F.I.L.M. of the Week (September 3, 2015)

3 09 2015

Afternoon DelightJill Soloway appears in just about any feature being published these days about the changing face of television for women behind the camera and trans representation in front of it.  Even before “Transparent” landed at Amazon, she was making waves as a writer and producer on shows like “Six Feet Under,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “United States of Tara.”  And somewhere in her schedule, she found time to make a narrative film.

Had I been paying attention to her feature debut, “Afternoon Delight,” I would surely have run instead of walked to “Transparent.”  This character-driven dramedy lives up to the latter word in its title … and would suffice at any time of day, for that matter.  Soloway serves as writer as well as director, and her voice shines through in the movie, my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

“Afternoon Delight” might mark the first film to fully realize the wealth of talent possessed by Kathryn Hahn, an actress dangerously close to becoming the next Judy Greer.  She’s almost too good at making her presence felt without overpowering the lead, be it dramatically in “Revolutionary Road” or comedically in a movie like “We’re the Millers” or television’s “Parks and Recreation.”  But Soloway grants her lead status here, and she runs away with the film.

Hahn’s character Rachel, a stereotypical L.A. Jewish carpool mom, needs something to get her out of a rut.  A lethal cocktail of sexual frustration and the white female savior complex leads her to “rescue” a stripper, Juno Temple’s McKenna.  If Rachel wanted something to shake up her relationships with her husband and friends, she certainly gets that and more with her new “nanny.”  McKenna becomes an object of pity for Rachel, yet her presence also draws out the green monster of jealousy.

The cumulative effect manages to spark some major changes, not all of which are good.  But if you need any indication of just how gifted a storyteller Soloway is, watch how much more you feel for Rachel as her behavior goes from erratic to desperate to practically indefensible.  Her characters, be they small or silver screen, never lose their solid steeping in humanity.  I can only hope “Afternoon Delight” is not the full extent of Soloway’s venture into feature filmmaking.  The world of indie cinema needs her gifts too much.

Advertisements




SAVE YOURSELF from “Horns”

2 08 2015

HornsLast summer, a friend of mine posted a cringe-worthy Huffington Post article on my wall that was titled “8 Movies From The Last 15 Years That Are Super Overrated.”  How on earth this piece managed to secure publication on a website of that caliber is beyond me since it included such memorable phrases as, “The problem with 2011’s ‘The Descendants‘ is that it sucked.”  Beyond being a terribly constructed and redundant sentence, it is also clearly NOT film criticism.

I try to avoid poor writing and potshots in my own reviews (although sometimes the devil on my shoulder manages to win).  But wow, I sure am tempted to pull out some low blow for Alexandre Aja’s “Horns,” one of the most wretched movies I have watched in quite some time.  So rather than drop to the level of that piece, I just decided to revive an old column … “Save Yourself!”

I can understand why Daniel Radcliffe and his management team might have thought this film seemed like a good idea on paper.  What better way to shed the squeaky clean image of The Boy Who Lived than to play someone who literally sprouts horns and basically functions as a Satanic figure?  “Horns” is basically his equivalent of Miley Cyrus twerking on Robin Thicke at the VMAs, though turns in “Kill Your Darlings” and “What If” accomplish the goal far better by just letting Radcliffe play convincing, real people.

Aja essentially lets Radcliffe off the leash in the role of Ig Parrish, letting him play the entire movie at the energy level the actor rapped “Alphabet Aerobics” on “The Tonight Show.”  After being falsely accused of raping and murdering his girlfriend, Ig’s horns serve as a supernatural blessing (or curse) to divine the real killer because – get this – the protuberances force people to spill all the skeletons from their closets.  Every moment feels so incredibly over the top and overblown, be it for comedy or for violence.  Actually, come to think of it, the violence even becomes perversely (and appallingly) comic in its heightened proportions.

“Horns” is not like a film in the vein of Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me to Hell,” where the ambiguity and ambivalence leave an exhilarating void for the viewer to supply their own reaction.  It’s just an indecisive tonal scramble, not sure whether it wants to be an all-out festival of gory horror or a black comedy.  Aja does neither effectively, and the film becomes a brutal slog to endure.  It’s not even overdone to the point of “so bad it’s good.”  This is just pain bad.  D1star





REVIEW: Far from the Madding Crowd

28 06 2015

All period films should feel as urgent as Thomas Vinterberg’s “Far from the Madding Crowd.”  Though the story might take place in Victorian England, none of the characters ever feel preserved in amber.  This adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel illuminates present-day issues faced by women as they seek agency and independence through a heroine, Carey Mulligan’s Batsheba Everdene, who bristles with the norms of her time.

You would think, in the 140 years since the novel’s publication, that the world has progressed some in respecting the dignity of women.  But alas, two chauvinists sitting next to me served as a potent reminder of just how necessary this story continues to be.  In their eyes, any decision Batsheba made that did not lead her down a path of submission or domesticity evinced that she was a reckless whore.

Bathsheba never aligns herself as opposed to the institution of marriage; at one point, she memorably remarks that she would be a bride if she didn’t have to get a husband.  Her needs are rather peculiar due to a unique set of circumstances that grants her ownership of a sizable portion of land in the English countryside.  Rather than surrender the property to an able-bodied man, Bathsheba possesses enough self-confidence to run the farm herself.

Read the rest of this entry »





REVIEW: Killer Joe

12 09 2012

Some people would say that a movie that makes you feel dirty and disgusting is an effective movie.  That may be true, because William Friedkin’s NC-17 “Killer Joe” made me want to take a shower as soon as I got home from the theater.  But just because the presentation of abhorrent material was equally abhorrent does not make the movie good, or enjoyable.

While I’ve started to reverse my thinking on Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” my original assessment seems to be applicable for Friedkin’s film.  I used such phrases as “the whole was less than the sum of its parts” and “While I can see the art […] I can’t see the clear execution of a vision.”  Other than the movie’s two shocking displays of perverse sexual behavior (which you don’t deserve to have spoiled for you in case you actually decide to watch “Killer Joe”), the film brings little else to the table.

The other hour and a half of the film is just filler to bring about the two discussion-worthy scenes.  I acknowledge that a movie that tries and succeeds to be shocking is an accomplishment.  But being shocking just for the sake of being shocking is nothing to be lauded.

A movie that exists solely to ruffle a few feathers and rattle a few cages doesn’t stick with you after the writhing and squirming in your seat.  The sordidness is ephemeral; it wears off quickly.  And once that feeling is gone, you look to see if it was justified or vindicated by the rest of the film.  Here, it is not.

The Tracy Letts’ screenplay is clunky and feel very stagey and distinctly non-cinematic.  The humor, dark and macabre, is extremely hit or miss; all the laughs come with a heaping side order of guilt.  I will give “Killer Joe” that it has two solid performances: a demonic leading turn from Matthew McConaughey in the year of his career renaissance as a sexually depraved hitman, and a delightful village idiot character played with an appropriate lack of urgency by Thomas Haden Church.  But that’s where my compliments come to a close because this movie isn’t about those things.  It’s about being knowingly repulsive for no other reason because they can be, indulgent art at its worst.  D+