Mar 24, 2015

REVIEW: While We're Young (dir. Baumbach)

'... There are distinct shades of Crimes and Misdemeanours here, in which Woody Allen’s forlorn documentarian had to bite his knuckles while Alan Alda’s bumptious smoothie pontificated loudly on the secret of his success (“tragedy is comedy…plus time”). You couldn’t help but wonder if Allen weren’t, in this pairing, serving up two aspects of his own character —whether the Alda character wasn’t an exaggerated version of his own success, a means of dramatising his own feelings of unworthiness and fraudulence. Baumbach is cut from the same cloth as Allen, unquestionably — the same ambivalent herringbone, cutting first this way, then that, driven by the same truth-telling instinct, close to pedantry, which propels his Eeyoreish donkey-men to soft, inevitable self-defeat.  You suspect they are half in love with it. The terminal passivity of his protagonists is not without its structural problems: his films tend to dribble to a halt, or simply fade away, like a weak handshake. Even “Frances Ha”, much praised for its infusion of nouvelle vague spirit, pooled in the same funk of self-defeat that swallowed “Greenberg” whole, with Greta Gerwig’s heroine flopping from one humiliation to the next. Absent from his work are the usual Hollywood growth curves and third-act catharses.  People do not learn from their mistakes in his films: they keep doggedly betraying themselves. But watching them do so can amount to it's own form of petulance — a lack of charity posing as an absence of illusions' 
— from my review for Intelligent Life 

Mar 15, 2015

Freaking out the fourth wall

“I was worried about the farting,” he says now. “But John Calley, one of the executives at Warner Brothers, said to me, when I asked, ‘Can I punch the shit out of an old lady?’  He said a brilliant thing. He said, ‘If you're going to go up to the bell. Ring it.’” The peals can still be heard. Critics are fond of pointing out that Brooks films ushered in the modern gross-out comedy as we know it — a direct line can be traced from his films to the Naked Gun pictures, to the comedy of Jim Carrey, to the films the Farrelly Brothers and Judd Apatow — but less remarked upon is how irreducibly cinematic Brooks’ films are. The farting gag in Blazing Saddles is essentially a joke about the conventions of the Western, wherein men sit around campfire for hours ingesting beans with nary a parp. And while everyone objected to it individually; en masse, they howled. Brooks films are fourth-wall freak-outs, the butt of his jokes frequently film form itself — tracking shots that go crashing into windows; soundtracks that turn out to be played by the actual Count Basie band, marooned in the desert... his comedy is infantile in every sense of the word. His characters cry and storm and suck on their blankets, driven by their unappeasable bodies and insatiable appetites for money, love, succor, comfort. They claw for the teat.'

— from my interview with Mel Brooks for The Sunday Times  

Mar 14, 2015


'One of the great benefits of digital consumption is that it is democratic: In cyberspace, there's nobody to judge you. If this 57-year-old wants to hear what Joey Badass sounds like, I don't have to run the gauntlet of incredulous stares in cool record stores: There! I'm listening to Paper Trails as we speak! And yet part of the point of culture is that it allows us to demonstrate our tastes publicly — it helps us find our tribe. (Thanks, Joey, but I'm going back to the new Valentinos compilation.) The arts are the most elaborate and most precise social network ever invented, but if it's going to work properly, you have to get out of the house sometimes and show who you are and what you love. You have to go to shows and galleries and bookstores, you have to ask for what you want out loud. And this expression of taste must involve an impulse that, at its heart, is anti-democratic: Somewhere you have to believe that what you like is better than what all those other losers like.'  
Nick Hornby writing for the Hollywood Reporter on the possibility of a High Fidelity sequel

Mar 10, 2015

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Raine on Degas

'Here are some chairs I noticed. An empty chair at the natural optical centre of Degas’s Dance Foyer of the Opera at rue le Peletier (1872), occupied by a fan and a puddle of white cloth. It is waiting – and the viewer is waiting, subliminally – for its occupant to return and claim the fan. It is reserved. Someone has bagged it. Not a circumstance you often see painted, though common enough in real life. Nor is the violinist playing. He is pausing, his bow at rest on his trouser leg. Degas has painted a pause. A thing that hasn’t been painted before.' — from Craig Raine's review of Inventing Impressionism for the New Statesman

Alfred Hitchcock's 'White Album'

'... This tendency to praise Hitchcock for his flaws is most evident when it comes to Vertigo, a fulminous cloudscape boasting the most unsatisfactory ending of the director’s career yet “so purely a movie – so purely involved in what movies do — that we can almost let the plot go,” writes Wood. “It doesn't get lost. But it mimes the lostness of characters caught between conspiracy and desire, between sobriety and fascination.” This is an elegantly executed dive from the high-board, even if it sounds like an ad for a new fragrance ("between conspiracy and desire, between sobriety and fascination... Eau de Alfred"), and doesn’t shake one’s suspicion that Vertigo is the Hitchcock movie for those who, above all, wish the director had been French, in the same way that the White Album is the Beatles album for those who most wish they had instead been The Doors. Adapted from a French potboiler by the author of Henri-Georges Clouzet’s Les Diabolique, to which it was a direct response, the film is a maze with no exit, lots of wandering, looking, longing, and virtually no jokes. Which is not to say that it isn’t the also most wrenching of his works — if ever a film was meant to find a second life, it is this one, with its plot involving possible reincarnation, and a love story which pushes Hitchcock’s pygmalionism to its heartbroken conclusion. But excessive praise for it is something of a backhanded compliment to the rest of the oeuvre, as if Hitchcock’s fingers had first to be prized loose from the cookie jar of narrative before he could be rewarded.'
— from my review of Michael Wood's Alfred Hitchcock: The Man Who Knew Too Much for Intelligent Life

