Monday, February 4, 2013

Finishing up the year - Part 2

Next is for Life of Pi, A Royal Affair, Seven Psychopaths, and This is Not a Film.

Life of Pi:
Often considered a book to be ultimately unfilmable, Ang Lee faced a struggle in adapting Life of Pi. Was he successful? Well, anyway, the movie follows young Pi Patel, the lone survivor of a ship sinking, trapped for a long time on a lifeboat with a Bengal Tiger as his companion. The film highlights some weighty and thought provoking issues of faith and religion, taking a bold road rarely seen in family films. It does sound like something that would work well in the script’s favor, but then I have to back up and remind myself that the narrative is uneven, diminishing the emotional impact that should be felt, and the narration and present day sequences overstay their welcome.

To be fair, for a movie that spends half the time on a boat with only a young boy and tiger on screen,  Life of Pi is still a decent movie to watch. No one can accuse Ang Lee of not knowing what he wanted this film to be, for his direction is the movie’s strongest point. Lee is the proper example of a director fully confidant and in control of his own vision, so I do respect the film more than I actually liked it. If nothing else, we can all marvel at the visual aspects, which are quite enchanting, if at times a wee bit too obvious.

*** / *****

A Royal Affair:
Denmark’s recent nominee for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film didn’t really have me too eager to see it. Before watching it, I would have mistakenly written it off as just another stuffy and self-important costume drama, but after seeing it, that would have been a disservice. Granted, it is a bit stuffy, and they could have picked up the pace, but this is still quite the elegant, competently filmed and produced period piece set within 18th century Denmark, in which the queen is involved in a love triangle with the king and a doctor, while the king is fighting for new laws of liberation in the country. For these roles, there are a group of such strong performances, none more hard hitting than that of breakout star Alicia Vikander, who is far and away the movie’s standout quality.

**** / *****

Seven Psychopaths:
In Bruges is a fantastic movie that doesn’t get nearly as much recognition as it should. When I heard that Martin McDonagh was going to be following that movie up with Seven Psychopaths, I knew I had to see it. A comedy that successfully mixes together several elements, it follows a struggling Hollywood writer and the acquaintances around him, two of which kidnap dogs and collect the reward money for a living, not knowing that their latest target is the prized Shih Tzu of a ruthless gangster.

In a lot of ways, Seven Psychopaths is both similar and yet completely different from that of In Bruges. The star is McDonagh’s script. The comedy here is pitch black, with grim, and violently over the top humor, much of which is pure gold. At the same time, there’s a surprising philosophical depth that is examined throughout. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a wacky film. When you get down to analyzing it, this is a deep, incredibly idealistic movie with serious smarts that just happens to be very funny, too. The way that the script makes self references to itself through a script written by Collin Farrell’s character is also clever, if taking a bit too much from Kaufman’s Adaptation. Unfortunately, it also draws attention to Seven Psychopaths’ most glaring flaw, its poor use of female characters amongst a mostly male cast.

These women, played by the talented likes of Abbie Cornish and Olga Kurylenko, are severely disappointing. Still, the male cast is quite entertaining. They are a bunch of attention grabbing characters that, in addition to Farrell, includes Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell. Special mention goes to Rockwell’s deceptive, hysterical, and unstable Billy Bickle.

**** / *****

This is Not a Film:
You may or may not know the recent struggles of Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi. In 2010, he was arrested for alleged propaganda against the Islamic Republic, set to serve a prison sentence for six years, and banned from contributing to any movie for 20 years. Strictly speaking, This is Not a Film isn’t legal. The film was shot entirely by him and friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb. Chronicling a day in the life of Panahi, the film is a strong, bold, witty commentary on oppression of creativity and freedom of speech. There’s not terribly much of a narrative, considering the simple presentation, but that doesn’t make the footage any less powerful in Panahi’s self-expression. It’s even bolder considering it was smuggled out of the country through a hidden flash drive. Simple, yet oh so entertaining.

**** / *****

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