Monthly Archives: February 2014

Movie Review: The Broken Circle Breakdown

The Broken Circle BreakdownTitle: “The Broken Circle Breakdown”

Director: Felix Van Groeningen

Writers: Carl Joos, Felix Van Groeningen

Starring: Veerle Baetens, Johan Heldenbergh, Nell Cattrysse

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

Elise and Didier fall in love, despite the fact that they couldn’t be more different. They are brought together through their love of bluegrass music, and they quickly move in, get married, and have a child together. But their world is shattered when their child is diagnosed with aggressive cancer.

“The Broken Circle Breakdown” is dramatic and moving. The story is very sad, and you should be prepared to feel depressed at the end of this movie. This is not an uplifting movie or feelgood in any way. But it is powerful, with moving performances and a touching subject, contrasted with the constant presence of bluegrass music.

The movie has a single and obvious major problem that runs throughout the movie: The editing is atrocious! The film jumps around in time so much that it makes it difficult to figure out where you are in the story. This affects the story immensely as the audience is left spending more time trying to figure out when they are as opposed to the story itself. I’ve heard films described as being unable to find their center. The editing feels like the film is a spinning top and the editor keeps touching and adding weight to various parts, causing it to wobble over and over again and never gives it a chance to stabilize. Also, at one point Didier winds up having a major public breakdown that seems out of place and involves political ranting when there were no politics involved throughout the course of the movie. It felt shoehorned in and detracted from the film’s impact.

This is a real shame. Other than the terrible editing, this is a really strong and emotional movie. It’s not meant to be feelgood. It’s supposed to be somewhat depressing, and it does that job very well. The performances are excellent and moving. But the editing is so distracting that the movie falls apart from forcing the audience to pay more attention to what point they are in the story than on the story itself.

“The Broken Circle Breakdown” earns 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Movie Review: The Hunt

The HuntTitle: “The Hunt (Jagten)”

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Writers: Tobias Lindholm, Thomas Vinterberg

Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Lucas is a kindergarten teacher in a small Danish town. While well loved by the children and his friends, this changes when he is accused of molesting one of the children. Swiftly, the town turns on him, leaving him an outcast as the accusations grow.

“The Hunt” is one of those movies that is troubling and powerful. The audience is given an omniscient point of view in this film. We know that Lucas is innocent and we see how the accusation got started in a little lie, but we’re powerless to do anything other than sit and watch as events play out. We watch as he is let go from his job, his friends ostracize him, and he is assaulted in public, even though we know he’s innocent.

Acted amazingly well by Mads Mikkelsen, I can see this film being controversial in some circles. Some may see this as being an apologetic film for child molesters and saying that it says that we should give them the benefit of the doubt, and that would completely miss the point and be evident that they didn’t actually watch the movie. Instead, the message here is a warning against witch hunts, and not to rush to immediately believe the worst but to allow investigations to play out. It’s an examination of our own darker side and our desire to believe the worst in human nature as an ever-present threat, so much so that our passions can blind us to the facts.

If I have to fault this film, it would be for its ending. While the actual ending is left ambiguous and rightfully so, the film lost me in the minutes leading up to this ending. It seemed completely unbelievable with us arriving at a resolution without seeing how we reached that resolution. It felt like the filmmakers knew where they wanted to go with it, but had written themselves into a corner and didn’t know how to get from where they were to their intended destination. A pretty big stumble for an otherwise powerful movie.

A strong and amazingly powerful film, “The Hunt” deserves your attention even if it peters out near the end. It’s available on Netflix as of the time of this writing.

“The Hunt” earns 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Movie Review: The Great Beauty

The Great BeautyTitle: “The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza)”

Director: Paolo Sorrentino

Writers: Paolo Sorrentino, Umberto Contarello

Stars: Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

If there’s a film that could be labeled as pretentious and full of itself this year, it would be “The Great Beauty,” but this would be a serious misunderstanding of this film.

Jep Gambardella is a writer, or at least he was a writer. He wrote one book 40 years ago when he first came to Rome, but the city swallowed him up as he got caught up in the Rome’s high life, partying every night and having high-minded pretentious discussions with his friends. After celebrating his 65th birthday, he receives news that the love of his life from years past has died, and it causes him to reflect on his life and his failure, of the ideals he held when he first came to Rome and how he lost his way, saying that he would write when he managed to find the great beauty but never did.

The pretentiousness in this film is actually part of the point. Jep has lost himself, and he’s now seeing how hollow and empty his life really is as he wanders Rome, taking in art, seeing old friends, and forming and breaking relationships. Like an Italian Ulysses, it’s an examination of life on a journey through the city. The characters are well-written without becoming annoying, and the city itself can be considered a living, breathing character within the context of this film. It’s one of the most introspective films as Jep looks inside himself while examining Rome in all its beauty and all its squalor.

