Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Lone Survivor

It took me quite a while to see Peter Berg's latest feature Lone Survivor because his meaty and masculine films (among them Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom) strike me as a smidge too earnest. True to form, Lone Survivor is brimming with decency and honor and a bloody intensity that has become de rigueur for contemporary war movies, that is, "support our troops" while damning greed and hubris. Mark Wahlberg heads a quartet of handsomely rugged (ruggedly handsome) actors (Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster [the best actor among them] and Emile Hirsch) who play real life Navy Seals on a mission in Afghanistan to take out a particularly loathsome Taliban chief. The mission is compromised, however, when they capture an elderly goatherder and two boys, one of whom would clearly reveal the team's location if released. The squad's leader Murphy (played with stolid brio by Kitsch) decides to do the decent thing and that, of course, seals their fate. (The title of the movie and book from which the screenplay was adapted is a spoiler.) Neither Berg nor Wahlberg would have signed onto a film that did not, in the end, be uplifting and life-affirming, despite its grim bloodiness. That's just how they roll.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Wind Rises and Kill Your Darlings

Two quick hits from today -- The Wind Rises and Kill Your Darlings.

I'm not a fan of Hayao Miyazaki's animated features (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away) even though I admire the intricacy of his storylines and the richness of his color palette. However, my admiration has difficulty turning into affection for some reason. His latest film, The Wind Rises, may be his most ambitious work so far as it recounts the life of Japanese aeronautic engineer Jiro Horikoshi, who designed the Zeroes that bombed China and Hawaii in World War II. Far from a jingoistic defense of Japanese nationalism, The Wind Rises, which pulls in history and politics and science, is absolutely beautiful, occasionally poignant and a tribute to traditional painted-cel animation. Horikoshi is expertly voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt; James Krasinski plays his friend and fellow airplane designer Honjo; and Emily Blunt is the voice of Horikoshi's tubercular sweetheart and later wife, Nahoko. Warning: Though this is an animated feature it is glacially paced and fairly grim so leave the young ones home.

John Krokidas's Kill Your Darlings is an intriguing though oddly coy film about Allen Ginsberg's infatuation with a conflicted fellow Columbia University student, Lucien Carr, who fancies himself a muse but is actually a stifling narcissist. Carr (Dane DeHaan) seduces Daniel Radcliffe's closeted Ginsberg so that Carr can pull away from an older, clinging lover, David Kammerer (a terrific Michael C. Hall), a former professor who, pathetically, writes Carr's papers and supplies him with drugs and alcohol. In re-telling the story of Ginsberg's toxic friendship with Carr, Krokidas describes the origins of the Beats and rounds out his cast of principal players with Jack Huston as Jack Kerouac and the redoubtable Ben Foster as William Burroughs. Though Burroughs describes this quintet as libertines, the film is surprisingly lacking in sexual heat.

Queen & Slim

In the soon to be iconic photograph from Melina Matsoukas's distressing Queen & Slim, stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith...