|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on July 24, 2014 at 11:40 PM||comments (0)|
BROKEN FLOWERS ***1/2
IDEA: The aptly named Don Johnston, an aging and taciturn former ladies' man, receives an anonymous letter in the mail informing him he's the father of a 19-year-old son. Spurred on by his enthusiastic neighbor, he travels the country, visiting the four past girlfriends who may have sent that letter.
BLURB: The only certainty in Broken Flowers, Jim Jarmusch’s marvelously droll study of late-life arrest, is that nothing is certain. Bill Murray’s Don Johnston figures this out in the director’s characteristically laconic fashion: amongst coolly curated spaces and inscrutable past flames, he partakes in a domestic odyssey that only curves, elliptically, to reveal question marks proceeded by telling silences. The answers are always out of reach, the guarantees stymied by the possibility, however farfetched, of yet more possibilities. Everything adds up to nothing, which is also, maybe, something. The film’s brand of nihilism is enlivened by humor and pathos, Jarmusch’s observations on ponderous notions – of impossible communication, of cosmic indifference, of chaos theory and karma – filtered through a pithy awareness of how simultaneously terrifying and archly funny those concepts can be. Where he looks, we look, and where he teases the suggestion of something important, we are inclined to go along with it, forming connections in our head that may or may not actually be there. Who can’t relate? Broken Flowers is about the perpetual questioning of probabilities, of seeing things and wondering if, how, or when they may pertain to you. That we might never know for sure is certain.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on July 14, 2014 at 5:45 PM||comments (0)|
THE LONG DAY CLOSES ****
IDEA: Bud, a lonely young boy growing up in Liverpool, seeks solace in family, daydreams, and, most importantly, the movies.
BLURB: The Long Day Closes is a movie of memories, which is also to say it is a memory of movies, of life and time wedded inextricably to the hypnotic movement of film. Forgoing narrative for a mélange of exquisite, almost unspeakably beatific impressions, Davies crafts a vision of his childhood in mid-1950s Liverpool that breathes with the cinema’s uniquely oneiric language. The images, immaculately composed and lit by Michael Coulter to resemble ghostly fragments of memory beamed straight from the subconscious, billow and float and seep into one another, recounted as much by a human mind as by the ethereal flickering of a movie projector. Most filmmakers might have mounted this film-drunk picture as pastiche, but Davies has something infinitely more profound in mind: less a quoting of classic cinema and song than a full-bodied absorption of them, an integration so seamless their entire histories seem to have been ingrained in the film’s fiber. This all results in a movie of near celestial stature, one that manages to align and conflate the processes of cinema, memory, and dream to such a degree they feel not only inseparable, but divinely enmeshed. Davies is hauntingly aware of the transience of those processes, and by the time the last frames fade away from the screen, it feels as if a sacred experience has been inevitably curtailed. Somehow, that’s what makes it all the more miraculous.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on July 13, 2014 at 10:40 PM||comments (0)|
DOWN BY LAW ***
IDEA: Three men are caught and convicted on variously dubious charges. Thrown into a small prison cell together, the mix of their unique personalities proves both aggravating and ennobling.
BLURB: There’s a sense of the mythic coursing through Down by Law, a feeling of deeper, grander, more cosmic implications lurking beneath its bruised Louisiana tableaux. Certainly Jarmusch’s singular and captivatingly irregular aesthetic plays its part in this: his long, meticulous shots hang so reverently on starkly grotty spaces and lethargic bodies that everything seems to exist in a stupor removed from time and Earth, while his intent listening to the nuances of dead air gives silence an imposing presence. His characters, meanwhile, the few of them that there even are, occupy desolate streets and even emptier bayous like insouciant folkloric nomads, fated to lives they might contest if they weren’t so entirely resigned to them in the first place. Jarmusch keeps it storybook simple, sketching a strange and rather vague trinity of misfits whose interactions are alternately trivial and possibly allegorical, and whose paths may or may not say something about the fickleness of America’s – or fate’s – allegiances. The film is at its most entrancing in its first two thirds or so, when these nebulous ideas are given ample room to accumulate. After that it grows somewhat desultory and diffuse, showing, perhaps, that Jarmusch was more interested in the broader primal strokes of his story than he was invested in a more probing study of character or milieu. For all the genuine mystery rumbling beneath Down by Law’s heavy carapace, only just enough is mined to make us feel there’s more yet to discover.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on June 20, 2014 at 2:10 PM||comments (0)|
EDGE OF TOMORROW ***1/2
IDEA: In the future, a massive alien invasion threatens humanity. When officer William Cage is unwittingly thrown into battle, he is killed - only to wake up the day before, soon realizing every time he dies the day resets.
BLURB: Muscular and exciting with a cerebral kick, Edge of Tomorrow is a model of brawny action filmmaking backed by shrewd, brainy storytelling. Like its protagonist’s increasing efficiency in navigating the vagaries of his infinitely repeating day, the film barrels forward with canny momentum, escalating viscerally as well as intellectually, gathering the requisite energy while finding new and clever ways to briskly reveal only the most essential information. It is a sterling piece of writing charged by the wit and dexterity of director Doug Liman, as well as incalculably aided by Tom Cruise in one of his best roles in years. Edited by James Herbert and Laura Jennings in a masterful build of repetitions and elisions, the film has a proficiency and a narrative intelligence rare in most blockbuster spectacles: instead of expecting the audience to unquestioningly delight in big action brawls, Edge of Tomorrow delivers on its robust thrills because they’re in the service of a terrifically constructed framework. Here is a case, happily, in which the success of alien warfare actually depends on savvy storytelling craft.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on May 27, 2014 at 6:10 PM||comments (0)|
THE AMERICAN SOLDIER ***1/2
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
IDEA: A Vietnam war vet returns to his German hometown, where he is enlisted by three crooked cops to put hits on some unwanted civilians.
BLURB: Fassbinder’s wonderfully strange gangster/noir pastiche imagines a world so morally bankrupt it’s doubled back on itself and become parody. Here, crooked cops and macho killers are exaggeratedly disaffected phonies, their mock-professional attitudes and chauvinistic posturing only transparently covering their spiritual vacancy. In the place of real emotions are banal displays of physical violence; in place of affection is macho aggressiveness and put-upon misogyny; and normative behavior has been all but snuffed out, substituted by perversity, followed and consolidated by deadening complacency. The love Fassbinder has for the genre tropes he exploits is palpable: what is so thrilling is how he manages to both revel in them and expose them as the ludicrous illusions they are. His understanding of the ways in which visual culture shapes ideology and identity is manifest here in his parade of seedy degenerates, all of whom seem to be acting out images they’ve been fed, and who become part and parcel of the narcotizing culture they so indifferently inhabit. The film’s ending, in which sex (or, the impression of it) is only allowed after death and is conferred by brother rather than lover, is an ingeniously executed scene that sums up the movie’s thesis, both morbid and absurd, of a social compass thrown deliriously out of whack.
|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.