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

Monday, April 20, 2015

Review: Big Eyes (2014)

* * 1/2

Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz

Big Eyes, which is perhaps the least "Tim Burton-y" movie Burton has ever made (though a strong argument could be made for the whimsy-less Planet of the Apes remake), starts so strong that I found myself baffled by the rather lackluster reception it received when it was released theatrically in December. The first act of the film is so strong that it genuinely felt like the film was unfairly sold short, if not exactly "maligned," perhaps as a result of being released during the part of the year when everything is expected to be a masterpiece; and then the rest of the film happened, and suddenly I understood. It's not that Big Eyes is a bad movie - it's perfectly fine - it's just that it lays down the foundation to actually do something with its subject and then seems to lose its nerve and falls back on genre tropes and dashes of wackiness before puttering to its conclusion.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Review: Danny Collins (2015)

* * *

Director: Dan Fogelman
Starring: Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Christopher Plummber, Bobby Cannavale, Jennifer Garner

If it had been released at pretty much any other time of year, I don't know that I would have enjoyed Danny Collins as much as I ultimately did. It's the sort of low in ambition, high in easy sentiment, middle of the road half comedy, half drama that I don't typically have a ton of patience for, but whether it's the dearth of new releases out at the moment, the right mood on my part, or the film's relaxed charm and the fact that it puts on no airs, but this Al Pacino vehicle won me over pretty quickly. It helps that, though the film has its share of stock/cookie cutter elements, it resists (sort of, but certainly to a greater degree than you have any reason to expect it will) delivering the mushy, hugs all around type ending that films like this tend to demand.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Review: A Most Violent Year (2014)

* * *

Director: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain

J.C. Chandor's A Most Violent Year is a film about a man who wants to be good in a profession that demands he be corrupt, who wants to keep his hands clean even as they are continuously pulled down into the mud. It is an exceedingly handsome looking film, anchored by a terrific performance by Oscar Isaac playing a complex man at war on all sides - so why does it feel so inert? Chandor's previous film (and only his second directorial effort), All Is Lost, managed to be as dynamic as it was minimalist, stripping away everything right down to the dialogue, but even though A Most Violent Year has more meat wrapped around its bones, it still manages to feel just a bit hollow. It's a competently made, sometimes even compelling film, but its impact just isn't very deep.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

21st Century Essentials... The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

All eras have works of art that are fundamental to our understanding of not only the craft itself, but the culture from which it was created. The 21st century is still nascent, but it isn't too early to start creating a canon that demonstrates the heights to which film as an artform has reached since the year 2000. These are the essential films:

Director: Andrew Dominik
Starring: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck
Country: United States

When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. But who, exactly, benefits from the legend? Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, adapted from the novel of the same name by Ron Hansen, is about men living in the shadow of legend, benefiting and suffering from it in nearly equal measure. It is a visually and narratively stunning film, a thoughtful meditation on the nature of celebrity and on the romanticized view of outlaws which transforms killers into folk heroes, the story of two men seemingly locked in place by the demands of folklore and marching towards their joined fate. It is a wonderful, poetic film. Naturally it was abandoned in theaters by its distributor, yet another example of Hollywood studios not understanding that the gems they seek are already in their possession.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Friday's Top 5... Second Generation Hollywood Stars

#5: Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie was a star almost the moment she stepped in front of a camera, making her mark in several television productions before moving permanently to film, winning an Oscar before she turned 25. Since then Jolie's career has had some ups and downs but she remains a star and, assuming that Jon Voight continues to make... "colorful" statements in the press, by the time her career is over she may very well end up eclipsing her famous father as the most revered star in her family.