Monday, March 16, 2015

Review: Run All Night

Director Collet-Serra insists on amping things up to a level of video game slickness, darting the camera around New York City in digitally assisted swoops and peppering in flashy show-off shots, like when we follow a gun as it is scooped off the ground, cocked, and fired, all in one fluid motion. It is meant to crank up the coolness factor but it only succeeds in killing any gritty integrity the first act was able to muster. A film can’t expect to sustain a Mystic River vibe if it morphs into John Wick every few minutes

Friday, March 13, 2015

Review: Chappie

Blomkamp is notorious for applying his symbolism with a heavy hand, but I don’t think this a disqualifying flaw. If a director can make us care, then the use of broad allegory can work in the way classic episodes of The Twilight Zone used to work, where 'we get it Rod Serling, the aliens represent more than aliens.' No, the deeper problem is that Blomkamp’s internal taste barometer appears to be busted. So much of Chappie is just plain off-putting, and not in compelling or interesting ways. Chappie the Robot is like a walking, talking version of Jodie Foster’s accent in Elysium – a choice so inexplicable that it's a surprise that at no point did the film’s crew stage a creative intervention

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service

Vaughn does his best to disguise the thinness of the material by cranking up the violence to goofy extremes, but Kingsman is torpedoed by a noxious, puerile attitude which cackles over every slow-motion severed artery and hacked limb like it is the apex of cleverness. Even the characters we are supposed to like are little more than wind-up violence machines with questionable values. One of the tests to become a Kingsman is to shoot an adorable puppy point-blank in the face to prove you are sufficiently cold. The film tries to weasel out of it by claiming they wouldn’t really hurt a dog, but it’s too late. Most of the film’s heroes are people who pointed a gun at a puppy’s face and pulled the trigger. Yay?

Friday, February 6, 2015

Sundance Review: It Follows

Put into words, the plot of David Robert Mithchell's It Follows sounds almost comical in its simplicity. There is a creature that will follow you until it kills you. If you are unlucky enough to get this creature on your trail there is nothing you can do. You can try to run or to hide, to destroy it or to deflect it towards another victim. These strategies may have some effect, for an hour or a day, but they are all temporary. Sooner or later the creature will get you. It's in no hurry.

One might suspect that such a simple concept would get old fast, or at best amount to an entertaining genre exercise, but that is far from the case. By stripping the horror genre down to its barest essentials Mitchell makes It Follows into the purest possible distillation of a drug. A kick of undiluted fear straight to the subconscious. With its pulsing, foregrounded music the whole thing takes on an unexpected grandness. I am reminded of the subtitle to Murnau's Nosferatu -
"a symphony of horror

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Sundance: James White

The most impressive thing about Mond's feature film debut is that he makes us care for the title character despite ourselves, finding sympathy for a person we would go out of our way to avoid in real life. It all comes together in a climax that has White surrendering his close up to another character for an extended sequence which blindsides us with its power…

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Sundance: I Smile Back

Silverman is equal to every nuance on Laney's downward spiral. I'd call the performance a revelation but her talent has been apparent for years to anyone paying attention. The problem is I Smile Back never manages to find much meaning in her struggles. There are some moving standalone moments, like when Silverman watches her son succeed at a piano recital and a succession of revelations play across her face, relief that her weaknesses have not yet destroyed her offspring as well the crushing realization that this life is rapidly slipping away from her, but these moments don't build on one another or lead anywhere illuminating

Monday, February 2, 2015

Sundance: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Trying to pull off the tone of the disease movie is a tricky proposition. Not only is there the risk of crossing into a bullying sappiness that all but demands the viewer fill a quota of tear-filled buckets, there is also the opposite risk, where the film's insistence that it doesn't want your tears becomes its own kind of pandering, a persistent nudging that we should be moved by the characters' bravery. 
The most impressive thing about Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is how well it walks that line. It isn't afraid of tears, but it makes the journey to the emotional climax count as much as the destination, building towards subtler, wiser epiphanies than the "life can be painful" for which a lesser film would settle. Me and Earl is about shedding the all-encompassing self-absorption of adolescence, and the difficulty of being yourself when it so much easier to be what others would like you to be. It is sharp, moving and wildly entertaining... 

Read the Full Review at The Film Experience

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Sundance: The Overnight

Patrick Brice's The Overnight is one of those long night of the soul movies where things start out with dinner and laughter and then the characters drink and smoke away their inhibitions, repressed feelings bubble to surface, and the mood edges into the surreal as the night creeps toward sunrise. As soon as we spot the inviting blue glow of the pool we know some time around midnight the clothes are coming off and the characters will pass a point of no return...
The question is how far are the filmmakers willing to escalate events. Around the two thirds mark The Overnight seems primed to go over-the-top and transform into something truly out there, but it steps back from brink. The film is mildly daring in its willingness to directly address a few sexual taboos, but the refusal to really go for broke keeps the film treading water in the shallow end of the pool with a series of minor revelations

Sundance: The Diary of a Teenage Girl

The easy summary of Diary is that it's the story of a teenage girl having an affair with her mother's boyfriend, but that typically indie capsule doesn't touch on the boundless inventiveness with which Heller tackles this tricky material. Minnie is an aspiring cartoonist and the film expresses the peaks and valleys of her teenage mood swings with bursts of R. Crumb inspired animation which never cease to be startling and effective. 
Diary signals its daringness at the start by  opening on a closeup of Minnie's ass clad in tight pants as she sashays through the park and the voice over trumpets:
"Today I had sex for the first time. Holy Shit!" 
It's not provocation for provocation's sake but a declaration of the film's commitment to follow Minnie wherever she takes us, even if it makes us squirm in our seat. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Sundance: Slow West

John Maclean's Slow West is an ambitious western that falls short of its lofty aspirations because of its thin execution and its dud of a protagonist. The protagonist is 16-year-old Jay Cavendish played by Kodi Smit-McPhee as a naif spectacularly ill-equipped to deal with the dangers of frontier travel in 1870. The voice over from Michael Fassbender's tough guy bounty hunter opens the film with the observation that it's a miracle Cavendish made it as far he did without getting murdered. We in the audience size him up with his innocent doe eyes and his still-waiting-for-puberty physique and we quite agree. He would surely have been doomed had Fassbender's Silas not taken him under his wing as a travel companion. 

This all would be a fine dynamic for a film, the weathered cowboy dropping a cold dose of reality on the young fool with his romantic ideas about true love and the West. Unfortunately, Slow West tries to push the idea that Jay is some kind of pure soul with poetry in his heart who can impart a lesson to the brutes like Fassbender about aspiring to something higher. Actually I thought the kid came off like a dope

Friday, January 30, 2015

Sundance: True Story

Most of the buzz around Rupert Goold's True Story is  going to focus on comedic compadres James Franco and Jonah Hill facing off in a pair of hefty dramatic roles. The fact that they are the biggest names attached means they are probably going to take the heat for the fact that the film comes up short of its potential, but I'm inclined to pin the blame on the screenplay. The stars came to play, but they can only go so far with a material that never digs deep enough into these characters to make their battle of wits jolt to life

Sundance: Ten Thousand Saints

Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s Ten Thousand Saints makes the mistake of thinking that merely by placing their characters adjacent to interesting times, interest will rub off them. Saints does a beautiful job evoking Manhattan in the 1980’s touching on the Tompkin’s Square Park riots, the CBGB music scene and more. The problem is that foreground is populated with a singularly uninteresting cast of characters working through a coming-of-age formula we’ve seen executed with more spirit and vitality in countless better films. The lead actors do what they can with their thin wisps of character, none too successfully...