|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on March 29, 2014 at 4:40 PM||comments (0)|
UNDER THE SKIN ***
IDEA: A woman drives around the streets of Glasgow picking up men. Luring them to her pitch-black lair, she seduces them, quite literally, to their deaths.
BLURB: Mesmeric then ponderous, fascinatingly oblique then frustratingly vague, Under the Skin is an entrancing curiosity, a dark sci-fi fable designed to induce shivers first and tease the mind forever after. The results can be mixed: for every magnificently oneiric visual – naked bodies literally being swallowed in gulfs of blackness, superimpositions that create nearly prismatic planes – there are stretches that seem to lack the same kind of purpose or vigor, stalling in places that should instead be serving to develop, or deepen, the film’s richly existential themes. At times, the ideas don’t feel fully borne out, or are otherwise unable to efficiently surface through Glazer’s abstractions. At others, the chilled moods and textures evoked by DP Daniel Landin spark them to life, slips of potent commentary on social and gender programming emerging miraculously from the void. When the film threatens to drift away in a gossamer wisp or become just another dreamy mood piece, it is grounded, finally, by a beguiling Scarlett Johansson, whose humanizing force ensures that the tricky ontological questions manage to register at all. How we can interpret her character’s strange, hurried self-awakening – the way she begins to understand her skin, her body, and what may or may not be going on beneath that exterior – is all thanks to Johansson’s subtly modulated behavioral cues. In the end, we, like her, will become all too aware of how insufficiently our appearances represent us, but also, somewhat tragically, how inseparable we are from them. Glazer doesn’t always get there, but the seeds he plants only grow the more one ponders.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on January 12, 2014 at 4:25 PM||comments (1)|
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on January 8, 2014 at 11:45 PM||comments (0)|
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on January 6, 2014 at 3:30 PM||comments (0)|
IDEA: In the near future, a man falls in love with his newly purchased operating system, causing him - and us - to reevaluate the nature of relationships in the digital age.
BLURB: With Her, Spike Jonze has created something truly unique in the pantheon of sci-fi cinema, a wise and ultimately sanguine vision of a future that seems like nothing less than the completely natural outgrowth of our present. The typical dystopian blues and grays are replaced by womblike crimsons and oranges; the machines are varying degrees of sentient, but they are not out to harm us; and very much like the world we live in now, everything is encased in a kind of glassy, snow globe-like cocoon, its inhabitants as close as they’ve ever been but just as equally as far. It is an ingeniously designed environment, with Hoyte Van Hoytema’s marvelous shallow focus cinematography rendering its cozy-but-eerily sterile spaces as segmented cells in which humans mustn’t feel the responsibility to interact. Instead, all of their difficult vagaries are intimately shared and combined with our rapidly evolving tech. How do we conduct our relationships when a friend or lover is as likely to come from bytes and algorithms as they are from neurons and synapses? Perhaps no other film has gotten so profoundly at the 21st century condition of living in a society overwhelmed in its involvement with, and reliance upon, the digital domain. Jonze takes a look at that society, but doesn’t recoil. He simply sees, and acknowledges, a new era, a next step in the timeline of social evolution in which we consider not how far we’ve fallen, but how much we're still yet to learn.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on December 30, 2013 at 12:50 AM||comments (0)|
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET ***
IDEA: An account of white collar criminal Jordan Belfort, whose phony brokerage firm and money laundering tactics made him and his minions millions - and allowed them to lead lives of unchecked lechery.
BLURB: For much of its running time, Martin Scorsese’s latest opus leans heavily on the appeal of base, juvenile pleasures, seeming to think nonstop displays of frat-level debauchery are reason enough to keep us engaged. He might be on to something. The Wolf of Wall Street is entertainment at its most gleefully wanton, an audience-baiter that milks every ounce of mileage it can from endless assortments of sex, drugs, nudity, vulgarity and the twisted rush of watching very rich people behave very, very badly. An electric Leonardo DiCaprio is at the center of it all, and his character’s volcanic vileness seeps through the picture, infecting everything with a primordial, animalistic hellishness that might just constitute Scorsese’s most perversely amoral world yet. It’s a compelling portrayal, though one Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter don’t bother giving much nuance. Nearly every beat of their restless three hour bacchanal is pitched at the same shrill, overbearing volume, with narrative texture hardly even a peripheral concern. That may very well be the point: a man rotted from the inside out by his self-consuming addiction to wealth and power is someone perhaps best served by a portrait that mirrors his exhausting hollowness. But is that evidence of Scorsese actually saying something about white collar profligacy, or is it him merely using the opportunity to indulge in his own authorial excesses? It’s exceedingly hard to tell. While the question lingers, its implications – for him, for the film, for us – prove tantalizing.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on December 26, 2013 at 7:55 PM||comments (0)|
AMERICAN HUSTLE ***
David O. Russell
IDEA: An FBI agent ensnares a conman and his equally devious partner into a sting operation targeting the mayor of New Jersey. Things get complicated when the conman's volatile wife enters the picture, and even more heated when the mafia gets involved.
