Monthly Archives: May 2013

Before Midnight — 9/10

BEFORE MIDNIGHT (2013, Richard Linklater): 9/10

But, you know, I was 9/10 on SUNRISE the first time too, and now it’s one of my favorite films of all time. I still have to digest MIDNIGHT and see it a few more times (and maybe let it breathe for a few years like the other two films did), but 9 or 10, this thing is awesome. And please check out this piece I posted a couple months ago on SUNRISE & SUNSET, which, after a few eye-rollingly self-absorbed autobiographical paragraphs, turns into some pretty good film criticism if I must say so myself.

[Note: there will be some spoilers in here so read at your peril]

We open on a pair of black Chucks — fans of the series will note that Jesse wears black Chucks for the entirety of SUNRISE — but this time they belong not to Jesse but to his son Hank. Time is passing. Like father, like 14 year-old son, and more than once Celine calls Jesse an overgrown teenager or man-child or whatever. A few minutes later we see Celine on her iPhone, and the case is one of those old school audio-casette designs. Of course Celine would have that case — not just because she’s a musician, but because she too lives in the past, or at least yearns for it.

The rest of the film’s first half continues to question the nature of time, the passage of it, the impermanence of it, and the subjectivity of perception. A lot of this is done regarding discussion of Jesse’s new novel (he’s no longer just writing about Celine, which can be read as both a good and a bad thing, and key to understanding what the film is getting at), and at a lovely lunch gathering with friends. For the first time in three movies we’re seeing Jesse and Celine interact with others, and it’s a beautifully natural scene, filmed ravenously by Linklater and Greek DP Christos Voudouris (taking over from Lee Daniel and making what is easily Linklater’s best-looking film to date) and acted to a tee by all participants.

But the next half brings us back to the familiar — Jesse and Celine being Jesse and Celine, and when these two characters come together for earnest discussion it’s just magic. Always magic. Hawke, Delpy, and Linklater are at their absolute peak when they work in this mode, better than any of them have been solo (terrific work like DAZED AND CONFUSED, THREE COLORS: WHITE, GREAT EXPECTATIONS, and GATTACA notwithstanding). Hawke continues to torch the screen with blazing focus, whether he’s being charmingly sarcastic or viciously insulting. Delpy outdoes herself here, as we see her flip a switch during their hotel room debate — her jaw tightens and her eyes grow dark, then she just lets loose with some brutal barbs that match Hawke’s scathing shots. Physically and emotionally, Delpy presents Celine as a complex and fully-realized woman, never overly mannered or lacking specificity. Plus, both Hawke and Delpy have become better writers than they were 9 years ago — this script is precise and confident, containing not only harsh truths but also gut-busting dialogue; never has a BEFORE film been so laugh-out-loud funny. (Though I guess if I have minor quibbles with this film, it’s in the rare contrivances — like the conveniently-planted coitus-interruptus phone call that ignites the climactic battle).

Furthermore, after the intimate and confined visuals in the Paris entry of this trilogy (as I said before, SUNSET is quite good but doesn’t utilize its location as well as SUNRISE did), Linklater is back in business here in Greece, giving the “Southern Peloponnese” front-and-center treatment; it’s sun-drenched, romantic, ancient, and human. Plus, like Vienna, it’s a neutral setting (neither in Celine’s home court of Paris, nor in America — where not a frame of these three films has ever taken place).

What the film ultimately has to say — or, more accurately, to question — about lifelong commitments, true love, self-knowledge, mistakes, and history (both of the self, a relationship, and the earth itself) I will leave to others, including myself in the future after I’ve seen this more times and let it settle. But it’s telling that the film is haunted by ghosts of other couples, both young and old — Jesse’s grandparents who were together 74 years, Jesse’s ex-wife, the Greek couples at lunch (including the fresh-faced Ariane Labed and Yiannis Papadopoulos, who mirror Jesse and Celine with their romantic meeting and new attraction), and even Jesse and Celine from the future. One thing’s for sure — the future of cinema will clearly recognize this trilogy as one of its finest works of art, a searing, lovely, sad, and painfully honest depiction of two humans struggling to find each other in a curious and imposing universe.


