Decalogue IV (11/10/12)

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The Decalogue is a series of ten films loosely based on the ten commandments.

At a glance, it would be easy to write off Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue as religious propaganda or something similar, but that does not seem to be the intention. This is not a heavy handed approach to religion, or even morality. Though there are ten films in the series, each film does not explicitly follow a single commandment. In fact, the series focuses more on people than religion. The films are simple but powerful and though originally shot for Polish television, they are shot beautifully. The quality of the picture is not amazing and the translation seems a bit loose at times, but once you find yourself wrapped up in the story, you likely won’t even notice these things.

Decalogue IV

Anka (Adrianna Biedrzynska) a young woman living with her father, Michal (Janusz Gajos), whom she shares a very close relationship with, almost like friends rather than parent/child. On one of Michal’s business trips, Anka decides to open a letter she finds with the writing “open after my death” on it and finds a letter from her deceased mother in it. After Michal returns from his trip, Anka reveals that she read the letter and that it explained that Michal may not be her real father and the two discover that they may have deeper feelings for each other.

While I understand the description of Decalogue IV sounds very perverse and weird, there is much more to it so please don’t be put off by something incestuous. That said, Decalogue IV is surprising in its frankness about such a relationship but that is also the mastery behind Kieslowski’s filmmaking. Never does Decalogue IV feel sleazy or reaching for a reaction, it presents a very personal relationship up close and unflinchingly but does not exploit the point. The ending will also likely surprise you. Although it is not my favorite of the series so far, Decalogue IV is a film I don’t think I will soon forget.

I give it 5 out of 5.

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Decalogue III (10/19/12)

Decalogue DekalogMovie Two Hundred Thirty Six

The Decalogue is a series of ten films loosely based on the ten commandments.

At a glance, it would be easy to write off Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue as religious propaganda or something similar, but that does not seem to be the intention. This is not a heavy handed approach to religion, or even morality. Though there are ten films in the series, each film does not explicitly follow a single commandment. In fact, the series focuses more on people than religion. The films are simple but powerful and though originally shot for Polish television, they are shot beautifully. The quality of the picture is not amazing and the translation seems a bit loose at times, but once you find yourself wrapped up in the story, you likely won’t even notice these things.

Decalogue III

On Christmas Eve, a taxi driver named Janusz (Daniel Olbrychski) attending mass with his family runs into a woman, Ewa (Maria Pakulnis), he had an affair with several years prior. Later that evening, Ewa comes looking for Janusz to help find her husband, who is apparently missing. Janusz lies and tells his wife that his tax was stolen and he and Ewa go out driving around. Janusz is eager to get home to his family but Ewa persists. Eventually Janusz sees through Ewa’s plan, but does not say anything right away, but after spending the entire night driving around together, Ewa comes clean.

Decalogue III is possibly the smallest film in scope so far of the series. The film is largely just Janusz and Ewa driving around and there is fairly minimal dialogue as well. We learn a lot of Janusz and Ewa at a personal level and we can infer much about their personalities. Janusz cares greatly for his family but he also seems to have feelings for Ewa, though maybe not necessarily on a sexual level. Janusz does nearly succumb to weakness, but when he doesn’t he seems relieved more than anything. The main issue I had with Decalogue III is probably the pacing. There are long stretches with little to no dialogue and my interest started waning a few times. Still, the humanistic relationships built in an hour are better than most movies with twice the length.

I give it 4 out of 5.

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Decalogue II (10/16/12)

Decalogue DekalogMovie Two Hundred Thirty Four

The Decalogue is a series of ten films loosely based on the ten commandments.

At a glance, it would be easy to write off Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue as religious propaganda or something similar, but that does not seem to be the intention. This is not a heavy handed approach to religion, or even morality. Though there are ten films in the series, each film does not explicitly follow a single commandment. In fact, the series focuses more on people than religion. The films are simple but powerful and though originally shot for Polish television, they are shot beautifully. The quality of the picture is not amazing and the translation seems a bit loose at times, but once you find yourself wrapped up in the story, you likely won’t even notice these things.

Decalogue II

An elderly doctor and a younger woman both live in the same building. The two run into each other in the elevator and we can sense there is a tension between the two. Later, the woman runs into the doctor again and asks if he remembers her. He does – she ran over his dog several years back. The woman wants the doctor to assess her husband’s medical condition but he is reluctant to do so because of their history. The woman persists and informs the doctor that she is pregnant with the child of a man other than her husband. If her husband lives, she will abort the baby, but if he is to die she will carry the baby to term.

