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

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review: The Gold Rush (1925)

* * * *

Director: Charlie Chaplin
Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Georgia Hale, Mack Swain

I don't know if I would call The Gold Rush Charlie Chaplin's best film (though I am going to argue that it features his best performance), but I think that it might be the film that best exemplifies Chaplin's ability to raise sentimentality to an art form. I'm not ashamed to say that as the film approached its end with The Tramp in a position of triumph and started to hint at how it might all be stripped away from him, I was actually tempted to stop the movie because I couldn't bear the thought of seeing The Tramp lose everything after all that. I should have known better, of course, since Chaplin is an unabashed master at happy endings, but it's a testament to how expertly Chaplin could play on an audience's emotions that he could potentially bring you to that point and make you feel so deeply invested in his silly little character, even if you're a cynical cinephile like me.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Summer Not-Busters: A Knight's Tale (2001)

Director: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Heath Ledger, Paul Bettany
Domestic Gross: $56,569,702

It's a story that is, unfortunately, not very unusual: the right film comes out at the wrong time, leaving it looking like a failure when, on closer inspection, it's really a success. The world was not ready for A Knight's Tale in 2001. If the film were released today, I suspect that it would be more rapturously received, what with Game of Thrones having brought increased popularity to medieval-esque stories and Quentin Tarantino's two forays into "period" pieces done their part to naturalize the mix of contemporary music with historical settings. In 2001, however, a lot of critics seemed to get hung up on the anachronistic use of music (one exception was Roger Ebert, who in his review wrote, "[director Brian] Helgeland has pointed out that an orchestral score would be equally anachronistic, since orchestras hadn't been invented in the 1400s. For that matter, neither had movies."), and as a result the film maybe earned an unfair reputation for "weirdness" that kept it from finding a larger audience. But time has been kind to A Knight's Tale, a film which might be a bit odd but is also a lot of fun, as of course it must be since it makes use of "We Will Rock You," a song which is incapable of being anything but awesome no matter the time period.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Review: Night Moves (2014)

* * * 1/2

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard

Director Kelly Reichardt is not a filmmaker who could ever be accused of making plot-driven films. Her films tend to be driven more by character and mood than by plot, and in that sense her latest, Night Moves, might be said to be the closest thing she's made to a "conventional" film. That said, Night Moves is only conventional relative to Reichardt's previous films and not when measured against just about anything else you can find at the multiplex. In other hands, this story of three environmental activists and their plot to blow up a dam would take the form of a thriller, but Reichardt's style, which favors a meditative tone rather than an urgent one, is probably too much of a slow burner to properly qualify as a "thriller." It's a character film built around a centerpiece sequence of incredible tension that will satisfy some and move too sedately for others, but if you're a viewer who has yet to experience Reichardt's work but want to, Night Moves may prove to be the perfect gateway.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Review: Boyhood (2014)

* * * *

Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater

I remember hearing about Richard Linklater's ambitious plan to film a movie over the course of a decade, allowing the actors to age naturally on screen as the story is being told, shortly before it started filming back in 2002 and thinking that it sounded like an incredibly interesting idea, but wondering how he would get around the gimmick inherent in the premise. The answer, as it turns out, was to make the film as if there is no gimmick at all, allowing each segment to exist within its own time without having those points in time become in any way the focal point. Boyhood is not a series of snapshots about what life was like in 2002 and then 2003 and then 2004, etc.; instead it manages to capture the rhythm of the steady flow of time as we grow and change during its course, ensuring that the story feels whole rather than like a series of pieces put together. Boyhood is a film that not every filmmaker could have pulled off with such grace, and Linklater makes it look and feel effortless. This movie is a masterpiece, plain and simple.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Summer Not-Busters: Speed Racer (2008)

Director: Andy Washowski & Lana Washowski
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Matthew Fox, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon
Domestic Gross: $43,945,766

I don't suffer from ADHD, but I certainly felt like I did while watching Speed Racer, the Wachowski's hyper-kinetic adaptation of the anime/manga series. With its images flooded with color and sparkling things, sequences in which objects move at impossible speeds, a story that is loaded with subplots, and more changes in tone than any one film can gracefully handle, Speed Racer is an utterly exhausting movie to watch and, even though everything in it is moving so fast, it nevertheless manages to feel about a million years long thanks to its overly busy narrative. I think that Bound and The Matrix are two of the best films of the '90s and I think that Cloud Atlas is one of the most underrated films of the last few years, and because of that (and despite those two Matrix sequels) I still believe in the Washowskis and their ability to blend high style with storytelling. Speed Racer is not a success in that respect, but I think it could have been if the siblings had slowed down long enough to turn it into one movie instead of trying to turn it into several all at once. It might never have been a masterpiece, but it would have been better than the candy-coated disaster with a $120 million price tag that it ended up being.