The Double Hour

Smart, soulful, taut, and tender, The Double Hour delves into a dreamlike domain at once eerie and familiar. The pace and spacing measures out suspense by the shot, and turns about through several twists and tapers of the tale’s telling. Filippo Timi plays Guido in a fashion of relaxed reàl found sometimes among actors of Europe who have escaped the polish factory of Hollywood — not to take anything from that esteemed and brilliant polish factory . . . [click to continue]

On Tron

Disney defies detractors in “Tron: Legacy,” the daring, visionary sequel to 1982′s seminal “Tron.”   “Legacy” serves up sleek, bleak vistas of a digital otherworld — on some next ish.  Tron is not for everyone.  Love it or leave nauseous.

The film has a sparse, metallic, laser-laden look to it that signifies a wholesale overhaul system update to its 1982 forebear.  Its plot seems to mirror much of the current state of computer science: we laymen are allowed in and along for the ride through a user-friendly interactive environment — though one whose full understanding may be reserved for the technically obsessed.  This is not to say that an incomplete comprehension of the plot mechanics takes away from the film’s experiential value.

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Black Swan

Director Darren Aronofsky masters Manhattan in his latest tour de force dream-fest.  The picture penetrates the psyche’s defenses in a pathos-piece on the fatality of perfectionism, and the perfection of fatality.  The camera-work, sound, script, and cast come together for jaggèd journey from neurosis through psychosis to an apotheosis magnificent.

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Never Let Me Go

Mark Romanek’s small, stately sci-fi flic starts off slowly, on unsure feet, then stands to deliver as that rare 21st-century alternate-universe picture that survives and thrives on the strength of its screenwriters, cast and crew rather than the processing-power of a CGI consortium.

The result is a film that flourishes as a plot-driven piece rather than an effects-laden extravanganza, a welcome antidote to the orgiastic graphics of musclebound movieland, so fraught with ever-greater computing capabilities that it often has little idea how best to use them. “Never Let Me Go” is a sci-fi film of finesse and measured pace, rather than a no-holds-barred fx-fest of sound and fury. Instead, it stakes itself on the strength of its concept and the grace of its execution.

The picture presents a plausible present-day in which human clones are bred and sequestered, prepratory-school style, in preparation for the farming of their organs as needed by the non-clone population. The story, based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s award-winning novel, traces our hero-clones through their time at Hailsham (Hell-Sham?), where their teachers train their minds for the certain sacrifices that lay ahead. The tale perceives the moral predicaments posed by the possibility of cloning and arranged organ donation without moralizing to us about whether it might be wrong, right, or somewhere in between.

A graceful film of life, death, and existential query, it relies on Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, and Andrew Garfield, among others, to play out a high-concept sci-fi tragic romance of subtle surreality.  Keira and Carey master characters of provocative polarity, young beings guessing at growing up in a world not their own.

This may be the movie’s metaphor: that kids today, empowered and entangled by so much technology, make only a gross approximation of how to behave as human beings on a planet that has more than enough of them.

The picture’s pace demands patience, causes pause, and kindles contemplation. “Never Let Me Go” is, by Hollywood’s outsized scale, a small picture — and one that looms much larger.

The Town

A parochial, backwards Boston provides the raw setting for this serious, gloves-off, no-holds-barred gangster picture.  Along with 2007’s Gone Baby Gone, The Town completes writer-director-star Ben Affleck’s cinematic couplet and opus-homage to his tough-love hometown.

Charlestown, the Boston suburb of the film’s title, figures more as a mindset of machine-gun machismo than as a distinct setting.  We learn of Charlestown’s hardscrabble heart through screen-crawl text and a pastiche of soundbites voiced-over some establishing shots.  The gist: this is a place where people come up hard, perps vs. police, and a culture of crime pervades so completely that felonious trades are taught from one generation to the next.  This is the Irish mob: stubborn, skilled, and die-hard.