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Behind the Candelabra — 8/10

BEHIND THE CANDELABRA (2013, Steven Soderbergh): 8/10

The entire story of this film takes place in one ten-year block, from 1977 to 1987. But as much as any film of 2013, it’s very much relevant right now — and that’s because of the issue of gay marriage. As more and more states exit the stone age and start to strip away the discriminations against gays getting married, the argument still exists and is in the forefront as much as ever. Ten years ago, the issue was barely a whisper outside the gay community. Today, there are marches in the street against Prop 8.

As Soderbergh’s magnificent film depicts the relationship between Liberace and his much younger lover Scott Thorson, it makes a few strong points: first, that gay “marriage” has been existing forever, despite the legal ban on it — Liberace and Thorson have their courtship, swooning love, honeymood period, fights, infidelities, mistrusts, anger, rejection, and bitter divorce. Secondly, these marriages are no different from straight ones, so anyone arguing that such a union sullies the institution is sorely ignorant or homophobic. Thirdly, and most notably, is the financial aspect — as most of Soderbergh’s recent films have explored the issue of money transaction in the world of sex and romance (THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE, MAGIC MIKE, SIDE EFFECTS), this one points out how Thorson failed to recoup what would have come to him had he been a woman divorcing Liberace. When women leave men, they get half. When men leave men, the law doesn’t care –he gets pennies.

Aside from this bold and dynamic entry into the discussion of gay marriage, however, the film itself is quite conventional and formulaic. We’ve seen this type of relationship play out on screen dozens of times (just without two men, and especially not when those men are massive stars like Michael Douglas and Matt Damon), and all the beats are familiar. But the cliches here are elevated wonderfully by Soderbergh’s dazzling visuals (he always knows where to put the camera and where to cut — one brilliant edit has Liberace convincing Scott to fly from L.A. to Vegas and promising a quick return, and off Damon’s pensive face, there’s a quick cut to the two of them naked in a hot tub holding champagne flutes) and the incredible acting. Douglas is tremendous here — believable, flamboyant, and dedicated. But for me, Damon is even more impressive. He’s had a great career, but this may be his best performance to date. There is hardly a note he doesn’t get to hit, and not a single ball he fails to knock out of the park. It’s emotionally strong, physically demanding, and markedly intense. Had the studios not been such insipid cowards (the Oscar nominations and success of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN notwithstanding) and refused to finance this film, relegating Soderbergh to finding an outlet in cable station HBO, Damon would be tough to beat come Oscar time, for me. (That said, had this truly been a studio release, there’s no doubt Douglas would be getting all the Oscar talk, and not without reason).

No surprise Soderbergh cast his frequent collaborators Damon (from the OCEAN’S movies and more) and Douglas (from TRAFFIC), nor Damon’s co-star from THE INFORMANT!, Scott Bakula, but the other supporting roles pop as well. The most notable is Rob Lowe as a terrifying plastic surgeon and pill prescriber, his eyebrows artificially raised and lips frozen in a sadistic smile. (His face lift of Liberace provides one of the film’s best gags – Douglas snoring and sleeping with his eyes open post-surgery). With a cast like this and direction like Soderbergh’s, any conventional story is given a great face lift, but when you add the gay marriage component and characters like this, BEHIND THE CANDELABRA becomes a film impossible to ignore.


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The Great Gatsby — 6/10

THE GREAT GATSBY (2013, Baz Luhrmann): 6/10

Neither the noxious debacle its harshes critics are deeming it, nor the sumptuous delight its trailer promised (along with the promise from Luhrmann’s earlier great films ROMEO + JULIET and MOULIN ROUGE), this frustrating but interesting adaptation is busy, intense, and romanticized without ever being truly emotional. DiCaprio is outstanding as Gatbsy — perhaps one of the best performances in a career overflowing with them (his consistency and dynamite passion has been going for 20 years, from THIS BOY’S LIFE and THE QUICK AND THE DEAD through TITANIC, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, THE DEPARTED, and DJANGO UNCHAINED, with almost everything in between). Unfortunately, Maguire isn’t nearly as good in the role of Nick Carraway, from whose perspective we are asked to experience the entire film. There’s a pointless framing story for Maguire to narrate from (and his voiceover adds little, at times an actual crutch when Luhrmann can’t express things any other way), and even as the awkward outsider his character inhabits, Maguire still feels phony. I’ve liked him before (in roles as diverse as THE ICE STORM and SPIDER-MAN) but he’s a poor fit here. (I’d like to have seen someone like Joseph Gordon-Levitt play Carraway).

