|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on August 30, 2016 at 8:40 PM||comments (0)|
PETE'S DRAGON *1/2
IDEA: Stranded after his parents are killed in a car accident, Pete finds protection and companionship in Elliot, a friendly dragon who lives in the woods. Their peaceful existence, however, is threatened by the arrival of a park ranger and a fleet of rapacious loggers.
BLURB: In its most lyrical moments, Pete’s Dragon aspires to the kind of earthy, poignant poetry of canonical boy-and-his-pet movies. For the rest of the time, which is a dispiriting majority, David Lowery’s loose remake lazily employs all the kids’ film clichés that Disney has made its bread and butter. The simplistic nature of the story is not by itself the issue: for a little while, Lowery seems to have tapped into the appropriate fable-like tone, which operates on straightforwardly primal storytelling and easy-to-read archetypes invested with the resonance of tradition. His prologue, largely nonverbal, promises economical image-making in an understated emotional register. Then it falls apart. The obligatory run-and-play scene between boy and dragon, placed right at the beginning, is a rousing sequence that nevertheless serves as a premature crescendo to a narrative that hasn’t even occurred. It is followed by an increasingly slapdash string of unimaginative dramatic confrontations and pursuits, each one culminating in a similar climax en route to the predetermined – and saccharine – resolution. Daniel Hart’s majestic score, at least, suggests the awe the film consistently fumbles to produce, but even its sweeping strings begin to sound as mawkish as the scenes they accompany. When Pete’s Dragon finally amounts to little more than a rote reiteration of the sanctity of the traditional family unit, that initial artistry supplied by Lowery feels like either the vestiges of a squandered opportunity or a hint at another film that would better serve his talents.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on August 9, 2016 at 1:00 AM||comments (0)|
MICROBE & GASOLINE ***
IDEA: Two teenage boys, timid doodler Daniel (Microbe) and puckish grease monkey Théo (Gasoline), leave behind bullies and fractured families to travel across France in a makeshift wheeled house.
BLURB: How to account for Microbe & Gasoline’s wild narrative detours and swerves in tone? Are these just natural occurrences in a boys-on-an-adventure road movie, in which the vehicle of the kids in question is a jerry-rigged house on wheels? The film is as ramshackle as their transportation, but it also resembles something else, something closer to the creative expression of the director’s surrogate young protagonist. Microbe & Gasoline is most like a classroom doodle that has fallen off the page and continues on, haphazardly, throughout a well-worn notebook. This rambling mishmash of bends and curlicues, representing a roller-coaster of teenage sensations, eventually gives way to an adult melancholy that reveals the film is as much a sketch of Gondry’s youth in the past as it is a reflection from the present. Even his young self begins to notice that he’s in a movie being crafted by an adult Gondry. The strange blending of madcap antics and pensive recognition thus begins to not only encapsulate the vagaries of adolescence, but stands as a literal conflation of young and mature perspectives in a wish-fulfillment fantasy that has nevertheless been tempered by the awareness that the past can only be reimagined through the movies. Microbe & Gasoline is about releases and blockages both creative and biological, a unique artist’s self-portrait that realizes its maker’s earliest artistic stirrings even as it acknowledges the limitations of creative revision.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on July 30, 2016 at 5:50 PM||comments (0)|
THE STRANGE LITTLE CAT ***1/2
IDEA: An extended family in a middle-class German apartment prepares for dinner as tensions and curiosities emerge from their interactions.
BLURB: The characters in The Strange Little Cat might be stuck in a time loop. Although the perfunctory efficiency of their domestic routine has bred a certain complacency in their lives, thus eliminating the chance that they would pick up on this, an unusual number of incidents and objects reoccur within a very brief span of time. We notice it far more than they ever could: in a formal strategy that comments as much on their blinkered vantages as on the way cinema organizes vision, Zürcher employs fixed takes, often from oblique angles that crop out significant spaces and actions, that restrict our focus to only what he wishes us to see. So, we notice the pesky moth that has invaded the kitchen even when the family does not. Oranges, frequently invoked in dialogue and in image, keep repeating in front of the camera, signifying connections, and meaning, that may not exist. Glasses of milk, bottles, bloody fingers, and shopping lists take on talismanic value. Behavior is both disjunctive and familiar; conversations, by turns digressive and direct, stress the banal mysteries of private experience. Zürcher does not prescribe some explanation for the mild yet acute strangeness of his otherwise mundane scenario. He is interested in locating cosmic questions in the interstices of ordinary moments, in mapping the eternal over the quotidian, and with removing us just enough from recognizable reality that we can look at ourselves askew, keeping the little enigmas of human life idiosyncratic and ineffable. The Strange Little Cat is as teasingly gnomic as they come, filled with playful elisions and dead-ends that make it an exemplary cinematic koan.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on July 20, 2016 at 9:25 PM||comments (0)|
CAPTAIN FANTASTIC **
IDEA: A man raises his six children in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, instituting a robust curriculum of physical and intellectual pursuit. Following the death of his wife, he and the family travel back to civilization to honor her burial wishes.
