Lights, Camera, Action!

Hi! Welcome to Cinemablographer, yet another unnecessary, but hopefully useful/entertaining, entry into the blogosphere of film and popular culture. Through these entries, I hope to provide a helpful and entertaining look at the film industry. I’ll mostly offer reviews and musings on films; I also plan to highlight worthwhile Canadian features playing at a theatre near you. I also follow the Oscars religiously and plan to do so throughout the fall/winter season, although I hope to avoid the whole ‘build them up, tear ’em down’ commentary that has plagued many a film during recent awards seasons.

                           Sarah Steele and Catherine Keener in Please Give

Before looking ahead to the end of the year, it only makes sense to reflect upon what 2010 has already offered. While it is still early, this year’s batch of films has been somewhat on the weak side. However, there are a few hidden gems out there, particularly Please Give by Nicole Holofcener (Lovely and Amazing, Friends With Money). Catherine Keener stars as Kate, who runs a used furniture business with her husband Alex (Oliver Platt). The catch of the couple’s success is that they buy their furniture from people whose family members have recently died and then resell it at a ludicrous price to yuppie Manhattanites. To further complicate things, Kate and Alex desperately want to upsize their living space and are waiting for their elderly neighbor, Andra, to die so that they can join their two apartments and build their dream home. As Kate and Alex become more successful and as Andra comes closer to death, Kate develops an inhibiting sense of guilt regarding her good fortune and neurotically takes up any charity cause to alleviate this remorse. As Kate, Keener offers ones of her strongest performances and the rest of the cast is equally impressive, most notably Amanda Peet and Rebecca Hall as Andra’s two granddaughters who are a straight-talking bitch and a selfless caregiver, respectively. With its fully formed characters, sharp dialogue, and keen observance of contemporary living, Please Give is a smart and intelligent comedy reminiscent of Woody Allen’s strongest New York set comedies.

While Please Give reminds us of the glory days of one of my favorite directors, Shutter Island proves that Martin Scorsese has just as strong a cinematic output as he did thirty years ago. Shutter Island is a creepy, engaging thriller, and is one of few films to greatly improve upon its source material. Shutter Island escapes the contrivance of Dennis Lenhane’s novel by avoiding many of the repeated scenes, symbols, and quotations that made the novel so predictable and overdone. Furthermore, Martin Scorsese’s keen visual sense makes Shutter Island extremely atmospheric and intriguing (particularly in the flashback scenes featuring cast stand-outs Leonardo DiCaprio and Michele Williams).
On the subject of great performances, Ashley Judd has been doing some of the strongest dramatic work in recent years, although you’d hardly know it since her latest films have only had the most limited of releases. After playing a woman struggling with commitment and family issues in Come Early Morning (which is also noteworthy for being a strong directorial debut by actress Joey Lauren Adams) and a paranoid junkie in 2007’s Bug, Judd completes a dramatic trifecta with Helen. Helen is a small film that examines how people afflicted with depression cope with the illness and how their family members suffer as well. With every facial twitch, shoulder sad, and exasperated sigh, Judd displays such a strong range of physical and psychological despair in her character that you would think you’re watching Meryl Streep. It’s easily the performance of Judd’s career.

Finally, while Ashley Judd solidifies her standing as a strong dramatic actress, Amanda Seyfried proves to be a strong new talent in Chloe, the latest film by Canadian director Atom Egoyan. Seyfried co-stars as the seductive and off-kilter prostitute Chloe, who is hired by Catherine (Julianne Moore, who also gives her best performance in years) to seduce her husband (Liam Neeson) when she suspects him of being unfaithful. Intense and sexy, Chloe certainly isn’t for everybody, but it’s also one of the more visually arresting and psychologically engaging films of Egoyan’s career. Chloe sort of flies off the rails a little in its third act, although the characters make the very sort of terrible mistakes that lead things to spiral out of control (I’m trying not to give much away). However, the film does veer back on track by the end, and the final shot of the film should provide a lively post-screening discussion with friends.

For the time being, Please Give, Shutter Island, Helen, and Chloe are your best bets for quality cinema, but I’ll keep you apprised of what to see and what to skip. (Also worth seeing are A Prophet, The Runaways, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo!) There are still a few films that Brian (my twin and my constant movie-going companion) and I saw at TIFF that have yet to receive a theatrical release, so there a few good ones still to come. (I won’t give them a review/rating until they are actually released.) In the mean time, happy viewing!