Saturday, February 12, 2011

Penny Thoughts ’11: Feb. 4-10

Kisses (2008) ***½
Writer/Director: Lance Daly
Starring: Kelly O’Neill, Shane Curry

“Kisses” is one of those underground discoveries by Irish writer/director Lance Daly that gets under your skin and kind of warms your soul in a bleak Irish way. It’s a fairly simple film, and that’s right for its subject matter. The movie follow two kids who run away from home at around Christmastime. Their home life is less than desirable, and they dream of following the boy’s older brother to a better life in the city. The movie follows a loose road picture structure as the kids meet different characters along their journey. They learn that life isn’t any easier in the city, but they also form a special bond that could never have been discovered without their hardships. Daly uses color in an interesting way, and while the film is too simple to achieve perfection, its directness and plain handling of its characters lends it a quality that makes it well worth its short running time.

La Vie en Rose (2007) ***½
Director: Olivier Dahan
Writers: Olivier Dahan, Isabelle Sobelman
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Sylvie Testud, Pascal Greggory, Emmanuelle Seigner, Jean-Paul Rouve, Gérard Depardieu, Jean-Pierre Martin, Caroline Raynaud

Edith Piaf, “The Little Sparrow”, had a unique life to say the least. Perhaps the most important thing I learned while watching “La Vie en Rose” is that Marion Cotillard’s Oscar for Best Actress was well deserved.  Her performance as the famous French singer would have been impressive had Piaf’s life lasted as long as it seemed she lived it. The fact that she died at the young age of 47 did not prevent the filmmakers from providing Cotillard with full life to work with, and she works it to the same passionate levels Piaf herself did. What a set of lungs on that thing. That statement goes for both Piaf and Cotillard. She could sing and she could yell. It is that classic tortured artist storyline, but the filmmakers approach it in a fractured way that reflects the life lived and the life remembered by Piaf in her final days. “La Vie en Rose” is one of the better musician bio pics.

Every Little Step (2009) ***
Directors: Adam del Deo, James D. Stern
Starring: Bob Avian, Michael Bennett, Charlotte d’Amboise, Natascia Diaz, Deidre Goodwin, Marvin Hamlisch, Baayork Lee, Donna McKechnie, Rachelle Rak, Nikki Snelson, Yuka Takara, Jason Tam, Chryssie Whitehead, Jessica Lee Goldyn

“Every Little Step” is a fascinating look at the creation of the Broadway musical “A Chorus Line” and the audition process of the 2006 Broadway revival production. What keeps it from being great is that it doesn’t go far enough. The filmmakers are content with a traditional documentary format that follows some of the actors up for the major parts, with archival footage of the original workshop process of the original production filling in history on the musical. Considering that the musical is about dancers trying to get cast in a musical production, it seems they could’ve gotten more creative with their presentation of the material to mirror the process more artistically. It also doesn’t go far enough with showing us the lives of the actors trying to get cast in the revival. The musical studies its subjects much closer than this doc does. That being said, I still have to recommend this documentary because it is entertaining and interesting.

Buried (2010) ***½
Director: Rodrigo Cortés
Writer: Chris Sparling
Starring: Ryan Reynolds

Many of these concept films get their praise simply by being concept pieces. By definition a concept piece requires bold artistic decisions, and so they often deserve much of their credit just by being a concept piece to begin with. Bold choices make for good art. What “Buried” has above similar concept pieces is a true thrilling entertainment structure behind it. Its star, Ryan Reynolds, and the rest of the filmmakers do a great job of involving the audience in the ordeal of being buried alive with the hero here. What keeps this man who’s been taken hostage and buried in the ground going is the hope that somehow he can get out of his situation. The filmmakers take us along through all his ups and downs, but always they leave that hope dangling in front of us. A one man, one setting movie is a tough sell, but this one is so thrilling, it’d be easy not to notice.

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