Monday, July 13, 2009

Rent This on DVD: Waltz with Bashir

I haven't been to see many movies in theatres lately, but I was delighted to note that Blockbuster is offering a deal this summer where you can get one movie at a time for $10.99 a week, as many times as you can exchange it. My family has done it several times now, and it's been very worth it. That said, I'm probably more likely to be seeing movies on DVD than in theatres this summer, and my focus until the fall is my TV blog and my contributions to TVTango. In the meantime, here's one movie you may have missed in theatres. This is a re-posting of my review from last December, but I can't recommend this movie highly enough. It's in Hebrew with subtitles, and it's the most incredible movie I've seen in a while.

Waltz with Bashir
Directed by Ari Folman
Released December 25, 2008

Last year’s “Persepolis” took the world by storm with its innovative animation and intriguing focus. This year, there’s another foreign animated offering that may draw comparisons. It’s equally interesting in concept and even more fascinating in its execution. “Waltz with Bashir” is Israeli director Ari Folman’s exploration of his repressed memories of the Lebanon War in the 1980s. While it’s a documentary, it hardly feels like one due to its subtle editing and remarkable animation. It’s an unparalleled, incredible visual experience from start to finish, with dazzling colors and backgrounds. Folman is investigating his past, but he’s telling it in a narrative fashion that incorporates moving flashbacks and vivid dream sequences. The choice to make the film as an animated documentary is a fantastic one, as it highlights each of Folman’s memories and is able to illuminate them in detail without trivializing them at all. Though animation might sometimes distract from reality, in this case it draws the viewer in even more with a fully intoxicating experience. The fact that Folman’s recollections and conclusions become overtly political may be problematic for some, but it is an important message that he’s putting forth. Regardless of political feelings, the movie’s form makes it more than worthwhile. The movie’s score is alternately energetic and haunting, and Max Richter deserves enormous commendation for truly enhancing the animation experience. While many will be boasting about how a trash-compacting robot inspired them, “Waltz with Bashir” is really the best animated film of the year. For the moment, it’s only being released in New York City and Los Angeles, but if this movie ever comes to your city, see it right away. Not only is it the best animated film of the year, but it’s probably the best film of the year as well.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Home Video: Taken

Directed by Pierre Morel
Released January 30, 2009

An ex-spy tries to protect his seventeen-year-old daughter from going abroad by herself, and lo and behold, she gets kidnapped by slave traders within an hour of landing in Paris. He vows revenge on her abductors, and gets on the first plane he can to get her back. It’s a clean premise which could easily have resulted in a film with little or no substance. Instead, it’s powered by the incredible abilities of Liam Neeson, who makes a very likeable hero who just wants to bond with his daughter, who’s spending more time with her mother and stepfather, and is ready to head overseas and rescue his daughter without a moment’s hesitation. Neeson has a very well-rounded persona, avoiding any jumps to blind vengeance and stupid moves and instead proving himself incredibly clever at every turn. The moment he finds out his daughter is in distress, he pulls out a homemade recording kit to ensure that he can recall every detail and do his best to find her speedily. Neeson also shows off awe-inspiring moves like slapping a villain in the face and jumping through a glass window to take someone down. The story leading up to all the action is decent as well, and includes a fierce performance by Famke Janssen as Neeson’s haughty ex-wife and a welcome (if far too brief) return to the screen by Xander Berkeley (George Mason from “24”) as her rich second husband. The film doesn’t try to pretend it’s anything more than an action thriller, and it fits the genre bill perfectly. It’s unceasingly entertaining and succeeds in delivering suspense and intensity. The most surprising thing about it is its PG-13 rating: most films like this spew blood from every villain and include graphic torture sequences. This is a great example of how a film can still be a whole lot of fun without the need for much of that.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Film Review: Moon

Directed by Duncan Jones
Released June 12, 2009

Previews made “Moon” look like classic sci-fi films like “Alien” and recent releases like “Sunshine,” where a crew in deep space in the future encounters unexpected phenomena as they travel further and further away from civilization. The hook with “Moon” is that astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is out there on his own, mining the moon for resources that help provide the Earth with unlimited power. He’s accompanied by computer Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey), who provides him with assistance, guidance, companionship, and even smiley faces via a small television screen. Bell’s three-year solo mission is almost up, and just as he’s ready to go home, he begins questioning exactly what’s going on up on the moon. The mystery is quickly solved, and while it presents an intriguing moral thesis, it should be more complex. It’s not that science fiction should be difficult to comprehend, it’s just that the story doesn’t have much to do it. It’s regrettably simplistic, and so much more could have been explored beyond simply posing a question about how one man can and should operate while disconnected from civilization. Rockwell is an able actor whose initial bickering nature is obnoxious, but over the course of the film becomes sympathetic. Spacey has an incredible voice perfectly matched to that of the ship’s computer, and it would have been nice to have seen him do more. The musical cues front master composer Clint Mansell help to propel the film along as its main driving force. “Moon” is an interesting diving-off point, but there’s nothing much to analyze in terms of actual occurrences in the film. It suffers from a severe case of not needing to go anywhere quickly – because after all, in space, what’s the rush?


Friday, July 3, 2009

Film Review: The Taking of Pelham 123

The Taking of Pelham 123
Directed by Tony Scott
Released June 12, 2009

Sometimes it’s clear from a film’s opening credits that a movie’s got style. Regardless of the story or plot, the movie has a certain distinctive way of carrying itself and presenting its characters that will define it. The credits roll out over shots of the subway flying furiously underground and suspicious-looking hijackers preparing for their day. The movie operates like the MTA trains do, on a schedule with routine checks and periodic delays. Recently demoted MTA officer Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) notices that a 6 train has stopped moving on its track, and begins trying to contact it. When it’s clear that things have gone awry and hijackers are holding the train passengers hostage, Garber moves on to the next logical step and opens a dialogue with the lead hijacker, Ryder (John Travolta). The movie is fairly formulaic in that sense, adhering to a strict script of hostage thrillers where the primary villain gets attached to someone who’s not the hostage negotiator. It’s fairly obvious how the film will turn out, and it doesn’t have any surprises hiding around any corners. It’s sleek in its execution, occasionally freezing the frame to provide a time-stamp update. Protagonist Garber isn’t quite a saint, but Washington makes him likeable enough. Washington plays a good nice guy, and it’s easy to root for him as the hero. Travolta does crazy well, and his wacky facial hair perfectly embodies his hot-tempered character. Hearing the two of them square off is fun, and that’s about all there is to this mediocre film. It’s attention-grabbing and engrossing, but after all is said and done, not much has actually happened and the film hasn’t really gone anywhere.