Sunday, January 29, 2012

Attack The Block

Movie Review: Attack The Block

Director: Joe Cornish

Reviewed: 29 January 2012

jamesintexas rating--*** (4 Stars = Highest Rating)

Attack The Block moves along with a steady clip: fast dialogue, pulsating soundtrack, lots of camera movement, and no waste of time at getting to the heart of the matter. Aliens. Dark, shadowy ones. Eyes that end up glowing in the dark and turn out to be teeth. Within five minutes, Moses (John Boyega), a 15 year old roaming the streets with his mates, mugs a lady Sam (Jodie Whittaker) in their building, nearly dies fighting an alien that crash lands on a car next to him, and, after smashing it to death with a baseball bat, proudly carries its carcass back to show everyone on the block. That's five minutes in.

Chaos follows.

Essential subtitles make the dialogue fun and easy to comprehend (the teens call the alien a "Dobie" or a "Gollum," at times), and the plot involves an alien invasion in one neighborhood of London with a punchy crew of kids who are determined to fight back. The relationship with the woman they mugged in the first five minutes evolves into an eventual friendship, Nick Frost's pot-dealer views everything going with a distinct level of insouciance, and the aliens follow the boys, kill some of them, and somehow manage to get Moses in trouble with a local gangster.

Special effects are well-done, and there are moments that are quite scary. The kids are fun and there are stakes once a few of them start getting bloodied. Two smaller kids in the neighborhood provide comic relief. There are some awkward attempts at social commentary (Moses raises himself because his uncle isn't around; kids shout at the cops at the end, "You always arrest the wrong guy!" and one speech which mentions guns and drugs being used to kill black males rings especially false at the moment of its delivery), but I liked seeing the kids race around the neighborhoods with samurai swords and baseball bats, in a twisted version of E.T. where Elliot and the neighborhood kids go to war with the invaders. This could have been kids with uzis and automatic weapons, and I really liked that they didn't go that way because the kids simply wouldn't have had access to those weapons. One kid spends most of the film in a dumpster, unable to escape from a disgruntled alien.

It feels about right.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Movie Review: Pina

Director: Wim Wenders

Reviewed: 25 January 2012

jamesintexas rating--**** (4 Stars = Highest Rating)

Simply astonishing. My first Wim Wenders film, and my first foray into a 3-D documentary about dancing. Lush and filled with juxtaposed images of dancers on monorails floating over rivers in presumably German cities, Pina is a stunning achievement of form. A tribute of sorts from a dance company to their beloved and departed director Pina Bausch, Wenders embraces the dancing in a variety of contexts: sets, stages with audience members visible, gigantic cliffs, alongside busy streets.

It was stunning. Colorful, passionate, driven by the dancing and the dancers, Wenders nevertheless adds layers upon layers to each shot with sometimes 2 or 3 other lines of movement competing, complementing, or contrasting with the action. A dancer moves alongside a busy street where cars, buses, and monorail trains all float by, dancing in their own inimical ways. A film that reminds me of the beauty and intensity of what the human body can do as well as the endless creativity of self-expression and movement.

I loved this movie.

Currently nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars.
Should be up for Best Picture.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Artist

Movie Review: The Artist.

Director: Michel Hazanavicius

Reviewed: 22 January 2012

jamesintexas rating--*** (4 Stars = Highest Rating)

I should preface this review by stating that I have been very tardy in posting film reviews, and since it is something that I love to do, I need to recommitment myself to writing about the amazing films I see. Additionally, The Artist is a silent film, an artifact of an era that I am woefully ignorant with regards to seeing and appreciating. I have never seen a true silent film, and to a certain extent, I appreciated Hazanavicius's work here, but I am not capable (yet) of fully understanding or appreciating the genre. I haven't even seen Singing in the Rain.

Shot in gorgeous black and white, The Artist depicts an aging silent film star George Valentin (Golden Globe winner Jean Dujardin with a pencil-thin mustache, great hair, and a classic leading man's style, I think meant to evoke Errol Flynn or Clark Gable, but I've sadly never seen a film with either of those actors) who symbolically ( and literally in multiple scenes) finds his career descending while the talkies emerge, represented by a plucky young ingenue Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) whom he meets cute on the set of one of his silent films.

The experience of being in a theater with an audience and only hearing music and at times silence is quite arresting. It takes getting used to, though amazingly, the little dialogue that is carded out does not keep us from comprehending what is going on and even lip-reading the actors. There's a wonderful hammy little dog that steals scenes with his fun tricks, John Goodman as a producer concerned with the next big thing, as well as James Cromwell as Valentin's loyal driver. The plot is little to speak of; Valentin wanders around late 1920's, early 1930's Hollywood, owning and then losing his position on the movie set, fighting against and ultimately losing to the wave of talking films that replaces the silent era. He keeps bumping into Peppy, and cute montages depict Valentin's deteriorating relationship with his wife (Penelope Ann Miller), Peppy's rise to stardom, and his hubris in directing himself in his own feature which flops.

I loved the musical score of this film until the very end, when Hazanavicius employs the classic Vertigo score from Bernard Hermann for a very specific scene, and sadly, it took me out of the film entirely. Vertigo is one of my favorite films of all time, and the obsessiveness of Jimmy Stewart stalking the streets of San Francisco for Kim Novak is not parallel in any way to the fall of Valentin and his own obsession. It is a wrong note in a film that balances precariously at times between comedy and darkness, manic energy and lethargy. At one point, I started to nod off in the latter third of the film, maybe a sign of my tiredness, maybe a reaction to not hearing human voices in a film for an extended period of time. There is a curious jumping of tones and seriousness into silliness that at times did not work for me.

I found myself comparing this film, strangely, to Rob Marshall's Chicago, a dazzling blending of the internal fantasies of Roxie Hart and the real world around her. Yet that film succeeds gloriously with a show-stopping finale while The Artist seems to be trying really, really hard to send us off with smiles. The final scene is aiming at great profundity, but I'm not sure it ever reaches it.

Is it the form of the film that makes it inevitably a little cold, a little distant, and a little difficult to crack? I have too many questions: Why does Valentin's wife despise him?, Why does he read Peppy's assistance as degrading to his pride instead of the adoration that it seems clearly to be?, and most importantly, Why won't Valentin swallow his pride and adapt with the times and talk in his films? Is there a problem with his voice?

This film is enjoyable, a curiosity, a relic of a time that I don't even have the appreciation for. I'm intrigued to see what the director does next, and I'm glad I saw this film. However, I don't know if it is deserving of the mountains of accolades that seem to be coming its way. Nominations come out this week, and I expect them for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Score, but this can't really be the best film of the year, can it?