Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Lawless" - John Hillcoat (2012)

John Hillcoat waxes poetic about violence once again with his prohibition-era crime drama, "Lawless."
The film once again teams up Hillcoat and murder-music legend turned screenwriter Nick Cave.

The story centers around three bootlegging brothers, Jack, Forest and Howard.

Guy Pearce, who played the quietly ferocious Charlie Burns in Hillcoat's violent 2005 masterpiece, "The Proposition," shows up as Special Agent Charlie Rakes, the intensely creepy, sadistic dandy of a lawman intent on putting the Bondurants out of business.

Nick Cave's screenplay is dark with a fastidious attention to its characters.

Each character in the film carries a certain subtle menace.

Unfortunately, Shia LeBeouf and Jessica Chastain are in the cast, but Hillcoat does an admirable job of handling them and they manage to turn out relatively competent performances.

The body count isn't very high, but sparse at it is, each act of violence is sickening and brutal.

The violence in "Lawless" is glorious, as it should be.  The film is screaming and subdued at the same time, an unlikely mix that's become Hillcoat's haunting trademark.

If "The Road" and "The Proposition" weren't enough for Hillcoat to make his mark, "Lawless" goes a step further in establishing Hillcoat as one of the most important directors working today.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Featurette About Upcoming Documentary "Runaway Slave"

Here's a featurette about "Runaway Slave," a documentary about the state of race relations in America.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

"2 Days in New York" - Julie Delpy (2012)

 Julie Delpy channels Woody Allen with "2 Days in New York and she does it quite well.
She also draws from filmmakers like Eric Rohmer.

But it would be misleading to say "2 Days in New York" is derivative.

The film is her follow up to her 2007 film, "2 Days in Paris."

The film follows Marion, played by Delpy and her boyfriend, Mingus, played by Chris Rock.

Rock gives an admirably understated performance as Mingus, who serves as Marion's confidant before becoming her lover.

Marion falls for Mingus shortly after her marriage disintegrates and, unlike her romance in "2 Days in Paris," we can actually see the attraction here.

Mingus is supportive and loving without the condescension we've seen from Marion's past lovers.

The story involves Marion's eccentric family who comes to visit from Paris and how they interact with Mingus, a decided pragmatist.
"2 Days in New York" is a character-driven comedy and the people we're asked to spend 90 minutes with are interesting and funny.

The film works on every level and although it's slight, is has more insight into relationships than most romantic comedies and it's easily one of the best films of the year.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

"Take This Waltz" Sarah Polley (2012)

Sarah Polley's "Take This Waltz" might be the most delicate film I've ever seen about the breakdown of a marriage.
  It's been 5 years since Polley's underrated "Away From Her" and this latest film cements her status as one of the most important directors working today.

The film is elegantly written and executed with a remarkable subtlety. 
This all sounds like high praise and it is.

The only problem is I'm pretty sure I hated this movie.

The film follows Margot, played by Michelle Williams, a happily married woman who suffers from an infatuation with her new neighbor, Daniel.

Daniel is one of those guys who thinks he's seductive but really just comes off as creepy.

Seth Rogen gives a surprisingly muted performance as Margot's clueless and then heartbroken husband, Lou.

The relationship between Margot and Lou is much more interesting than her crush on Daniel.

The couple has a touching playfulness about them, but it's hiding a lot of insecurity, pain and vulnerability.

As always, Williams gives a truly gorgeous and penetrating performance.

She more than deserves her third Oscar nod in a row.

And Sarah Silverman plays Geraldine, Margot's sister-in-law and the film's voice of reason.
For most of the film, I wasn't sure Geraldine's character was necessary, but at the end, she ties up the point of the film nicely.

Ultimately, "Take This Waltz" is about the pitfalls of discontent.

Polley is a remarkably understated talent and I can't wait to see her next film.

However, I don't ever want to see "Take This Waltz" again.

Friday, August 10, 2012

"96 Minutes" - Aimee Lagos (2012)

"96 Minutes" is a fairly impressive feature debut by newcomer Aimee Lagos. 
The premise of the film is a good person who does bad things is more of a monster than a straight-up bad guy.

The story follows Carley and Lena, two college students and Dre and Kevin, two high-school students. The characters are frantically trying to figure out what to do after Kevin shoots Lena in the face.

The narrative flips back and forth between the adrenaline-filled crisis sequence and the problems of the characters' everyday lives.

Lena is in love with a boy who treats her like something he dug out of his ear.

Carley is neglected by her father and anxious about starting law school.

Dre is a kid working hard to graduate and escape from street life.

And Kevin has trouble dealing with his foul-mouthed mom and her physically abusive boyfriend. But what Kevin really wants is to be a gangsta.

Eventually, the two timelines merge and we see exactly what led up to the shooting.

The film starts slow, but somewhere in the middle of the second act, the pacing catches up and we find ourselves involved in a fairly engrossing melodrama.

Dre makes mistake after mistake as he tries to dig himself and his friend out of a bad situation. The scenario makes for some very nice tension.

Ultimately, "96 Minutes" leaves us with little hope for mankind which puts it right in line with reality.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

"Ruby Sparks" - Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris (2012)

The dissolution of the reality barrier has been explored before in films like "Stranger than Fiction" and Woody Allen's "Purple Rose of Cairo."

But never has the line between art and life been explored so thoroughly as it is in "Ruby Sparks."

Calvin is a writer suffering from writer's block until he finds himself romantically drawn to one of his characters.

When he finally returns to his typewriter, he does so with such fervor he brings his ideal woman to life.

Calvin acknowledges his love for Ruby even before she manifests herself.

Aside from being Calvin's dream girl, she's also sweet and vulnerable in her own right.

He has written her exactly to his liking, having her say things like "The first time I saw you, I said, 'Look at that boy.  I'm going to love him forever and ever.'"

Of course nothing good ever lasts and trouble starts when Ruby starts showing she has a will of her own.
Calvin can keep writing to change her for convenience's sake, but no matter how often he tweaks Ruby, she never fits his idea of perfect because how good can the product of a neurotic mind be?

At one point in the third act, we're horrified at the controlling monster Calvin has become.

The point of the film is that no abstract ideal can ever be a match for a real, autonomous human being.

Make no mistake, "Ruby Sparks" is not a romantic comedy.
It is, however, insightful, endearing, forgiving and easily one of the best films of 2012.

And as a side note, "Ruby Sparks" gets points for having the couple attend a screening of Peter Jackson's zombie film "Dead Alive" and including Plastic Bertrand's "C'est Plane Pour Moi" on the soundtrack.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom - Wes Anderson (2012)

"Moonrise Kingdom" is a love story between two tween misfits and it may well be Wes Anderson's masterpiece. 

The story starts with a boy named Sam's escape from camp. He's a scout nobody seems to like.
Sam meets up with his girlfriend, Suzy, whom he's gotten to know primarily through letters. She is fleeing parents whose idea of family communication is certifiably disjointed.

The entire community goes hunting for the young runaways and that's the story in a nutshell.
But as with all of Anderson's work, the plot is more or less incidental.
The quirky characters are the focus of the film.

Ed Norton plays a strict, loving and clueless scout leader who loses a camper.
Tilda Swinton plays a villain who swoops in, going only by the name "Social Services."
And Bill Murray and Frances McDormand stand out as Suzy's maddening parents whose communication problems most likely precipitated their daughter's exodus.
Anderson's point, of course, is that we're all odd ducks.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

"Ruby Sparks" Featurette

Here's a behind the scenes look at the making of the upcoming film "Ruby Sparks."

I'm actually pretty excited about this film.