The lasting mystery of “Transcendence” is why it fails so completely, starting with its title. It could have been called a dozen other things, including “Singularity,” “Technophobia,” “Perturbia,” “Who, Me, Frankenstein?” or, maybe, “An Inconvenient Bust.” The first feature by cinematographer Wally Pfister (“Inception,” “Moneyball,” “The Dark Knight Rises”) suffers from a script aiming for present-tense future shock that mashes up an unholy hybrid of movies past and clichés everlasting, notably “The Lawnmower Man” and “An Inconvenient Truth.” Eight, ten minutes in the only hope was for the movie to gain a pulse and become deliciously bad. I slouched further in my seat. [Plot details follow.]
After a February screening in Boston, a questioner led Errol Morris to this insight about the circumlocutions of the subject of his latest film, Donald Rumsfeld: he speaks fluent Jabberwocky. Rumsfeld prides himself on his history of battering underlings by memo, dictating his every scrap of inkling of thought, tens of thousands of them, soft, insistent patterning of conviction onto others, via what he calls “snowflakes.” This led Morris to tweet his own perfected snowflake: “All mimsy were the unknown borogoves And the known mome raths outgrabe.” Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem runs a mere 167 words, but “The Unknown Known,” Errol Morris’ interrogation of George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense and a principal architect of the most recent, failed Iraq War, runs 105 minutes (drawn from thirty-three hours of interview). For Rumsfeld, language is for self-justification, obfuscation and condescension. Reciting memos, recollecting memories, Rumsfeld is steadfast and unflurried: this is how it occurred. Read the rest of this entry »
My first exposure to Jim Jarmusch’s magical “Only Lovers Left Alive” was in thrall to jetlag, and I got its vivid, if woozy sense of the circularity of life, art, dance and the revolution of 45rpm records against the desolation of Detroit, Tangier and a musician’s gear-decked digs. What goes around goes around. And goes around. Five months later, clear-headed, early in the morning, his romance between two undead lovers of words and music, Eve and Adam (Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston), took the shape of something better, greater, and perhaps the bard of the Lower East Side’s most personal and finest film. Superficially a vampire story—and one that portrays the soft rush of ingested blood like the hard rush of injected heroin—“Only Lovers Left Alive” is also a moving meditation on shifting roles in long-term relationships, on “zombie” culture outside the cluttered, cloistered lair, on the eternal promise and disappointment of youth. Read the rest of this entry »
Based on Alice Munro’s short story “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage,” Liza Johnson’s indie drama-comedy “Hateship Loveship” shows a side of Kristen Wiig that’s always been in plain sight. Under the exterior of a comedienne, with crack timing, has always nestled the heart of a Serious Actress. She invests. But as Johanna, a shy woman introduced into a complicated Iowa household as a caregiver, Wiig is surrounded by an all-star cast of short-story-style eccentrics and needy, damaged souls that outshine her crabbed performance. Ordinariness doesn’t suit Wiig: Johnson’s understated progression of incidents in her story seems hardly to have a dramatic pulse.
Jonathan Glazer’s third feature, and his first in nearly a decade, “Under The Skin,” reduces Michel Faber’s 300-page-plus 2000 novel to a quintessence: how would an alien see our world if it were to walk among us, if it were to hijack a human form and harvest us by exploiting elemental desire?
The form the unnamed creature assumes is Scarlett Johansson’s, and in the production and post-production of the movie, plot and narrative peeled away in favor of sound and image, and the alien’s encounters on the real-life streets and nearby beaches of Glasgow, Scotland. It’s maximal minimalism, of the kind of heightened sensation you’d expect from the maker of “Sexy Beast” and “Birth.” In a way, his character is the ultimate consumer, shopping for men among the faces on the street, who will be literally taken by desire?
