Her

(Spike Jonze, 2013)

with James Fauvell, Mike Lavoie, Lindsay Joy, and Adam Cohen, Union Square Regal, 12/18/13

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Funny and profound, personal and universal, gorgeous and raw – Her is that rare film that blends consummate artistry with real, unguarded emotion.  It’s the definitive Spike Jonze movie, at once whimsical and filled with heartache – a story of broken and hopeful human beings fumbling for grace in a beautiful, indifferent world.  It’s goddamn poetic, is what it is.  What a joy to see a movie that fulfills the potential of its quirky premise – and goes so much farther and deeper at the same time.

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Published in: on December 27, 2013 at 9:37 am  Leave a Comment  

Nebraska

(Alexander Payne, 2013)

with Monica from OKCupid, BAM Rose Cinema, 12/8/13

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A textbook study in making something resonant out of something almost ludicrously simple.  Nebraska takes a drab, mundane world and elevates it to the level of poetry – without fuss, without pretension, with nothing but starkly beautiful black-and-white cinematography, unforced humanism, and a contemplative pace.  There’s a certain subversive humor at work here, but at its core Nebraska is a warm-hearted tribute to the dignity of the elderly, and the mellow beauty of the American heartland.  It’s a lovely, melancholy thing.

Published in: on December 27, 2013 at 9:14 am  Leave a Comment  

Dallas Buyers Club

(Jean-Marc Vallée, 2013)

with Robb Stey, Great Barrington Triplex, 12/3/13

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Matthew McConaughey is having a hell of a year.  He was note-perfect in the wonderful, overlooked Mud, he’s the highlight of the Wolf of Wall Street preview, and he looks like a surefire Oscar nominee for his raw, visceral, dangerous work in Dallas Buyers Club.  Frighteningly skinny and barely recognizable, McConaughey prowls through the movie’s early scenes like a wounded animal, all mindless venom and futile defiance.  By the end, he’s a huckster with a heart of gold – practically a prophet of unlikely survival.  If the movie were as lean and focused as its lead actor’s performance, it would be an extraordinary thing – but, like practically all “true story” movies, it tries to cram too much in and can’t seem to land on an ending, so it winds up petering out into a diffuse haze of “history.”  Too bad.  These actors deserved better.

Published in: on December 21, 2013 at 9:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Beaver

(Jodie Foster, 2011)

with Darcy and Graham Stone, Barn Screening Room, 12/1/13

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There’s such a wealth of talent and artistry on display in The Beaver that it’s difficult to acknowledge the movie doesn’t really work.  Mel Gibson gives a soulful and arresting performance; for my money, he remains one of the world’s great screen actors – not only endlessly engaging, but capable of intensity, nuance, humor, and deep humanity.  It’s a showcase role, and he plays it to the hilt.  Unfortunately, the movie’s tone is awkwardly balanced between realistic drama and whimsical fairytale.  The jaunty music and clever cinematography keep telling us we’re in a playful, heightened world, but the script can’t decide what world it inhabits, and the central premise – morbidly depressed man communicates through beaver puppet – is left strangely unexplored.  How would people react to a situation like this?  How should they?  The movie doesn’t know, and doesn’t seem terribly interested in knowing.  It’s too in love with its own quirkiness to really delve into anything.

Published in: on December 11, 2013 at 7:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

(Francis Lawrence, 2013)

with Dad and Robb Stey, Millerton Moviehouse, 11/29/13

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This is exactly what a sequel should be.  It takes all the familiar elements from the first movie and pushes them farther.  It ups the ante.  It expands the world.  It embraces change and complication, without abandoning what made its predecessor compelling.  It deepens old characters and introduces new ones.  It advances the larger story.  It leaves us wanting more.

Published in: on December 11, 2013 at 7:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Hunger Games

(Gary Ross, 2012)

with Darcy and Robb Stey, Lake House Screening Room, 11/29/13

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I know I’m late to the party, but this is some good stuff.  I like the restless, jumpy editing.  I like the way everything is played for keeps.  The Hunger Games has satirical elements, but the tone isn’t jokey or spoof-y or glib; the tone is serious.  People are dying.  Things are at stake.  Oh, and Jennifer Lawrence is terrific.  She’s got a great supporting cast around her (minus the awful Liam Hemsworth), but it’s her movie, and she carries it so convincingly that her status as a major movie star can no longer be in any doubt.

Published in: on December 11, 2013 at 5:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

The African Queen

(John Huston, 1951)

alone, streaming on Netflix at 115 Fourth Place, 11/20/13

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A pleasantly loony oddity – part jungle adventure, part romantic comedy, occasionally pure melodrama, and getting more and more surreal as it goes along.  If it weren’t for the abundant charm of Bogart and Hepburn – as richly improbable a pairing as cinema history can offer – The African Queen might well be unbearable.  As it is, it’s sort of wonderful – in its own feverish love-is-lunacy way.

Published in: on December 11, 2013 at 4:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Thor: The Dark World

(Alan Taylor, 2013)

with Robb Stey, Court Street UA, 11/19/13

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Not as strong as the first Thor, but solidly enjoyable.  Whereas the first film was a fish-out-of-water story about a god fallen to Earth, this one is firmly set in the realm(s) of the gods, with the Earth stuff feeling more or less tacked-on.  Unfortunately, this means we have to spend more time in the silly hodgepodge of magic and science that the Thor movies insist on foisting on us.  (How can Odin insist on solemnly declaring that “we are not gods,” and then turn around and berate Thor about the insignificance of “mortals”?  Did anybody read this entire script?)  On the plus side, the continuing saga of Loki is handled sublimely well.  Loki is starting to look more and more like the secret protagonist of the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe, and in the hands of the brilliant Tom Hiddleston, he’s absolutely riveting.  I thank all the gods of Asgard (yes, they’re gods!) that his story is not over.

Published in: on December 3, 2013 at 10:45 am  Leave a Comment