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  7. <title type="text">NYC Film Critic</title>
  8. <subtitle type="text">Movie musings from a New York state of mind...</subtitle>
  10. <updated>2015-08-07T04:11:44Z</updated>
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  18. <rights>2006-2007</rights>
  19. <entry>
  20. <author>
  21. <name>admin</name>
  22. </author>
  23. <title type="html"><![CDATA[Feeling Sheepish]]></title>
  24. <link rel="alternate" type="text/html" href="" />
  25. <id></id>
  26. <updated>2015-08-07T04:11:44Z</updated>
  27. <published>2015-08-07T04:09:46Z</published>
  28. <category scheme="" term="General" /><category scheme="" term="aardman animations" /><category scheme="" term="shaun the sheep" /><category scheme="" term="shaun the sheep movie" /> <summary type="html"><![CDATA[From his humble beginnings as a supporting player in the third (and arguably best) Wallace and Gromit short, A Close Shave, the Aardman Animations creation Shaun the Sheep has become his own stop-motion franchise, one that encompasses a TV series, a spin-off TV series (Timmy Time, starring Shaun&#8217;s wooly cousin, Timmy), a merchandising line and, [&#8230;]]]></summary>
  29. <content type="html" xml:base=""><![CDATA[<p><a href=""><img class=" size-medium wp-image-4256 aligncenter" src="" alt="STSM_Seq145_03" width="450" height="300" /></a></p>
  30. <p style="text-align: left;">From his humble beginnings as a supporting player in the third (and arguably best) Wallace and Gromit short, <em>A Close Shave</em>, the Aardman Animations creation Shaun the Sheep has become his own stop-motion franchise, one that encompasses a TV series, a spin-off TV series (<em>Timmy Time</em>, starring Shaun&#8217;s wooly cousin, Timmy), a merchandising line and, now, a big-screen feature. Like his former canine co-star, Shaun is a silent creature, and the other characters in his first feature follow his example. That includes his sheep family (including young Timmy), as well as the farmer that tends to Shuan and his flock. That makes the boringly, but accurately, titled<em> Shaun the Sheep Movie </em>the rare contemporary kids&#8217; movie that isn&#8217;t filled with celebrity voices delivering inspired and/or insipid laugh lines.</p>
  31. <p><span id="more-4255"></span></p>
  32. <p>Instead, the animators are the stars here, and the task of bringing the characters to life rests entirely on their shoulders. For the most part, they succeed. <em>Shaun the Sheep Movie </em>isn&#8217;t as narratively clever or formally ambitious as past Aardman efforts like <em>Chicken Run</em>, <em>The Curse of the Were-Rabbit </em>(Wallace and Gromit&#8217;s first and, sadly, only feature) and even <em>The Pirates! Band of Misfits</em>. But it&#8217;s a solid showcase of the studio&#8217;s stop motion craft and a good modern gateway into the joys of silent comedy for younger viewers who are perhaps suspicious of black and white masters like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.</p>
  33. <p>The film&#8217;s straightforward plot certainly doesn&#8217;t require any additional blather to explain. Bored of his daily, weekly and monthly routine, Shaun hatches a plan to enjoy some much-needed R&amp;R from the grinding sameness of farm life. But his plot backfires when his owner winds up on a runaway camper that careens from the countryside into the big city, ultimately receiving a knock on his noggin that robs him of his memory. In his absence, the farm descends into chaos, leading a guilt-ridden Shaun to embark on a search-and-rescue mission that that his sheep pals and the resident sheepdog join in on. Once again, things don&#8217;t go according to plan and the animals are forced to improvise their way out of various jams without being captured by a zealous animal control officer who loves his job a little <em>too</em> much.</p>
  34. <p>That narrative gives the Aardman animation team, overseen by directors Richard Starzak and Mark Burton, plenty of room to choreograph silent set-pieces, the best of which include an extended sequence in a fancy restaurant where the sheep don human clothing and try to adopt human table manners with little success, a spirited rooftop chase and a final race back to the farm. And it&#8217;s a good thing that the characters are constantly in motion, because that helps distract from the fact that—cute factor aside—Shaun isn&#8217;t a particularly interesting hero. There&#8217;s a wide charisma gap separating him from Wallace and Gromit or the hens of <em>Chicken Run </em>(not to mention Chaplin&#8217;s Little Tramp or Keaton&#8217;s Great Stone Face), one that becomes apparent whenever the movie takes a breather in between stop-motion stunt work.</p>
  35. <p>Then again, unlike Wallace and Gromit (or, for that matter, Chaplin) whose antics appeal to all ages, Shaun is geared towards the younger set, which is probably why my 4-year-old had a better time at the movie than my 8-year-old overall. The best silent comedies had another level beyond mere clowning; Chaplin&#8217;s movies always hinged on sweetly emotional (some would say cheesy) relationships, while Keaton presented himself with ambitious formal challenges, like entering a movie screen (<em>Sherlock Jr.</em>) or driving a train over a burning bridge (<em>The General</em>). And while <em>Shaun the Sheep Movie </em>makes overtures towards deeper dramatic stakes (like a subplot involving a stray animal who the sheep adopt as a friend), the filmmakers are happier to just entertain. They accomplish that from moment to moment, but they don&#8217;t leave viewers—even young ones—with very much to remember.</p>
  36. <p>&nbsp;</p>
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  41. </entry>
  42. <entry>
  43. <author>
  44. <name>admin</name>
  45. </author>
  46. <title type="html"><![CDATA[Made Redundant]]></title>
  47. <link rel="alternate" type="text/html" href="" />
  48. <id></id>
  49. <updated>2015-03-20T19:22:50Z</updated>
  50. <published>2015-03-20T19:21:48Z</published>
  51. <category scheme="" term="Film Review" /><category scheme="" term="insurgent" /><category scheme="" term="shailene woodley" /><category scheme="" term="the divergent series" /> <summary type="html"><![CDATA[I know that I saw Divergent, the first entry in what’s since been officially tagged as The Divergent Series, a year ago, but I could barely tell you a thing about it 12 months later. Carefully engineered to be the next YA blockbuster, the movie pieced together elements drawn from various other successful movie and [&#8230;]]]></summary>
  52. <content type="html" xml:base=""><![CDATA[<p><a href=""><img class="aligncenter wp-image-4248" src="" alt="24097.cr2" width="540" height="360" /></a></p>
  53. <p>I know that I saw <em>Divergent</em>, the first entry in what’s since been officially tagged as <em>The Divergent Series</em>, a year ago, but I could barely tell you a thing about it 12 months later. Carefully engineered to be the next YA blockbuster, the movie pieced together elements drawn from various other successful movie and book series (including Veronica Roth’s titular trilogy, which served as the base source material) and performed just well enough to merit this sequel, which fills that lull between Oscar season and the earlier-than-ever launch of summer blockbuster insanity. But don’t go in expecting a recap of the previous installment; <em>Insurgent </em>leaps right into the action without much exposition. And since exposition was the one thing that I do recall <em>Divergent </em>had in spades, I wasn’t particularly sad to cut to the chase, such as it is.</p>
  54. <p><span id="more-4247"></span></p>
  55. <p>And that’s really all that <em>Insurgent </em>amounts to: a slow-motion two-hour chase movie, where the heroes gingerly move through a post-apocalyptic setting, meeting various familiar and new faces—including Naomi Watts, presumably paid a lot of money for her few stiffly-acted scenes as the mother of Theo James’s love interest—staying several steps ahead of the villains until they realize that running isn’t worth the bother. The first hour is so devoid of meaningful content, you could literally walk into the theater at the 70-minute mark and start watching from there without missing a single dramatic beat.</p>
  56. <p>That’s when Tris (Shailene Woodley), this franchise’s Katniss Everdeen avatar, walks into the lair occupied by Jeanine (Kate Winslet), <em>Divergent</em>’s version of President Snow, and submits to a series of mental tests designed to open the movie’s McGuffin…a box of unspecified mystical properties. Unlocking this box is Jeanine’s only real purpose in the movie, which explains why she doesn’t seem particularly concerned with devoting all her spare time and energy towards hunting down Tris. At least Snow made the (ultimately unsuccessful) effort to plot and scheme to rid himself of the troublesome Katniss; Jeanine literally waits for the heroine to come to her.</p>
  57. <p>The lack of any memorable story elements or overall narrative drive might not be so pronounced if this post-apocalyptic future were even halfway interesting. <em>The Hunger Games </em>franchise took a big leap between the first and second movies in that regard, with the generically sketched-out universe that exists in the original installment turning into a more immersive world in the follow-up. <em>The Divergent Series</em>, in contrast, appears to be going in reverse. A significant amount of money was spent on the first movie, creating a version of a ruined Chicago where different factions inhabited different neighborhoods and people got around on zip lines suspended between skyscrapers.</p>
  58. <p><a href=""><img class="aligncenter wp-image-4249" src="" alt="52069.cr2" width="540" height="354" /></a></p>
  59. <p>Much of that detail has been erased by incoming director Robert Schwentke in <em>Insurgent</em> in favor of a series of interchangeable, depopulated sets strategically placed in front of greenscreens depicting screen-saver like backdrops of a crumbling metropolis. It’s likely that most of the money for this installment went to paying the cast—especially Winslet and Woodley—leaving only spare change on hand for things like production design and costumes. (Look closely, and you’ll spot the same five or six extras appearing and re-appearing as Jeanine’s soldiers throughout the movie, even after they’ve been used as cannon fodder.) The one visual effect that Schwentke did set some cash aside for is Tris plunging through glass panes, a flourish that he likes so much, he repeats it on a regular basis.</p>
  60. <p>The disposable nature of <em>Insurgent </em>does little favor for Woodley, a smart, soulful actress who nevertheless doesn’t have the gravitas to hold down the center of this kind of action spectacle. That particular limitation might not have been so clearly exposed if Tris weren’t written as such a generic Chosen One, without any specific personality quirks or powers that make her role as the sole savior of this universe clear. In her best performances—specifically Alexander Payne’s <em>The Descendants</em> and Gregg Araki’s problematic, but intriguing <em>White Bird in a Blizzard</em>—Woodley has displayed a quick attitude and sharp temper that would have gone a long way towards giving Tris the kind of hard edge that might have made her stand out from her softly-realized surroundings. She wouldn’t even have to necessarily be a Ripley-esque bad-ass to hold our attention; if there was some spark of rebellion to the character, even the smallest sense that she’s fighting her destiny rather than running towards it, that would have played to Woodley’s strengths.</p>
