Saturday, September 28, 2013

Enough Said


Judging by the charming Enough Said, Nicole Holofcener knows middle age -- it's weariness, ironies and pain. And the director and screenwriter, known mostly for her work on television, also knows actors and gets the coterie of true pros -- Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener -- to deliver wonderfully affecting performances in this story about battered and cynical divorced people (Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini) who meet at a party and wonder if they might indeed have a second-chance at love. Eva and Albert take small tentative steps toward each other, often retreating back to the comfortable familiarity of their lives as a masseuse and curator of vintage television programs and both with daughters preparing to leave for college. As luck -- or Hollywood -- would have it, Eva discovers after becoming BFF's with a new client who is a morose New Age poet (Keener) that she is Albert's ex-wife. Torn between abandoning her new friend and dumping her new lover, Eva decides to do nothing and therein, if you would pardon the pun, lies the rub. This is the late Gandolfini's last filmed performance, and it is totally endearing. Highly Recommended

Friday, September 27, 2013

Rush (2013)


Ron Howard's better films are character studies of interesting men (A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon, Apollo 13). His latest film, Rush, is about two interesting men -- Formula One racers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) -- and their pursuit of the world championship in 1976. Working with a smartly crafted script by Peter Morgan (The Queen), Howard neatly dissects the drivers' heated rivalry, which leaves one of them disfigured after a fiery wreck during the Grand Prix event in Germany. That event is the focus of Howard's real interest: what drives these men? Hunt, a rowdy and rakish Brit, appears to be all about conquest (cars and woman), and Lauda, an austere Austrian, is all about discipline. Both Hemsworth and Bruhl (a Spaniard who I first noticed in a small part in The Bourne Ultimatum and later in Inglourious Basterds) are fine in their roles though their performances are overshadowed by the sensational scenes of the motor races. Marvelous camerawork and editing throughout. Recommended.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ain't Them Bodies Saints


David Lowery's beautiful Ain't Them Bodies Saints is an atmospheric tone poem of a film consisting of one lovely languorous movement. It's the story of young lovers (Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck),Texas robbers parted by fate and foolishness. Into the gulf is introduced an unprepossessing but kind young sheriff's deputy, drawn to the young woman and her toddler daughter, who was born while the child's father was imprisoned, and both of whom are the wards of an aging criminal (Keith Carradine). Each of these characters is artfully and intimately draw in this elegiac work. Comparisons to Terrence Malick's masterful Badlands (1973) are inevitable. Highly Recommended.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Prisoners

 
French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve's "Prisoners" is grimly relentless in its presentation of its premise that virtue if properly manipulated quickly morphs into vice. Villeneuve, an Oscar nominee for 2010's Incendies, and writer Aaron Guzikowski (Contraband) cynically explore the panic around the disappearance of two small girls on Thanksgiving Day. The father of one of the girls, played by Hugh Jackman, is a seemingly devout and devoted family man who immediately after the disappearance shifts into alpha dog mode, demanding action from the police detective assigned to the case (Jake Gyllenhaal), his family (Maria Bello and Dylan Minnette)  and the parents of the other missing girl (played by Terrence Howard and Viola Davis). When a simple-minded suspect (the ever-reliable Paul Dano) is questioned and then released, Jackman's character conducts his own bloody interrogation. Guzikowski's script contains a few neat twists and a couple of painfully convenient coincidences but overall it's an engrossing tale, tough to watch at times and, ultimately, sad and embittering. Recommended for the performances by Jackman, Dano and Gyllenhaal.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Spectacular Now, The Grandmaster, The World's End

Three quick hits from the past couple of weeks.
 

 
The Spectacular Now, directed by James Ponsoldt, is a lovingly tender film about two bruised teenagers in their senior year of high school who help each other to some "sobering" revelations. The two young leads -- Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley -- give wonderfully unaffected performances. Highly Recommended.


Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (the team that delivered Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) are the cinematic descendants of Monty Python's Flying Circus. Their latest film, The World's End, is as brilliantly unhinged as anything Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones put on the big screen but with less visionary artistry and more snark and glibness. This tale of a quintet of aging friends trying to relive an aborted night of pub-crawling frivolity from their youth is chock-full of brews and belly laughs. Highly Recommended.

Kar Wai Wong's The Grandmaster is as lovely a film as I've seen this year. It's balletic battles between Northern and Southern Chinese schools of kung fu pay homage to the masters of martial arts surrealism (Yimou Zhang and Ang Lee) while the quieter scenes of romance and introspection evoke Bergmanesque blousiness. Highly Recommended.



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