Category Archives: Film Review

Frances Ha

Double Bill! Part 1: FRANCES HA

Noah Baumbach directs this entertaining film starring Greta Gerwig as a 27 year old apprentice dancer whose life goes into turmoil when her best friend and roommate decides to move on with her life. She hops around from place to place and person to person looking to make some new connection that will restart her life, which honestly hasn’t seemed to really start. Luckily for her (and the audience) she doesn’t wallow in self-pity or grow mired in despair, and she eventually finds her place in the world, and reconciles with her life.

Mr. Baumbach has previously directed films like THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, MARGOT AT THE WEDDING, and GREENBERG, all rather acerbic and semi-downbeat observational films about other out-of-place characters. I liked them all, and he always gets good performances from his casts. With this film, and no doubt aided and abetted by Mrs. Gerwig (who co-scripted), he retains his observational techniques while acquiring a bubblier and more energetic subject to focus on, and which makes this film a joy to watch. The dialogue and acting are especially fresh and unlabored, and though the film doesn’t shy away from her troubles it doesn’t grow truly troubling to view. It feels like (and from what I’ve read has been patterned after) early Woody Allen New York comedies, even down to its MANHATTAN-esque black and white cinematography.

Good adult entertainment, nary a car crash or explosion in sight. Recommended.

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The Iceman

Double Bill! Part 2: THE ICEMAN

The second film I saw today, and a rather dark chaser to FRANCES HA, THE ICEMAN stars the always excellent and intense Michael Shannon as Richard Klukinski, a NJ based hitman who racked up over 100 hits in a career spanning over two decades. Based on a true story, the film, ably directed by Ariel Vroman and handsomely photographed by Bobby Bukowski, depicts how Klukinski entered into his line of work while simultaneously raising a family. The film’s major tension derives from how he kept his two lives distinctly apart. His wife (Wynona Rider) and two daughters believe he is in the currency exchange business, and he never tries to tell them otherwise as he reports to Roy Demeo (a chilling Ray Liotta) for his assignments. When the heat goes up, he winds up partnering with another hitman called Dr. Freezy (Chris Evans) to make ends meet. Eventually, it all falls apart.

Surprisingly this isn’t a very gory film, which is fine as I prefer its subtle depiction of his cold-bloodedness. All the actors fare well, and though the end is already written on the walls it still is effective in keeping the viewer on edge over when/how he will be caught. It may not be for all tastes, given the subject matter, but I admired the film and the way it unfolded. It certainly doesn’t shy away from darkness or the evil that men do (for a buck), and that lack of romanticism in depicting crime is always refreshing. Recommended.

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Fast and Furious 6

FAST AND FURIOUS 6 was a hoot! Unbelievable action sequences, great stunts, breathless pacing. As a big ticket summer film it delivers the adrenaline goods, even as it veers dangerously and thrillingly into surreal cartoon mayhem. Get it in gear!

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The Game

I revisited David Fincher’s THE GAME over the weekend, and it has held up very nicely. I had seen it once in the theatres and two more times on laserdisc. In such rapid succession I grew rather cool to the film, as the surprise was now spent. Now nearly 15 years later, on Criterion Collection’s Bluray edition, it looks breathtaking. Harris Savides’ cinematography is gorgeous, and the framing, editing and pacing is truly expert.
A brief summary, for those who have no idea what I’m on about: Michael Douglas plays Nicholas Van Orton, a very wealthy and very cold investment banker who is shut off from humanity. His brother (Sean Penn) turns him onto a mysterious group called CRS, which hosts real life real time roleplay games on an intricate and colossal scale. Nicholas signs up, thinking he can cancel at any time, only to find that he is trapped in this deadly(?) game until he can discover what their true intentions are. He does reconnect with humanity, after a fashion.
That was rather clumsy and brief, I’ll tell ya! But the movie unfolds like a precision clockwork, and the screenplay keeps you guessing over what and where Mr. Van Orton will wind up next. And it’s gorgeously shot. And it’s David Fincher. So I’ll always be good for that!