  61. <p>But everyone involved with <em>Insurgent </em>seems to recognize that quality is almost besides the point. The movie’s release date, coupled with the lack of competition, means that it’ll do well enough to justify its existence to the studio. Plus, the two-part final installment, <em>Allegiant</em>, has already been booked for 2016 and 2017 respectively. For the cast, crew and audience, it’s just a matter of waiting this series out and hoping something more interesting comes down the pike.</p>
  62. ]]></content>
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  66. </entry>
  67. <entry>
  68. <author>
  69. <name>admin</name>
  70. </author>
  71. <title type="html"><![CDATA[Tale As Old as Time]]></title>
  72. <link rel="alternate" type="text/html" href="" />
  73. <id></id>
  74. <updated>2015-03-13T14:12:29Z</updated>
  75. <published>2015-03-13T14:11:58Z</published>
  76. <category scheme="" term="Film Review" /><category scheme="" term="cinderella" /><category scheme="" term="Kenneth Branagh" /><category scheme="" term="the wrecking crew" /> <summary type="html"><![CDATA[Reviews of a live-action Cinderella and a son&#8217;s love letter to his father and the other members of The Wrecking Crew. For a movie that has no reason to exist beyond maximizing Disney’s back catalogue, Kenneth Branagh’s live action Cinderella is an entirely enjoyable piece of fairy tale theater. The sets and costumes are appropriately [&#8230;]]]></summary>
  77. <content type="html" xml:base=""><![CDATA[<p><em><a href=""><img class="aligncenter wp-image-4244" src="" alt="cinderella-image-large" width="540" height="359" /></a></p>
  78. <p></em>Reviews of a live-action <em>Cinderella </em>and a son&#8217;s love letter to his father and the other members of <em>The Wrecking Crew</em>.</p>
  79. <p><span id="more-4243"></span></p>
  80. <p>For a movie that has no reason to exist beyond maximizing Disney’s back catalogue, Kenneth Branagh’s live action <em>Cinderella </em>is an entirely enjoyable piece of fairy tale theater. The sets and costumes are appropriately sumptuous, the actors inhabit their roles with just the right amount of seriousness and self-deprecation and the tone is gentle enough for kids, while still touching on the darker, grown-up themes and ideas that are intended to be part of these fables, but can all too easily be leeched out by nervous storytellers. Branagh has a checkered career as a filmmaker, with sparkling Shakespeare adaptations like <em>Henry V</em> and <em>Much Ado About Nothing</em> resting alongside stolid big-budget movies like <em>Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein </em>and <em>Thor</em>, but he demonstrates a firm understanding of his task with <em>Cinderella</em>. This version isn’t intended to supplant the Mouse House’s 1950 animated classic, which remains one of the crown jewels in their extensive line-up of princess movies. Rather, it’s meant to provide a fuller account of the source material, beefing up the original’s 75 minute runtime to 112 minutes and fleshing out the universe and its characters in the process.</p>
  81. <p>I’d actually argue that 112 minutes is pushing it; 95 minutes would have been right in the zone, allowing enough room for some of Branagh and screenwriter Chris Weitz’s smarter flourishes, while also forcing them to eliminate the additions that just drag the narrative down. The latter elements include a pointless subplot involving Stellan Skarsgard as a duplicitous advisor to Prince Charming (Richard Madden) and his father, the King (Derek Jacobi), a superfluous first-act meet cute between the heroine (Lily James) and her prince that robs their encounter at the royal ball of some of its magic and a moment where the mother of all wicked stepmothers (played here by Cate Blanchett) monologues about the reasons behind her wickedness.</p>
  82. <p>On the other hand, I appreciate the embellishments Weitz and Branagh imbue in the first act, lengthening the introduction to Ella’s idyllic childhood and then allowing them to experience the trauma of having that part of her life progressively ripped away through death and neglect until she’s left as Cinderella. (I even forgive the movie its <em>Batman Begins </em>moment where we learn the exact origin of her name.) And under their hand, Prince Charming becomes more than just a cardboard cut-out of blandly handsome royalty—he’s got flashes of real personality, expressing doubts about his impending move to the throne and displaying a progressive attitude towards the kingdom’s less-fortunate subjects. The driving metaphor of this <em>Cinderella </em>is that great things can be born out of great tragedy (in this case, the death or impending death of parents and/or spouses) if one manages to remain resilient and good at heart. Both Cinderella and the Prince hang onto their decency in the face of adversity, whereas the wicked stepmother allows her sadness to curdle into cruelty.</p>
  83. <p>Perhaps because of his theatrical background, Branagh is more comfortable shooting the action on physical sets with actual props. Whenever CGI enters the frame, it looks distinctly out of place, too cartoonish for the grounded fantasy world the movie is otherwise striving to create. (That problem marred <em>Thor </em>as well.) Which leads to another bit of business that could have been cut or severely trimmed back: the computer-animated mice and assorted critters that skitter throughout the movie. These characters are remnants of the cartoon—where they had actual dialogue, a choice that Branagh wisely opts against repeating—as well as Disney’s decades-long tradition of cute animal sidekicks. Fortunately, the flesh-and-blood humans remain front and center throughout and the cast more than holds your attention without the aid of digital trickery. James and Madden are a…well, <em>charming</em> pair of young lovers, while the members of Cinderella’s wicked stepfamily are hissable without being thoroughly hateful. I’d still recommend the streamlined cartoon version to parents of younger children (think 5 and under), but when those kids are ready for a fairy tale that’s a little bit more grown-up, it’s nice to know that this <em>Cinderella </em>is there waiting.</p>
  84. <p>&nbsp;</p>
  85. <p><a href=""><img class="aligncenter wp-image-4245" src="" alt="9" width="540" height="470" /></a></p>
  86. <p>Part of a wave of recent documentaries that seek to honor the unsung musicians of yesteryear—think <em>20 Feet From Stardom</em>, <em>Muscle Shoals </em>and <em>Searching for Sugar Man</em>—<em>The Wrecking Crew </em>has a personal angle that lends it added resonance. This portrait of the titular collective of session musicians that played on some of the biggest hits of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s was directed by Denny Tedesco, son of Wrecking Crew stalwart, Tommy Tedesco. The elder Tedesco passed away in 1997, but not before sitting down for several on-camera rap sessions with Denny, who spent the next decade recording interviews with other Wrecking Crew members, as well as major artists and music industry personalities like Cher, Nancy Sinatra and Dick Clark.</p>
  87. <p>Tedesco completed <em>The Wrecking Crew</em> in 2008 and screened it at various festivals, but the costs of licensing the hit records heard throughout the film proved prohibitive for a wider release. But a successful Kickstarter fundraising campaign to cover those fees, combined with an Oscar victory for <em>20 Feet from Stardom</em>, put <em>Crew </em>back in play as a viable candidate for a theatrical run. I have a feeling Tedesco’s movie won’t hit the same commercial heights as <em>Stardom</em>, which benefitted from its irresistible hook of moving the underdogs out of the background and into the spotlight. Also, fairly or not, the general public seems to value the primacy of singers over those who play the instruments that underscore their warbling. (Credit and/or blame the popularity of reality shows like <em>American Idol </em>and <em>The Voice </em>for that.) But I think it’s a slightly better movie, more focused in its narrative and benefitting from the director’s direct connection to the subject at hand.</p>
  88. <p>Formally, the movie isn’t especially distinguished, as Tedesco goes for the standard rock doc juxtaposition of talking head interviews with period B-roll. But the musicians’ memories, coupled with the murderers’ row of killer tunes that play on the soundtrack, carry you along and recreate a period in the music industry that’s long since vanished. And if <em>The Wrecking Crew </em>is perhaps too reverential of that time and these artists—one of the risks of a son making a movie about his father—it at least encourages viewers to take a closer look at the liner notes of classic rock tunes and appreciate the time and skill that went into crafting them.</p>
  89. <p>&nbsp;</p>
  90. <p>&nbsp;</p>
  91. <p>&nbsp;</p>
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  97. <entry>
  98. <author>
  99. <name>admin</name>
  100. </author>
  101. <title type="html"><![CDATA[The Hunting Life]]></title>
  102. <link rel="alternate" type="text/html" href="" />
  103. <id></id>
  104. <updated>2015-02-28T06:12:27Z</updated>
  105. <published>2015-02-27T15:00:13Z</published>
  106. <category scheme="" term="Film Review" /> <summary type="html"><![CDATA[A pair of documentaries are opening in theaters this week that represent two distinct non-fiction narrative forms. Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering&#8217;s The Hunting Ground is a journalistic piece that attacks a major news story from a myriad of angles. Liv Corfixen&#8217;s My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn is a personal essay that happens [&#8230;]]]></summary>
  107. <content type="html" xml:base=""><![CDATA[<p><a href=""><img class="aligncenter wp-image-4236" src="" alt="thehuntingground_still (photo by john nez)" width="540" height="405" /></a></p>
  108. <p>A pair of documentaries are opening in theaters this week that represent two distinct non-fiction narrative forms. Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering&#8217;s <em>The Hunting Ground </em>is a journalistic piece that attacks a major news story from a myriad of angles. Liv Corfixen&#8217;s <em>My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn </em>is a personal essay that happens to be &#8220;written&#8221; with a camera. Both films have the individual strengths and weaknesses, but viewed alongside each other, they speak to the wide range of stories that exist to be told in the documentary genre, not to mention the different ways of telling them.</p>
  109. <p><span id="more-4235"></span></p>
