Babette’s Feast

(Gabriel Axel, 1987)

with Mom, Caitlin, Darcy, Theo Meneau, Jane & Mark Capecelatro, and Beth & Mike Ford, Barn Screening Room, 3/28/15

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Beautiful and inscrutable – at once a spiritual parable and a heartfelt celebration of gourmet food.  Babette’s Feast is remarkable for its chilly landscapes, its wry and gentle humor, and its generous, melancholy spirit.  The wisdom and simplicity of the film seem to come from another time – a time when suffering could ennoble, when privation had its rewards, and when God could always be found in the unlikeliest places.

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Published in: on April 14, 2015 at 12:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

What We Do in the Shadows

(Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, 2015)

with James Fauvell, Williamsburg Cinemas, 3/24/15

5

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Very meandering and improv-y, but with a few big laughs and a lot of shaggy charm.  Even at its darkest (and it gets pretty dark), there’s something gentle about the movie’s humor.  Its core message is that vampires are just like the rest of us – in other words, pretty darn pathetic.

Published in: on April 9, 2015 at 8:50 am  Leave a Comment  

Inception

(Christopher Nolan, 2010)

with Jess de Martine, on DVD at Jess’s, 3/15/15

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On the surface, Inception seems like a perfect movie to rewatch over and over; it’s dense and twisty and sometimes enigmatic, so why wouldn’t it reward repeat viewing?  The problem is, watching it again reveals more of its flaws.  I estimate that about 50% of the movie’s second half consists of material that – however striking it may be – doesn’t really advance the story.  A climax that occurs on three “levels” of dream simultaneously is a wonderfully ambitious concept, but at any given moment, our protagonist is only active on one level, which means that most of what we’re watching is just people killing time while the hero figures things out elsewhere.

That’s not to say this isn’t a brilliant, groundbreaking, deeply pleasurable movie, of course.  But the fact is, it will never again be as good as when it first hit theaters.  It’s a movie that both invites and deserves scrutiny – but in the end, it also suffers from it.

Published in: on April 9, 2015 at 8:35 am  Leave a Comment  

Wild Tales

(Damián Szifron, 2014)

with Jess de Martine, BAM Rose Cinemas, 3/4/15

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Boy, does this thing begin well.  The first five minutes are some of the most bracing, funny, suspenseful stuff I’ve ever seen in a movie theater – and then the credits roll, and you’re certain you’re in for a treat.

After that, things taper off gradually.  The movie comprises six distinct segments, and unfortunately, each one feels a little longer – and a little less compelling – than the last.  There’s plenty of black humor and visual panache throughout, but by the end we feel that the bag of tricks has been emptied, and there’s nothing to do but wait for the end credits.

Published in: on April 9, 2015 at 8:19 am  Leave a Comment  

Keith’s Top Ten Movies of 2014

This year, far too many prominent movies shackled themselves to real-life stories – with all the unfortunate compromises that entails.  Many of the most critically praised movies (Birdman, Boyhood, The Lego Movie) were disappointing.  And the blockbusters often seemed more accomplished – and more resonant – than the “serious” films.

The first five spots on this list were easy to fill; after that, I had to do some digging to come up with movies I could feel comfortable praising.  Does that make it a bad movie year?  Possibly.  But then again, I saw only 34 new movies in 2014, so maybe it’s all my fault.

#1: Whiplash

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A breath of fresh air, a punch in the gut – a tight, propulsive, delicious thriller, and a blaring announcement of director Damien Chazelle’s arrival in the ranks of major filmmakers.

#2: Life Itself

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A rich and moving celebration of Roger Ebert, the art form he loved, and the exceptional life he lived.

#3: Edge of Tomorrow

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Tense, funny, imaginative, and thrilling – everything a Hollywood action movie should be.

#4: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

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Another piece of sharp and ruthless storytelling from the series that’s probably the best franchise going.

#5: X-Men: Days of Future Past

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A welcome return to form for Bryan Singer, who brings a great deal of precision and style to the now-crowded superhero genre.  Some of this movie is clumsy, but what’s good is really good.

#6: The Theory of Everything

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Of all this year’s shameless glut of biopics, this is the most warmly human – and Eddie Redmayne’s performance is jaw-droppingly good.

#7: I Origins

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Imperfect, but distinctive and thought-provoking – as well as a tribute to how effective low-budget sci-fi can be.

#8: The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Nobody makes a Wes Anderson movie like Wes Anderson.  Is there something inescapably precious about the whole undertaking?  Absolutely.  But is there real feeling underneath the compulsive dazzlement?  In this case, I think so.

#9: Foxcatcher

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It’s an icy little number, and a bit too deliberate – but it’s superbly made.

