06 Feb 2013
Tune in to Bruce Bratton’s juicy Universal Grapevine program, next Tuesday—February 12, at 7:30 and you’ll get to hear me and film critic Lisa Jensen go boca a boca with Bruce about our Oscar picks, and favorite films of 2012.
That’s KZSC 88.1 FM.
The gloves are off!
27 Jan 2013
Set aside the debate about whether or not this film endorses the use of torture as an enhanced interrogation tool. There are other issues plaguing this film by director Kathryn Bigelow, and they primarily involve the curiously empty—or at least vaguely characterized—center of the action, a fledgling CIA operative named Maya (Jessica Chastain).
I loved and admired Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, a taut, bravura war film that packed an authentic emotional punch. And while I was mostly caught up in Zero Dark Thirty (the echo of many Vietnam vets’ favorite slang for “early,” as in “we had to get up at O dark thirty”), and riveted by its expert visual and verbal architecture—I didn’t love it. And I have puzzled since then over why I didn’t love it. Then it came to me: Jessica Chastain! Wrong. Utterly wrong! Too pretty, too fragile, too unbelievable—especially the voice, a voice lacking in anything like authority. A high-pitched voice in a masculine power context is clearly a cry for condescension.
My concern with this bracing story of the roughly ten-year “hunt” for Osama bin Laden has to do with the choice of lead actress — a choice, however, that might ruin the film’s believability in order to make a more subtle political point.
As Bigelow’s film dramatizes More…
14 Jan 2013
Sasha Friedlander’s Where Heaven Meets Hell will be back on the big screen in Santa Cruz for one day only — January 19 @ 2pm, followed by a Q&A with the director herself.
Don’t miss this screening. Find out why by reading my review. Then make plans to be at the Rio Theater on Soquel Avenue, @ 2pm Saturday.
30 Mar 2012
Succumbing to curiosity, I took in a matinee of The Hunger Games last week to see what grabs the YA audience these days.
The film isn’t great, the acting is hit and miss, but the action is bracing. A fierce sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen (played by pretty, moon-faced Jennifer Lawrence) takes her younger sister’s place as one of the 24 “tributes” chosen to engage in an annual hunt to the death. She has been chosen along with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), a young man from her district who is clearly not up to the contest to come.Think “Survivors” crossed with “Lost.”
As the combatants gather, coming from empoverished backwaters to the decadent capital city of writer Suzanne Collins’ best-selling dystopia, we meet a multi-cultural bevy of handlers and mentors who coach Katniss and Peeta with a few key survival skills. The attempts at visually quoting the bread and circus excess of Roman gladiatorial games pretty much fall flat, though it is fun watching Woody Harrelson sporting a long blonde wig.
Everdeen’s an expert with bow and arrow. She’s also More…
25 Jan 2012
In his gorgeous new film, director David Cronenberg [see post below] has taken an enormous bite into the unconscious cravings of those struggling to fit into “polite society.” But he also works to unpack some of the deepest conflicts—between Freud and Jung, for example—which plagued the new field of psychoanalysis in the early 20th century.
Was the new “science” to be based upon some rational architecture of the irrational? the Oedipal desires, repressed sexual connections afflicting family hierarchy, and diagnostic answers based upon the inner logic of illicit sexual desires—as Freud insisted? Or were there even deeper channels within psychiatric patients tapping down into archetypal roles and tensions shared by all humans, archetypes such as the Wounded Warrior, and tensions uniting love and death in an eternal embrace—as Jung was beginning to suspect?
A Dangerous Method is now playing at the Nickelodeon.
Here’s what you’ll find:
1) this stunning film oozes Viennese sophistication, with ravishing costumes you would swear were designed by Gustav Klimt. More…
12 Jan 2012
A French kiss of a film, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo enfolds its cinematic heart in a bittersweet quest for redemption. It seems that the feisty film director still remembers what it was to be a child, and to believe in artistic magic with a child’s appetite for adventure and delight.
Astonishingly, Hugo is filmed in non-gratuitous 3D that actually moves the film along its kinetic tracks.