  110. <p>Let&#8217;s start with <em>The Hunting Ground</em>, a sequel of sorts to Dick and Ziering&#8217;s last film together, <em>The Invisible War</em>, which documented some of the people behind the depressing statistics of rape within the American military. <em>The Hunting Ground </em>explores the same subject in a different environment: college campuses. It&#8217;s territory that has been explored in the news quite a bit recently, especially in the wake of a discredited <em>Rolling Stone </em>article that attempted to draw attention to this vitally important subject, but instead became the subject of the story when it became clear that the reporting methodology was deeply flawed.</p>
  111. <p>Unlike the writer of the <em>Rolling Stone </em>piece, the <em>Hunting Ground </em>filmmakers have been more careful in their reporting, offering up story after story that paints a troubling picture of how educational institutions across the country respond to crimes that occur on their campuses. The crime of rape itself is terrible enough—what compounds the tragedy is the lackluster response on behalf of administrators, who are often quicker to discourage (and, in some extreme cases, discredit) the victims than aiding them in seeing the perpetrator brought to justice. Where the <em>Rolling Stone </em>article was constructed around one woman&#8217;s story—a choice that ultimately proved problematic when that story turned out to have several crucial discrepancies—<em>The Hunting Ground </em>incorporates many stories. And while the circumstances and colleges change, the general sequence of events remains the same from narrative to narrative, which comes together to form a troubling pattern that demands to be addressed.</p>
  112. <p>Truth be told, there were times watching <em>The Hunting Ground </em>where I wondered whether the filmmakers wouldn&#8217;t have been better off limiting the number of women they profiled to three or four, just so the audience gets a fuller sense of the details surrounding each specific case. There are certainly individuals in the film who could support their own documentary, most notably Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, rape survivors who filed a Title IX lawsuit to protest colleges&#8217; treatment of victims. Dick and Ziering also secured the participation of Erica Kinsman, who was at the center of a widely-publicized case involving college football quarterback Jameis Winston, a star athlete his institution (Florida State University, for the record) fairly egregiously tried to protect. Again, the collusion between academics and athletics at major universities is a subject that&#8217;s almost better served as a standalone film instead of being just a small part of this one.</p>
  113. <p>But the more I think about it, the more I see the logic behind the filmmakers&#8217; approach: they&#8217;re cast their net wide as a means to present the enormity of the problem in the hopes it will make viewers—and maybe more than a few colleges—sit up and pay attention. <em>The Hunting Ground </em>directly and, at times, bluntly argues its case, appealing directly to the audiences&#8217; sense of moral outrage. It&#8217;s a more rigorous bit of journalism than the <em>Rolling Stone </em>story and, thus, is likely harder for colleges to rebut. The fact that so many of the universities mentioned in the film have opted to stay silent (most declined requests to make administrative officials available for interviews) speaks volumes.</p>
  114. <p><a href=""><img class="aligncenter wp-image-4237" src="" alt="my life_3" width="540" height="304" /></a></p>
  115. <p>Although their feelings about the subject are quite pronounced in the film, Dick and Ziering keep themselves from entering the frame. Not so with Liv Corfixen, who is a regular presence during <em>My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn</em>—even when she&#8217;s not onscreen, the viewer is distinctly aware that she&#8217;s wielding the camera. That&#8217;s understandable given that it&#8217;s <em>her </em>life and husband being referenced by the title. Refn, of course, is the Danish director who directed a series of critically-acclaimed (but little seen) European art films until he hit the commercial jackpot with <em>Drive</em>, a Ryan Gosling star vehicle that became a modest international sensation. <em>My Life </em>is filmed during the making of Refn&#8217;s second collaboration with Gosling, <em>Only God Forgives</em>, a 2013 Thailand-set curiosity that&#8217;s more in line with the brutal, esoteric pictures he was making before <em>Drive</em>. The knowledge that&#8217;s he&#8217;s going from something extremely commercial to something extremely un-commercial isn&#8217;t lost on the director, who alternately boasts about that for his wife&#8217;s camera or meekly puts it out there as if seeking her approval.</p>
  116. <p>If you&#8217;re going into <em>My Life </em>actually expecting to learn about Corfixen&#8217;s life, be prepared to be disappointed, as the film is focused on the making of <em>Only God Forgives </em>to the exclusion of almost anything else. That&#8217;s almost certainly part of the point; there are a few stray lines in the film where she points out to Refn that his career has become the focal point of their marriage, compelling her to move to Thailand along with their children so they wouldn&#8217;t be separated for a prolonged period as time as they were with <em>Drive</em>. So for better and for worse, her life as become an extension of his—even this documentary is almost more for his benefit, allowing Refn&#8217;s fanbase to watch over his shoulder as he pals around with Gosling in between takes and choreographs sequences of brutal violence. Moments like this keep <em>My Life</em>—which clocks in at a swift 58 minutes—from ever getting dull, but it is fairly thin stuff, as Refn faces few challenges in the production of <em>Only God Forgives</em> beyond his own self-doubt and Corfixen refrains from revealing too much about herself to become an interesting presence. On the other hand, it does make me want to give <em>Only God Forgives</em>, which<a href=""> I panned the first time around</a>, another look.</p>
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  123. <author>
  124. <name>admin</name>
  125. </author>
  126. <title type="html"><![CDATA[My 2014 Top Ten]]></title>
  127. <link rel="alternate" type="text/html" href="" />
  128. <id></id>
  129. <updated>2014-12-20T04:48:32Z</updated>
  130. <published>2014-12-20T04:27:38Z</published>
  131. <category scheme="" term="Features" /><category scheme="" term="boyhood" /><category scheme="" term="Frederick Wiseman" /><category scheme="" term="jonathan glazer" /><category scheme="" term="Mike Leigh" /><category scheme="" term="mr. turner" /><category scheme="" term="national gallery" /><category scheme="" term="only lovers left alive" /><category scheme="" term="richard linklater" /><category scheme="" term="snowpiercer" /><category scheme="" term="the babadook" /><category scheme="" term="the lego movie" /><category scheme="" term="the one i love" /><category scheme="" term="the tale of princess kaguya" /><category scheme="" term="under the skin" /> <summary type="html"><![CDATA[If you&#8217;re sick of reading people praising Boyhood&#8230;sorry. 1) Boyhood Boyhood may not be Richard Linklater’s finest movie (I’d rank the entirety of the Before trilogy ahead of it, with A Scanner Darkly a possible second in the conversation), but it’s the one that perhaps best encapsulates who he is as a filmmaker. His penchant [&#8230;]]]></summary>
  132. <content type="html" xml:base=""><![CDATA[<p style="text-align: center;"><a href=""><img class="aligncenter wp-image-4221 size-medium" src="" alt="download" width="451" height="300" /></a></p>
  133. <p>If you&#8217;re sick of reading people praising <em>Boyhood</em>&#8230;sorry.</p>
  134. <p><span id="more-4211"></span><strong><br />
  135. 1) <em><a href="" target="_blank">Boyhood</a><br />
  136. </em></strong><em>Boyhood </em>may not be Richard Linklater’s finest movie (I’d rank the entirety of the <em>Before </em>trilogy ahead of it, with <em>A Scanner Darkly </em>a possible second in the conversation), but it’s the one that perhaps best encapsulates who he is as a filmmaker. His penchant for locating big ideas within the rhythms of ordinary, everyday life—something that’s defined his style since his breakout debut, <em>Slacker</em>—is given its grandest stage here, as he follows one group of characters over the course of 12 years. The finished product feels at once both carefully planned and marvelously in the moment, with Linklater’s observational shooting style picks up on little details about his characters that speak volumes about the way their lives unfold. There are aspects about <em>Boyhood </em>that don’t quite track—I think that star Ellar Coltrane becomes a less interesting screen presence as he ages, and I wish that Patricia Arquette had been allowed to directly answer Ethan Hawke’s self-serving characterization of their failed marriage—but the film’s deep interest in human behavior and the way our decisions ripple outwards through time, dovetail with fascinations I’ve always had. Without knowing it, I’ve always wanted to see a movie exactly like <em>Boyhood </em>and I’m so pleased that Linklater was the one to make it.</p>
  137. <p><strong>2) <em>Mr. Turner<br />
  138. </em></strong>Of the three British biopics released this year—<em>The Imitation Game</em>, <em>The Theory of Everything </em>and <em>Mr. Turner</em>—only Mike Leigh’s film about 19<sup>th</sup> century artist J.M.W. Turner really punctures the genre’s surface trappings to get at the complex, contradictory individual who once lived, breathed and, in this case, painted. Working with frequent collaborator Timothy Spall, who accomplishes the impossible task of seeming both larger-than-life and remarkably grounded, Leigh illustrates how Turner was both a product of his time and yet stood outside of that time, charting his own course in bold, if not always admirable ways. Most narrative features about great painters focus on what’s on the canvas at the expense of the person creating those images. <em>Mr. Turner </em>effortlessly accomplishes both.</p>
  139. <p><strong>3) <em><a href="" target="_blank">National Gallery</a><br />
  140. </em></strong>A natural companion piece (and unofficial sequel) to <em>Mr. Turner</em>, Frederick Wiseman’s latest opus takes viewers inside the hallowed halls of the titular London art museum for a three-hour tour that explores the role of this specific institution in the preservation of art and the continued education of the public. The connection to Leigh’s film aren’t just the Turner paintings that adorn the walls of the National Gallery; it’s the way that Wiseman is similarly drawn to questions of artistic intent and the constantly-evolving attitudes about what constitutes “greatâ€\x9d art. It’s no accident that my top three movies of the year are all, at heart, studies in behavior; <em>Boyhood </em>and <em>Mr. Turner </em>address the human side of the equation, while <em>National Gallery </em>tackles the behavior of an entire institution.</p>
