|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on March 6, 2015 at 2:45 PM||comments (0)|
THE SMILING LIEUTENANT ***1/2
IDEA: Austrian Lt. Nikolaus von Preyn is in love with band leader Franzi, but an ill-timed wink prepared for her is instead seized by the visiting Princess Anna of Flausenthurm, causing an international incident and forcing the Lt. to take the princess' hand in marriage.
BLURB: The Smiling Lieutenant is a fizzy high point of the early Hollywood romantic comedy and an exemplar of the genre’s tropes at their most wittily distilled. Of course, it’s not just any romantic comedy but a Lubitsch one, which means it’s in a class of its own: piquant, self-effacing in style and charm, drolly absurd and pulsing with a crafty, barely contained bawdiness only this master at his pre-Code best could pull off, it’s not just a pleasure but a preternaturally sophisticated one. Working in but also slyly subverting some of the codified sexual politics and gender roles endemic to the territory, Lubitsch has a way of effortlessly avoiding sourness that may plague other movies of the sort, pitching his relationship drama and comic dalliances at a level always skirting irony. Everything is a euphemism for sex; nothing can be or should be taken too seriously. The targets are desire, romance, marriage, diplomacy, and the upper class, but the lightness of the Lubitsch touch ensures that nothing is sunk by mean spirits. From Claudette Colbert’s independent flapper to the hilariously ritualistic and alphabetically insecure royalty of Flausenthurm, everyone is allowed a smile and a laugh, and, lest you forget it – a wink.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on February 19, 2015 at 4:45 PM||comments (0)|
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on February 16, 2015 at 2:05 PM||comments (0)|
NEWS FROM HOME ****
IDEA: Images of New York City are set against the narration of a mother's letters to her daughter abroad.
BLURB: Spectatorship, authorship, absence and presence become poignantly reified in News from Home, Chantal Akerman’s homesick city portrait turned structuralist symphony. With cultural displacement and alienation as her most immediate themes, Akerman juxtaposes yearning letters written to her from her mother with long perspectival shots of grungy mid-70s New York City, its streets and subway platforms transformed into eldritch sites of communal ritual of which we are not a part. Some locations are eerily desolate, landscapes of forbidding concrete and iron. Others are teeming with people who move languidly about their urban dwellings, natural civilian habitats taking on a decidedly alien air through the dispassionate and detached camera. But Akerman, who is pointedly filming but never seen in the flesh, and whose voice assumes her mother’s words over the disjunctive soundtrack, is also very present, her camera apparatus often noticed by the pedestrians who pass in front of it, their stares solicited by its gaze. We watch, absent from the image as she is and yet authoring its look, providing it with the necessary perception to give life to its astonishing audiovisual sensations. An ethnographic time capsule of a place long gone and a singular simulation of what it’s like to be dislocated, within yet without, News from Home welds thrilling form to haunting considerations of estrangement, and ends up transcendent.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on February 5, 2015 at 4:35 PM||comments (0)|
AMERICAN SNIPER **1/2
IDEA: Chris Kyle takes on four tours of duty in Iraq, becoming in the process the most lethal sniper in US military history. At home, however, his domestic life slowly disintegrates.
BLURB: At the heart of American Sniper is a dilemma Clint Eastwood suggestively raises but never sufficiently negotiates: how to tell and honor the legacy of a real person while also depicting the insidious and deeply troubling cultural condition that molded that real person. Because he is too morally ambivalent a storyteller and too nuanced an artist, the portrait is admittedly complex, and often smartly provocative. Eastwood doesn’t repudiate the unmissable horror – Chris Kyle’s dangerous ethical and ideological certitude, inculcated in him by righteous yet dangerous pride in country, is evident, always kept on the disquieting periphery through Bradley Cooper’s impressively unsettled performance. But Eastwood is wanting to show that condition as being somewhat virtuous, too, an integral part of the American character, and this is where things get muddy. If he had kept something of a balance between reverence and anguish during the tense, appropriately brutal battle sequences, he hedges during the home front scenes, minimizing PTSD and gun hazards to weakly soften the edges of a character with whom our identification is never properly complicated. After subtly avoiding so much mythologizing and glorification, his denouement gives in, deifying a man and implicitly shirking uncomfortable realities in favor of red-blooded adulation. What is here is often accomplished; Eastwood’s craft hasn’t been this sharp in years. It’s what’s been left out – details omitted, ideas deferred, facts outright ignored – that perturbs.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on January 16, 2015 at 10:00 AM||comments (0)|
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on January 3, 2015 at 10:50 PM||comments (0)|
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on December 31, 2014 at 5:00 PM||comments (0)|
A MOST VIOLENT YEAR ***1/2
IDEA: In a violent, corrupted 1981 New York City, an immigrant entrepreneur attempts to expand his heating-oil empire - and retain his morals - as criminal competition threatens to vitiate his progress.
