Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Secret Lights in Anatolia

     In this round of DVD reviews we focus on a modern day animated fairy tale, a disappointing supernatural thriller, and my very first exposure to Turkish cinema.  Time to get hoppin...

  The Secret World of Arriety - I am a slightly embarrassed little Movie Frog to admit that this film is my first exposure to the works of writer (and often director, but not this time) Hayao Miyazaki, the reputed genius who gave us films such as Ponyo, Howl's Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away and this year's Animated Feature contender From Up On Poppy Hill (Arriety is ineligible because of the delay between its Japanese and U.S. release).  What can I say?  Neither Japanese cinema nor animation are my strongest suits.  The Classic Cinema Series is going to change that eventually.
     The story that this film tells is in many ways a simple amalgamation of elements common to children's fairy tales.  It features a sick child.  It features fantastic creatures that only the child sees.  Two very dissimilar children forge an unlikely friendship.  There is a cat that is at first leery of the fantasy creatures.  There is a secret involving the child's parent.  It takes place in a house unfamiliar to the child but filled with history that involves him.  I could go on.
     However, the story is told with a fresh, modern perspective and is told well.  While it is definitely a 'toon intended as children's entertainment, it will engage adults on an emotional level, even if it fails to challenge them too much intellectually.  There is something inherently charming in this tale, and in the animation that accompanies it, that transcends both its sappiness and lack of narrative innovation.  A great film to share with children that won't bore the adults to tears.  4 of 5*

  Once Upon a Time in Anatolia - I try to watch a healthy smattering of non-English language films every year.  I find the differences in cultural perspectives fascinating and love seeing the way that artists in different parts of the world flavor their storytelling.  I often walk away feeling more knowledgeable about more than just cinema, especially when I'm expanding my viewing repertoire to include a new nation. Which is part of why I'm so glad that I saw's my first Turkish film.
     I'm quite pleased to say that is NOT the only reason that I'm glad I watched it;  it was also a very well made picture.  Writer/director/producer (and sometimes editor and/or cinematographer, but not this time) Nuri Bilge Ceylan is arguably his nations most prestigious film maker, having won acclaim at numerous international film festivals including Berlin and Cannes.  It is easy to see why.
     Once Upon a Time in Anatolia presents a diverse tapestry of characters, who bring a whole spectrum of viewpoints and perspectives, all performed marvelously by the ensemble cast (although Muhammet Uzuner does stand out in the role of Doctor Cemal).  The men mix and interact, the conversations ranging from polite chit chat to intimate musings on each individual's private philosophies.  It reminds me of Altman's slice of life works such as Short Cuts and Nashville, where he would use a large cast of diverse, nominally connected characters and use it to give you the flavor of a specific place and time.
     It must also be said that Anatolia is a beautifully captured piece.  The cinematography is used to enhance the overall mood equally well when framing a bleak landscape or an angelic face emerging from the unexpected darkness.  Gokhan Tiryaki deserves the attention that his work has been getting.
     I highly recommend this film.  It starts out a little slowly, but really pays off in the second half.  4 of 5*

  Red Lights - I love it when a really good supernatural thriller comes along.  When done well, it's one of my favorite kinds of movies.  They're just so rarely done well.  When such a flick has a cast including the likes of Sigourney Weaver, Cillian Murphy, Robert DeNiro, Elizabeth Olsen, and Toby Jones, I figure I have to give it a shot, right?  Right.
     Not so right this time.  Weaver is good but forgettable. DeNiro's performance is both lazy and over the top at the same time, which I didn't know was possible.  Olsen continues to build a reputation as a young actress who consistently picks source mater nowhere near as good as she is.  Murphy does his best, but it's a pretty hopeless situation.  The characters are stock caricatures as written, and the editing is a little over eager to freak you out even as the plot fails to do so.  I would say more, but this year I have to save some zingers for my Worst Films of 2012 article.  2 of 5 stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment