Archive for 2008

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on May 20, 2011 by Mark Hobin

Melancholy romantic drama about two American women on holiday. They soon meet an artist who invites them to vacation with him for the weekend. After a trio of films in London, Allen continues his European fascination with this story set in Spain. Despite the beautiful location shooting, this is essentially your standard issue Woody Allen tale of neurotic New Yorkers moaning and groaning about relationships. His ideas about love are oddly misanthropic. Vicky and Christina as tourists act like spoiled, rich American brats taken in by the first charismatic lothario that seduces them. Divorced painter Juan Antonio Gonzalo’s mantra? “Only unfulfilled love can be romantic”. That is to say, only the excitement of the chase is passionate, specifically the process of falling in love. He’s at the center of a Casanova fantasy that believes any woman’s depression can be undone by a good roll in the hay. Yet, these women don’t even seem to know what they want and that’s the point.

The performances are indeed expressive. As always, the dialogue is natural and it flows. Scarlett Johansson, in her 3rd effort with Woody, is capable as the shallow, free-spirited Christina. Also memorable is Rebecca Hall as the supposedly conventional Vicky. Given her conspicuous absence on the movie posters, she surprisingly has the single largest role. Although both of their principles (or lack of them) feel genuine, it doesn’t make them any less emotionally weak. They’re pretty delusional. For all the recognition lavished on Penelope Cruz, she makes her first appearance well into the second half of the picture. For once, she’s allowed to speak Spanish in an American production, and she’s all the better for it. To her credit, she doesn’t fit your typical Woody Allen character, but she does come across as a bit of a madwoman.

You may be captivated by the chronicle’s scenic charms, particularly if attending an outdoor Spanish guitar concert at night is your idea of heaven. I admit the celebration of Spanish culture is intoxicating. Curiously, this became Woody’s biggest hit since Hannah and her Sisters, slightly out-earning the far superior Match Point. In the face of glaring flaws, Vicky Cristina Barcelona remains an interesting, albeit pessimistic critique on love.

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

Posted in Biography, Crime, Documentary with tags on April 1, 2011 by Mark Hobin

Gut-wrenching documentary about Dr. Andrew Bagby, a resident in family practice in Latrobe, Pennsylvania who is shot to death by Shirley Turner, his unstable girlfriend.  Soon after his murder, it is discovered that she is pregnant with his unborn child.  This document would then serve as a memorial honoring the father little Zachary never knew.  At first this record suggests a home movie made to commentate a loved one, something very intimate to be shared only with close relatives. Haphazard and awkwardly constructed, the amateurish style actually contributes to its immediacy.  Many relatives, friends, and associates attest to their love and admiration for Andrew and support for his parents, David and Kathleen.  There is hope within this loving and dedicated group.  Although it includes numerous testimonials, it becomes much more than a tribute.  The memoir soon shifts focus from Andrew to his parents as they seek to gain custody of grandson Zachary, from the woman they suspected of killing their son.  As we are further drawn into the Bagby’s world, we sympathize with their terrible plight and share in their cause. The intestinal fortitude shown by Bagby’s parents is unbelievable.  They display a strength of character I doubt few people could muster in the midst of such despair.  It’s admirable.  My heart goes out to them and I was touched by the devotion they had for their grandson.

Ultimately, I think what makes the account so difficult to endure is what happens next could have been prevented.  Because Shirley fled from the United States to Newfoundland before she was charged, the case falls under the jurisdiction of the Canadian courts first to extradite her so she can face a U.S. trial.  To reveal anything more would be to rob the documentary of its power, but it highlights extreme failures of the legal system, instilling an utter hatred for the process.  No evidence is ever given to explain the outrageous miscarriage of justice that occurred.  We understand WHAT happened, but not WHY.  Director Kurt Kuenne wants you to experience the same pain the parents feel and it hurts.  It would have helped if psychiatrist Dr. John Doucet and Justice Gale Welsh, both from Newfoundland, had agreed to be interviewed.  It is not surprising they declined, but their behavior is so mind numbingly egregious, it screams for an explanation.  How could they have behaved the manner in which they did?  Their conduct is quite simply, infuriating.  By the end of the film, you will be filled with grief and anger.  The disturbing resolution will haunt you for days.

Ip Man

Posted in Action, Biography, Drama, History with tags on February 15, 2011 by Mark Hobin

Biography loosely based on Ip Man, grandmaster of the martial art Wing Chun and early mentor to actor Bruce Lee.  Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen plays the legendary martial artist.  He presents him as a humble man who lives in an unobtrusive manner.  His understated performance adds significantly to this character driven film.  Yen’s subtle interpretation is diametrically opposed to the story’s oversimplification of his life, however.  The narrative can be rather fawning at times.  The script glorifies him as an invincible saint.  Any viewer will be able to predict how the showdowns will end even before they begin.  Nevertheless, the fight sequences are highlighted by choreography that is nothing less than extraordinary.  They are a definite high point.  In one particularly stunning scene, Ip Man chooses to battle ten men in retaliation for the death of his friend.  It’s an exhilarating display worth the price of admission.  If you’re looking for a penetrating historical biography, look elsewhere, but if you desire an entertaining story with astonishing action, you won’t be disappointed.

