REVIEW: The Adderall Diaries

23 04 2016

The Adderall DiariesIf there were some prize to honor the busiest movies of the year, Pamela Romanowsky’s “The Adderall Diaries” would definitely be an early contender. In just over 80 minutes, the film juggles storylines like a poorly trained rodeo clown juggles clubs. That is to say, it does well for a while and then just kind of collapses to slightly humorous effect.

“The Adderall Diaries” is adapted from the memoir by Stephen Elliott, which served as a partial exorcism for the demons of his past, including a toxic relationship with his estranged father (Ed Harris) and just general malicious teenage tomfoolery. As such actions are wan to do, they carry repercussions for Elliott into the present that make him unreliable to meet publication deadlines, reckless in personal relationships and inexplicably drawn to a murder trial in which a husband (Christian Slater) supposedly killed his wife.

The action ebbs and flows from one story thread to the other, all reflecting back on the mess that is Elliott’s life. At its best, “The Adderall Diaries” recalls the impressionistic editing of Jean-Marc Vallée in “Wild.” More often, however, it recalls the kind of work produced by someone who forgets to take the titular medicine if prescribed. Not only is the sum less than the total of its parts, but those parts just never get the space to develop. C+2stars

REVIEW: James White

7 12 2015

James WhiteExpressive close-up shots are a crucial building block of cinema, and they are especially foundational element for films that hope to elicit identification and empathy with the characters on screen. Perhaps nowhere is that more clear than “James White,” the feature directing and writing debut of Josh Mond.

Mond trains director of photography Mátyás Erdély to stay tightly fixated on the face of Christopher Abbott’s titular character as he goes through the ringer of grief. This young man, barely capable of taking care of himself, must see his widowed mother (Cynthia Nixon) through the deterioration of her health in the wake of terminal cancer. Think Michael Haneke’s “Amour” by way of Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona.”

The film is largely inspired by the filmmaker’s own experience of losing his mother, and the emotional authenticity becomes palpable both in Abbott’s performance and the audiovisual schema Mond devises. Erdély’s roving, personal camera – a veritable ballet as it follows James’ erratic, explosive motion – works wonderfully in tandem with a spellbinding score by Scott Mescudi. (Yes, that’s Kid Cudi.)

Abbott pulls off a rare combination: volatility and vulnerability. James flirts with disaster and near complete collapse in practically every scene, which proves difficult and stomach-churning to watch unfold. But in spite of his poor decision making, he still manages to inspire intense feelings of identification and support. We root not for the circumstances, terrible as they are, to change. We root for him to rise to the occasion, to summon the strength of character Abbott shows us in a small glance or a gentle word.

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REVIEW: Rampart

2 05 2013

The slogan for “Rampart,” though not on the poster I’ve embedded in this review, is “the most corrupt cop you’ve ever seen on screen.”  To that, I merely laugh.

So I guess they assume we haven’t seen “Training Day.”  Or “Crash.”  Or “The Departed.”  Heck, I’d even say “Pineapple Express” and “Date Night” had more crooked cops than “Rampart.”

Sure, Woody Harrelson’s Dave Brown is working outside the law.  He’s a foul racist who uses excessive force on the regular.  By no means am I saying that I didn’t deplore his actions and conduct.  But for whatever reason, I just didn’t feel hatred welling up inside me for him.

Harrelson brought nothing new to the character that he hasn’t shown us in everything from “The People vs. Larry Flynt” to “The Messenger” to Haymitch in “The Hunger Games.”  He’s great at playing total jerks, and Brown is in a league of his own.  But there’s nothing special about this character, nothing that stands out in his repertoire.

Add that to direction from Oren Moverman that lacks any compelling action or camerawork and you’ve got one heck of a bore.  As much as I wanted to feel repulsion or loathing, all I could feel was apathy.  C2stars