Films viewed in 2011

Posts Tagged ‘historical’

451. The City of Shadows

In Canadian on January 25, 2012 at 4:24 PM

Dir. Kim Nguyen

A doctor broken by 8 years of war in North Africa tries to save a city from the plague and from madness.

MY TAKE

A nimble runtime and beautiful backdrops will hopefully help Kim Nguyen’s The City of Shadows see the light of day. This Canadian feature, set in the foreign sands of North Africa, is a period piece that explores the medical, cultural and ethical effects of colonialism. The deep-rooted problems sometimes feel overly abbreviated at the expense of exploring complex character relationships, but the streamlined story at least manages to hold a singular focus. Aside from Jean-Marc Barr, we aren’t given much more than token charactures of evil soldiers and noble locals, but there are enough dramatic plot points to push us to a satisfying conclusion.

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450. Les ordres

In Canadian on January 25, 2012 at 9:55 AM

Dir. Michel Brault

A fact-based account of ordinary citizens who found themselves arrested and imprisoned without charge during the October Crisis in 1970 Quebec.

MY TAKE

When I asked my Quebec Cinema professor in university his favourite films from la belle province, he said “Number one, Les ordres. Number two, Les ordres.” I finally know why. Although extremely hard to find, I got a DVD copy of Les ordres through a set called Michel Brault: Ouevres 1958-1974, packaged along side the pioneering director’s (and cinematographer’s) short films, documentaries and other rare features. The unique style of each actor introducing themselves to the camera is just one way this important account of the October Crisis brings fresh perspective and poignancy to the complicated national event. Rich black and white cinematography, smooth and steady camera work, and a sympathetic eye recreate a film that should use the tagline “just watch me.”

448. J Edgar

In Crime on January 25, 2012 at 9:03 AM

Dir. Clint Eastwood

A look behind close doors at J. Edgar Hoover – a man who was at once feared, admired, reviled and reveredthe as face of law enforcement in America.

MY TAKE

The same problem that is the central plot of Clint Eastwood’s biopic J Edgar is also the film’s biggest issue – namely, how do you sum up the legacy of a storied 50-year career? Without any convenient myth-making anecdote to tie a bow on his legend, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black tries to turn the question into the answer. The tangential implications of homosexuality and cross-dressing, however, feel downplayed and unsubstantial. At least when it comes to aging, Leonard DiCaprio does an admirable transformation, but Armie Hammer’s make-up feels completely false.

 

444. Bonnie and Clyde

In Crime on January 20, 2012 at 10:25 AM

Dir. Arthur Penn

A somewhat romanticized account of the career of the notoriously violent bank robbing couple and their gang.

MY TAKE

The movie that shook Hollywood out of its self-imposed censorship slumber still holds up today as an exciting and entertaining biography. Remembered primarily for it’s ruthlessly bloody final scene, Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde is anything but an exploitation film and earns the emotion that it violently arouses by sending the two fated lovers to their infamous end. Faye Dunaway has looks that could kill in every frame, while Warren Beatty brings an almost “ah-schucks” approach the action that feels appropriately naïve and insecure. Both do a bang-up job that somehow gets away clean at being pretty wicked people.

436. La vie en rose

In Foreign Language on January 9, 2012 at 4:23 PM

Dir. Olivier Duhan

The life story of legendary French singer Edith Piaf.

MY TAKE

Even as a French speaker, I probably would have been among those “ignorant Americans” who at first, didn’t “get” Edith Piaf. Olivier Dahan’s beautiful biography La vie en rose does a fantastic job of introducing this cultural icon to the uninformed and setting up her compelling appeal to the masses.  Marion Cotillard sings for her supper and earns every scene she appears, fleshing out the complexity of a disturbed diva who accomplished great things. There is also a stylized single for a climax that might be the most emotionally rewarding long take I’ve ever seen.

 

426. Good

In Drama on January 4, 2012 at 1:16 PM

Dir. Vicente Amorim

A literature professor is pulled in different directions to advance his career and eventually his life in Nazi Germany.

