In the twenty years between Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, Terrence Malick was elevated from director who salvaged Days of Heaven only after years of editing, to cinematic messiah. His aesthetic approach was canonized, and actors flocked to work with him, no matter how small the part. Now, with two movies in less than two years (and at least two more on the way) Malick is being brought down to Earth once more. This is a good thing. Once again, he’s just a guy who makes movies. Fortunately, he makes movies in a way that is unlike most others, and thanks to his improvisational process he still carries the trust of talented actors.
I’d very much like to love his latest film, To the Wonder. I do appreciate it quite a lot, which is something different. As if designed to be a miniature of his career, this movie describes a tension between the glorious and prosaic. It is not a conventional narrative, but rather a look over Malick’s shoulder as he feels his way towards an idea.
That idea is a portrait of our relationship to the divine, as expressed through four interconnected lives that sketch a difficult romantic relationship. Whether that “divine” is God or nature, or some ineffable truth, doesn’t really matter. Malick seeks to balance the first brush with wonder and the difficult process of sustaining it though the grind of everyday life. Read More »
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What a beautiful thing, Upstream Color. Shane Carruth‘s second film is a melange of surprises and delights. For an audience familiar with Primer, Carruth’s time-layering ouroboros of a debut, one element may be more surprising than all others: simplicity. Though the telling of this new film is by no means conventional, the core is an elegant idea, yet one rich enough to foster myriad interpretations.
Crafted with an awe-inspiring confidence, Upstream Color establishes a strange and frightening sci-fi framework, then works within that frame to probe the nature of human relationships, and our proximity to and power over the forces that define us. The wild elements of the plot allow Carruth to examine love and destiny with unexpected sensitivity. Upstream Color belongs in the company of 2001 and Solaris; it stands with the very best that speculative fiction has to offer.
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Danny Boyle‘s latest film, Trance, is a victim of its own ingenuity. It’s a film about memory and how a person is defined by their memories. These memories can be tampered with, removed, replaced, even changed ever so slightly to make reality seem different than it actually is. To bolster those ideas, Boyle gives the film a lurid feel. At any given time, the audience isn’t sure if what they are seeing is real, fake, a dream, a memory or some blending of both.
Unfortunately, that ambiguity begins to overpower any interest generated for the characters or story, leaving the film with a cold feeling. There are certainly mysteries to be solved, and Boyle’s energetic style provides some fun moments, but if you can’t believe what you’re seeing at any given moment, you can’t begin to care about the characters either. Read More »
The Place Beyond the Pines is not the movie you think it is. That’s a good thing. Derek Cianfrance has created an epic generational drama that uses police and crime movie tropes as background to tell a bigger story about the consequences of action.
Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes and Dane DeHaan star in roles that each challenge our perceptions of the character types, and Cianfrance’s script (co-written with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder) unfolds at a methodical pace. This allows the viewer to live in several very different worlds that possibly should never have connected. It’s a strong new effort from the filmmaker who became famous for his 2010 effort Blue Valentine. Read More »
Sometimes you watch a movie and, at the end, can’t think of anything in the film that could have been done better. The whole thing just feels perfect or magical, a shining example of what cinema is all about. Short Term 12 is one of those movies.
Written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton based on his award-winning 2009 short film of the same name, Short Term 12 stars Brie Larson as Grace. She’s young woman who spends her days overseeing a huge group of foster kids in a group home, many of whom are mentally ill. They suffer from depression, have suicidal tendencies and OCDs. It is Grace’s job — and that of her boyfriend Mason (The Newsroom‘s John Gallagher Jr.) and a new guy (Rami Malek) — to try and keep the kids content while they go about their lives. This is easier said than done when Grace is probably more messed up than everyone else in the building.
Funny, moving, surprising and emotional, Short Term 12 is an awards contender from top to bottom. The performances are mindblowing, the writing sharp, and the direction beautiful. It’s a very special movie, and worthy winner of the 2013 South by Southwest Grand Jury and Audience Awards. Read More »
Oddly enough, everything you need to know about Spring Breakers is represented by its two credited music composers: Cliff Martinez and Skrillex. Martinez is a veteran, a regular Steven Soderbergh collaborator who recently did the score to Drive. He’s known for pulsing, tense, dramatic scores. Skrillex is the world’s best known dubstep DJ, known for grimy, catchy party anthems infused with a certain soul and savagery. Those two sounds, traditional and modern, are Spring Breakers in a nutshell. It’s a wild, entertaining and vibrant movie with an underbelly of tension and purpose.
At times Spring Breakers pops with energy and excitement. It then dives into much more intense drama. The tones, like those of the score, sometimes clash. But often the oddfellows mesh beautifully, making us question why this film is the way it is: a fever dream of drugs, sex and violence. The answer brings to light some tough questions about society’s core beliefs. Read More »
“What does Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons do when he goes home at night?” At a post-film Q&A for the role playing game dramedy Zero Charisma, co-director Katie Graham suggested that question, which is wrapped in so much potential comedy and tragedy, as a perfect description of the film. She couldn’t be more right.
Written and co-directed by Andrew Matthews, Zero Charisma premiered at the 2013 South by Southwest Film Festival this week. It stars Sam Eidson as Scott, an overweight nerd who prides himself on being the Game Master of his weekly tabletop role playing game. The game isn’t Dungeons and Dragons, however, it’s a game of his own design. Scott focuses almost all his energy on it. So much so, that the game stands in for any semblance of a social life or career.
That scenario could have been played strictly for laughs or strictly for tears. Yet Matthews’ script and the performances he and Graham get from the actors help the film expertly tiptoe the line between the two. Scott’s story creates moments of hilarity and pathos, resulting in a relatable, complex film that explores what it means to be uncool. Read More »
When you watched Evil Dead II, did you feel pain when Bruce Campbell cut off his own hand, not because of any empathy for the horror, but because Sam Raimi didn’t show the chainsaw actually hitting flesh? If so, then stop reading and order a ticket to Evil Dead, because Fede Alvarez‘s remake is the movie for you. Drenched in gore, the movie doesn’t ever flinch away from violence.
Raimi’s original The Evil Dead was calculated to appeal to drive-in audiences, but his irrepressible personality shone through the exploitation effort. With star Bruce Campbell and producer Robert Tapert, he produced a blend of horror and physical comedy — splatstick, working from an underlying principle that proclaimed “the gore, the merrier!” — that had obvious roots in Three Stooges and Buster Keaton comedies. Raimi, Campbell, and Tapert set out to make the screen run red with blood, but ended up creating something more unique than another horror quickie.
All of which is preamble to set up the fact that Fede Alvarez’s skill with effects shines in his own Evil Dead. But look away from the gore and you’ll see a confused movie that lurches in different directions from one step to the next. It barely establishes a personality of its own beyond the brutal gore. Appropriately for a film that traffics in bodily dismemberment, Evil Dead ’13 is less than the sum of its parts. Read More »
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