Saturday, February 23, 2013

AMOUR (2012)

Rated : PG-13

Stars: Jean-Louis Tritignant,  Emmanuelle Riva,  Isabelle Huppert
Director: Michael Haneke
Genre:  Art House/Drama

The enduring image I will always have of Jean-Louis Tritignant is that of the race car driver in  the superb 1966 film,  A Man And A Woman . So there's a disconcerting aspect to seeing him onscreen today as an Octogenarian (which he is) in Amour,  the Oscar nominated drama from director Michael Haneke. 

Time happens.

And as Time (that old gypsy man) drags us kicking and screaming down this one-way street,  most of  those who do not meet a premature death will eventually end up like the Parisian couple Georges (Tritignant) and Anne, (Emmanuelle Riva) in this movie. That's stark realism, man. And that's what Amour deals us. It's a stiff dose of here's-your-worst-nightmare-only-it's-real--that thing we never signed up for...old age and decrepitude.    

Georges and Emmanuelle are conversing inside their apartment one day when she suddenly checks out...face gone blank and unresponsive. She's had a stroke and, to make a long synopsis short, goes downhill from there. Now she's partially paralyzed and bedridden, and Georges is her caregiver. 
He gets to do all the fun stuff like haul her into the bathroom and prop her up on the toilet. At some point it's  just down to changing her diaper. This is the first two-thirds of the movie. 

Now anybody who has had an elderly and/or infirmed parent has been there, done that. So why rub our faces in it here? Because we are spared none of it in Amour . It  goes on and on until you are ready to throw up your hands and say what's the point, and just about then you get the point (or at least I did) that what had initially appeared to be the wife's story is actually the husband's story. The metamorphosis  he undergoes from compassionate caregiver to...well...something else. And we need all of the unpleasant business leading up to it to properly put ourselves in his shoes and ask what would we do. 

Nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, I'd not be surprised at all if the 85 year-old Riva takes the Best Actress prize--her challenging performance here is that good. Let's say at least that she deserves it, but you know how these things go. (We're not all that far removed from those idiots who excoriated  the French for having the intelligence and the foresight--and maybe just the bad taste of experience in their mouths--to not go along with Dubya's little foray into Iraq. How much of an anti-French hangover still lingers is anybody's guess.)

Suffice it to say that Amour--despite the title--is not a date movie. I pity the unwitting guy who took his best girl to see it on Valentine's day. I wonder who she's with now. 
Grade:  B +

Friday, February 8, 2013


Rating what's out now on DVD

Grade: A

The raunchiest stuffed bear you'll ever meet. Clever, funny, romantic, poignant...what more do you want?

Grade:  B +

I was surprised at how good this was for a film that received very little hype.

What happens when some really dumb rednecks hatch a murder plot to collect insurance money. Fascinating, like a train wreck.

Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones ans Steve Carell. Notable because Carell plays it straight throughout the entire film!

Grade : B

Woody Allen seems headed into Fellini territory with this one...still a fun ride.

Writer creates his own oughta like this one.

Espionage and the games big boys play. Follow along and you'll be fine.

Grade:  B -

It's fun to watch Richard Gere in his manic phase, which seems to be the whole movie.

Teen superheroes...I haven't completely grown out of that phase.

Sci-fi with some great CGI.

Grade:  C +

Mildly entertaining vehicle for Hanks/Roberts.

Grade:  D

Five year-old girl waxes philosophical about the web of life and everything being connected, then beats a fish to death with a hammer. WTF?  If violent drunks are your heroes, you'll love it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Rated:  R

Stars: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Ehle, Kyle Chandler, Harold Perrineau

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Genre: Drama

Any review of Zero Dark Thirty needs to be on two fronts. First, an assessment of the artistic merits of the film, and then a word addressing the controversial issues it deals with. Zero Dark Thirty would have been worthy of its Oscar nomination for best picture had the first third or so of the movie not been so one-dimensional, and thus yawn inducing--even when the subject matter is graphic torture scenes of suspects allegedly connected to Al Qaeda during the hunt for Osama bin Laden. I say yawn inducing because violence is endemic to American society, and our film industry has a morbid fascination with it, and anything will make you detach if it's being force-fed to you a lot, like, uh...water boarding. 

