I’m almost ashamed to admit how much media I’ve consumed in the past week. In addition to keeping up with recent episodes of True Detective (so good) and The Walking Dead, I polished off the most recent season of House of Cards…and that’s before any of the following movies. I only made one trip to the theater though for a screening of Pompeii on Tuesday and then again to the local second-run theater to catch a showing of The Great Beauty before it fights its way to the top of the foreign language films for next week’s Academy Awards.
NEVER LET ME GO (2010)
Well-acted drama with a sci-fi bent, Never Let Me Go deals with the impossibility of knowing your own fate. Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield each play clones raised to adulthood and then harvested for their organs, always aware that their end will come sooner rather than later and yet ever searching for a means to extent their short stint on earth. It’s occasionally powerful and offers all three of the actors a chance to stand in the spotlight but its shade is too relentlessly black and the absence of hope too primed to get its audience down.
Dark and contemplative to a fault, this Steven Soderberg film deals in themes of humanity and society, guilt and hopelessness. George Clooney plays a troubled psychologist sent to a space station orbiting the eponymous, mysterious planet with strange powers, Solaris. In the furtherest reaches of human ambition, Solaris is manifest destiny to the Nth degree, it’s the extension of what we can achieve and at what cost. Sound vague? So is the film. As Clooney’s isolation is mimicked with the backdrop of the desolation of space, he encounters someone from his past that throws everything that he believes into the garbage disposal and turns it on high. It’s an eerie and unsettling film but never shakes the feeling that Soderberg is holding his hand back a little too far. We’re left too emotionally distant to feel the metaphysical welts he’s trying to deliver but good on Clooney for putting so much effort in.
THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE (2001)
Guillermo del Toro made his name with horror dramas of this ilk and for good reason. The Devil’s Backbone is the perfect precursor for Toro’s later masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth as both deal out horror in the confines of historically accurate, war torn landscapes. This time around, Toro sets his sights on the Spanish Civil War as he tracks Carlos, a 12-year old recent orphan, who encounters a child ghost. Toro is at his most atmospheric here, offering creepiness and tenderness in equal measure that all adds up to a rather intriguing feature.
THE HUDSUCKER PROXY (1994)
A slapstick farce of the absurdist bent, the Coen Bros channel Frank Kapra, reminding us of what makes satire satire and why Adam Sandler as Mr. Deeds is a completely futile effort. Biting lampoon of Corporate America at its most corruptible, the Coen Bros are on point moreso than not and deliver sidesplitting gawuffs in healthy dollops. The first twenty minutes or so are solid gold and it kind of peters out towards the middle but the kooky performance from Tim Robbins keeps it hustling along and keeps the laughs coming.
A road trip adventure masquerading as a monster movie, Monsters is a razor sharp satire on border policy. Gareth Evans, the man responsible for the upcoming Godzilla film, directs with searing panache, putting the human drama at the forefront and letting the presence of “monsters” help to bring more gravitas to their spiritual venture rather than drive the action. It’s the kind of genre-defying film you don’t see coming and it’s well worth checking out if not just to acquaint yourself with Evans’ talent.
MACHETE KILLS (2013)
On the wrong side of the satire fence, this grindhouse-born sardonic action flick is too heavy on exploitation and too light on payoff. Demian Bichir though almost singlehandedly makes it a must-see as his manic villain is a big standout in an otherwise star studded but phoning it in and hamming it up cast. While Robert Rodriquez‘s latest really tries to drive home the necessity of a sequel in which Machete kills again…in space, after this absolutely tanked at the box office (it made a hair over ten million on a twenty million dollar production budget) there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that Danny Trejo will ever wield a machete in full feature form again. Then again, that’s probably for the best.
THE GREAT BEAUTY (2013)
Absolutely gorgeous cinematography frames what is sure to be this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner. Lead Toni Servillo is fantastic as fading writer but mostly uppity socialite Jep and he’s the perfect guide to stroll around the offerings of Rome with. Surreal and ponderous, Paolo Sorrentino‘s film is the kind that makes us see the trees for the forest, that begs us to realize that life is happening all around us, not something waiting to happen. Best of all, he doesn’t spoon feed any conclusions to his audience but allows them the breathing room to weave their own message from. There’s a little flack in the last act but it doesn’t take away from the monumental impact of this absolute wonder.