Friday, September 28, 2012

NYFF DIARY: My love (and hate) for 'Life of Pi'

Hello all once again, checking in for the first time since my move to Film Misery. In that time I have written many challenging pieces, one most recently which was my review of Ang Lee's 'Life of Pi'. The film had the ceremonious honour of being the first press screening I have attended in my life, and the act of seeing so many critics I had only known in an online context was a jarring one. It may sound odd, but not yet being a paid member of the press and being around so many of them was profoundly humanizing. Suddenly they're not figures or opinions, but people. Everything clicks in that precise moment.

Unfortunately I was not so lucky in receiving 'Life of Pi', Ang Lee's adaptation of the popular Yann Martel novel. Many a director has had their fingers in this, ranging from M. Night Shyamalan to Alfonso Cuaron, but it ultimately fell to Lee. Ang Lee is an interesting choice for the project, not merely for his visually unassuming work in prior films, but more for his fusion of storytelling and filmmaking. He's committed himself to the telling of other peoples' stories, and while that works better for 'Life of Pi' than it did for 'Hulk', it's not without its difficulties.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Follow us to Film Misery!

"Today is the first day of the rest of your life." - Lester Burnham, or Walter White. I never saw that poster.

I hope you've all been enjoying the output this week, because it's the last time you'll be seeing so much new writing on the site for a while, if ever. Just over two weeks ago I sent in an application to write for a new site. On Monday I got word back. Today, if official. I am a new member of the staff of Film Misery, headed up by Alex Carlson, senior edited by Justin Jagoe, writing alongside already strong fixtures, Davin Lacksonen, Vincenzo Tagle, and joining the game with fellow newcomers Hilary Kissinger and G Clark Finfrock. I know! All those names are totally awesome! Not to mention Phil Koller, who often hosts the podcast with Alex.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Television Review: "Breaking Bad" Season 5

The opening teaser of every season of Breaking Bad has often been indicative of the season to follow. The first season kickoff of Walter on the side of the road, gun in hand and trousers inexplicably gone, simple as it may be, still establishes the show's comedic hard-glass tone. Season 2's disturbing image of a half scorched teddy bear, while simultaneously teasing a Season 4 finale death, also displays how mangled something seemingly harmless can become (Jesse. Walt. Take your pick.). Season 3 is about Walter White, the legend Heisenberg, and the interests in such legend. Season 4 took us into the past, displaying a character (or perhaps all three characters) who witlessly is/are signing his/their own death warrant(s).

Season 5, touted as the final season in two parts but is narratively complete as two separate seasons, begins with a wild leap into the future. Walter is alive, hair atop his head, on the lam with a fake name, turning 52, and picking up a cache of assault rifles as his birthday gift. It's a riddle that isn't answered overtly by episode's end, nor in the seven subsequent episodes, though its implicitly significant throughout the season. It's a place-marker of where Walter White is irretrievably headed, and by the close of the premiere titled Live Free or Die, we think we know the answer. Season 5 is about Heisenberg's rise to power and inadvertent reign of terror.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Film Review: "Compliance"

As another insidious prankster said in a 2008 crime thriller, "Let's wind the clocks back a year." Around this time we were in a relatively similar position of the year, be it with more reasons for hope than this year has given us. I'm rather confident that Hope Springs is no The Help, and Dredd 3D is likely no Drive, but 2012 has found its equivalent to a film that released around this period of last year. Steven Soderbergh's Contagion was, as usual for the director, a tight mainstream propelled thriller with ace atmospherics and a stylistic coda to keep to. More than anything, however, it was a case study in a subject that we suddenly could not stop thinking about.

Where Soderbergh's film had me squirming all over in realization of the abundance of germs shortly afterwards, Compliance raises a not quite so immediate post-screening reaction. The impact of the film isn't so much one that can be felt at face value, and the effect of it is not what it achieves onscreen, but what it has the audience poring over in retrospect.

