Movie Review Catch-up

This quickie review package contains two 2008 theatrical releases, the sort of thing that the old me would have obsessively tried to write out full reviews for, even if I didn’t have the time. Now, I’m trying to branch out a bit more, so movies like these are getting lost in the shuffle. Which isn’t a judgement on the films themselves necessarily, but more that I’ve now gotten far enough away from them that I probably wouldn’t be able to give them a full write-up anyway. Especially since blockbuster season is upon us and I try to get my thoughts out there on the movies people are more likely to see.

Read on for reviews of:
The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)
Margot at the Wedding (2007)
Redbelt (2008) 
The Visitor (2008) 

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Starring: Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Amara Karan, Wallace Wolodarsky, Irfan Khan, Anjelica Huston

Directed by: Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson is such a meticulous perfectionist as a filmmaker that I can’t help but wonder if he can still see the forest through the trees. The Darjeeling Limited is a film where its obvious that Anderson has obsessed over every detail, from the colour motifs of the train that gives the film its title, to the positioning of Owen Wilson’s bandages, to, of course, the soundtrack that plays over Jason Schwartzman’s iPod stereo. At times, this attention to detail provides some great scenes, particularly as Anderson navigates the train and how its inhabitants deal with their cramped quarters. But overall, it makes for another antiseptic film full of unnatural Anderson staging and general aloofness from its characters. So while I could appreciate some of his compositions, I didn’t really care much for his movie. I think I’m over Anderson’s brand of upper middle class ennui. After The Life Aquatic, I couldn’t bring myself to actually go see The Darjeeling Limited, and now after it, I’m not sure I’m even going to bother renting his next one.

2.5/5

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan, Corbin Bernsen, Dash Mihok, Larry Miller, Rockmond Dunbar, Shannyn Sossamon

Directed by: Shane Black

I don’t know how I’ve managed to miss this movie for the past three years (although, the fact that it was voted “Overlooked Film of the Year” by the 2005 Phoenix Film Critics Society probably has something to do with it). But after loving Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man, I finally remembered to add this movie to my queue, and I’m glad that I did. One of the best movies I’ve seen in awhile, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a whip-smart post-noir look at detective movies and the ridiculous conventions that surround them. Much of the film is delightfully meta, with Downey Jr serving as a sardonic narrator well aware of being a character in a movie. Only some late-film sloppiness keeps this from being a full five-star movie, but its still the sort of movie that will become a personal discovery and favourite for those who see it. If you’re one of those people who haven’t seen it yet, I suggest you correct that omission post-haste.

4.5/5

Margot at the Wedding (2007)

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Jack Black, Jennifer Jason Leigh, John Turturro, Ciarán Hinds, Zane Pais

Directed by: Noah Baumbach

As with Wes Anderson, I think I’m also over Noah Baumbach. Although, with Margot at the Wedding, he had me for at least half of the movie, where I was kind of into yet another tale of modern day familial dysfunction, particularly with Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of the title character. Then the movie makes an abrupt turn with one of its characters that basically ruins the whole thing, feeling like a betrayal to the first half of the movie and seemingly only thrown in because Baumbach didn’t have another way to bring the drama of his story to a climax. Basically, while it’s a half-good movie, I can’t recommend it to anyone because the twist so completely ruins it. I think that it’s possible that Noah Baumbach actually hates movies, or at the very least, he hates moviegoers.

2/5

Redbelt (2008) 

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Emily Mortimer, Alice Braga, Tim Allen, Joe Mantegna, Rodrigo Santoro, Ricky Jay, David Paymer, Randy Couture

Directed by: David Mamet

Sometimes the difference between success and failure in a film can come down to one element, and for Redbelt, that element is star Chiwetel Ejiofor. Without him, I’m pretty confident that this movie would be an unwatchable mess. With him and his confident performance and dignified presence, it ended up being a largely enjoyable, while obviously flawed, film. David Mamet’s ode to, and exposé of, the world of mixed martial arts is overly plotted and poorly filmed from a fight coordination perspective, and has a problem with Mamet’s twin desires of making a character study drama about the underworld that follows the fight game and his need to reinforce some of the heroic clichés of the warrior (Mamet has a purple belt in jiu-jitsu). But the film is saved by Ejiofor’s quiet and assured portrayal of a principled jiu-jitsu instructor dragged into this world, added by solid performances by Emily Mortimer and, surprisingly, Tim Allen. It doesn’t all come together, and certainly isn’t a movie to go to if you’re looking for Bloodsport-type action (it’s more a cerebral drama than a brawling action flick), but its worth a viewing if you’re a fan of Ejiofor or Mamet.

3/5

Not a sci-fi horror.

The Visitor (2008) 

Starring: Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Jekesai Gurira, Hiam Abbass, Maggie Moore, Richard Kind

Directed by: Thomas McCarthy

This one really does deserve its own full write-up review, but every time I tried to start one, I kept having trouble figuring out where to begin. Basically, I want to recommend it to everyone, because it’s really good, but have a hard time explaining why other than to say that it’s really good. It’s a quiet, small film that is easy to embrace due to its size and personal feel, but it’s not a feel good indie that people will love. It has a political slant, but doesn’t push an agenda hard enough to make it “important”. And while I really respect the way Thomas McCarthy has found a way to tell low key, personal stories with this and his previous work The Station Agent, its not groundbreaking cinema that one must see. But, do. Go see it. McCarthy has found a nice niche in making personal, understated films that don’t overreach their strengths and really get into the lives of their characters. Richard Jenkins is perfect in the role, showing the sadness that follows his character without devolving into a typical indie sadsack. And his transformation is subtle and believable, rather than clichéd and predictable. The Visitor is one of the best movies of the first half of the year, so if it happens to still be in your city (or comes to your city in the coming weeks), I highly recommend you give it a shot, particularly if you’re looking for a break from the big summer blockbusters. If not, look for it on DVD.

4/5

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3 thoughts on “Movie Review Catch-up

  1. Pingback: DVD Review: L.A. Confidential (Two-Disc Special Edition) « Critically Speaking

  2. Pingback: Movie Review: Rachel Getting Married (2008) « Critically Speaking

  3. Pingback: Top 10 Movies of 2008 « Critically Speaking

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