Category Archives: New
August 24, 2015. The timing of my seeing writer and director Macdara Vallely’s very enjoyable film “Babygirl” could not have been more appropriate. I have just finished teaching a summer course at CUNY Queens College called “Sociology of Cinema.” The class focused on events occurring in society and how these events influenced the movies being made at different times.
One of the subjects covered was neorealism which, to put it succinctly, focuses on poor people living in the actual circumstances of the time in which a particular film was made (for example, in the case of Italian Neorealism, post WWII Italy). Neorealism also places an emphasis on the environments in which the stories take place – in particular run down sections of urban areas. I wanted to show how Italian Neorealism (an example being “Bicycle Thieves” – 1948) influenced films made in other cultures. To that end we screened the Indian film “Siddharth” (2013) and “Gimme the Loot” (2012), the latter being a film about cash strapped graffiti artists in New York City. Incidentally, “Siddharth” and “Gimme the Loot” are both on Netflix and are highly recommended.
“Babygirl” (now available on iTunes and VOD – Video On Demand) is a nice addition to the genre of modern day neorealism (and what could be more in keeping with the spirit of neorealism than the fact that “Babygirl” is being distributed on affordable platforms, such as iTunes and VOD, as opposed to having an expensive, per ticket, theatrical release?). Read the rest of this entry
“Love Is Strange” could have been a very good movie. In fact, I am still quite surprised that it was not. It has an interesting premise and very engaging main characters played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina, with the, always fine, Marisa Tomei in a supporting role.
Without giving away any spoilers, I will simply say that going into its third act the story takes a very sharp left turn, flies off the rails, crashes and burns. Simply put, “Love Is Strange” suffers from a time worn malady, of both stage and screen, called “trouble in the third act.” In other words, there was a good idea here, which was well sustained for the first and second acts. Writer/director, Ira Sachs, seems to have not known how to resolve his story. As a result, he has come up with something completely out of left field, for the third act, that conveniently lets him off the hook in regard dealing to his characters’ situation. In fact, for a moment, I honestly thought that there was a technical glitch and that the particular copy of the movie that I was watching was missing a scene or two. Part of me is still hoping that this is the case, but I do not think it is.
I have to admit that, at first, I was quite intrigued by the set up of the new science fiction movie “Divergent.” Sadly though, before too long, I was disappointed (although not very surprised) to soon find myself in a movie that was tedious and whose title could have almost had its letters rearranged to one more fitting, like “Derivative.”
The problems with “Divergent” are many. The most basic one is an issue many movies have. There is an interesting premise, which is fine for the first and second acts. After this, the story just does not know what to do with itself and, as a result, follows patterns that are predictable, un-intriguing and easily resolvable. The malady, referred to in both film and theatre, is called, “Trouble in the third act.” An example is a great premise that is resolved with a standard issue CGI (computer graphics imaging) enhanced car chase and/or shoot out. Story over, back door left open for a sequel.
While there are many good things in director Alexander Payne’s new film “Nebraska,” something is missing. “Nebraska” plays like a very good approximation of one of Payne’s films, which include “Election” (1999), “About Schmidt” (2002), “Sideways” (2004) and “The Descendents” (2011). At a certain point I felt “Nebraska” lapsed into a predictable resolution. It has the pieces of a Payne film, but somehow not the conviction.
Now, having voiced my concerns in the previous paragraph, I want to point out that “Nebraska” has a number of things to recommend it. “Nebraska” certainly has a very good cast led by the under-utilized Bruce Dern. Dern co-stars with “Saturday Night Live” alum Will Forte. The two play Woody and David Grant, respectively, a father and son on a road trip from Minnesota to Nebraska. Woody has received the equivalent of a Publisher’s Clearing House mailing implying that he has won a million dollars. Woody, in the early stages of senility, is convinced that he has actually won the great prize and is determined to go to the address in Nebraska to claim it. Woody does not trust the mail. David, in a gesture to placate his father and to put this obsession to rest, decides to drive his father to Nebraska to settle the issue. Along the way they meet friends and relatives who shed light on Woody’s past. Read the rest of this entry
I am sure that buried, somewhere, in the “slam bang, shoot-em-up” that is “Elysium,” is a potentially interesting parable about modern society that could have been developed more than it is. There is a good premise here, but the film does not pay it off in a way that is satisfying.
