Thursday, February 25, 2016

Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

And while we're at it my preferred version of what Room was trying to do:

Family guy

Yorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth starts off in possibly the only way it can possibly start: with a father coming home.

About the quietest, most quotidian beginning to a film that you can imagine, and that's on purpose. Father coming home, the house he comes home to large, with an expansive garden complete with pool and a high fence surrounding the property, but otherwise--nothing remarkable. 

Room (Lenny Abrahamson, 2015)

The hole world

Lenny Abrahamson's adaptation of Emma Donoghue's novel Room, about abducted sexually abused Joy (Brie Larson) locked away in a garden shed with five-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who was born in that shed is a harrowing experience, and not always in a good way. We are stuck in the company of two actors only one of whom is adult for almost two hours, one of those hours in extreme close quarters. We see most of the film through the child's eyes, hear his voice on the soundtrack as he tries to describe his emotional state in naive--sometimes too naive--prose. On occasion Jack screams, a high piercing sound that Abrahamson no doubt picked for that very quality; the director should have also been more aware that a brief sampling of that sound would have been enough--anything more would constitute cruel and unusual punishment

Abrahamson--presumably taking his cue from Donoghue's book--focuses less on the story's lurid aspects (it's based on the far more horrifying Fritzl case) and more on the couple's survival strategies, at least during the film's first half; the second half documents a vaguer and in some ways equally horrifying struggle, as Joy tries to shrug free from the shackles in her head. Abrahamson isn't as successful at realizing this half, understandably so; how do you suggest inner captivity in the outside world? Larson does her level best, is at her best when an interviewer tactlessly suggests that she should have done better for her child: the emotions flitting over her face as she processes the idea register onscreen with piercing withering clarity.

Joy (David O. Russell, 2015)

Ms. Deeds

David O. Russell's Joy (2015)--about Joy Mangano, creator of the Miracle Mop and early diva of the QVC cable network--is an interesting biopic in that it isn't. According to an article in Vanity Fair the multimillionairess kept most details of her life a guarded secret--what little the public knows is carefully doled out to form a manicured image of the woman. When the idea was suggested to Ms. Mangano that she tell her story, a script (by Annie Mumolo) was commissioned that focused less on her early life and more on the development of the mop, Joy's first real success. When Russell came on board he submitted an alternate proposal: a fictionalization of her life, with fact and fantasy artfully blended. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Revenant (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)

Bear necessity

Got to admit: not a big fan of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Thought his first feature Amores Perros was a third good movie, a third fairly entertaining episode of The Twilight Zone, a third implausible drama (a homeless hit man?) connected in time by a wincingly violent vehicular collision; thought 21 Grams was more of the same (three stories linked by car accident) only set in the United States; thought Babel was an unholy mess with an accidental shooting as connecting event, its narrative strands scattered all over the world. 

Biutiful was an interesting recalibration--instead of several stories united by an incident we have several situations--one more lurid than the next--united by one man's involvement in all of 'em. If Biutiful doesn't quite succeed either it isn't actor Javier Bardem's fault (he gives a tremendous performance despite the fact that he's dying and seeing dead people) but Inarritu's compulsive need to add and adorn and amplify and assault till you want to throw up your hands and say "Back off!"

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Deadpool (Tim Miller 2016)

Lead tool

Dobby droog! Here be the next step in comic-book evolution: the wisecracking antihero and his bezoomny adventures, the apotheosis of what Spider-Man started in the '60s, that titles like Blade and Kick Ass continued in the '90s and 00s by kicking the ultraviolence and old in-out in-out up a notch. The movie's true pee and em though would be Adult Swim's Robot Chicken, which not only landed a tolchok on our yarbles but did so with sarky metacommentary and pop-culture references. As boxoffice and pop culture phenomenon the sinny caught most established film bratchnies by surprise and I'll be honest; me too (does it count that I wasn't smotting? Or didn't much care?).

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Jessica Jones (created by Melissa Rosenberg)

Strings on me

Melissa Rosenberg's TV adaptation of Brian Michael Bendis' R-rated comic book Alias, featuring one Jessica Jones (Kyrsten Ritter in the series), isn't perhaps the first ever to depict a superhero suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (arguably there's Batman) but she's the genre's state-of-the-art incarnation, a canny mix of crime thriller tropes (hard-drinking hard-hitting stone-cold cynical private investigator) and comic-book melodrama (former superhero attempting to earn a living / get herself a life).

What's interesting is that the show doesn't feel sound or look like a Marvel Comics project at all; from the jazzy score accompanying digitized versions of David Mack's artwork to the noirish cinematography of Manuel Billeter you could be forgiven for thinking you're watching something directed by Curtis Hanson or (better yet) John Dahl (and as a matter of fact he did do one of thirteen episodes)--it's more than halfway through the first episode before we see Jessica lifting a man's car up from behind (the sexual implications of the act being deliberate I'm sure) and we're reminded with a bit of a shock that, why, this is set in the MCU--the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But it doesn't have to be--achieves its best effects without much help from said universe. 

Sunday, February 07, 2016

"Les quatre cent coupe" (The 400 Blows, Francois Truffaut, 1959), La Pianiste (The Piano Teacher, Michael Haneke, 2001)

For Francois Truffaut, who would have been 84 today, an old post:

Classical and neoclassical French cinema

Francois Truffaut's first feature film Les quatre cent coups (The 400 Blows, 1959) was mainly a reaction to what Truffaut witheringly called the "tradition of quality." Where "quality" films emphasized production value, Truffaut used everyday Parisian locations; where "quality" films used smooth-gliding camerawork and flawless lighting Truffaut used handheld equipment and available light; where "quality" films were mainly literary adaptations of known classics Truffaut drew from his own life and improvised dialogue on the set.

The result was anything but traditional. One gets the impression of a sketchbook filled with doodles by turns funny, tragic, provocative, sad. One gets the impression of quickly filled spaces, of scenes thought up on the spot, of setups executed on the sly and as quickly dismantled (because the director just thought it up, and possibly didn't have the proper permits ready).

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Brooklyn (John Crowley)

A borough'd life

John Crowley's Brooklyn is a beautifully gauzy dream of a movie where all the folks are helpful and friendly once you get to know them, Coney Island all bright sunshine blue waters and clean sand, and the worst problem a young girl named Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) need suffer is a bad case of homesickness for the green green grass of Enniscorthy, Ireland. As for Ireland--

And so on and so on and so forth. The film (capably directed by Crowley out of a script Nick Hornby adapted from a novel by Colm Toibin) is layered nostalgia that as carefully as it can treads a line between sentiment and understatement, realism and stylized idealism, observational comedy and high drama. Is that really what Coney Island circa 1952 was like? Not quite; you only have to look at Abrashkin, Engel and Orkin's The Little Fugitive--released only a year later--to learn just what a raucous littered lively place the seaside resort really was (and still is in a grittier urban-ruin sort of way, with a better-than-even chance of being mugged at night). You wonder though: would that be what a young woman fresh from Ireland might imagine Coney Island to be like? Well--maybe; maybe we're supposed to be seeing the place through Eilis' dewy eyes--