Today in Recent Movie Round-Up: Hobbits, orcs, and wizards, oh my! Also: A prank call leads to very nasty results, Truffaut makes his final film, and the Dardenne Brothers create a sweet, loving portrait of childhood.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Extended Cuts) (Peter Jackson, 2001-2003)
Perhaps the best trilogy of this generation and pretty much the best set of fantasy movies of all time next to Harry Potter. What Jackson did with Lord of the Rings still feels like it was made today (even in spite of a few minor yet dated effects). It’s also one of the rare blockbusters that doesn’t sacrifice complexity for scope. Despite having familiar elements, the character arcs and relationships all have depth and nuance that is rare for a mainstream epic of this stature. The relationship/conflict between Frodo, Sam, and Gollum/Smeagol especially aged terrifically. The extended cuts don’t add much other than world-building, but that’s not a bad thing either.
Plus, I had the pleasure of seeing the trilogy as a theater marathon, seeing all three extended cuts back to back. It was exhausting (12 straight hours of LOTR), but very much worth it, and I wouldn’t mind having a similar experience again. I liked the LOTR trilogy before, but seeing it again gave me a renewed appreciation.
Compliance (Craig Zobel, 2012)
How far can the phrase “Based on a True Story” take you? Apparently, it is able to forgive even the strangest lapses in logic, surprisingly. Compliance is a, claustrophobic, disturbing true-crime thriller that manages not to feel overly exploitative while still managing to bring shock and discomfort to just about any viewer who lays eyes upon it.
The premise, that of a prank phone call leading to a sexual assault in a fast-food restaurant, is ridiculous, but believe it or not, knowing that this kind of incident has actually happened over 70 times in over 30 states (The first frame of the film is a huge title card in big bold letter saying “INSPIRED BY TRUE EVENTS” in all caps) actually managed to make the more unbelievable stuff that much more terrifying. It doesn’t always work. There were two instances that felt far-fetched even for this type of story. But damn is this an effective film. Elegantly directed, terrifically acted, and insanely suspenseful, not to mention disturbing on numerous levels.
Also, Ann Dowd kills it. She single-handedly elevates the material as the fast-food restaurant manager. Her performance remains completely natural even amidst the insanity that unfolds on screen. She alone makes it worth seeing, even if the subject matter may turn you away.
Confidentially Yours (Francois Truffaut, 1983)
Truffaut’s last film may be very light in comparison to his other masterpieces The 400 Blows, Jules et Jim, Day for Night, and Bed and Board, but it’s just as masterfully crafted. Essentially just a noir homage shot in black and white (not typical for a 1983 film), it features the typical mainstays of the genre: femme fatales, conspiracies, and gorgeous chiaroscuro lighting and set design. It’s all pretty basic, but it’s incredibly well-done for what it is; terrifically acted and immensely entertaining.
Also, it’s oddly fitting as Truffaut’s final film because of how cyclical it is when compared to the rest of his filmography. He started out with The 400 Blows, a deeply personal autobiography, then went on to make movies that celebrated cinema and art such as Day for Night and The Last Metro. Then, for his final film, he makes a homage to a cinematic mainstay shot in black and white instead of color. Even more poignant to this claim is the final shot, which I won’t give away, but let’s just say that Truffaut’s fascination of children comes back in a beautiful way.
The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2011)
Premiering at the Cannes film festival last year, coming to America this year, The Kid with a Bike is a gorgeous depiction of pre-adolescent angst that perfectly captures small, heart-rending disappointments of childhood, along with the small acts of kindness that go a long way. Elevated by a terrific performance by Thomas Doret, who doesn’t contain a single ounce of falseness in his performance, the film is lovely, poignant, and sweet in all the right places.
However, it is pretty flawed. Running at 87 minutes, it doesn’t give enough time to develop the core relationship between the titular kid and his foster mother. The only thing that made this relationship work in the long run was another wonderful performance by Cecile De France, but it could’ve worked much more with a bit more scenes between just the two of them. Plus, there’s a major character that serves only to be the “bad influence” that feels like he’s lifted straight out of a corny after-school special about not trusting drug dealers.
Aside from those gripes, I found this film to linger in the mind much more than I thought it would much later from when I first saw it. That’s a sign that it pretty much worked on the levels that it needed to, but I wish that it was a bit longer. Still, though, this is coming-of-age done right. Plus, it’s certainly worth seeing just for being able to witness one of the most stirring, gorgeous uses of Beethoven in recent memory.