Remote Access

with George

Gomorrah (2009) — And Which Movies Should I See Next? (Poll)

This week on the 2009 revisit, I take a dive into Naples organized crime with Gomorrah. Keep your eyes on the prize, though; the end is only a few weeks away, and you know what that means… awards! But I can’t make it there without you. Which is why there are polls below the review. You tell me what to watch between now and then, and I’ll do my best. And I’ll review the top vote-getter from each poll.

Gomorrah is a hard film to watch. Not only does it include a lot of important characters whose names you have to remember and faces memorize, but it’s an honest look at a harsh world.

It takes place in Naples, a city at the base of a volcano and with an erupting gang war on its hands. We’re not sure who is on whose side (at least I wasn’t… I mean, the film doesn’t exact make that clear), and it really doesn’t matter. The point here is that violence is bad, and so is becoming a cog in its machine.

 

Throughout the film, we follow five storylines. In one, two 19-or-so-year-olds act reckless and get their hands on some guns that don’t belong to them. In another, a tailor takes a job with a Chinese gang instead of an Italian one. In yet another, a 13-year-old babyfaced grocery delivery boy finds some drugs and returns them to their drug kingpin owner, who intrigues him.

Gomorrah leaves you with a lot of things to think about, but not all that much to feel. Only two of the storylines pack anything close to an emotional punch… the rest feel rather reserved. It would have been easier to catch everyone’s names, but even harder to watch their struggles, if it hadn’t been so distant.

I’d also say the first half of the film completely sacrifices emotional connection for story and theme. And that prevents a lot of good scenes from being great scenes.

And a collection of good scenes makes a good movie, but not a great one. Pulp Fiction was great not only because it followed a non-linear timeline, but also because it made you care or at least interested in its characters. Gomorrah does that for some, but not enough of its own to be great.

My rating: 3/4

In consideration for: Best Supporting Actor (Abruzzese), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography

Next week: A Serious Man

Films of the Year So Far Roundtable

Today, I sit down at the ole virtual roundtable to discuss the films that have come out so far this year. The participants are all very knowledgeable, and I suggest you check out their own blogs/websites after reading this insightful post.

 

What are your favorite films of the year so far?

 

George (me), Remote Access: I’m counting A Separation, Tomboy, and The Interrupters as 2012, and they’re all at the top of my list right now, and they’re probably on the list to stay.

Jennifer, jenkakio.com: My favorite films so far are The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, The Raid: Redemption, Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Moonrise Kingdom.

Charles, Cinematic: If I had to pick my three favorite films of the year thus far, they’d be Moonrise KingdomThe Dark Knight Rises, and Beasts of the Southern Wild.  All of them are fantastic films that are likely to make my 10 Best list for 2012.

Andy, andywatchesmovies.com: Moonrise Kingdom is the top, followed closely by Beasts of the Southern Wild. Both films are incredibly touching stories (I was not expecting to cry during Beasts of the Southern Wild) but Moonrise Kingdom is just so much fun, it’s almost impossible not to watch the movie with a straight face. Rounding out the top five would be The Dark Knight Rises, Cabin in the Woods, and The Avengers which are all great summer movies.

 

What are some of the best performances you’ve seen so far?

 

George: Basically everyone from A Separation was amazing. Zoe Heran‘s performance in Tomboy was a revelation. I also quite liked Jack Black, an actor I’m usually not that fond of, in Bernie. And call me in love, but Charlize Theron is on a roll with Young Adult last year and Prometheus this year.

Jennifer: I can’t get over Tom Hardy‘s performance as Bane (The Dark Knight Rises).  His eyes are so expressive and the way he stands with his hands resting on his vest.  Super powerful.

Charles: This one is tough. I loved both Bill Murray and Edward Norton in Moonrise Kingdom. I was also really impressed by Quvenhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild, who felt believable in her role, something uncommon in most child actors these days.

Andy: Again, it’s going to be the leads in Moonrise Kingdom and Beasts of the Southern Wild. I’ve always been a huge fan of using non-actors in films because they can often give tremendously realistic performances.

 

Which films are you most looking forward to viewing that you’ve missed so far?

 

George: Beasts of the Southern WildMoonrise Kingdom, and oh… I don’t know… maybe Brave? Even though I haven’t seen a Pixar film in the theater since Up, and I still haven’t seen Cars 2. Jiro Dreams of Sushi, now that Jen mentions it.

