Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cleaning up on some 2010 movies: Somewhere and Another Year

Ok, technically, I am on a hiatus from reviewing new films but screw it, that shouldn't mean I'm on a hiatus altogether... even though that's what I had just said before. My site, my rules!

I came out of my hiatus because I wanted to wrap up on some of the 2010 movies that I didn't get to see until just recently. The two I'm going to talk about today are Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere" and Mike Leigh's "Another Year."


Somewhere stars Stephen Dorff as a famous action star who is beginning to feel the emptiness of his rock star-type life. What propels him to this epiphany is his daughter, Cleo, who goes to stay with him for a prolonged period of time because her mother "needs a break" from here (Dorff's character Johnny Marco is separated from Cleo's mother). What follows is a really innocent, simple, playful bonding between father and daughter in a mood that is not too dissimilar from Lost in Translation although this time, Sofia Coppola has stripped down the story even further. There are scenes where Johnny Marco is just smoking, driving his car in circles, watching pole dancers, having his face molded and there's barely any dialogue. The film kind of takes you out of the comfort zone of getting to know characters via dialogue and instead you're forced to know them just by their banal daily routines. In this case, what Coppola wants you to take away from all this is just how empty Johnny Marco's life is as he slowly and gradually comes to realize it himself. It's a ballsy approach. In a way, Sofia succeeds in what she's trying to do, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily fun or interesting to watch. Watching a boring person do boring things is, quite frankly, boring. And even though I wouldn't exactly call Somewhere a boring movie, it certainly tries your patience. On the other hand, you have to applaud Sofia Coppola because she is absolutely 100% in control of her craft in this film. It looks beautiful and it's a good mood piece. I suppose the right time to watch this film is when you're just relaxing, it's late at night, you got nothing to do... you don't really feel like watching something with a lot of action so you put on this little movie. Ultimately, however, the film just doesn't really say anything particularly interesting or different about its main subject. The film just kind of exists in the most minimalist way possible. Whereas Lost in Translation has characters that are very relatable and actually has something to say about the way we communicate in a world that is foreign to us, Somewhere merely just says "being a movie star is kinda lonely sometimes." Elle Fanning, by the way, gives a really good performance here, Stephen Dorff does exactly what he's told to do. You get the sense that Dorff would probably prefer to be in these types of artful films (need we forget that he once played a cross-dresser in I Shot Andy Warhol), I hope he gets more chances like this one. As it stands though, it's not a particularly memorable performance, just a fairly adequate one. Rating: 6.5/10

Another Year

There's something about Mike Leigh's films. Even when I think I'm probably not going to get hooked, he hooks me in anyway. Naked, Secrets & Lies, Happy-Go-Lucky... they are films that just sort of go on in their own, unassuming direction and you just sort of watch along with it. But, at some point, you always wind up getting sucked into the world that these characters live in. The experience of watching Another Year is nowhere near different. The film follows an elder married couple Tom and Gerri (played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) who, over the course of four seasons, hold parties, invite guests over, etc... and while their lives remain affable and positive, the same cannot be said about some of their friends and family. Another Year is sort of remarkable in how it revolves around this happy, benign couple and yet it is probably the most heartbreaking film Mike Leigh has made up to this point (which is saying a lot). Part of what makes this film so heart-breaking is the powerhouse performance by Lesley Manville who plays Mary, Gerri's friend. She commands the screen everytime she pops up and as annoying, bombastic, and drunkenly she is, by the end of the film you cannot help but feel such sadness for her character who is doomed to live a drunken, lonely life. As Mike Leigh's career continues to grow, so does the legend of how he makes his films. If you don't know by now, Mike Leigh does not start off with a screenplay. Instead, he just has a broad outline and through long, intensive rehearsals with his actors, he begins to find the story and starts to run with it. It often depends on how the actor/actress plays the character before he finds out exactly where they're going to go with them. What is so amazing about this approach, in the case of Another Year, is that you literally are spending the first hour of the film getting to know Tom, Gerri, their son Joe, along with their friends. Even though it becomes clear almost instantly that Mary is a rather sad and lonely character, it doesn't truly affect you until about halfway through the film as you see her gradually descending into deeper depression. She is just someone who desperately wants to make a connection with someone and the only people she has left by the end are her benign, kind friends, Tom and Gerri. There is a deep, profound sadness that runs through Another Year, but the film is also a wonderful little slice of life, which is what you expect out of a Mike Leigh film. What often gets lost in discussing Leigh's work is just how skilled he is, technically, in crafting his films. Honestly, I feel like his films just keep getting better in the craftsmanship department. In this age, though, it's refreshing to see somewhere work with character and story so carefully and so perfectly. Another Year is one of the 2010's best films. Rating: 9.5/10

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