Archive | October, 2014

subUrbia, then and now

27 Oct

The Rick-trospective: subUrbia

A salute to Richard Linklater’s body of work, one film at a time

The Rick-trospective: <i>subUrbia</i>

In honor of the November 7 release of Paste Movies Editor Michael Dunaway’s documentary 21 Years: Richard Linklater (in which Paste is the media partner), we’re going through the indie master’s entire oeuvre in order, film by amazing film.


Richard Linklater’s always been something of a modern day documentarian, dredging that banal everyday which is formed by technology and culture, and unearthing the explorative, self-reflecting fossils of the individual adrift in the societal sea. Linklater’s first few movies, Slacker and Dazed and Confused, were tales of youth and the young muddling about—full of ennui, little forward motion and unpromising future prospects. Granted, Before Sunrise hit theaters in 1995, but it’s subUrbia, released a year later, that’s the apt conclusion to what one might call Linklater’s Austin slacker trilogy.

subUrbia, however, was not penned by Linklater, but playwright, social satirist andLaw & Order regular, Eric Bogosian. Linklater’s transposition from Bogosian’s Woburn, Mass., roots and New Jersey set, to sleepy Burnfield, Texas, a neighborhood of Austin where five young people occupy the limbo after high school by loitering outside a convenience store, drinking and grousing about the ruts they’ve become stuck in, aligns seamlessly with where Dazed and Confused left off. As any of the five would have it, the American Dream that evades them has been hijacked by the Pakistani couple who own and operate the store as a stepping stone to higher education and a happy white-collar existence. Continue reading

John Wick

25 Oct

‘John Wick’: Russians wrong their hitman, lighting the fuse that brings big explosion

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“John Wick,” the movie made by two stuntmen newly taking up the director’s chair (David Leitch, who’s been Brad Pitt’s stunt double throughout the years, and Chad Stahelski), plays it straight up, chin out and no punches pulled. You could call it a character study of sorts, though the character in question is pretty thin – which is not to say he’s not interesting in a kick-ass kind of way. Keanu Reeves stars as the hitman of the title, one with an impeccable reputation for getting a dirty job done who exited the game when he met the right woman.

102414i John WickWhen we catch up with Mr. Wick, he’s just lost his wife and gotten a beagle puppy to fill the emotional void.  He lives in some pretty impressive digs in Northern New Jersey and has a thing for vintage muscle cars. It’s one of Wick’s purring icons of American automotive might from the emission-control-free era that draws the attention of Iosef, a Russian mafioso punk (Alfie Allen, from “Game of Thrones”) who, in the process of home invading and carjacking Wick, offs the yipping pup. Of course Iosef and his lot make the mistake of leaving Wick alive and, unbeknownst to them, it was Wick’s gun that put Iosef’s pa, Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist, from the Swedish version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) on top. There’s some attempt to make amends, but Wick has none of it, so between employer and former employee the gloves come off. It’s a grudge match Viggo does not relish, explaining to his sniveling son while knocking back a stiff vodka that “Wick is the guy you call to kill the bogeyman.”  Continue reading

Birdman

24 Oct

‘Birdman’: Michael Keaton’s super return to screen has plenty of unexpected virtues

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Growing old and becoming irrelevant is on everyone’s minds, probably more so for anyone who’d ever been somebody – even if it was for 15 minutes. Think of all those childhood actors in rehab. Think of Lindsay Lohan. Now what if you were an aging actor who played a superhero?

101414i BirdmanThat’s the jumping-off point for “Birdman,” which boasts the catchy subtitle, “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.” Michael Keaton, who not-so-coincidentally played Tim Burton’s “Batman” in the ’80s and ’90s, plays Riggan Thomson, a Hollywood actor who found fame as the star of the titled superhero franchise. Since its shelving some 20 years ago, he now seeks thespian cred by producing, starring in and directing a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s taut “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” When we catch up with Riggan the play is just days from opening, and much teeters on a precipice. The good people of Times Square are more than happy to have the “Birdman” in their midst, but not so much the theater crowd. Co-star and “serious actor” Mike Shiner refers to Hollywood-produced films as a form of  “cultural genocide” while “Times” critic Tabitha Dickinson (a lethal Lindsay Duncan) just can’t stand the notion of art being hijacked by overpaid, under-talented dilettantes from yonder west.  Continue reading

Fury

14 Oct
<i>Fury</i>

War is hell, a tried and true axiom that gets personified to the nth degree in David Ayer’s World War II epic, Fury, about a tank crew who utter a book full of cliches and live out religious allegories while quoting the Gospel. Ayer, who wrote Training Day and directed such smash-mouth dramas as Harsh Times and End of Watch, has his nose deep in male bravado and testosterone bondsmanship. The scribe-turned-helmsman could probably learn a thing or two from Paul Schrader, who penned Taxi Driver but had mixed success transitioning to the director’s seat with the likes of American Gigolo, Cat People and Light Sleeper. Schrader however, was interested in character-driven stories, whereas Ayer seeks to drop vestiges of square-jawed manliness in chaotic hell often punctuated by hyper violence. Sam Peckinpah had it covered from both sides, and the fact that he did, and that many have attempted to emulate his style and resonance, and failed, only strengthens the testimony of his unbridled cinematic genius.

