REVIEW: Imperium

15 08 2017

“We all create a narrative based on what we think is important,” Toni Collette’s FBI official Angela Zamparo suggests at the start of “Imperium.” She’s begging her colleague, Daniel Radcliffe’s sheepish bookworm agent Nate Foster, to broaden his mindset about what constitutes a clear threat to American security. That involves ditching a predilection for radical Islamic terrorism to focus his attention on a burgeoning threat to the country: white supremacist violence.

Based on some evidence suggesting a chemical bomb on the scale of Oklahoma City, Angela sends Nate deep into the hate-filled clutches of these neo-Nazi groups armed with little more than a buzzcut, knowledge gained from a white nationalist reading list and his own intuition. Oh, and she gives him pointers here and there from Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” to relate to some of the most frightening skinheads circling the gutter of society. How’s that for espionage? The film provides a consistently engaging, if never full engrossing, thrill ride down the drain.

Nate’s main target is a talk radio host of the Alex Jones variety, Tracy Letts’ #WhiteGenocide conspiracy peddling crackpot Dallas Wolf, to get to the center of the underground chemicals network. He’s a shady character who inspires some truly violent, hateful figures. But the scariest person in “Imperium” is the buttoned-up Gerry Conway, a family man who can weave racist talking points into everyday dialogue with shocking casualness. He might not embrace the full scope of fascism, but Gerry’s embrace of white nationalist ideals in spite of his apparent intelligence ought to give us all chills. White supremacy does not always come decked out in a swastika. Sometimes, it looks like your neighbor in his button-down shirt and gentle smile. B

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REVIEW: Enough Said

8 04 2015

One day after work in London, I had a few hours to kill before a dinner engagement and decided to spend them seeing “Enough Said.”  The auditorium was the size of some houses’ living room, so any obnoxious behavior was sure to stand out even more than usual.  So, of course, I found myself laughing hysterically nearly the entire duration of the film and thus the butt of a number of glares.

I was not the only person having a great time, but I certainly seemed to enjoy the film more than most people in the audience.  (Maybe the humor was culturally specific?)  “Enough Said” does feature one of my favorite comediennes, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, turning in some of her funniest and most humane work to date.

It’s a common phrase regarding comic actors that they could make reading the phone book a laugh riot.  But I am convinced that Louis-Dreyfus could just look at a phone book and have me in stitches.  Her expressions and reactions practically constitute a second text of the film, and it only serves to enhance the richness of emotion and humor in writer/director Nicole Holofcener’s script.

“Enough Said” may be a little slight compared with some of the heftier, more thematically complex works of the filmmaker like 2006’s “Friends with Money” or 2010’s “Please Give.”  Nonetheless, her film delights with the familiarity and recognition.  Her characters feel less like symbols or stand-ins for big ideas and more like real people.  As a result, the comedy derives from everyday, mundane occurrences, and it allows the film to really hit a nerve.

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REVIEW: A Long Way Down

3 12 2014

A Long Way DownThe chief problem with the film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel “A Long Way Down” is that the screenplay does not come from Hornby himself.  He is one of few writesrs capable of making telling a grounded, compassionate story out of a scenario involving an accidental New Year’s Eve convening of four suicidal individuals on a London rooftop.

The gathering is eclectic, to say the least.  Among the bunch is a disgraced news anchor Martin (Pierce Brosnan), down-and-out American ex-patriot rocker-cum-pizza boy JJ (Aaron Paul), rebellious wild child Jess (Imogen Poots), and Maureen (Toni Collette), a single mother whose life consist solely of caring for her disabled child.  Nothing would ever bring them together but death, and nothing could keep them together but life. Contradictions and reversals underlie almost all of their story, all of which Hornby navigates gracefully.

Moreover, each character got a chance to narrate their own take on events and plumb the depths of their deep despair on the page.  That wealth of information is lost in the changeover to cinema, and nothing really replaces its intimate gaze into their troubles.  Jack Thorne’s adaptation is not terrible, but it clearly lacks the spark and panache of the source material.  He just captures the general essence of each character, only skimming the surface in the roughly 90 minutes available in “A Long Way Down.”

Director Pascal Chaumeil delivers a film that is definitely fun and entertaining in parts, yet it pales in comparisons to the dizzying highs and devastating lows of reading the novel.  He knows not to attempt the tricky tonal high-wire act of Hornby’s prose, though Chaumeil might have been better off emphasizing either the drama or the comedy of the story rather than taking his nondescript, wishy-washy approach.  His “A Long Way Down” feels short on personality, a real shame given how much Hornby’s book had to spare.  B-2stars





REVIEW: The Way Way Back

4 08 2013

Two years ago, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash stood on stage at the Academy Awards behind Alexander Payne as he delivered the majority of their acceptance speech for writing “The Descendants.” While Payne waxed poetic to millions of people, Faxon and Rash drew the attention of the cameramen through a bizarre stunt – mocking Angelina Jolie’s flaunting of her flawless leg as it protruded out of her dress that very night.

As soon as I saw that, I thought to myself that they must have provided the humor in “The Descendants,” and the tragedy and drama came courtesy of Alexander Payne. But after seeing Faxon and Rash’s directorial debut “The Way Way Back,” which they also wrote together, I’m not so sure my assumption was correct. The dynamic duo crafted a truly heartfelt and genuine film that is equal parts uproarious comedy and poignant drama. Not a moment in the movie feels false as everything hits home just by being honest.

The film might not be the most original as it is a fairly typical entry into the coming-of-age sub genre. The protagonist, Duncan, is a shy turtle of a 14-year-old boy headed for a summer at the beach with his mother Pam (Toni Collette) and her new jerk of a boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). Both of them struggle to fit into Trent’s pre-existing world, although Pam has no escape. Duncan manages to find a surrogate family for the summer at the Water Wizz water park under the tutelage of the quick-witted Owen (Sam Rockwell).

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