Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Dark Set of Ethical Dilemmas (rated 4 stars)

by Christopher Nolan

With so much anticipation, I was excited, but slightly dreading attending The Dark Knight as I was afraid that it wouldn’t live up to the hype. The problem was that I watched the trailers a few times and couldn’t help be start to construct the film in my mind. Luckily the film of the trailer isn’t really the film that I saw.
Christopher Nolan (and his co-screenwriter Jonathan Nolan) set up a series of ethical decisions that the main characters must make in the film as well as setting up an interlocking web of characters and their opposites. What distinguishes good from evil, right from wrong, or us from them. The film starts off by establishing the context of the situation in Gotham and then alternates between action and character development. The action is expertly done without the excesses of Nolan’s first Batman film.
The cast is great and Christian Bale continues his solid interpretation of Bruce Wayne / Batman, but with the addition of Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent and Maggie Gyllenhaal replacing Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, it seems to balance things out more and makes the cast much more interesting. But the centre of the film is really Heath Ledger with his twisted and frightening performance as the Joker.
It’s a entertaining, but dark summer film that keeps you thinking about what happened and the idea of the superhero long after the film is done.

An Oblique Glimpse of Evil (rated 4 stars)

by Claire Denis

I would say that the less you know about I Can’t Sleep going in, the better. Claire Denis makes beautiful, elliptical films that sneak up on you and leave most of the work at making sense of things to the viewer. In I Can’t Sleep we’re introduced to a set of characters and as the film progresses we find out why they are in the film and how they are connected. Denis plays with the sound, so at times we hear the ambient sound from somewhere else and don’t hear what characters are saying since it doesn’t really matter. In the background of everything are a series of unsolved murders of elderly women, but Denis wisely doesn’t focus on that, but on the people as we watch them interact and go about thier lives in a film that explores themes of alientation and evil in a subtle and indirect way.

Slightly Dark and Fun Summer Movie (rated 4 stars)

The second Hellboy film from Guillermo del Toro, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, gleefully stays within the B-movie confines of the original. With more elaborate creatures and a tighter story than the first film, it’s good fun with some beautiful images and moments between the characters. You can tell that del Toro and the cast are having a great time as they fight supernatural foes and struggle with relationship issues. It’s delicate balance, but I love the characters and the visual splendour of the film kept me interested and entertained. I like a film that is happy and secure in the world that it creates.

Trapped in a World of Sand (rated 4 stars)

by Hiroshi Teshigahara

The Japanese film Woman in the Dunes is a simple story about a man on a bug-collecting expedition who stays in a small village and becomes trapped in a hole in the ground with a woman who lives in a house surrounded by sand. It’s a strange and beautiful film from the 1960s that explores existential themes as two people relate to each other and the villagers as the sand constantly blows into the hole covering them. Shot in black & white with a sparse soundtrack, it’s a poetic and enigmatic character study.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Beautiful Story About the End of Life on Earth (rated 5 stars)

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see Wall-E or not, but from the first haunting images of a city filled with garbage accompanied by a song from the musical “Hello, Dolly!” the film had me. It’s quite an amazing achievement to tell a story with no dialogue and large sections of the film do it brilliantly. With the usual great animation I never thought about the film being animated until the end credits which take a tour through the history of art from cave paintings to 8-bit computer graphics.
The most amazing achievement is in how they manage to impart so much emotion and depth to characters that don’t have traditional human features or expressions.
I’ve seen the film twice now and I liked it more the second time as I noticed more lovely details. It’s a great film that is a bit dark with characters who rise above the despair around them.

Japanese Film About Youth (and Jellyfish) (rated 4 stars)

I became interested in the films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa when I saw his horror film Pulse . It wasn’t the horror that interested me, but the feeling of alienation and the mood that ran through it as well as the structure and the way it was shot. I sought out his other films and they were even more intriguing often with clever twists on genres. With Bright Future he’s created a film that is difficult to describe other than to say that it’s about youth with a story told in a laid-back, almost documentary style. It’s a beautiful film that is enigmatic and haunting that always kept me a bit curious and uneasy.
Bright Future is about a set of characters who are gradually introduced as we see the connections between them as well as the things that keep them apart. One thing leads to another as connections are broken and made in sometimes surprising ways. I’m glad that I didn’t know a lot about the film before I saw it as I didn’t know what to expect and was curious to see what was happening as I tried to understand it as well. It’s a haunting film that isn’t afraid to leave questions unanswered.

Growing Up in the 80s (rated 4 stars)

I’d heard about Son of Rambow long before I saw it, but I loved the idea of two boys in the UK in the 1980s making their own Rambo film. It’s from the same team that made the film of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and it seemed like a neat and smaller way to follow up a big budget Hollywood film.
When it was finally playing nearby I slipped out of work a bit early to see it in the afternoon and I was the only person in the theatre, which was a shame as it’s a lovely little film.
It manages to balance the 80s nostalgia with complex characters and a story that was a lot more substantial and subtle than I thought it would be. It’s a tough film to market as it balances comedy and drama in a story about children that isn’t really intended for children. I remember the 80s and I remember the joy that I felt in seeing films and acting out scenes with friends and how much different the experience was before DVDs and being able to buy movies on your computer.
Why aren’t there more films that tell smaller stories about interesting people?