An entry in a periodic series of reviews of films celebrating milestones in 2015
Brief Review: The novelty of the Hussein family embracing Thatcherism may have worn off, but the film could be worth a look for early glimpses of at the time emerging star Daniel Day Lewis and a generally fine ensemble cast.
Release Date: August 18, 1985
Action-drama-action-drama-action-drama. Given the choice of following a policeman on his last days before a sex-change operation or mind numbing mayhem, Man on High Heels offers too much tragic-action for my taste. Seung-won Cha is great playing the lead with as little irony as possible. It is overall a much more humane treatment of the transgender role than expected. But after awhile the burden everyone carries is too much, and the action too cruel for the movie to elicit more from me than a blank stare and a shoulder shrug.
True to the storied bear’s origin, funny and cinematically sophisticated, Paul King’s Paddington is a children’s film that actually works. Great care obviously went into the production, with effects placed into a children’s live action film at levels of quality I have not seen since Hugo. What is “real” and what is the effects team’s imagination blend almost seamlessly.
Palace intrigue and bureaucratic reform in 15th Century Korea are deftly handled in The Face Reader. Kang-ho Song as always is fun to watch as the titular character, who winds his way from poverty and disgrace to the heights of power and back again. Director Jae-rim Han keeps the story simple enough for non-Korean audiences to follow this Korean period drama, which makes it a good introduction to the genre.
The comic book origins of the story are never more apparent than in the clashing final confrontation scenes of Secretly, Greatly, Chul-soo Jang’s action-comedy-drama about North Korean super spies. The different cinematic requirements of drama and action are kept in check until the final 20 minutes, when they stumble over each other, making for a relatively disappointing finish to an otherwise entertaining film.
There should be a rich vein of comedy to mine in a send-up of American foreign policy hubris, press incompetence, manipulation and petty dictatorships, but The Interview fails to dig deep enough to make it sting and make us laugh. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have all the ingredients of a farce, but rely on the well-worn stoner-womanizer personas of the leads too often to take the film into more interesting territory.
If one could enjoy a movie for mood and setting alone, Inherent Vice may be the masterpiece of the year. It is America of of 1970 that director P.T. Anderson is laying out, that time of hazy drugs and confused meanings when the entire country seemed to have completely lost the post-war plot. That the rootlessness of the times overwhelms the characters is understandable, but at 2 1/2 hours, viewers may become restless at the meandering developments that always seem to be leading somewhere, but which never reach any specific conclusion.
The first in a periodic series of reviews of films celebrating milestones in 2015
Release Date: January 25, 1995
It is difficult to believe that The Usual Suspects is 20 already. Bryan Singer’s mid-1990s pulp about five criminals attempting a heist to save their lives seemed to be pointing the way toward a noir future when it was released. It seems like just yesterday we were talking about a twist ending that “we never saw coming.” Sure it wasn’t The Crying Game (1992) levels of twisted, but I think we were out of the practice of watching suspense tales unfold, so the question of “Who Is Keyser Soze?…If he even exists” was fresh for us without long film memories at the time.
Kevin Spacey won his first Oscar for his role in the film. Christopher McQuarrie also won an Oscar for original screenplay. Both screenwriter and director would pair up again several times in much bigger budget fare – most notably X-Men, Jack, the Giant Slayer, and Valkyrie. As far as independent movies go, it could be considered a success. Below are four questions to contemplate at 20:
Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner presents as close to a 360 view of a character as I think one can have on film without employing a cat scan. It is outstanding, if a bit long. I am not certain who is going to be nominated next month for best actor for the Academy Awards, but if Timothy Spall isn’t at least in the mix, I am not certain what an actor has to do to get there. I guess maybe he could talk more and grunt less, but my goodness, he takes to the role of the English painter JMW Turner with zeal.
The film is a domestic and social portrait of one of the pivotal artists in history during the last 25 years of his life. Turner kept sketchbooks but he was not a diarist, so we don’t have any deep insights into what he was thinking at any particular time. The movie is true to that mystery. The social scenes in the movie are probably drawn the letters and diaries of others who met him. But even without the deep psychological study, Leigh has produced one of the most advanced profiles of an artist and his times that I have seen.