JenniferMarley (Bob Marley Documentary), Safety Not Guaranteed, and The Hunger Games.

Charles: I missed A Separation in theaters, though it technically came out in 2011. I already pre-ordered in on Amazon so I should watch that soon.

Andy: I’m sad that I haven’t seen Brave yet and now it seems I’ve missed my chance to see it on the big screen, but I don’t mind picking it up on blu-ray when the time comes. Same with Amazing Spider-Man but I’m not all that excited for it, I just feel like I need to see it. Even though I’ve already seen it, I want to see The Dark Knight Rises again on the IMAX, which I expect to be a vastly different experience… Does that count?

 

Which films are you most looking forward to viewing that have yet to come out?

 

George: The Master (Mr. Maya Rudolph’s new film), Django Unchained (Tarantino’s latest), and because I found the ads during the Olympics completely adorable, The Odd Life of Timothy Green. If it’s anything even remotely close to my #2 film of last year, Hugo, then I’ll love it. And it looks like it might be… it looks magical.

Jennifer: The Hobbit, Skyfall, and Django Unchained.

Charles: If I had to pick three, it’d be LincolnLife of Pi, and Django Unchained (I’d really like to put The Master on my list).

Andy: Since I loved Coraline, I’m really hoping that Paranorman is a hit, I think it looks like a great time. The Master looks like it’s going to blow my mind, and Paul Thomas Anderson hasn’t let me down yet. Finally, Wreck-It Ralph combines my favorite things, video games and Disney. I’m actually going to be in Disney World around the time of its release, so that’s extra awesome.

 

Which films would you suggest to avoid this year?

 

George: I didn’t like Chronicle, but I wouldn’t discourage anyone from seeing it. Anyone who doesn’t like to cry at the movies should probably avoid the brilliant documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, though.

JenniferTotal Recall (remake) and Haywire.

Charles: I suggest missing John Carter.  Though the film got more criticism than it deserved just because it flopped in the box office, it doesn’t make it excusable for having an aimless story and bad acting.

Andy: I actually haven’t seen any films yet this year that I would say to avoid. I thought Ted would be a dud, but it was pretty good!

 

Any other thoughts?

 

George: I was taken aback by how good 21 Jump Street was, considering how sophomoric the jokes they put trailer were. Never judge a book by its cover, I guess! Otherwise, please seek out Grandma, A Thousand Times. It’s a charming little documentary that might just melt your heart.

Jennifer: I didn’t realize how much I love action movies so much. I haven’t seen any horror movies, which is my number one favorite genre.

Charles: Yes  I only saw a bit of To Rome with Love in the movie theater, and actually enjoyed it quite a bit.  I can’t say that the criticism was invalid because I didn’t see the entire movie, but I now am a little surprised about the negative reviews.

Andy: It will be interesting to see if the lower-budget films of the year can overtake the blockbuster beasts. The Hunger Games will likely get a lot of nominations but I thought it was just OK.

The Diary of Anne Frank/Mid-August Lunch (2009)

As with most of the films in the 2009 revisit so far, I had very little idea of what Mid-August Lunch would be about. I might have read the one-sentence Netflix descriptor, but I was basing my inclusion of it almost entirely on title, poster, and the fact I knew it was Italian.

Why then, would I tag that movie along with The Diary of Anne Frank, a film I not only already knew about, but a film that I had seen most of a few years ago (when it aired on PBS in the US)? It was mostly random, I suppose, and I figured that if I had no reason to discuss them together, I could always review them separately. Fortunately for my viewing experience, there was a connection. Don’t you love it when that happens?

Anne Frank, for those of you who don’t know, was a 13-year-old when she went into hiding with her family in 1940s Amsterdam. She hid because she was Jewish. Her life, which was already set to change because she was entering adolescence, was about to be flipped upside down by Hitler and war. During these teenage years in which most people learn life isn’t fair, the lesson would be even harsher for her.

Neither film is particularly plot-heavy. The majority of The Diary of Anne Frank takes place in one location, and for better or worse, the film is much more focused on characters and the interplay therein. Asked to describe what Mid-August Lunch is about, I would say, “food, money, and old people,” and I would be 100% correct. A man takes in three old ladies as favors he owes for not being able to pay rent or bills. And that’s all that happens, really.

The major link between these two films is that they’re both about loneliness.

