Capsule Reviews: Films Seen in 2014 #140-144

Still trying to catch up here, so these will be much shorter than usual. As I mentioned in my last post, I just got back from a trip, am moving and have a lot of stuff to do, so I’ll get back into a regular rhythm here soon.

gas food lodging

#140. Gas, Food, Lodging (1992, Anders)
“I’m just afraid of running out of daydreams”

The power of artificial melodrama and the voiceover narration of a blossoming adolescent with nobody else to ramble to is our introduction to this frank yet delicate American indie about two sisters and their single mother trying to get by in a New Mexico trailer park. J. Mascis’s score (oh how 90’s) is just right, with plenty of moments when your ear catches just how great his contribution is here. And Fairuza Balk (one of my favorite actresses) is touching as the endearing Shade (oh how 90’s), trying so hard to change her circumstances and those around her with idealistic and naive solutions.

It’s the Little Things:
“Look that’s the best I can do. I’m tired”
“Women are lonely in the 90’s; it’s our new phase”


#141. Orlando (1992, Potter)
An elaborate mirage on gender identity and stigma, where past and present are just an edit away and where there is little fixture in space even within specific time periods. Sally Potter approaches this Virginia Woolf adaptation (a novel I loved in concept but felt removed from in reading) with witty presentational candor and Tilda Swinton sells it with softness and a hearty wink. Singular, amusing, and honest.

Mauvais Sang (Film avec Juliette Binoche)_arc

#142. Mauvais Sang (1986, Carax)
“I love her and she loves me, but she already lights my cigarettes like I do”
“And I hope my prints on you fade”

Leos Carax lets his films live in the moment, forgoing a bigger picture. There’s an impulsive and purely cinematic drive to his work that feels like the process of discovery is taking place as we watch it. Story is a footnote. There’s a half-hearted peripheral disease at work that must have some parallel to the AIDS virus. But none of it works because it doesn’t matter. What matters are these characters defined by clothing, color, and by combinations of aesthetics and effects from silent film, French new wave and modernist techniques. Primary colors are used in a way that predates 1992’s Savage Nights. It’s all been said about the “Modern Love” sequence already but I’ll throw my perfection! exclamation into the mix. Juliette Binoche and a very young Julie Delpy exemplify why they had futures as French movie royalty.

step brothers

#143. Step Brothers (2008, McKay)
“Stop being a fucking dinosaur and get a job”

Overflowing with golden line deliveries (seriously, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, in his comedy star career phase, are stellar) this absurdist comedy depicting the extremity of the literal man-child (these aren’t men-children, these are men literally pretending to be children. Like a combination of Dumb and Dumber and Clifford for the aughts.) has a wildly subversive streak, daring to run all the way in one direction with something brazenly meaningless. One of countless examples of how Step Brothers hilariously discards narrative is when we learn that the two step brothers have a sleepwalking problem. It adds nothing to the film, only setting up a later sequence, that also means nothing, in which the two sleepwalk into their parents bedroom with Christmas presents and jerkily chuck them in the air.

Goes for a third act momentum that undercuts the uselessness of what came before but this is trimmer than most mainstream comedies today and also dares people to fucking hate its guts. It shows that black comedies are still possible, if only we were able to notions of realism more. I honestly don’t know the last time I laughed this consistently through a modern comedy. I don’t think I’d like it much with lesser actors in these roles, but Ferrell and Reilly are a perfect match for each other.

#144. Careful (1992, Maddin)
Careful made me eager to watch the rest of Guy Maddin’s filmography; it’s full of ideas, interwoven humor, photographic verve unlike anything I’ve seen (riffing on German nationalist cinema, Bergfilme in particular, it mimics the two-strip Technicolor process). Despite all this, it mostly drags, at least as much as a film about outlandish incestual desire can. Shows more promise than anything else, and would have been better suited to being a full-on silent film.


Review: Before Midnight (2013, Linklater)


Would the ‘Before’ series be as vital if we didn’t feel at every single second that there was an invisible force of creative kismet between Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy? Because as I think about why it is we love these films so much, I come back to the collaborative connection between this trio and that revisiting Jesse and Celine has always felt like something that was meant to be. These characters are in their very bones and as we watch Hawke and Delpy perform what they have collectively written with Linklater, it’s clear that something special is happening onscreen. Something embedded between these two actors and the fact that it feels that they legitimately live Jesse and Celine as they act before the cameras.

