Saturday, February 16, 2008

Om natten (At Night)

Today I saw Om natten, which is an Oscar® nominee in the Live Action Short Film category.

Set in a cancer hospital in Denmark, three young women bond over their "death sentences," their family problems and their hope for recovery (or lack thereof).

I always think one way to measure a good film is if it feels like the characters are still in existence after you leave the theater. With this one, I truly did.

The actresses that portray Stephanie, Sara and Mette deserve nominations of their own for their convincing moments as sick and conflicted women. The fact the film is set over the holidays only compounds the tears you'll shed as you dive into their world head-first, but you'll still be glad you spent time with them when all is said and done. After 39 minutes, I'm bargaining you'll feel grateful for your own blessings more than you did prior to seeing this.

If I could vote, this would easily be my pick to win.

Le Mozart des pickpockets

Today I saw Le Mozart des pickpockets, which is an Oscar® nominee in the Live Action Short Film category.

France's Philippe Pollet-Villard wrote and directed this comedy about two thieves that accumulate passports, cash and credit cards from unknowing victims and somehow along the way pick up a deaf-mute child. Their banter is borderline charming as they work to communicate with their new 'son' and continue the cons that make their living.

I enjoyed this film quite a lot—even though one scene made me grab my purse from the chair next to me where it was resting.

It takes a non-admirable practice and brings light to it in an Odd Couple spirit (and adding in the cute kid doesn't hurt).

You'll probably leave the theater smiling in spite of yourself.

The Tonto Woman

Today I saw The Tonto Woman, which is an Oscar® nominee in the Live Action Short Film Category.

For a short film, this sure went on for a long time.

The story is based on an Elmore Leonard work about a woman who is kidnapped by the Apaches and traded to the Mojaves, then returned 'tainted' to her husband. A friendly Mexican happens upon her bathing topless in the desert one day and becomes her confidant. He convinces her of her worth (which her husband seems to be ignoring), then something happens at the end which I won't spoil here.

I couldn't help but think that the only nominee in this category that is spoken in English would hold my attention more than the others, but I couldn't have been more wrong. Aside from the gratuitous (and non-sensual) nudity, I felt that what could've been a shocking story became very stale in this delivery. I wanted to care about the characters, but really didn't, and the ending was quite predictable.

It wouldn't get my vote if I were a member of the Academy.

Il Supplente

Today I saw Il Supplente, an Oscar® nominee in the Live Action Short Film category.

Italy's Andrea Jublin brings us rapidly into the classroom where all hell is breaking loose with the new substitute teacher. Usually when this happens, it's because the teacher has lost all control of the students. In this setting, the instructor is purposely wreaking havoc, chiming in with others to make fun of the fat kid, persuading one girl to hand over her diary and generally acting like an asshole.

This should be funny, but to me no part of it was. I thought the ending may redeem where the story had gone, but instead it carried the same cheap torch to the finish line.

It's disappointing this is even in the running for an Academy Award®.

Tanghi Argentini

Today I saw Tanghi Argentini, one of the Oscar® nominees in the Live Action Short Film category.

In this 14-minute wonder, Belgium's Guido Thys brings us the sweet story of a man desperate to learn the tango so he can impress a date he's met on the Internet (with a screen name like "Bing Crosby" you can't help but root for him).

After much persuasion, he convinces a co-worker to teach him the crucial moves and what unfolds after that is pure delight.

This easily earned its nomination.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

Today I saw 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, starring Anamaria Marinca and Laura Vasiliu.

Who knew that a film could be both pro-life and pro-choice?

The time is the 1980s, the place is Romania. One college student, Gabriela (Vasiliu) is desperate to get an abortion; her roommate Otilia (Marinca) is just as desperate to help her. In their current society, it is illegal for Gabriela to have the procedure, so they learn through a friend of a man who performs them secretly.

After the maddening dash to secure a hotel room to perform the procedure in, we're introduced to the less-than-noble abortionist, Mr. Bebe (Vlod Ivanov), who scolds the girls for not following his instructions to the letter and maliciously makes them pay for it.