  141. <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>4) <em>Under the Skin<br />
  142. </em></strong>Behavior also plays a key role in Jonathan Glazer’s remarkable third film, which provides the best answer I’ve ever seen to the age-old question: “If an alien landed on Earth, what would they make of human society?â€\x9d The director offers his take by chronicling the experiences of Scarlett Johansson’s terrestrial visitor, who is placed by her minders in Glasgow, Scotland and tasked with using her adopted feminine charms to separate young men from their flesh. Glazer deliberately omits anything resembling exposition or backstory from the proceedings, making <em>Under the Skin </em>an entirely experiential picture that successfully shows us our world in all its strange, chaotic and haunting glory through another’s eyes.</p>
  143. <p><a href=""><img class="aligncenter wp-image-4213" src="" alt="hires_kaguya_1" width="628" height="340" /></a></p>
  144. <p><strong>5) </strong><em><strong>The Tale of Princess Kaguya</strong><br />
  145. </em>Hayao Miyazaki’s contemporary and collaborator at Studio Ghibli, Isao Takahata, offers his take on one of Japan’s oldest and most famous legends. Illustrated in the style of Japanese scroll paintings, <em>Kaguya</em> is remarkable for its resplendent hand-drawn animation alone. But the film is also a narrative and thematic marvel, with Takahata using this myth as a springboard to exploring such subjects as parental ambition and how it clashes with familial love, as well as a young woman’s desire to assert her independence in a restrictive society. Just as last year’s <em>The Wind Rises </em>appears to be Miyazaki’s final film, <em>Kaguya </em>will likely serve as Takahata’s career capper. And what a film to retire on.</p>
  146. <p><strong>6) <em><a href="" target="_blank">The Babadook</a><br />
  147. </em></strong>More than just a skillfully executed combination of Kubrick’s <em>The Shining </em>and Polanski’s <em>Repulsion</em>, Jennifer Kent’s debut feature is also a rich psychological look at an aspect of parenthood most parents don’t like to talk about—namely, those difficult (and hopefully rare) moments when you can’t stand to be around your “darlingâ€\x9d children. Breakout star Essie Davis plumbs depths of emotion and terror that few actors from the past year have reached and her onscreen son, Noah Wiseman, gives one of the most natural, unaffected performances by a young actor I’ve seen in some time. <em>The Babadook </em>impressed me the first time around, but the second viewing left me gasping for air.</p>
  148. <p><strong>7) <em>Only Lovers Left Alive<br />
  149. </em></strong>My initial impression of Jim Jarmusch’s gothic vampire romance-cum-musical was that it belonged amongst the director’s minor, but still eminently enjoyable, works. (A space occupied by such past Jarmusch films as <em>Coffee and Cigarettes </em>and <em>Mystery Train</em>.) But in its low-key way, the film has haunted me ever since. Credit the sly performances of Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, Jarmusch’s deadpan wit and cinematographer Yorick Le Saux’s beautiful nighttime photography, which contrasts between Detroit’s urban desolation and Morocco’s Old World lushness. <em>Only Lovers</em> also serves as an elegy for type of musician that the director himself clearly knew back in the good ol’ bad days of early ‘80s New York. The movie’s alternate title could easily be <em>Goodbye to All That</em>.</p>
  150. <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>8) <em>Snowpiercer<br />
  151. </em></strong>Having since read the (mostly terrible) graphic novel that the film is based on, I’m even more impressed by Bong Joon-ho’s turbo-charged post-apocalyptic adventure, which sends Chris Evans hurtling through the titular train on a desperate mission to reach the engine. A marvel of production design, each car Evans passes through is a unique world unto itself with a distinct social order and set of rules. And while the movie’s messaging at times borders on heavy-handed, the director’s non-stop energy and flair for imaginative set-pieces keep it zipping along. Hands down, <em>Snowpiercer </em>proved the most exhilarating action movie I saw all year.</p>
  152. <p style="text-align: center;"><a href=""><img class="aligncenter wp-image-4214 size-full" src="" alt="TOIL-still-31_Mark-Duplass-Elisabeth-Moss_Photo-by-Sean-OMalley1-600x340" width="600" height="340" /></a></p>
  153. <p><strong>9) <em>The One I Love<br />
  154. </em></strong>The highest praise I can afford this low-fi piece of sci-fi is that it feels like the kind of story a genre master like Ray Bradbury or Robert Heinlein might have written back in their heyday. Taking a premise that seems more suited to a short story than a feature film, director Charlie McDowell and screenwriter Justin Lader nevertheless plot it out just right, consistently surprising the audience and upending our expectations as to where the story might be headed. Also, full credit to Mark Duplass and, especially, Elisabeth Moss, for not getting tripped up by the central gimmick and creating not just two, but <em>four</em> distinct, memorable characters.</p>
  155. <p><strong>10) <em><a href="" target="_blank">The LEGO Movie</a><br />
  156. </em></strong>I’ll admit that a big part of my affection for Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s nimble, relentlessly enjoyable celebration of all things Lego is due to the fact that they’ve effectively remade the entire<em> Matrix </em>trilogy as a kids’ movie. (Nice to see that someone else loves <em>Reloaded </em>as much as I do.) But there’s so much else here to adore besides, whether it’s the mash-up of different characters and personalities, the rapid-fire gags that recall vintage ZAZ comedies like <em>Airplane! </em>or the climactic reveal in what I’ll call “The Architectâ€\x9d scene. Out of the most unlikely of materials, Lord and Miller have pieced together a family movie that’s built to last.</p>
  157. <p><strong><br />
  158. The Next Ten<br />
  159. 11) <em><a href="" target="_blank">Inherent Vice</a><br />
  160. </em></strong>Something is happening in P.T. Andeson&#8217;s latest joint and I&#8217;m not sure what it is, which is why it fell one short of cracking the Top 10. But I have no doubt I&#8217;ll be watching it again and again to figure it out…and once I do, I may just bump it all the way up to #1.</p>
  161. <p><strong>12) <em><a href="" target="_blank">12 O’Clock Boys</a><br />
  162. </em></strong>Lofty Nathan&#8217;s slender documentary about the titular Baltimore-based urban bike enthusiasts provides the <em>Boyhood</em>-like experience of watching a child come of age on camera, albeit on a much shorter timeline and in markedly different surroundings.</p>
  163. <p><strong>13) <em><a href="" target="_blank">Edge of Tomorrow</a><br />
  164. </em></strong>Even a silly, nonsensical ending can&#8217;t spoil the pure fun of this summer&#8217;s best Hollywood-made blockbuster. And as good as Tom Cruise is, <em>Edge </em>ultimately belongs to Emily Blunt.</p>
  165. <p><strong>14) <em><a href="" target="_blank">The Grand Budapest Hotel</a><br />
  166. </em></strong>Wes Anderson&#8217;s latest feature retains his exacting, precise craftsmanship, built atop a story that delivers an emotional wallop in its closing scenes.</p>
  167. <p><strong>15) <em><a href="" target="_blank">Stranger by the Lake</a><br />
  168. </em></strong>An anti-thriller in the spirit of <em>Blow Up</em>, Alain Guiraudie&#8217;s one-setting mood piece expertly swings between happiness and joy to dread and foreboding.</p>
  169. <p><strong>16) <em>Nightcrawler<br />
  170. </em></strong>While first-time director Dan Gilroy has a tendency to overdo it on the <em>Network</em>-style news media critique, Jake Gyllenhaal&#8217;s performance as a hybrid of Travis Bickle and Gordon Gekko (not to mention the stunning L.A.-after-dark cinematography by Robert Elswit) is a wonder to behold.</p>
  171. <p><strong>17) <em>Foxcatcher<br />
  172. </em></strong>Steve Carell has nabbed the lion&#8217;s share of attention for Bennett Miller&#8217;s sturdy ripped-from-the-headlines true crime dramatization, but the true power (and tragedy) of the movie comes from Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as the doomed pair of Olympic wrestling brothers.</p>
  173. <p><strong>18) <em>Ida<br />
  174. </em></strong>Pawel Pawlikowski&#8217;s aesthetically spare, but dramatically potent drama quietly explores how ghosts from the past shape our present and future.</p>
  175. <p><strong>19) <em><a href="" target="_blank">The Kingdom of Madness and Dreams</a><br />
  176. </em></strong>A rare glimpse into the legendary Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli and its storied leader, Hayao Miyazaki, sheds light on all the ordinary hard work that goes into creating his extraordinary works of cinematic art.</p>
  177. <p><strong>20) <em>Interstellar<br />
  178. </em></strong>The supremely goofy, yet wholly enjoyable <em>Interstellar </em>proves once and for all that Christopher Nolan is too literal-minded a director to be our next Kubrick. On the other hand, it also confirms that he&#8217;s one of the few A-list Hollywood directors around with the formal skill to match his grand ambitions.</p>
  179. <p><strong>Honorable Mentions: </strong><em>Birdman</em>, <em>Cheap Thrills</em>,<em> Dawn of the Planet of the Apes</em>, <em>Godzilla</em> (the direction),<em> Gone Girl</em>,<em> Guardians of the Galaxy</em>, <em>The Guest</em>, <em>The Imitation Game</em>,<em> The Lunchbox</em>, <em>Jodorowsky&#8217;s Dune</em>, <em>Neighbors</em>, <em>Nymphomaniac Vol. 1</em>, <em>Obvious Child</em>, <em>Red Army</em>,<em> Selma</em>,<em> They Came Together</em>, <em>The Trip to Italy</em>,<em> 22 Jump Street</em>,<em> We are the Best!</em>, <em>Whiplash</em>, <em>Wild, Winter Sleep</em></p>
  180. <p><strong>Dishonorable Mentions: </strong><em>The Awkward Moment</em>,<em> Best Night Ever</em>, <em>Better Living Through Chemistry</em>,<em> Breathe In</em>,<em> Godzilla </em>(the characters),<em> Endless Love</em>, <em>Into the Woods</em>, <em>Made in America</em>,<em> Magic in the Moonlight</em>,<em> The Monuments Men</em>, <em>Ouija</em>,<em> Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones</em>, <em>The Skeleton Twins</em>,<em> St. Vincent</em>,<em> V/H/S: Viral</em></p>
  181. <p><strong><em> </em></strong></p>
  182. <p><strong><em> </em></strong></p>
  183. ]]></content>
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  187. </entry>
  188. <entry>
  189. <author>
  190. <name>admin</name>
  191. </author>
  192. <title type="html"><![CDATA[Five Armies Compete, The Viewers Lose]]></title>
  193. <link rel="alternate" type="text/html" href="" />
  194. <id></id>
  195. <updated>2014-12-20T03:59:33Z</updated>
  196. <published>2014-12-17T05:52:55Z</published>
