Having watched Romanian director Christi Pulu’s latest film last week (Aurora), I thought I’d give his earlier (2010) film a look. It has the sane almost documentary feel and style (‘real-time’) but while long at two and a half hours, it keeps its excess under the three-hour mark. That’s a good thing.
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu has more to work with in a script that is an indictment of the Romanian system of health care. An elderly man who lives alone is not feeling well and makes a few calls for medical assistance before being aided by his neighbors who finally get them to show up have hin seen at the emergency room. This is only the first step is a long night of being caught in the increasingly frustrating medical system of Romania. As the patient is shuffled from one emergency room to another, the patient slides further and further towards his death. It’s a night you wouldn’t want to experience. Ever.
There’s some good acting here as well. The actress (Sandu Sterian) who portrays the EMT who initially picks him up and hangs with him the entire time (even though she takes her fair share of cause from the system (mostly doctors and ER nurses) is very good, showing an unflappale sense of the way things are. You get the feeling that she has seen this all before – and maybe worse. There is an ER nurse at the last hospital he is taken to (a minor part) that struck me because of the utter exhaustion written all over her face and body.
A cut above his latest, I thought.
Crime After Crime is one of those miscarriage of Justice documentaries about the legal justice system. You’ve seen these before, and this one is not all that different from the others you may have seen. Except here the egregious miscarriage is more horrible than most.
There are several things in play here. The ‘crime’ (a woman is involved in the murder of her abusive ‘boyfriend’. Without going into all the sordid details, the same case today would have resulted in a far less punitive sentence – if, based on all the evidence uncovered later, there was a conviction at all.
Next, the parole system seems to be an absolute joke, at least in California. But it’s probably the same everywhere.
Next, the refusal of political appointees (that’s what the DA system represents, after all) gives us cowards who can never admit they’re possibly wrong about something. A note about the lawyers who took this case pro bono. Now all credit to them for that. They believed this case wouldn’t take that long, but it dragged on for years. These lawyers were not really criminal lawyers and I couldn’t shake the feeling that this fact did not serve their client well.
The client? A woman who spent over 25 years in prison for a crime (if appropriately charged would have been a max of 6yrs. Then during the later stages of the appeals fight, she comes down with lung cancer. Her story is quite a trial.
In Search of Beethoven is an excellent overview of Beethoven’s life, music, and the changes he wrought in the world of classical music. It has a lot of music, all of it well chosen. The great thing about the music is that it’s presented chronologically. This does two things. It places the music in the context of Beethoven’s personal life, and in the context of the changes in Beethoven’s music.
Talking heads are talking heads, but these particular ones are so impassioned in their comments, that we’re there right along with them.
I knew a lot about Beethoven’s growing and eventual complete deafness. I was not aware however 0f Beethoven’s failure to find love which was one of his great disappointments. There were several interesting tidbits. Not the least of which was the fact that Beethoven was endowed with huge hands which enabled him to write pieces that only he could play correctly. I thought this was funny, and revealing of Beethoven’s huge talent – and ego.
This line is from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony:
This kiss is for the whole world
Cristi Puiu stars in and directs this dark slice of Romanian disaffection. Be aware that this film is a shade over 3-hours long (I was not). Plan accordingly. It’s that long because it’s “real time”, meaning as we follow the troubled lead character we see him lurking in and out of the shadows, waiting for his victims.
Initially, we don’t even know what the hell is going on, until our man Viorel unpacks a hunting rifle. Then the stalking begins, although it’s not until the end that we find out what his beef is. If you bore easily, stay away. As a different vision of filmmaking style, you may want to at least check it out.
This is Michael Fassbender’s second collaboration with Director Steve McQueen, Hunger being the earlier one. It’s a very bleak film about sex-addiction and the ruin and heartache it can bring to people’s lives. Brandon has a succesful career, but he’s got one secret: his addiction to sex. He can’t have a normal relationship as we see him in an abortive dalliance with a co-worker. It does not go well. He’s got to pay for it. He’s got to get it in dive bars or sex clubs. He gets no pleasure as he “pleasures” himself. There is no joy in these acts. One can only conclude that this is all a form of self-flagellation. Riding on the subway, he sees a woman with an enigmatic smile on her face. It appears that she has secret pleasures, rather than hidden demons. It’s a pointed contrast that Brandon surely notices, even if he may not be able to put a name to it.
One day his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) shows up which upsets Brandon terribly. His balance is thrown off. His sister has issues of her own surely, but at least she’s trying to reach out to her brother. Sadly, she’ll have none of it. There is really no back story to their family history, but the assumption is that it was not a happy one. One can only speculate on the relationship between brother and sister.
Sissy is a musician and the films has one extended scene of Sissy singing a very slowed down rendition of “New York, New York”. It’ll tear your heart out and is in many ways unbearable to hear and watch, surprisinglt bringing her brother to tears.
