No, I didn't miss a posting; I just had one of those rare weeks where I didn't see movies due to low churn at the boutique houses and uninspiring choices at the multiplex. Plus one of those colds that borders on being the flu. Can't really say you're sick, since the food stays down, but you're not going to please anyone by leaving the house. So one page in the scrapbook stays blank until you get to this:
Stubless: Blancanieves at the Coolidge on 20 January at 10am.
Still not a big week, though one which (aside from Blancanieves, which has a mark on a multi-show pass instead of a ticket) divides into two parts. First was a bit of catch-up, seeing Promised Land on 35mm before it left the Coolidge (and the area, I think) and then Beasts of the Southern Wild on its re-release so that I could have one more movie to vote on before the Chlotrudis Awards nomination meeting. After that, mainstream releases that I would have seen anyway even if they didn't need reviewing on EFC: The Last Stand was a pretty darn good return for Arnold Schwarzenegger and English-language debut for Kim Jee-woon; Mama had its good moments but also its moments where things happen mroe because they happen in horror movies rather than they make sense.
In between, I went to the Chlotrudis nominations meeting, which was weird in that every previous year I've gone, it took place in at least six inches of snow which is still coming down on a cold, gray day. Having the walk be easy and then seeing things finish up in a relatively timely fashion (even if we never did get around to whether or not sequels/continuations are considered original or adapted screenplays) was kind of nice
Here's the list of nominees we set; I'm doing okay in being qualified for voting on most categories despite not having seen The Sessions or The Perks of Being a Wallflower. My nomination for Buried Treasure was A Simple Life, and, guys, I really thought it was available to watch on Hulu, though I apparently had it mixed up with A Beautiful Life (curse you, generic names!).
* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 January 2013 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (first-run, 35mm)
Promised Land presents itself as being about environmental and business matters: The dangers about extracting natural gas from the land via a process known as "fracking" and how casually corrupt corporate interests can run roughshod over small towns that need something to prop up their rickety economies and ways of life. And that's there, although the movie seems to carefully avoid taking any stance strong enough as to require defending. What it's really about is Matt Damon being charming.
It's not quite a vanity project for co-writer/producer/star Damon (who, apparently, was also slated to direct at one point, but a busy schedule passed that job to Gus Van Sant, who could probably use something commercial like this to fund some slow, artsy experiments) as much as it is him knowing his strengths and playing to them. And Damon is good at playing this kind of smart guy who's basically good not far under the surface; it's easy to like his Steve Butler and hope for his eventual awakening more than his defeat.
The rest of the cast is like that, too - Frances McDormand, John Krasinski, Rosemarie DeWitt, Titus Welliver, and Hal Holbrook all play folks the audience can understand and sympathize with even when they don't agree. And Gus Van Sant works with that nicely, with cinematographer Linus Sandgren catching the beauty of rural America without over-romanticizing it. Still, all that niceness makes the movie rather toothless, and what cleverness it displays in explaining why Krasinski's activist seems absurdly oversimplified doesn't make up for it. And the end is just too soft - not only does it reduce the protagonist's crisis of conscience to "will this girl like me?", but it pushes the very real questions it raises about how much of a future rural America has right out of the audience's mind, even though they should be genuinely troubling.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 18 January 2013 in Landmark Kendall Square #4 (awards re-issue, 2K digital)
During the Chlotrudis meeting (and in various other things I've read), there was some discussion about nominating Quvenzhané Wallis for Best Actress awards - does a fourth-grader really have the skill to act, to consciously make decisions about how to express a character's inner feelings, or is it more a matter of casting someone who matches the role, directing them closely, and then getting the good stuff in the editing room? Having watched Beasts of the Southern Wild, I suspect the latter is the case, but as I said in the meeting, the category is actually for "Best Performance by an Actor/Actress in a Leading Role", and we're awarding the end result, not the means by which the performer got there.
Wallis does, for the most part, get there, there's a very enjoyable toughness to Hushpuppy that complements her childish simplicity of thought well. Even when we're seeing Hushpuppy be self-reliant or independent, it feels like a kid with the capabilities of a kid, not someone who is mature, let alone wise, beyond her years. It makes a nice complement to Dwight Henry as her physically and emotionally unstable father Wink. Wink lashes where Hushpuppy retreats, and Henry does a pretty great job of making him as big and complete a mess as the post-flooding delta without ever seeming to play for the balconies.
Director Benh Zeitlin and the other filmmakers do pretty spiffy things with that environment, too. It's shot beautifully, as you may have heard, and the practical but effective effects used in conjuring Hushpuppy's imagined aurochs are nice too, but it's the way the part of Louisiana that the characters call "The Bathtub" is presented as a place with people in it that most impressed me. In last week's post, I mentioned not warming to Blues for Willadean in part because it seemed to look down on its characters in a way beyond them being flawed human beings, but Beasts avoids that. Certainly, the filmmakers don't always show their characters in the best light, but they do a very good job of showing the characters' world, warts and all, without ever seeming to condescend.
* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 January 2013 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (Talk Cinema, digital)
This one will get a little more detail in a couple of days when I write up a full review, but my main reaction was that writer/director/producer Pablo Berger had a nifty idea for a movie to do in silent style, but really didn't have enough material for a feature. That seems an odd thing to say when there have been a whole bunch of other Snow White films made (including two others released last year), but most seem to struggle to give Snow any sort of standing as the protagonist, and that's what happens here - Berger actually seems to go out of his way to prevent Carmencita from actually doing anything.
There's other fun to be had - Maribel Verdú is a sexy, funny, villainous Wicked Stepmother, and I sort of love that at least one of the dwarfs is more than just part of an assemblage of sidekicks. Kiko de la Rica's cinematography is pretty nice, even if (like a number of recent silents) it does feel more modern than pastiche. Alfonso de Vilallonga's score is terrific, a nice blend of traditional bullfighting fanfares, flamenco, and orchestral silent scoring that does an excellent job of holding the film together.
At least until the end, when... Man, I don't know what Berger was trying to get at. I'm not saying you have to go for the neat, happy Disney ending, but you need some kind of resolution. This thing just stops, and I honestly can't see how the rest of the movie could be said to be leading to that.
Full review at EFC.