Monday, October 12, 2009

There's A Place In The Buried West, In A Cave, With A House In It

Back to a quick entry of short paragraph reviews, though this time I have a theme to work with sort of as each film chronicles a tale taking place in a different country. Also, these films are all 2009 films, as my count on the year quickly approaches the 60 film mark. I was going to toss in a Trick 'r Treat review in here as well, but I think that one will get its own entry, especially since it works its way into my incredibly generic Keep the Lights On! October mini-marathon of horror films. Additionally, readers here may or may not know that I have been writing two weekly articles for The Reelists, so you can keep up with regular posts from me there as well as Processed Grass has taken a bit of a back seat to that one. Either way, on to the four films.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil (Gervasi, 2009)

I know enough about metal to know that, the majority of modern, inaudible, loud music is crap. I know enough about Canada to know that it kicks a good deal of ass, at least the parts in which I've traveled thus far. That said, I knew nothing about the band Anvil prior to entering this film, so like any good documentary I was prepared to get learned on the subject. The hook here is that Anvil is like a real life Spinal Tap~esque doc, and as far as humor goes it mostly delivers. The laughs are plentiful, especially early on since the film begins to tackle a few more deeper emotions as the narrative progresses, though humor can only carry a film so far. Luckily, Anvil! does not put a huge emphasis on the music, though the small snippets that were played were nice enough to listen to since Anvil apparently plays the 80's hair metal stuff rather than that new age grunt and yell. It's not Black Sabbath, Hell it's not even any Megadeth...well okay maybe it's comparable to Megadeth, which means it's still pretty decent. Still, the focus here is on the lead singer, Lips, and his constant determination, his drive to succeed. The man's passion and determination are admirable, two qualities the film captures nicely, but I suppose the notion that one can take away is that Lips is just a nice guy. And maybe nice guys do finish last, but why is money important when you are doing something you love? These concepts are a little too general for my liking, but the film makes them compelling. Plus the pacing helps make the viewing enjoyable and less of a chore. I had expected this year's Man on Wire or King of Kong, what I go was a doc that is slightly better than Soul Power, but not quite up to the level of a Food, Inc. How's that for arbitrary?

B/B+ or 3.7648972146234623085435

Sin Nombre (Fukunaga, 2009)

Traveling from Canada to Brazil, or Mexico, or someplace weird like that, we get the directorial debut from Cary Joji Fukunaga who has one of the coolest names I've ever seen given that he was apparently born and raised in Oakland. Simply by looking at the film one would not guess that it is a director's first effort, everything about the movie is visually beautiful, but when we start looking at the narrative the film's flaws are slowly exposed. Character motivation is not always there, some of the situations are a bit too convenient, and the relationship between the two leads does not really generate enough interest to feature it as the main focus of the story. Thankfully the film has enough depth that the glimpses into gang life, the journey Mexico to the United States, and the development of a young mind are all incredibly fascinating and handled with incredible mastery. Fukunaga makes the world and the characters come alive despite not getting much from his leads, so for that I would be willing to call the film at least pretty good, but add in the fact that the cinematography is spectacular and the film showcases some of the greatest costumes all year and I am very confident in calling Sin Nombre a successful film despite the numerous shortcomings from a narrative perspective.

B-/B or 3.4683245307964952753

Tulpan (Dvortsevoy, 2009)

Next stop on this entry's world wide (but not really since we are only showcasing two continents) tour we make a quick stop in Kazakhstan to take a look at this year's Kazakh entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. Focusing on the exploits of an aspiring goat farmer, Tulpan showcases an interesting filmmaking style and mixes with a great lead performance to make for a touching comedy with more than enough drama and symbolism going on to keep me interested in a cerebral sense. The driving sequences here are really entertaining as well and they help with character juxtaposition and ideological comparison. Overall the film is a little disjointed in the sense that I can remember individual scenes fondly, but as a whole the film does not really stand out until the climax. But oh boy is it some climax. Tension is built, I was left feeling slightly uncomfortable but also compelled to watch, drawn to see how everything would play out. And the payoff is both rewarding and a great conclusion to the film's themes. I was not expecting much from this film and, while it does have its share of flaws, the camera is used in such interesting ways and the performances are so good that I can easily recommend the film to anyone with an interest in Kazakh cinema and, likely more pertinent to any readers, dramadies in general. Plus the film links the majority of its themes with symbols in the movie, and I really had a fun time making these connections, so there is a bit of extraneous detail to chew on during repeat viewings. Tulpan likely will not stand much of a chance at taking home the Foreign Language Picture Oscar because it does not seem like the type of film the Academy gravitates towards, but it seems like as good a place as any to start with Kazakh cinema. Additionally, I have now seen as many goats being born as I have people.

B- or 3.3982348732894537205832

Away We Go (Mendes, 2009)

Does that smell like a Big Mac with the buns replaced by Boston Cream Doughnuts? We must be back in America. Fittingly, this cinematic tour concludes with Away We Go, a film that is, at least partially, about traveling. Also continuing the idea of directors dealing with a foreign country, Sam Mendes' follow up to last year's brilliant Revolutionary Road comes in the form of another tale about the American family struggling with a new situation. This time Mendes lets his comedy come out, anchored by a fairly well known cast of actors. Jim Gaffigan, John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Catherine O'Hara are just a few of the faces that make appearances during the film's mostly lean run time. As a comedy I am not sure how successful the film is because, well, the film did not make me laugh all that often or all that audibly. And in retrospect I am not sure how well the Rudolph/Krasinski relationship worked for me either since I recall very few specific details about the two aside from the fact that she was pregnant and they were attempting to find 'home.' The whole point here is the journey though, and Mendes packs the film with enough heightened realism to make each stop at least interesting in some regard. The real strength of the film though is, without a doubt, the direction paired with the cinematography. Mendes sure has a way with a camera, a brilliant sophistication that makes for an ocular delight. Sure that is not enough to outweigh all of the narrative's negatives nor does it excuse a lackluster central romance, but damn does the film look fantastic.

C/C+ or 2.9892317438290534805

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  1. I thought the comedy half of Away We Go was hysterical. I laughed out loud pretty consistently until it switched off to the drama half. I'm definitely trying to see Anvil! and Sin Nombre still.

  2. Maggie and Jim Gaff are good, but John Krasinski did little for me and I forgot most of the other jokes the day after, but Mendes is great with a camera and seeing him use the wide shot is fantastic.

    Both of those other films are worth watching. Tulpan is on Instant Watch and in two days so is Lymelife. I have nothing but good things to say about that film, it currently sits at number 1, 2, or 3. Emma Roberts is incredible in there.