Saturday, April 12, 2008

Early Reviews!

I'm about two-thirds of the way through my selections from the Sarasota Film Festival, which concludes tomorrow. I'll be seeing Mister Lonely and Momma's Man tomorrow, and hope to have reviews up later in the week.

Last Saturday, I caught a rare Ingmar Bergman film called Face to Face, but I also caught...

When Did You Last See Your Father?
This was one of those films I went back and forth with a lot while watching, and it eventually fell on the "liked it" side, but it was a bit of a rocky road in getting there. The acting in the film (Jim Broadbent, Colin Firth, and Juliet Stevenson in particular) is superb. It's essentially a story about Colin Firth's character returning home to care for his father (Broadbent), who is diagnosed with cancer, although the two have a very strained relationship.

The film is told in the present day interspersed with flashbacks from childhood, when Firth was a boy, who at first idolizes his father, then resents him as he grows older and learns that his father isn't quite the man he thought he was, which leads to the strained relationship they've had as adults. Juliet Stevenson plays Broadbent's wife, and I thought she was really very good here.

It started out too choppy for my liking, and it's not necessarily that it's storytelling method changed all that much, but instead that I just got used to it. And I have to give it credit for not being as sappy and as maudlin as it could have been. Rather than making it yet another tragic deathbed thing, it's more about letting go of all of the little shit you've held against someone when faced with losing them.

Not a great film by any means, but I liked it well enough as I watched it. It's just one of those things where I think it'll ultimately end up being forgettable to me by the end of the year.

The Edge of Heaven
This was the winner of the Best Screenplay award at Cannes last year, and I think it was pretty damn well deserved. I really hate to make comparisons to Babel, because I think this is a better film, but my mind for some reason keeps wandering back there. Coincidence ends up being a big running theme through the film, but never felt ridiculously so. The film is laid out in three parts with a title card separating each section. With the first two segments, the title card reads "The Death of ____" so you know that a character introduced in that portion of the film will die.

There are several intertwining stories here, and I hate to say too much, but the stories go a little something like this. There's an older Turkish man now living in Germany who falls in love with a prostitute, also Turkish and she moves in with him. He has a son who is a professor, and the prostitute has a daughter in Turkey from whom she hasn't spoken to in awhile. A tragedy occurs, which sets the son on a journey back to Turkey to find the daughter.

The daughter, meanwhile, is in a political organization, and when she is forced to flee the country, she decides to seek out her mother in Germany. She doesn't know that her mother has been working as a prostitute, as she told her that she was working at a shoe store. So, she starts scoping out the shoe stores in search of her mother. Along the way, she meets a young German college student, and the daughter moves in with the college student and her mother (Hannah Schygulla, the only actor in the film I knew beforehand). And the two girls fall in love until the daughter is sent back to Turkey after being denied asylum, and the girlfriend follows her back to Turkey to help get her out of prison.

The third segment, I can't really talk about too much because it would give away the fate of some of the characters from the first two portions. But, I liked how that one played out.

It took awhile for me to figure out exactly where the film was headed and how these characters would connect, but I liked the journey, the stories, and the characters. A pretty worthwhile film if you ask me.

Savage Grace

A return to form for Julianne Moore? As far as her leading roles go, I'd say yes. But I don't think a nomination is going to happen since I could see this movie turning a lot of people off, especially in terms of the sex.

At first, I have to say, the performance seemed a bit jarring. Barbara Bakeland is pretty much an obnoxious social climbing bitch. But as the film progresses and you get a sense for the character, it actually sort of works. And, this is a case where Julianne in the over-the-top moments actually works. Barbara is an over-the-top character.

The film itself is extremely well shot, I thought. Beautiful really. But, I'd say that the narrative tries to cram in too much in too little time, moving from 1947 to 1972 and through, the US, France, Spain, England (and back and forth between some of those places) in a mere 96 minutes. And I think it comes at the expense of character development, particularly with Tony, the son. His character sort of changes gears way too quickly at the end, to where there really was no progression from point A to point B.

If this one took awhile to get from Cannes to the theaters, I can only imagine that it was in trying to secure an "R" rating, since the sex and discussions of sex are pretty envelope-pushing, especially when considering the MPAA: homosexuality, gay and straight anal sex, incest, full frontal male nudity, etc. I saw lots of old ladies covering their mouths and turning away from the screen. It's just going to be a hard sell here.

In the end, I found it a flawed film with enough elements to save it. But I think this one will definitely be one that will get some tongues wagging.

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