In one of the first scenes in Michael Dowse’s uncompromisingly adorable modern-day romantic comedy, “What If,” Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) is at a party, a year after the breakup of a relationship, transfixed by word combinations of magnetic poetry on a refrigerator: “Love is stupid monkeys dancing in a slapstick hurricane.” Within seconds, he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan), a woman in a relationship of five years, and charming is as charming does. They push the word choices around with their fingertips and wide-eye each other. They’re razor-sharp in the flirtation neither expected, and the toe-to-toe exchanges are exhilarating. Immediately, you can see why these two would be attracted to each other. But there have to be pesky obstacles for star-crossed love to overcome, including the tragedy that is the platonic friendship.
Another Marvel left-field choice of a seemingly unlikely director pays off, in slightly different fashion than “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” directed by the Russo brothers as a politically charged gloss on 1970s paranoia thrillers. Co-writer-director James Gunn’s 2010 no-budget “Super” had its share of appalling violence, but he still manages to thread abrupt violence and casual malice into the huge expanses of the outright comedy and fine sarcasm of “Guardians.” And most of the meanness is funny, after a cartoonish fashion. Any moment that could be drenched in earnestness is either beautiful—a bereft child’s ascension in a beam of light to a spaceship that will wrench him from Earth—or mocked from the get-go. Chris Pratt plays the grown boy, Peter Quill, as a would-be cock-of-the-galaxy who describes himself at one point, hopefully, as “an a-hole, but not one-hundred-percent a dick.” Read the rest of this entry »
As soap-operatic literary adaptations go, “Half Of A Yellow Sun” is at the very least a complete eyeful, a convincing epic tapestry on what must have been a limited budget. (It’s got the gloss you’d expect from a Hollywood production, seeming scrappy only in the many moments of leaden historical exposition.) Adapted by director Biyi Bandele from Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s best-selling, achronological 2006 novel, the movie’s plotting traces the lines of a decade of national upheaval, political minutia and family dynamics in Nigeria and Biafra. The actors shine: Thandie Newton, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Anika Noni Rose are all splendidly in their moment. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
“I Origins” blushes with swirls of sensory extravagance, of emotional extremes, of drenching passions and bathetic loss.
It’s the sophomore feature of writer-editor-director Mike Cahill, who made his debut in 2011 with “Another Earth” (co-written with actor-writer Brit Marling), and I could reprise my enthusiastic description of that film upon its release for his marvelously ambitious new movie: “serious, somber, bruised, hopeful, thrilling, shocking, emotions-over-the-line speculative science-fiction romance-tragedy with one scene in it that I cannot tell you how hard it hits and I hope no one else does either.” (For “I Origins,” I’ll add “exhilarating.”)
Michael Pitt gives one of his most concentrated performances as Dr. Ian Gray, a molecular biologist obsessed with defining the evolution of the eye. He also has a fetish of asking people he encounters if he can take a picture of their eye. He’s obsessed with coincidences and numbers, too: among other patterns that materialize in his moment-to-moment life, the pattern “11 11” becomes very important. (And the title itself plays with those figures.) A fervent romance erupts with Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), a European woman he meets at a party, flirts with on a rooftop, then fucks in a bathroom. Things quickly grow strained, she flees; he pursues. Epic romantic gestures proliferate. His obsessions grow, including with the dazzling character of her eyes. Read the rest of this entry »
Woody Allen’s forty-fourth film, “Magic In The Moonlight,” may be the seventy-eight-year-old writer-director’s strangest in ages. It’s the first movie of his I can remember where all of the actors seem to be playing in the same scenes, and they’re largely idiotic. It’s most pronounced in terrible dramas like “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger,” but the syndrome is similar in even more accomplished work like “Blue Jasmine,” where there are scenes with multiple actors who seem completely stranded, or visiting from another movie down the hall at the multiplex. So this period trifle has at least that going for it, plus a lead actor, Colin Firth, who doesn’t seem to be channeling a single shred of Allen’s own on-screen persona. (The character’s self-proclaimed “genius” is never demonstrated by his actions or bluster.) As for the screenplay, it’s a full-on fumble. Doddering, even, and distant from any representation of plausible human behavior. Read the rest of this entry »
