Thursday, December 20, 2007

Talk to Me (Lemmons, 2007)

"Wake up, goddammit! "

Curse you procrastination! I've been slacking on my reviews and it's about time I started to add a little bit more content to this blog of mine. Thanks for your continued support!

Please, someone give Don Cheadle an Oscar already. This blatant attempt at false modesty needs to come to an end before someone gets hurt. His ability to transform himself for every role (no matter how minimal) is astonishing but he continually gets snubbed. Why is that? We know that the academy isn't racist despite their inconsistent reputation at making bone-headed decisions and several actors of color have won in the past (even though they were questionable at best: Halle Berry for Monster's Ball anyone?). 2004 was Cheadle's year when he gave a tour-de-force performance in the political thriller Hotel Rwanda as Paul Rusesabagina and even though he was nominated, losing to Jaime Foxx was a travesty. Don't get me wrong, I think Foxx proved himself to be taken seriously as an actor and while he was able to convincing portray Ray Charles down to a tee including his speech along with the various mannerisms, it lacked the control of Cheadle's performance which felt more natural and less of a gimmick.

Don Cheadle returns this year in another biopic, this time as Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene, African-American convict who decides to pursue a job as a radioman during the 60's that influenced the medium by walking on a thin line between radio code of conduct and pragmatism without straying too far into blind-sided chauvinism. As an outspoken individual who gave no precedence to say the truth regardless of the crackdown on the freedom of speech for minority groups especially Blacks, Greene becomes a voice for the people, not only to the frustrated lower class African Americans (despite them being his largest fanbase) but to an entire nation that was at war with itself during the Civil Rights movement. His friendship with Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the man who puts his career on the line to get Petey the job at the radio station is the heart of the film; two men who are fond of one another but have different visions of what they want to achieve with their newfound success. The wonderful chemistry between Ejiofor and Cheadle is palpatable and they both light up the screen as their brotherly love begins to disintegrate as ardent decisions are made and circumstances split them apart. The script is chalk-full of great dialogue and the two leads take full advantage of it. The clash of disparate personalities allows for plenty of humorous exchanges of dialogue that flow naturally. Don Cheadle loses himself completely in this role that is so authentic that it becomes difficult to distinguish the actor from the chracter he is playing. I'm thinking about starting a campaign on his behalf in order for the Acadmedy to recongize this performance because it is clearly one of standouts of this year.

Biopics seem to be a dime a dozen these days. While Talk to Me follows the formulaic rise and fall of the central protagonist, newcomer female director Kasi Lemmons infuses a refreshing amount of charm and sophistication to elevate her film above the typical run-of the mill genre tropes. It becomes a powerful statement on the freedom of speech that doesn't succumb to ramming the message down the viewer's throats. As provocative as it is heartfelt, this is a groovy film told with honesty and not only is it an invigorating true story but also happens to be one of the best films of 2007.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Atonement (Wright, 2007)

Robbie Turner (McAvoy) and Cecilia Tallis (Knightly) share a passionate embrace by the seaside.

Reminscent of a stuffy ivory chamber drama except with a much bigger budget, Ian McEwan's breathtaking novel of forbidden love, deceit, the growing pains of childhood and the power of art all set to the backdrop of WWII is brought to life by Joe Wright (of 2005's Pride and Prejudice fame) and his group of talented young actors in Keira Knightly, James McAvoy and Saoirse Ronan. What made the novel such a rapturous read was McEwan's exceptional story-telling ability, the rich detail and his firm grasp of the English language that took on a classic poeticsm so rare in contemporary literature. Wright's film is an earnest adaptation that is faithful to the text only it feels slightly hollow containing only the main plot points of the book abandoning McEwan's elegant literary craftsmanship. While the film posesses moments of cinematic beauty and impressive direction including a sweeping long-take lasting several minutes during the evacuation of soliders stationed at Dunkirk, much of the stylistic flourishes become redundant and come across as filler due to the lack of a strong narrative.

It would be too easy to label this film as "Oscar bait" and even though it is bound to be clumped into that infamous category, part of me believes that there are enough positive aspects that prevent such placement. The acting all around remains the saving grace here with Knightly giving the peformance of her career and James McAvoy stealing every scene whom is bound to be nominated this year. Even newcomer Saoirse Ronan does excellent work as the precocious young Briony who is the integral figure of the story who sets the traumatic events in motion. Her chracter's wide-eyed innocence and curiousity in which she doesn't fully comprehend the adult world is portrayed with great maturity for an actor so young. The low-ley transient score by Dario Marianelli compliments the tone of the film perfectly and creatively implementing the sound of the type-writer keys was a nice touch. Finally, there's Joe Wright who has clearly established himself as a director in control of his vision and actors. Atonement being his sophmore effort, Wright shows tremendous talent as a budding director and he's one to keep an eye on in the future. The tackling of such a complex piece of literarture would be a daunting task for anyone and even though he is only marginally successful, one must applaud his efforts.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

December Viewing Log

05/12: Sansho the Bailiff (Mizoguchi, 1954): [****]
05/12: Broadway Danny Rose (Allen, 1984): [****]
05/12: Mission: Impossible III (Abrams, 2006): [**]
05/12: Say Anything (Crowe, 1989): [***1/2]
06/12: Scoop (Allen, 2006): [***]
06/12: The Ice Harvest (Ramis, 2005): [***1/2]
09/12: Melinda and Melinda (Allen, 2005): [***1/2]
13/12: Better Off Dead (Holland, 1985): [**]
15/12: Talk to Me (Lemmons, 2007): [***1/2]

18/12: Atonement (Wright, 2007): [***]
20/12: Rosemary's Baby (Polanski, 1968): [***1/2]
20/12: Fresh (Yakin, 1994): [****]
20/12: Radio Days (Allen, 1985): [***]
20/12: Ginger Snaps (Fawcett, 2000): [***1/2]
24/12: Three Colours: White (Kieslowski, 1994): [***1/2]
25/12: Les Diaboliques (Clouzout, 1955): [***1/2]
25/12: It's a Wonderful Life (Capra, 1946): [****]
26/12: The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (Herzog, 1974): [***]
26/12: A Zed and Two Noughts (Greenaway, 1985): ????????
26/12: Brief Encounter (Lean, 1945): [***]
26/12: I am Legend (Lawrence, 2007): [**]
29/12: Block Party (Gondry, 2005): [***1/2]
30/12: Before the Devil Knows Your Dead (Lumet, 2007): [***]