The last three films I watched, that’s what.
Love in the Middle of a Murder Mystery
The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos, 2009) is an Argentinian murder mystery with superb performances, wit, and poignancy.
Twenty-five years after the rape and murder of a young woman, Benjamín Espósito (Ricardo Darín) cannot stop thinking about it. He was the court deputy who reluctantly investigated it, tangled it up with his own personal dilemma of being in love with his superior, Irene Menéndez Hastings (Soledad Villamil), and now is writing a book about it, obsessed with figuring what really happened back then.
This is a smart and interestingly paced film, with mood swings of various emotions running through it like waves. The love story might be maudlin without the murder case; the revelation in the mystery of what happened to the killer would be darkly grotesque without the multi-decade romance. It all works together, in no small part thanks to the wonderful talent of Darín, who reminds me a bit (in looks and demeanor) of one of my all-time favorite actors, Alan Rickman.
This film would make a terrific double-feature with another film of Darín’s movies, The Nine Queens (2000), or the French film Tell No One (2006).
The Many Faces of Bob Dylan
I’m Not There (2007) is a film about Bob Dylan, but it’s also a film about the last forty years of Americana.
This is a beautifully shot and scored and highly creative film that is enjoyable on its own merits, not just for fans of Bob Dylan. I’ve never been much of a fan of Dylan’s music (save a few select songs he wrote and even fewer that he actually recorded). Regardless of whether one is a fan or not, it goes without saying that Dylan has been an important figure in music and more widely in the realm of art reflecting social consciousness. His life and personality also have spun a notable tale.
Unfortunately, if one knows nothing about Dylan’s life, much of this film will be pretty unintelligible. Rather than a typical linear biography, this is a film of impressions, playing on the different phases of Dylan’s life and eventually weaving a fascinating look into his psyche and soul. It reflects on actual events in Dylan’s life, so the requisite for these allusions is that you know about those events. It needs not be a deep knowledge — just read a brief biography somewhere online, and you should get what you need to enjoy the film.
The acting is superb, the cinematography is brilliant, the score is perfect, and everything works in wonderful balance in a film that EASILY could have become a pretentious mess. Six different actors (plus narrator Kris Kristofferson) play different facets of Dylan throughout his life — the young musician with an old soul, the brooding folk singer, the husband and father, the touring troubadour, and so on — and all do a fantastic job. My personal favorites were then-14-year-old Marcus Carl Franklin (Lackawanna Blues), Ben Winshaw (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer), and of course Cate Blanchett, who won the Academy Award for best supporting actress. (Or, should that have been actor?) Oddly enough, my least favorite portrayals were turned in by the reliable Christian Bale and the typically more creative Heath Ledger. But taken together, the interwoven stories are magical and thought-provoking.
Blow It Up, Blow It All UP!
The Expendables (2010) is one of the year’s understandable glut of forays into antigovernment macho vigilantism. It is also a powerhouse of he-man action and wrestling stars all in one place. Finally, it manages to blow up more buildings (and cars, and even heads) and churn out more physical carnage than The Losers, The A-Team, and Kick-Ass combined. It’s a perfect movie to watch when you’re pissed off at the world and need some vicarious violence.
Silvester Stallone directs and stars, and the cast includes Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Mickey Rourke, and Eric Roberts. There’s even an appearance by the Governator, Arnold Schwartzenegger. It spawns the best line in the film as he stalks out and Stallone says, “Awe, he just wants to be president.”
Other than that, the plot is paper thin, with holes these warriors could drive a truck through, and … well, let’s not even talk about acting. When the best actor on set is Jason Statham (I’m not counting the ten seconds that Bruce Willis spent on screen), I think we get the picture. Alas, this is not supposed to be a deep film.
It’s a lot of fun, though, if you do like action flicks. The fight between Lundgren and Li alone is worth the price of a rental. But I’d suggest seeing this on a screen larger than 32 inches — the explosions just need the room to bloom!