REVIEW: Table 19

6 03 2017

Even as it resorts to some familiar tropes about the forced cohesion created within a band of misfits, Jeffrey Blitz’s “Table 19” still manages to do enough within a familiar framework to create a memorable moviegoing experience. There are some good running gags, like the ubiquity of the wedding photographer’s flash and how one character’s outfit looks suspiciously like the waitstaff’s getup. The script, which shares a story credit with the Duplass Brothers, also throws a major wrench in the expected turn of events at the midway point which proves truly surprising.

It’s a shame that Blitz bites off a little more than he can chew in an 87 minute film. Setting up and resolving six different narrative arcs for a wedding rejects table proves a lot to handle in such a short amount of time, and the sheer volume of events and conversations often overwhelms and clouds out quality. The quantity also overshadows some of the more intriguing storytelling that Blitz attempts in “Table 19.” For example, the pattern of conflict resolution takes on a much less straightforward direction, and the general story propulsion comes from strung-together tension and awkwardness.

The film is at its best at the outset when the characters are defined by how they relate to the room, not by how they relate to each other. In one of the most enjoyable sequences in “Table 19,” Anna Kendrick’s Eloise narrates a self-aware taxonomy of the wedding reception table layout. It’s genuinely perceptive about the unwritten rules of nuptial rituals, so it’s too bad that the characters largely lack the depth of thought given to the roles they play in the ceremony. B





REVIEW: The Girl on the Train

5 10 2016

Arguably the most famous close-ups in cinema history take place in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” the 1928 silent classic that elevated the expressively tight framed shot of facial contortions to the position of high art. Dreyer later said of the close-up, “Nothing in the world can be compared to the human face. It is a land one can never tire of exploring.”

It’s a blessing Dreyer did not live to see Tate Taylor’s “The Girl on the Train,” a film that puts the close-up to shame through bludgeoning and excessive use. This specific shot is the movie’s only language to convey the internal agony of its three leading female characters. No need to waste time detailing the multitude of other techniques available at Taylor’s disposal, so let’s just leave it at the fact that the close-up is lazy shorthand for emotional intimacy.

The camera tries to substitute the reservoirs of feeling hidden by the icy women, each with their own secrets to bury and axes to grind. Their blank stares into the distance are meant to convey restraint or secrecy; instead, they convey nothing. One only needs to hold up the work of star Emily Blunt in “The Girl on the Train” alongside her performance in “Sicario” to see the difference. In the latter film, the most minuscule movement in Blunt’s face communicates a complex response to the ever-shifting environment around her character Kate Macer. Here, as the alcoholic voyeur Rachel Watson, Blunt is reduced to gasps and gazes that do little to illuminate her psychology.

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REVIEW: Easy A

20 09 2010

Finally, I get a high school movie for my time in high school!

For the past three years, we’ve been left quoting “Mean Girls” left and right, yelling out “She doesn’t even go here!” in situations when it doesn’t even make sense and putting on the strict face of authority to say, “If you have sex, you will get chlamydia – and die” whenever the practically taboo topic is brought up.  We get all the jokes now, but in 2004, high school was as foreign a place as Afghanistan.  Even in the six years since Tina Fey’s first big splash (and Lindsay Lohan’s last big splash), high school has changed, and we can thank Facebook, YouTube, and iPhones for that.

I was afraid that I might graduate high school with only a dated high school movie to show my kids what it was like to be my age in 2010.  Thanks to “Easy A,” such concerns are no more.  It’s a near perfect reflection of the realities of living in a sphere where gossip travels as quickly as text messages can be sent over a 3G connection and reputations can be ruined in the split-second it takes to update a Facebook status.

It’s also remarkable that while the movie is very current, it isn’t entirely grounded in 2010.  It takes a page from one of American literature’s finest, “The Scarlet Letter,” and plops it down in front of a webcam.  And darned if we aren’t convinced that Nathaniel Hawthorne would have vodcasted his classic story through YouTube had it existed back in the nineteenth century.  The movie is a testament not just to the creativity of the writers of “Easy A,” but also to Hawthorne for spawning a story that is still relevant centuries after publication.

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