Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Troubled Water (2008)*****


Story wise, this impressive Norwegian import has more layers than a box of smoked salmon and before we are through, director Erik Poppe will have methodically revealed all of them. Troubled Water is at heart a psychological thriller, and is characterized by superb casting, exceptional acting and a brave willingness to confront murky and difficult issues without resorting to easy answers.


Convicted of the abduction of a child, Jan (Pal Sverre Valheim Hagen, in a stunning performance) is granted early parole to take a job as a church organist, in the same small town where he was tried and sentenced years earlier. Jan flourishes in his new environment for awhile but, despite changes in appearance and taking on a different name, eventually the shocking details of his past slowly encircle him, and his attempts to rebuild his life are mortally threatened.


Troubled Water then unfolds with the telling of two stories, or rather two perceptions of the same story, as we become intimately acquainted with the mother of the dead child (Trine Dyrholm, whose work here is breathtaking) and the deep mental trauma inflicted on her by the tragedy. Along the way there is significant collateral damage; in particular Dyrholm’s husband (Trond Espen Seim), whose desperation to spare his wife further pain is both palpable and self-defeating and Anna (Ellen Dorritt Peterson), the beautiful church pastor who will have her rote platitudes about Christian redemption severely tested.


The film tilts slightly toward melodrama in the final scenes, but that is due more to the subject matter than any conscious decision by director Poppe, and he quickly rights the ship. Important questions are raised about the differences between forgiveness and acceptance, and how in some cases the former may be beyond the capacity of human beings, regardless of the depth of one’s religious convictions.


Troubled Water is a small-scale film made with great skill and meticulous attention to detail. Poppe, Dryholm, Hagen and Seim all acquit themselves very well here, and this absorbing drama may well represent a major turning point in their respective careers.

IMDB

Queue

Troubled Water (2008)*****


Story wise, this impressive Norwegian import has more layers than a box of smoked salmon and before we are through, director Erik Poppe will have methodically revealed all of them. Troubled Water is at heart a psychological thriller, and is characterized by superb casting, exceptional acting and a brave willingness to confront murky and difficult issues without resorting to easy answers.


Convicted of the abduction of a child, Jan (Pal Sverre Valheim Hagen, in a stunning performance) is granted early parole to take a job as a church organist, in the same small town where he was tried and sentenced years earlier. Jan flourishes in his new environment for awhile but, despite changes in appearance and taking on a different name, eventually the shocking details of his past slowly encircle him, and his attempts to rebuild his life are mortally threatened.


Troubled Water then unfolds with the telling of two stories, or rather two perceptions of the same story, as we become intimately acquainted with the mother of the dead child (Trine Dyrholm, whose work here is breathtaking) and the deep mental trauma inflicted on her by the tragedy. Along the way there is significant collateral damage; in particular Dyrholm’s husband (Trond Espen Seim), whose desperation to spare his wife further pain is both palpable and self-defeating and Anna (Ellen Dorritt Peterson), the beautiful church pastor who will have her rote platitudes about Christian redemption severely tested.


The film tilts slightly toward melodrama in the final scenes, but that is due more to the subject matter than any conscious decision by director Poppe, and he quickly rights the ship. Important questions are raised about the differences between forgiveness and acceptance, and how in some cases the former may be beyond the capacity of human beings, regardless of the depth of one’s religious convictions.


Troubled Water is a small-scale film made with great skill and meticulous attention to detail. Poppe, Dryholm, Hagen and Seim all acquit themselves very well here, and this absorbing drama may well represent a major turning point in their respective careers.

IMDB

Queue

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Goodbye Dragon Inn (2003)***


Tsai Ming-liang’s somnambulistic ghost story takes place in a seedy, crumbling Taipei movie palace, complete with a leaky roof and an abundance of feral cats. On the enormous screen is Dragon Inn, a popular martial arts action film from the 1960s. The theatre is virtually empty, save for a handful of restless patrons who to tend to aimlessly mill about during the show for no particular reason.


The theatre is run by a disabled woman, whose painful trips up and down the building’s serpentine staircases account for the only real action in the film. This is a difficult film to watch, an even harder one to understand, and there are times when you will be tempted to eject the disc and hurl it Frisbee style across the room. And this reviewer would not blame you in the slightest. But those who elect to tough it out will have their patience, if not exactly rewarded, at least vindicated.


