Three Short Reviews of Films That Are At Least Somewhat Worth Seeing
Up the Yangtze (2008) ****
Directed by Yung Chang
Up the Yangtze could have been a masterpiece if writer/director Yung Chang didn't adhere so rigidly to a story structure which ultimately disappoints. It’s interesting to compare this to another very different documentary—American Teen. That film’s “reality” is clearly manufactured and manipulated to fit into a comfortable organizational structure with clear introductions and conclusions. Chang’s Yangtze lets reality play out, even though one of the two supposed main characters ends up fairly unlikeable by the end. Granted, unlikeable can be dramatically interesting, except the wealthy boy who works on the tour boat that goes up and down the Yangtze River in mainland China isn’t remarkable at all. Sure, we come to dislike him—but not really with much passion. The other main character is a young girl who works on that same tour boat. Instead of coming from money, her family lives in abject poverty on the bank of the Yangtze, having to relocate whenever the river begins to significantly rise. It’s fascinating to watch her try and cope with so many things—being away from her family, getting along with the wealthier employees, learning proper hygiene, struggling with the ins and outs of her job washing dishes, etc. Not once does the film exploit this young girl, and because of this, I really came to admire her and her family as real people representing too many that are forgotten about by so many who can afford to experience the mighty Yangtze as a tourist instead of as its victim.
Labels: 2008, Documentary, Four Stars, Foreign Film, Mandarin
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008) ***
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Hearing so much praise and admiring Del Toro’s visual skill from Pan’s Labyrinth, I thought I was going to like Hellboy 2 much more than I actually did. Granted, it’s funny, exciting and colorful, but it’s certainly flawed, and contains boring villains and whole sequences that really don’t work at all. Having never seen the first Hellboy, I am judging the character’s appeal only on The Golden Army. I’ll take Batman, Iron Man and Harry Potter any day over Hellboy. This is a marginally satisfying escapist popcorn flick at best.
Labels: 2008, Action, Three Stars
Shotgun Stories (2008) ****
Directed by Jeff Nichols
I applied for a job in Alabama a couple of years ago, and at the time, more than one person kept telling me about how quiet life would be if I decided to take the job and relocate to the Deep South. At the time, I didn’t quite get what they meant. Shotgun Stories, as an exploration in mood, is really quite impressive. When I witnessed its haunting opening shot of a man whose exposed back is filled with scars, I immediately felt as if I finally understood what everyone was talking about when they said that life down there is very serene. Yet, underneath the outer layer of peacefulness lie unhealthy expectations regarding familial loyalty and masculinity. This Gothic Southern drama tells the story of a slow paced battle between the young men of two families with two different matriarchs connected by opposite judgments regarding their shared recently deceased father. Though I believe Nichols’ debut film as a writer/director has been overpraised by many critics, most notably by Roger Ebert, it’s certainly powerfully disturbing, yet ironically tranquil.
Labels: 2008, Drama, Four Stars