The teenage angst in The Diary of Anne Frank is often obvious and overdone, and the tension is occasionally forced. Sometimes, it fails to be anything but a scope-less portrait of a growing girl. But it tells a human story, and it does it well for the most part. This isn’t a thriller reenactment or a war epic. It’s an adaptation of the actual diary of Anne Frank, and therefore relies completely on the small things, and whether or not you’ll buy and appreciate them.

Anne (played exceptionally well by Ellie Kendrick) is lonely. She claims no one understands her. These are basic youth complaints, but the fact that it is set against the dreadful background of World War II is what made her writings artifacts, and what makes her special.

The old ladies in Mid-August Lunch are lonely, if not completely alone, as well. Their families neither need nor want them. Gianni takes them in because he’s being forced to, but by the time comes for them to leave, he’ll only let them go if he’s forced to.

In that movie, people find each other and they do live happily-ever-after. In The Diary of Anne Frank, however, things a little more complicated. People find each other, then drift apart, then get angry at each other, then make up and do it all again, because they’re living together in a confined space that wasn’t really meant for living.

But the beautiful tragic truth of the whole film is that they are lucky, as a few characters exclaim with surprising hope throughout the film. They’re lucky not only to still have each other, but also the not be dead yet. And even though their case is special and much more dire, the same goes for the characters in Mid-August Lunch and for us all.

The Diary of Anne Frank: It is at its best when it reaches beyond the trite melodrama and lets Anne be flawed and hit real emotion. Great performances from Kendrick, Iain Glen as Otto Frank, and Tim Dantay as Mr. Kugler. I take or leave Geoff Breton as Peter. 3/4.

Mid-August Lunch: A fun, lively, but modestly paced slice-of-life film that explores people’s need to be needed. Lead actor/director/screenwriter Gianni Di Gregorio seems to be talented in all his roles. 3/4.

Update

I haven’t been posting between the weekend reviews for the 2009 Marathon, but that will change soon. In the meantime, and for all the films I’ve seen but haven’t posted about, you can check my List of Reviews page, as I may post them elsewhere. I’ll try to keep an updated list of the most recent reviews on that page.

Remember, this week on the marathon, we have a double-header: Mid-August Lunch and The Diary of Anne Frank (Masterpiece). Next week, I hope to start posting something mid-week again. Currently, I’m working on an update of the Top 10 Films I WAS Embarrassed I Hadn’t Seen Yet.

Also next week, I’ll start putting together the much shorter back half of the marathon, hopefully with your help.

Fish Tank (2009)

Mia is reckless. She picks fights with girls without justification. When she sees a nice horse, she tries to steal it. Her life has no direction. Is it nature or nuture? Her mother, who is perhaps more reckless and less sympathetic, says “it’s like she came out looking for trouble.”

That’s just the thing Mia’s mother (Kierston Wareing) would say. She’s an abusive single parent (living in a housing complex) who likes to party and rarely has an intelligent thought. She begins seeing a security guard at a home improvement store, Connor, but there are no scenes between them that say they’ll last. There is no connection.

Meanwhile, Mia (newcomer Katie Jarvis), a teen, has taken up hip-hop dance, after seeing a skank she hates do it poorly. The first scene in which she dances doesn’t really flatter her limited skills. But she tries again, in front of the TV (tuned to a Ja Rule music video) one morning, in her pajamas. That’s when she meets her mother’s boyfriend.

Her mother acts differently around Connor (Michael Fassbender) than she does around her daughters, Mia and Tyler (Jarvis and Rebecca Griffiths, respectively); she’s much less abusive.

During one of her mother’s parties, and while her nine-year-old sister was upstairs drinking and smoking with a friend, Mia gets overly intoxicated and passes out in her mother’s room. (Her mother only cares because she’s in her room.) It’s Connor who picks her up, takes her to her room, and covers her with a blanket. It’s a simple act of kindness, but it might have been the first kind thing anyone has done for Mia in a long time.

One day, Connor takes Mia and Tyler along with their mother on one of their long drives (to the dismay of Mia’s mother). They drive to a pond, where Connor takes his shoes off and announces he’ll be entering the water to catch a fish. Mia’s mother and sister ridicule him, but Mia joins him. And while Mia and Connor try (and succeed) to catch a fish, Mia’s mother and sister continue to call them names. Their comments do nothing but try to put them down. Connor occasionally teases Mia over the course of the film, but his comments are never meant to hurt her.

There is a clear lack of ambition among the residents of the complex, including the three women at the heart of the story. Connor even asks the girls what animal they would want to come back as in a future life. Each of them chooses an animal that stays on the ground, while he says he would want to be a bald eagle. “Wouldn’t you want to fly?” he asks.