BLURB: A Most Violent Year is a lean, sophisticated, often exquisitely understated piece of genre filmmaking. Taking after the coolheaded precision of its main character, a dogged entrepreneur played with low key intensity by Oscar Isaac, J.C. Chandor crafts his film with deliberate, almost imperceptibly building force, always moving fastidiously forward. This concentrated approach is key to the film’s eerily naturalistic effect: never flashy or melodramatic, it plays like a classic 70s crime drama that’s been entirely stripped of its sensationalism. Here, bullets and fists make sudden, incontrovertible impacts. A chase scene may be thrilling, but the overwhelming feeling is one of exhaustion. Despite the title, Chandor rarely displays violent acts on screen, and when he does, they land with a brutal, shocking weight befitting real life. Most of the time, however, the violence is what is threatened and what is elided, what lurks beneath the becalmed surfaces of capitalism and domesticity but what must be constantly muffled or negotiated with. In making his protagonist about the most virtuous, straight-laced capitalist you could imagine, Chandor mounts his crime film like something of an anti-crime crime film, never allowing us to take pleasure in noxious impulses that are typically part and parcel of the genre’s appeal. Romanticism has no place here – a familiar notion A Most Violent Year makes hauntingly clear.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on December 24, 2014 at 3:25 PM||comments (0)|
IDEA: An account of Cheryl Strayed, who sought to heal her personal demons and rebuild herself by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mexico border to Canada.
BLURB: It’s so refreshing to see a modern, tough-minded mainstream movie centered around a strong female perspective, one is inclined to overlook or at least mentally diminish some of Wild’s more considerable problems. After all, Jean-Marc Vallée’s film is not without its merits: formally ambitious and sufficiently moving, with an impassioned performance from Reese Witherspoon, it is clearly a work into which much thought and care went. And while its motivational story retains traces of teary platitudinous moments, it is enlivened and complicated by a nonlinear narrative approach that enmeshes past and present in a swirling tapestry of image and sound. That impressionistic gambit, unfortunately, is both the film’s greatest asset and its most troublesome one, as genuinely poignant and evocative montage comes up against juxtapositions that seem strained and programmatic, either obviously telegraphing an emotion or else pushing ideas blatantly to the surface. Vallée and screenwriter Nick Hornby commit admirably to their sense memory, free-associative structure, but the effect is only intermittently successful, never clicking into gear in a sustained way. Still, Witherspoon is a worthy and compelling lead, and the editing by McMurphy and Pensa – not to mention terrific sound design that incorporates Leonard Cohen and Simon & Garfunkel into haunted physical and psychological spaces – keep things on course even as the bumpy narrative threatens to throw us off.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on December 20, 2014 at 5:55 PM||comments (0)|
FORCE MAJEURE ***1/2
IDEA: Husband and father Tomas makes a dubious split-second decision when an avalanche seems to be headed toward him and his family. Nobody is physically harmed, but the emotional fallout begins to send shockwaves through a seemingly idyllic relationship.
BLURB: Force Majeure belongs to a tradition of formally rigorous art films that create atmospheres so eerily becalmed the most ordinary image becomes imbued with an insinuating dread. There’s always the feeling that fragile personal and social equilibriums are being held barely intact beneath a glassy façade, problems held at bay only until the slightest of pressures sends everything crashing to the ground. Collapse is always imminent; as Östlund maintains his fastidiously presented exterior, the people behind it are imploding with astonishing efficiency. Across two agonizing, spectacularly uncomfortable hours, we watch as a family unit’s precarious foundation visibly cracks underneath them, their assumptions, expectations, and insecurities – imposed by gender and self-perception – brought excruciatingly to the fore. Östlund gives neither us nor them anywhere to hide: the false, perhaps untenable ideals that underpin a relationship are dissected and scrutinized unblinkingly, long takes, wide shots, and stifling silences placing human interaction under an anthropological microscope. It’s grueling stuff, and perhaps a mite too studied for its own good, but Östlund’s formal shrewdness, eye for social behavior, and sneaky black humor keep the film’s personal and ethical quandaries alive and smoldering. Best of all, he leaves judgment up to us. The characters may at times be selfish, cowardly, accusatory, or myopic, but their problems, even if we’d like to think otherwise, could emerge at any moment as our own.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on November 26, 2014 at 10:25 PM||comments (0)|
IDEA: John du Pont, heir to one of the US's largest fortunes, invites Olympic wrestling champion Mark Schultz and the rest of the American team to come train on his expansive estate, where things head toward inexorable tragedy.
BLURB: The real life story of an Olympic wrestler and his relationship with a sociopathic multimillionaire becomes the grounds for a dissection of the curdled American ethos in Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher. Though perhaps somewhat dubious in its ascribing of determinants to a person who was likely mentally ill, as well as in its construing of these true events as a broader cultural statement, Miller’s film is never so conclusive as to read as disingenuous. Instead, he takes a critical look at a truly bizarre and shocking true story and mines it for all its (possible, probable) sociological and psychological implications, leaving the dazed viewer with just enough information to try to make sense of it all. Loyalty to facts or not, what is clear is this: Foxcatcher is quietly mesmerizing, a perpetually simmering portrait of souls lost and corroded on their way to perceived greatness that doesn’t have a hair out of place. With its sensationally able cast – Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo, among them channeling a spectrum of distressed physical states – it puts into place a roiling fabric of power relations that point up a cultural condition predicated on exploitation, violence, and delusion. Miller and ace DP Greig Fraser train an uncompromising, almost anthropological eye on masculinity, alternately wounded and inflamed, and the milieu that sublimates aggressive impulses into capitalism and privilege. It may be lots of speculation pertaining to ultimately inscrutable events, but that it seems so unnervingly plausible testifies to Foxcatcher's bruising emotional veracity.