Monday, September 11, 2006

Welcome to Sarajevo, Far From Heaven and Barry Lyndon

Some more thoughts on recent viewings.

[Welcome to Sarajevo (Michael Winterbottom, 1997): Sarajevo was a war that, unusually for Hollywood, was overlooked for exploration, perhaps because, as we see here, it was so inhuman and shocking. The raw recreation of bomb sights, with vivid shots of feet hanging by their veins and holes in victims' heads is unnerving, and perhaps a bit exploitative, but Winterbottom is clearly aiming to impact the viewer, and this he certainly achieves. The first half of this rather slow drama is the best: Winterbottom and his cast explore the media's coverage of the event, examining the differing approachs of American reporter Woody Harrelson and British one Stephen Dillane; however, the change to a more personal drama, as Dillane becomes emotionally involved with a young orphan (Emira Nusevic), doesn't work, either because of Dillane's stiff performance or simply because it seems too familiar. Threads like Marisa Tomei's aid worker and Goran Visnjic's (a stellar turn) native driver are more interesting, but ultimately disappointing because Winterbottom keeps focus on Dillane. Ultimately, an occasionally powerful drama, but it feels unfulfilled. Grade: B-]

[Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2002): Haynes' takes his cue from Douglas Sirk's famously lush melodramas of the 1950s and adds a slightly more contemporary angle: he, unlike Sirk, can tackle issues like homosexuality and race head-on, instead of leaving them in the subtext. Julianne Moore is transfixing as the housewife whose perfect life crumbles when she discovers her husband Dennis Quaid with another man, and, in her turmoil, rather unwisely turns to her black gardener Dennis Haysbert for support. Haynes perfectly recreates the 1950s setting, and, with cinematographer Edward Lachman and Elmer Bernstein's melodramatically flowing score exquisitely echoing the period, he explores the vicious underbelly of 1950s with precision. Moore, Quaid and Haysbert, as well as Patricia Clarkson as Moore's "best friend" and Viola Davis as her maid, are all exceptional, convincingly of the period but also relevant to today's as well. Perhaps a little more could have been made of Quaid's side of the story, and ultimately the emotional impact isn't as great as one would hope, but all in all, a gripping, sad little story. Grade: B+]

[Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975): As is usually the case with Kubrick, I think that Barry Lyndon needs to be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated, because it seems that it's productional qualities far out-weigh it's narrative ones. Ryan O'Neal wobbles as the titular character, progressing from an Irish lad in love with his cousin to eventually marrying the widow of a lord and ruining his own life. The first half of Barry's story, as he ventures across countries as a deserter from the British and then Prussian armies, is quite compelling, as he encounters various characters (an interlude with Diana Koerner's abandoned wife is quite impressively melancholic), but when it settles into Barry's life with Lady Lyndon (a wasted Marisa Berenson) and his troubles with her son Lord Bullingdon (Leon Vitali) it starts to lose focus and indeed the audience's attention. Famous production designer Ken Adam's work is quite ravishing, but on a small screen it has little impact, and the attraction really remains a mystery. A fascinating oddity, nonetheless, with the highlight perhaps being Michael Hordern's sardonic narration. Grade: B-]

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