Recent movies

I’ll try to get around to writing some full reviews soon.  In the meantime, a list of the recent movies I’ve watched along with some brief comments and ratings (out of 4 stars possible):

Black Snake Moan *** – An earthy, uncompromising study of redemption and salvation.  Excellent performances from Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, Justin Timberlake (yes, that’s right – Justin Timberlake) and a host of supporting players, anchored by an interesting and unpredictable script.  Dripping in southern atmosphere, this is a rather dark film that manages to be uplifting without cheating at the end.

Ratatouille **** – Pixar does it again.  Will they ever run out of steam?  Not as long as the uber-talented Brad Bird (The Iron GiantThe Incredibles) is captain of the ship.  The difference between Pixar productions and nearly every other animated production?  Pixar doesn’t make animated films, they make films that just happen to be animated, complete with all the traditional elements that make great films great.  Ratatouille is another feather in their illustrious cap, and Bird has the surest sense of style in the business.  Look for Bird to win his second Oscar this February.

Zodiac *** 1/2 – I have long panned former MTV music video director David Fincher (Alien 3SevenFight ClubPanic Room) as an overrated director who made pompously self-important, stylistically overblown films that weren’t as good as he clearly wanted us to think they were, and that are vastly overrated by his blindly loyal fans (witness the current rankings of mediocre films like Fight Club and Seven on IMDB’s top 250 list, at #28 and #39 respectively).  With Zodiac, Fincher abandons the immaturity that hobbled his previous work and produces a riveting procedural that is leaps and bounds above his other films in terms of narrative and style.  For once, Fincher lets the film dictate the style, rather than the other way around, and he wisely avoids  artificially dramatizing this true story, opting instead for a matter-of-fact narrative that recognizes and acknowledges the story’s inherent interest.  The lack of artificial contrivances serve to make the actual depictions in the film all the more compelling, and what results is a fascinating character study of the men closest to the case.  Kudos to Fincher for maximizing his talent as a filmmaker in service of the story, rather than forcing the story to service his penchant for self-indulgence as he has in the past.  He directs with a sure and steady hand, discarding the absurdly attention-deficit MTV-style editing tricks that marred his previous work, and elicits sturdy, convincing performances from everyone involved in the large cast (this is Robert Downey Jr.’s best work in years).  It helps that he worked from a tightly focused script that packs an incredible amount of information into an efficient 2 1/2 running time that feels half as short.  This is Fincher’s best film to date, and the only one worthy of serious accolades.

Pan’s Labyrinth **** – A unique and engrossing fantasy film for adults (and I mean that – this is an R-rated film that easily deserves its rating, and is not in any way intended for the kiddies), this seems like the film that Mexican-born writer/director Guillermo del Toro was always destined to make.  Full of creative imagery, Pan’s Labyrinth turns the fairy-tale genre on its ear, and brings the darker side that’s present in nearly all fairy tales front and center for intimate examination.  This is a highly original experience that leaves an indelible impression long after the first viewing.

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