The atmosphere of Paris between the wars is exuberantly painted right down to steaming cafe au lait and seamed stockings. The child of the title, (played by Asa Butterfield) is an orphan who lives high atop a train station tower where he daily sets the intricate clockworks.Watching the bustling world below from his perch behind the face of the station clock, young Hugo mourns the loss of his father (Jude Law), a clock maker and engineer who left the boy an unfinished mechanical figure as a legacy.
Hugo, himself an eager mechanical tinkerer, undertakes the completion of this project. Thanks to parts pilfered from the repair shop of an eccentric More…
09 Jan 2012
If you’ve seen both of these films then you know what I mean — Hugo and The Artist make terrific side-by-side movie experiences. Each deals with the enchanted, tumultuous world of filmmaking. Each is riddled with the ecstatic triumphs and the anguished failures of the studio system. And, to the credit of the filmmakers, each is obviously a labor of love.
Yet, as I discovered once again last week….timing is everything.
Once I had seen Martin Scorsese’s agile love-letter to pioneer silent film director Georges Méliès—Hugo—I was unable to fall under the spell of The Artist, no matter how seductive and winning its leading man, and his scene-stealing little dog. After Hugo, The Artist was small and thin. A tasty amuse l’oeil, but not the generous feast that was Hugo. Perhaps because I am an addict of actual silent movies in all of their historical richness, period authenticity and frame-by-frame atmosphere of discovery, I found The Artist lacking save as a vehicle for Jean Dujardin, an actor who could give charm lessons to George Clooney.
Oh French director Michel Hazanavicius’ deserves More…
02 Jan 2012
A feast for the mind as well as the eye, the shabby paranoia of Cold War espionage makes a bracing cinematic cocktail, neither shaken nor stirred. A dirty patina of brown and grey adheres to every engrossing scene of this version of John LeCarre’s spy saga Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Relinquish any fears that the indelible performance by Alec Guinness as spy master George Smiley in the archetypal 1973 BBC series might upstage this film version. The confidence of director Tomas Alfredson and his astonishing cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema will dispel all doubts
Even for those who have read the book and gorged upon the multi-part television series, Le Carré’s tale is dense and labyrinthean as only a cold war spy tale can be. This is, after all, a tightly buttoned world in which there are no good guys. The ugly underbelly of bureaucratic betrayal makes a bracing cautionary bulwark for those still under the illusion that espionage is glamorous. There are no Sean Connerys here.
We meet the career MI6 agents—a sorry lot of paranoid professionals who have sold their individual dreams to a collective nightmare—just as a secret deal to bring in a high-ranking Soviet defector has gone horribly wrong. More…
05 Dec 2011
I thought I was going to see George Clooney win an Oscar. I didn’t. He won’t. But The Descendants stayed with me and continued to spin out and unfurl deep-tissue feelings and puzzles and bits of beauty long after I left The Nick last weekend and headed out into the blustery twilight.
The camera loves Clooney almost as much as it loved Marilyn Monroe. There simply are no bad angles on this beautiful man. And while it’s clear he can hold the center of a film, he does so by sleight of hand. He is a quiet vortex around which all of the action, the drama, the storming and revelation takes place. Somehow his winning features—the thoughtful brow, the sensitive facial muscles, the glowing eyes, the gorgeous legs—get close to the point, but never quite land on it.
He doesn’t convince me, even though his character—an Hawaiian heir to a huge land trust, with two out-of-control young daughters and a dying wife—did.
30 Jun 2011
After a long gestation, Terence Malick’s fifth film, Tree of Life, has entered our cinematic bloodstream. It is a lengthy elegy on nothing less than desire, loss, faith, love and the cosmos. What else could we expect of a man who once translated Heidegger and taught philosophy at MIT?
In Tree of Life, Malick the existential ruminator meets Malick the filmmaker’s filmmaker, and the result is a controversial, overly-long, unforgettable work that took this year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes.
Whatever it isn’t (more on that later), Tree is a deeply moving portrait of an American family, set in Texas of the 1950s. However much Malick attempts to lay on baroque opulence in the form of digressions into cosmic imagery, digressions that literally unfurl the creation of the universe, digressions in the form of achingly beautiful classical music — the soul of the film is the complex and stormy relationship between a father (Brad Pitt) and his sons (the eldest, Jack, played by an astonishing young Hunter McCracken).
Pitt is a revelation as the ambitious father whose dashed dreams More…
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