I won’t say much about Fitzgerald’s source material for a couple reasons. First, I haven’t read it since high school and even then it didn’t make as big an impact on me as This Side of Paradise¬†did. Secondly, it shouldn’t matter how the film compares to its source material. I’ve long been of the opinion that if you’re not going to change things, don’t make a movie. Literature and cinema are vastly different art forms, and any movie seeking to slavishly and faithfully adapt a book is asking to be neutered and ill-fitting. The best adaptations retain only a kernel of the novel’s themes and story points and make them wholly unique in the visual form. (Cases in point: Terrence Malick’s THE THIN RED LINE and Peter Weir’s FEARLESS).

But what’s interesting about Lurhmann’s and co-writer Craig Pearce’s take on the material is how critical their eye is towards its characters — especially Daisy, who (despite Carey Mulligan’s fine performance) is quite loathsome. The benefit of this is that it turns Gatsby’s tragedy into not a story of unrequited love, but of the fact that he wasted his life loving the wrong person. Daisy here is flighty, materialistic, callous, whimsical, selfish, and afraid. She’s not really worthy of Gatsby’s love, yet he pours himself into her with elaborate passion. That definitely had me thinking — but then you get Edgerton’s rough-edged performance of the dickish Tom Buchanan to make him out to be a pillar of shitty old-money hatefulness, plus the hordes of gold-digging excess-seeking hanger-ons, monopolizing the screen with hedonistic superficiality. It all combines to a disjointed, sour overall experience that I can’t say really works but certainly has a lot to like — not just DiCaprio (and the unknown Elizabeth Debicki, shining in a small role as Jordan) and the lavish set design/costumes, but the music. Luhrmann’s has always known a great soundtrack, and here everything works — even the anachronistic touches (like the sultry arrangement of Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love”). Plus, corny as the joke is, Luhrmann takes the jazz age and scores it to Jay-Z. After all, if you quickly spell “jazz” out loud…

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Frances Ha — 9/10

FRANCES HA (2013, Noah Baumbach): 9/10

“Movies are so expensive these days.”

“Yeah, but you’re at the movies.”

That’s just one joyous exchange (in a film loaded with them) shining a light on art as a means to combat the effects of relative poverty for highly-educated/lowly-paid New Yorkers in FRANCES HA, one of Baumbach’s best films to date. Baumbach has always been looked on as a Woody Allen protege (he often feels to Allen like Abrams does to Spielberg), even going so far as to use prototypical Allen act-alike Jesse Eisenberg in THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (before Eisenberg went on to be in an actual Woody film, TO ROME WITH LOVE). But here he has made what may be his MANHATTAN.

Baumbach even shoots it in black & white (unfortunately not nearly as beautifully as Gordon Willis did) and utilizes the city and its unique geography to help place its lead character in some sort of urban existential crisis. It’s slighter and breezier than MANHATTAN, not nearly as profound or incisive, but it’s almost assuredly funnier. I lost track of the number of laugh-out-loud lines, sight gags, and oddball-but-realistic moments of character that form this lazy yarnball of a movie.

Co-written by Baumbach’s girlfriend and the movie’s shining star, Greta Gerwig, the film plays more than anything else as a love letter to her: it allows her to perform at peak brilliance, realizing all the Keaton-esque skills (that’s Diane, not Buster) she introduced in films like GREENBERG, ARTHUR, and DAMSELS IN DISTRESS. Flawed, often irritating, socially awkward, but witty and lovable, the “undateable Frances” is definitely not unmemorable.

Dammit, this review sucks. Just look at that paragraph I just wrote up there. That is awful. Awful, awful writing. I mean what am I even talking about? “Undateable, but definitely not unmemorable!” Get it?!?! Jesus what a hack. And what does the first sentence have to do with the rest of the first paragraph? And “urban existential crisis?” Well okay I guess that IS sort of true. But still. Ugh.