MY TAKE

Vincente Amorim’s film adaptation of Good posits that the pride of nationalism and the possibility of a great blow-job while in a Nazi uniform were enough to sweep “good” men into an evil regime. One of these theories is more believable than the other. Regardless, there’s an obvious appeal to exploring what fueled the Führer’s followers beyond pure anti-Semitism. Viggo Mortensen once again makes for a captivating character study and believably melts away his heroic aura in favour of a brainy, if not overwhelmed, academic. Watching his work be praised and then co-opted into distorted euthanasia theories gives the story a compelling moral compass, which only dips south a couple of times.

424. The Conspirator

In Crime on January 4, 2012 at 11:42 AM

Dir. Robert Redford

A woman must rely on her reluctant lawyer to acquit her as a co-conspirator in the assassination trial of Abraham Lincoln.

MY TAKE

A formidable cast anchor Robert Redford’s lovingly crafted period picture about the assassination trial of President Abraham Lincoln. The vengeful tactic of even prosecuting a mother of the accused is portrayed as cruel and harsh, but one can’t help but think the same approach would still be possible today, somewhere on Guantanamo Bay. The story then becomes both historically important and still culturally relevant. Like most courtroom dramas, the bulk of the on-screen action is front-loaded, while the resolution unfolds within the confined spaces.  The ending, however, breaks open with some expansive shots and a memorable conclusion.

 

406. The Debt

In Thriller on November 30, 2011 at 10:07 AM

Dir. John Madden

Shocking news reaches three retired Mossad secret agents about a famous mission they carried out in 1966.

MY TAKE

It’s a crisis of conscious, rather than economics, that propels John Madden’s The Debt. Remade from a 2007 Israeli film, this well-oiled generation jumping thriller flips itself upside down halfway through to re-energize the tale of extra secretive Mossad agents. Hollywood’s newest fast-tracked stars Sam Worthington and Jessica Chastain are finally more than pretty and passable, with convincing performances in foreign languages and accents. Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson don’t see as much on screen action as their younger counterparts, but Mirren especially has the right steely determination to pull off her final (and improbable) mission. A little more ambiguity, like we see in Munich, might have benefited an overly Hollywood feeling ending.

399. Protektor

In Foreign Language on November 25, 2011 at 3:33 PM

Dir. Marek Najbrt

A Czech journalist joins a Prague radio station that broadcasts Nazi propaganda in order to protect his Jewish wife.

MY TAKE

There are no shortage of World War II stories to tell, but director Marek Najbrt does a great job dealing with the passive resistance and subversion of Eastern Europe. Before concentration camps, the confinement and condemnation of the Jewish population is nicely personified through Jana Plodkovà’s story, and her acts of defiance modeling in front of “No Jews Allowed” signs endear us to her struggle and strength. There’s much more ambiguity around her Nazi Party mouth-piece husband, Marek Daniel, which builds solid tension throughout. The artistic ending, largely void of dialogue or overwrought conclusions, provides emotional resolution without letting bad decisions go unpunished.

392. Meek’s Cutoff

In Western on November 18, 2011 at 5:35 PM

Dir. Kelly Reichardt

Settlers traveling through the Oregon desert in 1845 find themselves stranded in harsh conditions.

MY TAKE

If you’re straining to hear what’s being said in Meek’s Cutoff, you’re not alone. Kelly Reichardt’s minimalist filmmaking style (or neo-neo realism, as it’s tritely been called) is meant to put some distance between the audience and characters, so we can observe what’s happening without being spoon-fed plot points or relationships. In that sense, the dialogue-free first 15 minutes are among the film’s best. The main frustrations arise around the campfire scenes, when it’s hard to see or hear anything, especially Bruce Greenwood’s husky drawl. But he, along with Michelle Williams and Shirley Henderson, are all nonetheless compelling as a band of desperate emigrants. The eventual capture of an Aboriginal warrior is also a nice dramatic addition that gives the film a real sense of danger and purpose.