Sunday, November 6, 2011

2011 In Review

I've gotten behind a bit on my reviews, so I thought I might just do a few quick reviews for some of the 2011 films I've seen recently.

El Velador:

A solid documentary from this year's Milwaukee Film Fest. This semi-experimental documentary doesn't tell much of a conventional story. It instead follows the coming and goings of the night watchman (El Velador) at a Mexican cemetary - pairing these images with audio from heinous news stories chronicling cartel violence. In it we witness the brutal daily reality of our neighbors to the south that often seems to be swept under the rug. One of the year's best documentaries.

A -


Another entry from this year's Milwaukee Film Fest - I give this Shakespearean-update a lot of credit for its ambition. Set in a war-torn modern Rome, director Ralph Fiennes presents a well-formed and visually interesting translation of the Bard. Fiennes is also spectacular in his performance as the titular character, which is doubly-impressive considering that Shakespearean dialogue can reap havok on even the most seasoned of actors. Vanessa Redgrave is solid in her role as Coriolanus' mother as is James Nesbitt in his supporting role, but everyone somewhat lacks a command of the language.

This film might be too much of a true adaptation to really make its mark, however. The final act seems stunted, but that's probably just because the film is following the play so closely. I was so memorized by Fiennes' performance that I wanted to see more of him, but his involvement in the plot seems to fall off right when it hits its peak. Subtle changes might have been just enough to really make this impressive. Still a decent film, however.



The trailers for this film made it look horrendous. I'm a fan of the Pegg/Frost duo and even more a fan of director Greg Mottola, so I was disappointed in what was being advertised to me. However, after finally catching Paul on dvd, I had to eat my words. Sure, Seth Rogan is slightly irritating as the voice of the alien, but he's also funny on occasion. There's so much heart-felt nostalgia here as well that it becomes really hard to dislike. Though they are much different in tone, I saw a lot of similarities to Abrams' Super 8, but found Paul to be the much better tribute to Amblin-era sci-fi.


Red State:

I caught this film on the Netflix instant-queue recently and I must say - it's not Kevin Smith's worst film. Some of it is lame, childish and nonsensical (three friends wind up in the hands of militant Jesus-freaks because they are lured by the prospect of a four-way with Melissa Leo??!), but it's interesting enough when it counts, occasionally funny and highly unpredictable.

However, My primary issue with the film is in the treatment of the religious fanatics. I know from following Smith's Twitter account that he has a real problem with their real-life counterparts - Fred Phelps and his lot. Why then is there a need to up the volume so much on these characters? They're such caricatures of the real thing that it's hard to take them seriously and the film comes off as a condemnation of no-one because of it. A much more interesting film by a much more clever filmmaker might have been about how these people are in real-life and it would have been a lot scarier for it.



Lars von Trier's latest won't be getting a wide-release until later this year, but you can catch it On Demand through various outlets. Was it worth the $10 I spent on it? Probably not. Melancholia is an OK film on the overall, but had the potential to be much more. It has some beautiful imagery and uses the impending apocalypse appropriately to say something about depression and the place of women in a male-dominated world, but ultimately falls flat.

The major issue is that the film is just too damn long - 135 minutes split into two parts. The first half focusing on Justine's (Dunst) wedding is interminable, feeling drawn out with seemingly little purpose. By the time I got to part two about Justine's sister Claire (Gainsbourg), I had a hard time caring about what was going on, which is a shame considering it's definitely the more interesting half of the film. I believe Melancholia could have been a tighter, more affecting film with a runtime under 100 minutes. It's not that I don't like longer films- quite the contrary in fact - it's just that so much of the film feels like wasted time.

Another issue I have - not necessarily with the film itself - is how much attention Kirsten Dunst is getting for her performance. It's OK, sure, she's an OK actress. But when Charlotte Gainsbourg (and pretty much everyone else in the cast) is acting circles around her, it's hard to see what exactly was so memorable about her time on screen.


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