Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Tales From the Black List: 50/50 (2011)

* * *

Director: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogan

"That doesn't make any sense though. I mean, I don't smoke, I don't drink, I recycle..." Cancer is the great equalizer. You can do everything right and live an entirely unimpeachable life, you can be young or old, male or female, be anyone anywhere, and still get the news. Loosely based on screenwriter Will Reiser's experience with cancer 50/50, which was part of the 2008 Black List (a list which also included such films as Inglorious Basterds, Up in the Air, The Descendants, Easy A, Foxcatcher and Sherlock Holmes), doesn't linger on the shock of the diagnosis. It comes fast, is given a moment, and then the film carries on, cycling through the stages of grief as it follows its protagonist, whose story is as much about him learning to deal with his diagnosis as it is him learning how to deal with the people around him as they deal with his diagnosis. It's a film that finds the comedy in tragedy, alternately funny and moving, and ultimately very humane.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Review: Nocturnal Animals (2016)

* *

Director: Tom Ford
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon

I was a great admirer of Tom Ford's debut film, A Single Man, which was not only incredibly stylish but also managed to be a moving portrait of a man struggling to grieve a loss that the mores of the time keep him from openly acknowledging. I'm considerably less keen on Nocturnal Animals, which is also stylish and even, in moments, expertly made, but overall reeks of fraud. Nocturnal Animals is a movie that doesn't actually seem to have anything to say, save for the most superficial and banal things possible, but revels in empty symbols that give the appearance of profundity. It's unfortunate, because the film actually contains some pretty incredible performances (including that of Michael Shannon, which received an Oscar nomination), but even the fine work of the actors can't disguise how vapid an enterprise this is.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Review: Certain Women (2016)

* * * 1/2

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Starring: Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Lily Gladstone, Kristen Stewart

Over the course of six feature films, writer/director Kelly Reichardt has become a master of the small-scale story, narratives where the stakes are slight and deeply personal, driven by character more than plot. In Certain Women "plot" barely even registers; things happen, but what happens seems almost incidental. It's a film that's all about reaction, about how the women in the film respond to things they hadn't anticipated and how they're changed, or not changed, by them. It's an expertly told, intuitive film that tells three tenuously connected stories, each one anchored by a different actress. Most films struggle to find room for one good female character; this one features four and makes it look so easy that you're left wondering what the problem is with other movies.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

21st Century Essentials: No Country For Old Men (2007)


Director: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem
Country: United States

Most artists are lucky if they create one bona fide masterpiece - such things are special precisely because they are rare. Having made both Fargo and No Country For Old Men, Joel and Ethan Coen have made two (one might even argue that they've made three, including Blood Simple). An instantly iconic film, thanks in part to Javier Bardem's villain, Anton Chigurh, the most dangerous person ever to sport a Dorothy Hamill haircut, No Country For Old Men was one of the most hyped movies of 2007 and would become the Coen brother's most successful film at the box office (until being supplanted in 2010 by True Grit) and be nominated for 8 Oscars, winning 4 (including Best Picture). That's not always a recipe for longevity - plenty of movies have raked in the money and won Oscars only to be forgotten afterwards, and if anything a lot of hype tends to hurt a movie in the long run as it sets expectations impossibly high, but No Country For Old Men is a film that can withstand that kind of pressure. It's the real deal, a film that continues to mesmerize after a decade and multiple viewings.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday's Top 5... Movies Based on Graphic Novels (That Aren't About Super Heroes)

#5: Ghost World

Dry as a bone, Ghost World, Terry Zwigoff's adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name, is about a teenage girl who is very smart, but maybe not as mature as she is intelligent, and the breakdown in the relationship with her best friend as their interests begin to diverge. It's a funny, complex look at that weird transition between adolescence and adulthood, and it features great performances from Thora Birch, Steve Buscemi, and Scarlett Johnasson