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Source Code: I admired both this gripping thriller’s intelligence and its heart. The key is a breakthrough screenplay by Ben Ripley. The scifi premise is that supersoldier Jake Gyllenhaal can inhabit the brain of a terrorism victim for the same 8 minutes – over and over again. Each time, he has 8 minutes to seek more clues. Can he build the clues into a solution and prevent the terrorist atrocity? Gyllenhaal is excellent. So is Vera Farmiga as his handler and Michelle Monaghan as a girl you could fall in love with in 8 minutes. Jeffrey Wright chews the scwnery with his homage to Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove. Director Duncan Jones solidly brings Ripley’s screenplay home.
Carancho: Well, they have ambulance chasers in Argentina, too, and that seamy world is the setting for this dark and violent noirish thriller. Ricardo Darin (The Secrets of Their Eyes, Nine Queens) stars as a suspended lawyer running insurance scams. (I think of Darin as the Argentine Joe Mantegna.) Set in the gloom of urban nighttime emergency rooms and funeral homes, it’s a love story between the lawyer and an equally troubled doctor (Martina Gusman), nestled into a crime thriller.
The story is as cynical and dark as it comes. The handheld camera keeps it out of the noir category, but the story is as hard-bitten as Kiss Me Deadly or any of the really nasty noirs. The violence is realistic, and there’s lots of it – I had never seen anyone beaten to death with a file drawer before. If you like dark and edgy (and I do), this is the film for you.
Poetry: Early in his film, Korean writer-director Chang-dong Lee tells us his theme. Holding an apple, the teacher tells his students that, to write poetry, you must first see, really see the world around you. Mija is a 66-year-old pensioner in his class who works part-time as a caregiver for a stroke victim and is raising her sullen slob of a teenage grandson. She struggles with the poetry, but she does begin to see the people in her world with clarity – and it’s not a pretty picture. What she learns to see is human behavior ranging from the venal to the inhumane.
The key to the film’s success is the performance of Jeong-hie Yun as Mija, a protagonist who spends the entire movie observing. Her doctor tells her that her failing memory is the start of something far worse. Sometimes she doesn’t see what we see because she is distracted. But sometimes she doesn’t act like she sees because of denial or avoidance. Sometimes she is disoriented. But she has moments of piercing lucidity, and those moments are unsparing.
This unhurried film is troubling, uncomfortable and very, very good.
Potiche: This delightful French farce of feminist self-discovery is the funniest movie in over a year, and another showcase for Catherine Deneuve (as if she needs one). DeNeuve plays a 1977 potiche, French for “trophy housewife”, married to a guy who is a male chauvinist pig both by choice and cluelessness. He is also the meanest industrialist in France – Ebenezer Scrooge would be a softie next to this guy – and the workers in his factories are about to explode. He becomes incapacitated, and she must run the factory.
Now, this is a familiar story line for gender comedy – why is it so damn funny? It starts with the screenplay, which is smart and quick like the classic screwball comedy that American filmmakers don’t make anymore. And the cast is filled with proven actors who play each comic situation with complete earnestness, no matter how absurd.
Director Francois Ozon, best known in the US for Swimming Pool and 8 Women, adapted the screenplay from a play and has a blast skewering late-70s gender roles and both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Gerard Depardieu plays the Communist mayor, who is both the husband’s nemesis and the wife’s former fling. Two of the very best French comic players, Fabrice Luchini and Karen Viard, shine in co-starring roles as the husband and his secretary.
In a Better World: How do we respond to violence without perpetuating a cycle of violence? What and how do we tell our kids? Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier (Brothers/Brodre, After the Wedding, Things We Lost in the Fire) takes on these questions through the stories of two 12-year-old boys and their well-meaning but troubled parents.
A schoolboy bully is handled through shock and awe, but the responses to other incidents of violence are far messier. A parent’s teachable moment about pacifism doesn’t seem effective, and the boys fashion their own disproportionate solution. One of the fathers, a do-gooder doctor who puts in time at a hell hole of an African refugee camp, must face pure evil in the form of a local warlord. It’s an often tense drama.
In a Better World benefits from outstanding performances, especially by the boy actors, William Jøhnk Juels Nielsen and Markus Rygaard.
In a Better World won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Picture. I didn’t like In a Better World as much as Brothers and After the Wedding, but it’s still an ambitious and successful film.
Set in late 16thcentury France amid the French religious wars, a young noblewoman is forced by her father to marry – but not the man she loves. Her new husband is unhealthily jealous and for good reason – various members of the Court fall in love with her and she is too immature to handle it well.
The 35th film directed by Bertrand Tavernier (Coup de Torchon) is often exquisite. There is brutal 16th century warfare set against the beautiful French countryside, gorgeous costumes, thundering horses, swordplay in the Louvre and heaving bosoms.
It’s a good film that could have been great. Unfortunately, Melanie Thierry doesn’t live up to the great role at the center of this romance. Instead, Lambert Wilson steals the picture with an exceptional performance as the husband’s mentor and the Princess’ confidant.
Hanna is a paranoid thrill ride starring Saoirse Ronan as a 16-year-old raised in the Arctic Circle to be a master assassin by her rogue secret agent father (Eric Bana), and then released upon the CIA. She is matched up against special ops wiz Cate Blanchett.
The story relies on two novelties. First, a teenage girl is raised to speak 20 languages fluently and kill people with her hands. Second, the same teenage girl is raised to have no familiarity with electricity, music and other teens. Because Ronan is perfect and the pacing flies along, sthe story works. Hanna is ably directed by Joe Wright (Atonement, The Soloist).
The Robber/Der Rauber: The title character finishes a six-year prison term for bank robbery and immediately and compulsively robs a bank. He doesn’t care about the money, he is simply driven to rob banks.
He has spent his six years in prison obsessively training, and he wins the Vienna Marathon when he gets out. Along the way, his running ability helps him make dramatic escapes. The role of the robber is very physically demanding, and he is well-played by Andreas Lust (Revanche).
It’s a well-acted and at times beautifully shot movie, but the story by writer-director Benjamin Heidenberg lets us down. Why is the robber so compulsive? How did he get to be so alienated? Since he shows no emotion or human connection, why should we care?
There exists an excellent German bank robbery drama with lots of running, plus a great character, so I recommend Run Lola Run on DVD.