Archive | November, 2014

Foxcatcher

28 Nov

‘Foxcatcher’: Carell, Tatum and Ruffalo wrestle with a true deadly tale, and win

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Bennett Miller, whose directorial credits include “Capote” and “Moneyball,” should be considered something of a fictional documentarian in evolution. His first film, “The Cruise” (1998), a true documentary, followed fast-talking tour guide Timothy “Speed” Levitch on the job and in his semi-depressed other life. What gave the film soul, besides Levitch’s outpouring of quirk, was Miller’s ability to tap into the human element of his subject, capturing Levitch (the two went to high school together) at his chest-beating highs and self-questioning lows.

112714i FoxcatcherWhile “The Cruise” was a straight-up documentary, “Capote” (2005) and “Moneyball” (2011) were liberal, adapted spins on real lives and real events, both featuring outstanding performances by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and the latter garnering perhaps the finest performance of Brad Pitt’s long career. Miller’s latest, “Foxcatcher” is dead in the mold of those films, and the indie auteur’s most soul-plumbing film so far. Continue reading

The Better Angels

21 Nov
Braydon Denney plays a young Abraham Lincoln, although he could be confused for a young Calvin Klein model

Braydon Denney plays a young Abraham Lincoln, although he could be confused for a young Calvin Klein model

There’s little debate as to which U.S. president is the defacto favorite of Hollywood. Abraham Lincoln wins, whether it’s John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln, starring a fresh-faced Henry Fonda, or Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, which earned Oscar gold for Daniel Day Lewis. Then, there’s also the silly, senseless Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer. For the life of me, I can’t think of one resonating picture about George Washington and that famous cherry tree. When it comes to presidential hagiography, it’s Honest Abe who gets the lion’s share of celluloid exposure.

Considering all the previous Lincoln biopics, A.J. Edwards’s The Better Angels is another creature entirely. As certain as there’s black and white — and we should mention that the film is shot entirely in black-and-white — it’s about a 13-year-old Abe without ever really mentioning the lad’s name. It would be unfair to callBetter Angels plotless, though it unfurls in arcane wisps and etherial shards that you really can’t call linear. But through Edwards’ careful guidance, the flick still manages to paint a visceral and comprehensive collage. One might label it a historical record in dreams, something that the trippy visualist Terrence Malick (Days of Heaven, The Tree of Life) made an art form, and, interestingly enough, he’s one of the film’s producers and worked with Edwards on To the Wonder.   Continue reading

Black Mass and D. W. Griffith

13 Nov

BOSTON — Dick Lehr is a calm spoken, reserved person who has walked the in the footsteps of some of the edgiest sociopaths of our time.

He is best known for “Black Mass” (2000), the acclaimed chronicle of “Whitey” Bulger he co-authored with Gerard O’Neill, which, as you know from all the traffic-halting filming and Johnny Depp sightings this summer, is finally getting spun into a movie.

In “Judgment Ridge” (2003), Lehr, and co-author Mitchell Zuckoff, explored the heinous thrill-kill murders of Dartmouth professors Half and Susanne Zantop in their remote New Hampshire home.

And back in 1979, when working at the Hartford Courant, Lehr infiltrated a meeting of David Duke and the KKK in Danbury, Connecticut, to debunk Duke’s claim that the Klan had a large and growing membership within the Nutmeg State.

Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger films a violent scene for "Black Mass" in Boston. (Courtesy Warner Bros. Entertainment)

Lehr’s latest, “The Birth of a Nation: How a Legendary Director and a Crusading Editor Reignited America’s Civil War,” rewinds history back to 1915. It explores the conflict that played out between the groundbreaking director D.W. Griffith — whose notoriously polarizing film “Birth of a Nation” was on the verge of becoming the originalblockbuster — and journalist and activist William Monroe Trotter.  Continue reading

Björk: Biophilia Live

13 Nov
A 50-year-old Björk gets celestial in the new concert film: Björk: Biophilia Live

Outlandish Icelandic performance artist Björk has long been a polarizing figure. When we think of the now-50-year-old musician, there are two things that cannot be denied. For one, the singer’s warbling high-pitched wails never fail to enchant. And two, she seems as youthful now as she did with the Sugarcubes nearly three decades ago.

Current generations may not remember the Cubes or even Björk’s foray into acting in Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark, for which she won best actress at Cannes in 2000. Perhaps more notable is the notorious swan dress she wore to the Oscars in 2001. That dress, a bellwether of the singer’s fashion sensibility, is a benign infraction compared to the strange frock she dons in her new concert film, Björk: Biophilia Live. It looks like melted and oozing human breasts fused together. Think of the raw garishness of Lady Gaga’s meat dress, and you’d be close to imagining Björk’s latest foray into fashion freakiness. In the concert flick, she also sports a dramatic orange wig, reminiscent of Erykah Badu’s ‘do in Dave Chappelle’s Block Party. Björk is a baroque caricature, but her appearance is no longer a distraction once a song begins.  Continue reading

Interstellar

8 Nov

‘Interstellar’: Never too far from pastiche, no matter how far Nolan flies it into space

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Our planet is dying, and somewhere out in space lies the answer. That’s the lead-in to “Interstellar,” which could be a prequel to the post-apocalyptic film “The Road” with its giant dust storms sweeping in and suffocating vegetation and crops, leaving only corn as a viable source of food – and it too is on the verge of extinction. The clock is ticking. When the last ear is harvested, what what will man do to survive in the giant dustbowl?

110714i InterstellarThe good news for all our collective futures is that farmer Matthew McConaughey is a former NASA pilot; the bad news is that NASA no longer exists, but through a paranormal, “Close Encounters” kind of interference, the southern drawling actor’s Cooper is pointed to a grid point on the map not too far away where the vestiges of the space agency – and the hope of humankind – reside with Michael Caine and his daughter, Anne Hathaway. Cooper is the only one with mission experience, and before the clock ticks any further he and Hathaway’s Amelia Brand are on a turbo-charged space shuttle-like vehicle and heading toward a black hole. Continue reading

Frank

6 Nov
Michael Fassbender plays an enigmatic band leader who wears a mask both on and off stage in Frank

Gimmicks get you gigs, or at least that’s the implied mantra for novelty acts like GWAR and KISS, where garish garnish generates spectacle, buzz, and ticket sales. The same might be said of Soronprfb, the band with the intentionally unpronounceable name in the movie Frank, where the lead singer wears a giant papier-mâché head bearing a blue-eyed boyish countenance. Soronprfb however doesn’t seek fame and fortune; they desire artistic respect and only produce work that reflects their values and integrity.

Just what those values are remains murky, but you can’t deny their commitment to this esoteric tenet. Playing to handfuls in random dives, eschewing promotion (social or otherwise), and lacking cash, might be setbacks and poor decisions to some, but for Soronprfb it’s a badge of honor and a starving artist rallying point. And when the time strikes to record a new album, the group turns-off, drops out, and cloisters away to a quaint lake-side lodge somewhere in the Irish north, where they resign to remain until the necessary inspiration descends and the new disc is pressed from their argumentative malaise.

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Horns

1 Nov

‘Horns’: Mysterious growths get Radcliffe (fore)heading back into the supernatural

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Daniel Radcliffe, the young British actor who had the world by the horns as the titled incarnation in the film adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s wildly beloved “Harry Potter” series, seems to have lost the wizard’s touch since closing the door to Hogwarts’ halls. Quirky ventures such as the ghost story “The Woman in Black,” the whimsical rom-com “What If” and “Kill Your Darlings,” in which Radcliffe plays beat poet Allen Ginsberg, haven’t quite buffed the actor’s star. Then there’s this curious immersion into the devil’s den.

103114i Meek HornsYou can imagine the appeal of playing a Luciferian incarnation rooted in the material world.  The “Hellboy” superhero series nailed it with camp and gusto. Here, based on the novel by Joe Hill, aka Stephen King’s son, Radcliffe plays Ig (Ignatius), a DJ in a small Northwestern burg. He has a very public breakup with his girlfriend (Juno Temple) and becomes the prime suspect in her murder when she’s found with her head bashed in at the base of their romantic getaway spot – a tree fort deep in the Pac-North woods.   Continue reading