Archive

2015

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Brian De Palma is a fascinating subject, in many ways, as fascinating a subject as a director. His best work is admittedly and unabashedly derivative, basically a total homage to Hitchcock (Carrie, Dressed to Kill, The Untouchables).  He has also made some atrocious films (Body Double, Casualties of War, Bonfire of the Vanities) and some films you can hate and then love and then hate again (Scarface, Carlito’s Way).

No matter how you feel about De Palma’s work, his recollections of film making in 70s and 80s Hollywood are a blast, and he’s a very easy and open storyteller.  This is an entertaining, comfortable review of his work presented entirely in clips and a single interview.

A few great tidbits: as a teenager, De Palma tailed his own father when he was cheating on his mother; during the execrable Casualties of War, Sean Penn would physically bully Michael J Fox and whisper to him “television actor.”

Good, fun stuff.  I’d take this sort of retrospective over a slathering like HBO’s Spielberg any day of the week.  Currently on Netflix streaming.

I looked at the IMDB description for this film, and nearly did a spit-take when I saw it categorized under “Comedy.”  A woman estranged from her family for years, clearly mentally disturbed and also a recovering substance abuser, arrives at her sister’s massive Thanksgiving get-together in Texas, where we get to watch every holler and stomp destabilize her like a gut punch, as she repeatedly retreats to the bathroom or patio to pop pills, smoke and/or eventually, booze.

Hilarious!

What follows is an intense exploration of the sufferings of a sick mind as it shimmies and shatters and the shards go flying into the innocent bystanders.  Krisha Fairchild is riveting as the poor wretch, but I’m simply too old for this kind of film.  One reviewer noted: “The story will eventually draw the viewer outside Krisha’s perspective, but the beauty of the film is that its compassion deepens along with its very real sense of horror — compassion not just for Krisha but for those who still love her or have given up on trying.”

Not so.  I don’t care about her and i don’t want to care about her.  She’s a narcissistic cancer and it’s neither fun nor interesting to watch the world try to pull her from a dizzying descent down the crapper.

Winner of the South by Southwest Film Festival Grand Jury Award and Audience Award, available on Amazon Prime, and as entertaining as orange juice on a canker sore.

An uplifting and engaging documentary about a Welsh barmaid and her two dozen working class pub clientele who decide they are going to kick in 10 pounds a month to back a racehorse. And by “back”, I mean, purchase the mare (who had a racing history of “last”, “eighth” and “pulled up”), purchase the semen, inseminate the mare, raise the foal, and then hand it over to one of the more premier training stables – Sandhill – the owners of which are naturally skeptical but happy for the monthly fee. The horse, Dream Alliance, is, of course, loaded with charm, and he leads a racing life ready-made for a Hollywood film, which I cannot believe is not in production as we speak.

This is a very nice, sweet, beautifully filmed documentary. It hits the class clash a little hard, and it could have included a little bit more about how racing in Great Britain works (for example, the damn horses don’t have a gate – they just take off in a gaggle – and there are hurdles on the straightaways!), but these are minor nits.

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A charming, light romantic comedy about a young New Yorker (Great Gerwig) who has an affair with an older would-be fiction writer/academic (Ethan Hawke) married to an even more prestigious academic (Julianne Moore). Hawke leaves Moore for Gerwig, but Gerwig soon realizes she has upset the natural order of things. What follows is her “plan” to rectify her error, which is breezy, funny and blessedly bereft of skin-searing indictments about betrayal, trust and commitment. It drags a bit at the end, but ultimately, the film delivers as a sweet, semi-screwball slice of life. It’s also satisfying to see such a product from writer-director Rebecca Miller, whose The Ballad of Jack and Rose a decade ago was as heavy, dreary and miserable a film about relationships as you could imagine. Perhaps she’s in a better place.

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Given the subject matter – reporter Tina Fey gets out of her rut in NYC by going to cover the war in Afghanistan circa 2003 – it’s amazing they managed to make such a boring film. The first error is casting Fey, who can barely get one inch past her Liz Lemon character from 30 Rock. She’s little more than a smirk and a wink, so any transformation in or development of her character is simply impossible, and when she starts an affair with photographer Martin Freeman, she seems as put-off by the experience as the audience. Their love scene is akin to two kangaroos boxing, and further suggestions of coitus are shown the morning after, where Liz Lemon is hungover and horrified she may have slept with Griz.

Taxing her limited dramatic abilities further, the filmmakers ask her to try her hand at being an “action junkie.” You can almost hear the voices in Fey’s head imploring her, “act, damn you, act!”

So, we are left with a culture clash flick, with Fey repeatedly doing things most people in Afghanistan would not like, such as walking around without headcover, and holding hands publicly with Freeman, and filming things surreptitiously under her Islamic garb. Also not very good.

Although it does have the value of being surprisingly politically incorrect – the indigenous folk are primarily used as pratfall props while the Westerners are amused and snide, and in what has become the cardinal sin of Hollywood, non Afghanis are (gasp!) cast as locals – none of it rings true, which is a particular problem with a film based on a true story.

The film closes with a violent lurch to a Bin Laden type rescue of Freeman, orchestrated by the plucky Fey, to “Can’t Live” by Badfinger (or Harry Nilsson) and a treacly visit to a maimed Marine for whom she feels responsible but whose aplomb helps her become more grounded.  It’s just godawful.

The film has two directors, neither of whom knows what he is doing, which they demonstrate repeatedly over the picture’s excruciating two hours.

Billy Bob Thornton is the only saving grace as a gruff Marine officer who shepherds Fey around, but his screen time is limited.

 

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There’s not one thing in Antoine Fuqua’s boxing rise-and-fall epic that even nears original, but cliche’ does not always have to be hackneyed, and through inventive camera work, all-in performances by Jake Gyllenhaal (as the Hell’s Kitchen boxer who loses it all) and Forrest Whittaker (playing the wise and world weary trainer), a captivating turn by the child actress playing Gyllenhaal’s daughter (Clare Foley) and expert pacing, assisted by a jumped up soundtrack, the thing works and works well.  There are problems. Gyllenhaal’s fall is a bit too protracted, and as hard as she tries to be working class, Rachel McAdams simply lacks the necessary grit.  They tried to dirty Amy Adams up in another boxing movie, The Fighter, and that too was a bridge too far.  These actresses don’t evoke the street, unless that street has a cul-de-sac.

David O. Russell’s American Hustle was an over-heralded, stream-of-consciousness mess, but it was nominated for Best Picture, and I was a huge fan of Silver Linings Playbook, so the watching of Joy was obligatory. It was not an altogether unpleasant experience given Russell’s command of the camera and his early sense of pace. Russell briskly lntroduces us to Joy Mangano, a little girl and then a young woman destined for great things, if only she weren’t consistently thwarted by her lunatic family, a coterie of misfits and weirdos so peculiar they veer into Tim Burton territory. Still, with her one big idea – a self-wringing mop – she perseveres to become queen of The Home Shopping Network, though her journey is an exhausting “one step forward, two steps back” ordeal so arduous, even Jennifer Lawrence’s pluck and a kick ass Rolling Stones song (“Stray Cat Blues”) can’t make the resolution tolerable. One gets the sense Russell knows his audience is bored, because he appears to get bored, veering off into a resolution so off-kilter (Lawrence faces down her business foe in Texas, cutting her hair and donning leather, after reviewing some documents in a “Voila!” moment) it is laugh out loud funny.