A generic title to suit a generic result, seventy-six-year-old Peter Bogdanovich’s seventeenth feature, “She’s Funny That Way,” was once entitled “Squirrels to the Nuts,” a reference to the film “Cluny Brown” that’s repeated like the dropping of an anvil about fifteen times in the finished product. (The press kit repeatedly cites “Lubitch” as the director of that film, a misspelling that suggests a clever, if frustrated intern back at the production office.)
They all yawned: “SFTW” is a brave, if eminently foolhardy try to recapture a lengthy career, as Bogdanovich leans for his first feature in fourteen years on a screenplay written at least a dozen years ago, for John Ritter, by himself and his ex-wife, Louis Stratten. A dozen or so characters want to fuck, but are prevented by meretricious complication atop meretricious complication, from fucking the ones they truly want to fuck. Owen Wilson, a playwright whose character names run to “Hal Finnegan,” pulls a favored stunt with Izzy, a cartoon prostitute played by a likably eager Imogen Poots. He has a history of relating a dumb story about “squirrels to the nuts” and “nuts to the squirrels” to his escorts, then gives the young women $30,000 if they’ll forsake the profession. Uh-huh. Poots’ New York accent is insufferable, part Judy Holliday, part Bogdanovich impersonating Judy Holliday, with more than a soupcon of Linda Manz, and oh, the Scarlett Johansson from Woody Allen movies. The backdrop for the marital militating and sexual slavering of the oh-too-many characters is the casting and rehearsal of a banal, 1970s-style sex farce. Bogdanovich strains for screwball, with indifferently blocked physical action in wide frames, and much repetition of the patter of puss-pokes by femme-fists upon put-upon men.
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With “Digging For Fire,” Joe Swanberg extends his run of intimate backyard moviemaking to an actual backyard at a summer rental, where a gun, a bone and a telescope set intrigue (and extended conversation) into nifty (if slow-burn) motion. Mid-thirties-life-crisis strikes for Tim (Jake Johnson), a teacher still not settled into the truth that he’s been a father for three years. Rosemarie Dewitt plays his witty wife, Jude Swanberg the son, natch. The estimable critic Bérénice Reynaud has aligned the latest Swanberg with Rohmer, and “Digging” extends his streak of pictures that stream with genial dialogue, superficially breezy, yet where emotional currents deepen. Read the rest of this entry »
Christian Petzold’s precision—architectural, spatial, emotional—works again with surgical economy as Nina Hoss once more stars for him, this time as Nelly, a German-Jewish nightclub singer disfigured by a bullet while in a concentration camp who searches doggedly for clues to how she got to where she is in 1945 postwar Berlin. Reconstructive surgery gives Nelly a new face, and a new name, Esther, allowing her to return to the nightlife without being recognized, where she takes risks to find out who might have betrayed her, perhaps even her ex-husband who does not see her face in her face. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
In James Ponsoldt’s magnificent, minimalist “The End Of The Tour,” Jason Segel plays a writer named “David Foster Wallace.” Not, David Foster Wallace. A modest caveat before offering praise after reading objections from the late writer’s estate.
I’m taking this character as “Dave,” instead, if I may: truths may be obtained in this bittersweet, tender simulacrum of a few days in his life. A little while after the 1996 publication of “Infinite Jest,” Rolling Stone assigned novelist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) to spend five days on the road, at the end of his book tour, with David Foster Wallace. Rolling Stone didn’t run the article, but Lipsky eventually published transcripts of the recordings between pesky journalist and sensitive author as a book, “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace,” which is the basis for the dense, delicious screenplay by Donald Margulies (“Dinner with Friends”). It’s a remarkable distillation of so many writerly phases of perception and self-deception, of ego and self-abnegation, of assertion and unyielding, inexorable doubt. Read the rest of this entry »
Depressed, drunk, Falstaff-bellied philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) takes a gig at a small-town Rhode Island college, where his mumbling recitations of platitudes of 1950s collegiate existentialism curricula woo the women, including married Rita Richards (Parker Posey) and undergraduate Jill Pollard (Emma Stone). But he’s shit in the sack, unoriginal in his thinking, and ready to Russian roulette his way into readily forgotten campus lore. He’s an oblivious, serene sociopath. (Phoenix finds a walk for Abe that’s part Chaplin, part Mr. Potato Head.) Read the rest of this entry »
You want obsession? Obsessive, obsessive obsession? Sanguinary intimacy? Fabrice du Welz, Belgian director of 2004’s “Calvaire” goes blissfully bloodily bonkers with “Alléluia,” a lusciously lurid based-on-fact tale of a shy single mom, Gloria (Lola Dueñas) who falls in love with womanizer-cum-hustler Michel (Laurent Lucas). (It’s based on the 1949 history of “lonely hearts killers” Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez, whose crimes have inspired other films, including Leonard Kastle’s blanch-and-white 1970 singularity, “The Honeymoon Killers” and Arturo Ripstein’s stodgier 1996 “Deep Crimson.”) The more Gloria learns about Michel’s perversity, which has its own substance, the more thrilled, the more fixated she becomes. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
“Tangerine” is a brash, vivacious screwball comedy of West Hollywood street life, told in the course of several blocks across several hours as Christmas Eve moves from day to dusk to dark of night and ache of heart.