“Oh, yeah?” Glazer says, smiling slightly, on a recent Chicago visit. Then she is, too, as she begins to take pity on her prey. “Yeah, there is something interesting about the fact that for someone to live, someone else has to die.” Read the rest of this entry »
What was it Senator Franken’s Stuart Smalley character used to say? “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.” In the amiable, heartfelt “Cuban Fury,” Nick Frost takes on the “good enough” mantle. As Bruce Garrett, a large-sized man with an underscaled ego, Frost has a go at an increasingly rare manner of affable, feel-good character comedy. At thirteen, he was set to win the UK’s Junior Salsa Championships, but in the twenty-five years since, he’s become a self-pitying office mouse. The arrival of Julia, a new, American boss (Rashida Jones) perks Bruce up, especially once he learns she’s, well, a secret salsa dancer. Add complications from bullying co-worker Chris O’Dowd and, among other character actors, Ian McShane as his childhood dance instructor, and the genial everyman-Superman story finds its shape. Read the rest of this entry »
The world of David Gordon Green’s “Joe” is all I ever knew and feared of my upbringing. Not my family, no, but some of my extended extended family, cousins second and third removed, and certainly in the lanes and miles that radiated outward from this small blot on the countryside. I did not come from those people in Kentucky but they lived down the road only a piece. Based on a novel by late Mississippi hardscrabble writer Larry Brown, and adapted by Gary Hawkins, a former professor of Green and director of “The Rough South Of Larry Brown,” Green encapsulates the ragged raw character of a stripe of dispossessed rural whites, their expressed, spoken condition as near an ache as to vernacular poetry. (In its obituary of Brown, the New York Times called the writer a chronicler of “the painful hope of the rural poor.”) Joe, played by Nicolas Cage in full ripe melancholy, is an ex-con who pines nearly every day for the sanctity and sanity of life behind bars. Read the rest of this entry »
Ugh, kids. Ugh, indie films. Ugh, solemn indie films with kids. There’s an earned reaction that’s so easy to dispense with when a small glory like Daniel Patrick Carbone’s offhand, hazy amazement “Hide Your Smiling Faces” rockets out of nowhere. In daylight amid trickling water and lush greenery (shot in rural New Jersey), a boy’s body is found, and in the summer two come, two brothers steep in fixation on how the child, younger than them, came to die. Tommy (Ryan Jones) is nine, and Eric (Nathan Varnson) is fourteen. Brothers, friends, seekers of mystery amid hush and things that are hidden. The boys have their own secrets in this rustic, foreboding glade. Snakes gobble, dead things appear, a gun recurs. Read the rest of this entry »
A filthy, nasty thrill ride, “Cheap Thrills” is the rudest defense of Traditional American Values in all too long. Brazen post-Haneke-Pinter-Tarantino misanthropy runs deep in a gutter. Man wakes up in the morning, he’s forgotten his dreams of being a writer, his wife and young child beside him—“The past six months have been amazing, I love the shit out of you”—as he sets out on his work day, finds an eviction notice on the front door over almost $5,000 in back rent, which he crumples on his way to his machine shop job, where he’s quickly “downsized.” So, down to the bar, where he (stolid yet supple everyman Pat Healy) runs into a disreputable cohort of five years back (Ethan Embry) just as he’s had enough of a snootful to face his family. Enter: a couple on her birthday (Sara Paxton, the unhinged but wondrously controlled, controlling David Koechner), with a pocket full of cash and increasingly humiliating, then mutilating “Jackass”-style challenges, first at the tavern, and later at their fine home overlooking the mute, glittering panoply of Los Angeles by night. All that happens is bloody and fucking awful and it’s a wondrous display. Read the rest of this entry »
“On your left,” Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) says on a run, rushing past a man who will become one of his closest allies in the warfare to come in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” For someone who will never master the intricacies of the “Marvel universe” of cross-pollinated properties and storylines, an almost immediate satisfaction in the fine craft of directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (“Community,” “You, Me And Dupree”) came from how closely allied this superhero adventure is to 1970s American movies, down to the superb casting of Robert Redford, the face of 1970s paranoia classics like “Three Days Of The Condor,” “The Candidate” and “All The President’s Men,” as the enforcer of 2010s universal spying on the world’s citizenry. Read the rest of this entry »