Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Good Dinosaur (**)

Directed by Peter Sohn


The Good Dinosaur feels like such an odd child within the rest of the Pixar films. It seems like their most outright for children since 2003's Finding Nemo, and yet, it feels particularly dark, tackling aspects of mortality and existentialism unlike any other film Disney has to offer. It's take on the dinosaur movie feels a bit off. In the universe of The Good Dinosaur, a family of Apatosaurus are akin to Middle American farmers, seemingly with the intelligence not only to speak but to till the land and harvest corn. When Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), the youngest of the family, is struggling to make his mark within the meritocracy of the family, he leaves the family farm in search of the young feral boy (whom he later names Spot) who has been stealing the family's crops. Why Spot, as well as all other humans in the film, act like dogs is never truly explained, nor why the dinosaur universe is set in an aesthetic of rustic farmland. What does Americana add to this tale? I pondered this often throughout. Arlo's journey off of the farm leads him into great peril, including bloodthirsty pterodactyls, cattle ranching T-Rex's and dangerously inclement weather. With the help of the surprisingly resourceful Spot, Arlo manages his way through the hurdles, hoping to find his way back to the family farm. There's something a bit low-stakes about The Good Dinosaur; the screenwriting isn't as solid as we're used to with the famed studio. A lot of the plot points are borrowed from the Disney classic The Lion King, which is fine, but there isn't enough separation for Dinosaur to feel like its own film. There is some good voice acting (particularly Steve Zahn, Jeffrey Wright and Sam Elliot), and some astonishing animation, but this is one of the weaker films in the Pixar canon. The film is preceded by a great short called Sanjay's Super Team, which in less than ten minutes manages to present the kind of hearty feeling that The Good Dinosaur struggles to reach in its 100 minutes. There are times when Dinosaur's sentimentality does connect with its audience, but there's little more that the film has going for it.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Legend (***)

Written for the Screen and Directed by Brian Helgeland


Legend contains such a brilliant fusion of the two personalities that Tom Hardy so often inhabits in his movies. On the one hand, there's the brooding, but suave man behind Locke and Inception, but then there's also the Tom Hardy we're more familiar with - the one that's quickly becoming a movie star - the brutish blunt object of Bronson, Warrior and The Dark Knight Rises. Earlier this year, Hardy was great in Mad Max: Fury Road, where little was required of him other than scrambling around frantically, driving fearlessly and basically being an unstoppable force careening into an immovable object. It's one of the best films of the year, and no short amount of credit should go to Hardy for subduing his own gigantism for the sake of the narrative. He doesn't have to make any of these sacrifices in Legend, where Hardy is allowed to embrace both halves of his cinematic duality. Here he's playing the Kray brothers, two of the most infamous gangsters in English history. One brother, Reggie, is a shrewd businessman unafraid to get his hands bloodied in the underground world of British organized crime. The other, Ronnie, is a bloodthirsty simpleton, whose certified insanity may not be readily apparent until his penchant for gruesome violence makes an appearance. Hardy plays both these roles with an unwavering flair, painting both brothers with equal parts menace and humor, showing a bombastic range unlike anything we've seen from this supremely talented actor.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Carol (****)

Directed by Todd Haynes


Todd Haynes' ballads of female domesticity are such a treasure to American independent film. His ability to tap into this world with such passion and ferocity, but also with tenderness, has produced what I would call his best cinematic work. I'm not sure it gets much better than Carol, his latest film and his most downright sincere. Like his 2002 masterpiece, Far From Heaven, Haynes takes a pointed view at the 1950's - in Heaven it was the housewife who had to learn to deal with her husband's subdued homosexuality, but in Carol it's the housewife who's sexuality is at the center. Based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith called 'The Price of Salt' (Highsmith originally published the novel under the pseudonym Claire Morgan), Haynes is given another opportunity to peck away at the facade of the Greatest Generation, to deconstruct a time that took great strides to suppress the very outsiders that Haynes loves to champion. At its heart, though, Carol is a forbidden love story, a document of a passionate affair fighting against the limited tolerance of a society who hadn't even fathomed racial understanding let alone homosexual sensitivity. As Haynes' first feature film since the fun but troubled I'm Not There in 2007, Carol feels like a stunning return to form, a prime example of the filmmaker's talent for blending homage to classic, movie star-driven Hollywood with the intimacy of independent cinema - a brilliant exploration of the artifice of luxury and a testament to the life-shattering effects of love.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Podcast: Is 'Spectre' Better Than 'Jurassic Park'?

Hey guys, writing material has been slow I know, but here's Episode 2 (click there!) of my podcast with Scott Ward 'Is it Better Than Jurassic Park?'. In this episode, we discuss Spectre as well as a smaller amount of time of the more classical Bond film Goldfinger. Our guest this time is David Danby.

