Mini-Review: Shun Li and the Poet

Shun Li and the Poet

Any look at different immigration patterns worldwide will pique my interest to an extent. However, what’s most compelling here isn’t just insight into Chinese émigrés but the characters they play and the performances delivered. This is a warm, moving film that is beautifully photographed.

8/10

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Broken DVD Four-Pack Giveaway: Courtesy of Film Movement

On November 5th one of the best films of the year to date, Broken, will be released on DVD. As I have frequently said, I never tire throughout the year (and sometimes beyond that year) of championing a great film and this is one. Another thing I’ve frequently mentioned is my fondness for Film Movement (as well as their Film of the Month Club).

In light of the aforementioned facts, the kind folks at Film Movement have made available a copy of Broken for a giveaway run in conjunction with The Movie Rat. So now you have a chance to heed my advice to “watch Broken, it is an absolutely exquisite piece of cinema.”

But, wait, there’s more! Film Movement has also offered three other foreign-produced films (Befitting the current Thankful for World Cinema theme), to join Broken making an awesome prize package and a perfect introduction to their films.

If you win you will also get Clandestine Childhood, Shun Li and the Poet and Aliyah.

This giveaway is open to entrants from the US & Canada Only.

To enter:

1. Follow this link: http://www.filmmovement.com/email-join/facebook/

2. Sign up for the Film Movement newsletter.

That is all. Easy, yes?

Only those signing up between now and 11/8 will be eligible for the giveaway, so get crackin’!

This giveaway has now ended.

Year-End Dash

I already lamented in my closing of the last Mini-Review Round-Up that there were movies I saw in November that never got written up. They are included here by necessity, but truth be told, they do form part of the year-end dash as well because this year I started my search for eligible titles earlier than ever. Anything I see from here until 12/31 will have at least some write-up here. It will be quick and this post will update daily. Some titles, if deserving and if I have time may get another more detailed write-up.

Enjoy the dash. Lists and awards to follow. To see what my ratings mean go here.

Late November

The Other Son

The Other Son (2012, Cohen Media Group)

Sometimes themes develop very unexpectedly throughout the year. One that has occurred this year is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This film, which oddly was a co-production but not selected by either nation for the Oscars, uses perhaps the most effective vehicle possible to examine the issue (children switched at birth) and examines it very well.

9/10

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina (2012, Focus Features)

This is one of the few films this year that has something I call the “Atom Bomb” effect, which means that it ‘mushroom clouds’ so to speak, it grows the further away from impact you are. It was a film I felt very strongly on a visceral level as I watched it, but as I reflected upon it I was further ravished by the conscious theatrical presentation, which seemed to me to represent the societal facade through which Anna fights. As she comes closer to embracing her emotions the set seem more filmic, when scenes are dealing with emotional contrivance, they are more theatrical. I haven’t had a chance to revisit the film and test the theory, but regardless of interpretation it works. The moving camera lends much of the feeling, but the lack of cuts in certain sequences forces the actors, especially Knightley, to convey many conflicting emotions all in sequence without the aid of the edit and they do so tremendously. The score is wonderful, there are few if any aspects of the production that are not first rate, making it one of the best films of the year.

10/10

The Road

This is a most unusual film. It’s split into three distinct acts marked by time. They get progressively better, less awkward & stilted than the start such that the last act, climax and denoument save it. 6/10

Elena

This film is an effective drama. It’s sold as a thriller because it fits, but only loosely by what genre-treatment has acclimated us to here in the US. It’s very low-key and interesting but makes some off third act scene choices. 7/10

Heat Wave

A very intriguingly constructed narrative that almost imperceptibly mounts tension and very clearly and accurately builds characters. 8/10

The Day I Saw Your Heart

Has funny and heartfelt moments but its characters are a bit too eccentric and immature in certain portions. Sympathy and empathy are hard to find at times. This inconsistency is remedied as stakes rise but it’s only a mere salvation. It does, however, feature great performances. 6/10

Shun Li and the Poet

Any look at different immigration patterns worldwide will pique my interest to an extent. However, what’s most compelling here isn’t just insight into Chinese émigrés but the characters they play and the performances delivered. This is a warm, moving film that is beautifully photographed. 8/10

