Still rushing to watch as many of this year's notable/interesting releases as possible before list/awards deadlines.
Crazy Love (documentary, dir. Dan Klores)
Another of this year's acclaimed documentaries about weird human-interest stories, but this one less stylish and entertaining than The King of Kong and less thought-provoking than My Kid Could Paint That. It's likewise one of those stories where you can just get out of the way and let it tell itself, and Klores pretty much does just that. He uses a basic talking-heads-and-archival-footage format to tell the story of the rich New York lawyer who hired hitmen to blind his girlfriend with acid, spent 14 years in jail and then ended up marrying her. Just that short summary points to how nutso this story is, but Klores often makes it sort of dull, and spends too much time on mundane details in the first half-hour. The movie really picks up toward the end when the couple, previously interviewed separately, are finally seen interacting, and you get the sense of how screwed up and yet totally normal their dynamic is. Still, Klores never goes as deep as one would hope into the story, although that may be the fault of his interviewees as much as his own, and this bizarre story comes off as a little more banal than it should.
The Namesake (Kal Penn, Tabu, Irrfan Khan, dir. Mira Nair)
Compressing a novel that covers something like 30 years into a two-hour movie is a tough task, but Nair pulls it off better than the makers of Love in the Time of Cholera (and better than she herself did in Vanity Fair, which I actually sort of liked, unlike every other person who saw it). There's still a rushed feeling at times, and the sense that no scene occurs that doesn't depict a significant moment in the characters' lives (if someone goes to the hospital, it's either to die or to give birth). The story, while largely predictable, is affectionate and warm, a mostly balanced depiction of the immigrant experience over two generations. The main character's parents get as much screen time as he does, and their story is often more interesting. Penn, best known for comedic roles, does a decent job, but Tabu and Khan are excellent as his Bengali parents, aging convincingly with minimal makeup. Tabu's performance especially holds the movie together when it threatens to slip into a collection of immigrant-family cliches.
Private Property (Isabelle Huppert, Jeremie Renier, Yannick Renier, dir. Joachim Lafosse)
This Belgian domestic drama is a little aimless but has some nice character work and good performances. The tension between Huppert's divorcee and the Renier brothers as her sons, the most ungrateful children of all time, is really effective, so much so that many of the family-squabble scenes (shot often in long, static takes) are fairly uncomfortable to watch. It did bug me that this movie engaged in one of my pet peeves about indie dramas, with (spoiler alert) the tensions all coming to a head with the sudden, random death of one of the main characters. It just seems like a cheap and overused metaphor to me, a device to convey strong emotions when the writing and acting apparently aren't enough. To be fair, it's not that egregious in this movie; it's left ambiguous as to whether the character is actually dead, and the movie's final moments are rather touching. Still, it's an unnecessary and lazy bit of storytelling that annoys me whenever it arises.