film review: Catching Up With Movies, Both New…

Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor star in Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer.

I must apologize for not posting new material as often as I’d like, just now, as I am caught up in work for this year’s edition of my Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide. Physically producing a 1,600-page book in just a few months is a feat that’s accomplished through a series of progressive deadlines. Springtime is always a stressful period. I’m not complaining, mind you—just providing an alibi for less blogging than usual.

I especially feel bad that I haven’t had the time to compose thoughtful reviews of several current releases, some of which I didn’t see in time for opening day postings. If you still haven’t seen Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer, you’ve missed one of—

—the best films of the year. This is superior storytelling, with a definite point of view; there’s clearly a masterful hand at work behind the camera. And nobody portrays dread, or a sense of unease, quite like Polanski.

I just recently caught the Korean film Mother, another skillfully told story (by director Joon-Ho Bong, who cowrote the screenplay) about a woman who will stop at nothing to help, and defend, her slow-witted son, as he is accused of brutally murdering a young woman in their close-knit village.The film provides a continuous sense of discovery, not just in its unpredictable whodunit story, but in the way it reveals cultural observations about class distinctions, prejudices, and corruption. The actress who plays the title role, Hye-ja Kim, is remarkable.

I’m very fond of the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty, which chronicles the near-death and rebirth of Disney animation from the mid-1980s through the release of The Lion King in 1994. Producer Peter Schneider and producer-director Don Hahn have made a very personal film with the participation of Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and the late Roy E. Disney, who weren’t talking to each other by the end of this period…but it doesn’t feel like a movie with an axe to grind. It lays out its backstage story with a feeling of immediacy and a sense of humor.

And let me put in a good word for La Mission, the labor-of-love feature from writer-director Peter Bratt. His brother Benjamin (who also co-produced the film) gives an exceptional performance as a macho Latino man who has tried to put his demons behind him—but cannot deal with the fact that his teenage son is gay. Filmmaker Bratt bites off a lot in this ambitious little film, which deals with issues of cultural, sexual, and ethnic identity. It isn’t perfect, but its emotionally honest, and the acting—especially by Bratt and Jeremy Ray Valdez, who plays his son—is excellent. Filmed where it takes place, in the Mission district of San Francisco, it conveys a concrete sense of community, and how this works for and against its leading characters.

Benjamin and Jeremy were guests at my USC class last week, along with producer Alpita Patel and composer Mark Kilian. I’ll be writing about some of our experiences with films and filmmakers this semester, so stay tuned.

To read about some old movies I've recently screened, click HERE.

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June 2024