I do not write reviews for the majority of films I watch. My reasons are somewhat nebulous considering it’s the summer and I certainly have time. I see my blog more as a way to re-examine and bring to the forefront sci-fi books and films generally more esoteric and infrequently reviewed. But certain winds shift direction for brief windows of time. So here we go, a rundown of the more popular films I’ve seen in theater or re-watched recently.
The Tree of Life (2011), dir. Terrence Malick, rating 7.75/10 (Good)
Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (2011) juxtaposes extensive sequences of cosmic expanses, creation (the big bang?), and evolution with a “narrative” that takes place in a small Texas town. (Large portions of the movie was filmed in Austin and various other towns in Texas).
The narrative is a family drama about a domineering father (Brad Pitt) who intersperses affection with drastic attempts to form his son into the man he never was, the relationship between his three sons, and their mother who tries to shield them from the outside world (there’s a beautiful sequence where she places her hands over over the eyes of one of her songs preventing him from seeing a man having a seizure in the yard) yet allows her husband to impose his will.
This is my favorite Malick film I’ve seen so far. Brad Pitt is a remarkable actor. However, a second story line with Sean Penn as the eldest son looking back at his childhood felt tertiary at best. Likewise, long afterlife sequences and occasionally ham-fisted voiceovers belabor a fine effort. The Tree of Life is a stunningly beautiful, well-acted film with an unconventional delivery (space, friendly dinosaurs, nebulae) which will frustrated many viewers. Be prepared!
Super 8 (2011), dir. J. J. Abrams, rating 6/10 (Average)
I don’t get the hype. Ok, I ran away screaming after the first few minutes of Spielberg’s E.T. when I was a child (why would anyone want to lure that poor alien!!) and never saw The Goonies so that might explain the lack of any nostalgic value for Spielberg (film/story) homages. That said, Super 8 is also a film about children making monster films — these sequences are without question the most compelling and emotionally engaging. The children actors (especially Elle Fanning) are superb — the relationship between the intense Charles (Riley Griffifths) and the more distant/conflicted Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is believable and relatable.
However, Super 8 quickly devolves into a rather silly monster movie. Remember people, we felt for E.T., Super 8 attempts to make us feel sorry for the alien tortured by humans but… fell… I wanted this alien to die. The alien looks like a gooey spider (terrible CGI) — is it supposed to be scary? Argh — and the ending almost ruins the entire experience. J. J. Abrams desperately attempts to evoke emotion which comes off as an empty posture. As a film about making movies and genuine relationships between children Super 8 succeeds but somewhere along the line Abram’s loses sight of this powerful vision.
Cassablanca (1942), dir. Michael Curtiz, rating 9/10 (Masterpiece)
Countless words of praise have been poured on this film so I’ll keep mine to the minimum. I saw Casablanca (1942) for the very first time on the big screen at the Paramount Theater in Austin, TX. It was delightful, I laughed, it was emotionally engaging, well-acted… A classic which is all that it’s cracked up to be. If there’s a flaw it’s the rather un-involving somewhat ordinary cinematography.
A Serious Man (2010), dir. Coen Brothers, dir. 8.5/10 (Very Good)
I re-watched the Coen brother’s brilliant A Serious Man (2010) a few days ago (the first was on an airplane to Italy) and I remain impressed. A Serious Man is a very literary and personal work that feels like a minimalist short story or novel with moments of delightful dead-pan humor interspersed throughout. I’m somewhat confused by many reviewers who point out the supposed necessity to be a Jew to ascertain the film’s “meaning.” That’s patently false.
Delicatessen (1991), dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro, rating 9/10 (Masterpiece)
One of my all-time favorite films from the director of Amelie — a dark comedy contained within a singe house (the action takes place on the roof, inside, in the basement, and underground). In an unexplained (post-apocalyptical?) future a landlord kills his tenants to feed his tenants. Vegetables and grains are no longer considered food… An oblivious clown whose chimpanzee has recently been killed and eaten falls in love the daughter of the landlord.. Not to be missed! Jean-Pierre Jeunet co-directed works with Marc Caro are superior to his later endeavors.
The Third Man (1949), dir. Carol Reed, rating 9.5/10 (Masterpiece)
Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949) is a chilling vision of post-War Vienna where an American (Orson Welles) takes advantage of the destruction to make a personal fortune selling counterfeit medication. The cinematography is awe inspiring — filled with unorthodox angles, deep shadows… Contains one of the most visually stunning sequences ever to grace the silver screen — a conversation on a ferris wheel overlooking Vienna. The only flaw is an annoying score…
And because my fingers have tired, a simple list of others…
The Shining (1980), dir. Stanley Kubrick, rating 7/10 (Good)
The Thin Red Line (1998), dir. Terrence Malick, rating 6.75/10 (Average)
A Clockwork Orange (1971), dir. Stanley Kubrick, rating 9/10 (Masterpiece)
Twin Peaks (TV 1990-1991), creators David Lynch, Mark Frost, rating 9/10 (Masterpiece)
The Rules of the Game (1939), dir. Jean Renoir, rating 8/10 (Very Good)
Ratcatcher (1999), dir. Lynne Ramsay, rating 6.75/10 (Average)
This is Spinal Tap (1984), dir. Bob Reiner, rating 7.5/10 (Good)
Dark Portals: The Chronicles of Vidocq (2006), dir. Pitof, rating 2/10 (Drivel)