Another hugely impactful film, Decalogue II I found a bit harder to follow and had a harder time caring for the woman, Dorota. The moral decisions surrounding the events are all heavy topics and are treated with absolute care, though. Even with the graveness of the situations at hand, we understand the fate of the characters is set by their own actions. Decalogue II is a bit more gloomy overall, but the events in it kept me thinking long after it was over.

I give it 4 out of 5.

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Decalogue I (10/14/12)

Decalogue DekalogMovie Two Hundred Thirty Three

The Decalogue is a series of ten films loosely based on the ten commandments.

At a glance, it would be easy to write off Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue as religious propaganda or something similar, but that does not seem to be the intention. This is not a heavy handed approach to religion, or even morality. Though there are ten films in the series, each film does not explicitly follow a single commandment. In fact, the series focuses more on people than religion. The films are simple but powerful and though originally shot for Polish television, they are shot beautifully. The quality of the picture is not amazing and the translation seems a bit loose at times, but once you find yourself wrapped up in the story, you likely won’t even notice these things.

Decalogue I

A young boy named Pawel lives with his father,Krzysztof, a professor, and together, the two have a very analytical way of thinking. They have computer programs to do calculations for physics problems,  including the thickness of the ice in a nearby pond and how much weight it should be able to hold. After finding a dead dog, Pawel decides he wants to go to religious lessons as a way to cope with his father’s views on there not being an afterlife.

Decalogue I really starts the series off with a bang, and it hooked me almost instantly. The beauty is that the characters are realistic and believable. When tragedy strikes, it is a punch to the gut and even though we were only just introduced to these characters in less than an hour’s time, we feel connected to them. This humanism is the magic of Kieslowski’s filmmaking and these “short” films are testaments to his genius. Decalogue I is one of the best films I’ve seen, and easily ranks among my favorites from Kieslowski

I give it 5 out of 5.

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Headhunters (10/7/12)

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In Headhunters, an art thief takes the chance on the score of a lifetime only to find out he’s in deeper than he imagined.

Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is an accomplished art thief that works as a corporate headhunter. He is fairly short and has a stunning, tall wife named Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund), whom Roger believes requires a posh lifestyle to stay with him. Diana owns an art gallery and during an exhibition, Diana introduces Roger to Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a very successful CEO for a rival company of a job that Roger is recruiting for. Roger approaches Clas for the job and later finds out that Clas may have one an incredibly rare piece of art in his possession. As Roger plans to steal the artwork, things begin to unravel and Roger has to go on the run.

Headhunters is one of increasingly many tightly woven crime dramas coming from Scandinavia and it’s quite a wild ride. The pacing is so quick that even if you are trying to figure out every loose end, you’ll likely not even remember the small details shown earlier that have an impact in the finale. Headhunters is a film that pretty much grabs you by the throat in terms of tension, but does everything so smartly that you don’t mind. That’s not to say it’s perfect, but what Headhunters does, it does quite well.

I don’t want to speak too much about the plot of Headhunters because it has got so many layers that once you begin describing it in too much detail, it’s hard to pull back and not retell the whole movie. There are times during the film that you wonder what is going to happen, and then still be surprised by what actually happens and that type of writing is harder to find these days. The downside to such a rich plot is that if you think about somethings too hard, you may start to notice the cracks in the veneer. In fact, and I won’t spoil anything, I found a huge hole in the plot that still doesn’t make sense to me, but it doesn’t matter so much in the grand scheme of things. When you have that many moving parts, it’s easy to get tripped up in the fine details.

Films from Scandinavia, Norway in particular for Headhunters, seem to have a unique style to them. Headhunters is incredibly smooth-looking and even though the film was made for the USD equivalent of under $6million (if my math and conversion rates are correct), there are no films made in Hollywood that could come close to matching the quality here. The film has basically everything you could want out of an action movie and still have enough time to be intelligent and funny. All the actors, Hennie in particular, give terrific performances here too. Hennie’s range from funny to badass has a very natural feel to it and it works in the context of the film.

Headhunters is the type of film Hollywood wishes it could make. Instead, the action films we are used to have more explosions and violence than you can shake a stick at and a budget to match – all while sacrificing plot, character development, and actors that seem to care. Jo Nesbø, who wrote the novel that Headhunters is based on, has a project in the pipeline with Martin Scorsese, if the rumormill is to believed and that has me greatly excited. We need more thrillers like Headhunters.