Before Midnight is bittersweet to its core. The romanticism of the first two films is almost entirely cut down to reveal a long-developed dynamic at first simmering and then bracing. We catch them at a make-it-or-break-it moment. This is about a relationship riddled with past baggage. This is about the moment in a relationship when you fully understand that this idea of ‘sharing a life’ together actually doesn’t exist. Why? Because you may be sharing a life but experiences are always going to be disparate in some fashion. That crevice can fill up with negative unspoken dissonance. And at some point you come to blows, and the incomparable intimacy you share with a person is used by each to target the other’s weaknesses, faults, failures. As Jesse and Celine unabashedly and often cruelly unload their burdens onto each other, looking however they can to get a leg up, we see these characters in a light we never hoped we would. Their connection is still unchallenged and genuine. On the surface, life is going well for them. But there’s a lot boiling underneath and they’ve let it stew for a mite too long.

Before Midnight takes the unstructured conversational elements we love so much about the first two and adds the specificity of what a relationship between the two actually turned out to be. Each major scene contributes something essential; in this way, as well as the way those pieces are used to build to something, it feels more like a story than the first two. That master-shot in the car at the film’s start is something to behold and it just gets better from there. Linklater is always unobtrusive; he knows exactly when to have blocking, when to keep his distance and when to cut close. His unobtrusiveness helps the audience conversely feel obtrusive as things get ugly. We get to see the negatives to Jesse and Celine’s positives; the passive-aggressiveness, the blame game, all of it. We understand where both are coming from, why both are fed up with the other but also, and crucially I might add, why they should ultimately be able to get through this.

The final minutes are edge-of-your-seat stuff. You deeply feel what’s been said. You feel and are desperately moved by that last ditch effort. Everything’s riding on it. In that moment the stakes become higher than anything I’m likely to see in a film this year. And it exists just between two people. But not just two people; between Jesse and Celine. Before Midnight is a thing of bittersweet majesty. It may double back on most of the romanticism of Sunrise and Sunset, but goodness me the disillusionment with a silver lining is worth it.

List: Top 30 Summer Films to See (May-August)

This is a list of the 30 films I most look forward to seeing. As far as I can tell, all of these films are set for summer releases. I’m sure more release dates will be announced throughout the months. The ones I am eagerly awaiting to get release dates are Shut Up and Play the Hits and Alps. Both have distribution, with LCD Soundsystem’s final concert show doc acquired by the late great Adam Yauch’s Oscilloscope Laboratories.

There are several films on this list that I have already seen due to IFFBoston. I included them where I would have placed them before seeing them. Those will be bolded. I’m feeling pretty passionate about these 30 films as a whole. After the 30, I have a massive list of films that are on my to-see list and it should be kept in mind that they range from films I really want to see (Farewell, My Queen, Lovely Molly and Whores’ Glory. The latter would be on the list if I weren’t too lazy to shuffle it around) to films like Men in Black III (for Josh Brolin) and Dark Shadows (Burton completist) which I am largely unenthusiastic about but would still see at some point.

What films are you most looking forward to this summer?

First, an honorable mention:
G.I Joe: Retaliation. Why you ask? That looks positively idiotic. Well, first because the trailer makes it look like some honest-to-goodness fun. But really truly my reason boils down to this:

If you can deny the sexiness of Lee Byung-hun then I put forth that you are soulless. The promise of shirtless Lee Byung-hun is enough to get me to pay and see this.

30. Marvel’s The Avengers
Kicking off with a film I and the rest of the world have seen, this was at the top of most lists of this kind. I was looking forward to The Avengers, but as a Joss Whedon fan, not as a Marvel fan. I’m not a superhero film person or at least, I’m a tough sell in most cases. Thankfully, I thoroughly enjoyed The Avengers, more so than most films in this genre.

29. Untouchable (aka Intouchable)
Summary: After he becomes a quadriplegic from a paragliding accident, an aristocrat hires a young man from the projects to be his caretaker.

Reasons: It is hard to overstate the cultural phenomenon this film has been in France. It is the second most successful of all time at the French box office. Looks like a hearty crowdpleaser and it has Francois Cluzet, one of my favorite French actors. Color me curious.

28. Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present
Summary: A documentary that follows the Serbian performance artist as she prepares for a retrospective of her work at The Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Reasons: I know nothing about Abramovic outside of having heard of her and knowing of her importance. So this seems like a great opportunity to get some insight into her and her work.

27. Compliance
Summary: When a prank caller convinces a fast food restaurant manager to interrogate an innocent young employee, no-one is left unharmed. Based on true events.

Reasons: The most controversial and divisive film at Sundance. Reason enough for me.

26. 2 Days in New York
Summary: Marion (Delpy) has broken up with Jack (Two Days in Paris) and now lives in New York with their child. But when her family decides to come visit her, she’s unaware that the different cultural background held by her new American boyfriend Mingus (Rock), her eccentric father, and her sister Rose who decided to bring her ex-boyfriend along for the trip, added to her upcoming photo exhibition, will make up for an explosive mix.

Reasons: Saw this at IFFBoston (embargo prevented review), but this would have been placed here because of Julie Delpy’s directing/acting/writing involvement.

25. Sleepwalk with Me
Summary: A burgeoning stand-up comedian struggles with the stress of a stalled career, a stale relationship, and the wild spurts of severe sleepwalking he is desperate to ignore.

Reasons: Really strong response everywhere it has played, starting with Sundance at the beginning of the year.

24. Kumare
Summary: A documentary about a man who impersonates a wise Indian Guru and builds a following in Arizona. At the height of his popularity, the Guru Kumaré must reveal his true identity to his disciples and unveil his greatest teaching of all.

Reasons: A doc about deception on a mass scale. Acquired by Kino Lorber. Interested to see what kind of perspective it takes.

23. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Summary: Faced with her father’s fading health and environmental changes that release an army of prehistoric creatures called aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy leaves her Delta-community home in search of her mother.

Reasons: The film that took this year’s Sundance by storm. Haven’t seen the trailer in my newly implemented effort to abstain from most trailers but the buzz surrounding it is more than enough to pique my interest.

22. Snow White and the Huntsman
Summary: In a twist to the fairy tale, the Huntsman ordered to take Snow White into the woods to be killed winds up becoming her protector and mentor in a quest to vanquish the Evil Queen.

Reasons: As if we need more takes on fairy tales. However! This one actually looks entertaining even if it is preposterous that Theron would not be the fairest of them all against Kristen Stewart. Most people mean this as a knock on Stewart, but I don’t. Don’t get me started on the nonsense insults heaped onto her. It’s a testament to Theron. My main two reasons are: 1. Charlize Theron who looks like she is chewing some delicious scenery. 2. Look at some of the cast list for the dwarves: Ian McShane (!), Eddie Marsan, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone and Nick Frost. Case closed.

21. Collaborator
Summary: A playwright whose marriage and career are in a free fall has an explosive run-in with his former neighbor, a right-wing ex-con.

Reasons: Olivia Williams in a starring role = I’m there. Martin Donovan’s first directorial effort.

20. The Loved Ones
Summary: When Brent turns down his classmate Lola’s invitation to the prom, she concocts a wildly violent plan for revenge.

Reasons: Ever since this Australian horror film was released back in 2009, I have been hearing about it. This will be the first time I will actually get to see this oft-talked about work. It is finally being released in the US.

19. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Summary: AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY is the first feature-length film about the internationally renowned Chinese artist and activist, Ai Weiwei. In recent years, Ai has garnered international attention as much for his ambitious artwork as his political provocations. AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY examines this complex intersection of artistic practice and social activism as seen through the life and art of China’s preeminent contemporary artist.

Reasons: This doc, like many on this list, has been getting a lot of attention and I’ve been hearing about it for a while now. I think its pretty obvious that this sounds completely fascinating.

18. The Queen of Versailles
Summary: A documentary that follows a billionaire couple who live in a 90,000-square-foot mansion inspired by Versailles, built on the success of the time-share industry.

Reasons: Saw at IFFBoston. You may ask yourself why you should care about these people, but the film allows you to feel disgust and empathy without compromising itself. I had wanted to see it since the buzz surrounding it started and I can tell you it is well worth seeking out.

17. Pink Ribbons, Inc.
Summary: Breast cancer has become the poster child of corporate cause-related marketing campaigns. Countless women and men walk, bike, climb and shop for the cure. Each year, millions of dollars are raised in the name of breast cancer, but where does this money go and what does it actually achieve?