Sean Baker’s masterful, vividly gritty follow-up to 2012’s “Starlet,” shot entirely with iPhones, is also a bold, intimate challenge to mild-mannered contemporary notions of independent filmmaking. There are camera moves you’ve never seen before, but the characters are even more gratifying: The opening line, “Merry Christmas Eve, bitch!” is one of the raucous story’s politest bursts of frank language. Read the rest of this entry »
Wistful yet muscular late Ken Loach, “Jimmy’s Hall” tenderly massages the biography of Jimmy Gralton, an innate, indefatigable Irish rebel who was driven from his County Leitrim home during the Civil War, and again ten years later, when he returns in the spring of 1932. Jimmy’s sin in both instances, met with hate, hysteria and obstruction by the Church and police, was to erect a meeting place outside the tight societal strictures of the time, a place where poetry and dance and a dash of politics could be communicated. For this, he’s labeled a “communist,” and later, with his compatriots, “antichrists.” But the sense of community is rich, deftly sketched, defiantly progressive. The sense of landscape is gentle, and Loach’s eye is still avid for supple imagery. And even in a scene where Jimmy (Barry Ward) rallies his friends after they’ve taken back the home of a dispossessed family from a wretched landlord, and he speaks in spirited cadence about timeless idealism toward economic justice, the battle of labor versus big and bigger money, Loach and the great cinematographer Robbie Ryan (“Wuthering Heights,” “Red Road,” “Fish Tank,” “Ginger and Rosa”) position him in a calm frame, imploring in middle distance against a backdrop of a wood, of greenery waving gently, everlastingly, history rustling a timeless landscape. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
Asif Kapadia’s enveloping, harrowing, even revelatory second documentary with a posthumous subject is a musical, a tragedy, and a major mash-note to the too-soon-gone talent of Amy Winehouse. “Amy” also portrays a woman who was not so much an addict as someone consumed by feelings, the need to express them, and by brutally intense sensations of love.
Kapadia chose not to shoot video of Winehouse’s friends and family and collaborators. “Previously, I’d made a film called ‘Senna,’ done in the same way,” Kapadia tells me on a Chicago visit. “So it’s like a development, a continuation of that style. The only interviews where I took a camera along, it’s only a couple, it’s people like Tony Bennett and [music producer] Mark Ronson. Everybody else, it was just audio. The intention was to never use the picture. Also, these people have never spoken before. Most of the friends and her first manager and the band members, ninety-five-percent of the people have never been interviewed, never sold a story, never written a book or been on TV. The process was quite long, and a quite painful process for them. It became almost a therapeutic process, just me in this room, a microphone on the table, just the two of us talking, turn the lights down. The worst thing in the world would have been to turn up with a camera crew. But it’s the first time they’ve spoken, you can hear the emotion in the voices.” Read the rest of this entry »
Eric Rohmer: where to begin? How about with an offhanded masterpiece, 1984’s “Full Moon in Paris,” the most elegant of the splendid miniatures that constitute his cycle of “Comedies and Proverbs” romantic comedies? Louise (Pascale Ogier) is the bright center of his tale, an artistic young woman working in a design firm who abandons an older lover for a sequence of flings and affairs that have consequence by virtue of their very inconsequence. The slender but electric Ogier is a natural screen presence, and she beguiles her men (and the audience) with her angular, even aquiline features, her quick smile, her 1980s hair piled high, large-lidded wide eyes taking it all in with gentle bemusement and modest befuddlement. Read the rest of this entry »