(A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution) Fifty shades of grayscale: Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 “Alphaville” is eternally nouveau, fifty years passé. One of his most entertaining movies is also one of his most timeless. Drawing on a post-Bogart gumshoe character that Eddie Constantine had already smoked and drank his way through in Z-level Euro-thrillers, Godard creates a future landscape entirely from cannily curated elements of Paris, 1964. The City of Light becomes the portal of portent. All you need to make a movie, or at least a nagging, haunt-your-dreams pre-neo-noir, is a gun, a girl and simmering philosophical asides. The shadowy web etched by cinematographer Raoul Coutard’s black-and-white photography is countered by the luminosity of Godard’s then-wife and matchless muse, Anna Karina. Her eyes shine as the corners of the city lurk, mute yet ominously expressive. Fittingly, this object from the past that partook in an imagined future, of an urban dystopia ruled by a brute computer called “Alpha 60,” is newly restored, cleanly pixillated into the present tense of rapid-fire 1-0-1-0-1-0 sequences of data. Read the rest of this entry »
“Laurence Anyways” is drenching melodrama, reckless, ravishing. Actor-writer-director Xavier Dolan has shot a fourth feature since, and he’s still only twenty-four. His style, to some, may seem overheated, flamboyant, baroque, immature, indulgent, extravagant, but it is what it is and what it is, at his keenest moments, is fabulous. Sprawling and decade-spanning, the Québécois filmmaker’s script charts the changes in the life of Laurence (Melvil Poupaud, “A Summer’s Tale,” “A Christmas Tale”), a Montreal literature teacher and award-winning novelist of thirty-five who announces to his girlfriend, Frédérique (Suzanne Clément), that he intends to make the transition to being a woman. Fred now becomes Laurence’s best female friend, too, showing Laurence how to create and to dress a female identity. Affinities to Almodóvar and Fassbinder abound, and Laurence’s transgender impulse rings variations on “In A Year Of 13 Moons,” one of Fassbinder’s last movies but more doom than bloom. Dolan’s esthetically elevated, sustained perambulation through the lives of these two characters (as well as his chilly mother, precisely played by Nathalie Baye) is its own roller-coaster of emotion. Read the rest of this entry »
“Who’s really happy? Tell me.” As a glimpse of where the feature-length narrative industry lies in the moment, there’s modest pathos underlying “The Canyons,” directed by Paul Schrader from a script by Bret Easton Ellis that Schrader suggested after their collaboration on a shark movie lost its finance. “Beautiful people, nice rooms, bad things, and sharp talk. How expensive is that?” Schrader told screenwriter Larry Gross of the film’s origins in the July-August Film Comment, adding, “Bret was very concerned it not look like a home movie.” But Ellis’ script is a tainted snack of self-pity and narcissism, far less interesting to watch than his novels are to read, whether on VOD, on laptops, on streaming video, or on the rare large screen outing. Ellis’ well-honed affectless fecklessness gets too much oxygen once it rises off the page. And the sixty-seven-year-old writer-director, in all of his screenplays and in the eighteen features he’s directed, would never have earned the nickname “Mr. Warmth.” Yet, to say that this modestly budgeted collaboration is near clinical in its chilliness doesn’t constitute criticism, only an accurate description. Read the rest of this entry »
I never expected Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” to feel understated, but it’s almost demure at times. While busy and jumped-up, it’s as much about trappings of luxe, the secret life of brands. (The brands include F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jay-Z, Tiffany & Co., Miu Miu, Prada, Brooks Brothers, Fogal of Switzerland, Moët & Chandon, and of course, Baz Luhrmann.) Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio: none of this trio of dreamers, schemers, adulterers and enablers feels like a grown-up, only playacting children rather than Jay Gatsby, Nick Carraway and Daisy Buchanan. (Even DiCaprio’s pronounced laugh lines fail to make him seem Gatsby’s age of thirty-two.) But Gatsby’s mannered way of speaking, a made-up accent of uncertain and variable provenance, is annoying, transparent and wholly appropriate. As is our introduction to the elusive Gatsby’s full face, gleaming and golden and fireworks-festooned like the most grandiloquent Suntory whiskey ad ever storyboarded. Such freighted momentousness is endless, the acting erratic, sapping even Mulligan’s sorrowful kitten-cum-coquette intonations of quiet despair. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
“Quality over quantity,” Roger Ebert wrote to me when he’d just signed onto Twitter, seeing how much I posted on any given day. But soon after, he was furnishing the Internet with his own personal, characteristic rivulet of riffs, reviews and retweets. His voice sounded in yet another form.
