Fresh off the heels of Contagion, Steven Soderbergh delivers Haywire, a lean government spy story. What drives the film are its action sequences, driven by mixed martial arts star Gina Carano’s abilityto kick and jum and crush throats with her thighs. The film also reunites Soderbergh with writer Lem Dobbs, responsible for penning one of the director’s best films, The Limey. Like The Limey, Haywire is a bare-bones genre flick that depends on its ability to play with convention in a way that’s more reminiscent of Shoot the Piano Player than Pulp Fiction. (more…)
by Brian Barth
Shame, dir. Steve McQueen (2011)
All of the stars were aligning for Shame to be my newest favorite film about destructive addiction.
I entered the theater with an enduring respect and trust for McQueen, and I had been nursing a relatively significant man-crush on Michael Fassbender for the past year. At the risk of sounding dismissive, Shame was overall disappointing, with jigsaw gems shining discreetly within an overly-fragmented narrative.
by Adam Hirsch
Green Lantern, dir. Martin Campbell (2011)
Full disclosure: the Green Lantern is my favorite comic book hero.
So I’m giving Green Lantern the benefit of the doubt, the benefit of the heart, because it’s a rare film that refuses to cross the line into cheap gags and cynicism and this film refuses to do either. Most people who’ve seen it dismiss it as hokey, and just plain bad, but there seems to be a depth that Green Lantern aims for and, well, misses. (more…)
Terrence Malick has made five films in thirty-eight years. All of his films are recognized critically as masterpieces. Keeping with that tradition, his most recent film The Tree of Life won top honors at the Cannes film festival last month. Speaking about the film, head of the Cannes jury Robert DeNiro said, “It had the size, the importance, the intention, whatever you want to call it, that seemed to fit the prize.” DeNiro’s offhand comment is invaluable to deciphering how this film has steadily risen, without much apparent consideration, to a respectable position within the pantheon of contemporary American filmmaking.
The movie is basically the story of Malick’s Texan youth in the 1950s, intercut with glossy meditations on the history of life on Earth. Sean Penn, playing the older version of the young boy we see constantly intimidated by his father (Brad Pitt), wanders awed and aimlessly through a gleaming present-day metropolis. There is a quiet voiceover, often whispered, presumably because only serious things are whispered. As with any of Malick’s films, bizarre moments are captured with a grace that makes them undeniably appealing. In one scene a band of young, directionless boys destructively wander the hinterlands of their hometown; a father intensely urges his son to hit him as the camera floats gently before their faces; children frolic in clouds of hazardous DDT.
What sets these sequences apart from the rest of the film is their total honesty. They don’t defer to clichéd images that stink of Planet Earth—they instead capture the weirdness of being young, the inanities of fatherhood, strange moments that are genuinely past. Even if these aren’t real memories, they’re still something known, something felt, something represented.
However, the elements of the film that haves garnered most praise, confusion, and appreciation are the sequences concerning the origins of life. (more…)
J.J. Abrams Super 8 is a movie banking on the nostalgia of the Spielberg era of innocent American filmmaking. It seeks to appeal, I gather, not necessarily to kids and teens looking to cool off and get some thrills, but instead to their parents, who remember with fondness ET and The Goonies. What makes Super 8 more successful than other recent kidcentric adventure movies, though, is not its relationship to Spielberg’s action-comedies and science fiction dramas—unless that relationship is understood primarily in terms of historical setting. The movie’s 1979 setting is not an accident, nor is it pure homage. Instead, it’s the only way J.J. Abrams could possibly make a movie that doesn’t involve little kids interacting with computers, cellular phones, and the other assorted technical artifacts that keep kids from actually doing interesting things on screen. (more…)
Less of a review, more of a reflection.
Broadcast News, dir. James L. Brooks (1987)
Probably few of you remember this irritable writer complaining that The Criterion Collection had opted to release James L. Brooks’ 1987 Broadcast News instead of putting out “more Godard.” It seemed like a fair pronouncement at the time, one that few people would disagree with. Then I saw Broadcast News. (more…)
by Brian Barth
Le Quattro Volte, dir. Michaelangelo Frammartino (2011)
When A. O. Scott says that a film “reinvents the very act of perception,” you listen.
Michaelangelo Frammartino’s Le Quattro Volte (2011), is the most transfixing and profound narrative I have seen in years. The film structures itself around the four modes of transmigration (an ancient model of reincarnation); a soul wanders from man, to animal, to vegetable, to mineral. An old man trades his goats milk for dust swept up in a church in order to delay his death. Eventually he passes, and we follow his process of transmigration. For such a simple story (that has no dialogue whatsoever), it might seem odd to commend the writing, but any filmmaker that can weave a riveting story while forcing the viewer only to watch understands screenwriting in its truest form. The camera does all the talking.
