REVIEW: Anton Chekov’s The Duel

Anton Chekov’s The Duel
Directed by: Dover Koshashvili
Written by: Mary Bing (screenplay), Anton Chekhov (book)
Starring: Andrew Scott, Fiona Glascott, Tobias Menzies and Michelle Fairley

Films of a certain nature achieve a literary quality;  ones with a large cast of complex characters or with a sweeping narrative arc that transforms a main character to either a tragic or heroic end.  Almost by default, a film like The Duel achieves this.

Clumsily titled with the novel’s original author at the beginning, Anton Chekov’s The Duel is a film rich with complex character motivations and difficult psychological questions.  If you are one of the presumably few who would enjoy a movie that falls under the category “Darwinian melodrama,” then boy are you in for a treat.  For the rest (and most) of you, sadly, there is not much here outside a sometimes-stirring philosophical musing set against gorgeous scenery.

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REVIEW: Enter the Void

Enter the Void
Directed by: Gasper Noé
Written by: Gasper Noé
Starring: Nathanial Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy, and Ed Spear

Until Kanye West “borrowed” Enter the Void’s opening credit sequence for his music video for “All of the Lights,” director Gasper Noé was most famous for a nine minute rape scene in his film Irreversible.  This makes his work hard to approach, but Enter the Void is a rewarding hallucinatory venture and engaging exercise in experimental filmmaking.  Told entirely from a first-person/first-spirit perspective, the film follows Oscar (Nathanial Brown) as he gets high, gets killed, and gets reborn.

Watching Oscar get shot in the bathroom as he tries to dump out his drugs during a police raid and then rise up and watch his body from the afterlife is haunting because of its simplicity.  Images like these are the biggest strength of Noé’s film.  You might think that the first-person setup would be a limitation, but he subverts the gimmick and creates an experience that is truly one-of-a-kind.  The goal of his film is not to get you on Oscar’s side, but rather to watch him see the imprint he left on the world.   Noé seems to be showing us that even the people with the smallest or grimiest of contributions leave their mark.

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REVIEW: Another Year

Another Year
Directed by: Mike Leigh
Written by: Mike Leigh (screenplay)
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, and Oliver Maltman

Ordinary life is delicate business, or so Mike Leigh wants you to think in his latest film.  Another Year and its cast of aging characters are both intimately familiar and lived in, and yet like nothing you’ve ever seen.  Leigh shows us happiness at its most stable and misery at its most crippling, usually in the same scene.

He does this chiefly through Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), a happily married couple who are used to each other and the joke that their names often bring out in people.  Their life together, though, is something they take seriously.  Using their house as a kind of fortress from sadness, Leigh takes us through a year in their lives and the lives of those closest to them.  We begin in spring and end in winter; life to death.  It sounds more dramatic than it is.

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REVIEW: Carlos

Carlos
Directed by: Olivier Assayas
Written by: Olivier Assayas & Dan Franck (screenplay)
Starring: Edgar Ramírez, Nora von Waldstätten, Alexander Scheer, and Ahmad Kaabour

Five-and-a-half hours in the shoes of a terrorist that most people have forgotten about isn’t somewhere most people would want to spend their time.  Yet Carlos, the expansive epic from French director Olivier Assayas, moves through its unheard of length with enough energy to fuel five American action classics.  That fuel isn’t powered by explosions and gunfire, but by the sheer intrigue of the story and the mythic figure being deconstructed at its center.

Carlos The Jackal, a native Venezuelan, began as Ilich Ramírez Sánchez before he decided to revolt against Israel as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).  He moves from minor assassinations to bombings to bossing rather quickly.

One big surprise in Carlos is how the director shows us how many of these terrorist attacks were botched.  It becomes clear early on, when the murders are up close and more complicated than a gunshot, that Assayas isn’t idolizing his criminal.  Carlos may think he’s Scarface, clutching his testicles in front of a mirror after pulling off an attack, but his constant failures and the desperate way Edgar Ramirez portrays him show otherwise.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Black Swan

Black Swan
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Written by: Mark Heyman, Andres Heintz, & John J. McLaughlin
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, and Barbara Hershey

Perfection: chased to the elegant stage by way of the not-so-elegant back rooms.  That is the goal viewers watch Nina (Natalie Portman) hurt, bleed, and dance, dance, dance toward  in Darren Aronofsky’s hallucinatory Black Swan.

Aronofsky, fast becoming one of American cinema’s brightest renegades and fiercest visionaries, has never been shy about making you feel his characters’ pain.  By removing all distance between you and them by rapid cutting and frantic pacing, you feel a kinetic connection to their turmoil.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: 127 Hours

127 Hours
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy (screenplay), Aron Ralston (book)
Starring: James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, and Sean Bott

Aron Ralston cut his own arm off to escape a boulder that pinned him against a canyon wall.  That much we know.  The rest, drawn from his hallucinatory recounting in his autobiography and combined with some creative liberties from a passionate filmmaker, is a story waiting to be told.

It’s interesting to think how certain directors would handle different source material.  A story like this could tell how Aron recovered after his ordeal, or it could show his ordeal.  If you’re looking for the gooey easy way out, the former is your best bet, but Danny Boyle isn’t going for the easy way out.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: The Kids Are All Right

The Kids Are All Right
Directed by: Lisa Cholodenko
Written by: Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
Starring: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Mia Wasikowska

You usually watch a movie about the inner workings of the suburban American family expecting to see it deconstructed, but sitting through Lisa Cholodenko’s bracing, hilarious The Kids Are All Right you watch something strange: it being rebuilt.  Following an economic crisis and subsequent rethinking of what it means to be American, Kids comes at the perfect time.  It rethinks the nuclear family on the silver screen by doing the most daring thing: not mentioning it.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), the two moms at the center of the film, were each impregnated by the same sperm donor.  Now that their daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska) has turned 18, her brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) pressures her to contact the donor (Mark Ruffalo).  They do, it’s awkward, and it almost tears the happy family apart.

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