Oh well just forget all of that shit, and go see FRANCES HA. There’s a scene halfway through where Frances tells a group of veritable strangers about this fantasy she has to experience true love by being able to look across a room during a party and make eye contact with the one person you know is your life, sharing a knowing look borne of familiarity and understanding. It works as a standalone scene, but then the payoff to that an hour later is a knockout.



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Star Trek Into Darkness — 6/10

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013, J.J. Abrams): 6/10

Technically unassailable (well, except for one bad edit that goes from Scotty with his right hand on a joystick to the same hand flipping a switch above his head), which is something that should not be taken for granted — even when Hollywood just unloads dumptrucks full of money at a summer blockbuster, it doesn’t necessarily translate to cinematic competence (such as with STAR TREK’s producers/writers Orci & Kurtzman & Lindelof’s 2011 debacle COWBOYS & ALIENS). So give Abrams credit for being captain of a beautifully purring ship here, from the photography to the special effects to the sound design. But you know what else is technically unassailable? My iPhone.

In other words, holding the attentions of its viewers — the hordes of Americans who were cattle-herded into theaters this weekend (to the tune of $70 million in ticket sales; an objectively staggering figure despite the proclamations that such a number was a “disappointment” — especially in light of IRON MAN THREE’s $170M+) in order to sit on their asses, shovel popcorn into their faces at a ferocious pace, tear their eyeballs away from Facebook for 140 minutes, and find themselves agreeably distracted by a lot of colors, flashing lights, and high-pitched noises and booms — is an admirable feat but not one that’s going to get me to stand up and applaud. The substance here is spelled out cleanly (the closer Abrams’s camera gets to faces, the more we’re supposed to pay attention), i.e. storylines such as Kirk’s volatile heroism vs. Spock’s seemingly cold rationality, government’s troublesome hawkish responses to terrorist action, sacrifice & teamwork, etc. But that doesn’t make it profound: it still came off as shallow to me, and I couldn’t really overlook it in the context of pretty thin supporting characters (Uhuru plays nothing more than a fiesty girlfriend in this one, Sulu a workhorse of a pilot, and Khan a one-dimensional face of evil). Pine is a rock star, and deserves a better starring role — he has great moments in this film opposite the equally strong Quinto, but Kirk is imagined as a micro-managing superhero, not only serving as captain and ace-sniper, but also sacrificial mechanic and political diplomat. He only delegates when he can’t be two places at once.

But given the shortcomings of the script it’s still noteworthy that the action scenes make such good sense in the midst of the sci-fi ridiculousness, the best of which is Kirk and Khan’s fingernail-biting dive-through-space from the Enterprise to the other ship. Abrams learned pacing, consistency, and spectacle from his mentor Spielberg. But I’m just worried that he only learned how to mimic the appearance of interest in humanity, not embody it.

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Seven Chances — 9/10

SEVEN CHANCES (1925, Buster Keaton): 9/10

I normally don’t publish reviews of older films on here, but I just caught up with this sensational featurette on account of it being readily available on Netflix Instant right now (so really, if you can’t find 55 minutes to watch this thing, I can’t help you). And it’s great enough that I have to say some words about it and hope that if any of the 11 people reading this blog haven’t seen it yet (so, basically, just you Mom & Dad), you rectify that post haste.

SEVEN CHANCES is a magnificent, sublime silent comedy. The first act is a subtle setup with comic mistimings and raising the stakes. Its sight gags are quiet but terrific, such as showing Keaton driving from one place to another by sitting in a stationary car and letting the background dissolve from one location to another.

The second act raises the sight gags to more slapstick level – Keaton tosses a proposal note to a woman on the second story, and we see her response when a rain of confetti falls from above the frame onto Keaton’s head. This middle act also comprises the few troubling moments now nearly 90 years later — as Keaton’s desperation grows, so does the “outrageousness” of his would-be brides; it starts with a bizarre pedophilia joke when he almost walks away with a 12 year-old until her young mother yanks her out of Keaton’s hand and stuffs a play-doll into her chest… then he hits on a girl until he realizes she’s Jewish (she spreads her newspaper to reveal Hebrew lettering), causing Keaton to blush and run away… then he goes up to a black woman, sees her skin tone, and disappears quietly. (The only place to go from there, after black people, is a mannequin). Funny at the time, I’m sure. Hard to shake the weirdness today but of course you can’t really blame it for being made in 1925. It was made in 1925.