The cinematography is disturbingly objective: think Robert Gardner without the narration. After the first cycle, you actually start to feel like a spirit, witnessing humanity as a species and people as animals. We scan around the old town up in the mountains; Andrea Locatelli’s camera is often perched on top of houses, hills, steeples. We’re not serenely floating as much as hovering, with a nagging feeling of menace; the next second we’re shocked by the most suffocatingly subjective camera–we are buried in the center of a pile of ash, sealed into a stone tomb or built into a wooden conflagration. In the final stage, we are released. We are smoke and ash. We sweep over the forest where his favorite tree was, we brush the field where his goats fed and we snake through his old mountain town.
What this film capitalizes on so successfully is the simple pleasure of watching. Much like the beginning of There Will Be Blood or Wall-E, it’s comforting when a director forces you to watch. It’s an act of confidence: “I know what I’m doing, just let me show you.” Its effect in Le Quattro Volte is that and more. There are only a few things in the film that place us in time; otherwise this story could have happened hundreds of years ago. In the terms of transmigration, it absolutely has. It’s happening all the time.
The Fighter, dir. David O. Russell (2010)
The most impressive thing about The Fighter is its dedication to media reenactment. For the film’s boxing matches the filmmakers looked not only to acquire the actual cameras on which those matches were filmed, they acquired the original HBO crews to recreate, shot for shot, Micky Ward’s fights. From my description, you might think that what emerges is something annoying in its quest for authenticity. Yet the performances—from Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, and Amy Adams—are so strong in their own right that they maintain aesthetic reenactments while steering clear of cheap imitation. (more…)
Somewhere, dir. Sofia Coppola (2010)
Richard Brody—a critic whom I respect—said of Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere that it was “One of the most radical films ever made in Hollywood, if the root of the cinema is the conjuring of inner life through outer particulars. The gap between the life lived and the life perceived—a quiet tragedy, Sartre-style—is traversed with the tender, near-weightless glide of a Ferrari on a freeway.” I thought about Brody’s assessment of the film for a long time after I saw it. Aside from being simple amazed with Brody’s coining of the term Sartre-style to refer to an aesthetic, I wondered if we could have seen the same film: I would hardly call Somewhere, with its by now clichéd neo-Antonioni visual metaphors strained through Stephen Shore cinematography, radical.
True Grit, dir. Joel & Ethan Coen (2010)
My previous opinions on this blog can attest to my cagey relationship with the Coen Brothers. Some films—like The Big Lebowski—stand out as undeniably great, while others—anything from Miller’s Crossing to No Country for Old Men—seem a little too content with their supposed perfection for me to find them genuinely good. True Grit, though, appears to demonstrate a new direction for the Coen Brothers. (more…)
Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps (2010), dir. Oliver Stone
23 years ago, Wall Street had it all: fat ties and golden tie buttons, suspenders, cocaine, Daryl Hannah. It consumed the zeitgeist of the 80s and spat it back out with cold venom. No one can forget how gaunt Gordon Gekko was—he looked like he should have had the heaviest shadows under his eyes (but this was Hollywood and of course he had nothing of the sort).
There are so many Gordon Gekkos that have come out of our culture—people who swallow the cruelty of a generation wholesale and spit it out with extra fire–but just because Gekko is a type doesn’t mean we’ve had one in a while. While the 80s were easy to embody, to critique, and be dissatisfied with, Bush was too much of a buffoon for anyone to really do anything but groan. Haven’t you missed Gekko? I have. (more…)
by Jake Teresi
At the NYFF premiere I attended, director Charles Ferguson said he set out to make Inside Job a “blockbuster” of documentaries, a film suited for mass consumption so as to be a call-to-arms. Certainly the B-roll he meshes between talking heads – sweeping, infinitesimally textured pans of the NYC skyline, sprawling factories, all shot on the RED – is as gorgeously epic as anything shot in the last couple years, and the beautiful score is no afterthought, but I still fear the film may be too dense to reach the same population that has swallowed up 2012 and Clash of the Titans in droves.
That’s not all a bad thing. (more…)
by Brian Barth
The Tillman Story (Amir Bar-Lev, 2010)
What a pleasant surprise!
What a horrible way to start this review. This is an infuriating film.
