Monday, February 24, 2014

Quick take on The Wind Rises and other late season catch-ups

It's getting down to the wire for me to see all of this year's nominated feature films. Not my fault! I swear! It's these damn late/limited releases making it nearly impossible for me to see everything in time. Thankfully, new technologies such as iTunes and Netflix and the like have granted me access to all the years nominated documentaries and some of the foreign films too. However, for some titles I've had to get real creative (and rely on my high school French), while for others I've simply had to wait for them to finally see the light of day. I finally had the opportunity to see what all the fuss is about The Wind Rises, and if I'm lucky, I'll be able to catch Omar the day before the Oscars.

For now, here are some capsule reviews from late-breaking docs and miscellaneous films that I simply haven't had the time to write about:

The Wind Rises
The life and times of Japanese aeronautical engineer Jiro Horishoki – who designed the deadly Zeros that Japan would use in WWII – is brought to life by the gifted hands of master animator Hayao Miyazaki, which may (or may not) be his final feature film. Beyond its linear biopic format, Miyazaki's [non]swansong is an artful ode to the winds of artistic inspiration and a poignant reminder that even products of impassioned creative genius can be warped for sinister purposes. Though conspicuously lacking in the fanciful whimsy and fantastical world-building on which Miyazaki has built his auteur status (although he still plies his visual imagination to Jiro's vivid dream sequences), this is perhaps his most mature work to date, eschewing the childlike worldview of his previous films and adopting a more adult writing style. However, that doesn't change the fact that what we're watching is still a straightforward biopic about a man who may be interesting as a research curiosity, but is pretty flat as a screen character. Unlike other Miyazaki films I've treasured over the years, this one actually had me checking my watch at various points throughout. The picture is a thing of beauty yes (and a feast for the ears as Joe Hisaishi's score is one of the year's best), but it hasn't the story to match.
*** out of ****

The Great Beauty
Paolo Sorrentino wishes this was as Fellini-esque as it's pretending to be. In actual fact, it's a mess; An overlong, impenetrable, abrasive exercise in empty style. It gets pity marks for style, but such empty style!
*1/2 out of ****

Dirty Wars
Hard-hitting investigative journalism at its most gripping, but also at its most impartial and manipulative. Jeremy Scahill's daring venture down the rabbit hole of the American government's Joint Special Operations Command and its impact on the seemingly endless war against terrorism is assembled with an agitated aesthetic that compliments not only the conspiratorial speculation at the heart of this documentary, but also the paranoia and emotional penalties that investigative journalists risk for their work. However, given how central Scahill is to his own story, the film can't help but come off as self-aggrandizing, and ultimately provides few answers or true insights, but just more confusion on an already confusing situation.
**1/2 out of ****

The Invisible Woman
Loathe as I am to take a simplistic stance on a mature piece of work, this movie is a snooze; One of those very measured, very deliberate, finely acted British costume dramas with which there is not much wrong in a dramaturgical sense, except for the fact that it's just plain dull.
** out of ****

The Missing Picture
Rithy Panh recounts a childhood in the forced labour camps of Cambodia's brutal communist dictatorship, the Khmer Rouge, by evoking his memories in the form of handcrafted clay figurines. The dioramas are impressive in and of themselves, but what's truly striking is how artfully they crystallize a child's recollections. By abstracting the human rights atrocities (of which most archival footage has been lost or destroyed) into this conceptual representation, Panh forces us to actively contemplate the suffering of the Cambodian people, rather than simply observe actual images of it.
*** out of ****

Omar
A taught thriller that doesn't skimp on the entertainment factor while delivering its sociopolitical commentary on the Isreali occupation of Palestine. Hany Abu-Assad's lean mis-en-scene is neatly offset by the gritty, naturalistic performances of his cast, with high marks for its intense leading star Adam Bakri (whose mad parkour skills impress as much as his acting).
*** out of ****

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