There are some beautifully composed shots here that are gorgeous to look at; good thing too, because Tsai sits on all of them way too long. Sometimes to the point of pain. There are allusions to other films as well, particularly the strange relationship between the theatre manager and the projectionist which has Wizard of Oz overtones, and Tsai’s obtuse way of pointing out all the magical elements audiences derive from cinema - sex, intrigue, fantasy worlds – and how only the cinema can deliver them.


There are no doubt other references here as well, but gleaning those may be dependent on one’s knowledge of Asian cinema history, specifically Taiwanese cinema, and not only the movies themselves but the social act of seeing them in large, crowded hippodromes.


Perhaps Goodbye Dragon Inn is best described as Cinema Paradisio on a lethal dose of Demerol, and while this challenging film has some rewarding moments, it will cause most viewers to reach for their own medications.

Details
Queue It (I dare ya)

Goodbye Dragon Inn (2003)***


Tsai Ming-liang’s somnambulistic ghost story takes place in a seedy, crumbling Taipei movie palace, complete with a leaky roof and an abundance of feral cats. On the enormous screen is Dragon Inn, a popular martial arts action film from the 1960s. The theatre is virtually empty, save for a handful of restless patrons who to tend to aimlessly mill about during the show for no particular reason.


The theatre is run by a disabled woman, whose painful trips up and down the building’s serpentine staircases account for the only real action in the film. This is a difficult film to watch, an even harder one to understand, and there are times when you will be tempted to eject the disc and hurl it Frisbee style across the room. And this reviewer would not blame you in the slightest. But those who elect to tough it out will have their patience, if not exactly rewarded, at least vindicated.


There are some beautifully composed shots here that are gorgeous to look at; good thing too, because Tsai sits on all of them way too long. Sometimes to the point of pain. There are allusions to other films as well, particularly the strange relationship between the theatre manager and the projectionist which has Wizard of Oz overtones, and Tsai’s obtuse way of pointing out all the magical elements audiences derive from cinema - sex, intrigue, fantasy worlds – and how only the cinema can deliver them.


There are no doubt other references here as well, but gleaning those may be dependent on one’s knowledge of Asian cinema history, specifically Taiwanese cinema, and not only the movies themselves but the social act of seeing them in large, crowded hippodromes.


Perhaps Goodbye Dragon Inn is best described as Cinema Paradisio on a lethal dose of Demerol, and while this challenging film has some rewarding moments, it will cause most viewers to reach for their own medications.

Details
Queue It (I dare ya)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Rohmer in Retrospect: A Summer's Tale (1996)*****

Director, writer and critic Eric Rohmer passed away on January 11, 2010, at the age of 89. In this series, we will be examining some of his lesser known films.


Eric Rohmer closed out the 20th Century on a high note, creating two of his best films back-to-back. Autumn Tale, produced in 1998, was a frank and poignant look at the cold realties of searching for love at middle-age, and A Summer’s Tale from 1996, which marked the last time Rohmer would ever deal with his signature subject: modern youth overcome by ennui.


Young Gaspard (Melvil Poupard) disembarks at the town of Dinard on the Britannic coast, for a few weeks of fun in the sun before he begins a new engineering job. Gaspard has tentative plans to link up with Lena (Aurelia Nolan), his nominal girlfriend; a high maintenance beauty summering in Spain. Rohmer dispenses the exposition with an elegant economy, and in a few short, virtually wordless scenes, presents Gaspard slowly adjusting to the relaxing pace of life at the shore.


At breakfast one morning, Gaspard gains the attentions of a brainy waitress named Margot (Amanda Langlet), who also happens to have a PhD in Ethnology. It is a credit to both Rohmer and Langlet that this character layer doesn’t play nearly as far-fetched as it sounds.


Margot also has a lover who’s far away, and she and Gaspard strike up a low-key friendship, consisting mainly of long oceanside walks during which the pair expound on their favorite topics: life, love and themselves. Langlet is a bit of a tease here, as she pushes the friendship to its platonic limits. Rohmer is guilty of teasing as well, as he makes us want Gaspard and Margot to forget their absent lovers and double-down on their instincts.


But there are many fetching young gals roaming the beaches of Dinard, and soon Gaspard finds his head turned by a leggy brunette named Solene (Gwenaelle Simon) whose claims of high moral fiber are belied by her seductive actions. One lazy afternoon - in Rohmer films, all afternoons are lazy - she performs a song Gaspard has written and before long, he imagines them making all sorts of joyful noises together.


However, Gaspard’s dreams of whoopee are short-lived, for there is another shoe to drop, or in this case another beach sandal, and soon Gaspard is juggling women the way a circus performer juggles chainsaws…and with the same high degree of peril.