  197. <category scheme="" term="Film Review" /><category scheme="" term="cannes" /><category scheme="" term="martin freeman" /><category scheme="" term="nuri bilge ceylan" /><category scheme="" term="peter jackson" /><category scheme="" term="the hobbit" /><category scheme="" term="the hobbit: the battle of the five armies" /><category scheme="" term="winter sleep" /> <summary type="html"><![CDATA[Peter Jackson attempts to finish his second Middle-earth trilogy in grand style, but the result is minor at best. Plus, a quick review of the Cannes winner, Winter Sleep Endings are notoriously difficult to get right, especially when those endings are dragged out over two-and-a-half hours. That&#8217;s the situation with The Hobbit: The Battle of [&#8230;]]]></summary>
  198. <content type="html" xml:base=""><![CDATA[<p style="text-align: center;"><a href=""><img class="aligncenter wp-image-4197" src="" alt="The-Hobbit-The-Battle-of-the-Five-Armies-Poster" width="350" height="520" /></a></p>
  199. <p style="text-align: left;">Peter Jackson attempts to finish his second Middle-earth trilogy in grand style, but the result is minor at best. Plus, a quick review of the Cannes winner, <em>Winter Sleep</em></p>
  200. <p><span id="more-4193"></span></p>
  201. <p>Endings are notoriously difficult to get right, especially when those endings are dragged out over two-and-a-half hours. That&#8217;s the situation with <em>The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies</em>, which attempts to expand the slender final chapters of J.R.R. Tolkien&#8217;s slender fantasy adventure into an epic spectacle on the level of…well, <em>Return of the King</em>, the last installment in director Peter Jackson&#8217;s previous foray into Middle-earth, <em>The Lord of the Rings</em>. Of course, that&#8217;s been Jackson&#8217;s M.O. throughout this entire second trilogy; many complained about the lengthy preamble that opened <em>An Unexpected Journey </em>(with the dinner sequence earning particular scorn—undeservedly in my opinion), while the dwarves-in-barrels river rafting portion of <em>The Desolation of Smaug </em>seemed more like the director dropping in a random set-piece to pad out the runtime—and testing out ideas for the tie-in video game—than a vitally necessary plot point.</p>
  202. <p>In the past, I&#8217;ve mostly taken the excesses of <em>The Hobbit </em>series in stride. Fact is, I&#8217;m an easy mark when it comes to these movies; the <em>Lord of the Rings </em>series remains one of my all-time favorite cinematic film series both for aesthetic reasons (the world-building, aided by the spectacular New Zealand backdrops, remains impressive and immersive) and personal ones (my wife and I were middle row center for <em>The Fellowship of the Ring </em>on its first day in theaters and have seen each subsequent film on or prior to opening night…and sometimes multiple times afterwards). And while I was mildly disappointed when Jackson decided to return to the director&#8217;s chair, displacing original filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, I also was genuinely thrilled to see him back on familiar ground, particularly after such unsteady post-<em>LoTR </em>projects as <em>The Lovely Bones</em>. I wasn&#8217;t blind to the imperfections of <em>Journey </em>or <em>Desolation</em>, but I was perhaps, forgiving to a fault. I so relished the opportunity to step back into Jackson&#8217;s version of Middle-earth that I tuned out the plodding narratives and focused on the expansive vistas and beautifully crafted sets that Bilbo Baggins and his dwarf companions travelled through en route to the Lonely Mountain, where treasure and one very angry dragon awaited.</p>
  203. <p>With <em>The Battle of the Five Armies</em>, though, I think Jackson has finally made a Middle-earth set movie I can&#8217;t forgive. Part of the problem is that the journey part of the story is long since over, with the characters instead spending the bulk of the movie&#8217;s runtime hanging around a single location waiting for the titular battle to begin. Deprived of the variations in scenery and settings that enlivened the previous two installments (not to mention the <em>LoTR </em>trilogy), <em>Armies </em>has a disappointing sameness that&#8217;s not at all helped by the absence of urgency from the storytelling and performances. For the first time, I clearly saw the ponderous, heavy-handed carnival of F/X that others have accused the previous <em>Hobbit </em>movies of being. Characters talk to each other without communicating anything of real value; scenes drag on without a clear purpose or apparent end in sight; long stretches of tedious battle footage are interrupted by a single striking image only to allow torpor to set in again. Up until now, Jackson&#8217;s movies have fired up my imagination—this one seems intent on shutting it down.</p>
  204. <p>I can&#8217;t pretend to know exactly what was going through Jackson&#8217;s mind and the minds of his regular collaborators (including co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens and jack-of-all-trades effects specialist, Richard Taylor) while they were ushering <em>The Battle of the Five Armies </em>to completion, but I don’t think I&#8217;m entirely off-base in detecting the same weariness from them that I experienced watching the movie. This is the work of a team that&#8217;s putting on a good show of seeming engaged and enthused, but deep down can&#8217;t wait for the credits to roll and the whole thing to be over and done with. If anything, that palpable sense of exhaustion grows stronger every time that <em>Armies </em>makes overt attempts to stoke the audience&#8217;s excitement with direct and indirect references to established Middle-earth cinematic lore. Whether it manifests itself as a tossed-off reference to Viggo Mortensen&#8217;s Aragorn, a peek at the origin of the so-called &#8220;Vagina of Doom&#8221; (a.k.a. Sauron) or the return of the always fashionably-late giant eagles, these token shout-outs to fans come across as the filmmakers scraping the bottle of the barrel for fresh ideas.</p>
  205. <p>Worse still, Jackson squanders the few original elements he has left. Martin Freeman, for example, has been doing fine, understated work as Bilbo throughout the entire trilogy, and while it&#8217;s in keeping with Tolkien&#8217;s story that the character has a reduced presence for the bulk of the five-army skirmish, he&#8217;s sidelined in both the pre and post-battle scenes as well. (It&#8217;s particularly upsetting that the actor doesn&#8217;t even get a proper send-off, with Jackson instead choosing to end the movie with a <em>Fellowship </em>bookend that swaps him out for Ian Holm&#8217;s older Bilbo. Nothing against Holm, who is a terrific thespian in his own right, but Freeman really should be the last face we see.) Richard Armitage is also turning in a more carefully calibrated performance than the material he&#8217;s been handed really allows and the movie undercuts his efforts by having him repeat emotional arcs he&#8217;s already played out in the preceding chapters, whether it&#8217;s his distrust of Bilbo or vengeful need to out-duel the Orc chieftain Azog. And if we&#8217;re talking about wasted potential, it&#8217;s almost shameful how the movie handles Billy Connolly, who shows up for maybe five to ten minutes as another dwarf king, brays in his familiar Scottish brogue and then vanishes into the battle scum never to be seen or heard from again.</p>
  206. <p style="text-align: left;">Jackson remains enough of a showman to stage some rousing moments amidst the fog of CGI-enhanced war. (My personal favorite involved Lee Pace&#8217;s elf king using the horns atop his enormous steed as a handy beheading device.) But in terms of its scope and stakes, the Battle of the Five Armies is no Battle of Helm&#8217;s Deep or Battle of Pelennor Fields. At best, it&#8217;s a minor skirmish, one that would perhaps be impactful as the climax to the first installment of a trilogy, but barely registers as the crescendo to the grand finale. &#8220;The Defining Chapter&#8221; boasts the myriad posters for <em>The Battle of the Five Armies</em>. Try &#8220;The Forgettable Chapter,&#8221; instead.</p>
  207. <p style="text-align: center;"><a href=""><img class="aligncenter wp-image-4204" src="" alt="WinterSleep" width="300" height="410" /></a></p>
  208. <p style="text-align: left;"><em><strong><br />
  209. Winter Sleep </strong></em><br />
  210. At 196 minutes, Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan&#8217;s Palme d&#8217;Or <em>Winter Sleep</em> is only 50 minutes longer than <em>The Battle of the Five Armies</em>, but it seems to move much more quickly, even though it largely consists of two or more people in various rooms talking for ten to fifteen minutes at a stretch. It also boasts an equally (if not more) exotic backdrop than <em>The Hobbit</em>&#8216;s Middle-earth: a remote region in Anatolia filled with stark landscapes and few luxuries. The one notable attraction within a 20-mile radius is the mountainside hotel owned and operated by failed actor Aydin (Haluk Bilginer). From here, the businessman and minor despot lords over his run-down surroundings, providing one of the few sources of income for residents in the area and flexing his political muscle by writing even-tempered screeds in the local paper sounding off on the issues of the day. He may downplay his impact on the community, but it&#8217;s clear he wants to be viewed as an authority—a serious man of serious social weight. But the people closest to him, including his younger wife Nihal (Melisa Sözen) and embittered sister Necla (Demet Akbag), see through his faux-benevolent guise and butt heads with the egotistical control freak that resides within.</p>
  211. <p style="text-align: left;">All of this familial and societal tension unwinds itself in the film&#8217;s epic conversations, which weave around, under and through all manner of subjects, from philanthropy and art to adventure tourism and, of course, money. &#8220;Gripping&#8221; isn&#8217;t the right word to describe the experience of watching <em>Winter Sleep</em>, but it is consistently involving, at least for the first two acts. But my attention started to wane in the final 40-odd minutes, after Aydin and Nihal have an apocalyptic argument that seems to explode their fragile marriage once and for all. After that, they temporarily go their separate ways, he to get drunk with a bunch of buddies, while she to make a grand gesture of charity that backfires in spectacular fashion. It&#8217;s not that these separate sequences don’t track with what we know of the characters—it&#8217;s that they ultimately function as circuitous routes that lead them back to where they started. That&#8217;s almost certainly deliberate on Ceylan&#8217;s part, but it&#8217;s also strangely unsatisfying, in a way that stirs annoyance rather than fascination. <em>Winter Sleep </em>might whiff its ending, but the way it sustains its many and varied conversations over the course of three hours is almost as impressive a filmmaking feat as any of <em>The Hobbit</em>&#8216;s digital trickery.</p>
  212. ]]></content>
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  217. <entry>
  218. <author>
  219. <name>admin</name>
  220. </author>
  221. <title type="html"><![CDATA[Lag Time]]></title>
  222. <link rel="alternate" type="text/html" href="" />
  223. <id></id>
  224. <updated>2014-12-27T03:21:07Z</updated>
