The Strange Case of Angelica has the patient, methodical pace one would expect from a director who has been around for over a century. Portuguese writer/director Manoel de Oliveira tells a meditative ghost story, one where feelings of romance persist beyond the grave, but the movie’s glacial pace eliminates any sense of suspense or lust. Such an approach is by design; de Oliveira uses long takes – really long takes – to communicate the depth of feeling his hero possesses. The technique is sometimes maddening, yet it consistently inspires worthwhile thoughtfulness.
Miguel Arteta’s Cedar Rapids is a charming, warm-hearted comedy about an innocent man’s descent into debauchery. Given its small-town setting, the ensuing antics have a manic energy you wouldn’t expect. The cast, all chosen perfectly, is also full of surprises. Ed Helms gives the best performance of his career as a man who is so hapless you can’t help but like him. Many of the movie’s gags would fit perfectly into a mediocre gross-out comedy, yet Arteta and screenwriter Phil Johnston are more interested in character development than their contemporaries.
This year’s Oscar nominees for Best Animated Short are an odd bunch. There is polished CGI at its finest, as well as messy illustration. One short has virtually no plot, whereas another adheres to a strict fairy-tale formula. Only a handful are successful, yet there is no denying the creativity of these varied animation styles. So without further ado, to the shorts, onward!
Of all the nominees, this is one you’ve probably seen because it’s the Pixar short that preceded Toy Story 3. As with other Pixar shorts, Day & Night works as a throwback to the best Warner Brothers cartoons, but unlike For the Birds or Boundin’, Newton is deftly innovative.
There are two reasons why novels by airport authors routinely receive film adaptations. The first, more obvious reason is popularity. In most non-academic circles, a novel by Dan Brown or Stieg Larsson is more well-known than one by Saul Bellow or August Strindberg. The second reason is style; airport novelists do not have the same ambition or depth as their more literary counterparts. This is why film adaptations of serious fiction, while sometimes successful, often don’t do the source material justice. Such is the case with Barney’s Version, which is based on the eponymous novel by Mordecai Richler. Director Richard J. Lewis and his cast lovingly bring the book to the big screen, but large sections of the film feel undeveloped. Like a student thumbing through CliffsNotes, the average viewer will walk away from Barney’s Version with only a half-baked understanding of the story’s impact.
Simon West’s The Mechanic is a vicious little movie with simple ambitions. Competently directed and acted, it could have been more — an unwavering look at two ruthlessly violent men — but the screenplay holds back when it should embrace its bloodthirsty aggression. Falling short of the glorious mayhem found in Statham’s earlier efforts, this update of the Charles Bronson classic is entertaining yet ordinary.
Alister Grierson’s Sanctum is a survival thriller coupled with a mawkish family drama. It sometimes succeeds at the former but utterly fails at the latter. The acting is all over the place – some are quietly competent while others are near-parodies – and the cornball screenplay does the cast few favors. Using real-life underwater caves, the big scenes sometime achieve the awe for which they strive, yet disengagement from the story deflates any sense of suspense. Ads for Sanctum inform audiences that executive producer James Cameron let Grierson use the same 3D technology that made Avatar such a success. While the 3D here is intermittently interesting, the final product is nowhere near as immersive as the otherworldly blockbuster.