Monday, February 21, 2011
Actor Richardo Darin (so good in "The Secret In Their Eyes" and "Nine Queens") returns in this Argentinian drama about an ambulance chasing lawyer who's tired of the insurance scams and is looking for a way out. When he meets a new doctor on the ambulance late shift, they begin a relationship that gives him hope for a better future. The doctor is played by Martina Gusman and while their relationship begins innocently enough, both discover they have secrets that will impact everything.
Approximately 8,000 people die every year in Argentina, according to the prologue and insurance fraud is a major industry preying on the victims and their families. The film, written and directed by Pablo Trapero, sheds light on these tragedies through a fictional story that cuts close to the truth. This is a dark drama fueled by the excellent work of Mr. Darin and Ms. Gusman. There is considerable bloodshed and the film is obviously in Spanish with subtitles but it's interesting subject matter and definitely worth the effort over the February Hollywood throwaways out there now.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
It's slim pickings in the dark days of February, once you've exhausted all the Oscar nominated films. You would expect a Liam Neeson action film to bring a little light to that darkness. You could do worse than "Unknown".
Mr. Neeson is becoming quite good as the guy to turn to when you are trouble in a European city. Here, he is Martin Harris, in trouble himself, after a car accident leaves him with spotty memory loss and a wife who no longer knows him. January Jones, so icy good on "Mad Men" plays basically the same role in contemporary clothes as Mr. Neeson's wife. Diane Kruger plays a cab driver with "too good to be true" survival skills who helps Mr. Neeson get his life back.
Frank Langella shows up late as a friend with a secret and Adian Quinn rounds out the American cast as "the other" Martin Harris. Everyone seems to have a secret agenda and nothing is quite as it seems. The central plot twist is a good one but there is too much exposition and so many plot holes, the film should have been called "Unbelievable" instead of "Unknown". There are a few good action sequences, particularly a car chase through the snowy streets of Berlin, but they are far and few between.
A cross between "The Bourne Identity" and "Taken" with a dash of Hitchcock thrown in, there are enough twists and turns to keep you interested but it's all rather forgettable once the lights come on.
Friday, February 11, 2011
I am a big fan of writer/director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. His films are always poetic and emotional. "Biutiful" continues his exploration of the human condition but rather than a multiple cast of characters like his previous work, his focus here is on one man's struggle through life.
Javier Bardem gives a towering performance as Uxbal, a man struggling to raise two small kids, providing for them through the underbelly of the Barcelona underworld. He lives on the edge of a criminal life dealing with illegals and counterfeit products only to keep his family together. When he becomes ill, he becomes even more desperate to provide for his children. Mr. Bardem's performance anchors the film. He is in almost every scene and his on screen presence is so powerful, he's just a force of nature commanding your attention.
The cinematography is outstanding but the direction is erratic at times. Subplots dangle and seem unnecessary but to Mr. Inarritu's credit, there are still moments of absolute heartbreak along with scenes of pure beauty.
This is intense story with difficult moments but the humanity and strength in Mr. Bardem's performance is worth every minute. A well deserved best actor Oscar nomination.
Friday, February 04, 2011
This is an entertaining and important documentary about Phil Ochs. Mr. Ochs was a political folk singer popular in the 60's who's most famous songs were "I Ain't Marching Anymore" and "Small Circle Of Friends".
His circle of friends included Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and Peter Yarrow. He was the most "political" of his contemporaries and never really had a "hit" record. "Pleasures From The Harbor" was probably his most commercial album and yet his music was the voice of a generation. This new documentary gives Mr. Ochs his due and at the same time capsulizes the turbulent 60's.
The film is full of songs and images as well as contemporary interviews with Mr. Ochs's family, friends and acquaintances. It provides insight into Mr. Ochs who, while they were friends, always felt overshadowed by Bob Dylan. It explores the inner demons that drove him to drink, his terrible bout with depression, but also celebrates the man's life and music.
The documentary is in limited release in NY but will open in other major cities throughout February and March. If you believe in the power of music as a tool for change and want to learn more about an unlikely American hero, this is a must see.