Archive for the ‘2011’ category

Hide Away (Eyre, 2011)



Josh Lucas (unnamed in the film – except for “Young Mariner”) stars in his first dramatic lead in this rather stunning, overly metaphorical and imperfect film.  His performance is hugely successful.  Hide Away (originally titled A Year in Mooring) is a tale of redemption and the film does not survive the clichés of the genre, but barely so.  The mysterious supporting characters speak primarily in metaphor and poem referring to the grand Traverse (the film is beautifully shot on the waters of Traverse City in Northern Michigan), Hesperus (Lucas’ boat) and with rather direct hints at Buddhism.

Young Mariner has lost something and we know up front that it’s his family but we don’t find out how until about 2/3 of the way through the film in a short powerful sequence that adds weight and purpose to the narrative.  The film is like a Nocturne, dreamlike with little exposition.

Its 1 and ½ hours equates to the 1 and ½ years that Young Mariner must pass through to achieve said redemption.  The soundtrack is the personal stamp of its director, Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals, Edge of America).  Critics have been surprisingly harsh on a film during a time when so much comic book tripe is being released.

**** / *****

We Bought A Zoo (Cameron Crowe, 2011)


I really like Matt Damon.  Along with Leo DeCaprio he is among our current living throwbacks to beloved 50’s Hollywood actors (Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart) and I know second hand that the guy is a true gentleman.  I saw this as a good afternoon film for my kids without knowing Cameron Crowe was the director.  Say Anything (1989) and Almost Famous (2000) are really good films where the director’s Kapraesque vision works;  however, when lost to his own devices Crowe deteriorates into empty and sometimes offensive sentiment.

Based loosely (?) on a true story of a man (Benjamin Mee, Damon) that had lost his wife months earlier is left with two young children, his young teenage son just being expelled from school for bad behavior.  Seeking a new start Mee (newspaper writer) looks to new real estate for solace and finds a home in rural Southern California.  Apparently the Title work didn’t list “zoo” as an exception to title in Schedule B.  After purchasing the home, looking for his new start, Mee discovers he has purchased a home AND a zoo with a full staff (lead by a very hesitant Scarlett Johansson) and a good number of other animal species.  Where was the staff when Mee got his home tour?

Within this genre (drama / comedy of family getting over the loss of a loved one) there are good films, one of which is Fly Away Home.  Carroll Ballard’s 1996 film captures the initial darkness and tragedy of the events that lead to catharsis.  Then little Anna Paquin finds solace with her father (a wonderful Jeff Daniels perf) in leading a gaggle of geese back to the coast during the Fall.  That film had its own flaws (under developed environmental storyline) too but is non pretentious in its tale of an estranged father / daughter relationship brought back together by tragedy.

Zoo has moments of true cringe including two 13 year old children exchanging ‘I love you’s’ to an incredibly ill-timed joke involving the recent Chilean miner disaster (will that ever be safe territory?).  Some sweet moments ensue including an ill tiger sub-story but the payoff falls short.  Compounding the problem is the 124 minute cut had me and other dad looking for the toilet and exit.  The obvious proper end to the film has the camera tracking back from a fort with a visual of a successful and completely predictable Zoo re-opening is followed by a tepid sequence involving father telling children how he had first met mom.  I nearly walked out of Crowe’s disastrous 2001 Vanilla Sky and I would have done so here if not for my kiddos that will hopefully look back at this film with the cynicism this film deserves.

If you want to see a great grieving Matt Damon check out Soderburgh’s Contagion.

* 1/2  /  *****

Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011)


Spoilers ahead.  Not in a very long time have I such anticipated a film’s opening, in this case from the greatest living director (his words), bad boy Dutchman Lars von Trier’s Melancholia.  This was set to be the best apocalyptic film yet made.  Fresh off his depressing and drab Antichrist (2009), he grabbed me with his stunning trailers and imagery promising us a visual masterpiece.  What follows is prelude as climax, eight to ten minutes of epic slow motion beauty:  Kierstin Dunst (a great perf and Best Actress at this year’s Cannes Film Festival) running through the woods in her wedding dress dragging tree limbs, a close up of Dunst with falling dead birds, Dunst with electricity coming out of her fingers as power lines behind her do the same, Dunst in a set piece in dress smothered by mother nature (see above image), a stunning sequence of a woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) running through some hellish 19th hole (I take it as von Trier’s shot at country club culture?) then beautiful shots of the planet Melancholia threatening earth.  All of this is set to the overture to Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde that peppers the film throughout.

Then comes the Part 1, “Justine,” an interesting if not hum-drum wedding reception of Justine (Dunst) and new husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgård).  Justine’s mother Gaby (Charlotte Rampling) makes a scene by denouncing marriage, the new couple is three hours late to their own reception, Justine squabbles with her boss Jack (von Trier’s often used Stellan Skarsgård) about an ad campaign and Justine bonking a co-worker on the golf course on the palatial estate of the set for Part 1, Justine’s brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland).  This act seems pleasantly improvised yet a too familiar story of family dysfunction.  The protagonists see and discuss a new star in the galaxy.  Justine tells Michael to piss off.

Part 2, “Claire,” has main protagonists Justine, John, Claire and Claire’s young son Leo (Cameron Spurr) holed up in John’s estate awaiting the outcome of the soon to be colliding, or passing by, planet Melancholia.  John is optimistic, Claire is frightened and Justine is ready for it.  It’s a set piece for Justine’s extreme depression and its moving in that regard;   however as impending doom approaches I waited for a return to the film’s prelude.  It never happens.  The film ends with a bang but also disappointment as it delivers straight forward storyline, not the prelude’s surreal landscape that promised my expectation of a better film.  Subsequent viewings might sway me.

Postscript.  After four other viewings I realize how much this film represents the best of 2011.  A complete artistic achievement.

**** / *****