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  

Wild Tales

(Damián Szifron, 2014)

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

6

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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  

American Sniper

(Clint Eastwood, 2014)

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

5

American-Sniper

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  

Selma

(Ava DuVernay, 2014)

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

6

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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  

Foxcatcher

(Bennett Miller, 2014)

with Devin and Dan Kruger, Millerton Moviehouse, 1/18/15

6

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If I had to use one word to describe Foxcatcher, it would be “chilly.”  The whole story is told as if from a distance – the characters lonely and isolated, the color palette cold, the pacing slow, the mood somber.  Mark Ruffalo’s soulful, sensitive performance gives the movie its moral center, and even a certain measure of warmth, but it’s a candle flame in an ice cave – a respite, but not a cure.  Foxcatcher isn’t irritatingly solemn, but it’s not a lot of fun, either.  It’s a serious movie, worth serious attention – not quite a work of genius, and certainly not easy to recommend.

Published in: on January 26, 2015 at 3:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

(Ana Lily Amirpour, 2014)

with Jess de Martine, IFC Center, 1/16/15

3

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This movie bills itself as a vampire Western, but its real genre is Ponderously Slow Art-House Drudgery.  There’s some good stuff in here – some stark beauty, some sly humor, some bizarre eroticism, some unlikely romance – but it’s all buried in layers and layers of artsy-fartsiness.  I think a 30-minute edit of this movie could be pretty great.

Published in: on January 19, 2015 at 4:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Big Eyes

(Tim Burton, 2014)

with Tess Belmont, Angelika Cinema, 1/7/15

6

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Some “true story” movies feel like movies, and some feel like frustrated documentaries, and most fall into an awkward gray area in between.  Big Eyes plods along like a standard biography for a pretty good chunk of its running time, but eventually it gathers speed, and decides to prioritize audience satisfaction, and by the end it’s landed squarely in the “movie” camp.  It’s not terribly profound, but it tells a pretty fascinating story, and the ending is gratifying in a pleasantly escapist way.

Published in: on January 13, 2015 at 3:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Imitation Game

(Morten Tyldum, 2014)

with Jess de Martine, BAM Rose Cinemas, 1/4/14

6

The Imitation Game Movie New Pic (2)

In a movie about a brilliant cryptographer, shouldn’t there occasionally be a piece of dialogue that the average audience member doesn’t understand?  The Imitation Game is so afraid of seeming esoteric that it simply avoids showing us very much actual cryptography, focusing instead on personal relationships – which are, let’s face it, not the thing that made Alan Turing famous or interesting in the first place.  Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent, and so is Matthew Goode, but I really didn’t learn very much about breaking Enigma from this movie, and that seems like sort of a waste.

Published in: on January 8, 2015 at 4:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

Into the Woods

(Rob Marshall, 2014)

with Devin, Darcy, Caitlin, Jess de Martine, Theo Meneau, Kelley Merwin, and Mike Hagerman, Millerton Moviehouse, 12/26/14

5

INTO THE WOODS

Probably this all works better onstage – and maybe it all seemed much darker and more subversive on Broadway in 1987.  In this version, in this time and place, Into the Woods doesn’t seem to know how subversive it wants to be.  It sets in motion four famous fairy tales, and then begins to interweave them, but without meaningfully altering the stories (Cinderella is a minor exception).  Then it provides the requisite happy ending, followed by a Dark Turn, followed shortly thereafter by another happy ending, which doesn’t seem much more earned or valid than the first one.  It doesn’t help that the lyrics of the songs are often at odds with the actual events of the story, sometimes to the point of jeopardizing the (presumably) intended meaning (a song about tolerance and ambiguity is immediately followed by simplistic violence, which solves everything).  The cinematography is also inconsistent – at times meticulous and inventive, at other times lazy and vague.  There’s some great stuff here – especially Meryl Streep – but it doesn’t really pay off.  The good folks over at TV Tropes might call this an Indecisive Deconstruction – and they’d be dead-on.

Published in: on January 6, 2015 at 7:37 pm  Leave a Comment