Robot and Frank

(Jake Schreier, 2012)

with Darcy, Brooklyn Heights Cinema, 9/29/12

5

There isn’t really anything wrong with this movie.  The premise – elderly thief turns his robot nurse into an accomplice – is juicy and funny and sly, but the movie doesn’t live up to it; it’s too plodding, downbeat, and by-the-book.  Robot and Frank is perfectly solid, and even reasonably clever; it’s well shot, it’s well acted, and it’s even fairly moving.  But it never really gets off the ground and becomes delightful; in the end, it just feels small and sad.

Published in: on October 31, 2012 at 7:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Master

(Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)

with James Fauvell and Meredith Holcomb, City Cinemas Village East, 9/19/12

5

Is Paul Thomas Anderson having any fun anymore?  After the captivating oddity that was Punch-Drunk Love, his recent films – There Will Be Blood and now The Master – are so self-consciously artful that they seem to lack humanity.  Anderson has all but abandoned plot, too; The Master has story events, but no narrative momentum and precious little causation.  It’s mostly a series of incidents or vignettes – many of them compelling enough in their own right, but without the connective tissue that would make us feel we were watching a movie.  The leaden pace hardly ever varies.  The stately music keeps us at a distance.  The climax is hushed and spare to an almost laughable extent.  It’s all very accomplished and even brilliant, but its satisfactions are cold ones.  I wish Anderson would stop trying to be the greatest filmmaker of his generation and just let himself tell a good story.

Published in: on October 31, 2012 at 12:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

Cinema Paradiso

(Giuseppe Tornatore, 1990)

with Mike Lavoie, 378 Bond St., September 2012

6

If the last act of Cinema Paradiso were as good as the first, it would be a truly great movie.  The childhood segments are so vivid, so sweet and funny and authentic, that they can only be the product of real experience lovingly remembered.  They manage to be nostalgic without being sentimental – a rare and invaluable trick.  The chemistry between the two leads (Philippe Noiret and young Salvatore Cascio) is warm and flawless.  Then, alas, Cascio disappears from the movie, replaced by a hunky young man with far less talent and charisma.  The movie loses itself after that; too much time goes by in the gaps between scenes, and the narrative thread gets tangled up in war and love and other banalities.  The ending is not without poignancy, but the road to it lacks elegance and economy – and worst of all, it lacks Salvatore Cascio.  Double-casting is a perilous business; in this case, the lead character is triple-cast, and this choice diffuses our emotional investment beyond recovery.  It’s a shame, because so much of the movie is wonderful, but it’s a qualified masterpiece at best.

Published in: on October 31, 2012 at 12:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

Days of Heaven

(Terrence Malick, 1978)

with Mike Lavoie and Meredith Holcomb, Lake House screening room, 8/19/12

7

Gorgeous and cryptic, epic and intimate, often episodic but incorporating some vast changes.  Somehow Malick’s camera moves and thinks like no one else’s; his work is the closest thing to pure visual poetry that the movies have yet produced.  The characters are somewhat blank, their struggles somewhat distant, yet there is real emotion here, as muted as it often is.  Days of Heaven often has the feel of an elegy, but it’s never quite clear what the elegy is for.  It’s a movie that’s not quite like anything else – and that alone recommends it, if its landmark cinematography isn’t enough.  What a strange and haunting film.

Published in: on October 31, 2012 at 12:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Stop Making Sense

(Jonathan Demme, 1984)

with Mike Lavoie and Graham Stone, Lake House screening room, 8/16/12

7

David Byrne is a fascinating creature.  Charismatic yet blank, meticulously bizarre, as loose as he is rigid, Byrne flawlessly embodies the concept of the artist as visionary weirdo genius.  Demme’s cameras give us an intimate onstage view of an electrifying rock show, and the editing is sharp, patient, and restrained.  I did find myself wishing there were some interview footage, though – even just a few snippets.  I wanted a peek behind the curtain, but what I got was all performance – as captivating as it was.

Published in: on October 29, 2012 at 12:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Dark Knight Rises

(Christopher Nolan, 2012)

with Darcy, Devin, Mike Lavoie, Graham Stone, Hope Stone, Elise Babigian, Maddie Lodge, and Alex Wilburn, 7/19/12

7

Surprisingly inexpert in its handling of time and suspense, bloated and unwieldy, yet still full of the artistry that made the first two films so guiltlessly entertaining.  Held to the standard of Nolan’s own work, The Dark Knight Rises is almost inexplicably clumsy and disappointing.  By normal movie standards, on the other hand, it has grandeur, skill, charm, humanity, and considerable popcorn value.  Nolan would have had a better reception for this movie if he hadn’t set the bar so high.

Published in: on October 29, 2012 at 12:35 pm  Comments (2)  

The Dark Knight

(Christopher Nolan, 2008)

with Darcy, Devin, Mike Lavoie, Graham Stone, Hope Stone, Elise Babigian, Maddie Lodge, and Alex Wilburn, 7/19/12

9

Well, I mean, it’s a masterpiece.  Seen in the context of the trilogy, it towers over the other two – as accomplished as they are.  It has a relentless forward momentum, a giddy energy, a lurid fascination, that Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises don’t even come close to matching.  Part of the movie’s virtue is its compressed time-frame.  I haven’t done the math, but I have the impression it takes place in less than a week.  The stakes never drop, the tension never lets up, there’s never a “Two months later…” moment of relaxation.  It’s also much more confined in space than the other two movies; apart from a brief excursion to Hong Kong – which is itself entirely about what’s going on in Gotham – The Dark Knight inhabits Batman’s stomping grounds, and nowhere else.  It’s tight.  It’s focused.  It could probably stand to lose ten minutes or so, but that’s a quibble.  This is what they call a great movie.

Published in: on October 6, 2012 at 3:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Batman Begins

(Christopher Nolan, 2005)

with Darcy, Devin, Mike Lavoie, Graham Stone, Hope Stone, Elise Babigian, Maddie Lodge, and Alex Wilburn, 7/19/12

7

An exemplary use of flashbacks.  Somehow, they never seem to impede the movie’s forward progress, even though they’re frequent and often long.  Of course, Batman Begins does feel somewhat like an introduction to something – but then, as it turns out, it was.

Published in: on October 6, 2012 at 2:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

Die Hard with a Vengeance

(John McTiernan, 1995)

with Mom, Dad, and ???, Lake House screening room, July 2012

6

Too long, and spends much too much time on its villain, whose only function is to be a villain, and who decidedly does not need extended scenes all to himself.  Also, the level of realism is bewilderingly inconsistent; the movie’s pretty grounded most of the time, and then occasionally a motor vehicle does something cartoonishly ridiculous, and then it’s back to being pretty grounded again.  The best part of the movie, by far, is the interplay between John McClane and his reluctant new sidekick, Zeus Carver.  Whenever they’re bickering, the film crackles with energy.  Reinventing Die Hard as a buddy movie turns out to be an excellent idea.

Published in: on October 6, 2012 at 1:27 pm  Leave a Comment