On the Ice

This is a slice of neo-neorealist cinema (if you can follow that) set in a native community in Barrow, AK. As opposed to something like Before Tomorrow, which dealt with traditional living in Canada, this film deals with the clash of modern times and tradition in the US. This is a low-key thriller very well executed that features shocking twists and turns. 9/10

A Separation

This film falls into that awkward category for me where it’s one of those films where I fully understand the appeal, I just don’t necessarily agree with it. There’s a compelling narrative, great performances but there are more than a few dubiously handled and conveyed pieces of information that topples the house of cards for me. 5/10

War Witch

War Witch (2012, Tribeca Film)

This is a film that when you pull apart its elements you’d wonder how they managed to combine so many seemingly disparate facets in a very seamless way. It’s a war story, a drama, coming-of-age narrative, with much Magical Realism and cultural specificity. It also features outstanding performances. This film is Canada’s official selection for the Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film, and interestingly cited as Congolese in its Independent Spirit Award nomination as it was set & shot there. 7/10

The Barrens

This film did some interesting things in the realm of belief and attacking the protagonists credibility, but that’s not maximized as the doubt cast is undercut. Aside from that ultimately too many of the tropes are clichéd. The performances of the adult leads are wildly inconsistent, typically stronger when playing heightened emotions, Allie MacDonald and Peter DaCunha‘s consistency give the film some balance. 4/10

December 1st

Hitchcock (2012, Fox Searchlight)

Hitchcock

In a manner that is completely contradictory to the very issue that exists with the Psycho remake, the behind-the-scenes recreations and dramatizations are the best moments in Hitchcock: Hitch speaking over the driving scene and the enactment of the shower scene reactions to name two. Anthony Hopkins, Scarlett Johansson and James D’Arcy are the strongest re-enactors in the cast. The issues with the film are many: lack of focus, minimal arc, cutesy-ness, and one very specific and peculiar subplot is allowed far too much play. There are the occasional good insights into a creative mind but not enough.

4/10

December 2nd

Klown (2010, Drafthouse Films)

Klown

This film is unapologetically inappropriate, and most definitely not for the faint of heart as it one-ups many of the recent raunchy American comedies. It also manages to be a good deal funnier than most if not all of them. The film is expertly performed and cast.

10/10

Abel

The narrative seeks character studies and creates them and at times they are compelling, but they’re snapshots of stasis for the most part. Abel develops a new pattern to his illness but nearly everyone seemingly ends about where they started which makes it a rather vapid experience.

3/10

December 3rd

Kauboy (2012, Waterland Film BV)

Deep Blue Sea

What’s great about movie-watching in this day and age is that I heard this had won a New York Film Critics Circle award for Best Actress, and I decided to stream it just afterwards. Rachel Wiesz is great in this film, and I do love how visual it is, and how it takes us into a love affair in medias res. However, in someway it not only eschews certain tropes about how stories begin, but it also does so for how they progress, and to the film’s detriment. It mostly works until the stilted anti-climax.

5/10

Kauwboy

The Netherlands’ entry into the Best Foreign Language Film fray is quite a wonderful one indeed, and for the second year running the Netherlands could have a major player at the BAM Awards. Kauwboy is tale that’s simply told and all the more beautiful for it. It artistically expresses the wonderment of childhood, how a child can keep himself occupied, but also how a child can retreat and hide away from a difficulty. There’s great tension at times, and also laughs. The world is small containing few players, but all of them are well played; including the very expressive debutant Rick Lens. A most excellent film.

10/10

The Devil’s Carnival

This film seems to try to pick-up on the cult success of Repo: The Genetic Opera, which I have yet to see, in terms of being a horror musical, but combine that with a loose anthology structure, but yet a brisk running time. However, the pacing is sluggish, the narrative is overly loose even within segments, and sadly misfires throughout. It’s hard to watch.

3/10

Jesus Henry Christ

This film operates too much on chance, forced quirkiness and inconsistent dialogue. The actors are talented but are far too often put in forced or artificial situations. There are scenes that work, but they are few and far between.

4/10

December 4th

Friends with Kids (2012, Roadside Attractions)

The Bad Intentions

This is Peru’s submission to the Foreign Language Film fray this year. There are interesting themes and subplots examined in this film but few, if any of them, are fully explored or expand at an agreeable rate. Thus, the film suffers pace-wise and the coming to terms seems all the more abrupt for it.

