Month: May 2008

The Edge of Heaven (2008), Fatih Akin, A-

Can a movie be a magical fable and yet be 100% realistic in tone? I think so. Fatih Akin’s far-fetched tale of intertwining (yet unaware) characters all searching for one another works on many levels. Most of all, lets face it, as soap opera – this is a damned good yarn! The exchange of cultures (much like Head-On we open with Turkish immigrants in Germany) and larger issues of individual freedom all kinda take a back seat to the deftly moving momentum of the story story story. When two hours are up you feel like you’ve been with these people for years, in an almost exhausting way. All of the characters, even the dirty old man, are good people; none of them ever get to share this fundamental goodness with anyone else. Except for the same-sex couple at the heart of the story and their wonderful, crystalline first kiss – wrapped up and presented to us in one miraculous long take. It is interesting because Head-On, which I named as my top film of 2005, is loaded with style. Crazy cutting, flashy camera work and loud loud music. Very little of that is on display here. In fact, were it not for the inherent excitement of location photography (Istambul, Hamburg and the Black Sea) I’d go so far as to say that The Edge of Heaven’s aesthetic is a...

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Cassandra’s Dream (2007), Woody Allen, B

It is amazing what lowered expectations can do to a film. I was very much a fan of Match Point and when this came out a few months ago the word was that it was a complete retread of Match Point, just not as good. And, frankly, that is a fair enough synopsis. It has none of the startling upper class WOW factor of Match Point‘s look and the acting isn’t up to that level either. What’s unfortunate about Woody Allen is that he’s so open in interviews. He has stated (you can track down the NPR podcast if you like) that he pretty much hates being on set these days and shoots his films as quickly as possible. As many master shots as possible, very few takes. I’m guessing very little rehearsal time, too. And even a good actor like Tom Wilkison or Ewen MacGregor is not going to get everything in the master. When there are inserts there are queasy jumps (watch Colin Firth’s arms in the scene under the tree) because everything is such a free-for-all that nothing is going to match. It’s the way Dylan records most of his albums and sometimes you get Empire Burlesque instead of Blood on the Tracks. Still – the relentlessness of the story here. And the characters – since they DO have so much time to be on screen...

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Le Gai Savoir (1969), Jean-Luc Godard, B

It’s very important to have a drink or two before watching JLG’s more avant-garde films. It’s all about getting on the right wavelength. There are plenty of reviews of Le Gai Savoir out there (it just was released on DVD) but none of them mention how a lot of this movie is meant to be funny. Remember, Godard likes detective movies. This is a cut-up, and I mean that in multiple ways. If the point is that the medium of film is not to be trusted, or must be re-learned, then it is okay if a lot of it just flies by. Also: there is the very real possibility that he was just fucking around in the editing room trying to make a deadline. A lot of it is audio collage over black leader – a lot of it is just more Leninist rambling – a lot of it is just torn out pages of magazine images with faux revolutionary phrases scrawled over it. And then there’s Jean-Pierre Leaud in a black box room making radio sounds. If you can’t dig on all that, I don’t know what I can do for...

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Star Trek: Terok Nor – Day of the Vipers by James Swallow

Now, I know I run the risk of sounding like a complete psychopath, especially since all you have to do is scroll down and see that I just gave one of the best reviewed movies of last year a “C” – but here goes: this is a really good book. And I don’t mean a really good “Star Trek” book – I mean a good book. No, it isn’t particularly well written (it isn’t poorly written, the prose is smart enough to stay out of the way) but the clever tale on display is, no bullshit, a remarkable and timely solid piece of work. James Swallow was tasked to create “Book 1” of a trilogy filling in the back story of the Cardassian occupation of Bajor for us dysfunctional Star Trek nerds who need all the cracks of the timeline filled in. What he’s done is created a world, much like Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America that both mirrors our current treacherous administration, but also doesn’t. In Swallow’s Bajor, the first contact with the Cardassians is seen by some as a business opportunity, by others as an affront to nationalism, by others as a rally to patriotism or religion or just something going on as their marriage falls apart. There are about sixteen different factions at play in the ten years between first contact and occupation day, as...

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Jordan Hoffman is a New York-based writer and film critic working for The Guardian, Vanity Fair, Thrillist, Times of Israel, NY Daily News and elsewhere.

He is the host of ENGAGE: The Official Star Trek Podcast, a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and challenges you to a game of backgammon.

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