Last weekend, at the fifteenth annual Ebertfest in Champaign-Urbana, tributes were consistent in both quality and quantity. It was a living wake. But the programming, largely by his hand, served as a hyperarticulate last will and testament as well, the shape of which grew more and more emphatic as the five days and nights lengthened. The opening was a 35mm print of Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven,” with hearty ninety-two-year-old co-cinematographer Haskell Wexler in attendance. Five of the fourteen films were 35mm prints, another sort of wake, for the form he had always celebrated, in the format he first found it, bright and nourishing in the communal dark. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
EVERYTHING THAT ROGER EBERT WAS, was a newspaperman, and was because he was a newspaperman. Ink, and then film, and then ink about film. That would include appreciating the movement of careers, the motion of plots, like a sportswriter. That would include the late-night badinage of the ink-stained, as in the many years spent, without regret, at O’Rourke’s and the Old Town Ale House. That would include the competitive urge with The One Across Michigan Avenue, the one called the Chicago Tribune. But also the one called “Gene Siskel.” Plus, words and paper with racy asides and winning wisecracks. (And in later years, wisecracks sketched quickly on a small pad of paper and handed to you.) Television didn’t make Roger Ebert, but in a small, small way, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel made television. (And when I was a guest on the show after Siskel’s death, Ebert’s key words of advice were, you’re not doing this or that, it’s not even conversation, you’re committing television.) Words. Anecdotes. There are a lot of them. Read the rest of this entry »
The first frames of “The Dark Knight Rises,” my eyes tear up: It’s film. It’s celluloid. It’s huge.
This is one of the marvels of Christopher Nolan’s 164-minute conclusion to his Batman trilogy: You’ll believe a man can shoot in and finish on celluloid. So many practical locations, massing of people and machinery, flying and falling, the rushing of water, the creasing and uncreasing of sly smiles, all on film. There is one particular shot in profile in full IMAX ratio of Marion Cotillard in profile, her skin shown razor-sharp, peachy, perfect: doesn’t look the same in digital 3-D. Even the visual-effects-heavy scenes are a real world away from a digital superhero movie.
It’s a massive investment that pays off in nearly every way. Read the rest of this entry »
Johnny Reb finds he belongs on Planet Red. Andrew Stanton’s most peculiar “John Carter,” which was produced as “John Carter of Mars,” and appears as the film’s end title, is a boy’s dream story come true, if you’re Andrew Stanton grown tall. Adapted from a novel in an Edgar Rice Burroughs’ series about a Confederate soldier transported to Mars, “John Carter” makes a mix of live action and animation into something deluxe but dinky, neither “Cowboys & Aliens” nor the original “Star Wars.” Read the rest of this entry »
All Michael Bay’s “Transformers” in 3D is missing is a 40. (Take a 40, please.) Robustly cynical, “Transformers: Dark Of The Moon,” credited to screenwriter Ehren Kruger (“Scream 3,” “The Ring Two,” “Transformers 2″), serves up generous lashings of counterfactual pulp, including an Autobot-Decepticons-NASA-JFK-Nixon conspiracy with a soupcon of Chernobyl for spice. It’s like a Bizarro World Warren Report reduced to postage-stamp size. (The briefly seen JFK stand-in resembles someone who took second place in a Donald Trump look-alike contest.) “TDOTM” premiered at the Moscow Film Festival, and some of the most jazzed-up (yet largely incomprehensible) passages resemble the winningly cheesy special effects of local mogul Timur Bekmambetov’s “Night Watch” and “Day Watch,” but with less rude charm. Hope for keenly choreographed mayhem quickly fades. If not on the level of Michael Kidd and Vincente Minnelli’s work on “The Band Wagon,” say at least a few bars of “Collateral Damage,” the musical? When you’re working with Decepticons, a sentient race of mechanical beings that preceded film executives, you can hope to be the biggest and the best, but at best, you could only ever be ne plus Ultraman. (Or “Cars 3,” with eager-school-leaver Shia LaBeouf in the role of “Mater.”) Read the rest of this entry »
What’s in a title? While Oscar contenders linger in the theaters, “Rapunzel” is only a couple of weeks away from grossing over $200,000,000 in the U.S. and Canada.
Oh, wait. It’s “Tangled”—not “Rapunzel.” The studio made a mid-course correction in the content and title of its movie, fearing the all-powerful Boy. An adventure about a Girl? No, thanks, dude. One of the season’s most gratifying successes at the box office is the Coen brothers’ most successful film yet, “True Grit,” which has passed $150,000,000. Yes, it’s an adventure about a girl, but even in the Oscar race, Hailee Steinfeld, who plays the lead of the film, the bossy, obstinate, fierce, willful Mattie Ross, is nominated in the “Best Supporting Actress” category.
Still, studios gamble on stories with strong younger women. Focus Features has placed a modest bet on Joe Wright’s comic-booky “Hanna,” with two strong girls in the international trailer, at least—Jessica Barden, eyes-wide and manic again as she was in “Tamara Drewe,” even if the center of the 1960s-styled killer-thriller is young Saoirse Ronan, the angry marvel in the midst of “Atonement.” It looks to be “Kick-Ass” with grown-up eye candy (and Cate Blanchett as a secret agent!). Read the rest of this entry »