Jeremy Renner stars opposite Affleck as James Coughlin, a cold-blooded two-striker who counterpoints the movie’s more conscientious hero.  Renner’s work here follows on his turns in S.W.A.T. and the much-acclaimed Hurt Locker.  Renner thrives as a no-nonsense tough guy dead-set on his objectives.  Look out, he’s locked in.  Blake Lively and Pete Postlethwaite — the Usual Suspects’ Kobayashi — turn in remarkable performances.

And Affleck proves his directorial mettle.  Whereas Gone Baby Gone dragged at times, The Town crackles and pops and the tension is taut.  The robbery scenes are chilling and similar in tone to Chistopher Nolan’s opening sequence in The Dark Knight.  The Town is no place for the timid.

The American

Anton Corbijn’s The American aims high, shoots to kill, and survives on a spare, austere screenplay paired with panoramic photography and careful, measured acting and directing.  “Less is more” seems to be the movie’s mantra and modus operandi.  The film’s patience allows its audience ample time for pause; the spaces between the words and action enable the viewer to interpose his soul into the celluloid.

This is a neat trick and near-necessity for a film of such formidable intention.  The title, after all, sets up the movie’s hero as an archetype allegorical, a catch-all stand-in for all us Americans, searching our souls in the aftermath of our recent collapse.  Clooney’s character exemplifies an America that is amoral and on the run,  cunning and curt-of-tongue with a loaded gun, in search of a simplicity and innocence  conceivable, though ultimately impossible under the overbearing weight of past misdeeds.  Clooney’s Jack seeks to outrun his karma.

The story, simple as it is, unfolds amidst  can’t-miss vistas  of a mysterious mountain-town in Abruzzo, Italy, where the streets wind into the hills as do a woman’s welcome words into the mind of man mired in the maze-world of murder-for-hire.

Ultimately, The American’s wants are simple, maybe even childlike.  After a lifetime of lies as a career cutthroat, Clooney’s lonesome Jack yearns for a woman and a picnic.

Nine: A Ten

Nine is beautiful, dizzying, and maddening with love and poetry.  The film washes over the frame as a self-referential opus operatic that wavers amid tragedy and truth.  The film is Cinema Italiano in American, a must-see, and to write about it is ridiculous.

The film can be watched in silence it’s so beautiful.

Director Rob Marshall colors the canvas with grey-scale fantasy-musical that delves into the dream-lives of the characters of the film.  He intersperses these mental milieux within the live action to convey the cognition of his counterpart, the protagonist prima donna, Master Director Sir Guido Contini.

Daniel Day Lewis only rarely remembers any self of his that exists outside of Maestro Contini, whom he plays near-perfect.  A dynamic jump from his chest-tight triumph as Upton Sinclair’s Daniel Plainview, the Maestro Contini is a mess of manic motion and nervous energy who finds himself so confined by the pressures of modern fame that he conjures from thin air his next major hit: a film that doesn’t exist.  He has the stature, the stars, the studio — and no script.  Unfazed, cocksure, and pandered to by everyone, he rides his fame in a deceptive dance like Wily E. Coyote running mid-air, suspended, before looking down at the vast void below.

Nine‘s Director, Rob Marshall, partners here with Dion Beebe, who returns to Marshall’s team after the pair’s Oscar win for Chicago. The cinematography carries forth Cinema, the Italian art form of pictures in motion.  The set-piece dream-life sequences look like moving paint.  The grey-scale distills the picture such that shadow emerges as a paint brush in itself.

Marion Cotillard, whose work in Public Enemy garnered buzz and acclaim, earns it here.  She is unrecognizable from fame as Contini’s betrayed wife.  Her acting is magnificent.  She loves her husband the genius, who, so gifted at artifice, has built of his life a prison, professionally and personally, though he draws hardly a distinction.  During the denouement of Contini’s deception, Luisa, played by Ms. Cotillard, unravels emotionally.  Contini’s mistress, played by Penelope Cruz in a role for the burlesque stage, tempts, teases, and touches off Contini’s ultimate unraveling and retreat from a success that has outgrown its originator.

The movie moves with the rhythms of real life.  Its cinema stands out as a formal complaint against the fame-trap, an ode to the ups-and-downs of artistry, and an operatic opus, opulent and grand.


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