  225. <published>2014-10-27T05:16:20Z</published>
  226. <category scheme="" term="Film Review" /><category scheme="" term="force majeur" /><category scheme="" term="jon hamm" /><category scheme="" term="laggies" /><category scheme="" term="lynn shelton" /><category scheme="" term="million dollar arm" /> <summary type="html"><![CDATA[Lynn Shelton&#8217;s latest lags behind her other films. Plus, reviews of Force Majeure and the new-to-DVD Million Dollar Arm. Laggies The most surprising thing about Laggies isn’t that its director, Lynn Shelton, has finally made the full-fledged leap from microbudget mumblecore indies to star-powered mainstream comedies. It’s the idea that anyone who has been paying the slightest bit [&#8230;]]]></summary>
  227. <content type="html" xml:base=""><![CDATA[<p style="text-align: center;"><a href=""><img class="aligncenter wp-image-4190" src="" alt="laggies-screencap-1024x576" width="400" height="225" /></a></p>
  228. <p>Lynn Shelton&#8217;s latest lags behind her other films. Plus, reviews of <em>Force Majeure </em>and the new-to-DVD <em>Million Dollar Arm</em>.</p>
  229. <p><span id="more-4189"></span></p>
  230. <p><strong><em>Laggies<br />
  231. </em></strong>The most surprising thing about <em>Laggies </em>isn’t that its director, Lynn Shelton, has finally made the full-fledged leap from microbudget mumblecore indies to star-powered mainstream comedies. It’s the idea that anyone who has been paying the slightest bit of attention to her career in the past few years would be surprised by this development. Since her 2009 breakthrough feature, <em>Humpday</em>, Shelton has taken advantage of every opportunity to elevate her profile within the industry, from directing episodes of popular TV shows like <em>New Girl </em>and <em>Mad Men</em> to trading her no-name ensembles for famous faces like Emily Blunt, Ellen Page and now, Keira Knightley. And who can blame her, really? Finding longevity, to say nothing of an audience, in the film business requires no small degree of compromise and Shelton has been nothing if not honest about her desire to see her work reach the largest possible viewership, while still holding onto some of the themes and ideas that drive her to tell stories. She’s not so much selling out as she is <em>reaching </em>out, trying to put her wares in front of moviegoers who would sooner be caught dead than visit their local art-house.</p>
  232. <p>And, in many ways, <em>Laggies </em>feels like a classic Shelton vehicle in that it once again chronicles the seriocomic strivings of a disaffected, maturity-challenged protagonist to arrive at some kind of equilibrium. That’s the description of any number of indie comedy-drama hybrids, of course, but Shelton has a particular interest in that personality type, as well as the succor they seek from the friends and family in their immediate vicinity. <em>Humpday</em>, for example, turned on Mark Duplass’ desire to reassert his latent alpha male authority in the most extreme way possible, while <em>Your Sister’s Sister </em>found him playing a largely similar character, albeit one weighed down by grief as opposed to a crisis of masculinity. In the case of Megan, the central character in <em>Laggies</em>, her hang up is a refusal to grow up, preferring to drift along in the same state of quasi-independence she’s existed in since graduating high school. All major decisions are left up to those around her—her parents, her friends, her longtime boyfriend—allowing her to focus on what she really wants: to lounge about, putting the world on hold.</p>
  233. <p>This leads to the second-most surprising thing about <em>Laggies</em>: it’s not a project that originated with Shelton. Instead, it’s the first produced screenplay by author Andrea Seigel, one that Shelton happened to spark to and agreed to make. In return, she received her largest budget to date and her most star-packed ensemble, which, in addition to Knightley, includes Sam Rockwell and Chloë Grace Moretz as the respective father/daughter unit Megan hangs out with when she temporarily flees her old life after finally being forced to make a decision about something more than what take-out joint to order from. The emotional arc that Megan plays out from there—from immaturity to maturity and back and forth again—is a predictable and not especially convincing one, although the cast gamely goes through the motions for their director, who at least keeps the proceedings moving smoothly along. Rockwell in particular alleviates some of the narrative tedium and his off-kilter presence goads Knightley into making some unpredictable performance choices as well. For better and for worse, <em>Laggies </em>represents the culmination of Shelton’s recent career path—it’s a solid, but undistinguished piece of commercial cinema that provides her with the wider audience she’s been seeking, even if she ultimately doesn’t have very much to say.</p>
  234. <p><strong><em>Force Majeure<br />
  235. </em></strong>With <em>Force Majeure</em>, on the other hand, Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund perhaps has <em>too much</em> to say. An even more pointed (and, in some ways, comical) treatise on masculine insecurity than <em>Humpday</em>, the film explores the fall-out that occurs after a nuclear family of four endures a frightening experience—an avalanche—on their ski holiday, one that sends the patriarch screaming for the hills, while his wife and two children stay behind to fend for themselves. Fortunately, the crisis turns out to be fairly minor and the father returns sheepishly two minutes later when the coast is clear, but the damage has been done and is further compounded by his refusal to acknowledge his behavior in the aftermath of the incident. What <em>Force Majeure </em>does exceptionally well is chart the emerging fault lines in a marriage where both husband and wife have had their images of each other entirely upended. What it does less well, at least for me, is depict the way men act when they’re together. A few days into their vacation, the family is joined by the husband’s best buddy, vacationing with his new, much younger girlfriend after splitting with his wife at some point in the recent past. After being all but assaulted with this story, the second couple experiences their own rift and the two men go off to lick their wounds and act like they’ve got nothing to be ashamed about. But that relationship never feels quite as nuanced and lived-in as the one between the husband and wife, which leaves those scenes feeling more schematic—it’s a case of the director speaking for his characters instead of speaking through them. But that avalanche sequence offers two of the best minutes you’ll see in theaters this year.</p>
  236. <p><strong><em>Million Dollar Arm<br />
  237. </em></strong>Just as <em>Mad Men </em>star January Jones showed the limitations of her range when she gamely attempted to host <em>Saturday Night Live</em>, her former on-screen husband from that show, Jon Hamm, reveals that inspirational sports movies aren’t his bag. Based on a true story, <em>Million Dollar Arm </em>(newly out on DVD) casts Hamm as a down-on-his-luck sports agent who gambles his future on a crazy idea: making a pilgrimage to India and returning with two crickets players that have the right stuff for a career in major league baseball. The first hour of the movie is hoary cross-cultural comedy, with the transplanted American looking on in bemused horror at the exotic surroundings he finds himself in. The second half shifts back to America, where the transplanted Indians wrestle with their own culture shock, while also attempting to adapt to an entirely different sport. <em>Million Dollar Arm </em>is rife with allusions to other sports movies—<em>Jerry Maguire</em>, <em>The Natural </em>and even <em>The Bad News Bears </em>to name just three—which is probably why it never establishes its own identity. The same goes for its star, who is as flat and bland here as he is complex and multi-faceted on <em>Mad Men</em>. Obviously, that show boasts better writing to begin with, but it also deploys one of Hamm’s chief talents as an actor—his ability to play against the matinee idol image his face and features suggest. (That’s also one of the reasons he excels in sketch comedy situations like <em>SNL</em>.) <em>Million Dollar Arm </em>forces him to be that matinee idol and, as a result, he couldn’t seem less like a star.</p>
  238. <p>&nbsp;</p>
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  248. <title type="html"><![CDATA[Bang Bang, But Hold the Kiss Kiss]]></title>
  249. <link rel="alternate" type="text/html" href="" />
  250. <id></id>
  251. <updated>2014-12-27T03:24:10Z</updated>
  252. <published>2014-09-26T00:50:14Z</published>
  253. <category scheme="" term="Film Review" /><category scheme="" term="NYC Film Critic" /><category scheme="" term="antoine fuqua" /><category scheme="" term="Denzel Washington" /><category scheme="" term="edward woodward" /><category scheme="" term="the equalizer" /> <summary type="html"><![CDATA[I don&#8217;t remember watching full episodes of The Equalizer during its &#8217;80s heyday, but I do have a dim memory of the ads that played between the shows I actually watched. As I recall, the generally featured lots of gunplay, the occasional explosion and the show&#8217;s gray-haired star, Edward Woodward, glowering into the camera. While [&#8230;]]]></summary>
  254. <content type="html" xml:base=""><![CDATA[<p style="text-align: center;"><a href=""><img class="aligncenter wp-image-4186" src="" alt="Denzel Washington" width="450" height="300" /></a></p>
  255. <p>I don&#8217;t remember watching full episodes of <em>The Equalizer </em>during its &#8217;80s heyday, but I do have a dim memory of the ads that played between the shows I <em>actually </em>watched. As I recall, the generally featured lots of gunplay, the occasional explosion and the show&#8217;s gray-haired star, Edward Woodward, glowering into the camera. While I can&#8217;t accurately say if those &#8220;Next time on…&#8221; teasers accurately reflected the content of the show, they do more or less sum up what happens in the movie version, which offers two full hours of gunplay, explosions and Denzel Washington (taking over from Woodward) glowering into the camera. In that respect, <em>The Equalizer </em>could be considered an entirely faithful adaptation of its source material…or at least, the <em>advertisements </em>for its source material.</p>
  256. <p><span id="more-4185"></span></p>
  257. <p>In actuality, though, this <em>Equalizer </em>bears only a passing resemblance to the TV show. In the &#8217;80s version, the British-born Woodward played New York-based ex-intelligence officer Robert McCall, who lent his superior tactical and combat skills to innocent victims in need of protection from various kinds of criminals, ranging from kidnappers to drug runners. Washington&#8217;s McCall is also a retired government operative, but he&#8217;s not the type to advertise his services in the way that Woodward literally did. (On the show, folks found the Equalizer via the ad he placed in the classified section of a major metropolitan newspaper.) Since leaving the spy game following an unspecified tragedy, Robert&#8217;s done everything he can to lead a quiet, unremarkable life, moving to a working-class neighborhood in Boston and punching the clock at the local hardware megastore. And when his memories of the past keep him from falling asleep—which is often—he grabs a good book and wanders the streets, eventually settling down in an all-night diner where he nurses a cup of hot tea (with a teabag he brings with him) and occasionally chats with some of the other customers who come in, including teenage prostitute, Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz).</p>