Then the third act is just balls-out genius. All of a sudden it’s a Michael Bay action movie but good. Keaton’s footrace home includes him getting hoisted by a crane, tumbling down a sand dune, narrowly missing getting run over by a freight train, sliding under cars, swimming through lakes, outrunning bees (and a bull about to charge), and of course a neverending avalanche of boulders. This shit would be amazing in 2013, let alone 1925 — and it puts today’s CGI to shame. The stunt work, camera movement, and editing are all top notch, making the entire thing an absolute thrill to behold. Of course, this act also is marred by some dated sexism (the mob of golddiggers is worse than the anti-Semitism or blackface) but that doesn’t negate the jaw-dropping expertise of Keaton’s staging whenever we see that mob appear or congeal or disperse. It’s a visual marvel.

Even better, I like that features in 1925 were okay with being 55 minutes long. SEVEN CHANCES crams in as much story as you’d find in one of today’s rom-coms that clocks in at twice that length. Unlike Keaton’s hair and clothing at the film’s close, there isn’t a single thing out of place in this near-masterpiece: not a frame too tight nor a frame too loose. They sure as shit don’t make ’em like they used to…

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Assault on Wall Street — 5/10

ASSAULT ON WALL STREET (2013, Uwe Boll): 5/10

[There are going to be spoilers galore in this review, but do you really care? ]

People keep saying Uwe Boll is the worst director in the world. The headline for the Village Voice review of this film says “Uwe Boll, Legendarily Bad Director…” before going on to mention several well-crafted scenes in it. Wiki says he is described as “the Ed Wood of the 21st century” in its first paragraph. Another Village Voice piece on him — an interview, no less — is titled “Uwe Boll, Worst Director Alive…”

But like most things borne of conventional wisdom, this seems to be a load of shit. First of all, I’ve never met anyone who actually thinks this — or even too many who have seen any of Boll’s films. But I’ve now seen three of them, and if you wanted me to list the directors I think are worse than Boll, we’d be here a while.

All that said, Boll hasn’t really made any films I’d consider actually “good.” They’re all problematic, none of them totally successful. But they’re also all interesting, provocative in different ways (even if that’s at the expense of intelligence or good taste), and clearly exhibit a guy with a decent of amount of skill behind the camera — at worst he’s merely competent. The most recent Boll film I’d seen before this week was BLUBBERELLA, a camp comedy about an obsese half-vampire superheroine in Nazi Europe. It’s as outrageous (and subtlety-free) as it sounds. Here are some things that happen in it: Blubberella helps Adolf Hitler set up a profile on JDate. A Nazi opens up a boxcar full of Jews, sprays air freshener into the train, then locks it back up. Blubberella uses rolling pins as weapons in one action scene, then motorboats a guy to death. In voiceover, she claims she’s an outsider because “I have trouble fitting in… to cars, and airplanes…” She kills Michael Pare by sitting on his face and farting, claiming “this moment brought to you by fried chicken.” All of this is, of course, button-pushing for effect, and even when it celebrates the slaughter of evil Nazis, you can’t pretend the film is any sort of bastion of tolerance while it’s using every trick in the book to make fun of fat people. But its entertainment value lies in how briskly it fires off these boundless jokes of bad taste, definitely proving to be a so-bad-it’s-good type of film. I doubt I’ll ever sit through it again, but it certainly has as much merit as any similarly campy-terrible John Waters film.

The other Boll work I’d seen — my first exposure to him — was RAMPAGE, a much more sobering film. It’s also fairly plotless and lumbering, following a Columbine-style young man who gears up for destruction, then spends the rest of the movie casually moseying around town killing everyone in sight. It’s violent, cruel, and seemingly pointless. At one point the killer imprisons several victims in a library or something, but stops before shooting them, instead letting them live — but then he comes back later in the movie to shoot all of them anyway. The film is nihilistic and numbing, but also very immediate and effectively tense; you’re never at a distance from anything and there’s no meta-cuteness to take you out of the experience. Furthermore, Boll doesn’t even punish his anti-hero: the kid gets away with it and lives.

