By Ray Pride
Damien Chazelle’s astonishing second feature is a musical, an accomplished short story, like a boxing film, a horror show, a forceful suspense thriller, a bold and bracing memento mori of the will to greatness, male ego, control, arrogance, talent, douchiness, selfishness, desire, hope, transcendence.
Neatly constructed, lovingly performed, tersely spoken, wittily japed, “Whiplash” finds a form from the rehearsal and performance of jazz and the rhythm of forceful, sustained percussion and audacious artistic drive. Miles Teller (“The Spectacular Now”) is Andrew, a young student at a music conservatory whose skills as a drummer are noted by martinet instructor Fletcher (J. K. Simmons). Fletcher’s a hard-ass, a drill sergeant in search of one perfect soldier of jazz who could approach what, say, Buddy Rich or Charlie Parker accomplished. Andrew has a line in callow determination and Fletcher is ready to wring his neck with constructive, if eminently cruel instruction. There are other lovingly cast performers, but it’s Teller’s and Simmons’ show. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
Read the rest of this entry »
“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 »
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 »