A Summer’s Tale may well be Rohmer’s best-paced film. It moves with an engaging and spirited jauntiness and never gets bogged down with the incessant yakking that marred many of his films of the 70s and 80s. He didn’t really do anything different here; the film has the same loose-leaf scrapbook feeling of his earlier work, the same long take vignettes, the same lack of editorial time-compression. Yet the film is so well conceived that it organically and hypnotically flows, like the relentless ocean waves that serve as the backdrop to the film’s most important scenes.


The film ends with Langlet standing on a dock, waving goodbye to a departing ship. Once again she’s channeling the director, for he was waving goodbye to a genre; a genre he arguably created. Eric Rohmer would live another 14 years, and during that time he would make 4 more films - not bad for a man in his 80s - but he would never again revisit the romantic foibles of the young, privileged and bored. Eric Rohmer, having perfected The Eric Rohmer Film, proudly turned and walked away.




More on "A Summer's Tale"

Queue

Rohmer in Retrospect: A Summer's Tale (1996)*****

Director, writer and critic Eric Rohmer passed away on January 11, 2010, at the age of 89. In this series, we will be examining some of his lesser known films.


Eric Rohmer closed out the 20th Century on a high note, creating two of his best films back-to-back. Autumn Tale, produced in 1998, was a frank and poignant look at the cold realties of searching for love at middle-age, and A Summer’s Tale from 1996, which marked the last time Rohmer would ever deal with his signature subject: modern youth overcome by ennui.


Young Gaspard (Melvil Poupard) disembarks at the town of Dinard on the Britannic coast, for a few weeks of fun in the sun before he begins a new engineering job. Gaspard has tentative plans to link up with Lena (Aurelia Nolan), his nominal girlfriend; a high maintenance beauty summering in Spain. Rohmer dispenses the exposition with an elegant economy, and in a few short, virtually wordless scenes, presents Gaspard slowly adjusting to the relaxing pace of life at the shore.


At breakfast one morning, Gaspard gains the attentions of a brainy waitress named Margot (Amanda Langlet), who also happens to have a PhD in Ethnology. It is a credit to both Rohmer and Langlet that this character layer doesn’t play nearly as far-fetched as it sounds.


Margot also has a lover who’s far away, and she and Gaspard strike up a low-key friendship, consisting mainly of long oceanside walks during which the pair expound on their favorite topics: life, love and themselves. Langlet is a bit of a tease here, as she pushes the friendship to its platonic limits. Rohmer is guilty of teasing as well, as he makes us want Gaspard and Margot to forget their absent lovers and double-down on their instincts.


But there are many fetching young gals roaming the beaches of Dinard, and soon Gaspard finds his head turned by a leggy brunette named Solene (Gwenaelle Simon) whose claims of high moral fiber are belied by her seductive actions. One lazy afternoon - in Rohmer films, all afternoons are lazy - she performs a song Gaspard has written and before long, he imagines them making all sorts of joyful noises together.


However, Gaspard’s dreams of whoopee are short-lived, for there is another shoe to drop, or in this case another beach sandal, and soon Gaspard is juggling women the way a circus performer juggles chainsaws…and with the same high degree of peril.


A Summer’s Tale may well be Rohmer’s best-paced film. It moves with an engaging and spirited jauntiness and never gets bogged down with the incessant yakking that marred many of his films of the 70s and 80s. He didn’t really do anything different here; the film has the same loose-leaf scrapbook feeling of his earlier work, the same long take vignettes, the same lack of editorial time-compression. Yet the film is so well conceived that it organically and hypnotically flows, like the relentless ocean waves that serve as the backdrop to the film’s most important scenes.


The film ends with Langlet standing on a dock, waving goodbye to a departing ship. Once again she’s channeling the director, for he was waving goodbye to a genre; a genre he arguably created. Eric Rohmer would live another 14 years, and during that time he would make 4 more films - not bad for a man in his 80s - but he would never again revisit the romantic foibles of the young, privileged and bored. Eric Rohmer, having perfected The Eric Rohmer Film, proudly turned and walked away.




More on "A Summer's Tale"

Queue

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Quickies #3

Prime Suspect 7: The Final Act (2006)*****


Typical Prime Suspect entry. In other words, fantastic. This one has an edge of sadness as Tennyson (Helen Mirren) reluctantly faces retirement, mortality and some most unpleasant facts about herself. Tough, gritty, exciting; the mystery will have you guessing right up to the end. A most fitting finale to this excellent series.

