Alex Ross Perry excels at assholes. Impenitent, intransigent, intelligent, intolerable assholes. In his black comedy of family relations and toxic romance, “The Color Wheel,” (2011) he even plays the male lead, to disarmingly appalling effect. In Raya Martin and Mark Peranson’s “La última película,” Perry plays a post-Dennis Hopper American drifting in and out of Mexican villages and landscapes to shambling effect. But his third feature finds uncommon, remorseless focus in its portrait of two driven writers from two generations who intend immortality for their words, but also to out-Philip Roth Philip Roth at every potential antagonistic bad-boy, bad-man turn. Listen up, indeed: while “The Color Wheel” drew on the inspiration of Roth’s work, Perry cites the novelist William Gaddis as a great influence on this film and its jaundiced view of artists’ behavior. There’s incendiary comedy in the fierce hostility of young-ish New York writer Philip, and Jason Schwartzman, also a specialist in intelligent but hostile male characters, with streaks of sweetness beneath misguided cruelty, has invested himself in a role among roles. Philip is his own truest antagonist, and he’s pitted against his literary idol Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce), who offers him the use of a summer home upstate to complete a project. Read the rest of this entry »
A rollicking meeting of Hitchcock’s “Rope” and Jimmy Kimmel’s couch, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “Birdman Or: (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” [punctuation sic] sizzles, scintillates, teases, taunts, barks, brays, preens and careens as a simulated single-take of almost two hours, sending up showbiz and its shallowness in profane if shallow style, but also the fractured, electrically flawed brain of its middle-aged protagonist, washed-up screen actor turned Broadway debutante Riggan Thomson (a fine, furious Michael Keaton). Thomson’s adapted, directed and stars in his own rendition of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” It sounds like a bad idea, but in the acting and enacting, it’s a terrible one. Opening with credits that ape the font and fashion of high-pop 1960s Godard movies, propelled by a smashing, crashing percussive beat like that of a Times Square street-corner drummer, “Birdman” is self-reflexive, self-important, overwrought, half-baked and completely glorious.
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Shameless? Fuck yeah! Writer-director Theodore Melfi’s “St. Vincent” (a script born as “St. Vincent De Van Nuys”) stars Bill Murray as an elderly, whiskey-brined war veteran who keeps his cards close to his chest, seeming like the grumpiest of neighbors in the dumpiest of houses, but whose secret inner life will slowly be teased out only by the efforts of one clever young lad, Oliver (prehensile straight man Jaeden Lieberher), who moves in next door to him in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York. Tooled within an inch of its precious life, Melfi’s cliché-dandling script pushes buttons in the most satisfying ways, wringing both laughs and unlikely tears from the meeting of man and child, of man and boy who will, of course, become a fantastic man after a series of adventures—racetrack, tavern—that pass for babysitting. But with a few lightly R-rated, filthy jokes in between. The sixty-four-year-old Murray works his magic as a figure who exemplifies dignity through douchebaggery—That’s Mister Misanthrope to you—but the great fortune of the script, and of viewers, is its function as a platform for Murray’s effortless grace as a performer, as the most maximal of minimalists. Read the rest of this entry »
When a boy meta girl… The hyperbolic, galvanic, filthy-black-funny “Gone Girl” is multitudes. And it’s one of the most complexly disturbing movies about grownups fucking up sex in all too long. Sex, no, not sex, really, but power. Who has the fucking upper hand and who has the upper hand fucking? (Oh, the music in Rosamund Pike’s voice when her “Amazing Amy” first beds Nick (Ben Affleck) and says, as he tousles his face upon her lap in an act of assured cunnilingus, “Nick Dunne, I really like you.”) And every bit of it is so readily read into, and not limited to various and sundry accusations of misogyny in the narrative.
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“Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
By Ray Pride
Along with a hundred-plus features and shorts from around the world, the fiftieth edition of the Chicago International Film Festival includes notable appearances and master classes, including Michael Moore presenting his restored version of “Roger & Me,” a film that was nearly lost; producer-turned-online distributor Ted Hope talking about his memoir-manifesto, “Hope For Film,” and Oliver Stone, with a director’s cut of “Natural Born Killers” and “Alexander: Ultimate Edition,” a fourth version of his 2004 epic, reportedly with a warm handful of homoerotic content restored to its 207-minute duration. An Isabelle Huppert tribute will trail four features, including Michael Haneke’s “The Piano Teacher” and Claire Denis’ “White Material,” both shown in 35mm. Kathleen Turner will tell her truth, and eighty-one-year-old Hollywood Renaissance bright light Bob Rafelson will show his 1990 exploration epic “Mountains of the Moon” before presenting a master class to Columbia students, a rapscallion of a raconteur when I heard him speak a few years ago.
