REVIEW: Pasolini

12 09 2015

PasoliniNew York Film Festival, 2014

Admittedly, I know very little about Pier Paolo Pasolini, the Italian filmmaker played by Willem Dafoe in Abel Ferrara’s “Pasolini.”  I probably scrolled through the Wikipedia summary of him in the minutes before my screening began (which I only opted for because I had already seen my other option).  But a working knowledge of Pasolini is hardly necessary to get something out of the film.

A good portion of the film is fairly didactic, involving Pasolini giving an English-language interview about his art and craft that provides a baseline of details that can sustain interest throughout.  He talks about the death of narrative art and the right to scandalize, topics relevant in 2015 as they were in 1975.

As Pasolini talks through his upcoming projects, Ferrara visualizes them.  This aspect is significant because Pasolini never got to see them through himself.  The director was brutally beaten to death prior to shooting.  “Pasolini,” then, realizes that vision for the filmmaker.  The film does not just portray his life; Ferrara extends it.

But in order to keep the narrative going for those (like myself) who need something more than glances at a work that could have been, “Pasolini” follows its eponymous figure on the final day of his life in a manner similar to “Fruitvale Station.”  This not only helps Ferrara avoid hagiography but also allows a sense of tragedy to inform the proceedings.  While this two-pronged approach to depicting a major figure in Italian cinema is neither revolutionary nor particularly novel, it certainly manages to keep things interesting for a much wider audience.  B2halfstars

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REVIEW: Out of the Furnace

11 09 2015

Out of the FurnaceThe small town, blue-collar workers in Scott Cooper’s “Out of the Furnace” are disappearing both from America and from the silver screen.  They deserve better than what they get here, a gritty realism riddled with clichéd storytelling conventions.

Cooper covers a lot of that up with a great cast that turns in predictably solid, if not dazzling, performances.  The explosiveness of Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, and Casey Affleck in one movie alone is a sight to see no matter what. But it should be a powder keg, not a few sparks flying.

The film should receive some credit for being one of few to tackle the home-front experiences of Iraq War veterans like Affleck’s Rodney Baze.  He’s completely volatile, a pugnacious time bomb who will detonate if he cannot pulverize someone with his fists.  But everyone else in the Pennsylvania Rust Belt town in “Out of the Furnace” who tries to either defuse him or encourage him just fails to light up the screen in any way, shape, or form.

For a film whose title refers to an object capable of generating high temperatures, “Out of the Furnace” packs remarkably little heat.  C / 2stars





REVIEW: A Most Wanted Man

27 07 2014

A Most Wanted ManDirector Anton Corbijn came into film through photography, a background which makes itself quite evident in “A Most Wanted Man.”  There’s a certain placidity and patience in the proceedings that seem to bear the mark of a photographer’s cool distance.

Corbijn’s perspective gives this adaptation of John Le Carre (the mind who gave us “The Constant Gardener” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy“) a distinct flavor, one that adds rather than detracts from the mix.  Though this spy film tackles counterterrorism, it lacks a definite endgame like “Zero Dark Thirty” had to push it along.  Instead, the focus is on the seemingly never-ending process of apprehending terrorists, not the final product of those efforts.

The calm collectedness and careful restraint of Corbijn does a great job highlighting the grimy, laborious legwork done by a Hamburg, Germany intel unit headed up by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Günther Bachmann.  He has a knack for foresight and playing the long game, two traits that put him at odds with the more impetuous, results-driven German intelligence community (not to mention the American embassy, represented by Robin Wright’s ambassador Martha Sullivan).

Bachmann quietly enters the fray to handle the curious case of a Chechen, Issa Karpov, who washes up in Hamburg and enters the city’s network of Muslim terrorist cells.  His approach is to use this refugee as a pawn to gain access to the real power players and continue working up the chain.  Along the way, Bachmann must join forces some unwilling participants, including a shady banker (Willem Dafoe’s Tommy Brue) and a lawyer who provides counsel for terrorists (Rachel McAdams’ Annabel Richter).

“A Most Wanted Man” does drag on occasion, but it’s consistently interesting thanks to the way Corbijn’s direction allows us to savor the careful maneuvers of counterintelligence chess.  While the film might be a little less ostensibly artistic than his last outing, 2010’s “The American,” Corbijn’s chosen aesthetic for the piece suits the highly-plotted story quite well.  It also allows Philip Seymour Hoffman, in what will sadly be his last leading role, to quietly show his mastery over the craft of acting one final time.  B2halfstars





REVIEW: The Fault in Our Stars

5 06 2014

Quite often nowadays, I carry a small notepad with me when I go to see movies.  Unfortunately, I often find myself writing my review mentally as I watch the film, and I hate letting the perfect phrase slip out of my mind to never be recovered again.  I usually jot down enough phrases to fill a small page and can usually tease out the basic structure of my review.

With “The Fault in Our Stars,” however, I found that I had only written one small observation.  It was not some particularly insightful comment but merely a note of a particularly well-employed song by M83  (click to listen, but I won’t spoil the name for those yet to see the film) with the word “YES” written in all caps next to it.  I could say the same word, more or less, for the whole movie.

Those who found themselves moved by John Green’s poignant novel about a romance between two teenagers that want to be identified by something other than their cancer diagnoses will be pleased by this adaptation.  The script, nimbly adapted by the writers behind “(500) Days of Summer,” keeps the feel of the story and characters carefully in tact while also streamlining them to better suit the medium of film.  In some ways, the movie is actually an improved narrative as it excises any moment that doesn’t directly advance the relationship between the two main characters.

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REVIEW: The Grand Budapest Hotel

3 06 2014

Just so we’re clear: I have no problems with auteurism.  For those of you who just saw a French word and panicked, I’m referring to a school of film criticism that looks for recurring patterns throughout the work of an artist (usually the director).  It can often be a very interesting lens through which to analyze a set of films, and auteurism has the ability to shine a light on filmmakers outside of the general circles of critical acclaim.

Like anything in life, the theory has a dark underbelly, and to me, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” represents the perils of auteurism run rampant.  The film is Wes Anderson’s “Django Unchained,” in the sense that it represents a moment of stasis in the progression of a great director.  Anderson is now more than a director; essentially, he’s a brand, expected by customers to deliver a certain consistency of product.

Put into the position of becoming a cinematic McDonald’s, Anderson takes the easy way out by providing an assembly-line reproduction of what he has already created to great admiration.  “The Grand Budapest Hotel” feels like a less vibrant remake of a film he’s already made – or, perhaps more accurately, it feels like all of them at once.  Despite being set in a semi-fictionalized interwar Central Europe, the world Anderson portrays seems reassembled from pieces of “Moonrise Kingdom,” “The Darjeeling Limited,” and even “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”

Even more than Anderson’s last feature-length cinematic outing in 2012, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” takes his telltale stylistic flourishes and puts them to an exponential degree.  Every other take in the film had to be a tracking shot, so it seemed.  The cameos and other miscellaneous odd appearances by acclaimed thespians is now less of an amusing diversion and more of a distracting parade.  The off-beat characters feel less like quirky people and more like paper dolls traipsing around in the elegant house Anderson created for their frolicking delight.

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