Our Favorite Performances of 2011

1. Kirsten DunstMelancholia– In Lars von Trier’s apocalyptic new film, Dunst creates one of cinema’s most fully realized portraits of numbing depression.  In all of her performances, Dunst has shown a skill sometimes greater than the films she is in.  Here, she takes the role of Justine, a woman who self-destructs on her wedding night and takes shelter with her sister as the planet Melancholia goes on a collision course with Earth.  Key Scene: In the deepest part of her depression, Justine even needs help getting down to the dinner table.  Her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) made meatloaf, her favorite dish.  When Justine tastes it, her face crumbles, and she says it tastes like ash.  That’s all that will be left of the planet in a couple days, and she can’t wait.

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REVIEW: Hugo

Hugo
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: John Logan (screenplay), Brian Selznick (book)
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley and Sacha Baron Cohen

Hugo would be a good place to start in a film history class.  Not only does it glide through the early history of silent movies, but it also utilizes the latest digital filmmaking technology in doing so.  Martin Scorsese has created a film worthy of the 3D technology that is infecting every big Hollywood blockbuster, and he has done it by using not as a showy gimmick, but as a storytelling tool.

Here, that third dimension immerses us in the movie’s world, drawing us into an opening sequence that transforms from turning clock gears to an overview of Paris, into a train station and finally back into the walls full of clock gears as the young boy Hugo (Asa Butterfield) zooms through these tunnels with make-shift abandon.  In one of the most finely filmed sequences of the year, Scorsese keeps track of him with a clever tracking shot that simply pans as he turns corners.  If this had been converted to 3D instead of filmed that way, you’d already have whiplash.

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REVIEW: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Directed by: Mike Newell
Written by: Boaz Yakin & Doug Miro (screenplay)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Ben Kingsley, Gemma Arterton, and Alfred Molina

I must say, after seeing the abysmal trailer for this film, I’m somewhat pleasantly surprised with the end result.  What initially looked like another bad video game adaptation with worse graphics than the actual game, Jerry Bruckheimer has done the unthinkable: taken the (resident) evil act of adapting a movie to screen and having it actually be entertaining.  Alas, no Jack Sparrow to make this tale interesting or worth embarking on.

Bruckheimer makes a living off of these ridiculous ideas.  He grossed more than a billion dollars off of a trilogy based on a Disney ride.Though he has production credits only, you can see his swash-buckling touch all over this desert tale.  The Sex and the City girls decorate their Middle Eastern adventure with desperation mixed with luxury and a hint of American arrogance.  You’ll find no such things metastasize on the surface of this film, though they are all there behind the scenes; a dwindling economy prevails but Bruckheimer still finds $200 million for his vision.  It’s not so much arrogance as studio caution that a white male has been cast in the lead role as the Prince of Persia.

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