BLURB: The first red flag is the impromptu family jam session. The tone doesn’t feel quite right; the interaction is forced, the gradually flowering sense of bonhomie less an organic result of an authentic dynamic than an engineered moment of whimsy. That dissonant, naggingly phony tenor runs through most of Captain Fantastic, a film that presents a morally and ideologically provocative scenario only so it can smooth over its actual implications in the name of quirky setups and crowd-pleasing resolutions. The approach is especially hypocritical coming from a film that wants to both endorse and critically assess its family’s counter-culture lifestyle. Instead of offering trenchant observation on either side, the film limply addresses the hazards of their ways while ultimately celebrating even their most troubling qualities as cute, easily reconcilable foibles. Ross takes up their nontraditional, anti-establishment philosophy, and yet he ends up falling back on convention as much as they flout it, his script requiring his actors to become purveyors of eccentricities calculated for optimal audience approval. If any of it registers as more than an excuse for another twee indie fairytale, it’s mostly due to Viggo Mortensen, who textures his casually radical patriarch with shades of righteousness, pomposity, and enviable, if inimical, conviction. He is the grit and complexity in a complicated social portrait that more often than not resorts to facile feel-good sentiments.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on July 7, 2016 at 2:20 PM||comments (0)|
SWISS ARMY MAN ***
IDEA: A man about to hang himself on a deserted island is rescued by a flatulent corpse, whose sundry abilities allow the two to survive.
BLURB: A sophomoric jape hijacked by dramatists with a sincere interest in exploring human behavior, social conventions, and the warped face of millennial angst, Swiss Army Man is a disarming blend of the vulgar and the humane that insists such qualities are inextricably enmeshed. Kwan and Scheinert present what is a fairly straightforward allegory of the return of the repressed – a timid, despondent man is visited by the moribund embodiment of man’s primal, suppressed urges, and finds his will to live again by reanimating in him what has died – and deliver it with berserk yet unwaveringly earnest commitment via their outlandish buddy-movie conceit. Defying belief, what sounds puerile and thin on paper is robustly moving on screen, as Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe work in perfect sync with the Daniels’ vision, throwing themselves (literally) headlong into this fantasia of lurid corporeal activity while fleshing out an intimate, borderline romantic pas des deux. Central to being alive, the film asserts, is to be a body in space, and to have a mind that can operate that body in all its weird, improbable glory. Kwan and Scheinert offer up bodies, and a tactilely handcrafted world around them, in contradistinction to a culture growing increasingly dematerialized and disconnected, placing ecstatic emphasis on bodily functions and the simple affinities they afford. One wishes their film was even stranger and more transgressive than it is – for all of its colorful inventiveness, it still succumbs to aesthetic and narrative triteness, with too many montages and what amounts to a depressingly familiar ennobling of male solipsism. Still, their main character isn’t let off the hook here, and if he looks kind of psychotic by the denouement, the film mordantly argues that we would too if we all acted our real selves.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on May 29, 2016 at 5:10 PM||comments (0)|
LOVE & FRIENDSHIP ***
IDEA: Following the death of her wealthy husband, Lady Susan, "the biggest flirt in all England," arrives at her sister-in-law's manor and concocts a devious plan.
BLURB: Love & Friendship is a union of two artists magnifying and bolstering the qualities of one another, Whit Stillman revealing the bitter bite of Jane Austen and Austen sharpening the hyper-verbal, mercilessly unsentimental snap of Stillman. The match is scarily right: Austen’s novella becomes for Stillman a dryly scathing comedy of manners with hardly a room for breath, each astringent, scrupulously tailored line of dialogue at once cutting through the folly of aristocratic social ritual and compounding its exhausting gamesmanship. Nobody plays the game better than Lady Susan, a role Kate Beckinsale relishes as she rattles off reams of primly disparaging incriminations without batting an eyelash. It’s all subterfuge all the time, and Beckinsale’s handling of her deceitful verbosity is as likely to give audiences whiplash as the characters she unashamedly deploys it against. Even at a little over 90 minutes this can grow wearying, but Stillman’s propensity for playfully curt cadences typically keeps things from becoming too overbearing. And while anything resembling compassion seems entirely absent from Lady Susan’s actions, Stillman nevertheless honors the audacity of a woman who wins with baldly mendacious words, whose scheming and haughtiness are symptoms of a rigged world of privilege she’s found a way to use against itself. It’s a character invented by Austen and realized by Stillman as another of his blithely self-deluded heroines.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on May 20, 2016 at 5:20 PM||comments (0)|
SUNSET SONG **
IDEA: Facing the depredations of family and a changing land, self-determined farm girl Chris Guthrie paves her way toward independence in early 20th-century Scotland.