VENICE 2012: "Something in the Air" both flies & falters

"The Master" and "To the Wonder" may have flown above the radar for the directorial cred Paul Thomas Anderson and Terrence Malick carry with them, but Venice's most promising feature comes from a less renowned expert director. Olivier Assayas may be on the outside of common knowledge, but the sublime "Summer Hours" and insane thrills of "Carlos" have put him on the map, even if audiences aren't quite headed his way yet. His latest, "Something in the Air" is receiving something of a mixed reaction, not in that it is a "love it or hate it" affair, but that the most prevalent complaint has been of less than astounding characters. Praise is still going inexorably towards Assayas, and it's worth stating that this will be one to watch for, even if simply in passing.
Justin Chang (Variety): "Decidedly not revolutionary cinema, "Something in the Air" instead quietly demystifies its subject. The tone of the piece is wryly affectionate but never indulgent; the experiences depicted feel emotionally true and lived-in without ever catching the viewer up in a rush of intoxication or excitement. Eschewing the handheld restlessness of Assayas' recent films, d.p. Eric Gautier's luminous, sun-dappled compositions remain as steady as the editing by Luc Barnier and Mathilde Van de Moortel, which compounds the film's slightly muted feel with regular fade-ins and fade-outs."

Sunday, September 2, 2012

VENICE 2012: "To the Wonder" stuns, but why the booing?

I don't think anybody truly expected Terrence Malick's "To the Wonder" to be received in a negative fashion on the critical front, but what the hell is with the booing over in Venice? Even at my most blatantly pissed off, I never express vocal disappointment at a film screening. As a matter of fact, I don't say a word, letting the film get all the attention from everyone in the audience as I can give. The reviews that have found their way to us since the film's screening in Venice have been quite resoundingly positive, so the reason for all this booing is beyond me. All the same, a film that retrieves such a vocal response from a room of "professionals" almost immediately demands attention.
Guy Lodge (In Contention): "One could wonder why a director as famously indifferent to actors (and commerce) as Malick -- Rachel Weisz's role, incidentally, has been given the old Adrien Brody heave-ho here -- continues to hire such big-name actors. (You might think he of all directors would be in favor of non-pro casts.) The combined attractiveness of this star quartet runs the risk of making the film's least integrated or resonant sequences -- those in which Bardem wearily calls on all manner of buck-toothed, poverty-stricken local parishioners -- the teeniest bit condescending to boot. Even this faint absurdity, however, seems parcelled up in Malick's restless, tender, unfashionable quest for beauty in its highest physical and spiritual forms." 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

VENICE 2012: "The Master" unveils to resounding positivity

The word's been out on Paul Thomas Anderson's latest for nearly a month now, thanks to some less than covert 70 mm screenings intended to get it seen first in its proper format. This morning saw "The Master"'s more or less official premiere in Venice, which brings the already positive word further to the front of the conversation. In two weeks the film will have its release in New York and Los Angeles before expanding to the rest of us the following Friday, but the encouraging, if somewhat beguiled, reaction to the film makes the short wait a more manageable feat. 
Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter): "In a film overflowing with qualities but also brimming with puzzlements, two things stand out: the extraordinary command of cinematic technique, which alone is nearly enough to keep a connoisseur on the edge of his seat the entire time, and the tremendous portrayals by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman of two entirely antithetical men, one an unlettered drifter without a clue, the other an intellectual charlatan who claims to have all the answers. They become greatly important to each other and yet, in the end, have an oddly negligible mutual effect. The magesterial style, eerie mood and forbidding central characters echo Anderson's previous film, There Will Be Blood, a kinship furthered by another bold and discordant score by Jonny Greenwood."

Friday, August 31, 2012

VENICE 2012: Bahrani's "At Any Price" receives positivity, despite booing

As the Venice slate slowly starts ramping up, the critical reactions we have received in the meantime have largely been a conflicted thing. It started with a mildly despondent reaction to Mira Nair's "The Reluctant Fundamentalist", and continues today with a more positivity tinted reaction to a film that has already been met with "boo"s. That happens to be Ramin Bahrani's heavily American "At Any Price", starring an unlikely cast of Zac Efron, Dennis Quaid, and Heather Graham. When a festival feature is met with vocal or physical negativity, such as those who felt the need to leave the "Alps" screening last year, I rarely go in the other direction. The reviews too haven't given as much reason to avoid as reason to adjust expectations, which were malleable in the first place.
Justin Chang (Variety): "The fastidiousness of this sociological inquiry is undeniably impressive, even if it sometimes puts a stranglehold on spontaneity, as in the emergence of a dark third-act twist. The way Bahrani deals with the fallout is at once vaguely unsatisfying and admirably bold in its lack of moral resolution, casting a long shadow of deceit and injustice over the sun-dappled pastoral imagery that closes the picture. Yet the film's truer, more generous heart may rest in an earlier sequence of the characters singing the National Anthem together, their off-key voices isolated one by one, an authentic expression of faith in a community's ability to weather any storm."

