Hi everybody, just thought I'd throw a few random thoughts on here since I haven't updated in a while.
I caught Steve McQueen's (no, not that Steve McQueen) Hunger, an excellent film that I likely would have included on my belated best of 2009 list if I had seen it in time. (Or maybe not. It did screen in limited release in the US in December '08, but didn't become available on home video until this year. Either way its a newish movie worth discussion.) The film is a harrowing account of the 1981 Irish hunger strike, the first half detailing prison life leading up to the strike (both the IRA prisoners and the guards), the second half focusing, in grueling detail, on IRA member Bobby Sands' (played by Michael Fassbender) slow, grotesque death from self-imposed starvation. Amongst other things, the film boasts some very impressive long takes, for example a brutal, extended beat-down of prisoners by the guards, and a bravura 17-minute unbroken shot of Sands consulting/verbally sparring with a priest about his hunger strike. Fassbender, after his small but awesome role in Inglourious Basterds and now this, has shot up the the top of my list of actors to look out for.
The best new film I've seen so far this year might be the Korean drama/thriller Mother. I enjoyed Bong Joon-Ho's Memories of Murder, but was seriously underwhelmed by his beloved The Host. After Mother, I'm finally seeing what the big deal is. Bong's film is strange and idiosyncratic, yet confidently crafted, building suspense with Hitchcockian precision while deepening the story and characters in supremely powerful and unexpected ways. The story involves an overprotective mother whose retarded, 20's-ish son is arrested for murdering a young girl; she believes her son is innocent and takes it upon herself to find the real killer. It's perhaps not a surprise to see how far she is willing to go to protect her son, but what her actions slowly reveal about not only herself, her son and their relationship, but about the victim as well, elevates the film from a great thriller to a complex, heartbreaking tragedy. At time's the film's oddball sense of humor seems to undercut its seriousness and mysteriousness, but then again this kind of impressionist, no-holding-back filmmaking seems to be a common trait in Korean cinema. Best to sit back and marvel at the wide range of notes Bong successfully hits than to nitpick the few he doesn't.
Also currently in theaters is Atom Egoyan's criminally underrated Chloe, a mysterious, fascinating, erotic melodrama with vague thriller elements, which is being misconstrued by a lot of critics as a tawdry Hollywood thriller in the Fatal Attraction vein. (Jonathan Rosenbaum works up a good, brief defense of the film here.) Julianne Moore (on a roll with another excellent performance after last year's A Single Man, and still gorgeous even as she's pushing 50) stars as a woman who suspects her husband (Liam Neeson) of having an affair, so she hires an escort (Amanda Seyfried, also very good in this and blindingly, white-hot sexy to boot) to make a pass at him and see if he succumbs. Yes, this could be the stuff of high camp, but as with his (also underrated) Where the Truth Lies, Egoyan brings his mysterious, dreamy touch and precise visual style to the material, cutting through the mechanics of the plot so that the film turns more on the personalities and inner lives of the characters. The film is far more linear than most of his work, and I believe it marks the first time he's worked from a screenplay that he didn't write, but he still returns to his favorite themes (intellectual sexuality, voyeurism and the unearthing of buried secrets) with aplomb. I did not realize it at the time, but Chloe is a remake of a French film called Nathalie... starring Fanny Ardant, Gerard Depardieu, and Emmanuelle Beart in the Moore, Neeson and Seyfried roles. I may have to check that one out soon.
Also in the underrated camp is last year's The Invention of Lying. We've been spoiled by some great comedies in the last few years, and Invention isn't nearly as heavy on laughs as, say, Superbad, but I can't remember the last time I saw a comedy that was so pointed and purposeful. It's not a great film, but its much better than I was lead to believe. What starts out as a more typical comedy with an amusing gimmick (a world where everyone always tells the truth, disrupted when Ricky Gervais begins telling lies) becomes a bold religious satire, essentially positing that religion wouldn't exist in a world without lies, that it is a lie we tell to make ourselves feel good. More broadly, though, the film observes that lies are necessary in crafting a better world. The film is both touching and deeply cynical, often in the same breath.
Finally, as I mentioned in the title, I will be starting a long project on this blog soon that will likely take a month or two to finish. It is not movie-related. I hope to have an introductory post up this week.