Okay, that’s enough rambling about movies that aren’t ASSAULT ON WALL STREET. I recently read that the film was only released in one theater in Los Angeles, its fate resting in the hands of VOD. Well, I went to that one L.A. theater this evening, and I was the only person there. The theater owner graciously gave me a complimentary bottle of water and told me to “enjoy” my private screening. It’s hard to say I really enjoyed ASSAULT ON WALL STREET, but it’s a complicated experience and one about which I have a lot to say — more so than many films that are much better.

ASSAULT is essentially a remake of RAMPAGE but for the Occupy Age. Instead of a disillusioned youngster, it’s a hard-working nice guy who goes on a killing spree. And, like in RAMPAGE, he gets away in the end — another of Boll’s uncomfortable “happy” endings. But what’s even more disturbing than the refusal to punish a kill-crazy terrorist is the insistence on making the audience sympathize with him. Boll spends a good 70 minutes piling disaster after disaster after bad-break after bad-break for this sad protagonist, to the point where even country music songs aren’t this cry-in-your-beer. A working-class meathead who drives an armored car for a living — yes, literally taking someone else’s money from one bank to another without ever getting to touch it himself — and has a background in Army training. This soldier background is not only justification for his sniper skill in the final third, but also there to make an obvious commentary on what the military institution can do.

And obvious commentaries don’t end there: in a series of super heavy-handed scenes, poor Jim finds his investments liquidated, his bank accounts drained, and his house foreclosed upon. The only thing he has left in his life is his loving wife, who a) gets a lot of cute scenes of romantic banter (“Hey boy…” “Hey girl…”); and b) has just survived cancer only to have to deal with its crippling side effects (e.g. diabetes from glands overreacting to brain tumors that once existed). A lot of screenplay space is spent on the verisimilitude of Rosie’s medical condition and the trouble with paying for it (terms like “coverage cap” are tossed around until we think Michael Moore’s SICKO is going to appear on a DVD shelf). And this all is there to drive home the sympathy we’re supposed to — and do — feel for Jim. It’s then almost laughable when Rosie is so despondent that she slits her wrists in their marriage bed, leaving her corpse there for Jim to discover on the day he comes home from being fired (after all, an armored car company can’t stay insured if they employ a man being hunted by collection agencies). But it’s not laughable; it’s just depressing and even though it’s totally unmotivated (I know she feels like a burden to him, but does she really want to take away the one thing he has? Why not just leave him and run away?) and thus kind of bad writing, it has the desired visceral effect of making us just feel defeated by life.

And that’s what makes good ol’ Jim snap and go full Travis Bickle. Even before his Bickle-esque scene in the mirror where he practices drawing guns on himself, he does the buy-black-market-weapons-from-a-shady-dude thing — only it’s Clint Howard (who was also in BLUBBERELLA) as the salesman. His ensuing killing spree is predictable and by-the-numbers (he even starts thumb-tacking magazine articles about his victims to his hotel room wall, then crosses out their photos in red marker — seriously, does anyone do that?) and fairly efficient in that not a single bullet fails to hit its intended target. But on his way to the final bloody climax, Jim gets in an elevator and thus begins the one truly great shot in the film — if nothing else works about this (but some things do) and if a hardened critic couldn’t find anything else to praise here, there’s one shot that just rules. Jim is wearing a face mask to hide his identity (necessary for his final escape), but the mask is all white — stark white — and it’s smiling. And for a moment, Boll slows down the pace of the massacre to sit in this elevator with one smiling white-faced man, standing in profile, waiting to unleash hell. It probably lasts fifteen seconds max, but it feels like 10 minutes.

And in case you weren’t clear how intentional it was to make the bad guy a smiling white man, Boll then ensures all the shooting victims are male, and all the secretaries in the office who get to leave unharmed are female. All of the bankers, investment managers, and CEOs are smiling white fatcats. It’s bargain-basement criticism, one-note and shallow (Boll really can’t muster the depth and nuance necessary to really rally the 99%; he starts his film off with a random assortment of TV clips of Bush and Obama, merely praying that the images will do the work for him). But it leads the audience to that uncomfortable feeling of identification. So does the casting — Jim is played by Dominic Purcell (previously unknown to me), who isn’t by any means a great actor, but he’s certainly capable and moreover lacks any sort of movie star charisma. You can’t help but buy him as the bull-headed working class schmo you’re watching. Driving home, I started to feel a little guilty that I was kind of rooting for a terrorist. Boll successfully manipulates the audience into empathizing, then puts us in the squirmy position of complying with this massacre as a result. It’s a brutal trick, the mark of a shock filmmaker and a bit of a sadist, but it does make the experience adequately complicated.