  258. <p>It&#8217;s Teri—or, more accurately, her employers—who eventually drags McCall out of retirement. After she receives a severe beating for daring to defy orders, her late-night diner companion tracks down the guys responsible and dishes out a <em>severe </em>punishment that none of them walk away from. At first, Robert thinks that&#8217;s the end of it, but it turns out those lowlifes happen to be high-rollers in the Russian mob, which promptly dispatches brutal enforcer, Teddy (Martin Csokas), to Boston to get to the bottom of what happened and punish the guilty parties. It isn&#8217;t long before an all-out war erupts Beantown, as lone soldier McCall taking on an army of nameless Russian bad guys without any assistance, or even acknowledgement, from the federal government. You&#8217;d think that a sudden spike in the death of Russian immigrants in and around the Boston area would interest the White House—or, for that matter, the Kremlin—but everyone seems content to just let this battle play itself out, regardless how it might affect larger geopolitical global relations.</p>
  259. <p><em>The Equalizer </em>may have very little in common with the &#8217;80s TV series of the same name, but the way it unapologetically encourages audiences to root for an American movie star to kill hoards of evil foreigners feels very much of that era. It&#8217;s also consistent with director Antoine Fuqua&#8217;s last movie, the repugnant <em>Olympus Has Fallen</em>, in which Gerard Butler was the last man standing in a White House overrun by a North Korean terrorist squad. At least here, the Russian characters are cartoonish enough that their demonization and resulting slaughter is slightly less offensive than the &#8220;Yellow Peril&#8221; caricatures in <em>Olympus</em>. (The violence is less brutal as well; it&#8217;s still bloody, but that blood is filtered through a stylized lens that can make it entertaining in that big, dumb, loud action movie way.) While the two films aren&#8217;t overtly political, it&#8217;s hard to miss the staunchly conservative streak that runs through them both. Fuqua seems to be a big proponent of the Rambo school of foreign policy, where all it takes is one well-trained American warrior to defeat our nation&#8217;s enemies at home and abroad. Indeed, by the end of <em>The Equalizer</em>, McCall has graduated from killing mere pimps to going after major Russian criminals—criminals that the government certainly ain&#8217;t going to touch.</p>
  260. <p>It takes an actor of supreme gravity to anchor a movie that gets as silly as <em>The Equalizer </em>does and Fuqua has an ace in the hole with his leading man, Washington, who he previously directed to an Oscar win in the 2001 cop drama, <em>Training Day</em>. McCall is a very different character from Alonzo Harris, of course; where that character encouraged the star to showboat in grand style, this one calls for the same stoic grace he&#8217;s shown in movies like <em>He Got Game </em>or even that <em>Taking of Pelham 123 </em>remake. The &#8220;quiet, but deadly&#8221; look suits Washington nicely—he radiates a low-key charm that helps you buy into his character at all times, even as the film itself goes off the deep end in terms of realism. I miss the movie that <em>The Equalizer </em>might have been had it followed Washington&#8217;s lead—a grounded, street-level view of vigilantism in the modern age, as well as the personal sacrifices good people make when they employ less-than-good means to achieve supposedly just ends. That&#8217;s the film Fuqua teases us with only to decide that, all things being equal, he&#8217;d rather just have his Equalizer shoot first and ask questions later.</p>
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  269. </author>
  270. <title type="html"><![CDATA[The &#8220;January&#8221; Man]]></title>
  271. <link rel="alternate" type="text/html" href="" />
  272. <id></id>
  273. <updated>2014-12-27T03:23:41Z</updated>
  274. <published>2014-09-25T01:46:49Z</published>
  275. <category scheme="" term="General" /><category scheme="" term="Interviews" /><category scheme="" term="NYC Film Critic" /><category scheme="" term="hossein amini" /><category scheme="" term="patricia highsmith" /><category scheme="" term="the two faces of january" /><category scheme="" term="viggo mortensen" /> <summary type="html"><![CDATA[The Iranian-born, London-based screenwriter Hossein Amini (his credits include Snow White and the Huntsman and Nicolas Winding Refn&#8217;s Drive) adds &#8220;director&#8221; to his resume with The Two Faces of January, a &#8217;50s-era psychological thriller based on one of the lesser-known thrillers penned by Patricia Highsmith (author of The Talented Mr. Ripley among others). The movie, [&#8230;]]]></summary>
  276. <content type="html" xml:base=""><![CDATA[<p style="text-align: center;"><a href=""><img class="aligncenter wp-image-4183" src="" alt="TTFOJ_1002_00913.tif" width="400" height="269" /></a></p>
  277. <p>The Iranian-born, London-based screenwriter Hossein Amini (his credits include <em>Snow White and the Huntsman </em>and Nicolas Winding Refn&#8217;s <em>Drive</em>) adds &#8220;director&#8221; to his resume with <em>The Two Faces of January</em>, a &#8217;50s-era psychological thriller based on one of the lesser-known thrillers penned by Patricia Highsmith (author of <em>The Talented Mr. Ripley </em>among others). The movie, which is currently available on VOD and opens in theaters on Friday, stars Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst as a married couple who get in hot water while vacationing in Greece and Oscar Isaac as the low-level street criminal who lends them a hand…mainly so that he can cozy up to Dunst. I spoke with Amini before sitting down to talk with Mortensen <a href="" target="_blank">for a Q&amp;A that&#8217;s posted over on Yahoo Movies</a> and you can read some excerpts from our conversation below.</p>
  278. <p><span id="more-4182"></span></p>
  279. <p><strong>On casting Viggo Mortensen<br />
  280. </strong>I didn&#8217;t pick him. We were at the same agency and I didn&#8217;t know he was reading [my script]. To be honest I didn&#8217;t think we could aim that high. I got this phone call out of the blue from my agent saying that Viggo was interested in doing the part, so I went out and met with him and he was gracious and charming. He was drawn to that combination of gentleness and cruelty in the character. He&#8217;s the kind of actor who welcomes the challenge of showing an ugly side as well as handsome, beautiful side.</p>
  281. <p><strong>On Highsmith&#8217;s Flair for Depicting Male Dynamics<br />
  282. </strong>Her books are almost these love stories between two men. Even though they&#8217;re trying to destroy each other, she captures the competitive side all men have where they can admire someone, but also want to beat them. She gets that so much better than a lot of male writers. I recognize so much of myself in the relationships [in her books]. In this case, there&#8217;s a father/son element to the central male relationship that functions as another way to get two men into combat. When you&#8217;re young, you look up to fathers; when you&#8217;re a teenager, they irritate you; and then you end up looking after them when they get old.</p>
  283. <p><strong>On Shooting a Chamber Piece Against the Picturesque Backdrop of the Mediterranean<br />
  284. </strong>As a first time filmmaker, I thought I could make this movie because it&#8217;s really just about three people. Even though there are these exotic landscapes and lots of extras around them, the focus is really just these three and the damage they do to each other. That appealed to me—doing a small intimate thing on a huge, epic scale. And I&#8217;d say that the landscape is very reflective of the psychology of the characters. We start out in Athens where it&#8217;s postcard beautiful and then you go to locations that are grim and rugged.</p>
  285. <p><strong>On Making the Movie on a Tight Budget<br />
  286. </strong>The foreign sales are often how these movies get made. And it&#8217;s really on Viggo&#8217;s name, because he&#8217;s a big star in other countries thanks to <em>Lord of the Rings</em>. We had US distribution in place already, because that&#8217;s the way [production company] Studio Canal works—they wanted to get US distribution before anything so it covers their risks. It&#8217;s interesting because they showed rough cuts [to distributors], which I would never do now, because I see just how much the film changes by the time you do the music and sound design. I think we were quite lucky to get distribution based on the rough cuts!</p>
  287. <p><strong>On What He Learned From Watching Directors Like Nicolas Winding Refn at Work<br />
  288. </strong>What I learned from Nic more than anyone was not so much shooting style, but more his ability to use everyone and work with everyone. It&#8217;s funny, when he publicizes a movie, he&#8217;s an auteur, but he&#8217;s actually one of the most collaborative people I&#8217;ve ever worked with. I mean, when you&#8217;ve got 200 brilliant people all in their different roles and they all know more about what they do than you, so why not listen to them? I also learned about the fluidity of the shooting process, that on every shooting day there&#8217;s a lot of magic you can capture if you&#8217;re alert to it and you listen. For someone who is a screenwriter, it was a great lesson to learn. And now having made this movie, I realize the worse thing you can do with a script is shoot it as written. If the movie doesn&#8217;t evolve, it stays as one person&#8217;s imagination as opposed to the great advantage of a filmmaking, where you have a lot of other people who can provide input.</p>
  289. <p><strong>On His First Time in the Editing Room<br />
  290. </strong>Editing was so hard. I thought that would be the easiest bit because it&#8217;s about storytelling, but I didn&#8217;t realize to what extent you watch it two or three times and then you just an see the movie anymore. You&#8217;re sitting there and not really watching; you can&#8217;t tell the pace or anything like that. I changed editors very reluctantly, because both of us had gotten snowblind. The new editor came in and suddenly I could see again. I just jumped in too early; I watched too much and didn&#8217;t keep my distance. The other big responsibility was shaping the performances of the actors. The thing I&#8217;m proudest of about the film is the performances, because that&#8217;s what drew me to the book. There are bits I wish I had shot differently, but I do feel the acting is [what I hoped for].</p>
