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Derek Cianfrance’s previous film – and the only of his I have seen – was Blue Valentine, a somewhat inelegant but certainly affecting (really trying to avoid “raw” here) two-hander about the blossoming and breakdown of a relationship.  What it lacked in visual interest (grainy, handheld, American Indie by-the-numbers) it made up for with pacing and, of course, performances.  That picture worked through incredible acting, and it had to, as there wasn’t much else to rely on.  It was an exercise in reactions, movement, and glances.  It was a picture of big emotions because of its small proportions.  His follow-up, The Place Beyond the Pines, takes a different tack, although one suspects he was hoping to work within the same emotional model.  It’s a sprawling, 140-minute saga, with a triptych structure that unfortunately makes it feel like it is going on for a lot longer than it’s already lengthy running time.  It’s a shame he couldn’t have learned a lesson from his last film, then, and realized that Big Emotions don’t necessarily need a Big Story.  Read the rest of this entry »

Pain & Gain

April 26, 2013

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When I read Pete Collins’ bizarre, incredible “Pain and Gain” story, recounting the events in the mid-90s of the “Sun Gym Gang”, my first thought was, “this is a Coen Brothers film.”  The elements were all there: deluded moron criminals, ever increasing amounts of absurdity, horrific events that seamlessly combine tragedy and farce.  I already knew at the time that it was set to be Michael Bay’s next picture, however, and when I eventually saw the trailer, I predicted it would be crass, stupid, and not at all respectful of the real crimes or the victims.  I was basically right about all of that, and yet… Read the rest of this entry »

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Easy is nice.  The world is difficult and indifferent, and as such there’s nothing wrong with opting for something easy when you can.  I get that.  I’m not against that.  But there’s “easy” and then there’s “easy”.  The Twilight Saga film franchise has, it turns out, been easy in a way that’s so unbelievably lazy and dull that I can’t imagine how a thinking human being can find it entertaining.  People talk a lot about liking films they can just “turn their brains off” and watch, but surely there are some basic elements of storytelling that require at least some semblance of a conflict to make it work, even if it is perfunctory or dumb or obvious.  I finally watched the final part of the series, Breaking Dawn Part 2, and I have come to the conclusion that nothing at all of interest happened in the 9 or so hours of time I spent watching them over the years.  Of the many, many problems that have plagued this $3 billion franchise, the worst is quite possibly that it plays like a young child’s imagining of a narrative for his toys.  My incredible, adorable nephew was once playing with some toy cars and figurines, and was explaining to me, “this truck has to get over here so he can see the cows!”  “That’s great”, I said, “but where’s the conflict? The truck just has to get over there to see the cows, and that’s it.”  He was all of five years old at the time, so what did I expect?  I should add I said it in a playful way and I’m sure he didn’t pick up on my criticism, so I didn’t rudely offend a child.  Still, there’s nothing to what he was trying to achieve, and that, in a nutshell, is what The Twilight Saga has turned out to be.  Read the rest of this entry »

Roger Ebert 1942-2013

April 4, 2013

Roger Ebert is dead.  This isn’t really a shock, and yet it is a total shock.  A few days ago we found out that the cancer he had been battling for the better part of a decade, and which ultimately claimed his voice and his jaw, had come back, as it is wont to do.  I didn’t expect it to happen so suddenly after he enumerated all of his plans for the next year so recently, but here we are.  So in memory of the man and the critic, let’s talk about me.

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