Sunday, February 5, 2012

Catching Up with Movies

Well, my recovery from the flu sent me into a dizzying events spree. I haven't updated this blog in ages because I've been too busy catching up with things. Mostly game after game of Hero Academy. But also there's been the Gene Siskel Film Center's ongoing Robert Bresson series, Julie Delpy's 2 Days in New York at Music Box, part of the Sundance Film Festival USA program; Riccardo Muti's intense and spectacular Carmina Burana with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; and, of course, new releases. A quick rundown of the non-Bresson titles:

Haywire (dir. Steven Soderbergh): I loved this cool, stylish action thriller, an homage to 70's revenge films, starring supercool mixed martial arts expert Gina Carano. Excellent music, fantastic action, and a plot that's twisty but easy to follow. Like The Bourne Identity without the amnesia. And starring an attractive Muay Thai expert. Groovy. Apparently not for everyone, however: A friend of mine saw it with his wife, who asked as the end credits rolled, "What the hell was that?" He said, "It's a movie for people who like movies!" To which she replied, "It's a movie for people who like bullshit!"

We Need to Talk About Kevin (dir. Lynne Ramsay): I didn't care much for this hyper-stylized bad seed thriller that makes the mistake of merging The Good Son with Elephant. It might have worked as a creepy film about parenthood had it not delved into Columbine territory, which seems tasteless. I just ended up recollecting better films about high school violence, like last year's underrated Beautiful Boy, and then thinking less of this one.

A Separation (dir. Asghar Farhadi): A riveting Iranian drama about the dissolution of a marriage. That is all you need to know (and more than I knew going in). Its run has been extended at Music Box, so check it out while you can. All screenings on Mondays are only five dollars.

Chronicle (dir. Josh Trank): An engaging, clever drama about teenagers who develop superpowers. I was satisfied overall -- the effects are impressive, its depiction of adolescence seemed authentic -- though it tells the story with handheld cameras, like Cloverfield or Catfish, and while the technique inspires a number of creative moments it sometimes seems forced and then simply distracting. I don't think anyone would have cared if the filmmakers abandoned the idea midway through the film.

The Woman In Black (dir. James Watkins): I love a good ghost story, and I appreciated how this one stuck so earnestly to the ancient genre: creepy old house, misty cemetery, apparitions, creepy children, mysterious deaths. It's a decent movie, but it would have been far more effective without the sleek production. I kept thinking of one of my favorite albums of last year, An Empty Bliss Beyond This World by The Caretaker, which distorts music from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining with scratches and loops and fuzz and skips to create a haunting sound that evokes ghosts and fading memories. The Woman In Black would have benefited, I think, from a similar approach: crackle and scuff and a duller finish. For a film that relies so heavily on the creepiness of old things -- old photographs, old trunks, old porcelain dolls -- you'd think the filmmakers would realize that sharp, glossy photography just isn't very sinister. There's not nearly enough creepy atmosphere to support the threadbare plot. Try renting Alejandro AmenĂ¡bar's The Others or the underrated Haunted instead.

I think that's it for now. Off to bed. Check out A Separation for sure. Or some Bresson. Hard to go wrong there.

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