Right from the get-go, Ayer lets us know that this isn’t the clean, moral war captured on black and white back in the ’40s and ’50s, but something darker and more complex. Coming across a bomb-blasted field of American tank carcasses, an SS officer on a white horse checks the carnage to make sure there are no survivors. For something to be alive doesn’t seem possible, but springing from atop one steel beast is Brad Pitt, who quickly puts a knife blade through the officer’s occipital brow and then unsaddles the horse and allows it to go free—a metaphor for the freeing of white Europe by the grubby Americans?   Continue reading

The Judge

9 Oct
Robert Downey Jr. brings some snark to his role in The Judge, while Robert Duvall lights up the screen with his bravado

Robert Downey Jr. brings some snark to his role in The Judge, while Robert Duvall lights up the screen with his bravado.

Sometimes you can add all the right ingredients, but if the base you’re working with isn’t properly blended, you can’t make it work. That’s the case with The Judge, where all the star power helps to make the film enjoyable but doesn’t erase the abounding clichés in the uneven courtroom drama. And despite revolving around a trial, the flick is really more about the personal interactions of the players outside the crucible of justice and how those relations season the unbiased proceedings. John Grisham-lite or Nicholas Sparks with some gravity might be the best way to describe The Judge. The film’s a bit of a genre switch too for director David Dobkin as he cut his directorial teeth with screwball comedic fare like Wedding Crashers and The Change Up.

By construct, The Judge is rife with conflict and paradox that come in the form of well-worn archetypes like past versus present, country versus city, and the father railing against the son who just won’t see things his way. The film’s most beatific blessing however, beyond the gorgeous bucolic setting (Shelbourne Falls, Mass. subbing in for small town Indiana), is the casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Hank Palmer, a slick Chicago attorney who does nothing but win and has a wife with abs and a derrière you could bounce quarters off. But, as we shortly find out, Mrs. Palmer (Sarah Lancaster) has been bored and wandered with one of her fellow gym rats, something Hank is unceremoniously informed of. All this news comes at the same time Hank learns that his mother has died after a long battle with cancer. Clearly Hank is detached from the family out in the heartland, and for us, the viewer, he gets a few automatic demerits for not being there with mom at the end — his quick reprieve lies in his fatherly compassion towards his seven-year-old daughter Lauren (Emma Tremblay).  Continue reading

Boston Movie Trailer with yours truly quoted

2 Oct

Gone Girl

2 Oct
Ben Affleck's smile at press junkets caught director David Fincher's eyes and helped him get the role of Nick Dunne

How does one even have a go at Gone Girl? Anyone who’s read Gillian Flynn’s wildly popular novel — she penned the script as well — knows there’s some pretty well-laid change-ups within the story line, and we’re not even talking about the plot twist that comes sailing in at the end of the book. No, we’re talking about subtle turns of the screw that change and redirect context and the viewer’s orientation, forging an ephemeral, yet enjoyable immersion into the rapture of intrigue. So, I’ll tread carefully.

As the title implies, a woman goes missing under some curious circumstance and her husband’s innocence or culpability in the matter hangs in the balance. Gone Girl, much like Denis Villeneuve’s dark and foreboding Prisoners (2013), isn’t so much about solving the mystery at the fore, but the potpourri of personalities that drive and shape it. It’s an interesting comparison too, because the bleak rainy sheen that Villeneuve renders inPrisoners conjures up ominous shades of some of David Fincher’s more macabre works, namely Zodiac and Se7en.

Given Fincher’s running success with cinematic adaptations of bestsellers (Fight Club, The Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) the pairing would seem perfect, but invariably an assembly of ideals doesn’t always guarantee a victory. That’s not to say Gone Girl doesn’t work — far from it — but it is somewhat hampered by the continual churn of machinations and the inherent contrivances imbued in Flynn’s yarn. That said, the vestige of under-the-table trickery is aptly scant, and Fincher is far too accomplished a director to stumble into cliche. At his core, he’s a stylist who’s mellowed over the years. The frenetic flash cutting that generated smash-mouth kinetics in Fight Club and Se7en have been supplanted by the haunting aural moodiness composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who won an Academy Award for their collaboration with Fincher on The Social NetworkContinue reading