IMDB
Queue



As It Is in Heaven (2005)****


Charming Swedish romantic semi-comedy, a sort of Northern Exposure meets The Chorus. Big cheese orchestra conductor (Michael Nyqvist) returns to his one-horse home town to rest, but instead gets involved with the local church choir, and the lives of its singers. The ending is a bit over-the-top, but otherwise good acting and writing all around. I hope we see more of Frida Hallgren in the future.

IMDB
Queue



Happy, Texas (1999)**


Lord knows, the idea of a small Texas town fawning over a gay couple who can bring them beauty pageant glory is not only funny, but also highly believable. Yet this idea is squandered on poor execution. Happy, Texas is neither funny nor interesting, but it does manage to somehow bore and insult at the same time.

IMDB
Queue



Diana Krall: Live in Paris (2001)*****


Vancouver Island’s favorite daughter brings her silky smooth show to the French capital, complete with an all-star jazz combo and string section. Krall is renowned mainly for her sultry vocal stylings, but here she displays some righteous jazz piano chops as well. In all, an evening of romantic melodies and amazingly tasteful musicianship. It’s been said that Krall’s music all sounds the same. Yes and all diamonds sparkle.

IMDB
Queue

Quickies #3

Prime Suspect 7: The Final Act (2006)*****


Typical Prime Suspect entry. In other words, fantastic. This one has an edge of sadness as Tennyson (Helen Mirren) reluctantly faces retirement, mortality and some most unpleasant facts about herself. Tough, gritty, exciting; the mystery will have you guessing right up to the end. A most fitting finale to this excellent series.

IMDB
Queue



As It Is in Heaven (2005)****


Charming Swedish romantic semi-comedy, a sort of Northern Exposure meets The Chorus. Big cheese orchestra conductor (Michael Nyqvist) returns to his one-horse home town to rest, but instead gets involved with the local church choir, and the lives of its singers. The ending is a bit over-the-top, but otherwise good acting and writing all around. I hope we see more of Frida Hallgren in the future.

IMDB
Queue



Happy, Texas (1999)**


Lord knows, the idea of a small Texas town fawning over a gay couple who can bring them beauty pageant glory is not only funny, but also highly believable. Yet this idea is squandered on poor execution. Happy, Texas is neither funny nor interesting, but it does manage to somehow bore and insult at the same time.

IMDB
Queue



Diana Krall: Live in Paris (2001)*****


Vancouver Island’s favorite daughter brings her silky smooth show to the French capital, complete with an all-star jazz combo and string section. Krall is renowned mainly for her sultry vocal stylings, but here she displays some righteous jazz piano chops as well. In all, an evening of romantic melodies and amazingly tasteful musicianship. It’s been said that Krall’s music all sounds the same. Yes and all diamonds sparkle.

IMDB
Queue

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005) ****


An aging pensioner facing a potentially serious illness and the exhausted, overworked medical staff who care for him are the central elements of this comedy – yes, comedy – from Romanian director Cristi Puiu. 63 year-old Mr. Lazarescu (Ion Fiscuteanu) is having a rough Saturday night.


Addled by a headache and occasional vomiting, he also has to endure a rather nasty telephone argument with his sister over finances, as well as the care and feeding of the many lazy, mewling cats strewn about his tiny, ill-kept Bucharest flat. With the help of his hilariously self-absorbed neighbor (Doru Ana), Lazarescu is loaded into an ambulance manned by a kind-hearted paramedic (Lumintina Gheorgiu) and her not-all-there driver (Doru Boguta), for what we think is going to be a fairly straight-forward trip to the ER.


But a horrible bus crash has pushed every hospital in town to capacity, and Lazarescu’s quest for care begins to resemble a dingy version Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey”. Along the way, we meet an assortment of the world’s drollest doctors, all of whom dispense prescriptions and sarcasm in equal measure. The film features some amazing comic acting, particularly by the various medical professionals who attempt to diagnose Lazarescu, yet the performances all take place within the grittily realistic world created by director Puiu.


We sense the pressured and exhausting lives of these doctors and nurses, who manage to do their jobs professionally despite competing agendas and egos; their sanity maintained only by their brusque, and at times grim, humor. Like most 2 ½ films, this one drags a bit toward the end, and could have used a little editorial pruning. But “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” also contains surprises and comic joys aplenty. It manages to frankly and realistically portray the perils and pratfalls of modern medicine without negativity or condemnation.



IMDB

Queue It

10 Years of The Savages

The Savages struck a vibrant chord with me when it was first released 10 years ago. It’s all about a pair of 40-ish siblings...