Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Breaking the Undefeated Motors

     DVD reviews today shall include:  the final installment of the most successful series of movies based on young adult novels ever made, the 2011-2012 winner for Best Documentary (finally!) and a French film that might just be the strangest movie of the year.  Let's hop to it...

  The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 - I have managed to avoid reviewing any of this series of films up until now because I didn't want to get egged by any of the Twi-hards in my life after skewering some of the pretty awful previous installments.  This film was a little better than any of those, so I feel a little bit safer telling you what I thought of it.  Of course, the credit may go largely to the source material, as Breaking Dawn was by far the best of the novels (which a friend forced me to read a few years ago with the continuing promise that they would get better as the series progressed).  This may owe to the fact that there is more story actually going on.  The whole Edward/Jacob/Bella triangle has been resolved and the film can concentrate more on all the cool things that vampires can do in author Stephanie Meyer's world.
     The acting is still a little stilted, although recent work by Pattinson and Stewart in other films has suggested that the silliness of some of the dialogue and long melodramatic close-ups may have more to do with this than the talent of some of the actors involved.  Well those factors, and having to try and play off of Taylor Lautner.
     Oh, and guys who have been forced to sit through this whole series by their wives and girlfriends finally get a little payoff in the form of a stylishly choreographed and actually quite well executed fight scene.
     Otherwise, the film is a little too maudlin when it is sad, a little too ecstatic when it is happy and a little too precious overall for this Movie Frog's tastes.  It IS a little more exciting that the first four films though...3 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Undefeated - I am not a big fan of football and a documentary about a scrappy come from behind football team from an underprivileged school that turned their fortunes around to make the play offs just didn't sound like my cup of tea at all.  However, co-directors Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin (both of whom had one far less successful documentary to their credit working separately) didn't really make a movie about football.  Instead, they have made a film about hope.  It is about how the selfless act of giving by one man can inspire hope in a group of young men.  It is about how that hope can foster self-respect in them.  It is about how these attributes can spread to their community.  It is also about the set backs and road blocks that will inevitably spring up along the way.
     While the giving, loving nature of Bill Courtney who, having grown up without a father himself, serves as both coach and surrogate male role model to this team is touching and powerful, it is the three players that the pictures narrows its focus to that really break your heart and then put it back together again repeatedly.  O.C. Brown is the star of the team who is depending on a football scholarship to make college (that and a minimum entrance exam score that seems nearly unreachable).  Chavis Daniels is the troubled youth with a bad attitude returning after a stay in a juvenile detention center.  The one who almost made me cry, however, was Montrail "Money" Brown.  Unlike the others, football was not going to be his way out, his grades would be enough to get him into college.  Football was, though, the thing that had given him the inspiration to realize his academic potential by giving him discipline and a sense of self-worth.  When he is injured early in the season it looks like he may be sidelined for the rest of his senior year.
     In short, this doc exceeded all the expectations that I had going in, even with its Oscar win for Best Documentary Feature a little over a year ago.  By focusing on the human elements, the directors have made a picture that can draw in even the most resistant viewers.  Even a non-fan like me was cheering the team on during the actual games by the end of the season in a way that I never cared enough to do for my own school teams.  If you ARE a fan of football already, the boys run a hell of a season that will keep you on the edge of your seat and the rest will just be gravy...5 of 5 stars.

  Holy Motors - This is the first film that I have seen from French writer/director Leos Carax and I found it to be confounding, frustrating, highly original, and completely unpredictable.  I had really hoped to catch this one in the theater but it was only out in Atlanta for a short time and I missed it.  I'm sort of glad because it was the sort of film that demanded an immediate reviewing to begin to make sense of this confusing bit of cinematic pandemonium.  It has a little bit of everything: sex, violence, fatherly advice, video games, a flower munching gnome and one impromptu musical number from Kylie Minogue.  Confused?  So was I for most of two viewings, but I think it finally makes sense to me mostly.  I'll wait for the Best of 2012 series (aka The Froggy Awards, coming soon) to let you in on my detailed analysis.  Doing so here would spoil the whole thing and I want you to have a chance to see it on your own first.
     The whole film rests on the shoulders of lead actor Denis Lavant, who gives one of the most amazing performances of the year.  Actually, he gives several, changing appearance, personality, age and gender before the viewers' very eyes over and over again throughout the course of Holy Motors.  Each role is just as unique and captivating as the last.  In only one scene do we see his TRUE (?) self expressed outside of the limo that seems to be his office and home. I think the only thing that I have seen Mr. Lavant in before this was the horrid The Temptation of St. Tony, but his performance here has completely eradicated his involvement with that monstrosity from my memory banks.
     Technically the film is also quite impressive.  I have mentioned elsewhere that I thought there were four films this year with far better Make-Up and Hairstyling elements than the three that the Academy chose to award with nominations and this is one of them.  Hair and make-up designer Bernard Floch did an amazing job of coming up with Mr. Lavant's different looks (many of which the actor applies to himself on camera).  Costume desiner Anais Romand also had a challenging task full of variety that she accomplished most impressively.  I would also like to commend cinematographer Caroline Champetier (whose excellent work I am familiar with from the 2010 film Of Gods and Men) for picking interesting angles that always kept things visually interesting even when confined to the interior of a limousine.
     For a film that seems to have no meaning for most of the first viewing, Holy Motors ends up having much to say on the prostitution of artists in the age of reality T.V. and ever present cameras.  It is also a piece about the fluidity of individual identity in a time that forces one to constantly reinvent themselves.  While it is a story that is told in a most enigmatic manner, it is a rewarding one if you are willing to put in the work needed to figure it out...4 1/2 of 5 stars.

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