Quick Takes – 01.01.12

Margin Call (2011)

Grade: B+ | 1st Viewing

Rarely has a film been so simultaneously enthralling and infuriating as J.C. Chandor’s directorial debut Margin Call. The star studded cast and tight script do an excellent job of humanizing the people behind one of the greatest economic downturns in U.S. history. One of the best things the film accomplishes is establishing the hierarchy of every member of its huge ensemble and portraying how they individually react to the news that their company has worthless assets that are about to bankrupt the company. Some face more of a moral conundrum than others, but in the end they all turn for the worse.

Charles Ferguson’s 2010 film Inside Job does a better job of taking a look behind the financial crisis and I like it better because it essentially presents all of the bankers as villains (even the experts that Ferguson interviews). Margin Call is more interested in showing that not all actors in the meltdown were evil. It’s probably more honest, but a lot less fun.

Weekend (2011)

Grade: A | 1st Viewing

It might be a stretch, but since both films are fresh on my mind I am going to compare Andrew Haigh’s Weekend with Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love. The two are related in the sense that the central relationship they portray is not unrequited love, but resisted love. The two central characters are drawn together like magnets, but they resist a relationship because of outside forces. Haigh does a fantastic job of using a less is more approach to the shot construction and the camera feels more like its eavesdropping than invading the characters’ space.

The best discovery in Weekend was actor Tom Cullen who stands out in a brilliantly subtle lead performance. He is never comfortable in his own skin and we see that with every head down step he takes. He gets remarkably close to an ideal romantic moment when he is kissing his new love interest goodbye, but their “Notting Hill moment” is ruined by a cruel remark made by an off-screen youth. It’s a tragic juxtaposition that shows that a gay love story in the present cannot escape the cruelties of the world around.

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Grade: A | 2nd Viewing

Even knowing what was going to happen in this smart and surprising comedy did not prevent a smile from invading my face. The first time that Owen Wilson’s Gil gets into the car and is transported back to 1920s Paris is one of the most purely joyful moments of the year. A lot of films this year have been primarily about nostalgia, but Midnight in Paris might be the best because it not only portrays hilarious parodies of recognizable figures from the past, but also propels the protagonist and the audience forward as we all realize the present the most romantic place to exist.

The film also made me feel guilty that I have not read more Hemingway and Fitzgerald novels, or seen more Dali or Picasso paintings. Art that makes you appreciate (or want to appreciate) art is always a good thing.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2011)

Grade: C+ | 1st Viewing

I am not too proud to admit when I did not completely understand a movie, and I suspect that the person who wrote the synopsis for IMDb did not get it either: “On his deathbed, Uncle Boonmee, recalls his many past lives.” The biggest thing that I struggled with is the film’s hard to pin tone. Since the subject is a man facing his mortality and the film is darkly lit, it seemed like director Apichatpong Weerasethakul was attempting to be very serious in his approach. However, the concept of two people carrying on a normal conversation about the banalities of everyday life while seated at a table with the ghost of his wife and his “ghost monkey” son was absurdly funny to me.

I cannot deny, however, that the film was masterfully shot. Many of the shots were dragged out longer than necessary, but never has wandering through a cave or jungle been so beautiful and suspenseful. This is a film that needs to be seen a second time, but I am not going to rush to do that.

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  • Watched a bunch of films from 2011 recently: some very strong, some not quite as good.

    “Hugo” (A): Loved this movie more than I can say. Second only to “The Tree of Life” among 2011 films I’ve seen so far. Review (with spoilers) is up on my blog, for anyone who’s interested.

    “Meek’s Cutoff” (C): Will have a review of this up pretty soon. Was not impressed by it at all, aside from a few scenes (such as the wagon sequence Justin highlighted a few days ago) and a couple of the performances.

    “The Descendants” (A-): Not flawless, and far from Alexander Payne’s best film. But it was still pretty great, and Clooney’s performance might be the best work I’ve ever seen him do.