I had heard nothing about this film, but it gave me a lot to think about. The Tillman Story retells Pat Tillman’s decision to abandon his multimillion-dollar football contract in order to serve in the US Army in Afghanistan in 2002. Already a national football star, Tillman’s decision attracted a fair amount of press, but only in his death did he become a household name. The film examines how Tillman’s death was taken by the government and spun into a pro-war media spectacle. Tillman was depicted as an American hero, who died in an intense firefight with the opposition, when in reality he died by friendly fire.
by Brian Barth
Get Low (Aaron Schneider, 2009)
Yesterday was Sunday, September 26, and in my mind, the first fully realized day of fall. As I was riding to the Landmark Theater in Kendall to catch the 1:25 showing of Get Low, I saw that the humble Boston skyline was subdued under the thick cover of clouds. The muted gray seeped into everything, and though the summer smoldered it had lost contrast and color. What better time is there to turn to film, which in itself is just color and contrast? A descending day of white and gray is the perfect world to abandon for another; it is a variable, where nothing is being missed.
by Brian Barth
The Town (Ben Affleck, 2010)
I’m always cautious of films made about Boston, and while Affleck makes sure to wear his location-specific windbreakers (Celtics, Red Sox, Bruins, Patriots) he sheds them after about the fifth scene and I felt a little less summarized. The accents are all there, too, which is probably thanks to endless coaching from Affleck. And I’m not going to lie, it was awesome watching my block in the North End get blown up in a car chase and seeing my apartment in most of the wide shots; I loved my direct connection to the setting.
by Matt Paley
Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010)
Leaving Inception yesterday, my cousin and I made for the Exit door immediately below the screen. Walking briskly down the subsequent staircase, we found ourselves finally at an Emergency Exit door that wouldn’t open. An architectural dead-end.
Inception–sort of a millennium generation answer to The Matrix– is about fantasy worlds within the mind, and the tenuous grip that people who indulge in fantasy maintain on reality. In the requisite exposition-heavy section of the movie, as Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) explain the rules of Inception‘s world to newbie dream-architect Ariadne (Ellen Page), they demonstrate how the architects of their brand of manipulated dreams cut corners through spacial paradoxes and architectural dead-ends. Much like the hidden limitations of a video game world, the horizon isn’t infinite. (more…)
Iron Man 2, dir. Jon Favreau (2010)
Nothing in Iron Man 2 seems old: like the arc reactor in Tony Stark’s chest, everything glows for no reason. The screens with which Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) interacts throughout the film go past physical presence and become the very air of Stark’s workshop, which he can manipulate with his touch. He not only tells robots what to do, he is himself a robot. It becomes difficult to stop thinking you’re watching The Jetsons. (more…)
The Hurt Locker, dir. Katheryn Bigelow (2009)
The Hurt Locker opens with a quotation from a book by the journalist Chris Hedges called War is a Force that Gives us Meaning. “The rush of battle,” Hedges writes, “is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” (more…)
The White Ribbon, dir. Michael Haneke (2009)
A friend once told me: “keep with highbrow, but distrust respectable.” I’ve always found it a useful dictum. When thinking about Michael Haneke’s latest film—the one that took the Palme D’Or at Cannes—nothing comes to mind more than respectable. The film manages to achieve a level of nauseating respectability on par with Schindler’s List, featuring pensive black and white photography, truthfully cinematic long takes, eastern European austerity, classical music, and a self-important relationship to historical events. These clichéd cues, somehow, seem to have been enough to satisfy hoards of hungry film critics around the world who appreciate mature, elegant, and adult filmmaking from Haneke. (more…)
Shutter Island, dir. Martin Scorsese (2010)
As Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo approach Shutter Island by ferry, what strikes us is the sky: it goes on forever in a way that anyone from Boston knows is impossible, and the artificiality of the colors and the actors makes it clear that this isn’t Changeling or Schindler’s List. This is the past of film, not a film of the past, and it’s clear that Scorsese is taking his cues from Samuel Fuller’s camp experiments as much as Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological obsessions, tossed with a dose of Hiroshima Mon Amour. (more…)
by Jake Teresi
Fish Tank, dir. Andrea Arnold (2010)
There are movies I see every once and a while that remind me why I watch in the first place. If that seems clichéd, let me assure you that Andrea Arnold’s second feature, Fish Tank, is not. Here is what we hope for and rarely get: urgency without manipulation, intimacy without bland sentiment, shock without exploitation. (more…)
by Brian Barth
The Lovely Bones (Peter Jackson, 2009)
While I was touring in NYC with my band last week, I took some downtime and went to go see The Lovely Bones. $12.85 later, I find myself in a theater with about 25 seats and a screen no bigger than a Jimmy Hendrix wall hanging. Whatever, it’s New York.
I was concerned at first that I would need to be completely enveloped by this film in order to enjoy it’s overwhelming visuals and super dramatic content. Fortunately, I was wrong. (more…)