Notable locals include the world premiere of Chicago filmmaker Michael Caplan’s long-in-the-works “Algren” bio, as well as up-and-coming local auteur Stephen Cone’s “This Afternoon,” mingling his favored themes of sex and religion. Read the rest of this entry »
Shoestring Terry Gilliam is better than no Terry Gilliam at all, and in the sweetly mad master’s latest revision of dystopia takes on the pixel-kapow of corporate-designed image-drench and idea-blanch of the modern landscape of cities and man’s mind. Small-scale yet still baroque, the Bucharest-shot $13.8 million quickie, “The Zero Theorem” (written by Pat Rushin), still indulges Gilliam’s particular brand of dark whimsy and prickly paranoia. A chrome-domed, stressed and fretful Christoph Waltz plays Qohen Leth, a computer programmer who’s retired to a chapel in the midst of a bustling post-modern London metropolis, slaving day and night at a computer simulation he’s been employed to use to solve the “zero theorem.” He keeps at his drudgery while waiting for a mysterious phone call that seems may never come. The glimpses of the streets outside bustle like Piccadilly Circus merged with a midget version of Hong Kong Central, and branding and hectoring and overlapping voices battle of Qohen and the audience throughout. Read the rest of this entry »
Xavier Dolan by Clara Palardy.
Oft-expressed concerns about the “mainstreaming” of gay characters and subjects and how that would affect gay film festivals may be misplaced in the tectonic economic shifts of contemporary filmmaking and distribution. By advance word and by the range of subjects, the thirty-second edition of Reeling, like many other recent film festivals, looks like we may be in a brave new world of possibilities. A few I’ve liked: “Lilting,” with Ben Whishaw as a young gay man mourning a lover whose Cambodian mother did not know he was gay is low-key and touching, even more so in the light of Whishaw recently coming out. The intense psychological thriller, “Tom At The Farm” was made just before “Mommy,” the latest over-the-over-the-top melodrama by twenty-five-year-old Xavier Dolan, who shared a Cannes Jury Prize with eighty-three-year-old Jean-Luc Godard. While it lacks the peacock vainglory of the Québécois wunderkind’s fantasticated “Laurence Anyways,” “Tom” toys with the kind of ambiguous psychological turns that many French masters have done so well, including Clouzot and Chabrol. Read the rest of this entry »
“What the fuck?” is not only a character’s key reaction within “The Guest,” but mine as well, even on a second viewing. “The Guest” is the most delirious of director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett’s eight collaborations, a wickedly smart thriller filled with sly, cool intelligence that elevates what could be mere homage to trashy, splashy forebears into something more concentrated. (They used to call them “good movies.”) “Downton Abbey”’s Dan Stevens plays a wicked revision of Captain America, a mean fighting machine, a gleaming model-looking blank, with elegantly oiled hair pushed back in a forelock, fierce azure eyes, a laconic killer grin, a more chiseled version of the psychopaths played by Ryan Gosling in Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” and “Only God Forgives.” David arrives by foot in New Mexico at the home of the Peterson family, where he quickly ingratiates himself with tales of their fallen son, whom he had fought with before his death in combat. “The Guest” is a thriller, but first and foremost, it’s a thrill, like all of Cinemax, ever, died and went to heaven. Read the rest of this entry »
Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz’s understated “Land Ho!” propels a couple of older men, former brothers-in-law, on a late-in-life adventure in the wilds of Iceland. Or is that the “milds of Iceland”? Colin (Paul Eenhoorn, “Martin Bonner”) and Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson, “Passenger Pigeons,” “Eastbound and Down”) are very different men. Colin’s a mild Australian, Mitch a boisterous teller of tall tales and vulgar jokes. But each brings something out of each other in the craggy, punishing landscape, with happily unexpected results. The comedy arises from the personalities of the characters (and reportedly, the actors’ own lives) rather than their circumstances, creating a sense of both verisimilitude and sincerity. The men are late in life, but “Land Ho!” is no bucket-list gag fest. Read the rest of this entry »
“There is something in sadomasochism which is not dissimilar to theatre,” Roman Polanski ventures in the press kit for his adaptation of David Ives’ “Venus In Fur” (based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novella). “You become a director in your own fantasies, you play a part, you get somebody else to play a part. That theatricality is something the film plays with, that play within a play: a place where domination and submission, theater and real life, characters, reality and fantasy, all meet, switch places and blur boundaries.” While “Venus In Fur” takes place almost entirely within the confines of a single theater stage, even Polanski’s other movies, in larger, wider worlds, also sally with subterfuge, consider the shimmering of identities, the salvage of self by throwing oneself wholeheartedly into what seems the annihilation of oneself. So? Polanski, like many a great artist, is also a great narcissist and in the end, the work is about himself. Or in this case, his wife of twenty-four years, Emmanuelle Seigner, arriving in a lightning storm, late to an audition, embodying the vitality of the character she is about to read, and for the play’s director, sex itself. Read the rest of this entry »