The story progresses in real-time from Gabriela's decision, Otilia's turmoil over the ordeal and the resulting emotional damage.

I won't say any further about specifics because I couldn't without spoiling, but I will say that as a woman, I had to leave the theater once because I thought I was going to be sick.

The things they choose to put the audience through (and the things they make you see) are so harrowing you can't help but envision yourself in place of the girls and wonder if you'd make the same decisions.

The film is pro-life because it truly shows the dangers and horrors of what an abortion can do, both physically and emotionally. It is pro-choice because most of those horrors are avoided by the option of legal abortions, performed by doctors in sterile, safe environments.

It's a travesty that this film wasn't nominated for several Oscars and also that it's currently only being shown in limited release. Everyone should see this. Especially those here in the U.S. that think Roe vs. Wade should be overturned. I can't imagine that after seeing this any of them could sleep at night picturing their daughter or girlfriend or sister in a similar situation.

The bravery of the filmmakers to bring us such a graphic, honest rendition of the controversial topic cannot be understated.

Go see this. But go on an empty stomach.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

I'm Not There

This morning I saw I'm Not There, starring Cate Blanchett and Heath Ledger.

It's an avant garde approach to Bob Dylan's life, told through a series of sequences that feature a number of different actors portraying the folk legend. Really, it's over two hours of hits and misses.

The hits come in the performances, first and foremost. Blanchett is clearly the standout, brilliantly adapting the mannerisms, sound and look of the star while placing her own charismatic stamp on the story. The more we see from her, the more we can't help but wish the entire movie was only her. She could've easily pulled off all of the complexities the filmmakers were trying to convey. Particularly hilarious is a scene of her frolicking with "The Beatles."

Also great is the late Heath Ledger. He plays Dylan with a combination of sexiness and swagger that goes way beyond the charm of the real man. While vastly different from Dylan in both physique and spirit, Ledger manages to convince us in his first few moments on screen, just "which" Bob we're watching.

In addition to the major players, there are also a sprinkling of supporting characters that infuse great amounts of life into the narrative. Namely, Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams.

The beauty of the way the film is shot also contributes to its successes—the Dylans, etc. move freely between grainy black-and-white 'footage' and gorgeous, full-color frames. At no point does this become distracting or confusing, in fact, it actually helps move the story along.

And that's where the misses come in. As someone who is not much of a Dylan fan, I went into the film hoping to learn more about why he rose to fame (and stayed there). Unfortunately, this doesn't tell me much. I already knew he was a philosopher, a liar, a poet, a rebel, etc. but what I didn't know was why?

Although elements of his character are exhibited by the various actors (some miscast, by the way: Christian Bale), the movie seems so caught up in its artsyness that it can't quite connect to its purpose.

And the more I think about it, maybe that's why I'm not much of a Dylan fan.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Michael Clayton

Tonight I saw Michael Clayton, starring George Clooney and Tom Wilkinson.

Forgive me for being stunned, but how did this manage to rack up an Oscar® nomination for Best Picture? It's a solid movie with solid acting, but that's about it.

Clooney does fine as the title character, a legal 'fixer-upper' sort that seems to constantly be in more danger than he realizes. Wilkinson also shines as Arthur, a chemically imbalanced member of the same legal firm that is threatening to turn one of their big corporate cases upside down. Everyone else is gravy.

The story follows a damning memorandum in reverse to explain how the characters come to be (or not) four days later. I found these flashbacks irritating—not because I didn't understand them—because the same tale could've been told in a linear fashion with more exciting results. Once you catch on to the Same Old Corporate Argument, it's pretty clear who will reign victorious when all is said and done (allowing, of course, for at least one shocking death).

Tilda Swinton plays a minor role as a major player in the case, and she's good as usual, but almost underutilized for the amount of time she appears on screen.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that I went into the film hoping to be dazzled by a smart thriller and unfortunately got a little bored.