Mia Wasikowska radiates elemental strength in John Curran’s adaptation of “Tracks,” Robyn Davidson’s 1980 chronicle of her 1975 solo pilgrimage from Alice Springs, Australia across nearly 2,000 miles of desert in the company of a dog and four volatile, once-feral camels. The unlikely trip is financed by National Geographic, who sends photographer Rick Smolan (Adam Driver) at signposts along the way to mythologize her youthful determination (and beauty, which Smolan is smitten by). Curran’s earlier movies, including “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” (2004) and “Stone” (2010), demonstrated a similar willingness to keep the drama on simmer, to slowly accrue sensation rather than goosing the narrative. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
Of the news coming south out of the 2014 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, there are three or four or a dozen films that sound like surprises and delights, as there should be from any festival its size.
But the season’s finest surprise for me is a film, or, rather, films, that debuted at Toronto 2013, a heavyweight directorial debut by writer Ned Benson that comprised two features with a combined running time of 201 minutes. The delicately astonishing “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” relates two subtly but telling different sides of the aftermath of the sudden detonation of the lives of a married couple with a child, the first from the dreamily subdued perspective of a woman named Eleanor Rigby (Jessica Chastain), and subtitled “Her,” and the second from the more volatile perspective of her estranged husband, Conor (James McAvoy). When the narrative shifts to Conor’s perspective, scenes that were played between Chastain and McAvoy’s characters repeat, but with subtle variations in dialogue and dramatic emphasis. The separate events in their lives, when they are apart, are equally telling: the bruised hush of “Her” rises to confounded masculine disarray as we discover further eddies of grieving in the lives around “Her.” The essential elegance of this structure is how we, as viewers, have to reconstruct our memory of prior events, if only an hour, hour-and-a-half before, the way the characters, her and him, try to reconstruct tragic events of only a few months earlier. 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 »
“If you want to hear your voice floating in the middle of a beautiful tapestry of frequencies… you’re gonna need a pop group.” I can’t help but have a pooling soft spot shy of a puddle of swoon for “God Help The Girl,” the expectedly twee but crazy-charming lovable coming-of-age musical written and directed by Stuart Murdoch, also known as the lead singer of Belle & Sebastian. In a candy-colored, idealized, even lovable Glasgow, young fantasist Eve (Emily Browning) overcomes a fistful of emotional problems by learning to become a singer-songwriter and get out into the city with other very cool-looking girls and boys. Read the rest of this entry »
Playwright Israel Horovitz (“Park Your Car In Harvard Yard”), a longtime collaborator with Al Pacino on stage and as a screenwriter (“Author, Author”), makes his feature directorial debut at the age of seventy-five with the perfectly dreadful “My Old Lady.” Seventy-nine-year-0ld Maggie Smith is the center of the so-stagey adaptation of a Horovitz stage play, holding on for dear life to a Maggie Smith-style role as a woman in her nineties who occupies a Parisian apartment recently inherited by broken-down New Yorker Kevin Kline. She won’t move! The antiquated French law’s on her side! Talk-talk-talk. Talk some more. Oh! Time for a monologue? Do go on. 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 »
Or, the movie with Tom Hardy and the puppy. Belgian director Michaël R. Roskam follows his vigorous Oscar-nominated drama “Bullhead” with an elemental mystery Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River”) adapted from his short story “Animal Rescue.” Set in a contemporary Brooklyn still stained with the sins of the past as well as the sins of a new generation of crime overlords—glaring Chechens who can and will clean up the worst mess overnight—“The Drop” features Hardy as Bob Saginowski, a lonely, taciturn but eyes-wide-open bartender at Cousin Marv’s bar, the cousin being James Gandolfini. Gandolfini’s playing a man at the end of his tether: the bar was taken over by mobsters eight or nine or ten years ago, and he’s just a figurehead and the bar is more a money-laundering drop than the genial local it appears to be. Crime and grime and wads of world-weary, noirish dialogue are timeless in this mythologized patch of not-gentrified borough. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
“Starred Up” is ominous from its first instants, the sounds beginning with the very first frame under presentation credits, somewhere from inner space, like the confines of a skull pressured by the slightest sounds of a low febrile hum in a constrained space that echoes from other, nearby constrained spaces.
In a word: prison. In a world: a prisoner.
A Greek tragedy is in the offing. Violent nineteen-year-old convict Eric (Jack O’Connell, “Eden Lake,” Angelina Jolie’s upcoming “Unbroken”) has been “starred up”: slang for being transferred from a juvenile jail to an adult facility, which happens to be the prison where his estranged father Nev (Ben Mendelsohn) has long been incarcerated.
The first seven minutes follow the succession of double-checks and humiliations involved in his induction, or even ingestion into the system, seven long minutes to get him into his cell, where Eric immediately snaps a disposable razor and blazes a toothbrush to create a provisional shank for what turns out to be imminent usage. The gentle float and sway of the Steadicam also suggests instability and the potential for sudden deadly motions, contrasting the naturalism of the setting of the cell block with a tensile, cumulatively dreamy-cum-nightmarish use of framing and cutting. “Starred Up” confines itself to an actual prison facility, and was shot in sequence with two editors cutting the film together daily to insure a rare immediacy in an all-too-familiar genre. The conflicts you expect from angry men under pressure come quickly, but within an unforeseen atmosphere. Read the rest of this entry »
“The Last Of Robin Hood,” directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (“Quinceañera,” “The Fluffer”) is a genteel swatch of Todd Haynes-lite, appropriate considering that Haynes is one of the fifteen credited producers, along with Killer Films’ Christine Vachon and Pamela Koffler. (A&E Networks and Lifetime are behind the production.) A decade-long project, “The Last” portrays the February-December romance between fading swashbuckler Errol Flynn (Kevin Kline) and fifteen-year-old aspiring actress Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning), facilitated by her stage mom Florence (Susan Sarandon). Glatzer and Westmoreland explain their approach: “We made no justification for it and neither did we want to pass judgment. We simply wanted to show what Beverly experienced and what Florence and Errol went through—their understandings, delusions, manipulations, flaws, hopes, dreams and fears.” Methodically, coolly, that’s just what the film does, never rising to full fever. Where melodrama should be indicated, we’re only offered mellow drama. Read the rest of this entry »