Science fiction, set in the future, is almost always meant as a commentary on contemporary conditions. “Elysium” takes place late in the twenty-first century on an over crowded and polluted planet Earth. Those with money have blasted off to Elysium, an idyllic, green, pastoral, well appointed circular space station like contraption. This floating Shangri-La is easily glimpsed by those unfortunates still on Earth. In addition to being a refuge, Elysium has state of the art health care and can cure any ailment, including cancer. Read the rest of this entry
The other day I happened to over hear a conversation between two young women on the street. One of them talked about having seen actress Scarlett Johansson in a play. Quickly flipping through my mental inventory of recent Broadway plays, I realized that she must be talking about the production of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” which closed this past March and did, in fact, star Ms. Johansson.
The young woman proceeded to describe the play to her friend: “It was a real play. Like they talked for three hours. It was really boring.” Clearly this was someone who went to see “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” completely unprepared and was there only to see Ms. Johansson.
I wonder what this anonymous woman on the street would think of writer/director Woody Allen’s very good new movie, “Blue Jasmine,” lightly based on another Williams play, of which she probably also has no knowledge, “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Would this culturally deprived creature even know who Woody Allen is? Read the rest of this entry
Writer / director Paul Schrader owes me a movie. The piece of dreck called “The Canyons” that he unveiled on June 29 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center does not count.
As I made my way to my seat inside the Film Society’s beautiful Walter Reade Theatre, a waiter approached me with a tray containing cups of beer. I turned him down. Had I known what I was soon to be in for, I most likely would have taken the entire tray. I do not know if alcohol would have helped, but, in the case of “The Canyons,” it could not have hurt. Read the rest of this entry
I hope my readers appreciate the bullets that I often take for them. The most recent of these “bullets” (more akin to a rapid machine gun blast) is the new movie “Now You See Me.” The story is so contrived, and conveyed so confusingly, that it delivers absolutely no level of audience satisfaction whatsoever.
The story has to do with a group of four illusionists/magicians who stage elaborate, Vegas like arena shows in which they steal from the rich and give to the poor, their audiences. How their supposedly cash strapped audiences can even afford tickets to their shows is another matter.
“Now You See Me” relies on that old magician’s bromide that magic is all about misdirection. The concept is that magicians get their audiences to look in the wrong directions while they pull off their tricks. Once we accept this basic premise, along with the idea that a magician always has to be several steps ahead of everyone else, the filmmakers seem to feel that they can throw anything at us and we will just accept it because the characters are, after all, illusionists. Uh, no, sorry, you still have to make the events believable, otherwise that means you hold all of the cards and have no responsibility to your audience. Read the rest of this entry
I could not wait to see Alex Gibney’s new documentary “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks.” I first became aware of this film when, a while back, one of my students e-mailed me a link to the “We Steal Secrets” trailer. I was hooked. Now, having finally seen the movie, I am happy to report that this is not a case of the trailer looking great (as they often do) and the movie not being up to snuff. “We Steal Secrets” was everything I hoped it would be and more.
In one of the classes that I teach, at Queens College, “Mass Communication and Popular Culture,” we discuss Julian Assange and his whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. Is Assange merely exercising his First Amendment right or has he gone too far by releasing top secret information? In class we compare Assange’s actions and cause to those of Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.
Up until now the only documentary on Assange that I have been able to find has been “Julian Assange: A Modern Day Hero?” available on line on Netflix. The documentary is good, but a bit dry. So how great it is that Gibney has pulled out all the stops with a well-produced, visually arresting and incredibly comprehensive film about Assange. Read the rest of this entry
In discussing the idea of movies in 3-D Alfred Hitchcock said, “It’s a nine day wonder, and I came in on the ninth day.” The great director was, of course, referring to his own 1954 movie “Dial M for Murder, ” shot in 3-D. By the way, if you ever have a chance to see “Dial M for Murder” in 3-D, it is quite good. Now, what does any of this have to do with the new movie “Star Trek Into Darkness”? Well, although Hitchcock correctly pegged early 1950’s 3-D as the passing fad that it was, today 3-D is a very different story. For those of you who have not looked at movie advertisements for the past few years, the film industry, in an attempt to hang onto an audience which now has more entertainment options than ever before, has resurrected the formerly obsolete 3-D format to great success.
One morning last week I found myself at the AMC Lincoln Square multiplex on the Upper West Side, looking for something about which to write for this week’s column. My doctor, of all people, told me that he enjoyed the new Star Trek movie, “Star Trek Into Darkness,” so I thought I would give it a try. Read the rest of this entry