By Ray Pride
Michael Mann’s “Blackhat” is not Ridley Scott’s “The Counselor,” but it’s in the same mulish, rarified league.
While the 2015 Oscar announcements led to much journalistic handwringing, online and off, with a dearth of nominations for women and people of color—overlooking the systemic issue of the dearth of mainstream movies being financed and produced for women and people of color—there’s not as much clamor about the handful of white male filmmakers who are presently productive into their eighth decade.
Michael Mann turns seventy-two in February, Sir Ridley Scott is seventy-seven, and while we’re at it, Jean-Luc Godard is eighty-four. “Blackhat,” “The Counselor” and “Farewell to Language” are all discernibly, definitively, obstinately, obdurately, the work of old men. Artists of a certain age, to be sure, but also personal, auteurist, in the most classic fashion. Late films by Alfred Hitchcock have been a subject for such discussion for decades, and Entertainment Weekly’s Mark Harris tweeted that “Blackhat” may well be Mann’s “Marnie,” that is, a movie that at first glance seems hermetic, compacted, a concatenation of images, fixations and stylistic devices. Read the rest of this entry »
(Adieu au langage 3D) Roxy Miéville: superstar. With querulous, dark, liquid eyes, and a torso that extends from the back of the screen and a long, aquiline nose that juts out over the audience and nearly to your fingertips to be petted, the sleek, sniffulous mutt owned by Jean-Luc Godard is the most lustrous of special effects in his hectic, cryptic 3D provocation, “Farewell to Language.” Working with cinematographer Fabrice D’Aragno over the course of four years, the now-eighty-four-year-old Godard wreaks multidimensional effects other filmmakers wouldn’t dare, often created with only a couple of small consumer cameras strapped together and wielded by the filmmaker himself. Read the rest of this entry »
Simple strangeness is in short supply in twenty-first-century wide-release movies, but the sibling directorial directing team of Michael and Peter Spierig (“Daybreakers,” 2009; “Undead,” 2003) deliver again with their bits-and-pieces approach to low-budget surfaces and spaces. “Predestination”‘s conceptually clever, if ultimately confusing tale quietly accommodates some serious gender-bending, drawn from Robert A. Heinlein’s short story, “All You Zombies.” The plotting has its wonky similarities to the likes of “Timecop” and “Looper” and any number of time-carving trick narratives. Still, twists both blatant and teasing motor the mystery along, and a cannily termite performance by Ethan Hawke as a bartender-cum-enforcer is surpassed by Sarah Snook as a patron-cum-storyteller who may be the punchline to his very own story, one final time. Read the rest of this entry »
“A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” was one of Sundance 2014’s sweetest surprises, a confident widescreen, black-and-white Farsi-language all-American debut, a bracing post-punk blend of vampire iconography, the spaghetti western, Kaurismäki-like sorrowfulness, Jarmusch-worthy equipoise, shot in Bakersfield, California, which passes for the nocturnal reaches “Bad City,” Iran. Ana Lily Amirpour’s politically suggestive feature debut is ripe with eye-widening joy from its first frames, its pacing alternately languorous and coiled, the graphic-novel-like imagery emerging and evolving with surrealist stealth. In Amirpour’s own excitable words about her tender, melancholy achievement, “It’s like Sergio Leone and David Lynch had an Iranian rock ‘n’ roll baby, and then Nosferatu came and babysat for them.” Read the rest of this entry »
Eddie Redmayne twinkles and tickles the intellectual friskiness of Stephen Hawking in James Marsh’s lively, bright “The Theory Of Everything,” a brisk telling of the early years of the scientist, best-selling author and survivor of motor neuron disease related to ALS, as well as his all-important first marriage. (After a recent screening for him, Hawking waggishly said he found it “broadly true.”) Director James Marsh does well with another ginger trickster figure, as he did with Philippe Petit in “Man on Wire,” with Redmayne playing the most assured and most puckish moments we’d expect from a story about a scientist known for his mind but also for lifelong randiness. Redmayne has the best, fullest role he’s had since Tom Kalin’s “Savage Grace” (2007) and he manages to work his own charm and smile and even eyebrows into the slowly contracting figure of Hawking. James Marsh is a quietly fine director, in documentaries like “Man on Wire” and “Project Nim,” as well as other fiction features like “Shadow Dancer” and “Red Riding: 1980.” His knack for telling compositions and memorable images can’t be underestimated. And the script by playwright Anthony McCarten seldom stoops to sentimental stuff, despite its seeming pedigree as intelligently crafted, award-friendly British uplift. Read the rest of this entry »
Long out of American theatrical release over rights issues, indispensable distributor Rialto Films presents an alluring 4K digital restoration of Alain Resnais’ hypnotic, visually ravishing, wholly essential first fiction feature, “Hiroshima Mon Amour” (1959), written by novelist Marguerite Duras. (Her screenplay was Oscar-nominated.) Time-fractured stream-of-consciousness is the order of the day in this masterpiece of the French New Wave, as well as musings on memory and the powerful hold of guilt. Emmanuelle Riva is a French actress working on an antiwar film in bustling, post-War Hiroshima, and her fears unfold in her confessions to the Japanese architect (Eiji Okada) with whom she has an affair. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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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John Wojtowicz was the full-on character who inspired “Dog Day Afternoon” with his attempt to rob a Brooklyn bank in late summer 1972 to finance one of his lovers’ sex-reassignment surgery. Al Pacino went to town on that role, but it hardly captures the complications in the rich, even implausible life of Wojtowicz (“The Dog”) himself. Directors Frank Keraudren and Allison Berg had access to his life for a decade, and while the visuals are sometimes limited to Wojtowicz talking, talking and talking, the words are choice, the stories almost too true to be good. Al Pacino’s got nothing on this rampantly bisexual, hopelessly romantic, eager-to-please larger-than-life character, who proudly calls himself a “pervert.” 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 »