Coming Soon:
The Good Dinosaur

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Spectre (**1/2)

Directed by Sam Mendes


The James Bond franchise is one that I'm not totally familiar with, I will openly admit. Spectre clocks in as the fifth Bond film I've seen overall, along with Goldfinger, Goldeneye, Die Another Day and last year's Skyfall. The allure of the Daniel Craig Bond is very easy for me to comprehend. Most of the Bonds we know are unflappable, but Craig seems to be giving this infamous secret agent some inner torment. He's too good an actor to give off the kind of laissez faire that Connery gave off so effortlessly; Craig has to give us something. Under the direction of former-art-house-filmmaker-turned-commercial-director-for-hire Sam Mendes, James Bond has some reluctance, and doesn't tip-toe his way across the tightrope of being a 00 agent so elegantly. Spectre felt less compelling to me than Skyfall. Most of it has to do with their villains. Where Javier Bardem was at his sadistic best in Skyfall, there's an element to Christoph Waltz here - he plays Blofeld, a terrorist leader who holds a devilish partnership with a surveillance squad planning to make British espionage irrelevant - that feels a bit undercooked. The character is too hackneyed to really stand-out and the actor is simply doing Christoph Waltz karaoke at this point - I've seen him look much more interested, let's just say that. But the action set pieces are truly impressive here. There's one sequence in a helicopter and another on a train, both show that the Craig-Mendes partnership is one that can make highly entertaining thrillers, if not particularly substantial ones. Lea Seydoux plays Madeleine Swann, the daughter of a former assassin who Bond must fight to protect once that father dies. Seydoux is one of the sexiest women on the planet, and a talented actress to boot - if she didn't have that French accent, she would be a movie star. Ralph Fiennes reprises his role from Skyfall, but like Craig and Seydoux, the script doesn't really provide anything for this collection of talent to do. This is a romp, it has all the classic lines you want to hear, and a nice tip of the hat to the classic Bond movie formula (a bad guy explaining his plan too soon?!). It should make it's base audience happy, but I found myself having a bit of fun as well.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Brooklyn (***)

Directed by John Crowley


The sincerity of a movie like Brooklyn is something to behold. It takes place in world that's inherently cinematic, with a hard-felt belief in lasting romantic love and the unbreakable bond of family. It's utter sweetness never becomes overbearing because it has a very sensible consideration of its characters, most importantly its main character, Eilis Lacey, a young Irish girl who's given the opportunity to travel to America. Eilis is played by Saoirse Ronan, a formerly precocious child actress who has morphed into a truly talented performer. She was already an Oscar nominee when she was thirteen years old, with a devilish, surprisingly nuanced performance in Atonement, where she played a malevolent child bent on ruining a passionate affair. Brooklyn is a coming-of-age tale, a story about a young woman learning about herself, while also learning about the true capabilities of love and adulthood. The screenplay is written by Nick Hornby, a novelist who's made a nice side-business for himself adapting popular literary works for the big screen. Interestingly enough, his last three scripts have all been female-focused, and all three have a good understanding of the way class and culture color the female experience. It's a bit ironic that the guy who made his name writing Fever Pitch and High Fidelity would then turn to the movies and become so adept at crafting such strong female characters. Yet, here we are, and Brooklyn is another in that tradition.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Spotlight (****)

Directed by Tom McCarthy


A movie like Spotlight almost feels like a miracle. To find screenwriting so precise, an ensemble performance so sharp, in an understated film made for adults is truly rare. Films like this do indeed have an audience, even if it's a small one. It's procedural tone - it's a film about journalism that for the most part takes that journalistic temperament - does not quench what is an obvious, binding tension. In a lot of ways, this film is the inverse of Truth, another film about journalism that came out just last month. That film contained a strong emotional component, it felt the need to shout out about an institution that had been wronged (it also had an Earth-shattering performance from Cate Blanchett). For all it's grandstanding, Truth was essentially about how Dan Rather and an award-winning news team got the story wrong. Spotlight is about reporters getting the story right. At the turn of the new millennium, there were few stories bigger than the one that the Boston Globe unearthed about the Catholic Church's seemingly pathological sexual abuse of young children. Tom McCarthy's film tracks the Globe's crack investigative team, known famously as 'Spotlight', as they delve into the controversy, meticulously carving out each detail, making sure the story is solid before exposing it to the world. In an America so recently exposed to 9/11, emotions are raw, unprepared for even more trauma. Spotlight is an exceptional film that understands the reporter's responsibility to the public, that never underestimates the exhaustive effort it takes to nail the story down correctly.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Podcast: Is 'Crimson Peak' Better Than 'Jurassic Park'?

Hello all,
In a new wrinkle, click here for the first episode of my new podcast called 'Is It Better Than Jurassic Park?'. In our first episode, me and my co-host Scott discuss Crimson Peak along with our fellow friend and moviegoer, Caroline. Stay tuned for further episodes from me and Scott, discussing both new releases and old classics. Enjoy!