5/10

Friends with Kids

This is a film whose premise is one of a subversive, humorous social experiment brings some anticipated consequences. For as seemingly fresh as the start of this film is, it falls into line thematically, structurally and socially. As uninspired as it may seem, it is funny enough, charming enough and well-told such that it’s enjoyable.

7/10

December 5th

Headhunters (2011, Magnet Releasing)

Oslo, August 31st

This is a film with some very effective use of voiceover, although it tries it doesn’t supersede The Dynamiter in that usage, it takes place over the course of one day, features some very strong performances, shots and transitional elements. However, the film ends up being a little distant from me and an emotional disconnect. On a visceral level it doesn’t reach the heights it does technically.

6/10

Headhunters

When I tweeted about this film I came a little too close to sounding like a pull-quote for my liking; I ran out of characters. What Headhunters is a prime example of is how Nordic nations, through adaptations of successful novels, have breathed new life into the recently lifeless crime thriller genre. I do believe this is a bit more than just change of venue and language. There’s usually been a noir-like gray area with most characters, fantastic twists, reversals of fortune and strong performances. The exoticness of locale is a cherry on top.

8/10

December 7th

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2012, Magnet Releasing)

Parasitic

This is one of those movies that you keep on watching in spite of itself. To mention the few things that are worth noting the prosthesis and effects aren’t terrible and after a herky-jerky start the pace pick up, but overall the film laugh out loud bad, filled with painful dialogue that believes its witty and constant affronts to acting. Not to mention the story is fairly thing and filled with conveniences.

1/10

Beyond the Black Rainbow

This is a film that is quite the mind-bender. Its daring and exacting visuals are matched by precise, pounding, droning score. It seems like a great blend of stylistic elements of quite a few directors, but the story doesn’t match up to all the technical prowess and its conclusion it a bit anticlimactic. Not to mention the stinger.

7/10

December 8th

Casa de mi Padre (2012, Pantelion Films)

Playing for Keeps

This is yet another romantic comedy, and about the only thing that can be said to be refreshing is just how silly and ridiculous it can get on the comedic side. One of the things that keeps it enjoyable is how separate those things stay. Of course, the film gets rather predictable and in its own way a bit too much but it’s enjoyable.

6/10

Flying Swords of Dragon’s Gate

This film keeps my attention for about half its running time then it slows up, gets bogged down in additional histories, strategic planning and newfound alliances and really loses your interest as it get progressively more ridiculous than it was prior.

4/10

Casa de mi Padre

I admit I was very skeptical about this film, even being a big Will Ferrell fan. However, this works very well and ends up being very funny indeed. It’s a hilarious send up not only of low-rent Mexican fare, but is also unveiled silly commentary on the war on drugs. Ferell’s better-than-expected Spanish combined with his playing yet another dolt, and the supporting cast, really make it work.

8/10

December 9th

Neighboring Sounds (2012, Cinema Guild)

A Trip

I will confess there are some good dramatic building blocks in the latter-half of Slovenia’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film, but the first have is a drudgery of slow-paced scenes; insufficient and simple character building and comedic misfires that make many of the better second half moments moot. There are other issues with the film, but even if they weren’t it’s a nearly insurmountable deficit.

3/10

Neighboring Sounds

This is a film which has the intentional modern malaise combined with a Grand Hotel style structure taking place in modern day Recife, Brazil. It quietly without too much overt discussion illustrates many urbane urban concerns. With a deft sound design that often goes from a drone to blare-out scene ending it demonstrates the discreet maddening of the bourgeoisie, and working class as the case may be. This is yet another strong entry from Brazil this year.

8/10

Red Dawn

Welcome to the most facile occupation of a nation in the history of the world, filled with clumsy dialogue, an annoying anti-hero, some odd casting choices and some production design misfire, along with some poorly played American football; have fun!

4/10

Help for the Holidays

Help for the Holidays (2012, Hallmark)

For my take on this film please go here.

December 10th

Get the Gringo (2012, Icon)

Get the Gringo

This is an interesting spin on the antihero crime film, which also takes place in an unconventional Mexican prison. The fish-out-of-water element allows us to enter the world and accept it fairly easily. There are minor plot points that come together at the very end. When you add humor, a ticking-clock element, another good turn by Gibson and a very impressive one by Kevin Hernandez (The Sitter), it’s a very enjoyable film.

