2013: Part 2

Carrie. Directed by Kimberly Peirce. This remake of Brian De Palma’s 1976 horror classic isn’t necessary since it does nothing to improve the story, but it was still grim fun to see on the big screen. Chloë Grace Moretz can’t hold a candle to De Palma’s star, Sissy Spacek, but Moretz doesn’t do a bad job; the problem is that she lacks the subtlety and fragility that Spacek had. As Carrie’s mad mother, Julianne Moore and the characterization go beyond Piper Laurie’s obsessive religious fervor and cross into the land of mental illness and mutilation, depicting Margaret White as a compulsive self-harmer. Supporting characters played by Gabriella Wilde (Sue Snell), Portia Doubleday (Chris Hargensen), Ansel Elgort (Tommy Ross), Judy Greer (Ms. Desjardin – originally played by Betty Buckley as “Miss Collins” in 1976) and Barry Shabaka Henley as Carrie’s high school’s principal don’t make much of a collective dent, acting-wise. Even if your motive for seeing Carrie is to determine whether Peirce, as a female/lesbian filmmaker, creates a different “gaze” than male/heterosexual De Palma, you’ll be disappointed. Violence is still violence, sex is still (heterosexual) sex. The worst crime that this film commits is that it shows the climactic falling-pig’s-blood moment over and over from multiple angles. It’s the most gratuitous detail of a notoriously gross and disturbing moment.

Gravity. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Count yourself lucky if you have the chance to see Gravity in theaters; consider yourself even luckier to see it in IMAX because this is one film that needs the biggest, grandest screen possible. When I saw Gravity at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 theater, the eight-story-tall screen and the excellent use of 3D made me feel like I was actually in space along with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is so amazing that I can’t imagine anyone beating him for the Oscar. Every image captures the terrifying beauty of the extraterrestrial setting. I think the casting works well, too. Sandra Bullock has the innate likeability and the maturity of age to make the audience empathize with her, much more than we might have with Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson or Carey Mulligan (all of whom were considered for the role). George Clooney also works really well, better than Robert Downey, Jr. might have been when he was originally cast in the lead male role. If you’re lost in space and you need someone to guide you and tell you stories, you can’t go wrong with Clooney. The screenplay is a little thinner on character development than I prefer, but I guess since I don’t know the science behind conceptualizing a film about being lost in space, overall I can’t complain too much. The film is a darn good slice of entertainment.

Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight. Directed by Stephen Frears. I was hesitant to choose this film as one to blog about since its American debut was on HBO, but since the film’s worldwide debut was at the Cannes International Film Festival, I think it’s OK to analyze it as “cinema.” The film features an impressive cast: Christopher Plummer, Frank Langella; Ed Begley, Jr.; Barry Levinson, Fritz Weaver, Danny Glover, Benjamin Walker, Pablo Schreiber, Dana Ivey and Kathleen Chalfant, among many others. The plot regards the Supreme Court’s 1971 deliberations to figure out if Ali’s refusal to fight in the Vietnam War was constitutional. (Interestingly, nobody portrays Muhammad Ali, instead showing him in flashes of documentary shots from the era.) The finest performances in the film belong to Plummer and Langella as two Court justices usually at odds with one another, Plummer playing up the dignified older gentleman angle compared to Langella bellowing his way through a lot of scenery-chewing. The young “hero” of the film, however, is played by Benjamin Walker, an up-and-coming fellow who serves little purpose except as a reason for the director to add pointless scenes of jogging and post-shower contemplation.

Parkland. Directed by Peter Landesman. Call me sentimental, but I felt like it was important to see this film around the time of the fiftieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death. Parkland, named for the hospital where both JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald were operated on after their respective assassinations, dramatizes the four or so days in November 1963 when the nation was reeling from all the shootings and confusion over what was happening. The scene when the president dies is heartwrenching, even though the way it is portrayed is historically inaccurate, but it is still powerful seeing Jackie (or, should I say, actress Kat Steffens) bidding farewell to her husband. Among the large ensemble, the standout performances belong to the depictions of the Oswald family: Jeremy Strong as Lee (there’s enough of a resemblance: exhibit A, exhibit B), the much-underrated James Badge Dale as stoic older brother Robert and Jacki Weaver as their horrid mother Marguerite. I also enjoyed the performance of David Harbour, one of those hard-working actors who does a lot of TV and who never gets a leading role on film, as an FBI man.

Stoker. Directed by Chan-wook Park. It took me a while to get into the rhythm of this striking drama. Based on an original screenplay by Wentworth Miller and directed by the maker of modern Korean classic Oldboy, the film starts out seemingly as a retelling of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (complete with an “Uncle Charlie”) but soon morphs into a much more vicious story of mental illness and, for lack of a better term, deviant sexual behavior. With the aid of a lot of shoe-based symbolism, Mia Wasikowska does a good job of playing a complex character, a teenage girl identifiable as a loner experiencing her sexual awakening but also as the recipient of her uncle’s violent legacy. Thanks to this genetic force, Wasikowska’s India Stoker transforms from meek adolescent into a blossoming killer. (Think Sissy Spacek in Badlands, if she had been more proactive.) If you’re interested in a protagonist who isn’t quite like other girls, then try this movie. Also take note of Matthew Goode as Uncle Charlie, Nicole Kidman as Wasikowska’s mother, Jacki Weaver as an inquisitive relative and Phyllis Somerville as the family housekeeper.

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