[Spoilers begin here.]

But Mia can change. We see that she’s an observer. The scene with the dancing skank, spying on her mother and Connor, the horse (whose owner she develops a relationship with), Connor’s yard and house… director Andrea Arnold makes it clear that she’s not just a poor, dumb girl who wasn’t taught any better.

It becomes apparent, at one point, after Connor does many kind things in a row for her, that she’s falling for him. And him for her. Even though they’re both immature in their own ways, they have some brains. Arnold shows us Mia dancing once again, this time in front of Connor and with his favorite song (which is turning into her favorite song). Arnold likes to put her characters in dimly lit places, and perhaps it was just the late evening lighting, but Mia actually looked like a good dancer. She looked like she was in a stylish music video, living the dream.

Mia, a 15-year-old, and Connor, a 30-year-old, become intimate.

The next day, Connor is gone. Mia’s mother is bawling, and Mia tries to find him.

She traces him to a suburban home a few miles from her town. And once Mia realizes that Connor has a wife/live-in girlfriend and a child, she turns into an animal… peeing on what she perceives as her property, taking her jealousy and frustration out on his little girl, who she kidnaps. The child even says “you’re starting to scare me now.” This innocent little girl is threatening this thing she likes, and what is her plan?

What is ever her plan? She tries to steal the pretty white horse twice, and fails both times. But what if she succeeded? What would she do with it?

After a water scene that contrasts beautifully with the scene back at the pond, Mia comes to her senses. It’s both devastating and reassuring. Finally, she’s doing a somewhat mature thing. There are no grand speeches, no lightbulbs. She gives the child back, and moves on.

The next day, she has an audition as an erotic dancer. Only she doesn’t know about the erotic part until she sees the girl before her. The tape on Mia’s audition is Connor’s favorite song, and half in retaliation toward him, and half because she doesn’t want to be an erotic dancer, she storms out. Two mature things in a row. The film could have ended right there.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t. A few more things happen, none of them effective or satisfying. Part of this is because we never got a good sense of the person who “rescues” her from the housing complex, the owner of the horse she tried to steal. The film patches up what had cracked, for no apparent reason but to have a happy ending.

3.5/4

Notes:

  • I wondered if Mia’s mother still talks to her parents.
  • Tyler acts differently around Connor, as well. Her foul mouth cleans up a bit.
  • How quickly Mia goes from the hunter (of “Kira”) to the hunted (by Connor), and from unhappy to happy to unhappy, again. At one point, Tyler gives the opinion that anything that can fly can be shot down easily.
  • Next week: Mid-August Lunch and The Diary of Anne Frank.

Mine (2009)

A narrative film’s opening images are important enough. But for the documentary, a medium that is completely reality-based (well, the F for Fakes and reenactment films aside), images are crucial. The 2009 documentary Mine knows this all too well. After all, what post-9/11 images of America are more powerful than the ones of Hurricane Katrina and its devastating aftermath?

Mine tells the tale of animals (specifically dogs) left behind immediately before Katrina hit New Orleans. It has typical general informational content, but Mine also chooses a few individual stories to focus on. It backs up the shots of tattered New Orleans with these stories about man and his best friend.

But Mine isn’t just about dogs and humans and their dependence on each other; it is also about how humans deal with other humans. In many of the vignettes, Katrina survivors and the people who have adopted or fostered these animals end up at odds because the new caretakers no longer want to give them back. We get to meet a couple who have adopted Joey, a dog whose name used to be Max, and now wish to keep him, even after his New Orleans owner has come forward. This isn’t a one-sided issue. I’ve lost two cats (who were originally my own) in the last 10 months. I’ve also adopted a third from my local animal shelter. How would I feel if I found out Chris or Izzy had a new home and their new owner intended to keep them? How would I feel if the old owner of Amy knocked on my door and demanded her back?

Mine is very emotional, but never manipulative. It’s a document, signed by real people, proven by their real emotions… which is what the form was made for. It might as well have been a soapy drama about people losing and finding each other after a hurricane, but it’s not. The director allows events and twists to flow naturally, and nothing feels rushed or pushed… not even a Canadian’s (mostly correct) observations on American prejudices. Everything is in its place, and its rewarding to see animals return to theirs, but just as emotional and heartbreaking to see some come up short.

My rating (out of four): ****