By spending so much time on these "enhanced interrogation" methods employed by the CIA, director Katherine Bigelow seems to be making the assertion that they were essential to the success of the bin Laden operation. CIA director Leon Panetta, acknowledging that such methods were used, (and who would doubt it after viewing the Abu Ghraib photo gallery) stated: "I think we would have gotten bin Laden without that."  Which just blows the whole premise of your film out of the water, Kathryn, so...NO OSCAR FOR YOU! (But have all the soup you want.)

I also was not enamored with the central character of the film,  CIA agent "Maya" played by Jessica Chastain, whom we are led to believe was the essential operative in the manhunt, and that bin Laden was ferreted out largely due to her spot-on instincts in analyzing the clues as they presented themselves. (The real agent Chastain's character was based upon has been forbidden by the agency  to speak with journalists,    
so we may never know the real story.)

The first time Maya sits in on a torture session, she feels revulsion, as anyone with a whit of human compassion and a conscience would. But she hardens up fast on her way to becoming a self-absorbed zealot in her pursuit of Bad Guy Number One, and begins conducting some of those little "hazing" parties herself. There is no complexity to her character after that--we are just supposed to admire her for being tough and using male locker room jargon. But that's TV cop drama stuff, and it's the same old patronizing of women used by the male creators of those shows in hopes that it might get them somewhere in the bedroom! (Don't know what Bigelow's motivation might be for creating a similar stereotype.)

But beyond that, the larger point is that those who believe the end always justifies the means often end up sinking to the level of the evil they are engaging. 

What can be classified as the brilliance of  Zero Dark Thirty is the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound--one of the most intense, heart-thumping, and well put together sequences in memory.  But you can't praise a faltering football game as being one of the greatest ever just because it gets hugely dramatic and entertaining at the end. Historical drama is always anticlimactic for me anyway...because I know how it turns out. 


Grade: B

Monday, February 4, 2013


Rated: R

Stars: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone
Director:  Ruben Fleischer
Genre: Crime Drama

The kindest thing that can be said about Sean Penn's looks is that they are an acquired taste. So it wasn't so  much of a stretch to turn him into one ugly lookin' S.O.B. cast as deranged,  sadistic crime boss Mickey Cohen in Gangster Squad.    

And man, is he convincing. (It's those eyes, you know...and that sneer.)

Which is not to say Penn's Cohen is not a flat character, because it is, but so are all the rest in this stylish homage to film noir of the forties. Cohen dispatches his gangland rivals in lots of creatively grisly ways. A man with not a shred of conscience to be found. So what we have is good versus evil the way it was portrayed in the days of James Cagney--right down to Cohen's square-jawed nemesis, Sergeant John O'Mara of the LAPD, (Josh Brolin) who heads up a secret squad whose mission is to break the grip the crime boss has on the City Of Angels--where he has the market on dope, hookers, and firearms cornered--and most of  the cops and judges in his back pocket.  (Which ain't good, cuz everybody knows that when there is competition, the prices go down!)

O'Mara has more bravado than brains, so he never wavers from his mission, even during the over the top rat-a-tat shootouts with Cohen's goons that would have wiped out scores of innocent bystanders  had they actually come off the way they are portrayed.  (Gangster Squad is based on actual events, but LOOSELY, shall we say.)

Ryan Gosling  is the devil-may-care detective Jerry Wooters, who hooks up with Cohen's bored and beautiful moll, Grace, (Emma Stone). They are both willing to risk their own butts for a little romantic diversion (fueled by some raging hormones--which can make many an otherwise prudent person myopic to the inherent dangers of such in a sense when your mother told you to "stop that or you'll go blind" she was telling the truth.).

Copious violence notwithstanding,  I liked the jazzy feel to  Gangster Squad--it's soundtrack by Steve Jablonsky and the nightclub scenes in an era where everybody seemed to have a sense of style--even if all  the men wore the same hat.  And if you remember that kicky song "Mr. Five By Five,"  why hell, you shouldn't even be alive!

Grade:  B