Five Films from 2008
Elegy (2008) ***1/2
Directed by Isabel Coixet
This strange movie contains a truly strange performance from Ben Kingsley as David Kepesh, a cultural critic whose life is transformed by a relationship with a much younger woman named Consuela, played brilliantly by Penelope Cruz. The first half of the film deals with a blossoming relationship complicated by a man’s mid-life crisis, while the second half changes tone completely as mortality rears its ugly head. Though disjointed, Elegy is worth seeing for its heartbreakingly insightful final act in which Cruz truly shines much brighter than she did in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the film which won her an Oscar. The weak link lies in the horrible performance given by the usually reliable Peter Sarsgaard as David’s estranged son Kenny. Also of note is a fine performance from Dennis Hopper. Elegy could have been a lot better, but it’s undeniably peppered with triumphant individual elements.
Labels: 2008, Three and a Half Stars, Drama
Directed by Charlie Kaufman
I’ll never wish that Charlie Kaufman stop exploring his inner psyche in the unique ways that only he can; however, I am going to need at least something to grasp onto while thrust into the shaky world of self-loathing and paranoia that inhabits his own personal Garden of Eden. Synecdoche,
Labels: 2008, Two and a Half Stars, Comedy
Ashes of Time Redux (2008) ***1/2
Directed by Wong Kar Wai
Wong Kar Wai decided to re-cut his 1995 critical and commercial failure, Ashes of Time, in order to clean up its unfocused narrative. Having never seen the original, I can only judge this reduxed version, and I’ll still admit that I had trouble following its circular plot. Luckily, the absolutely breathtaking imagery was enough for me to appreciate the film as a whole. Props go out to cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who helmed the camera for my favorite film of 2008,
Labels: 2008, Three and Half Stars, Foreign Film, Cantonese, Drama
Twilight (2008) *1/2
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke
I’m not giving up on this film series. There’s potential within the world created by Stephanie Meyer’s novel. Unfortunately, Twilight absolutely sucks! Cinematically, this adds up to nothing more than Harry Potter plus Gossip Girl, which is a negative variable in the equation. Robert Pattinson broods to the nth degree as vampire Edward Cullen who falls in love with an emo chick with the stupid name of Bella Swan, played by the talented Kristen Stewart who is absolutely wasted here. The special effects are cheesy; the foreshadowing of characters in future books plays so obvious that I felt beyond manipulated—take the film’s final image as a case in point. With a larger budget, a focused script and a better director than Catherine Hardwicke, who has more than worn out her welcome since making Thirteen in 2003, the movie brand of Twilight might not be all that bad. I can’t imagine that future films can be any worse than this one!
Labels: 2008, One and a Half Stars, Fantasy
Religulous (2008) **
Directed by Larry Charles
Bill Maher throws the Baby Jesus out with the bathwater in this useless thesis regarding the inherent danger in organized religion as a whole. Sure, there are moments within Religulous where Maher seriously explores religious experience as such, and there are also moments that are hilariously absurd, making Larry Charles’ documentary fun to watch. Unfortunately, Maher never goes all the way in his exploration until the film’s final scenes in which he makes an unbelievably sanctimonious speech proselytizing that religion is what’s wrong with everything in the world. It’s ironic that someone believes that he can combat smugness with smugness. I think Maher has a real point, and it’s too bad that he feels the need to demonize all religion rather than just focusing on the evils within them. Also, are we really supposed to take a conclusion seriously if it’s reached after interviewing members of a Pentecostal church at a truck stop, employees at a fundamentalist Christian amusement park, a creationist U.S. Congressman, a Dutch stoner with a Messiah complex and a hip hop artist who also claims to be a Muslim militant? In trying to be whimsical, Maher and Charles have shot themselves in the foot. Religion 1, Maher 0.
Labels: 2008, Two Stars, Documentary