30 June 2012

Cinematic Capsules: June 2012

I'm stealing a device used by my mortal enemy Sean over at The End of Cinema blog. Each month I will be posting a compendium of capsule reviews for the films I saw over the course of the last thirty days (Disney features and films from the current year excepted). I will then be indexing the films on decade-by-decade pages for easier navigation further on down the line. One thing I will not be doing is retroactively ranking a year's new additions because that would drive me insane. It's the lightning round kids, did you bring your golf clubs?

Castle in the Sky (1986)

The lone Miyazaki film I had not yet seen is--as the rest--a sweeping tale full of chimerical imagination and gorgeous animation. The film follows a girl who is being pursued by an army and a band of pirates because she possesses a crystal that contains an energy source humans no longer no how to harness. She falls from an airship into the arms of a sweet boy looking for adventure. The two head off in search of the castle in the sky, a sort of Atlantis in the clouds, that was once home to an ancient race but has since fallen into ruin. The film combines many elements familiar to those of Miyazaki's oeuvre, there is a fascination with flight and aerial craft (Porco Rosso), an abiding reverence for nature (Princess Mononoke, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind), and a young female protagonist (all of the rest). Castle in the Sky doesn't quite live up to some of the masterpieces later in his career, in part because it feels just a tad too long, but second-tier Miyazaki is still some of the greatest cinema out there.

I'm A Cyborg But That's Okay (2006)

Park Chan-wook's follow-up to his revered vengeance trilogy, is the story of a girl who is convinced she is a robot and is institutionalized when she slits her wrists and inserts active wiring into her flesh. At the sanitarium she meets a bunch of patients with their own quirky brands of psychosis, including a boy who steals peoples' traits while wearing a bunny mask. The boy falls for the girl, who he longs to care for, in turn losing some of his psychosis along the way. The film is a tad overwhelming with all of the manic characters running about, but as the film slowly teases out hints of how all of these people came to be here, the girl's story most of all, it becomes something deeper and more rewarding. The budding romance between the two main characters is disarmingly sweet. Chan-wook's eye is as strong as ever, he practically overloads the frames with vibrant color and well-conceived action.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

My first official exposure to Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy and truly I only gave in for David Fincher (and that absolutely incredible teaser trailer). The brief plot outline for those living under a rock for the last couple of years, involves a disgraced journalist (Daniel Craig) who is offered the job of ostensibly writing the memoir of an aged industrialist (Christopher Plummer), when in fact he is investigating a decades-old murder. He is helped by the titular anti-heroine, played well by Rooney Mara, a tech-savvy, drug-addled, motorcycle punk with some serious issues. Because of all of the hype and hysteria surrounding the work I was expecting something all together more gruesome than what was delivered, maybe something more akin to a certain movie by the director of the aforementioned cyborg film. Admittedly the scenes of rape and torture were plenty brutal and stomach-turning, but I expected the film to be more relentless. Instead a lot of it is taken up with Craig looking at old pictures and talking to elderly nazis, while Mara types away on her MacBook. The investigative nature of the film immediately recalls Fincher's Zodiac, a more idiosyncratic and all together better film that leaves the viewer with a lot more to chew on. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is far from bad--in fact, it's good!-- but it feels less personal. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross once again contribute a stellar soundtrack, as they did for Fincher's The Social Network.

The Italian Job (1969)

Aptly summed up as the film where Benny Hill plays a computer wizard with an ass fetish, the original British version of The Italian Job is for the most part, a painful experience to watch. It is a woefully unfunny attempt at a comedic caper film that traffics in that special blend of tedious weirdness only Britain in the late sixties could produce. Michael Caine plays a career criminal who takes on an elaborate heist for his recently deceased friend. Noel Coward of all people plays a well-to-do, thoroughly British crime lord who oversees the plan from his regal perch in prison. The first hour is an absolute waste of time, with Caine bedding various birds while piecing together the elements for his theft of $4 million in gold being transported through Italy. The film is most remembered for its climactic car chase featuring a trio of colorful Mini Coopers, and the sequence is easily the most fun part of the picture, even though it is one of the stupidest things I've ever seen. Somehow the silliness that eludes the film for its first seventy minutes works here. Unfortunately the goofy getaway is not enough to salvage an otherwise worthless movie.

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