BLURB: In a disappointing number of ways, Sunset Song is a prosaic period romance that seems all the more conventional coming from Terence Davies. There are, however, traits that distinguish it and connect it to the director’s oeuvre. Most evident is its ambivalent, romantic/mournful relationship with the past, which imbues it with a heavy melancholy compounded by its protagonist’s past-tense, third-person narration. There is also the volatile family with its brutish father and sympathetic siblings, and a young person on the cusp of adulthood who fiercely pursues her independence. Transience pervades the narrative as a country and its people weather the rapidly changing landscape of the early 20th century. Other Davies hallmarks, including communal music, slow pans and dollies across rooms, painterly side-lighting, and strong female characters persist. In a time when the old-fashioned and the melodramatic are scorned or steadfastly avoided, Sunset Song does at least feel somewhat novel in its unapologetic embrace of classical filmmaking styles, but it also fails to make a case for itself as anything particularly distinctive, less interesting aesthetically and narratively than what Davies is capable of. Its affecting tribute to the resilience of women and of Scotland itself is underserved by a mostly stuffy telling of what is already a familiar story.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on May 6, 2016 at 10:15 PM||comments (0)|
SING STREET ***
IDEA: Stifled by the vicious parochial school he's sent to, a boy forms a pop band with a young model and a ragtag team of classmates.
BLURB: John Carney believes in the redemptive, transformative power of music. In Sing Street, the kids don’t simply retreat into a world of song to escape their oppressive situations, they actively use the music as a correcting and regenerative source to facilitate relationships that can redeem the ravages of their elders. Carney sees such power in it, in fact, that he renders it downright procreative, tacitly demonstrating the artistic process and performative self-expression as analogous, and perhaps preferable to, real biological reproduction. The film evokes queerness in its depiction of difference and in the ways its outcast characters reclaim the agents that have demeaned them, but like the pop songs it pays homage to, it remains firmly about the promises granted by heterosexual courtship. As such, it looks back nostalgically, exalting not only the popular music of the 1980s but the romantic escapism of old Hollywood musicals. Yet true to its main character’s desire to lead a futurist band, Carney refuses to immure the film in the comforts of the past. Instead, and in spite of its occasionally trite male fantasy scenario, Sing Street functions as an unapologetically wide-eyed tribute to youthful moxie and righteous dreaming, to envisioning the possibilities of the future, quixotic as they might be, with conviction.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on April 20, 2016 at 2:30 PM||comments (0)|
EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! ***1/2
IDEA: In 1980, freshman Jake integrates into a rowdy college baseball team during the weekend before classes start.
BLURB: Everybody Wants Some!! is charged with the attitude that life is something to enjoy, that opportunities of all kinds are things to embrace, and that experiences are things to savor as they’re happening. Such potentially sentimental notions are utterly natural and unsentimental to Richard Linklater, whose newest film espouses this approach to living with a casual profundity that awakens in the viewer an acute, blissful awareness of his own vitality. His characters, a rollicking collective of boastful jocks all beautifully delineated in personality, are certainly at their peak vitality and vigor: their sinewy bodies on full display under eternal sun, Linklater offers a tribute to their virility that’s tied to their ambitions and potentials as individuals. That their boisterous interplay also constitutes a comic anthropological study of male camaraderie and competitiveness furthers Linklater’s affectionate portrait of a very specific, and eventually irretrievable, time in life. Everybody Wants Some!! is not, however, about dwelling in the melancholy of a lost time or describing an end of an era. Although it utilizes his favored ticking clock narrative structure, the film doesn’t count down moments of freedom or happiness but leads to the promise of more of them. An ebullient paean to the possibilities of youth, of being unspectacular but passionate, of being a part of a group but one, Everybody Wants Some!! locates that precious moment of contentment when you understand that everything is right, and you can enjoy the now knowing there are so many still to come.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on April 5, 2016 at 2:50 PM||comments (0)|
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL *1/2
IDEA: A young boy with supernatural abilities is pursued by the religious cult that considers him a savior and the government that considers him a threat. With the help of a childhood friend, the boy's father takes him on the run.
BLURB: Midnight Special is a vexing film that has ideas it never seems interested in realizing and intentions it actively bungles. This is a movie about faith in the unknown that gives us little reason to believe; a glimpse of future transcendence that forgets to generate awe or excitement; an imagining of a reality beyond our perception that feels crushingly earthbound; most upsetting of all, an intimate domestic story of parental love, responsibility, courage, and sacrifice that has no heart. The actors in Midnight Special have apparently been instructed to deliver their lines in a tone of monotonous solemnity, awkwardly signaling emotional cues without ever investing feeling in the thin characterizations they’ve been given. Nichols’ filmmaking follows suit as the narrative plods along stolidly, failing to pick up momentum or break free from the rigid parameters which it has imposed upon itself. One could perhaps argue that Nichols is using this listlessness to illustrate the oppressiveness of his American milieu, where cultish religion and government surveillance seek to control life, threatening to tear apart the home. But if the world has gotten this bad, shouldn’t we have a sense of what is being lost in the process? Shouldn’t we sense the humanity, the suppressed beauty, the potential for grace? Nichols arrives there eventually, but the journey is ponderous, its stodgy images and lifeless performances fatally incongruous with its ethereal aims.