Monday, January 21, 2008

Reviews, Part I

Okay, I am going to try my hand at movie reviewing, in case any of you care what--rather than whom--we saw at Sundance. Tonight I'm reviewing the feature-length films. In a future installment I will review the shorts.

Megane is that movie. You know the one: Where the "normal" character is somehow immersed into a world full of crazy people, but then gradually begins to question whether SHE is the crazy one instead. Basically the plot of Northern Exposure. Except Megane is that movie really well done. First of all, it's far and away the most visually beautiful movie we saw. It's set on an island at the far south end of Japan, and the lighting is amazing. The pacing is also perfect. It never really drags, but the slowness of development reinforces the "point" of the movie. If you can handle subtitles, I highly recommend this one; it was my festival favorite.

The Linguists
This is a classic buddy pic. You have the hot blond romantic lead and his fat, funny sidekick. Except it's a documentary about linguists, and the "buddies" are two of the world's leading field researchers on dying languages. That's the trick of this movie: how do you make a film about a subject that could be either deathly dry or deeply depressing into something watchable? You do it by mass-appeal filmmaking, complete with a cute marketing campaign. (In one scene, the linguists are discussing the fate of a group of minority languages in India, and the "sidekick" makes a comment about a language called Birhor: "You basically couldn't find a language with a name that sounds worse in English." The publicists passed out buttons that say, "Do you speak BEERWHORE?") Like most mass-appeal filmmaking, the result is not high art. It is, however, highly watchable, and I definitely recommend it.

Love Comes Lately
My basic reaction to this movie was: Huh? I kept waiting to "get it" and I never did. There's this elderly Jewish writer (Otto Tausig) who has a long-term girlfriend (Rhea Perlman) who is paranoid because she has reason to be--he's cheating on her. But the main character keeps lapsing into daydreams about stories he's writing, as well as nightmares, so it's not entirely clear when HE'S cheating or when it's a character in a story and/or dream who's cheating. There are a couple other "name" stars in the movie, but none of them can keep this from being a confused mess. Save your money. But if you don't take my advice, at least explain it to me.

Otto; or, Up With Dead People
This one somehow calls for alliteration. There's this domineering Deutsche dyke director who's producing a porn piece with a political point. Her movie, "Up With Dead People," is an allegory in which the oppression of gay zombie subculture in Berlin is a metaphor for the destructive power of global capitalism. But scenes from her movie are interspersed with the (un)life of her star, Otto, who is a REAL zombie (maybe), who's acting like an actor acting like a zombie. Got it? Oh, and the director's girlfriend (Hella Bent) is a silent movie star (literally) who is shown only in black and white, even when she's in scenes with other people in color. Anyway, it turns out that Otto really IS the "living dead" but maybe that's only because his boyfriend dumped him and his parents sent him to a mental institution. In other words, it's possible that he's not literally a zombie. But then again, it's possible that he is. The sex scenes in this one are not for the squeamish. But if you've always wondered what full frontal necrophilia looks like on film, this one's for you. "Interesting" should win the Grand Jury prize for understatement.

Savage Grace
Based on a true-crime book about a wealthy family (progeny of the inventor of Bakelite, an early type of plastic). Most of the film takes place between 1959 and 1972, so it's the 60's and everyone is sleeping with everyone else. Literally. The son is gay, but he's also having sex with his mother (played by Julianne Moore). The father leaves the mother and runs off with the son's girlfriend (though it's not clear she and the son ever actually consummated their affair). Anyway, the son ends up stabbing the mother and then eating Chinese take-out while waiting for the ambulance. Yes, all of this really happened. Moore gives a good performance, but Eddie Redmayne as the son is outstanding. It's not exactly a light-hearted family pic, but if you're in the mood to see how dysfunctional rich people can be, this one is unforgettable.


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