In today's reviews we cover the OTHER teen sniper drama of 2011, a slightly sleepy historical courtroom drama and an extremely original apocalyptic drama that coulda been a contender if its director could handle himself in a press conference. Not an upbeat film to be found here, but some real treasure nonetheless.
Melancholia - If you haven't heard the story already, Melancholia was one of the big critical hits at Cannes last year. Then director Lars von Trier had to go and make comments (probably in jest, but...) that made him sound like a Nazi sympathizer and Melancholia's rewards trajectory went in the toilet. Let me tell you, it's a shame because this was one of the best written, performed, and shot movies of the year. The opening sequence reminded me a little of The Tree of Life, but this movie actually followed it up with a real plot line!
The first few minutes are like the entire story in miniature, except rendered abstractly enough that you spend the rest of the film figuring out what all the little hints meant at the beginning. The entire cast is very strong. Keiffer Sutherland gives his best film performance since...The Lost Boys?...ever? The real standout, however, is Dunst, who was able to take home an acting award at Cannes even after her director's snafu, but was unable to disperse the dark cloud it left over the movie enough to break into the big year end award races. It's a shame, because she gives a fully realized, mature, and nuanced performance that gives you plenty to think about once the movie is over (as does the film overall). The cinematography cannot be praised enough. All in all, this offbeat apocalyptic drama stimulates the mind and the emotions in a unique and intelligent way and should reward repeat viewings richly. I highly recommend!!! Available on DVD and coming soon to Nf Instant Play 5 of 5 stars
Beautiful Boy - I am completely unfamiliar with director Shawn Ku's previous work (The American Mall, Pretty Dead Girl) but this film, while not perfect, shows a great deal of promise. The picture was largely ignored last year due to the fact that its subject (a teen who goes on a killing spree at his college before taking his own life, and how his parents deal with the fall out) is almost identical to the higher profile film We Need To Talk About Kevin. I have not seen Kevin yet, and perhaps this allowed me to appreciate Boy without drawing comparisons. The parents in Boy are already struggling with a crumbling marriage before this happens, and Maria Bello and Michael Sheen do an excellent job portraying all of the uncertainty, confusion, and hopelessness you would realistically expect of people in their situation. Kyle Gallner (who's been creeping me out since the TV show Veronica Mars), as the son, also makes the most of a very small amount of screen time. The script and pacing lag a little in the middle of the picture, but it is well worth hanging in there for the conclusion. Available on DVD. 4 of 5 stars.
The Conspirator - A historical drama starring James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Kevin Klein, Evan Rachel Wood, and Tom Wilkinson sounds like it should be a slam dunk on paper, and The Conspirator is certainly a well acted film. There is a sense, however, that the script and direction here are a little old fashioned. Overall, it plays more like an unusually well cast made for network TV movie than a major motion picture. Also, the casting of Justin Long sort of spoils the illusion, because every time he spoke I felt like I had left the nineteenth century and landed in a modern day set romcom. Honestly, I kept waiting for him to call someone "Dude". I don't mean to take anything away from director Robert Redford's legacy or contribution to the American cinema. However, it is beginning to seem that, like Clint Eastwood, he has reached an age where he has lost the pulse enough that his films no longer seem fresh or current anymore. Available on DVD. 3 of 5 stars.