BLURB: America is a country founded on the promise of opportunity and free enterprise, a place in which anyone of any stripe can become whomever they want to be and find happiness – and prosperity – in the process. The magnificently sleazy, conniving rogues in David O. Russell’s baggy but very entertaining American Hustle take that concept and exploit it for all it’s worth. These shaggy conmen and hustlers are the deliciously perverse incarnation of the American Dream: they are deceitful and dishonest, but only under the name of reinvention and survival. The roles they play are more than a way of life, but, perhaps, the way of life. One of Russell’s and his cast’s most thrilling accomplishments is how they make these lowlife scumbags paragons of profound human frailty. They are never forgiven for what they’ve done, but they are understood, and the dimensions they continue to acquire throughout Russell's and Singer's incredibly smart script keep us constantly reevaluating our sympathies. With surprising depth, they illustrate how fraud becomes a mask for distress, how vulnerability is suppressed and converted into one-upmanship, and how loyalties get tangled between and within levels political, familial, and romantic. Russell is rather scattershot in covering all of this abundance, often losing focus amidst the commotion. But it’s the characters, wily, complicated, and wonderful, that have us on our toes, and the brilliant cast of actors who get to bring them to life take full advantage of the opportunity. They play us good.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on December 24, 2013 at 11:30 PM||comments (0)|
Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander, 1983
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on November 27, 2013 at 9:15 PM||comments (0)|
IDEA: An old, ornery alcoholic father convinces his son to drive him to Nebraska thinking he's won a million dollars. On the way there, they stop by the town where the old man grew up, his past - and genealogy - revealing themselves in the process.
BLURB: Nebraska is a picture-perfect portrait of a place and a people, rendered with sensitivity, character, and a kind of region-specific detail that’s so precise it’s nigh miraculous. Its depiction of the American Midwest is as fine as the cinema has seen: whether capturing the majesty of its vast, unadorned landscapes or representing its small towns and their communities, it is attuned to the humble, understated temperament of the country’s heartland in a way that goes beyond the provincial and into a kind of transcendent familiarity. Payne and screenwriter Bob Nelson never step a foot wrong in giving us a totally naturalistic sense of the individual and shared family histories that have been built into this geography. Their insight into the ways familial relationships stall and evolve, regress and reshape through time and circumstance, is poignant and true. The faces chosen to bring the story and its characters to life are just as exemplary: Bruce Dern, June Squibb, and Will Forte make a hilariously mercurial father-mother-son dynamic, but it’s the bit parts, the little guys, that show just how attentive Payne is to the social fabric he’s weaving. Every single person, primary or peripheral, has the right look, the right sound, the right feel – while they may be polarized by the vagaries of life and family, nobody is out of place in this beautifully modest slice of Americana.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on November 6, 2013 at 9:35 PM||comments (0)|
Alfred Hitchcock's The Wrong Man, 1956
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on November 2, 2013 at 6:50 PM||comments (0)|
ALL IS LOST ****
IDEA: A man wakes up to find his sailboat flooded. A floating cargo container has punctured the side of his ship. He beats on, his prospects dwindling.
BLURB: Harnessing the water, the skies, and the grizzled yet improbably fit countenance of Robert Redford, All is Lost crafts an experience of staggering physical and emotional fluency. Chandor knows what he’s doing and more: his prudence, his visual acuity, and his open embrace of solitude and silence put into heartrending relief a story of personal and social crisis. The minimalism is such that the film operates on simultaneous levels of metaphor. As a simple survival tale of man versus nature, it’s riveting; as a more mythic visualization of detachment and loss, aging and despair, it’s even grander; and as a 21st century lament to economic disaster and social ostracization, it reaches its most gut-wrenching peaks. The images of our stoic old man slowly relenting to the whiplash of the natural world as well as the negligent attitudes of a passing society are painful in their familiarity. This may be a film about struggle, about resignation and decline. In those dire circumstances, however, it finds life unequivocally affirmed.