Reasons: Another doc that looks like it is asking some imperative questions and is able to come up with some telling information. I cannot wait for this.

16. Lawless
Summary: Set in the Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia, a bootlegging gang is threatened by authorities who want a cut of their profits.

Reasons: I expected this to be a lot higher, especially considering this was directed by none other than John Hillcoat and boasts a screenplay and music by Nick Cave. And take a look at that sick cast. The last time these two teamed up we received the gritty existential western gift that is The Proposition. I have high expectations for this, but I admit that the trailer (which in hindsight I should not have watched), presented a more conventional looking film. I keep in mind though that the business of trailers is to make things look conventional. The one thing that really stuck out to me was Guy Pearce who looks creepily searing. I’m still highly anticipating this. The Proposition is one of my favorite films.

15. Polisse
Summary: A journalist covering police assigned to a juvenile division enters an affair with one of her subjects.

Reasons: Been waiting for this since it premiered at last year’s Cannes, precisely one year ago. Word has been strong. Oh and it has the beauteous Nicholas Duvauchelle.

14. Beyond the Black Rainbow
Summary: Despite being under heavy sedation, Elena tries to make her way out of Arboria, a secluded, quasi-futuristic commune.

Reasons: Seeming to blatantly and proudly take from Cronenberg, Kubrick and an endless amalgam of mind-bending influences, this seems crafted with cult status in mind, which tends to make me weary. But I cannot deny this looks awesome and I cannot wait to see if it can deliver and earn the status it desperately wants.

13. Searching for Sugar Man
Summary: Two South Africans set out to discover what happened to their unlikely musical hero, the mysterious 1970s rock ‘n’ roller, Rodriguez.

Reasons: Like the majority of the films on this list, there’s been a lot of strong buzz surrounding this one. I don’t know what else to say besides it shooting up to the top of my to-see list since reading about it.

12. I Wish
Summary: 12-year-old Koichi, who has been separated from his brother Ryunosuke due to his parents’ divorce, begins to believe that the new bullet train service will create a miracle when the first trains pass each other at top speed.

Reasons: New Hirokazu Koreeda. Need I say more?

11. The Dark Knight Rises
Summary: Eight years after Batman took the fall for Two Face’s crimes, a new terrorist leader, Bane, overwhelms Gotham’s finest, and the Dark Knight resurfaces to protect a city that has branded him an enemy.

Reasons: I don’t really need reasons here. This is clearly the most anticipated film of the summer along with one or two more on this list. Admittedly, Nolan’s Batman work is my least favorite stuff of his and I merely like The Dark Knight. The last third left a bitterly dismal taste in my mouth that I’ve never been able to wash out. But I trust in Nolan; its obvious he’s remarkable at what he does and we can justifiably expect a lot from him. But I’m still not sold on Hathaway.

10. Indie Game: The Movie
Summary: Follows the dramatic journeys of indie game developers as they create games and release those works, and themselves, to the world.

Reasons: Talk about this has been really prominent (don’t you love my original reasons?) and to get an inside look at what it takes to be working on the fringes of this industry is sure to be rewarding on multiple levels.

9. The Invisible War
Summary: An investigative and powerfully emotional documentary about the epidemic of rape of soldiers within the US military, the institutions that perpetuate and cover up its existence, and its profound personal and social consequences.

Reasons: A topic that makes for essential viewing, this is a problem that needs to be brought to the forefront of conversations. Hopefully this film will help this happen. From Kirby Dick, director of This Film is Not Yet Rated.

8. Paul Williams Still Alive
Reasons: Saw at IFFBoston. Basically you should see this because its a documentary about Paul Williams. And Paul Williams is a genius. And if you don’t like Paul Williams I don’t want to know you.

7. Brave
Summary: Determined to make her own path in life, Princess Merida defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, Merida must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a beastly curse.

Reasons: Um…a new Pixar film that is not part of the Cars franchise? That’s just for starters. My two main reasons are the following. First, it is the first Pixar film featuring a female protagonist, and it looks like a refreshing rejection of the traditional expectations of women. The sprightly and flame-haired Merida looks like a much-needed role model for young girls that can counteract the toxicity they are exposed to on a daily basis. Second, this looks to be the most visually stunning Pixar setting since Finding Nemo. Every time I see a picture or trailer for the film I am blown away by how absurdly gorgeous this looks. I want to live on this world already. I want to escape into this film and I haven’t even seen it yet.