    “Certified Copy” (B): Hard to grade this, since most of it was as good as anything I’ve seen recently. But the overall story falls completely apart when you examine it for even a second. Still, a memorable and enthralling experience. Agree with Alex that Binoche should get an Oscar nomination for her performance here.

    • What do you mean when you say the story falls completely apart? I’ve examined it for many seconds and think it’s about perfect. It tells us just enough to challenge our sense of reality and ultimately leaves the decisions to us.

      • Going to put a spoiler warning here, since I’m talking about some major events that take place in the film. So spoilers for “Certified Copy” ahead.

        I agree with you that the film did challenge our sense of reality, which is something I respect and like. But in doing so, it filled its own reality with a major inconsistency. Neither reality depicted in the film can exist. If the central couple is long-married (as the latter sections of the film insist), than a lot of the events that take place early in the film (when we’re meant to believe that this is the beginning of a possible romance between the two) simply couldn’t have happened. And of course, if this is their first meeting, than how can they have a son? I’ve looked at this narrative in other ways (could the long-married couple be role-playing their first meeting in an effort to inject some romance back into their failing marriage, for instance?), but none of them hold up.

        The obvious explanation for all of this is of course that the narrative is not meant to make literal sense, and that the film itself is meant to tie in with a lot of the discussions the two characters have about art and our own perception of it. I can definitely accept the film on these terms, and in that regard it is kind of fascinating. But in that case it’s fascinating more as an artistic experiment than as an actual story, if that makes any sense. The character-based drama that’s so compelling instead turns out to be based on something that isn’t truly real. That’s probably the point, but it’s something that to me keeps this from being as great a movie as, say, “The Tree of Life”. In some cases, simple is better, and the complications in this story serve to undermine its emotional resonance just a bit.

        This is kind of a long-winded way of saying “this film just didn’t entirely work for me”. Again, I think “Certified Copy” has a tremendous amount of brilliance in it. But it doesn’t quite… connect.

  • i saw so many movies … they are the following:

    . Mr Smith Goes To Washington – A+
    . It’s A Wonderful Life – A+
    . The Miracle Worker – A
    . Certified Copy – A-
    . Meek’s Cutoff – B+
    . Another Earth – B+
    . Dolphin Tale – B
    . Love Actually – B-
    . The Prince Of Tides – C-

  • Jose

    The Adventures of Tintin
    1st Viewing
    I loved, I had a blast watching this movie but in several of the scenes, you could tell that Spieldberg wasn’t comfortable with the action stuff and didn’t know whether ot not to make it slapstick family friendly or hard core actiony. And I was annoyed with how Tintin annoyed with Haddock’s alcoholism (isn’t that his trademark in the comics? Why stop it?) It’s as if Spieldberg was trying to tell the kids in the audience “Drinking’s bad!”
    B+

  • Jose

    Oh, and Grave of the Fireflies, I checked it out from the local library and the disc was scrathed so badly that I couldn’t really enjoy it since it skipped at least 1/3 of the movie. Most of what I was able to see what fine though. I also checked out Seven Samurai so I hope that one is not damaged.

    B by default.

    Chinatown.

    Really didn’t care for it

    C

  • Eric M

    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011): B+ (2nd viewing)
    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009): C+
    Midnight in Paris: B+
    The Help: B-

    While the film certainly has its fair-share of supporters, I’m unwilling to accept that the Swedish version of Dragon Tattoo is even comparable to Fincher’s version. The more-vulnerable Blomkvist character was an improvement over what Craig did with the character, but everything else felt very cheap and uninspired.

  • Calvin

    The Artist: A-
    Saw this in Florence and it was absolutely fantastic. Would have been a B+ if it weren’t for the circumstances under which I saw it.
    Love Actually (3rd viewing): B
    I’m not crazy about this film, but it’s a nice feel good holiday story.
    The Help (2nd viewing): A-
    The fact that it’s just a fantastic story adds to many brilliant performances to produce a great movie.
    Mean Girls (Umpteenth viewing): A
    This film is my life. I’m pretty sure I had something to do with the inspiration for Damian. The dialogue is snappy and memorable, and the performances are excellent as well.

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