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Archive for January, 2011

This review first appeared on Quarantine the Past on December 3, 2009.

The men of Distant lead lives of quiet desperation. One drifts through life, guided by apathy, married only to his meaningless daily routines. The other, a villager displaced in Istanbul, floats around town, ogling women and hunting for work. His neuroses (and illiteracy) render him unemployable and unattractive.

Like the other Nuri Bilge Ceylan film on this list, Distant shows the stuff of everyday life. It’s a film of small moments, detailing how two introverted men long for external joy yet remain shackled by inertia. The film captures that unfortunate truth: Human beings will always fear change, no matter how mundane their circumstances. Things could always get worse. Rejection and failure lie one misstep ahead. The day-to-day institutionalizes us, until we act not out of desire, but out of sheer habit. (more…)

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A lush, lurid nightmare.

**** 1/2 out of *****

Frenzied emotions, expressive costumes, booming musical cues — this is the stuff of cinematic melodrama. I eat it up. Frazzled minds were made for the movies. Melodrama, as a genre, lets filmmakers run wild. It lets gifted stylists visualize repression and festering anger with filmic flourishes. A boring melodrama has its characters mope and talk. An engaging one packs the screen with visual manifestations of those characters’ most primal instincts: jealousy, love, fury. In life, these things tend to simmer. In melodrama, they pop, like the red on James Dean’s jacket. You don’t win points for subtlety here.

Darren Aronofsky, the director who flogged us all with the acid-dipped D.A.R.E. shirt he called Requiem for a Dream, is up for this task. This guy only carries blunt instruments. His films hammer; they don’t scalpel. Aronofsky hails from the more-is-more school of filmmaking, which places a premium on viscera over intellect. As such, he tends to live in that ghetto critics call “style over substance.” But now he’s given us Black Swan, his most satisfying movie to date. This is a terrific film about the creative process — its paranoid rivalries and cycles of self-hatred — told with the broad, bold strokes of horror and melodrama.

Black Swan dives into the mind of an insecure perfectionist (Natalie Portman). I’ve known the type. To a large extent, I am the type. Portman doesn’t effuse raw talent. She can’t “lose herself” in “transcendent” moments of artistry, as her superior (Vincent Cassel) often notes. She’s too self-aware, too rigid. But she works harder than anyone. She compensates for natural skill with borderline unhealthy devotion. If ballet were an essay test, she’d be the girl with flashcards. (more…)

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Print the Legend has caught a belated case of listomania. Here now are my 10 favorite films from 2010. I’m writing this without having seen several of the year’s major contenders: Black Swan, The King’s Speech, I Am Love, Winter’s Bone, or 127 Hours. So this list could change in the coming weeks. By the end of 2010, however, these were the titles I most admired from the year.

10: The Ghost Writer

Let’s get this out of the way: 2010 wasn’t a banner year for the movies. Unlike, say, 2007, a year cinephiles will romanticize for decades to come, 2010 held few cinematic stunners. One of them, The Ghost Writer, felt as though it were beamed in from another age entirely. Roman Polanksi directs this Bush-era picture as a sedate, ’70s thriller with a Hitchcockian hand. The Ghost Writer brims with tantalizing subtext: some political (it echoes the real-life story of David Kelly), some cinematic (allusions to past filmic greats abound), and some autobiographical (Polanski edited this claustrophobic film while under house arrest). It also closes with one of the year’s great shots, an image that makes me smile just thinking about it. (more…)

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