Weekend Forecast: "Lawless" leads a decreasing slate

Though this weekend touts one of the more pleasant surprises of the past couple months, it is something rather thin in terms of encouraging options at the multiplex. If by now you've already seen "ParaNorman" and "Lawless", and you're still looking for fresh mainstream options, you may very well be out luck. Of course "Lawless" only took in just over $2 million these past two days, so I will assume most are still uninitiated in the positive offerings of the feature. I've already effused on this rural slice of good-time entertainment, though I assume most will still turn a cold shoulder to the gangster film, leading to a sturdy, though not spectacular, box office take.

So where else to go than to another typical horror flick in "The Possession". It saddens me to think that is where the momentum is heading this labor day. As much as films like "The American" and "The Constant Gardener" got more appropriate exposure here than elsewhere, it's been more positive to films like the "Halloween" remake and "Transporter 2". Expect most to tune into the Jeffrey Dean Morgan starring horror offering, though not a massive amount. Labor Day still isn't that major a holiday to merit blockbuster considerations.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Film Review: "Lawless"

No wonder Cannes didn't warm to John Hillcoat's latest, beyond the simple feeling that it's cut from the crop of Sundance. "Lawless" is the anti-gangster film, at least in that the confident and macho persona that most characters of this film take on is more of a smokescreen for some honestly pathetic human weakness. Don't let the "true story" prestige fool you, as this is much more an adaptation of a novel than it is the story of the Bondurant brothers. Shia Labeouf's commemorative narration gives assurances of that from the beginning, and calls to mind another narrator propelled feature from a year ago, "The Help".

That unlikely feature would go on to Oscar glory, which is more than can be expected from "Lawless". That's not to say that Hillcoat's latest is lacking in comparison. In fact quite the opposite, in much the same way as films like "Drive" and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" were too genre oriented for the Academy's taste. Hillcoat and writer Nick Cave (who also scores the film) are not intent on thrusting the audience into the world of prohibition-era in a rural landscape. This isn't conventionally a history lesson, which would probably pin the film's more exciting inclinations and rob it of a degree of intensity.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Films to see in 2012: September

September again, and you know what that means. Back to school, the fall festivals, and the full fledged kickoff of the Oscar film season. Today (August 29th) gets things moving in that third category with "Lawless", though it's become rather unlikely for that film to hold interest all the way to nominations morning. Next weekend pulls the month in with just as tepid a slate of releases, mostly (if not entirely) consisting of "The Words", a Bradley Cooper-Jeremy Irons drama about stolen glory. That seems much more sympathetic an awards play than this week's bid, and I can't imagine it prospering in box office or critical interest.

The following weekend should prove profitable in terms of box office returns, as it brings horror-action sequel "Resident Evil: Retribution" and the 3D re-release of Pixar classic "Finding Nemo". Not taking a look at the latter is unimaginable, given not only the emotional rollercoaster it consistently offers on repeat viewings, but to see how the visuals translate to a 3D representation. Another 3D offerings that I confess myself guilty of wanting desperately to see is "Dredd 3D", a film which has every reason to be awful, and yet has a promising genre quality to it. It seems the sort of project which could either turn out like "Legion" or "Immortals", or some conflicted combination of both. I expect the third option, but hope for the second.

VENICE 2012: Mira Nair's "Reluctant Fundamentalist" expectantly fizzles

The opening night feature at Venice Film Festival this year lost any weight or anticipation attached to it when it was announced that Mira Nair's latest, "The Reluctant Fundamentalist", would fill the spot. Last year wasn't exactly spectacular, but you could do a lot worst than the atmospherics of George Clooney's "The Ides of March". Ringing in the festival with a primarily negative response is rarely an encouraging notion, and I'll admit that I have worrisome suspicions regarding the rest of the festival. All those aside, at some point things will be picking up in some way. I can't imagine any of the three major European festivals without even a single resounding standout.
Guy Lodge (In Contention): The Mira Nair of "Mississippi Masala" would have found sufficient dramatic fire and urgency in the protagonist's ample personal conflicts with his family, his colleagues and his lover to make such a stakes-raising gambit redundant; as it is, all the film's characters are straw men in an argument as promisingly heated and finally un-nuanced as those between Anna Paquin's naively righteous Lisa and an opposingly impassioned Middle Eastern classmate in Kenneth Lonergan's "Margaret." That, incidentally, is a film that spoke no less provocatively, and a lot more subtly, about the see-sawing burdens of guilt and martyrdom in post-9/11 America -- without ever being as strenuously About Things as Nair's sporadically stimulating misfire."