Archive for February, 2011

Get Low
Well-Aged, but Not Cheesy

First-time feature director Aaron Schneider brings a brilliant visual flair to this picture. His opening sequences—including an extended long shot of a burning house and a fleeing man, and an intriguing rack-focus closeup of Felix Bush’s window—are among the most striking I’ve seen in the last decade, and several times during the film I gushed out loud to my wife about how beautifully composed many of the shots are. I rarely think of singling out a film for editing, but Schneider also does brilliant work here with his own footage. Whatever else may be said about Get Low, I’m pretty sure Schneider got the footage and look he was after.


Respire
Almost Sucks the Life Out of Itself

The film tells the very intriguing story of a second-hand store owner who finds herself in possession of a box containing a long-lost and much sought-after vial… which in turn contains the soul of a brilliant scientist who once managed to develop a drug that would prolong life indefinitely. Before long, the shopkeeper—who is herself desperately clinging to life—begins channeling the scientist, and finds herself, as they say, drawn into a web of intrigue. Saying much more about the plot would kind of ruin the experience. I will only say that, as is usual with MTI releases that I request, I was pretty much going with it the whole way… right up until the pack of zombies started ripping apart the neighborhood. Oh, well.


Unknown
Don’t Mess With Liam Neeson

Falling just after the studios rush out their award-bait films and just before the start of blockbuster season, the months of January and February are traditionally something of a black hole when it comes to quality cinematic entertainment. There are occasional exceptions, however. Silence of the Lambs, for instance, was released in February of 1991 and went on to not only become a big hit, but also walk away with all the major Oscars. In late January 2008, an under-the-radar film called Taken hit theaters and became a surprise success. That film’s star, Liam Neeson, now hopes to catch lightning in a bottle twice with Unknown, another thriller that proves you just don’t mess with Liam Neeson.


Bad Day To Go Fishing
Reels You In

I’m tempted to say that Scot-born Spaniard Gary Piquer anchors this film with his performance as the impresario Orsini. But the real MVP here is Brechner himself with a remarkable feature film debut. From production design to score, from performances to script, the film is practically flawless. Even the flatter roles and weaker actors come to life in a context that allows them to flourish. By the time we reach the tragically foreshadowed climax, we know far more about these characters than their words have conveyed—and we likely care more about them than we did in The Wrestler, No Country for Old Men, or Down By Law, celebrated films from celebrated directors that Fishing might invoke.


Orgasm, Inc.
Get On Board

The central tenets of Orgasm, Inc. are twofold: first, that Female Sexual Dysfunction is a non-disease created by an industry hungry for windfall profits; and second, that the surgical industry is catering to an unhealthy advertising-driven desire for perfect-looking and overly-functional genitals. Director Liz Canner delivers very, very convincing arguments on both scores. And her best allies? The ninnies who run these companies and promote these products and therapies, and their open willingness to speak on camera, roll their eyes, shrug their shoulders, and give betray themselves with nervous tics and barely held-back tears. I can’t recommend this film highly enough to the less prudish amongst us.


Just Go With It
Sandler and the Women

Last year, Adam Sandler reunited with a group of his male buddies for Grown Ups, a comedy that was not received very well by either critics or audiences. This year, Sandler uses a different approach as the center of a movie that has a lot of women in it. The most prominent role is filled by Jennifer Aniston, an actress Sandler was friends with before either of their careers took off. The result is Just Go With It, a romantic comedy that doesn’t really bring anything new to the genre, but does have just enough going for it to be entertaining.


Eyewitness to Jesus
Can’t Be Pinned Down

The last hundred years or so of biblical manuscript scholarship has generally eroded confidence in the historicity of New Testament accounts of Jesus’ life and words, so the makers of Eyewitness to Jesus can legitimately look on the work of the late German national archaeologist Carsten Thiede as iconoclastic. A great deal is at stake in quarrels over manuscript analysis. So that’s kind of the interesting part of this documentary, originally produced in episodes for The Travel Channel. As long as the narrator keeps us focused on the papyri themselves and the work of scribes and analysts, we’re on compelling ground. Where we get off in the weeds is the travelogue nature of the story.


Biutiful
A Depressing Tale

Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu exploded onto the scene in 2000 with Amores Perros, an exciting thriller that drew well-deserved comparisons to Pulp Fiction. He followed that up with a couple of well-received English-language hits—21 Grams and Babel—but now returns to his native language for Biutiful, the drama of a man whose life is spinning out of control. Joining him in the project is actor Javier Bardem, who also returns to his native language after a string of successful English-language projects. The result is a challenging drama that intrigues, but may be a bit too depressing for mainstream audiences.