Tuesday, June 21, 2011

From the Queue: Another Year, True Grit, Biuitiful

Another Year
This is a movie that might have worked better as a play since the film brought just about nothing to the equation that the stage couldn't have showcased. The plot is less a storyline and more a set of somewhat connected anecdotes about the experiences of a mostly happily married British couple and their friends and family. I had to watch the film with the subtitles on because the English accents were difficult for me to understand at times. The dialogue is fast and the quips come faster for the family that likes to riff with one another. But their inside jokes fail to drown out the sadness that surrounds them, especially their friend Mary, a twice-divorced middle-aged secretary whose lonesome sadness is painfully depressing. This movie received an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay, but there's nothing particularly revelatory about this film, and I don't think it is a profound commentary of the state of family life in 2011. I do think it showcases gifted actors and accurately displays the complex and easy-to-miss subtleties of family life and lifelong friendships. This one's not for many movie fans though, and by the final scene I was ready for it to be over and done with.
Three stars.

True Grit
Jeff Bridges is the best actor going right now in my opinion, and True Grit is exhibit A as to why that is. A remake of a classic Western film starring John Wayne, there's nothing new here, except every actor in every scene is simply amazing, and Bridges is the best of the bunch. I find few flaws with this movie, but I'm going to preemptively offer one rebuttal against a criticism I suspect trained critics found in this Coen Bros. production. The story is as simple as can be, which reminds of the underlying reason why Avatar didn't supposedly didn't win the Oscar for Best Picture a year ago. What I don't understand is why simple plots are inherently a bad thing. A film is not a book. The viewer doesn't need to imagine what the scenery looks like or what the character's voices sound like, since directors and cinematographers and actors do that for us. Avatar was brilliant, and the best film of a year ago, because it was like nothing we'd ever seen before. Its plot was a version of Dances with Wolves and other notable films, and for that critics found it elementary. True Grit's plot is a straight revenge flick not remarkably different from any other Western. But the story is told through the filter of such perfect acting (besides Bridges, Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld) that the simplicity of the story is actually a benefit to the movie. There are no new stories to be told, so every great film is going to remind us of something. Even though True Grit is as unoriginal as can be, it's a repeat of a film that's already been made, it feels new and uniquely memorable.
Five stars.

Biuitiful
I had high hopes for Oscar-nominated Biutiful mainly because star Javier Bardem's performance was touted as nearly legendary. Bardem was in fact stellar, but the plot was so weird and convoluted, I simply did not care about his character by the end. There's drug use and murder and political commentary and visions of haunting spirits and various other elements that make the story not necessarily hard to follow, but hard to invest in. In fact, by the end, I only wanted the movie to be over so I could go watch something lighter (I think I chose Modern Family) to cleanse my pallet. A real disappointment.
Two stars

No. 25 The Antlers

Here is a practice in time-wasting. The baby is asleep, all my workplace worries have stowed away at 1100 Broadway and I am alone with my thoughts and my music. As I said a few posts ago, I don't think particularly highly of obligatory music lists, or of ranking works of art in general.

This is merely me sharing for my friends and fellow music fans what bands I am enjoying right now.

Starting the list off is the Antlers, a Brooklyn-based group that broke through in 2009 with their creepy and beautiful concept album Hospice. The Antlers have followed up that effort this year with Burst Apart, which is worth purchasing for those who haven't heard it.

At their best, the Antlers remind me of some truly remarkable bands. On any given song, the young band can channel the raw emotion of U2, the intriguing textures of Radiohead, the haunting beauty of Arcade Fire and the goosebumping vocals of Antony and the Johnsons.

Having said that, their last two albums appear to me to be merely a foretaste of the great things still to come. Even though the Antlers remind me of rock royalty, this is still an inconsistent band and some of their tracks, even on the unforgettably outstanding Hospice, are regular skips for me.

Listen for yourself by watching a YouTube video of "Two," which is my favorite song (so-so video) by the band.