Saturday, March 3, 2012

Quick Takes: "Arrietty", "Weekend", "Fargo", "My Week with Marilyn"

"Arrietty" (1st Viewing)
Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi

I've kept myself out of the theaters for most of this year, simply because there hasn't been anything to lure me out of the Oscar season, with this being the single exception. Last year was a truly sad year for animation, and we didn't get everything that we deserved. Dreamworks was at a level of dispensable fun, and Pixar on a level of materialist carnage without proper justification. I had similar feelings about Studio Ghibli as of late, which has degraded to the levels of films like "Ponyo" and "Tales from Earthsea". I can say rather confidently that Hayao Miyazaki is able to bring the studio back to their intimate roots in the most subtly fantastical of ways.

In terms of conflict, "Arrietty" ("The Borrower Arrietty" or "The Secret World of Arrietty" in some countries) is very much scaled back. The objects of life and death lay in the background of philosophical concepts the film plays properly with. The relationship between Arrietty and Sho is much like the relationship of a rebellious young woman and a young boy dealing with traumatic events with dashes of optimism and the desire of being necessary. It's a very intimate story, not about friendship or family, but the desire to live a happy life in a world that doesn't care. There are political connotations to this story that are quite touching. The miniaturized characters cause for a fantastically maximized scale for the house the borrowers live in, and it's especially attentive in terms of sound design and absolutely gorgeous animation, like a moving still-life given the full cinematic treatment. It would be a joy to see this film inspire a generation of illustration majors from it.

"Weekend" (2nd Viewing)
Directed by Andrew Haigh

If you check out my Top 20 of 2011 list, you'll notice a couple things have changed since I first posted it. Nothing major; a couple rearrangements, the replacement of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" with "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol", and the boosting of "Weekend" to #1 above "Meek's Cutoff". Why? Because coming around to this film a second time only made me love it even more, and it was already in the tops. I never got to actually review it, since I saw it just a day before posting my list, but the things that snagged me so deeply was the self-reflexive, witty, and touching screenplay and the two equal parts comfortable and quietly passionate performances from Chris New and Tom Cullen.

Where I gave the film a short shaft was in the techs and direction department, because when you first see it, those factors don't stick out to you. But when I revisited the film, all those aspects ground their way into me. The sound editing of the film is actually quite detailed, putting these characters in surroundings that are close to eating them up audibly. The editing of the film is calculated, filling up the spaces not with silence, but uncertainty. You feel just as lost as Russel and Glen are, but not in terms of narrative confusion. Don't be confusing that. And the cinematography isn't perfunctory. It aids the scenes in ways you don't notice until looking just a little bit closer. It's such a strong piece of cinema, all the way through, and damn me for ever thinking it was less.

"Fargo" (1st Viewing)
Directed by Joel Coen

I think when you've heard such strong things about a film such as this, you illusion a construct that's better than the film is. That is a way of saying "Fargo" wasn't quite what I thought it would be, though not exactly a let-down. This is mostly the sort of film you had to believe in the moment around its release. Experiencing it such a time later, and with the knowledge of what the Coen brothers have been doing much since then, this is quite piece of cinema, though not brilliance. The tale of an underhanded and morally ill fiasco gone wrong by simple happenstance isn't exactly new, nor is it introduced to be anything so. The fact that it is the Coen brothers writing does aid the film from being incredibly boring, and I can say confidently that this is the best film set in Minnesota, though I can't say I've seen that many films set in Minnesota.

"My Week with Marilyn" (1st Viewing)
Directed by Simon Curtis

Since this was amongst the films that didn't happen to take gold last Sunday, I figured that it deserved my attention a great deal more than "The Iron Lady" did. After seeing it, I can't say I still feel that way. From the very first second, you have to be wondering what is the point? Characters, not people, are shown talking, but not really existing. Michelle Williams' Marilyn Monroe is little more than hollow impersonation, which it shudders me to have to say that about a performance from Michelle Williams. But all the performances, and even the work of the crew, is so perfunctory and pointless. The lead character wants to make movies, and he ends up flirting with a costume designer and having sex with an actress. There's no passion. There's no purpose. Everything happens to nothing.

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