuss Benji is via comparative analysis. After I had seen Benji what occurred to me is that there was some structural similarity to 9.79*, and that being that it is mainly a chronology of events (this one far more linear) but there is a late-in-the-game monkeywrench thrown into the mix. I will not expose details to preserve surprise, but the late revelation here only has one side telling the story period, not just on camera. Furthermore, the revelation, in my mind didn’t really shift the legal burden of blame.

Regardless, for the most part, this is an effectively rendered tale for the most part that reveals a mostly unknown personage now. The film does well to just present its case and not comment upon it. The only other issue it suffers from is that there is a slight lack of ebb and flow. There is a definitive rise-and-fall, but its crescendo and decrescendo. The rigidly linear nature of this tale hinders its efficacy some.

7/10

Off White Lies

I find myself commenting on a film’s subtlety quite often. Rather than sounding like a broken record I will expound on that. It’s one think to tell an intricate story without spoon-feeding an audience like say Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and another to tell a simple story in a straightforward way. However, to tell a simple story, subtly; jumping in medias res and making revelations indirectly rather than with overt exposition is quite a feat. As is often the case, it’s not necessarily the end destination that matters with a film, it’s the journey. With necessary information being delivered when absolutely necessary and without drawing attention to itself we are allowed instead to focus on the characters and how they interact. This is especially helpful when dealing with a father-daughter dynamic. We see how they interact and the why becomes more and more apparent as we learn more about them.

The story, such as it is, moves rather smoothly ends at an appropriate time and features good performances all around.

8/10

The Dynamiter

As I tweeted immediately after seeing The Dynamiter, it seems to be par for the course that every year there will be a Film Movement selection that will slowly, subtly work on me and leave me bawling nearly uncontrollably, and almost unbeknownst to myself, by the end. Last year’s film was A Screaming Man. What both films share in common is a simple tale of people with simple desires, facing seemingly mammoth obstacles to overcome and struggling mightily against them.

Yet, even that congratulatory paragraph doesn’t really do this film justice. For the magic this film weaves, it creates in a mere 73 minutes. It’s a running time so brisk you’d never imagine it’d have the power in its finale to sneak up on you, but it does.

In writing up any sort of reaction piece to a film, I am somewhat loathe to quote other works, be they literary or musical, to echo my sentiments. However, that’s really more a writer’s pride than anything because sometimes, with the really good films, they are more accurate. One such work is a spoiler so I’ll avoid it, leaving just one: this film does indeed seem to have “The Invisible Touch,” it takes control and slowly tears you apart.

It’s a film that’s deserving of a re-screening and a bigger write-up, but something tells me I’ll be writing about it again at the end of the year.

10/10

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a cautionary tale, in the best way possible, and part of why I love the year-end sprint to catch up on releases of the year. Towards the end of the year, I get a little less finicky about selections and just watch things, not just to be adventurous but admittedly to bolster the BAM qualifiers. This may all sound quite underwhelming but the impetus to see this film was really a personal recommendation.

I knew of the film but frankly the trailer and all other marketing elements didn’t sell the film. What looked at the outset a rather myopically comedic tale turns out to be, in reality, a wide-ranging inclusive, heart-warming, bittersweet, charming and funny film; in short, one of the more well-rounded experiences.

The character’s narrative threads which start out very disparate reminded me in some ways of Love, Actually but with more interweaving and less contrivance to get things linked up. There is a general emotional over-current that makes this true also, not just some similar cast members.

Through the natural functioning of the narrative there is ample room, which is taken full advantage of, for commentary on myriad topics that is never extraneous, which adds to the enjoyment of the film.

One thing I can applaud the marketing of the film for is that it did leave many of the surprises of this tale in tact, and if you take this journey you will definitely be rewarded.

10/10

Teddy Bear

Teddy Bear is a testament, not only to Film Movement’s Film of the Month Club and the bonuses they include on their DVDs but cinematic acclimatizing. What I mean by that is not necessarily that the packaging of a film, or the presentation thereof, can condition a viewer, but when you’re visiting a slightly different avenue of film a bit of an introduction can be beneficial.

My best and favorite professor in film school was Max Simkovitch. Not only was he an uncanny “bill builder” in terms of doubles and triples, but he also put you in the right frame of mind to absorb the film you were about to see. Is that to say I liked everything I screened in his classes? Not at all. However, it kept me in place where I would and continue to fight against making the film what I thought it ought to be, take it for what it was and judge it on its own merits.

How this relates back to Film Movement is that for the DVD of Teddy Bear they include two prior shorts by Mads Matthiesen an up-and-coming Danish filmmaker. In seeing these two shorts, one of which was the basis for the feature Teddy Bear, you definitely get a taste for his style and in the short Kim Kold shows flashes that, yes, he will convey the effective gentle giant needed for the narrative.

The feature is an effective tussle between mother-and-son, portrait of loner trying to break out of his shell and an underdog love story. The pace is imperfect later on, but the tale is always engaging, endearing and watchable, if not completely realized.

7/10

The Pact

This is the kind of movie that will be referred to as a slow burn. The slow burn in the horror genre, the gradual but consistent build-up, has become more popular as of late. However, like any technique or philosophy it is not inherently good or bad. What I believe is that if you’re going to take this approach you have to take the escalating events to a fairly wild and unpredictable place. The stakes and incidents continue to increase and just when you think you have the film pinned down it expands.

The films imperfections, barring a seemingly nonsensical title and a jolt-shock end shot, are mainly that early pace that makes it a tough tale to get into. The performances are inconsistent, but the story does just enough to buoy it. How much each individual enjoys the film will likely vary on his or her patience, and their embracing or rejecting of the twists.

6/10

A Chrismoose Carol

The review of this film can be found here.

ATM

I often discuss the merits of going into a film as a clean slate. I can’t say I went in 100% clean to this film, however, I don’t see that as a detriment here. I found this was streaming, saw it qualified as a 2012 release, and added it to my queue without further thought for a time. One tweet by a fellow Twitter compatriot who disliked it, didn’t give much away, but intrigued me enough to give it a play.

A few things struck me as odd as it pertained to ATM: the first of which is that it does hold interest and a fairly believable premise through a much larger portion of the film than I expected based on what I heard. While I will credit the film for its set-up and a certain degree of cleverness in it maniacal plan, the second oddity is that the most major twist I was way ahead of, and the resolution was one that doesn’t stand up to harsh scrutiny, and the length of the reveal allows you to scrutinize it. It reminds me a bit of Penumbra but with more annoyance and less impact.

This is also a film that inflated its running time to its detriment. It cut out of the closing credits at least three, if not four times, to additional montages hinting at more villainous plots. Such were the cutaways that it bloated the credits crawl (which were slow to begin with) to nine minutes. The film clocks in at exactly 90 minutes with it included. It wouldn’t have saved the film, but it is OK to run less than 90 minutes. It really is. Add to that a very slow reveal, and you have an end that doesn’t end long after the point where the film becomes completely asinine.

4/10

Home Alone: The Holiday Heist

Home Alone: Holiday Heist (2012, 20th Century Fox)

For my review of this film please go here.

I didn’t quite catch up to the backlog of November titles viewed, seeing as how I managed to get into an end of year viewing groove early. The titles that would’ve been here will appear in the December running post. All these lists also qualify films for the BAM Awards, which have many exciting dates in the month to come.

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