6. Killer Joe
Summary: When a debt puts a young man’s life in danger, he turns to putting a hit out on his evil mother in order to collect the insurance.

Reasons: And the list takes a turn as we transition from Pixar to the NC-17 rated film from the bunch. William Friedkin and Tracy Letts collaborating again, adapting one of Letts’ plays, after 2005’s claustrophobic Bug which is one of my favorite films of the aughts. I’ve been dying to see this for a while now. It looks brutal, funny, and brutally funny.

5. Oslo, August 31st
Summary: One day in the life of Anders, a young recovering drug addict, who takes a brief leave from his treatment center to interview for a job and catch up with old friends in Oslo.

Reasons: I admit I’m not the biggest fan of Joachim Trier’s Reprise, although I won’t deny its status as one of the more assured pieces of debut filmmaking I’ve ever seen. Still, I’ve been anxiously awaiting this since last year’s Cannes debut. Its placement should indicate just how much I am looking forward to this one.

4. The Imposter
Summary: A documentary centered on a young Frenchman who convinces a grieving Texas family that he is their 16-year-old son who went missing for 3 years.

Reasons: Saw at IFFBoston and it’s going strong as my favorite 2012 film so far. It would have been this high on the list regardless. I’ve been hooked since reading the one sentence summary above. Don’t read any reviews. Don’t watch any trailers. Just see The Imposter.

3. Take This Waltz
Summary: A happily married woman falls for the artist who lives across the street.

Reasons: Written and directed by Sarah Polley, I am counting down the days til this film’s release. The summary sounds like this story has been done a million times. But all signs point to a uniquely honest and complex telling of the grey areas of relationships, feelings and monogamy. It looks challenging and uncompromising. And it’s named after a Leonard Cohen song.

2. Moonrise Kingdom
Summary: A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them.

Reasons: New Wes Anderson. Case closed.

1. Prometheus
Summary: A team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race.

Reasons: To me, the trailer for Prometheus is the advertising equivalent of dropping the mic and walking off the stage. Every time I see this trailer in theaters, my thought is that everyone should just pack it on up and go home. I’m trying to avoid Ridley Scott’s contradictory and increasingly distracting comments. I’m trying to go into this as blind as I can outside of that first full trailer and general unavoidable information about the film. I’m also trying to keep my anticipation to a controlled level as I tend to be let down for films I get this excited about. But damn if this doesn’t look like its going to own the summer movie season.

The rest unordered:
The Woman in the Fifth
Farewell, My Queen
5 Broken Cameras
Lovely Molly
Lola Versus
Where Do We Go Now?
The Good Doctor
Planet of Snail
Side by Side
Your Sister’s Sister
The Awakening
The Dictator
Safety Not Guaranteed
Easy Money
Magic Mike
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
To Rome with Love
Elena (Russian)
First Position
Dark Horse
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Jack and Diane
Bel Ami
Mother’s Day
God Bless America
Dark Shadows
The Bourne Legacy
Hope Springs
The Pact
Ruby Sparks
The Expendables 2
Chicken with Plums
Premium Rush
Chernobyl Diaries
Men in Black 3
The Watch
Little White Lies
Red Lights
Total Recall
Neil Young Journeys
Whores’ Glory

Screening Log: April 15th-30th, 2012 – Films #104-123

Note: All grades are entirely subjective.

105. Man Hunt (1941, Lang): B-/C+

106. Dark Passage (1947, Daves): B-

107. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946, Milestone): B+

108. And Then There Were None (1945, Clair): B+

109. Secret Beyond the Door… (1948, Lang): A-/B+

110. Criss Cross (1947, Siodmak): B

111. The Wolf Man (1941, Waggner): B-

112. The Woman in the Window (1944, Lang): B+/B

113. Green for Danger (1946, Gilliat): A/A-

113. Tales of Manhattan (1942, Duvivier): B

115. Moontide (1942, Mayo): B/B-

116. The Thief of Bagdad (1940, Powell, et al): A

117. Pursued (1947, Walsh): B

118. The Imposter (2012, Layton): A/A-

120. 2 Days in Paris (2007, Delpy): B+/B

121. Day of Wrath (1943, Dreyer): A-/B+

122. 2 Days in New York (2012, Delpy): B+/B

123. Wuthering Heights (2012, Arnold): C+