8/10

Rites of Spring

This is a film where a tweet isn’t enough to convey the disappointment a film metes out. More and more you’ll find hybridization. Since there’s not really “new” idea, combine old tropes creatively. That’s the key to the success of something like American Horror Story. However, the balance, the execution, the acting, the lack of any sort of twist, barring the initial title card; make this a wasted experience.

3/10

Alps

This is Giorgos Lanthimos’s follow up to Dogtooth, and I like that film a great deal and was pleased to find that this film too focuses on a fairly unique microcosm. What is lacking in this film is that it’s not as thorough, not as polished an exploration. While it does explore character’s psyches with subtlety it doesn’t take the plunge early and often enough and end ups feeling the slightest bit hollow.

6/10

Holy Motors

Holy Motors (2012, Indomina)

While Holy Motors, like Alps deals with an unusual “business,” and like Alphaville deals with much larger implications than production value might otherwise indicate (not that they’re low), you can’t really compare it to anything. It’s the kind of film that as you think about it you find it’s absolutely saying something at given points, it may not be a wholly underlying ideal, but there are several within the context of one most unique tale. It’s the kind of film that’s just enjoyable to watch even if you’re not sure why at first. It’s the kind of film that exemplifies Bergman‘s assertion about an audiences understanding the emotional meaning of a film rather than the literal meaning.

It features a mesmerizing lead performance by Denis Lavant, brilliant prosthetics work, and a catchy original song performed by Kylie Minogue, amongst many other things.

It’s almost impossible to give a rating to the film at this juncture, especially as it seems to be ascendant at this moment. However, let’s say the placeholder is:

9/10

As I may revisit it soon.

December 11th

The Aggression Scale (2012, Achor Bay)

Small, Beautifully Moving Parts

This a fairly brisk, pretty funny, character study that due to its insights and use of symbolism overcomes the occasional awkward line and down moment. It presents the interesting conundrum of a woman unsure of her motherly intuition and desires when faced with a past that presents the same issues.

6/10

The House of Tomorrow

This film has a few unenviable hurdles for a doc: one being a wide scope and the other being needing to give requisite history lessons. However, the film succeeds because its fulcrum is TEDx HolyLand that brought together Isreali and Palestinian women to discuss ideas, business, social goals, and to open dialogue. That provides great sound bites and allows the additional required information to be placed strategically. The ideas put forth, and the importance of the meeting, aside from factual reminders, make this well worth watching, regardless of any structural or technical issues faced.

7/10

The Aggression Scale

My tweet on this film gives no more away than the synopsis of this film I feel: This is like the Home Alone as a horror film trailer taken seriously, and I mean that as a compliment. It’s awesome. This film has an effective open that directly ties to later events, features great bloodwork, some very solid performances including Ray Wise, Dana Ashbrook and the chillingly astute, silent turn of Ryan Hartwig. It raises the stakes, chaos, violence, and in some cases, ingenuity of the aforementioned film while also making those things a function of character more so than the element of surprise.

9/10

Goats

This film hits an emotional flat line about midway through, and that’s really where the pace begins to lag. It doesn’t distance itself from similar films thematically. Whereas I lauded Boy for being about acceptance of family the struggle in this film is overly-internalized and not omnipresent. There’s minimal character-building to start, just establishment of quirks. Then some things that seem like changes are status quo. The struggle is small and the overcoming thereof smaller.

3/10

December 12th

Uninhabited (2010, Viva Films)

Uninhabited

This is a film that has a slow, consistent burn that does eventually lead to a very interesting myth. It’s just a shame that the myth is buried so late and that the build-up isn’t as intriguing as the finale.

5/10

December 13th

Area 407 (2012, IFC Films)

Area 407

There is nearly nothing that this film does right. There are inexplicable character decisions, lapses in logic, unforgivably bad found footage camera work, too much yelling and overlapping dialogue and trudging plot filled with performances that are, nearly without exception, not up to snuff.

1/10

December 14th

Sound of My Voice

Sound of My Voice (2011, Fox Searchlight )

This is a film that has very interesting construction, some great nuances, lots of visual information to parse and an open ending. However, aside from being an anticlimactic one rather than a gutting one, it’s also a very clumsily-handled one that undermines much of the good work the film had dome to that point.

