Capsule Reviews: July 2012

At the end of every month I will post a list of all the movies I did not review that I watched that month. These will be accompanied by a grade and a one paragraph review. These are films that I , regardless of the grade, did not have time to review, did not have the inclination to review, could not draft a good piece for, or any other number of reasons. For this month, I will only include movies that I saw after beginning this blog.

Sherlock Jr (Buster Keaton, 1924):

Isn’t Sherlock Jr the story of everyone’s life? Our protagonist comes up short-handed in real life, and so he literally dreams himself into the movies, where he is able to intuit danger, solve crime, and keep us laughing. Sherlock Jr could have a whole essay on it—and there are plenty you can find elsewhere on the web. From the basic plot to a scene of fantastic trickery in which Keaton’s character finds himself in a film marred by discontinuity ending that prevents him from getting comfortable with his surroundings, Sherlock Jr is full of fantastic discourse on cinema as an art. In addition, Sherlock Jr. is genuinely funny; the slapstick is conventional but also intelligent, from a pool game in which the trick comes back at the end as a plot device to the dollar bill gag that quietly subverts the rule of threes. Anybody who loves film is bound to love Sherlock Jr.

Grade: A

Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000):

Memento intends for its audience to be confused, and so it does not hold up on repeated viewings, especially with the ending that recaps and thematically encapsulates the entire film for anyone who failed to keep up.  That aside, there is a great screenplay here, and the neo-noir is both well-done and appropriate. The editing, in which the story is told from the beginning in black and white and from the end in color, is inventive, providing intrigue to a story that probably would not have much otherwise. You’re meant to be confused, which works well as the film tests your ability to remember what happened the last time you were at that end of the story.

Grade: B

The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 2002):

Plays like a less intense Schindler’s List because of setting, character focus, and powerhouse lead performance. Polanski’s direction, particularly with regards to composition and mise-en-scene, are superb. He is unafraid of using the full frame and creating multiple planes of action. For much of the film, Adrien Brody is the screen’s only presence, and he does wonders with it, but his passive character never gives us the same attachment that we have for Oskar Schindler, and it disappoints after a strong, controlling first act. While this largely reflects the luck the character had to survive, it makes for a less interesting story, emotional as it is.

Grade: B+

Cul-de-Sac: (Roman Polanski, 1966)

Roman Polanski explored most of these themes better in Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and he had a screenplay that wasn’t unbearable to go with it. Here, Polanski gets disengaging performances from a screenplay that tosses believability out the window to focus on gender relationships and sexuality, but he has nothing new or inspiring about the former and hardly anything at all about the latter. Polanski proves he knows how to use the frame here, but events are so drawn out as to kill suspense and so poorly written as to kill everything else.

Grade: D+

Takva: A Man’s Fear of God (Özer Kiziltan, 2006)

Takva, is a Turkish film, not just in production but in story. Those who are familiar with Nuri Bilge Ceylan or Fatih Akin and expect something along the same lines will be surprised. Our protagonist is promoted by his Sheikh but finds that his duties, collecting rent among them, are not as black and white as he previously thought, and he encounters a great deal of uncertainty regarding his own actions. Whether the Sheikh is a symbol of power corrupted or is genuinely interested in building character is unknown, but the gradual loss of faith central to the story is alternately compelling a bit stagnant. Tread cautiously, but pay attention. There’s enough here in production and script to warrant a watch.

Grade: B-

Spider (David Cronenberg, 2002):

I learned a lesson while watching this: Sundance (the channel) is cool because they don’t have commercials and they don’t edit the film, but they also broadcast exclusively in HD. I was not watching this on HD, so a good portion of the movie was cropped. For this reason, I cannot grade it. What I can say is that it was the most subtle Cronenberg film that I’ve seen, and aside from Eastern Promises, it’s probably the best. I’ll watch it for real as soon as I can.

Grade: Pending

The Milk of Sorrow (Claudia Llosa, 2009):

Almost unbearably heavy but also carefully constructed and full of images that will quietly burrow further and further into your mind, this allegory of how turmoil in one generation impacts the next will either bore you with its slow, deliberate pace and nearly mute protagonist, or it will fascinate you for the same reasons. Boasting a powerful ending and beautiful contrast between destruction and creation, it’s easier to forget the weightiness than to ignore the beauty.

Grade: B

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