I give it 4 this is the work of art that causes all the trouble out of 5.

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Bernie (9/1/12)

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Bernie is based on the true events involving the murder of a wealthy elderly woman by a charming mortician in Texas.

Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) is a mortician’s assistant that moves to Carthage, Texas from Louisiana and quickly charms the town with his kind nature. He befriends a wealthy widow, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), after the death of her husband. Marjorie is almost universally disliked in town, but she and Bernie almost become inseparable. As Marjorie becomes increasingly possessive over Bernie, he winds up shooting her and hiding her body in a freezer, while lying to the townspeople that Marjorie was simply away. When Nugent’s stock broker and family continue pressing, the truth is revealed, but Bernie has wooed the town to the point where no one seems to fault him for the murder.

One pet peeve that I have about movies that are supposedly “based on true events” is they are written so that everything falls neatly into place and the believability is usually stripped down. While Bernie does fall into this trap a bit, what makes the film different is the use interviews with actual townsfolk as well as actors. The bulk of Bernie essentially becomes a dramatized reenactment, sort of like Rescue 911, and the interviews help progress the story and also give insight to the events being reenacted. On paper, it sounds weird and maybe even disjointed, but in action I found it to work quite well.

One thing that works surprisingly wel in Bernie is Jack Black as the titular character. I’m always cautious when comedic actors take on dramatic roles but I am usually surprised by their performances (e.g. Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Black is actually remarkable and restrained here and I am having a hard time imagining anyone else in the role. The Carthage residents interviewed are also professional sounding and without knowing where the actors start and the non-actors begin, it would be easy to confuse some of them as characters rather than real people. One fault of Bernie may actually be that the real people are almost too goofy considering the film is about a murder, but I was never bothered by it.

We are meant to like Bernie just as Carthage did and we can form our own opinions of the depth of Bernie’s guilt. The amount of good that a man does isn’t necessarily wiped out just because he was pushed past his breaking point, but that is usually how the justice system works. The town of Carthage wanted to side with Bernie and by the end of the film, Bernie, and so did I.

I give it 4 real life Bernie Tiedes out of 5.

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The Grey (7/20/12)

The GreyMovie One Hundred Seventy Three

In The Grey, a group of oil-men fight for their lives in the frozen wilderness after their plane crashes.

John Ottway (Liam Neeson) works at an Alaskan oil rigging site to protect the team from wolves attacking. One evening, he sends a letter to his wife that he is going to kill himself, but as he attempts suicide his gun doesn’t fire. After the oil-men finish their job, they are heading home via plane when it goes down. Ottway quickly takes charge of the situation and as wolves begin to kill the men for territoriality, the team decides to make the trek to survive.

The Grey is not at all what I expected, even after reading several reviews about it. I think many people (including myself) originally wrote The Grey off as “Taken…With Wolves!” but other than Neeson playing a steely killing machine, The Grey is nothing like Taken. The vast majority of the film is a survival picture. Even the wolves take a backseat to this, though they are a critical part of the survival element.

While I found parts of The Grey entertaining and interesting, a lot of it kind of bored me. I didn’t care one iota about the team of oil-men that survives the crash and the film really wants a few of them to have touching death scenes. One scene in particular, when a man is dying and Ottway tells him that he is dying and soothes him made me feel next to nothing for the dying man because I had no idea who is was. It’s almost as if the entire supporting cast is less ensemble and more Ottway-bolsterers since he is really the one character the film focuses on. The Grey does succeed in making Ottway a neat character, though.

Since most people think the film revolves around the wolves, I will say that the CGI used for the wolves is uneven. At times, it seems like The Grey almost wants to become a horror movie, after all, aren’t most horror movies survival movies? It’s also very strange that all these men that had been living in Alaska seemed unaware wolves even existed. Many of them clamor about how big they are and they seem totally unaware they are territorial animals that can easily kill a man. Also, Ottway is basically Muldoon, the raptor keeper, from Jurassic Park explaining to these fools what wolves are capable of.

I enjoyed watching The Grey, even though I wasn’t as emotionally invested as the film seems to require. There are moments of greatness here, and a revelation near the end made a pretty solid impact, but the survival story and the men doing the surviving falls a bit flat. I realize I may seem a bit harsh on The Grey, but perhaps I was just expecting something more out of it. The parts I did like were actually great, but it gets bogged down by its own story. The Grey is certainly worth a watch but I don’t think it will be film I return to.

I give it 3 much more awesome French posters out of 5.

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