While I try to review just about every film I see, there are times when I don’t get to review a film as soon as I would like. Fortunately, in this age of Netflix, DVDs, and Blu-ray, it’s never too late to review a film! I saw the following four films earlier this year. These reviews are a little late but here they are.
1) Bully (directed by Lee Hirsch)
This documentary, which follows and tells the story of several bullied teenagers over the course of one year, has the best of intentions and it’s definitely effective as far as making you dislike bullies and feel sorry for their victims. That said, did anyone really like bullies before this film was released?
Bully got a lot of attention when it was released earlier this year and a lot of people (who should have known better) said that the film itself was a solution to the problem of bullying. I doubt that this film (or anything else, for that matter) will solve the issue of bullying but it is a well-made look at what kids do whenever adults aren’t watching (and, sad to say, sometimes when they are).
One problem I did have with this film is that it chooses to limit itself to schools in small towns and rural communities, which gives the whole enterprise something of an elitist feel. Are there no bullies up north?
2) For Greater Glory (directed by Dean Wright)
For Greater Glory is a dramatization of the bizarrely obscure period of Mexican history known as the Cristero War. In 1920s, Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles (played in this film by Ruben Blades) started a violent and relentless crackdown on the country’s Catholic faithful. Churches were burned, priests and nuns were murdered by supporters of the government, and eventually Catholic peasants rose up in violent rebellion. The Cristero War lasted from 1926 until 1929, eventually ending with a truce that was brokered by the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Dwight Morrow (played by Bruce Greenwood).
For Greater Glory set box office records in Mexico but it received some pretty negative reviews from American film critics. To a certain extent, the negative reviews are not surprising. The film is long, frequently heavy-handed and melodramatic and it’s also unapologetically pro-Catholic in its storytelling. (Roger Ebert, who never seems to get tired of apologizing for having been born into a Catholic family, was especially critical of that aspect of the film.)
With all that in mind, I still enjoyed For Greater Glory. It’s a well-made and ultimately rather moving film (though I imagine some parts of the film might be a bit confusing if you don’t have at least a little bit of a Catholic background) and it features excellent performances from Andy Garcia and Oscar Isaac as two of the rebel leaders. In many ways, For Greater Glory feels like a throwback to the epic films of the past and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
3) Sound of My Voice (directed by Zat Batmanglij)
Like last year’s Another Earth, Sound of My Voice is a science fiction film that stars and was co-written by Brit Marling. The difference between the two is that Another Earth was a pretentious mess while Sound of My Voice is an effectively creepy little film that puts story and atmosphere above trite pronouncements about the state of existence.
Brit Marling plays a mysterious woman who claims to have been sent from the future. She has a devoted cult of followers who spend their nights sitting on the floor around her, listening to her talk about the horrors waiting for them in the future. Two journalists go undercover and infiltrate her cult, hoping to expose her as a fraud.
Sound Of My Voice keeps the viewer guessing as to whether or not Marling is who she says she is and the film’s ending, while not a total surprise, is still effective enough to inspire debate after the end credits roll. As opposed to Another Earth, Marling gives an actual performance here and is both creepy and sympathetic at the same time.
4) To Rome With Love (directed by Woody Allen)
Woody Allen’s follow-up to Midnight in Paris, To Rome With Love tells four separate stories that all take place in Rome. Despite the fact that the cast features everyone from Alec Baldwin to Roberto Begnini to Penelope Cruz to Ellen Page, the true star of the film is the city of Rome. I spent the summer after I graduated high school in Italy and this film brought back a lot of good memories.
Unfortunately, the film’s four stories are pretty uneven and the film’s frequent transitions from story to story are pretty awkward. The worst story features Alec Baldwin meeting his younger self (played by Jesse Eisenberg) and trying to prevent him from falling in love with a neurotic actress (Ellen Page). The film’s best story is a satiric fable about an ordinary man (played, in an excellent performance, by Roberto Begnini) who wakes up one day to discover that he’s the most famous man in Italy.
The film doesn’t really work but I still loved to getting to see Rome once again.