A SEPARATION – From Iran comes this Oscar nominated drama about a family being torn apart by a crisis. It begins with a married couple separating. The wife wants to move to another country for a better life for her and her daughter, but her husband wants to stay and take care of his father who has Alzheimer’s. Their daughter wants to stay with the husband. Since the wife used to took care of the old man, the husband hires a woman to take care of him while he is at work. But something happens, and the grandfather ends up being mistreated. This leads to a dispute with the hired help that ends with major consequences. I don’t want to give any more of the story away, for I believe that the film’s strength is the way the story unfolds.
This movie has been getting very high marks from critics across the globe, calling it one of the best films of 2011. I’m going to be the prick to knock it down a few pegs. It’s not THAT good. I liked it, but it’s not close to being one of my favorite films of last year. Apart from the single take pre-title sequence, the direction was pretty mediocre. Director Asghar Farhadi’s direction is simple, but nothing special.
However, the film is elevated by a script that kept me compelled by not resorting to the standard storytelling conventions. It’s a very realistic movie. And the acting is pretty fantastic. Every performance rings true, especially Peyman Maadi as the husband, who gives his character many layers. I would also like to point out Shahab Hosseini as the husband of the hired help, who probably has the showiest performance of the film, but is entirely grounded in reality as he displays rage, humility, and shame. These things make me overlook Farhadi’s ordinary style.
This is definitely a front runner to win Best Foreign film and is certainly worth a look. Don’t expect is to be the greatest, but you will find a slow, quiet, heartbreaking, honest slice of reality. It took me about half the movie to get into it, but I’m glad I stuck with it. Exclusively at The Edina. Rating:
CHRONICLE – Great! Another “found footage” movie. Ever since the brilliant THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, there have been many types of these movies. My personal favorite is MAN BITES DOG from France, which was made about 7 years before BLAIR WITCH. I have liked quite a few of them actually. CLOVERFIELD is the best recent one, but I also enjoyed PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and THE LAST EXORCISM. However, I think I’m getting burnt out of the gimmick, cause every time I hear about one, I roll my eyes. How many times can one see this type of thing before it’s overdone?
Unlike most entries of this sub-genre, CHRONICLE is not a horror film, but a superhero movie. We meet Andrew, a High School outcast who purchases a camera so he can record everything around him, including his alcoholic father’s violent behavior. During the first 15 minutes we see how awkward he is as he records his High School experiences. We also meet Andrew’s cousin Matt, and class president Steve. While at a party, they walk into the woods and discover a hole in the ground which leads them to a strange glowing object. The camera goes dead, and the next time Andrew is recording, he has a new camera and superpowers, along with Matt and Steve. At first, they use their telekinetic powers to play jokes on innocent people, but when Andrew accidentally puts someone in the hospital, they realize that their powers require rules. Throughout they get stronger, even learning to fly. Also, the three begin to change, especially Andrew, who feels like his power makes him superior to others.
As how old as this “found footage” formula is, I was kind of surprised how watchable it was. And it was pretty darn well directed by 26-year old Josh Trank. First of all, if you’re going to enjoy this movie, don’t over think how things are being filmed. Technically, it’s not plausible at all. It starts off with Andrew and others holding the camera, but then we are introduced to a chick who also likes to shoot things, so we see things from her camera occasionally as well. But then Andrew learns to control the camera with his mind, which allows the camera to seemingly float around the characters. And then at the finale, Trank decides to open up the spectacle even more by using surveillance cameras and passerby’s using their cellphones to capture all the action. While it’s pretty neat, as a filmmaker I couldn’t help but think “There’s no way that cellphone can record that high of quality footage”, but then I realized that I’m looking for technical logic in a movie about superheroes. So I just had to accept it.
What works is that we really do get to know the characters, in particular Andrew and Matt. I thought their arcs were pretty good. Dane DeHaan gives a highly effective and intense performance. During the second half, Trank pulls off some pretty spectacular things. The first flight sequence was amazing. The way it was shot was exhilarating and had my heart racing. The finale is a clever play on the usual epic superhero battle, using Seattle’s famous Space Needle as a backdrop. There’s a great single-take shot from inside the car, as it rises up to the top of the building and then crashes to the ground that made my jaw drop. The ending was satisfying, if a little corny.
Comic book geeks and superhero fans should really dig this. I even think that people who hated other movies of this type (like CLOVERFIELD) will enjoy it because it doesn’t have that shaky-cam style. It’s a slick looking flick. CHRONICLE is not perfect, and you definitely just have to go with the formula, but if you do that, you should find a fairly rousing piece of entertainment. In Wide Release. Rating:
Also opening this weekend:
THE WOMAN IN BLACK – I really liked the look, mood, tone, and atmosphere of this Gothic supernatural horror film, but I just didn’t find the story all that compelling. Daniel Radcliffe gets an “A” for effort for tackling a grown up role (he plays the widowed father of a 4 year old), but he still looks too young for the part. He does a fine job I guess, but he doesn’t really have a character to play as he just slowly walks through the hallways of a haunted house for most of the running time. There are also one too many “boo” moments that are too obvious and take away from the creepiness. The potential is there, and die-hard horror fans (I’m definitely not one) may find something of merit here, but it just didn’t hold my interest. Wide Release. Rating:
THE THEATER BIZARRE – Another horror anthology film. This time we have six tales from different filmmakers telling strange, gory and revolting stories. These films are usually a mixed bag, but this one is mostly bad. THE MOTHER OF TOADS is by far the worst displaying bad acting, directing and writing. In fact, most of the stories feature acting as bad as the WITCHCRAFT series. Some of them even have the same production values. Tom Savini directs one called WET DREAMS, but despite his solid brief cameo, it’s disappointing. The last two, VISION STAINS and SWEETS have great premises and twisted direction, but they’re not fleshed out enough to be fully satisfying. Only THE ACCIDENT by Douglas Buck (which is the shortest at about 12 minutes) is any good. It’s about a little girl who witnesses someone dying in a car accident and then the mother has to explain to her about death. It’s a beautiful, and haunting piece that has some solid acting. But it’s not really a horror tale, so I’m not sure how it really fits into this series. Horror fanatics will probably want to see it just because they have to see anything that’s labeled a horror film (those people really bug me), but as a whole, it’s a rather dismal experience. And not in a good way. Showing only at Midnight this Friday and Saturday night at The Lagoon. Rating:
THE BIG MIRACLE – I missed my screening when I went out of town to play in a roller derby bout. I will be taking my daughter to it this weekend, so I’ll try to update this article with my review later. Wide release.
THE HIDDEN FACE – Was not given a screener. Only at Block-E