Category: 2 stars


“Ondine” – Bog lady

Dir. Neil Jordan
(2010, PG-13, 103 min)
★ ★

Watching Ondine reminded me a bit of Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo, which was also about a mystical creature from the sea, but perhaps because that film was animated it was easier to accept its flights of fancy. Filled with colorful, otherworldly imagery, it lent itself to an easy suspension of disbelief. Ondine, however, keeps one foot in fantasy and the other in the hardscrabble reality of an Irish seaside town, making neither world especially convincing. Eventually it comes off the fence and commits to one world in a jarring development that feels like an entirely different film taking over.

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Dir. Gaspar Noé
(2010, Not Rated, 161 min)
★ ★

Prolonged exposure to Enter the Void may cause seizures. It’s possible that director Gaspar Noé is actively trying to cause seizures. He drifts his camera into light sources like a moth to a flame, filling the entire frame with pulsating light. Many other scenes take place in nightclubs with flashing displays, and the film flies us over Tokyos both real and imagined, their neon kaleidoscope signs irradiating our senses like Las Vegas on ecstasy. The characters take ecstasy too. Often … Read the rest of my review at Culturazzi.org.

Dir. Neil Marshall
(2010, R, 97 min)
★ ★

The first thing you notice about Centurion is how violent it is. Really violent. Many action and adventure films include a fair amount of bloodletting, but this film makes such a special point of it, places such absurd visual emphasis on blood spurts, impaling, and dismemberment, that it plays like a parody of a Quentin Tarantino film, which are often parodies of themselves, and that’s at least one layer of parody too many. Some heads are not only chopped off, they’re chopped clean in half, and one soldier, screaming as he’s ambushed by the enemy, catches a spear in his mouth. There are magicians who catch bullets that way; he should have trained with one of them.

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Dir. Julian Jarrold, James Marsh, and Anand Tucker
(2010, Not Rated, 303 min)
★ ★

The Red Riding trilogy, consisting of three films spanning nine years of institutionalized corruption in Northern England, is like a David Fincher crime saga without the benefit of David Fincher. It’s as grim, chilly, and obsessive as Zodiac, but without the same creative discipline. Stylistically it’s overcooked, and its plot is a convoluted soup of absurd conspiracies and secrets; at one point, there’s a Cosa Nostra-style confab to announce the dastardly building of a shopping mall, and the conspirators raise their glasses for a toast: “To the North, where we do what we want!” In 2007, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg made Hot Fuzz, an inspired parody of police-movie clichés. Red Riding is what they were making fun of.

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Dir. John Cameron Mitchell
(2006, Not Rated, 97 min)
★ ★

Shortbus is like Rent with less AIDS and more complaining. Also less singing. It tracks the interconnected lives of young, modern New York City bohemians as they contend with emotional problems and complicated love lives — self-complicated it seems, more often than not. Written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), it’s famous for its depictions of graphic, penetrative sex, but while it might at first seem to be about liberation, it’s really about hangups, shifting quickly from campy romp to pretentious-depressive gloom. Mitchell seems to have something very important to say about love and sex, but it gets lost in a morass of existential angst.

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Dir. David O. Russell
(2010, R, 115 min)
★ ★

The underdog sports movie is a genre, along with the substance-abusing-artist movie, that Hollywood keeps making and award-givers keep voting for. The latest example is The Fighter, which is a workmanlike but not especially distinguished example of the formula. It hits the usual beats: down-on-his-luck boxer Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) struggles to pay the bills, is estranged from his ex-wife and daughter, meets the right girl, and starts to turn things around, and it all comes down to the Championship Fight.

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Dir. Tim Blake Nelson
(2010, R, 105 min)
★ ★

Leaves of Grass is a tremendously interesting film that is also tremendously frustrating. Written and directed by Tim Blake Nelson, who is better known for his work as a character actor, it takes a page from the Coen Brothers, whom Nelson thanks in the credits and for whom he co-starred in 2000’s O Brother, Where Art Thou? Aiming to be a kind of Okie Fargo, it explores themes of nihilism and chaos the Coens’ also considered in their films No Country for Old Men (which I loved) and A Serious Man (which I hated), and the result is just as inconsistent for Nelson as it has been for the Coens … Read the rest of my review at Culturazzi.org.

Dir. Doug Liman
(2010, PG-13, 108 min)
★ ★

What’s wrong with Fair Game can best be observed in its depictions of infamous Bush administration officials Scooter Libby and Karl Rove. Libby (David Andrews), whose entrance could as easily have been scored to the Star Wars Darth Vader music, storms into the halls of the CIA, where he demands that someone make the case that Saddam Hussein is acquiring weapons of mass destruction; no one investigating Iraq believes there’s credible evidence, except one zealous half-wit who soon is briefing the President on aluminum rods. Later, Libby and Rove (Adam LeFevre) conspire to ruin covert operative Valerie Plame and her husband Joe Wilson, and they’re so cartoonishly sinister that even a good liberal like me can’t take any satisfaction. All they’re missing are white cats to stroke and mustaches to twirl.

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Dir. Stephen Frears
(2010, R, 111 min)
★ ★

A lot happens during two hours of Tamara Drewe. At an idyllic writer’s retreat in the English countryside, a man has an affair, an American longs for a married woman, a working-class farmhand carries on with a bartender, a journalist dates a rock star, a man has another affair, and a couple of meddling teenage girls cause mischief. How does it all come together? It doesn’t — that’s the problem … Read the rest of my review at Culturazzi.org.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY
Dir. Oren Peli

(2009, R, 86 min)
★ ★ ★ ½

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2
Dir. Tod Williams

(2010, R, 91 min)
★ ★

In my experience, the greatest fear comes from anticipation. That’s why I’ve never responded very strongly to horror films, which are usually games of show-and-tell: A monster or knife-wielding maniac pops into the frame out of nowhere and gives you a quick jolt. I think such “Gotcha!” scenes are prevalent because filmmakers and producers know what I know: that as soon as you see the monster on the screen, it’s not scary anymore. It becomes tangible, life-sized, something you can run from or fight. And what Hollywood can whip up in its makeup, wardrobe, or special effects departments is rarely the stuff of true nightmares. Just artifice.

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