Mar 6, 2015

REVIEW: Still Alice (dir. Glatzer / Westmoreland)

'There’s always seemed something masklike about Julianne Moore’s face: she seems walled in by her beauty. When she smiles, the only thing that moves is her mouth; that superb fenderwork of bone remains as impassive as a sphinx. This very inexpressiveness gives her of an air of trapped intelligence which she used to great effect in the early part of her career playing a string of numbed out beauties— her coked-up porn actress in Boogie Nights; her neurasthenic housewives in Safe and Far From Heaven, all dying behind the eyes. More recently she has cut loose to channel something of Diane Keaton’s jangled-nerve comedy in The Kids Are Alright, in which her performance was a revelation: Moore has never been so loose or so funny. In Still Alice, she plays a victim on early-onset Alzheimer’s and you can see why they gave her an Oscar for it. It’s like watching a career retrospective only in reverse: come see the more radiant, vivacious Julianne Moore of late regress into one of her early pathos-of-emptiness roles.'  
— from my review of Still Alice for The Spectator

Mar 3, 2015

Most Anticipated Films of 2015

Hail Caesar (Universal) — dir. Joel and Ethan Coen w/ Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill  
Star Wars: The Force Awakens — Abrams (Dec) 
St James Place — dir. Spielberg  w/  Tom HanksMark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Billy Magnussen, Eve Hewson. (Touchstone/DreamWorks /20th Century Fox)  
Spotlight —Thomas McCarthy, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d'Arcy James, Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci, Liev Schreiber, Billy Crudup, and John Slattery 
The Hateful Eight — Quentin Tarantino, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Dern, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Demián Bichir, and Kurt Russell (Weinstein Co.)  
Midnight Special — Jeff Nichols, Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, and Joel Edgerton (Warner Bros.)   
Crimson Peak — dir. del Toro w/ Chastain (Oct 16th)
Far from the Madding Crowd dir. Thomas Vinterberg w. Mulligan (May 1)  
Trumbo — Jay Roach, Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Elle Fanning, Louis C.K., Helen Mirren, and John Goodman (Bleecker Street)  
Brooklyn — Nick Hornby, directed by John Crowley and starring Domhnall Gleeson and Saoirse Ronan ( Fox Searchlight)  
Trainwreck dir. Judd Apatow (July 17) 
 The Martian (dir. Ridley Scott, November 25)
Joy dir. David O. Russell w/  Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, and Édgar Ramirez.  (20th Century Fox, 12/25)  
Triple Nine — John Hillcoat, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Chris Allen, and Anthony Mackie. (Open Road)  
Our Brand is Crisis (Warner Bros.) — dir. David Gordon Green‘s with Sandra Bullock, Scoot McNairy, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackieand Ann Dowd
Beasts of No Nation — dir.  Fukunaga w / Elba   
Everest (Universal) — dir. Baltasar Kormákur w/ Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Jason Clarke, John Hawkes, Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright 
That's What I'm Talking About — dir. Linklater   
Life (no distributor) — dir.  Anton Corbijn w/ Robert Pattinson Dane DeHaan  Ben Kingsley, Joel Edgerton 
 The Revenant (20th Century Fox) — dir.  Alejandro González Inarritu (director/screenplay) w/ Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson  
Hughes — dir  Beatty, w/ Alden Ehrenreich, Lily Collins, Matthew Broderick, Annette Bening, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen and Candice Bergen    
Triple Nine — dir. Hillcoat w/ Winslet, Harrelson, Ejiofor, Affleck (Sept 9th)
Carol (Weinstein Co.) — dir. Todd Haynes w/ Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler   
Silence — Martin Scorsese,  Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, Issei Ogata, Adam Driver, and Tadanobu Asano. (Paramount)  
Ricki and the Flash — dir. Demme — w/ Streep (Aug 7th) 
Icon — Stephen Frears,  Ben Foster, Lee Pace, and Chris O'Dowd. (Working Title, no US distributor) 
Sea of Trees (no distributor) — dir. Gus Van Sant w/ Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe, Naomi Watts, Katie Aselton, Jordan Gavaris 
Knight of Cups (no distributor) — dir. Terrence Malick w/ Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Brian Dennehy, Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto, Wes Bentley, Isabel Lucas, Teresa Palmer
Queen of the Desert dir. Werner Herzog w/  Nicole Kidman, Robert Pattinson, Damian Lewis and James Franco.  
Grandma — Weitz, Tomlin 
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl Thomas Mann and RC Cyler  
Mistress America Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach (Fox  Searchlight) 
The Diary of a Teenage Girl Marielle Heller, Bel Powley, Kristin Wiig and Alexander Skarsgard (Sony Pictures Classics) 
The End of the Tour — James Ponsoldt, Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg (A24) 
Luca Guadagnino's A Bigger Splash — starring Matthias Schoenaerts, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, and Dakota Johnson (Fox Searchlight)  
Jean-Marc Vallee's Demolition, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, and Chris Cooper  (Fox Searchlight) 
Woody Allen's Irrational Man  starring Joaquin Phoenix, Parker Posey, Emma Stone, and Jamie Blackley (Sony Pictures Classics) 
Brian Helgeland's Legend starring Tom Hardy as the Kray twins and Emily Browning. (Working Title, Universal) 
Justin Kurtzel's Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard (The Weinstein Co.) 
Alejandro Amenábar's Regression starring Ethan Hawke, Emma Watson, and David Dencik. (The Weinstein Company) 
Stephen Daldry's Trash starring Rooney Mara and Martin Sheen. (Working Title, Focus Features)   
Robert Zemeckis's The Walk — starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, James Badge Dale and Charlotte Le Bon. (Sony/TriStar, 10.2)