I haven’t seen most of the films that everyone talks about when they mention how awful Boll is, and I don’t really want to. Evidently, HOUSE OF THE DEAD, ALONE IN THE DARK, and BLOODRAYNE are truly awful. And maybe they are. But now after three films, none of which are legitimately good, I find myself in the most bizarre position of not only defending Boll, but having just written the longest review yet posted to this site. And so despite all the things that are objectively bad about ASSAULT ON WALL STREET, it’s undeniable that no film this strange and unique, capable of making me wrestle with it against all odds, can be the mark of the world’s worst filmmaker.

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Mud — 7/10

MUD (2013, Jeff Nichols): 7/10

There’s a scene 2/3 of the way through MUD where Joe Don Baker takes his gang of stock Southern thugs into a motel room for a circle prayer, and what’s jarring about it isn’t the oddball tone of them praying for the title character’s death — it’s that it’s the first scene in over an hour that isn’t shown from the lead character’s point of view. Up until then, Ellis had been in every scene. But now, Nichols just randomly decides to throw that device out for a cheap piece of unnecessary exposition.

This is symptomatic of one of the film’s few but obvious flaws. I’d add to that a very sketchy idea of what its female characters think and want. Witherspoon is perfectly fine as Juniper, but Nichols sells her short by just having her behave in ways that fit what he wants to say about love and relationships as opposed to how she might act. Furthermore, Ellis’s first crush Mae Pearl does the same types of things but is a little more realistic given her age and limited exposure to the younger Ellis.

Other problems I had with this film lie in the direction. I don’t think Nichols is much of visual filmmaker — even when he takes great pains to explore a location, his compositions are lazy and flat (given that the film is in 2.35:1, you’d think he could take advantage — but no, lots of headroom, dead space in the wings, and workmanlike camera movement).

I realize this has been a pretty negative review so far for a film I’m recommending with a 7/10, but it’s just because the strengths are so obvious and almost not worth saying anything more about: Tye Sheridan is outstanding in a lead role that requires an ungodly amount of nuance for a 14 year-old character, and he pulls it off like a pro. McConaughey is also quite good, somehow managing to get swallowed up in the grime of his creepy outlaw while maintaining his star wattage in spades. The emotion of the story builds and builds (with clumsy detours for comic relief with the Michael Shannon character) until in the final act you can’t help but get choked up. This is the most effective narrative Nichols has told among his three films, and the most satisfying overall, but until he figures out what to do with the camera (other than sit there to capture great acting) and can fix some of his writing shortcomings, I’m not sure he’s any kind of great filmmaker or anything.

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Iron Man Three — 6/10

IRON MAN THREE (2013, Shane Black): 6/10

Not surprised to see Black reunite with the star of his directorial debut (KISS KISS BANG BANG) for his sophomore feature, and as a result Downey gets plenty of good dialogue — but even still, the character of Tony Stark feels a little different from the first two IRON MANs, as well as Whedon’s take on him in THE AVENGERS. In short, it’s all very Shane Blacky, meaning a lot more referential, self-aware, and throwbackish (to stuff like Black’s LETHAL WEAPON script) than authentic Starkness.

I laughed a lot at many of the lines and gags here, but whenever shit got serious, it was either a little dull or just a massive, cacophonous wall of CGI. There’s so little plot too; once Guy Pearce shows up we know where everything is going, and there’s no new information, surprises, or depth to anything. Just jumping from one setpiece to the next. Getting to be a little been-there-done-that for comic book movies. That said, it’s hard not to like Ben Kingsley here, or Rebecca Hall, or even HAPPY ENDINGS’s Adam Pally in a scene-stealing cameo as a TV-truck journalist with a Stark obsession. And wtf, how did I not know that was Paul Bettany’s voice as Jarvis?

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