#10: Boyhood

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Yeah, I know I said it was overrated – and I stand by that.  But it’s also a warm-hearted portrait of a loving American family, and I’d say there are worse things a movie can be.

 

Honorable Mention: Penguins of Madagascar.  Not a deathless classic, but lots and lots of fun.

Worst Movie of the Year: The Monuments Men.  So bad and so smug that I wish it were a person, so I could slap it in the face.

Most Overrated: Birdman.  “Half-baked” is the best word.

 

For the record, here’s the full list of 2014 movies I’ve seen to date:

 

American Sniper

Big Eyes

Birdman

Boyhood

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Chef

Edge of Tomorrow

Foxcatcher

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

God Help the Girl

Gone Girl

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Guardians of the Galaxy

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

I Origins

The Imitation Game

Interstellar

The Interview

Into the Woods

John Wick

The Lego Movie

Life Itself

Low Down

The Monuments Men

A Most Wanted Man

Nightcrawler

Penguins of Madagascar

Selma

The Skeleton Twins

The Theory of Everything

Two Days, One Night

The Two Faces of January

Whiplash

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Published in: on February 22, 2015 at 4:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

American Sniper

(Clint Eastwood, 2014)

with Anna Melo, Williamsburg Cinemas, 2/19/15

5

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An especially lucid illustration of a timeless principle: real life isn’t a very good screenwriter.  As the credits rolled at the end of the movie, a woman a few rows back from me gave vent to a perfectly spontaneous, beautifully eloquent reaction: “What???

She was right.  The fact that it really happened is no excuse.  It’s a terrible ending – arbitrary, abrupt, and meaningless.  It makes an otherwise excellent movie – full of emotional tension and moral struggle – seem, in retrospect, like a cruel and clumsy joke.

Screenwriters: don’t let real life write your movies for you.  They’re movies.  You’re writers.  Write them yourselves.

Published in: on February 22, 2015 at 2:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Nightcrawler

(Dan Gilroy, 2014)

with Mike Lavoie, 378 Bond St., 2/18/15

5

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Slick and suspenseful, but let down by a whimper of an ending.  The “bad guy does bad things” genre is naturally a little repetitive, and since we’re never in much doubt that Jake Gyllenhaal’s character is a ruthless creep, there’s a limited amount of shock value in watching him do creepy/ruthless things.  Scene by scene, Nightcrawler works very well, but it’s hard to say what we’re left with when it’s over.  Maybe just a general icky feeling about Los Angeles?

Published in: on February 20, 2015 at 4:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Selma

(Ava DuVernay, 2014)

with Jess de Martine, BAM Rose Cinema, 2/13/15

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What a maddening mixed bag this is.  The editing is distracting and disorienting, violating every known rule of visual storytelling, to no obvious purpose.  Some scenes are awkward, and some are heavy-handed, while others are measured and nuanced and alive with insight.  Martin Luther King remains a bit of a cipher throughout, half-humanized and half-mythologized – both familiar and unknowable.  The crowd scenes have great visual impact and symbolic power, and the backroom scenes provide a fascinating glimpse at the strategy behind the symbolism.  All in all, there’s a lot to admire here – and a lot to regret, too.

Published in: on February 20, 2015 at 4:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Two Days, One Night

(Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2014)

with Darcy and Theo Meneau, IFC Center, 1/31/15

5

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Located on the hairline crack between dull and sublime – and, at times, somehow managing to be both – Two Days, One Night makes a virtue of its simplicity, but never transcends its ordinariness.  It’s hard to sympathize with a protagonist who’s her own worst enemy, but that’s the challenge the Dardennes have set for themselves, and there’s something noble about their insistence that everyone – even those who have to be dragged to it kicking and screaming – deserves a shot at redemption.  Theirs is a world of moral grays, a world of small gestures, a world of quiet, unheralded courage and petty, unpunished spite – in other words, it’s our world, with all the familiar frustrations and satisfactions that go along with it.  Is there something perverse about creating drama from such unrelenting mundanity?  Yes.  Is there nevertheless something admirable about it?  Probably yes, too.

Published in: on February 3, 2015 at 4:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

Scarlet Street

(Fritz Lang, 1945)

with Jess de Martine, streaming on Netflix at 115 Fourth Place, 1/26/15

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Nice twisty little film noir, full of nasty ironies and cruelly disappointed hopes.  Edward G. Robinson is wonderful as a milksop who finds his courage (or is it desperation?) in all the wrong places.  The ending is heavily moralistic, and – more damningly – redundant, but the rest is nice and tight, and clever, and juicy, and all the good things a noir should be.

Published in: on January 30, 2015 at 2:39 pm  Leave a Comment