Got a couple of DVDs this week: Blue Ruin, and Mad Men's last half-season.
In theaters: It's hard to believe it's only been a week since I saw The Revenant, because I feel like I've been defending the movie for, like, a year. I'm at the point where I'm probably going to write a longer article about it just so I have something to point people to and I can avoid repeating myself so much. So I'll leave off talking about my decoded meanings for now, and simply say that as far as I'm concerned, Inarritu has done it again, and created a piece of magical realism with terrific immediacy. I don't even know how half this stuff was filmed, so close the camera is to the action and the emotion. The plot is slim, but not as simple as it seems, and once I'd "decoded" the film (some stories aren't strictly about plot) and started talking about it with friends, I found myself rather overwhelmed. Its reputation is that it's hard to watch, and there is an element of onscreen suffering akin to The Passion of the Christ, but nowhere near those levels. No, I was moved far more in its aftermath than during the projection. Come back tomorrow, I feel a surge of critical analysis coming.
Brooklyn isn't so much about immigration as it is about the shifting value of the word "home". Saoirse Ronan eats up the screen as a 1950s Irish girl emigrating to Brooklyn because there are no opportunities in her small town. Homesickness is eventually tempered by local romance, but she'll be tempted and tested to return home after tragic circumstances force her to return to Ireland. But which is home? That's the gist of it, and it's a fine drama/character study, classically shot (not to say old-fashioned, but the epithet did cross my mind), if a bit too fast paced in the first act. But there's comedy too, and Julie Walters as the boarding house matron steals the show. I'd watch a weekly television show that just took place around her dinner table at that boarding house, with a rotating cast of tenants. All the older women in this film have a sharp wit that makes them fascinating, without any of them seeming the same, and you can just tell Ronan's more timid character will become just like them over time.
DVDs: Can you believe I'd never seen the original Point Break? Maybe I just think surfer culture is ridiculous, I dunno. But years of loving Hot Fuzz eventually broke me down, and by George, Hot Fuzz got it right - that IS the best foot chase in any action film ever. Not to mention all the other elements that now seem familiar because they were copied right out of this film. I still think the premise is silly - Keanu Reeves must learn to surf to infiltrate a gang of bank robbing surfers - but the standard of action is high, the leads don't fall prey to cliché (even if other elements do), and there's something deeper being said about the cult of personality. Worthy of its place in the action classics canon. The DVD includes really crappy looking deleted/extended scenes, and making of featurettes looking back on the different action set pieces, with actors and stunt people leading the charge.
I feel a real ambivalence toward True Story. If you don't know it, it's about a disgraced journalist (Jonah Hill) who becomes interested in a man who allegedly killed his family (James Franco) and then hid out under the journalist's name. Their stories converge while Franco awaits trial, and the two have conversations in preparation for Hill's comeback as a true crime novelist. The more I look at it, the more I like it as a piece of film. The first act in particular is visually clever and redolent with meanings. But as a STORY, it's pretty dull, and can't give you firm resolutions because it WAS a true story, and they seldom do. I completely respect how director Rupert Goold tried to make this a "fable" that transcends its origins in fact (described in the commentary track that makes him come off as pretentious given the film's failures), but the factual is a distraction that makes you miss that other level. Nothing is really taken to its natural limit. This might be... An exploration of "true crime" and the impossibility of truth coming out of eyewitness accounts? A fable about a man who encounters his dark side, a double who represents depression and despair and is trying to take over his life? A thriller in which the villain completely manipulates the hero as reality bends in on itself? A character study about an arrogant man who loses everything and is left forever shaken? It is all these things, and yet none of them. Should have picked one and really explored it. Basically, when you first see it, it's a bore. When you watch it again, through filters previously unavailable, it becomes much more interesting. But will you want to watch it again? In addition to the director's commentary, the DVD includes various short, and highly repetitive, making of featurettes, as well as a production photo gallery.
Favored to win for Best Documentary, Amy tracks jazz singer sensation Amy Winehouse's meteoric rise and tragic fall, using for the most part, personal footage she and her friends took with a home camera. It makes you realize how, even 10-12 years ago, people were already documenting themselves. Using these, file footage, archived phone messages, and ironically placed songs, documentarist Asif Kapadia creates a coherent portrait of the fragile personality with a minimum of additional interviews (never seen as talking heads, but as frequently touching voice-over). I don't know what it says about me that somehow so famous it destroyed her life was a complete unknown to me (neither her face, her music, or even her name registered), but I did like discovering both her (healthy) personality and music. Regardless of any personal connection to Amy Winehouse the audience might have, the film has something to say about mental illness, the predation of the music business, and paparazzi culture, delivering a well-crafted true life character study and leaving overt judgments about its "characters" to the viewer.