Monday, March 31, 2008

The Week in Review

Time flies! I didn't get my Week in Review up for last week, so here's two weeks below. I don't have time to offer much in the way of comment, but feel free to add your own comments or questions. The highlight was seeing Paranoid Park again, the first time I've seen a film three times during its theatrical run.

17 - 23 March
  • Be Kind Rewind (Michel Gondry, USA, 2008)
  • Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (Sidney Lumet, USA, 2007)
  • Planet Terror (Robert Rodriguez, USA, 2007)
  • Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino, USA, 2007)
  • Death Defying Acts (Gillian Armstrong, UK/Australia, 2007)
  • Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant, France/USA, 2007)

24 - 30 March
  • Histoire(s) du cinéma (pt. 1a & 1b, Jean-Luc Godard, France, 1998)
  • Die Fälscher (The Counterfeiters, Stefan Ruzowitzky, Austria, 2007)
  • Duell in der Nacht (Duel in the Night, Matti Geschonneck, Germany, 2007)

Be Kind Rewind
While Michel Gondry's The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, co-written by the supremely talented and bizarre Charlie Kaufman, seemed a match made in cinematic heaven, Gondry's going it alone as both writer and director on The Science of Sleep seemed a bit flat. The latter film was still very much in bizarro-world, but the chemistry between film and audience wasn't quite there.

Perhaps Gondry has learnt from experience. He's still using similar devices to The Science of Sleep, but somehow it all comes together in his new film. I went into the film with low expectations, but willing to give it a go. After all, Sleep wasn't a bad film, it just wasn't a particularly good film. Two out of three ain't bad (Gondry's first feature film was Human Nature). Eternal Sunshine had an impressive twelve month run at Cinema Nova.

I found it took a little while to warm to the film at first, partly because the basic premise of the film was so well known, so there was a lack of surprise as the story unfolded. At this stage, every laugh of the enthusiastic audience was distracting, because I just didn't find every little quirk that funny. Once the original setup is established, the film's momentum quickly builds and hardly misses a beat. I found it totally grabbed me when I least expected it, and as the story travelled in unexpected directions, it took me completely with it.

Jack Black who, while still uses his trademark manic excess, shows welcome restraint and is perfect for the role, while Mos Def complemented him. They make an excellent Laurel and Hardy-like duet. Even Danny Glover, who sometimes looks like he should be put out to pasture, was used to great effect by Gondry. The support actors - many of them non-professionals - all contributed effectively to the film. A special mention goes to Melonie Diaz (Raising Victor Vargas, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints) who I always find has a really good naturalistic on-screen presence. She is normally portrayed as the ugly girl, but I find her energy really attractive.

My advice is don't go looking for another Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. They both clearly have Gondry's hand in them, but Be Kind Rewind is a much lighter, comedic film. It has very little drama and not the bleakness of Sunshine. As for comparisons with The Science of Sleep, this film is so much better written. He skillfully holds the audience's attention and brings the film to a very satisfying ending, full of heart and humour.

The film appears aimed at a fairly wide audience, and I think it will appeal to all ages equally well. I don't think it's designed to be a children's film, but I think it's one of the best in that genre that I've seen for a long time (cinema releases, that is). There's an almost Laurel and Hardy aspect to it that will have kids of all ages (maybe even under-5s, even if they don't understand it) connecting with the humour.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Yeah, it's OK, but nothing special.

Planet Terror
Fantastic, exhilirating, full-of-laughs. Loved it.

Death Proof
Liked it even more the second time, though not as good a homage to grindhouse movies as Planet Terror. They did, however, complement each other excellently, and for pure fun, the double is about as good as it gets.

Death Defying Acts
Boring, boring, boring.

Histoire(s) du cinéma
I think one needs to get into the zone for this eclectic homage to cinema, and I couldn't get into it. Or maybe this just isn't what I go to the cinema for. I could dig what Godard was trying to communicate, but it just didn't grab me. I only saw the first 90 minutes (it's 4.5 hours!).

The Counterfeiters & Duel in the Night
I'll be writing on these for the upcoming Festival of German Films.


Syms said...

watching Before The Devil Knows You're Dead was like watching a bunch of people in a slimy old hole with no way out, so they keep digging down into the slop.

John B said...

Hi Paul.. look forward to your review of Duel in the night.

Paul Martin said...

Syms, I found it took itself too seriously. I didn't like the gratuitous depiction of Marisa Tomei, which stood out in stark contrast to the gritty look Lumet tried to achieve with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke. In fact, I thought all three male leads (the third being Albert Finney) over-acted, and Hawke was out of his depth.

I didn't think it was a bad film, but it wasn't a particularly good film either.

John, have you seen it? I hated it. It's a telemovie, and it shows.

John B said...

Hi Paul I do wonder at time what's going on with the film selection at the German FF. I was attracted to this film as it was written by the same person who wrote Summer '04 one of my favourite German films (last years festival). Doing some research I too found this was made for TV. Then we have Naked which was made in 2002. There must be some more deserving films than this to screen? But apprec the tip!