Saturday, November 13, 2010

Recent Viewing (Short Reviews)

Il Conformista [The Conformist] (1970)

The Conformist is a superb film about 1930's Fascist Italy. Director Bernardo Bertolucci creates a stunningly beautiful film, cleverly utilizing flashback to weave a complicated plot. After a traumatic childhood event, Marcello Clerici wants to appear normal, so he marries an ordinary middle-class woman and joins the Fascist party. He is given an assignment to kill an old mentor, living in Paris, who has since become a vocal anti-fascist. The films' cinematography is absolutely fantastic, meticulously piecing together some brilliant camera angles; the colour contrast, the film noir atmosphere, and the score are all outstanding and the acting is spot-on. Stands as the best political thriller I have ever seen.

My Rating: 5 Stars 
 187 (1997)

I watched this years ago, but it still resonates quite strongly with me. 187 is a thought-provoking drama about the issue of the horrendous education system in Los Angeles, and what a disastrous upbringing can ultimately culminate in. Similar in theme to American History X (1998), but dealing more with gangs, than with racial prejudice. The extremity of the problem is portrayed in Cesar, a violent gang youth (played brilliantly by Clifton Collins Jr.), and seen through the world-weary eyes of substitute teacher, Trevor Garfield (Samuel L. Jackson). Garfield becomes increasingly maddened as violent bullies control his classroom and frustrated with his colleagues as they do nothing, fearing the potential lawsuits that arise as a result of disciplinary action. The film grows gradually more intense, culminating in quite a shocking conclusion. 

My Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

In the Valley of Elah (2007)

An engaging, yet relatively slow adult drama from the Academy Award Winning director of Crash, Paul Haggis. Upon hearing news of his son Mike’s status as AWOL after arriving back to an American base after serving in Iraq, career officer Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) seeks to investigate his son’s disappearance. After a mutilated body is found, and identified as Mike, Hank with the help of Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) seek to discover the truth behind his murder. The film is centered on the character of Hank, played wonderfully by a perfectly cast Tommy Lee Jones. No one in Hollywood can capture the sadness, lonesomeness and internal anger that he uses throughout his performance. It’s marvelous. He is both destructive (beating a suspect) and sensitive (telling the story of David and Goliath to Sander’s son) while at the same time at the brunt of the blame for his son’s death from his wife (Susan Sarandon). A competently written and directed film although it isn’t as good as Haggis' work in Crash, and I can’t help but think that the red herrings and the thrilling revelations dampen what ultimately was a likely outcome for the mystery. 

My Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

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