What a seedy man is Günther Bachmann. Embodied, body and sallow soul by Philip Seymour Hoffman in his last completed role, the German secret agent at the center of John Le Carre’s 2008 thriller had a spot of trouble back in Beirut and wound up in Hamburg for his sins, part of a deeply undercover cell of spies that observes and infiltrates the lives of suspected terrorists who might lead them further up the food chain of international bad actors. His superiors, plus a concerned American spy (Robin Wright), want to keep Bachmann on a tight leash, but he wants his counterterrorist team to stay as rogue as can be. There are many melancholic Le Carre-style exchanges, including Hoffman to Willem Dafoe’s banker character. “Which one? The one you want to fuck. She’s too young for you, Tommy. She’s too young for both of us.” (As well as the compact weariness of “Men who trusted you died.”) Read the rest of this entry »
Prolific Chicago filmmaker Joe Swanberg continues to explore his own backyard in “Happy Christmas,” or more to the point, his own home, a cost-effective location for his first feature released since “Drinking Buddies.” One of those buddies, Anna Kendrick, moves into the newest comedy-drama and continues to drink. And drink. Swanberg plays Jeff, a film director whose wife, Kelly (Melanie Lynskey), is writing a novel, and whose younger sister, Jenny (Kendrick), shows up on their doorstep after a messy and massively deserved breakup. Lena Dunham plays a friend of Jenny’s, and Mark Webber plays a curiously attractive drug dealer whom Kelly plants lips upon. Working in his customary improv style, with cinematographer Ben Richardson (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) repeating the originated-on-film style of “Drinking Buddies,” Swanberg scores sly points beneath the surface emotional ruckus and the elevated conversational wordplay. Read the rest of this entry »
“This feeling of solitude is unfair! I demand to fall in love, too.” Michel Gondry’s latest low-fi gallimaufry of incessant innovation and simple, surrealistic fancy, “Mood Indigo,” is based on a book supposedly known to most French children, Boris Vian’s “L’ecume des jours” (known in Stanley Chapman’s British translation as “Froth on the Daydream”). It’s a romance atop romances with a star-crossed couple: Chloé (Audrey Tautou) falls ill when a flower starts to grow in her lungs, and rich, lonely bachelor Colin (Romain Duris) finds he can keep her alive by surrounding her always with fresh flowers. Then heap stop-motion, dream sequences, musical passages, food play, Duke Ellington… Keep heaping. Read the rest of this entry »
(Pardé) Jafar Panahi, under house arrest, has been ordered by the Iranian regime not to make movies for twenty years (or, to give interviews, a ban that he has also broken). After “This Is Not A Film,” Panahi co-directs his second, forbidden film from internal exile (along with Kambozia Partovi). The first, shot in his Tehran apartment, took on the impossibility of a director not “directing” as part of its allegorical project, while also demonstrating his spirit of resistance. “Closed Curtain,” shot from inside a house along the Caspian Sea, swirls ever more with allegory, comprising a shifting limbo of mingling memories and reenactments and the apparition of what are essentially ghosts of former selves. It’s a deeply sad self-portrait of the inner workings of an artist’s stymied imagination. Read the rest of this entry »
It was years and years and years and years ago, just past the turn of the twentieth century. 2001, to be precise, January, only a few months before, well, you know. That single day. When everything supposedly changed.
We’re in Park City, Utah, at the largest of the Sundance Film Festival venues, the 989-seat Eccles Center. The latest film by Richard Linklater is about to debut, and there are whispers that afternoon that this showing will be a tightrope act. Two hard drives had arrived too late to test, only just in time to show, from a then-pioneering video effects company in Europe called Swiss Effects. There’s a primary and a backup of Linklater’s first animated feature, a movie about all time set in no time at all, “Waking Life.” A deep breath: this is new technology, made on computers in Austin, finished in Switzerland. It might not work at all. There’s no time left.
Of course, it worked. (So did “Waking Life,” the film.) No one in the audience knew the difference unless they’d heard the chatter. The illusion of onrushing narrative in continuous time swept us all away, as it has a way of doing. Not too long after that, Linklater shot the first portion of contained annual bursts of what was eventually entitled “Boyhood.” He hoped to trace the rituals of childhood, with a soulful-eyed, pout-lipped little casting find named Ellar Coltrane trusted with holding the center of the narrative for the twelve years to come. His character, Mason, would grow from the age of six or so to eighteen, from 2002 to September 2013, from pouty little boy to willowy, pillow-lipped man. Read the rest of this entry »