Saturday, December 08, 2007

Mini Reviews


Ben Affleck makes a strong directorial debut with Gone Baby Gone, a film that is deceptively simple and straight-forward in its first two thirds. It is in the last third when it packs a wallop. Casey Affleck mumbles his way through an ok but less-than-stellar lead performance, while Amy Ryan, Michelle Monaghan, Amy Madigan, and especially Ed Harris provide considerably strong support. By virtue of her skill at making her character so convincingly unlikeable, Ryan's potential for an Oscar nomination is high, though she has made the character very difficult to sympathize with. Grade: B+


Eastern Promises is a slick, well-made film with great sequences (not least of which is the much-hyped bathhouse fight scene), and it is made memorable primarily by these and the awesome performance of lead Viggo Mortensen as ruthless Russian Nikolai. Naomi Watts lends her considerable skill as a foil to the coldness of the Russian family that she unwittingly pits against, whose principal figures, patriarch Armin Mueller-Stahl and son Vincent Cassel, are appropriately powerful in their respective portrayals. David Cronenberg's direction is masterfully stylized, lending his film's London a sort of surreal feel that may not necessarily work for everyone but confirming his status as one of the true visionaries of modern cinema. Grade: B+


Loyal enough to its source material to please fans of the book, but not too much to be inflexibly uncreative, The Golden Compass is an absorbing journey into a fantasy world dominated by airships, dust, and daemons, the external manifestation of humans' souls. Having so many animals in every scene could have caused significant problems, but instead the intimacy between human and daemon is perhaps the film's strongest emotional anchor, making the revelation of the Gobblers' activity against the children all the more chilling. Also chilling is Nicole Kidman, who makes her Mrs. Coulter one of recent cinema's most stylishly cold villains. The [anti-]religious sentiments of the book are masked, though not without subtlety; descriptions of the Magisterium could very easily apply to the religious authority of our world. Visual effects and production design are top-notch and likely to garner the film Oscar nominations. The ending may be unsatisfactory to some readers of Philip Pullman's novel, but it is the type of cliffhanger that would leave most others anticipating the sequel. Grade: B+


Just like the other musical biopic, La Vie en Rose, Anton Corbijn's Control is powerful enough a cinematic experience to enthrall old Joy Division fans and make new converts. The film owes its success to Corbijn's direction and, in large part, to Sam Riley's astonishing performance, easily one of the year's best, as deceased band leader Ian Curtis. Samantha Morton is also highly commendable in her suffered turn as Curtis's wife Deborah. Grade: B+

Images from IMDb

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