5/10

The Fields

This is a film that looks great and tells a very visual tale of true story and/or urban legend. However, much of the dialogue that appears sparsely is bad, some of the staging is poor motivations awkward and set-ups tritely showy. There is also, after a certain point a lack of escalation.

3/10

December 15th

Howling (2012, CJ E&M Pictures)

Howling

It’s a shame that this film over-extends some late montages and milks them for schmaltz because this is a surprisingly complex and intriguing procedural mystery up to that point, which would be better if tightened up.

7/10

December 17th

Goodbye First Love (2011, Sundance Selects)

Goodbye First Love

This film deals with time passing, emotional shifts & visual communication quite easily. It quickly establishes these things visually and moves on subtly without lingering too long. It’s a very sure-handed film that does well to represent the internal conflicts the characters are dealing with.

8/10

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

This is a film that has much more going on underneath the surface than above it. However, it doesn’t quite click for me. As the occasional tale is told and revisited, it becomes clear what the intents are it’s just perhaps not the most compelling way to make the points that are being discussed.

5/10

December 18th

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012, Warner Bros.)

The Salt of Life

As pleasant a surprise as Mid-August Lunch was, this follow-up is equally disappointing. Thinly plotted, only the slightest chuckles, recycled jokes and tropes; virtually no real cause for this remakes exist. The only positive is, if you weren’t aware of the fact already, you now know it happens overseas too.

4/10

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Based on all the banter I had heard about this film before I got to see it, I fully expected to despise this film. I didn’t. I do acknowledge that for those who have read the book that divorcing oneself from the source material may prove difficult here as it is a sprawling, elaborated version of the tale. I, personally, came in unencumbered by expectations from another medium.

I hope that as a series this bucks the precedent of the original trilogy where the second installment plays like a feature-length second act as opposed to an individual installment. Getting back to this film once it gets really going, which does take a bit longer than desired, it works. I also saw this film in 48 fps. It’s not quite ready for primetime it would seem. In the beginning when the lighting is flatter, it’s like you’re watching the world’s largest HDTV. There are issues handling both movement of the camera and character movement throughout. Movement isn’t always smooth, it’s at times jittery. As for helping the 3D, I’m not the best judge there, but the depth seemed consistent later on. I usually defer to CinemaBlend and agree with their final assessment.

Aside from all the extras, including the fact that I was also watching this in a new local theater, I think it is enjoyable, and perhaps having the original three as a background buoys it, but I think it’s a better start to the proceedings.

8/10

December 20th

Silent Night (2012, Anchor Bay)

Take This Waltz

I try not to fall into the likability trap, and I think some may confuse liking the character with being interested in them or wanting to watch them. However, having characters I dislike and am disinterested in, is just one of the failings of this film. There’s also the handling of the love-hate aspect, the cuckolding, the framing of the narrative and the circular shot montage, which in a “lesser” film would’ve been the subject of ridicule, amongst other things that fail this film. The dialogue is at times forced, in one unfortunate sequence fails the Gay Dilemma litmus test, there are depths to plumb that are worth a look, but after a while it seems pointless. The ending isn’t as unsatisfactory as the rest, but certainly could’ve been better. Likely to rank as one of the year’s worst.

1/10

The Devil’s Rock

This is a film that takes a very interesting angle on dealing with Nazis and the occult, especially with regards to the setting of the tale. The set-up is very effective and it could more fully exploit its trappings, but it does hold interest and contain some surprises.

7/10

Silent Night

I have not seen the film upon which this is based, but knowing that it spawned a low-budget franchise of its own makes it a candidate for examination next time 61 Days of Halloween rolls around. There aren’t nearly enough evil Santa tales, while this one doesn’t go to a “real Santa” like Santa’s Slay, this is definitely my favorite so far: good twists and mistaken identity, great turns from Malcolm McDowell with hilarious “movie cop” dialogue, and Donal Logue and excellent kills.

8/10

December 21-31

The following films were also viewed, factored into awards and lists, but didn’t get extemporaneous write-ups.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

Magic Mike

Killer Joe

McConaughey is also nominated for this film as Best Actor.

Django Unchained

Les Misérables

A Royal Affair