Bronson

Posted in Biography, Crime, Drama with tags on September 19, 2010 by Mark Hobin

Bizarre account of the “most violent prisoner in Britain” Michael Peterson who was re-named Charles Bronson, after the American film star, by his fight promoter.  Strikingly photographed crime drama is highly stylized.  Bronson frequently narrates the action from a vaudevillian stage, facing an audience.  His bloody bare knuckle brawls with prison guards are a frequent, brutally savage occurrence.  In contrast, the soundtrack is highlighted by classical music and Giorgio Moroder-ish electro pop.  The odd mix clearly takes it’s s stylistic cues from A Clockwork Orange.  Actor Tom Hardy is memorable as the title character, but as a  biography, it’s incredibly shallow.  Snapshots of a life are presented without any exposition.  It’s hard to understand this miscreant since the script never delves too deeply into his bloodthirsty personality.  We get 92 minutes of rage with an art house bent. Call it an audacious free-for-all, that just doesn‘t go the distance.

Séraphine

Posted in Biography, Drama with tags on July 24, 2010 by Mark Hobin

Period drama uses the “tortured genius” blueprint to tell the story of Séraphine Louis, a mentally disturbed housekeeper, with a secret passion to paint.   A self-taught outsider to the art world, her works were highlighted by intricately ornate floral arrangements. Sadly, she such is a quiet, withdrawn woman, her personality fails to engage as a character.  It’s difficult to care for this dreary woman.  Biography also fails to shed light on what made this woman tick.  She loves to paint, but no insight concerning why.  She is plagued by mental illness, but no explanation as to what she suffers from or if it can be cured.   It’s clear the encouragement of German art collector Wilhelm Uhde lifted her spirits immeasurably and helped her to become psychologically stable for a time.  This makes the subsequent actions of those around her, a thoroughly exasperating experience.  Nice cinematography, but the glacial pace is sleep inducing.

The Good, the Bad, the Weird

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Western with tags on May 25, 2010 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketShallow adventure about a thief, a hitman, and a bounty hunter all vying to find a treasure map.  Starting with that title, this ho-hum Korean western is clearly upfront about being inspired by the Sergio Leone classic.  The concept is unique, I mean a Spaghetti Western from South Korea, set in 1930s Manchuria, is pretty unconventional at least.  Unfortunately the execution is mostly uninspired.  Bright colorful cinematography highlights  lots and lots of graphic shoot-outs and chases.  At first it’s kind of fun, but the strictly by the numbers story grows tiresome after 127 minutes.  Fans of the genre may enjoy this Eastern take on a Western classic.  All others should simply rent the superior original.

The Square

Posted in Drama, Thriller with tags on April 23, 2010 by Mark Hobin

A twist-filled thriller about an adulterous couple’s scheme to steal a bag of cash. Infidelity and greed are the themes explored here.  Naturally the cheating lovers’ best laid plans go horribly awry, as is always the case in movies like this.  The brilliance of this neo-noir from Australia is how the action gradually unfolds, drawing the viewer into a labyrinthine web of misfortune. As an eyewitness, we’re complicit in the crimes which spin recklessly out of control.   The Edgerton brothers (director Nash and screenwriter Joel) have fashioned an assured thriller in their feature film debut.  Unfortunately, the plot ultimately lets the viewer down. It’s a tribute to how strong the picture is, that the resolution doesn’t quite equal the rest of the story in sophistication or complexity.  Nevertheless, it should be interesting to see what this talented duo does next.

Four Christmases

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Romance with tags on January 29, 2010 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketPhotobucketAfter their flight is canceled, a happily unmarried couple is forced to spend Christmas with each of their four parents, all in one day.  Mayhem ensues.  The story has some humorous moments here and there, but this material is way below the best work of actors Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight and Mary Steenburgen who play the respective parents.  Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon are a funny couple, however, and they make the most of the episodic script.  Enough laughs to make this a mildly diverting holiday movie.

Sugar

Posted in Drama, Sports with tags on October 14, 2009 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketPhotobucketFictional biography of a Dominican baseball player who is invited to try out in U.S. minor leagues, with the ultimate dream to play in the majors. Engrossing journey of our hero, Miguel ‘Sugar’ Santos takes us to places we do not expect to go in a typical sports drama. The events may not always be uplifting, but they are realistic, imbued with intelligence and heart. This quiet, but affecting story is anything but predictable. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s worthy follow-up to Half Nelson.

Wendy and Lucy

Posted in Drama with tags on September 2, 2009 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketPhotobucketRoad movie about a down on her luck woman whose car breaks down in Oregon on her way to Alaska. Michele Williams gives an intimate, heartbreaking performance as Wendy, the woman who continues to experience one setback after another with only her faithful dog, Lucy, to keep her company. Film’s low key, deliberate pace may bore some. Patient viewers, however, will be rewarded by its quiet charm.

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