Sunday, March 14, 2010

Last Five Films You've Seen #2

The last five films you saw, no matter what they were or where you saw them. Here are mine:

(1) We Live In Public (2009)

Excellent documentary from Ondi Timoner, director of classic rock doc Dig! (2004). Here she unearths another gem of a story about little-known internet pioneer and proto-Warholian figure Josh Harris, chronicling the late 90s love-in between dot-com nerds and New York's party/art scene. Through Harris it was suddenly difficult to tell where parties ended and art happenings began, what was a business venture and what an anthropoligical experiment. We Live In Public is a fascinatng look at the digital era in its infancy, ripe with optimism and unease, a lawless frontier where anything was possible and everything allowed. It couldn't last and now, a mere decade later, it all seems like something from another age.

(2) 500 Days Of Summer (2009)

I really liked this. Yeah, I know, it's too cutesy for its own good at times, tries too hard to sugar a bitter pill, but not many films challenge Hollywood's love is fate paradigm so I'm willing to cut it some slack. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is excellent as fool-for-love Tom, and Zooey Deschanel is perfect as the object of his infatuation, Summer. Yes, some killjoys find her too calculated and kooky for their tastes but then some people would be happier living in colour-free Stalinist misery, so what do they know. Besides, Summer might be cute but she's also self-centred, cold even. She can have sex and generally be intimate with someone while maintaining a distance from them, from the experience, like it’s a holiday, like she’s a tourist in other people’s feelings. Tom, on the other hand, is an open wound of romantic desire just waiting to be healed by the love of a perfect girl, saved by her. Salvation or damnation. At heart then, a very serious film. Pity about the ending though.

(3) Up In The Air (2009)

For two-thirds of the way a smart, sophisticated entertainment for grown-ups, made with breezy style. Then it betrays itself in the name of family and 'heart'. And then, even worse, it doesn't have the courage to follow through on this and tries to regain its integrity with a downbeat ending. This rings as false as any tacked on happy one. I mean does anyone know how to end a film anymore? Clooney is superb of course, making it look effortless as all the greats do. There's a lovely chemistry between him and Vera Farmiga while Anna Kendrick's young hot-shot novice is flat-out brilliant. Once the soppy indie songs appear on the soundtrack, though, you know the filmmakers have lost faith in their own ability to generate emotion. See it, it really is very good. Just a pity it couldn't keep it going all the way though.

(4) Sherlock Holmes (2009)

The art of the trailer is usually employed in making films look better than they really are, or funnier. The above trailer for Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes is actually a pretty accurate summation of the film itself. It really is that much fun. An exciting romp that has all the gravitas and depth of a pancake but is the kind of undemanding film I would gladly watch again tomorrow. Robert Downey Jnr is in his element here, creating a lovely double-act with Jude Law. Silly nonesense but pulled off with surprising style and good cheer.

(5) Bad Day At Black Rock (1955)

Like 3D and other Hollywood gimmicks, Cinemascope was often used inappropriately, destroying the natural ratio aspect and composition of films that had no need for it. Bad Day At The Black Rock was a noble exception. Arguably the greatest pleasure to be found in John Sturges classic thriller is its widescreen look, its intelligent use of real locations (vast Western skies and jagged mountain ranges) to enhance the film's sense of isolation and entrapment. From the opening credits, over the Southern Pacific Streamliner making its way through the Californian desert, the eye is hooked by the colour and visual elegance of the film. And that's before one-armed Spencer Tracy steps off the train at the archtypal town-with-a-secret to take on the finest rogues gallery in movie history; racist ringleader Robert Ryan, sneering bully Ernst Borgnine and slouchy snake Lee Marvin.

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