April 12, 2014


Scanning the blurbs on a Critic Aggregate Site sees a lot of talk of David Gordon Green’s Joe being a “return to form” for its star Nicolas Cage, who has been much harried and parodied by the internet and by extension the broader cultural spectrum for some years now.  It’s not without merit, to be sure; his style is often over-the-top, and the often dire material he finds himself working with just to get a paycheck hasn’t invited him to “tone it down”, as it were.  The mistake is assuming that bad material is the same as bad acting, and Cage is not now nor has ever been a bad actor.  Different, to be sure, but “bad” denotes someone without gifts doing something they don’t understand.  I’ve never had that impression from Cage.  Joe is probably his best work when it comes to finding something deeper in the character, but then the material is suited for that.  It’s not a particularly successful film, but there’s a basis for the critical plaudits currently being laid upon it.  Read the rest of this entry »

Bastards (La Salauds)

December 2, 2013


Claire Denis is one of my favourite living filmmakers, and while I’ll readily admit she’s not for everyone, she’s developed a distinctive aesthetic and approach that, when in the right mood, can be absolutely enrapturing even when the subject material is queasy or downright repulsive.  In her latest film, Bastards, Denis makes the switch from film to digital with her trusted long-time cinematographer, which is appropriate given the film’s visual insistence on darkness.  It is also her angriest film, I feel, and it’s fascinating to watch her abstract humanistic approach take on something so utterly despicable and hopeless.   Read the rest of this entry »

Ruby Sparks

August 17, 2012

Calvin (Paul Dano), is an author who has yet to properly follow up his breakout first novel, published when he was only 19.  He has, as these things usually go, a significant case of writer’s block compounded (or because of) his significant self doubt.  He sees a therapist (Elliot Gould), where he clutches a plush dog toy and calls his ex-girlfriend a ‘bitch’ and complains about a lack of inspiration.  He’s instructed to write a very bad one-page story about the kind of person who might like his dysfunctional dog Scottie and bring it back to the next session.  In the process of attempting to write he manages to hold onto a vision of a girl and write it down.  The character’s name is Ruby Sparks, and she will eventually materialize in the form of Zoe Kazan. Read the rest of this entry »

Young Adult

March 8, 2012

The first thing to get out of the way when dealing with Young Adult is that Jason Reitman is not a good director.  His previous films have been, at best, blandly functional enough for the characters to carry it along without interruption, but at worst he displays little-to-no understanding of how to film two people talking as well as a penchant for jarring stylistic leaps that detract from the story.  There are some of those stylistic leaps that just don’t work in Young Adult, including some awkward handheld shots that don’t fit anywhere into the his already boring visual schema.  Needless to say, he is not up to the task of making Young Adult work the way it should.  As a dark character comedy, there’s a way to handle this kind of awkward humour that he clearly doesn’t understand, and on the other side of the card, there might have been subtle ways to tease out the depth of a number of characters, but we’ll never know because he doesn’t seem to understand that either.  Read the rest of this entry »

It begins with a serene, but ominous, shot of the Alaskan mountains at dawn before harshly cutting to the hazy orange light of an oil refinery facility at night.  The man (technology) versus nature duality is established immediately, and knowing roughly what the film was about, I had a pretty good idea of where this was headed.  Ottway (Liam Neeson) begins reading what we soon find out to be a letter explaining the hellish circumstances of his job and the place he finds himself.  He marches about the facility with a gun, shooting infringing animals and protecting the workers, whom he describes as “ex-cons, fugitives, drifters…assholes”.  This view is confirmed as soon as he enters the facility’s bar, where we hear loud music and watch as a ludicrously cliché bar fight escalates into smashing tables.  Very quickly, the music fades and we see the soft-lit vision of a woman in bed with Ottway, and though well-shot, it feels even a little more cliché than the bar fight – to the cynical mind, at least.  We get an idea of just how much despair Ottway is in when he leaves the bar and puts a gun in his mouth, the would-be final act interrupted by the howling of wolves.  He eventually boards a plane bound for Anchorage with an assortment of ne’er-do-wells and roughnecks, and a fantastically tense plane crash scene later, he and the few survivors are stuck in the cold, snowy wilderness. Read the rest of this entry »

How Do You Know

December 21, 2010

Perhaps it is unfair to expect more from James L. Brooks.  His romantic comedies have generally been delightful but they are often far from transcending the genre.  They elevate themselves primarily by being wittier and sometimes cleverer than the norm, but they’re hardly great, indispensable films.  I have a certain affection for As Good As It Gets and while I didn’t care for it at the time, Kent Jones’ writing has convinced me that Spanglish might be worth another look (Tea Leoni’s mad performance stood out even then, and is perhaps worth reconsidering).  How Do You Know is slight, meandering, a little too long, vaguely enjoyable and only very occasionally “funny”.  It is an “adult” rom-com only when you compare it to every other mainstream rom-com released in recent years, and that is a sobering thought that those even those of us who love easy entertainments might find hard to swallow. Read the rest of this entry »