BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Winter’s Bone

Winter’s Bone
Directed by: Debra Granik
Written by: Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini (screenplay), Daniel Woodrell (novel)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey

In the realm of regional specific tales of mortality, Winter’s Bone is endowed with the element that puts it in the caliber of every other movie in this subgenre: hollowness.

Just like the dryness in Frozen River or the arid feeling in No Country for Old Men, the film holds an empty feeling that results from holding itself to the conventions of convention-bucking indie cinema. The conventions rely on being as minimalistic and realistic as possible, which is indeed interesting and brave, but results in a complete lack of tension, which is key for a character based thriller.

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: Happy-Go-Lucky

Happy-Go-Lucky
Directed by: Mike Leigh
Written by: Mike Leigh
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Alexis Zegerman, and Karina Fernandez

Impossible would be one way to describe Poppy (Sally Hawkins), the flamboyantly optimistic center of Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky. With that one word, you can take her as impossibly happy, annoying, or over the top.  She is all of these things and more, as you and she both learn during the course of this off-beat life lesson comedy.

Hawkins and Leigh both approach this complicated woman with true zest and unapologetic heart.  This performance is a work of art inspired by a terrific actress and this director’s unique method.  Leigh casts his movies with only story in mind, and then works with his actors to craft improvised moments and write out the actual screenplay.

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: Dogville

Dogville
Directed by: Lars von Trier
Written by: Lars von Trier
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Patricia Clarkson, and James Caan

You’ll notice while watching Dogville that the town doesn’t actually exist.  Not in any literal sense that is, but in the minds of the actors and the ideals of the provoc-auteur behind it, the fictional non-town comes fully to life.  Lars von Trier, hell-bent on eliminating elements he deems unnecessary in films, has this time decided to completely remove an actual setting from his movie.  Instead all of the actors, big ones mind you, walk around a stage marked with condescending street names and flimsy outlines of houses.  You can see the entire population, and you often do.

For three rapturous hours von Trier holds and sustains a mood without anything but people, white lines, and some flimsy set pieces.  It’s a terrific feat all by itself, but added to the material is a script powered by ideas and filled with allegory.  He may have never been to America, but he sure knows how this country sees itself.  He approaches the filming as if he were watching a village of ants, often looking from above and then zooming in with his magnifying glass.

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SPOTLIGHT: Laura Linney

Few actresses stay under the radar and still garner as much acclaim as Laura Linney.  She hit her hot streak in the 2000’s with rich, respectable roles in small movies.  However, she has transcended the “indie darling,” label with struts onto the small screen in John Adams and her new headlining act on Showtime on The Big C.  Linney doesn’t just pick movies to make bank.  She does projects where the female characters she plays aren’t jokes, even if they tell them.  She has a knack for both comedy and drama, but her real gift lies in the middle ground (The Squid and the Whale, The Savages).  Few actresses can garner a chuckle and gasp in the same scene, but she does it expertly.  Though she often shares the spotlight with gifted male counterparts like Liam Neeson or Phillip Seymour Hoffman, she never lets them steal it.  She’s that rare actress that doesn’t try to steal scenes but still ends up doing it quite often.

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REVIEW: The Kids Are All Right

The Kids Are All Right
Directed by: Lisa Cholodenko
Written by: Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
Starring: Annette Bening, Juliane 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 (Juliane 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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REVIEW: Mother

Mother
Directed by: Joon-ho Bong
Written by: Eun-kyo Park & Joon-ho Bong
Starring: Hye-ja Kim, Bin Won, Ku Jin, and Yoon Jae-Moon

To call Mother, the latest effort from seminal South Korean filmmaker Joon-ho Bong, obscure would be putting it lightly.  Rarely does a movie of such visual beauty have such an odd sense of humor, especially when the subject matter is so dark.  It begins with its small female protagonist dancing alone in the middle of a wheat field. It ends with the same dance, this time in a crowded bus.  It’s hard to describe a reaction to this, and I’m sure it will differ for many viewers.  However, it summarizes the movie quite well.

What begins as an odd tale of a mother/handicapped son relationship quickly saunters into an intriguing murder mystery.  When her son (Bin Won) is accussed of the murder of the local nympho, the unnamed mother (Hye-ja Kim) sets out to prove his innocence.

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: Julia

Julia
Directed by: Erick Zonca
Written by: Roger Bohbot & Michael Collins
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Aidan Gould, Saul Rubinek, and Kate de Castillo

Make no ifs, ands, or buts about it: Tilda Swinton is one of the finest actresses of her generation.  So sublime and brilliant is her technique, that even in a dud like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe she manages to give you something to watch.  And then there is Julia, a movie that is actually good, where she inhabits the heart and soul of her character, leaving you stunned, disgusted, and many other things by the time the credits roll.

As the title character, Swinton plays an alcoholic nothing hired by a neurotic Mexican neighbor (Kate de Castillo) to kidnap her son and reunite them across the border.  This plot seems like something you’d see in a glitzy Hollywood caper, and the characters in Roger Bohbot and Michael Collins’ screenplay seem conscious of it.  When Julia tries to explain the scheme to some of her confidants, they look at her like she’s a fool, which she is.

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