Man on Wire (2008) ****1/2
Directed by James Marsh
Man on Wire is a stylish documentary about one of the most unbelievable feats in recent American history. Philippe Petit recounts the morning in 1974 when he successfully walked a tight-rope between the two
Many people have praised Man on Wire because of the suspense that came across when Petit was shown on the wire itself. Personally, I didn’t feel any tension at all. I knew that he was going to succeed, and as such, there was no question in my mind that he would make it back safely. Also, after the deed is done and Petit spends the day in jail, there’s a sequence involving him sleeping with a groupie that comes off completely disjointed from everything that came before. Finally, I’ve got to admit that Petit’s ultra-frantic personality did get on my nerves at times.
Yet, what Petit did was extraordinary, and Marsh’s document of the event is a real treasure not only because of what it captures on film, but also because, without mentioning 9/11 at all, Man on Wire holds up as a profound tribute to a piece of America that was so tragically lost that fateful day.
Labels: 2008, Four and a Half Stars, Documentary
Directed by Fatih Akin
It takes guts and a trust in one’s own judgment for a filmmaker to tell us what characters are going to die before actually presenting the characters themselves. Akin’s glorious drama tells the story of three deaths and how they bring together people that ultimately need each other. Without the deaths, their paths would never have crossed. Yet, The Edge of Heaven still treats tragedy as such, except it paints a refreshingly optimistic portrait of fate and the inherent goodness that exists in reality itself. Filled with touching, powerful moments and fully realized relationships, this is one of those films that has and will continue to touch the hearts of many.
Labels: 2008, Five Stars, Drama, Foreign Film, German, Turkish
Directed by Tony Scott
Man running from bad guys without knowing why. Man being chased by cops who think man is part of afore mentioned bad guys. Man outsmarts everyone while clearing his name. Man finds Gene Hackman. Man has no chemistry with Gene Hackman. Man is Will Smith. Last sentence means movie made lots of money. Man’s performance is charming. Movie is stupid and concept is tired. The end.
Labels: 1990s, Two Stars, Thriller, Wiseguy DB Marathon
Directed by Danny Boyle
Slumdog Millionaire is the most grandiose little movie I think I’ve ever seen. Danny Boyle shot many of the scenes on the streets of Mumbai which is apparently a true feat in itself considering the overcrowding, the poverty and the crime that exists there.
An ode to the breezy films of Bollywood, the “slumdog” is actually an eighteen year old boy named Jamal Malik who has the real possibility of becoming the title character when he appears on the Indian version of the American game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” The game show itself isn’t only about intelligence since there are a dozen or so questions that must be answered in order to win the grand prize. Therefore, luck is just as much a part of winning. If you’re lucky, you might receive questions based on subjects with which you are familiar. Jamal, perhaps because of the good karma he’s built up by remaining true to himself and his virtue, lucks out big time since each question corresponds to a very specific and often dramatic moment in his difficult upbringing.
As you can guess, the plot switches between the present game show and Jamal’s past experiences. Jamal, his brother Salim and Jamal’s love interest Latika are played by child actors of all different ages. While I don’t believe any of the actors give award worthy performances, I do believe that the film absolutely delivers in its quest to simply make the audience smile, similar to the thousands of pleasantly shallow Bollywood films released every year.
Yet, Boyle contrasts the joy that permeates Slumdog Millionaire with an often brutal exploration into the dark underbelly of the slums in
Otherwise, Slumdog Millionaire is one of the great accomplishments of the year. Boyle is at the very top of his game, never afraid to embrace the excesses that Bollywood is so well known for showcasing. Here is a film that works almost as an event more than anything else.
Labels: 2008, Four and a Half Stars, Drama, Best Picture Oscar Nominees
Directed by Ron Howard
Before award season began, Frost/Nixon was one of the most anticipated movies of 2008. Sadly, it does not live up to its buzz. Yes, there are moments of breathtaking filmmaking, and Frank Langella does something with his eyes at one point that had me completely in awe. Unfortunately, Frost/Nixon is ultimately held back by its stiff staginess, its peppering of unconvincing faux-documentary sequences and its overeager direction by Ron Howard.
Every single frame of Frost/Nixon screams that it is an important film about an important event. I’ll grant that the event itself is important. David Frost exceeded everyone’s low expectations, including Nixon’s and his own, by grilling the former president about his illegal actions and forcing him to confront the reality of what he did and what this will ultimately do to his legacy. The film Frost/Nixon, however, ought not to be described as anything more than simply enjoyable and interesting. You can tell that Howard desires stronger praise.
There’s a scene that involves Nixon calling Frost drunk in the middle of the night that’s so bizarre and over the top that I simply can’t believe that it’s anything other than a complete fabrication. Maybe the call itself may have allegedly happened, but there’s no way that anything resembling the content of that scene comes from anywhere other than the mind of playwright Peter Morgan.
Langella does a fine job overall, and like I said before, there are moments of such great acting that I literally whispered the word “wow” out loud. Yet, the real treat in Frost/Nixon for me was watching the great Michael Sheen play David Frost. His role isn’t as showy, and the character he plays comes off phony at times, which I worry has caused some to ascribe blame to Sheen himself. In my opinion, he hits all of the right notes and gives us a character much more complex that we initially think. Even though everyone knows how this story is going to end, Sheen and those that surround him, including characters played by Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell, do a remarkable job of almost convincing us that Frost is in fact way out of his league.
It’s too bad that something this good can be so disappointing. That’s what you get if your December movie has Oscar buzz as early as June which it never should have had at all.
Labels: 2008, Three and a Half Stars, Drama, Best Picture Oscar Nominees