Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Sound Hope Sparks

     In today's reviews we cover a highly original thriller, an extremely offbeat romcom, and a very well acted comedy about an aging couple.  Lots of love in this post, you'll see...

  Sound of My Voice - I liked, but did not love writer/actress Brit Marling's pet project from last year, Another Earth.  Still, her unique and creative voice was enough to get me interested in her future projects.  Boy howdy, I'm glad I jumped on THAT train.  This film was so small and so few people have seen it, that I may be almost alone in this opinion, but Sound of My Voice is one of the best films of the year.  As I said, I enjoyed her collaboration last year with Mike Cahill, but something about the way that her and director/co-writer Zal Batmanglij work together on "Voice" puts it in a whole different category.
     Well, their collaborative style, and Ms. Marling's performance, which is INCREDIBLY captivating: seductive (not really in a sexual way), charismatic, and quietly dangerous.  She is so soft spoken, and you so would not want to f___ with her.  Her portrayal of a cult leader can actually hold its own quite well next to Phillip Seymour Hoffman and John Hawkes' recent triumphs playing variations on that theme (in The Master and Martha Marcy Mae Marlene, respectively).
     Christopher Denham (who you may remember as a hostage in Argo earlier this year) and Nicole Vicius (who is even a little more obscure) also give fine performances.  There are a couple of scenes (in which some of the best communication is unspoken) between the three of them that still give me chills just thinking of them.
     I don't want to say too much about the film because it relies on twists and surprises too much to discuss it at length without spoiling it but, suffice it to say, I recommend it most highly.  Find it and see it or you will be missing out on one of the year's great hidden gems.  5 of 5 stars.

  Hope Springs - I didn't really go into this film expecting a whole lot out of it.  Nothing in the promotionals or the basic premise really grabbed me in a year full of films I got excited about instantly.  It wasn't the strongest script of the year, and I highly suspect that director David Frankel decided that after working with her on The Devil Wears Prada, that the best approach to working with Ms. Streep was to wind her up and get out of the way.
     But in dismissing this film, I was seriously underestimating the acting talent involved.  Meryl could read the phone book (or a cook book, for that matter) and it would be interesting.  The greatest thing about the movie, though, is that she brought out the very best in co-star Tommy Lee Jones.  I don't know if I've ever seen him better, outside of No Country For Old Men.  He was crochety (like normal), but also vulnerable, tender, ashamed, and desperate.  I have got to see Lincoln.
     The second greatest thing about this comedy is that it was actually FUNNY.  Again, I must credit the cast.  It wasn't the lines that were hilarious so much as the delivery.  Streep and Jones's comic timing and interplay was so spot on in fact, that Steve Carrell (an inspired choice to play the couple's therapist) ends up playing the straight man while the two of them rattle off the zingers.
     An older couple in marriage counseling may not sound like YOUR first choice of how to spend an evening either, but I urge you to think again.  Hope Springs was a very happy surprise for this little Movie Frog.  4 of 5 stars.

  Ruby Sparks - So after two fairly glowing reviews it's time for me to slam film number three.  Except I can't.  Not at all.  Actress Zoe Kazan was untested as a screenwriter before this movie, but we should have known that it would be something special, having prompted directing team Valerie Faris and Jonathen Dayton to make this their first film since Best Picture nominee Little Miss Sunshine six long years ago.
     You know that this is going to be a unique story just from the premise:  a writer dreams of his perfect woman and somehow writes her into the world.  That tagline is just the start of this tale, however, as absolute power does that thing that it does.  Somehow along the way Ms. Kazan manages to say some rather thought provoking things about love, betrayal, free will, and sacrifice.
     Although I was not a great fan of Being Flynn, Looper and this film have totally redeemed Mr. Paul Dano. He's having a great year, and his slightly goofy, but intelligent persona works perfectly here.  Ms. Kazan herself is fantastic as Ruby, reacting sooo naturally in some really out there situations.  Chris Messina gives strong support as our writer's brother, and Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas were delightful surprises as their mother and step-father.
     Again, this film relies a lot on unforseen twists, so I'm going to cut myself off here.  Again, I can recommend this film quite highly.  4 1/2 of 5 stars.

Related articles:  Another Young Project (Another Earth review), Can You "Master" Your Nature?Martha's Certified Method (Martha Marcy Mae Marlene review), Being Margaret's Mirror (Being Flynn review), Twist Until You Are Loopey (Looper review)

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