  291. <p><strong>On His Filmmaking Influences<br />
  292. </strong>One sequence in the movie is pure Hitchcock, a scene that&#8217;s constructed around looks and moments. But I also was inspired by a lot of &#8217;60s European filmmakers, particularly Michelangelo Antonioni. There&#8217;s something about the way he captures human beings falling out of love with each other. He&#8217;s such a master. Those are two of my Movie Gods in terms of directing. As for the final chase sequence, everyone says it&#8217;s the chase from <em>The Third Man</em>, but it&#8217;s actually the chase from the Jules Dassin film, <em>Night and the City</em>, with Richard Widmark running through London.</p>
  293. <p><strong>On Wanting to Make to the Definitive London Crime Movie<br />
  294. </strong>I live in London and [I&#8217;m fascinated] with the idea of how it&#8217;s become a more international city. It&#8217;s become globalized. The tradition of London crime movies is East End gangsters and local stuff and I thought, &#8220;I&#8217;m an immigrant in England—there&#8217;s something I can do involving people who have come to this country for the first time and how their world is evolving.&#8221; And I want to tell a story about betrayal, because I think that&#8217;s interesting. What I love about film <em>noir</em> isn&#8217;t the black-and-white and camera angles or whatever, it&#8217;s the doomed love stories and the way people betray each other. I think there&#8217;s a way to make a London-based crime movie that&#8217;s internationally accessible, one that&#8217;s not about class and society, which is usually what those British crime movies are about. There&#8217;s something grand and epic about American crime movies that I haven&#8217;t really seen as much in England. For example, Michael Mann&#8217;s <em>Heat </em>is one of my favorite movies and I want to figure out how to get the equivalent of that in England.</p>
  295. <p>&nbsp;</p>
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  305. <title type="html"><![CDATA[Tombstone Blues]]></title>
  306. <link rel="alternate" type="text/html" href="" />
  307. <id></id>
  308. <updated>2014-12-27T03:23:05Z</updated>
  309. <published>2014-09-19T15:30:02Z</published>
  310. <category scheme="" term="Film Review" /><category scheme="" term="NYC Film Critic" /><category scheme="" term="a walk among the tombstones" /><category scheme="" term="dan stevens" /><category scheme="" term="liam neeson" /><category scheme="" term="the guest" /> <summary type="html"><![CDATA[Liam Neeson takes aim at a brainier kind of action movie in A Walk Among the Tombstones. Every cinematic P.I. has that one piece of costuming that defines their screen image: Humphrey Bogart&#8217;s Sam Spade had his fedora, Jack Nicholson&#8217;s J.J. Gittes had that nose bandage and now Liam Neeson&#8217;s Matt Scudder—the gumshoe at the [&#8230;]]]></summary>
  311. <content type="html" xml:base=""><![CDATA[<p style="text-align: center;"><a href=""><img class="aligncenter wp-image-4178" src="" alt="A Walk Among The Tombstones" width="400" height="267" /></a></p>
  312. <p style="text-align: left;">Liam Neeson takes aim at a brainier kind of action movie in <em>A Walk Among the Tombstones</em>.</p>
  313. <p><span id="more-4177"></span></p>
  314. <p>Every cinematic P.I. has that one piece of costuming that defines their screen image: Humphrey Bogart&#8217;s Sam Spade had his fedora, Jack Nicholson&#8217;s J.J. Gittes had that nose bandage and now Liam Neeson&#8217;s Matt Scudder—the gumshoe at the center of the New York-set crime story <em>A Walk Among the Tombstones</em> has the turned-up collar on his brown winter coat. Whenever the jacket goes on, the collar goes up; it&#8217;s practically a ritual, one that puts in place an essential piece of the character&#8217;s armor. It&#8217;s also a good look for Neeson, who already cuts an imposing figure onscreen, but practically resembles a mythical champion when stalking down a New York street with that coat trailing behind him like a cape. He doesn&#8217;t need Batman&#8217;s cowl or Iron Man&#8217;s suit of armor—he&#8217;s already a superhero.</p>
  315. <p>The Irish actor&#8217;s late-career rebirth as an action star in movies like <em>Taken </em>and <em>Non-Stop </em>has been fun, if a little odd to witness for those of us who grew up watching Neeson in roles as varied as Oskar Schindler or Rob Roy. And while those newer action vehicles take advantage of his size and air of casual menace, they&#8217;re largely brawn-over-brain pictures that rarely allow him to show off his keen intelligence. (Then again, the <em>Taken </em>movies are so relentlessly stupid, it would shatter the illusion if Neeson didn&#8217;t play dumb as well.) <em>Tombstones</em>—a movie that Neeson used his newfound earning power to get produced after it spent a decade or so in development hell—tips the scales back in favor of the latter. Don&#8217;t worry, Neeson still does beat up some very, <em>very </em>bad men, but that happens much later in the proceedings. The majority of the movie is given over to a mystery that Scudder can&#8217;t simply fight his way through, blowing up half a city in the process. Instead, he&#8217;s got to pound the pavement, ask some questions and piece the clues together—he&#8217;s building a case instead of just painting the town blood red.</p>
  316. <p>If only Scudder was using his brains to solve a halfway-interesting case. <em>Tombstones </em>is written and directed by Scott Frank, who has written a number of great crime pictures over the years, including Barry Sonnenfeld&#8217;s <em>Get Shorty</em>, Steven Soderbergh&#8217;s <em>Out of Sight</em> and <em>The Lookout</em>, which Frank himself helmed. He&#8217;s got an obvious respect for the genre, as well as the source material, which is one entry in a detective series by celebrated author Lawrence Block. But right from the get-go, there&#8217;s just something flat and perfunctory about the way this narrative unfolds. The stakes are these: two sickos located somewhere within the New York City limits has been killing women in stomach-turning ways. The latest victim is the wife of a drug dealer (Dan Stevens) and, in his grief, he enlists Scudder—a recovering alcoholic who quit booze around the same time that he quit the NYPD—to locate the guilty parties so he can enact his own personal vengeance. Although he&#8217;s understandably reluctant to partner up with a known drug runner, Matt takes the case once he realizes just how twisted the killers are. His ensuing investigation moves him around the NYC map, from Red Hook, Brooklyn to Washington Heights, Manhattan. Along the way, he gains a pseudo-sidekick in the form of transient teenager, TJ (Brian &#8220;Astro&#8221; Bradley) and more than a few cuts and bruises as he closes in on his targets.</p>
  317. <p>Maybe it was too much to expect a mid-level programmer like <em>Tombstones </em>to come close to resembling a classic of the genre like <em>Chinatown</em>, which is about more—so much more—than its central mystery. But it&#8217;s not even a fun yarn like <em>The Maltese Falcon</em> or Frank&#8217;s own <em>The Lookout</em>, where the narrative at least impacted the characters in fundamental ways. In contrast, Scudder and, in turn, Neeson almost exist outside of the events of this movie: he floats above the fray, displaying an almost casual disregard for what&#8217;s happening around him. And because he doesn&#8217;t seem to care, it&#8217;s hard for us to really care. That could be read as a criticism of Neeson&#8217;s performance, I suppose, but I think it has more to do with the fact that he&#8217;s crafted a character who is far more interesting than the narrative he&#8217;s been plugged into. Put another way, Neeson is performing the version of <em>Tombstones </em>that&#8217;s a character study and Frank is directing the version that&#8217;s a mean streets crime movie. The former is great, the latter is only okay and they never meet in the middle.</p>
  318. <p>&nbsp;</p>
  319. <p><a href=""><img class="aligncenter wp-image-4179" src="" alt="the-guest-sundance-2" width="540" height="304" /></a></p>
  320. <p>Cannily released on the same day as Dan Stevens&#8217; big-budget Hollywood debut in <em>A Walk Among the Tombstones</em>, the indie thriller <em>The Guest </em>gives the former <em>Downton Abbey </em>cast member, who left that series in violent fashion a year ago, his own star vehicle. And if <em>Tombstones </em>suffers from a split personality, <em>The Guest </em>knows exactly what kind of movie it wants to be. It doesn&#8217;t always employ that knowledge effectively, mind you, but it does move more confidently—and with much more humor—than Stevens&#8217; other new release. The actor himself seems to realize what a plum role he&#8217;s landed here and makes the most of it, playing his character, returned veteran David Collins, as a wickedly amusing cross between the Terminator and Jason Bourne.</p>
  321. <p>David arrives in a small Southwestern town under the pretense that he&#8217;s paying his respects to the family of a fellow soldier, who died in Iraq. Once in his buddy&#8217;s house, the family finds it difficult to let this kind-hearted, good-looking stranger go, especially after he manages to provide each of them with what they need, whether that&#8217;s someone to talk to (like the grief-stricken mother) or a highly-skilled bodyguard from the school bullies (like the tormented brother). The only person not won over by David is daughter, Anna (Maika Monroe), and her suspicions prove accurate when it emerges that he <em>is </em>a soldier…but not necessarily one from a known branch of the U.S. army.</p>
  322. <p><em>The Guest </em>is the latest film from Adam Wingard, who previously directed one of my favorite segments in the horror anthology <em>V/H/S</em>, as well as the 2013 home invasion picture <em>You&#8217;re Next</em>, which I didn&#8217;t care for as much as everyone else seemed to. My main objection to <em>You&#8217;re Next</em> was the largely terrible ensemble, none of whom were able to show off screenwriter Simon Barrett&#8217;s uneven script in its best light. <em>The Guest</em>&#8216;s screenplay has its ups and downs as well, but the quality of the acting is significantly better, from Steven&#8217;s live-wire lead performance (seriously, if he&#8217;s able to maintain this level of intensity in his post-<em>Downton</em> career, than it&#8217;s just as well he bailed on that show&#8217;s meandering fourth season) to Monroe&#8217;s expert channeling of &#8217;70s-era Jamie Lee Curtis, who famously worked with the director that Wingard and Barrett have pointed to as a major influence, John Carpenter. Carpenter&#8217;s seriocomic spirit is most keenly felt in the extended bloody climax, which begins at the family&#8217;s ranch house before shifting to a haunted house-themed high school dance. Improbable? Sure. Silly? You bet. But at least it&#8217;s fun to watch, unlike the embalmed proceedings in <em>Tombstones</em>.</p>
  323. <p>&nbsp;</p>
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