This film’s editing can occasionally be troublesome and lead to some confusion until later shots clear up any problems. Also, the movie can feel like it’s a little too long and probably could have been edited down a little further, although it’s difficult to tell if that could have diminished the overall effect. The soundtrack is also quite catchy, although it’s also very eclectic, so it may not be to everyone’s tastes.

“The Great Beauty” is a fantastic film once you get below its flashy and pretentious surface, and even that surface is impressive to look at. A movie of many layers, it’s definitely worth your time if you have the time to give.

“The Great Beauty” earns 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Movie Review: Omar

OmarTitle: “Omar”

Director: Hany Abu-Assad

Writer: Hany Abu-Assad

Stars: Adam Bakri, Leem Lubany, Iyad Hoorani

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Palestinian entry to the Academy, “Omar” tells a compelling story about a young Palestinian man who gets caught up in a resistance movement led by his childhood friend, Tarek. In love with Tarek’s sister, Nadia, he goes on a mission which ends with the death of an Israeli soldier. After being captured by Israeli forces and interrogated, he is given a choice: Help them find the man responsible for the soldier’s death (who they believe is Tarek), or they will put him away forever. Thus begins a game of cat and mouse as the audience is left to question whether Omar will really betray his friends, or if he is simply playing the Israeli forces.

This movie is excellent in its minimalism. Beginning with an impressive shot of the security wall as Omar climbs it to get to his job at a bakery, the first thing we notice is the sound. The audience is left to listen to every sound on screen, from grunts, gunshots, and the like. There is no music in this film. Backgrounds are instead punctuated by the din of surrounding conversations, or the sound of construction. And yet we don’t really miss the music. The background sound becomes part of the character of this movie.

It tells an impressive story that has genuine twists and turns, and while there are clues as to the film’s conclusion, we don’t know what’s ultimately going to happen in that last frame. However, it does fall apart a bit near the end, as the ending starts to become blindingly obvious the closer we get.

While the movie is controversial and some have labeled the movie as jihadist propoganda simply because it’s a Palestinian film, that label is unfair. The setting happens to be in the West Bank, but this film’s story could be easily translated to nearly anywhere in the world. The fact that it involves Palestinians and Israelis almost feel like a circumstance, and we aren’t beaten over the head with it or any political ideology despite it being a fundamental part of the story. The main story comes in Omar’s internal conflict, primarily with his love for Nadia and what his actions could mean for her, and we root for him to get the girl and run away from all this conflict, which clearly becomes his goal.

“Omar” tells a beautiful if conflicted love story set in the context of a modern conflict. While some may be turned off by it’s background subject, if you have an open mind and patience with opposing viewpoints, you’ll find an excellent and touching film albeit with an obvious ending that doesn’t provide much of a surprise by the time you get there.

“Omar” earns 4 out of 5 stars.

Movie Review: Blue Jasmine

Blue JasmineTitle: “Blue Jasmine”

Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen

Stars: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This movie was supposed to be Woodie Allen’s return to the big time with lots of press saying that this was his best movie in years. Then again, we hear this about nearly every one of his films. I’m sorry to say that after the wonderful “Midnight in Paris,” “Blue Jasmine” is kind of a let down.

“Blue Jasmine” follows Jasmine, played by Cate Blanchett, who was a high-society socialite in New York and has fallen on hard times after her investor husband was convicted and committed suicide in prison. It has broken her mind in a way as she has a tendency to talk to herself frequently, so she has come to San Francisco to live with her sister until she can get back on her feet.

The performances are phenomenal. Every person in this movie played their part excellently. Allen has great talent as a director for getting the best out of his cast. Everyone from Blanchett to Louis C.K. to Andrew Dice Clay (yes, he is in this movie) turn in some of the best performances I’ve seen out of any of them.

But there’s a fundamental flaw, and one that I can’t believe I’m writing about: The dialogue just…doesn’t…work. That feels very strange to write about a Woodie Allen movie, but it’s true. The dialogue comes off as annoying rather than endearingly awkward (let’s face it, at least in the beginning, Blanchett is playing Woodie Allen, which isn’t a bad choice given her ability to play Bob Dylan). But the screenplay they had to work with, while telling a good story and making the characters endearing even if they’re not the most likeable, could have been so much better, and it feels like it’s diminished with clumsy and annoying dialogue.

It’s a Woodie Allen film that has some problems, even if the actors involved have turned in some of the best performances of their career. The dialogue gets irritating quickly and doesn’t feel like it measures up to Allen’s past films. A disappointment, although a disappointment with merits.

“Blue Jasmine” earns 3 out of 5 stars.