This is the kind of movie you find stuck to the bottom of you seat like an old piece of bubblegum. It’s been chewed, it’s been spit out, and its been forgotten. You can be intermittently entertained if your standards for entertainment have really been leftt to slide.
I prefer my action and thrills straight up – not cut with “witty” dialogue. Guess what? The minimum test for witty dialogue is it has to be witty.
And I still don’t like Tom Cruise. Has he gotten shorter by the way?
And Jeremy Renner: Before your last redeeming scene with TC, I hope you were properly embarrassed by what you had to go through in this film.
Based on a novel by Leo Tolstoy, the film never transcends its origins, relying heavily as it does on novel-like voice over narration. The story takes as its themes jealousy and obsession, and is built around the sonata by Beethoven known as the Kreutzer. A Julliard trained pianist meets and marries a rich philanthropist, and eventually gives up her career after one, then two children. She finds herself trapped in the life she didn’t really want to lead. At her husbands urging, she takes up playing again in preparation for a benefit concert in their home. She selects as her partner a brilliant young violinist, who suggests the Kreutzer. They practice and spend a lot of time together in rehearsals.
The husband, Edgar (Danny Huston) becomes increasingly jealous in an obsessive way which does not contribute to the heath of their relationship. His fears become a self-fulfilling prophecy – or do they? The questions of her faithfulness is never clearly resolved and is left to the imagination of the audience.
The wife and pianist Abigail (Elisabeth Röhm) is quite good, but Danny Huston has to do all the heavy lifting and appears not quite up to the task, though admittedly, an actor who has to carry a film through extensive narration has an almost impossible task.
The story shown here is based on true events that were a sensational scandal in Japan. Young, single mother Keiko moves into a small flat in Tokyo with her 12-year old son Akira. When they unpack though, there are two more children in suitcases, 12-year old Shigeru and 4-year old Yuki. Wait there’s one more: 10-year old Kyoko, too tall and lanky to fit in a suitcase is waiting around the corner and they sneak her in. These are all children from different fathers.
Keiko lays down the ground rules (it sounds like they’ve been here before): Keep it down and stay inside and out of sight. No school. It sounds like the mother loves her kids, she just has no sense of responsibility. The responsible one, and the one who keeps the family together is Akira, to the best of his ability by cooking, shopping and paying the bills. Soon though, the mother takes off for “awhile”, and Akira continues running the household. Then the money dwindles. The mother never returns, the lights are turned off, the water stops flowing. Things are looking bleak. Still, Akira does what he can.
The descent into abject poverty is slow but inevitable. It’s a painful reminder that some people are just not equipped by temperament and quite frankly intellect, to have children in the first place, although as I said they really do love them on some level. The actress playing the mother (You) really does a good job of portraying this disconnect with a childlike quality, that comes across as love when she’s with her kids. The problem, of course is that she hardly ever is.
All of the kids are perfectly cast, playing with a childlike pathos that bursts forth in an exuberant day out when Akira seems to say “Fuck it. Let’s go have some fun.” And they do. You may not have “fun” watching this. It’s an emotional and heart-rending sequence of events after all (at least in its final stages). But at 141 minutes, you’ll be engaged the entire way with these kids right up to the finale.
Steven Soderbergh’s action-thriller is fun to watch, but they’re a few problems which knocks it down a notch. The thing that really bugged me is the technique that left it all murky until the end. Motivations and who’re the good guys and who’re the bad guys. There’s such a thing as taking the concept of leaving the audience in the dark too far. This kind of thing adds confusion in the guise of suspense. This was really egregious here.
With the all-star cast (Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor), the acting was surprisingly bland. I’ll cut Gina Carano (Mallory Kane) some major slack. Given the fact that she is not an actor, she acquitted herself quite adequately. And let’s face it, she wasn’t there for her acting ability, but for her abilities as a Muay Thai MMA specialist. There are plenty of fight sequences and they are all good. There’s even the obligatory showdown on the beach, surf cascading in, which has become an iconic addition to films of this type.
The murky plot is of the world of assassinations, contract spies and covert ops. If there’s a message to the film it’s that you double cross Gina Carano at your peril. Besides the surf showdown, there’s a nice rooftop sequence and a chase through the streets. This ia a substitute, and a wise one, for the car chase sequence. There’s another sequence where Mallory commandeers a car and its driver, and tells him the story of what’s going on. This was a great idea, but the execution was lacking. Another missed opportunity.
If you like these types of action flicks, you should go for this, especially with the added twist of female MMA action at its best.
Getting ready for a few things, I’ve done some archiving and added two new pages:
- BOOKER 2012 – Key dates, announcements and reviews for this year’s Booker Road Race. I’ll be reading any eligible books of interest, until the long-list list is announced and previewed. After that, I’ll limit my reading to the long-list nominees. The same applies to the short list announcement.
- TIFF 2012 – This page is the place that I’ll be posting news, movie selections and reviews for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival
Filed under Books, Movies