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At Any Price

I went to see AT ANY PRICE, the latest film by the very talented Iranian-American director Ramin Bahrani. Starring Dennis Quaid as an Iowan farm owner and seed salesman, the film depicts his struggles with modern agribusiness, family and his own conscience. It is an excellent performance, and the entire film is suffused with timely observations of American farmland culture and the tenacious grip that GMO seed corporations hold over it. Mr. Bahrani’s earlier films such as MAN PUSH CART and GOODBYE SOLO were wonderfully realized portraits of modern life, and I am happy to see his high standards are in effect here with this larger canvas and name cast. Zak Efron also stars as Quaid’s son, and little by little I see a human behind his pretty face. Clancy Brown is also present as a rival farmer, and is particularly moving in one scene. I will leave you to see the film for yourselves, and see what I mean.

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The Punisher

Watching THE PUNISHER starring Thomas Jane, I felt conflicted over the presentation. It starts off pretty straight and lean, and there is a rather grim view of the world born out the loss of his family. That said, as the film progresses there is a distinct whiff of camp and silliness that is doubtless brought about by its comic book origins, Mr. Jane’s studied dourness, and John Travolta’s unintentionally humorous villain. I will say Will Patton is good as Travolta’s right hand man, and the stunts are impressively physical and well executed given the low budget of the film. It looks suitably comic book real, and has some pleasures to it. Still, the sequel, PUNISHER: WAR ZONE was a lot darker and far funnier in a grisly fashion, and Ray Stevenson made for a more compelling Punisher. Ah, comic book films!

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Hardware

I saw HARDWARE on Bluray today, the first time I’ve seen it since the late 90s. Richard Stanley directs this visually inventive low budget apocalyptic robot-on-the-rampage film with a distinct flair for color and design. He followed up this film with DUST DEVIL, and was set to direct the 90s ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, which he was sadly fired from.

HARDWARE is certainly born out of his music video work from the 80s, and at the time I had a certain place in my heart for it because of its unique look, its mordant humor and sleazy secondary characters. Watching it now in high definition highlights how beautiful it still is, and it is surprisingly trippy and not overly story heavy. I don’t take this for a weak script so much as being trapped in a hellish dreamscape, with deep red skies and black metal surfaces. More a state of mind than anything else. Recommended for rock video visual-pigs (like me) and those who like their sci-fi dirty, grimy and with a healthy dose of sex and violence (like me).

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Pain and Gain

I just got back from seeing PAIN AND GAIN, Michael Bay’s latest film, and it was very surprising. The trailer made it look like it was all going to be fun and games, but it delved into some really dark territory. It was the flipside of the American Dream, and the facts were so ridiculous at times it read like a tall tale. The aggression, stupidity and amateurism of the main characters, three musclemen lunkheads out to screw a rich man out of his property, is balanced with the sad and almost touching delusions they all have about how and why they commit their crimes. When it escalates, it just gets out of hand.
I have been an unapologetic follower and lover of Michael Bay’s films and commercial work. Given this very strong script and a brave cast (Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie) that isn’t afraid to look dumb and act ugly, his knack for action and wacked out humor comes shining through. He even manages to hit an unabashed level of wry sadness in the end, all of the waste and needless suffering that men will go through to get ahead. He has hit me like this before with THE ISLAND, one of his only box office failures despite a very humanistic streak to it. I hope (and expect) to be hit like this again. Get him out of the Transformers films and give him these small tales, he will make a masterful auteur one day.
Go see it. Make America proud! (cough)

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Kabluey

Watched KABLUEY on DVD. 2007 indie something or other. Surprisingly the reviews at the time of release were good. I watched it for the big blue mascot suit that was on the cover. The cinematography was composed. Lisa Kudrow was good. That’s about as much as I can say for it.

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Trance

I went to see Danny Boyle’s TRANCE today, and was rewarded with a colorful psychedelic thriller about a man called Simon (James McAvoy) who undergoes hypnotherapy in order to remember where he hid a painting he stole from a criminal (Vincent Cassel). The therapist (Rosario Dawson) is busy playing some twisty mind games with our protagonist, for good reason. Anthony Dod Mantle’s electric cinematography coupled with a densely layered soundtrack makes for an actual cinematic experience, and Danny Boyle most capably commands his fine actors and the tricky storyline. Recommended.

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