Friday, May 18, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: Noisemakers

As the predominantly mindless and noisy summer movie season gets into full swing with this weekend's release of the board game-inspired, eardrum-shattering Battleship, keep your eyes open for these decidedly smarter, quieter gems. They are now playing in Los Angeles and New York City but are scheduled to expand nationally over the next few months, so please make some noise of your own and talk them up.

Hysteria (Sony Pictures Classics): The only sound effect of note here is the electric buzzing of Victorian-era vibrators, the development of which is covered fully. However, lesbian director Tanya Wexler (Finding North) has a lot more on her mind than "personal massagers." She uses this unusual if factual premise as a springboard to explore gender equality, economic justice and our current need for socioeconomic reform. I haven't been a big fan of Maggie Gyllenhaal (although I definitely preferred her to Katie Holmes in The Dark Knight), but she shines here as the rebellious, crusading daughter of Jonathan Pryce's gynecologist. The doctor's young apprentice (Hugh Dancy) naturally becomes smitten with her despite his engagement to the doctor's other daughter (Felicity Jones). Out actor Rupert Everett is also on hand, playing the "full-time sexual deviant" who creates the gadget that would enable women to relieve themselves of "tension in the womb" forevermore. Hysteria is an insightful, entertaining, beautifully-designed and -photographed film. Be sure to stay through the end credits.

I Wish (Magnolia Pictures): Hirokazu Kore-eda (Nobody Knows) has crafted a lovely, authentic exploration of family bonds tested by separation. 12-year old Koichi and his younger brother, Ryunosuke (played by real-life brothers Koki and Ohshiro Maeda, who are also a famed comedy duo in Japan known as MaedaMaeda), are living apart due to their parents' divorce. Koichi, who lives with their mother while Ryu resides hundreds of miles away with their father, is increasingly preoccupied with thoughts of how to reunite them all. Rumors of a time-traveling miracle that could result when the northbound and southbound cars of a new bullet train pass each other for the first time at top speed gets Koichi's hopes up. Not everything goes as well as Koichi and his friends would like but they gain important life lessons in the process. Though the film is overlong at 128 minutes, it is a warm and wise winner.

Quill: The Life of a Guide Dog (Music Box Films): Also from Japan, this acclaimed 2004 film is only now receiving an American release, perhaps thanks to the success of 2008's Marley & Me. While both movies track a lovable Labrador's life from birth to death (have Kleenex handy), Quill has a nobler purpose: he is specially trained to be a guide dog to the blind. Director Yoichi Sai lays the sentimentality and humor on thick at times, and whoever composed the irritatingly whimsical, calliope-esque music score should have been spayed or neutered. Still, the movie is charming more often than not, and Sai's pseudo-documentary approach gives viewers a greater appreciation of service animals and the sacrifices they unknowingly make to assist us.

Polisse (Sundance Selects): While The Artist may have swept this year's Academy Awards, it didn't receive as many Cesar nominations in its native France as this hard-hitting film about the various members of the Parisian police department's Child Protection Unit. As one can imagine, they encounter some horrific situations on a day-to-day basis including child prostitution, physical and sexual abuse, and incest, and the resultant mental and emotional toll impacts their personal lives. Directed and co-written by Luc Besson protege Maiwenn (who also co-stars as a government photographer assigned to the unit) employs real situations but fictional characters to powerful dramatic effect. Polisse won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, and will also be available for viewing via video-on-demand starting May 25th.

Reverend's Ratings:
All four films: B+

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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