Sunday, January 28, 2007

Good films from 2006

As you've already probably figured out the pattern I probably don't need to mention that these films didn't quite make the "great" mark but still had there moments.

********** Good Films (in alpha order) **********

Country: USA
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Biopic
Adaptation of Charles Bukowski stories that manages to out-deadpan the whole army of deadpan indie comedies on the market. Matt Dillon turns in a career highlight as the perpetually hung-over Bukowski who gets himself fired from every bottom-rung menial-labor job he can find.

The Host:
Country: South Korea
Genre: Science Fiction, Monster Movie
Review: (Reproduced from my 2006 St Louis Film Festival reviews)
Already the highest grossing film made in South Korea (a record broken every six months or so), “The Host” is poised for global success. It’s hard to deny its raw entertainment power, and as the first truly solid monster movie to come around in decades, it’s especially a must-see for science-fiction fans.
The story is based on a real life headline about an American mortician who forced his assistant to pour out enormous quantities of formaldehyde into a sink that drains into the Han River (which runs through Seoul, the most populated city in the world). The movie fast-forwards through several instances over the years where strange events occur around a massive highway bridge. The strange going-ons culminate with the appearance of a ferocious amphibious monstrosity (admirably realized with cutting-edge CG, originally designed with no significant debt to dinosaurs and given movements that are eerily lifelike) that moves onto the shore to wreak havoc and steal bodies to snack on later. The daughter of a squid-stand operator is soon captured by the beast, and he struggles to rescue her from the hidden lair while contending with his own government, who has sealed off him and the area because it appears the creature also carries a deadly contagious virus.
Kang-ho Song stars, having already broken into the American market through his collaborations with Park Chan-wook, Sang-soo Hong and this director’s previous effort, “Memories of Murder.” His acting talents seem a little underused as the bumbling father, and director Bong Joon-ho doesn’t quite match the brilliance of his earlier feature, but once again manages to make an engrossing genre flick that disguises some heavy social commentary and a profound displeasure for his government (and ours). Note especially the visual echo created by the Agent Yellow device near the end of the film.

Little Miss Sunshine:
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy, Road Trip
The year’s big indie hit is an Anderson-style comedy about a family determined to let their oddball daughter compete in a beauty pageant. Wise casting puts several B-list actors into a position where they can really shine, and the interplay between the family members provides some genuine laughs (though the funniest character is removed in a misguided attempt at shock emotion). The blend of understatement and absurdity makes for successful and charming entertainment, although the film owes far too much to Wes Anderson, Jim Jarmusch and Hal Hartley (not to mention National Lampoon’s Vacation) to really deserve the hype it received. Condemning the film to merely “good” status is the groan-inducing final act filled with forced catharsis, insincere motivations and the ubiquitous (and always awful) dance scene climax.

Country: Denmark
Genre: Drama, Historical Fiction
Danish provocateur Lars Von Trier grinds another ax on American history in the second chapter of his American hypocrisy trilogy [my title]. This time out, Bryce Dallas Howard (Ron Howard’s daughter) takes over the role of Grace from Nicole Kidman in the superior Dogville. Grace finds herself rescuing the slaves at an isolated plantation that has continued to practice slavery decades after it had been abolished. With the help of a handful of her father’s gangsters she attempts to reverse the roles of the slaves and owners, to disastrous and ironic results.
Trier serves up another clever portion of biting American critique and Grecian tragic irony but gets lazy with his formula. Viewers of Dogville will see every twist and turn coming and will likely grow sick of the director’s patronizing, preachy tone. The acting is also below the high standard set by the first film in the trilogy.

Country: USA
Genre: Science-Fiction, Horror
A tribute to classic B-movie alien invasion and zombie flicks. A must see for fans of old-fashioned sci-fi. Plenty of great special effects and a charismatic performance by Serenity’s Nathan Fillion.

Who Killed the Electric Car?:
Country: USA
Genre: Documentary
Interesting documentary with an admirable array of perspectives on the mystery behind the withdrawal of the electric car. Could have taken better advantage of its mystery/investigation premise, but highly informative despite lack of innovation.

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