F.I.L.M. of the Week (September 8, 2016)

8 09 2016

year-of-the-dogAs someone who lives with two canine companions, I can certainly sympathize with Molly Shannon’s Peggy in “Year of the Dog.” Relationships with humans are tough. How dare they do this, but they actually want something in return from us. They make demands of our time and thought. Dogs like Peggy’s beloved Pencil simply live to please us, offering love and affection no matter our mood or deeds that day.

But, as every child in a film about a dog knows, we almost always outlive our dogs. Peggy faces this lesson sooner than expected when Pencil gets into some toxic chemicals and cannot be saved by a veteran. What comes next for someone who puts all her eggs into the basket of her beloved animal makes for quite a melancholy comedy from writer/director Mike White.

Rather than using her period of mourning to deepen or enrich her relationship with neighbors, coworkers or family members, Peggy entrenches herself even further into animal advocacy and obsession. She becomes a vegan, brings home abused shelter dogs by the carful to save them from euthanasia and even “adopts” farm animals in lieu of holiday gifts. It’s decidedly odd turn of events, yet Molly Shannon resists playing her character as some kind of lunatic. The performance resembles a quieter, more mellow version of her notorious “Saturday Night Live” characters – all of their insecurities without all the theatricality to mask the wounds.

“Year of the Dog” is my choice for “F.I.L.M. of the Week” not only because of Shannon’s raw performance but also because of where Mike White takes it. While he shows compassion for everyone, White is not afraid to steer the film into dark and bittersweet territory. He is unafraid to suggest that Peggy might not need the human connections we expect her to develop over the course of the film. She might just need the certainty of her own convictions and the courage to follow the path she thinks will bring her the happiness she seeks.





REVIEW: Spotlight

22 11 2015

SpotlightMany a procedural, be it “Zodiac” or “Zero Dark Thirty,” has created suspense by following a straight, chronological line towards its ultimate result or finding. Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight,” a story of the Boston Globe‘s uncovering of widespread sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, takes a slightly different approach to achieve a similar goal. His screenplay, co-written with Josh Singer, treats the journalistic investigation like solving a Rubik’s Cube.

In order to understand the magnitude of the discovery made by the Spotlight team, a four-person squad of the Globe‘s finest inquirers, it is crucial to grasp just how complex and intertwined all the key players were. The molestation was committed by over eighty priests in the Boston area, which alone is a staggering and abhorrent finding. But the complex web of officials in the church, in the government and in the community who enabled the abuse and remained complicit in their silence makes for the real story. Not even the press, celebrated as it is in the film, gets off without a slap on the wrist.

“Spotlight” respects the work of the team enough not to simplify their work into a simplified narrative. It feels effortless to watch and manageable to comprehend since McCarthy directs the proceedings with great agility, pivoting from one strand of thought to another without ever causing motion sickness. Perhaps only when the film nears its foregone conclusion, the publication of the earth-shattering article, do we fully realize just how many crossed wires they had to untangle.

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REVIEW: The Cobbler

20 07 2015

The CobblerTom McCarthy may soon bear an ignominious distinction in the history of my sight, going from making my #1 film in 2011, “Win Win,” to likely one of the worst in 2015 with “The Cobbler.”  This adult fairytale, co-written with Paul Sado, makes “Click” feel like it possesses the profundity of an Aesop’s Fable.  It’s all of the magic with none of the heart.

Adam Sandler stars as Max Simkin, a pickle-munching mensch on the Lower East Side, who reluctantly becomes the “guardian of souls.”  It’s a title not only better deployed within the context of a Marvel movie but also a pretty terrible pun since Max is a cobbler who works with soles.  In a strange turn of events, Max discovers that he can literally walk around as his clients if he walks arounds in their shoes … because magic.

Shockingly, Sandler’s character takes a whopping half-hour to discover the potential of the shoes for sex.  “The Cobbler” bops around from episode to episode, most stupid but a few touching, all the while squandering a great opportunity for an obvious message. The premise of the story effortlessly lends itself to discussing cultural differences and the understanding we can gain by learning through experience.

But sadly, this isn’t a Tom McCarthy movie, not really.  It’s an Adam Sandler movie.  In his movies, social commentary would never get in the way of entertaining genre fare.  Shame on us for assuming anything might be different here.  C2stars