Archive | May, 2016

Weiner

28 May
If you ever watched the riveting behind-the-scenes documentary “The War Room,” you’ve already seen a man snared by scandal mid-campaign. The speed bump Gennifer Flowers dealt Bill Clinton en route to a landslide victory in 1992, however, pales in comparison with the 20-car pileup Anthony Weiner is responsible for in “Weiner,” a beguiling look into the paradoxical and self-destructive nature of a man who, while earnest in his desire to serve the public, remains unable to shake a sex-trolling persona infamously known as Carlos Danger.052716i WeinerThe filmmakers, Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, must have thought they had a lock on a picture of redemption, with a congressman felled by scandal looking to come back as mayor of New York. Given what’s on the film, Weiner sounds the part, talking charismatically about the quality of education and the ability to earn a wage equal to living in New York. It doesn’t hurt that the seemingly resurgent pol has a wife who’s a senior aide to Hillary Clinton ramping up her political machine for a 2016 presidential run. Continue reading
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A Bigger Splash

26 May

In A Bigger Splash, Tilda Swinton delivers a riveting performance despite the fact that she doesn’t get much to say. Her character, Marianne Lane, has just had throat surgery and must, by medical decree, not speak.

To the viewer, it might not register on the first glimpse of Marianne lounging nude by a villa pool, but she’s an arena-filling rock star, world adored and aging gracefully — one dash Marianne Faithful, one part Patti Smith, and a big splash of David Bowie. It’s uncanny too as Swinton, with her ageless elven features, may be the most natural incarnate of the late, beloved rocker.

Accompanying Marianne on her retreat is her younger, doting lover Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts, the brooding Belgian actor inFar From the Madding Crowd and The Danish Girl), who’s more than just a boy toy and man servant. He makes documentary films, which is how the two met. He’s also a recovering alcoholic struggling with addiction. Also dropping by unexpectedly, because these things just happen on remote locations in the middle of the Mediterranean, is Marianne’s ex-lover and producer Harry (Ralph Fiennes) with a nubile young blonde named Penelope (Dakota Johnson) in tow who claims to be the daughter Harry didn’t know he had. She’s the fly in the ointment while Harry’s the life of the party and Paul remains passively discontent while Marianne remains at the center, drinking in the healing merriment. Continue reading

Election Flicks

23 May
A still from the film "Weiner." (Courtesy of IFC Film)

The political season is well upon us, more vehemently and contentiously so than past presidential primaries, especially given the surprising number of upstarts, lack of usual faces and an arguably unpopular field. If either of the Democratic candidates win, history will be made with the first female commander in chief or the oldest citizen to assume the Oval Office. If Republican front-runner Donald Trump wins, his victory will cap a campaign of shock and awe, bluster and division, the likes of which seemed only possible in a movie.

That said, hitting the campaign trail has not been a particularly vast topic explored on film, but when it has, it’s been done with biting satire or a telling inward look at ourselves, our society and how we value democracy.

Most often those films stoke our fear of big corporations and power brokers seeking to influence control, as well as our fascination with scandal, the politician’s sudden fall and the tabloid train wreck that ultimately becomes a reflection of our impossible expectations, our own hypocrisies and an illumination of the intoxicating stupor of power that leads to self-destructive hubris.

Below is a list of 10 movies that bear particular relevance to the campaign as it is currently unfolding. (The last film in the list, “Weiner,” opens this weekend in select locations.)

“The Best Man” (1964)

Gore Vidal’s seminal skewering of big egos clashing for the White House pit a fictionalized version of Adlai Stevenson (played by Henry Fonda) against a JFK-like incarnation (Cliff Robertson), both vying for a former president’s approval. The shards of political courtship carry the tang of Obama having to mitigate his allegiances with Sanders and his former secretary of state Clinton. Vidal adapted his stage play, Franklin J. Schaffner (who helmed “Planet of the Apes” and “Patton”) directs and Lee Tracy was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor for his turn as the ailing former president, casting an ostensible nod to Harry Truman.   Continue reading

The Nice Guys

23 May

Shane Black, once evisceration fodder alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Predator” and a top-paid screenwriter “The Long Kiss Goodnight” in the 1990s, has been something of a rebirth monkey within the studio system – last seen directing an “Iron Man” installment and now, as writer and director, serving up something very retro, macho and immensely entertaining.

052016i The Nice GuysIn “The Nice Guys” we’re hanging out in Los Angeles circa 1977 where the neon buzz of “Boogie Nights” is everywhere and the veins of corruption, akin to “L.A. Confidential” and “Chinatown,” run deep. It’s in this tawdry underbelly that Jackson Healy (a paunchy Russell Crowe) makes a living by punching people in the face. Got a stalker? Want them off your back? Give Healy a few bucks and the problem’s solved. Healy would like to be something more than a hatchet but isn’t certain he’s got the goods to cut it as a private detective, though he might make a better one than Holland March (Ryan Gosling), a lush who talks so much he reveals all his cards before the hand’s dealt. To be fair, he’s coping with the loss of his wife and trying to raise a preteen daughter (Angourie Rice, channeling the sass of Jodie Foster and Tatum O’Neal in the 1970s).

The two get tossed together after a porn actress named Misty Mountains dies in a car crash (one that is both a fulfillment of a 12-year-old boy’s ultimate fantasy and a cagey homage to Brian De Palma’s “Blow Out”) and her aunt, who wears Coke-bottle bottoms for glasses, insists she’s still alive and hires March to find her; another interested party hires Healy to get March off the case. The reluctant pairing of the two isn’t as stark as Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in “48 Hrs.,” but it is a near equal stroke of genius. Gosling is something of a dopey James Rockford infused with a splash of Ratso Rizzo, while Crowe fills the screen as a weary bull, unsure of himself but quick to act with his hands. They hop from one hot situation to the next – a porn pool party with Earth, Wind and Fire in the house and March’s daughter unexpectedly in tow – unraveling a growing conspiracy that seems to choke the city almost as much as the pervasive smog.

Black layers in devilish sight gag after sight gag with smooth pulpy nuance, while maintaining the requisite forward motion. Nothing about the film feels contrived, though you think there should be a moment of pause somewhere. Much of the reason there isn’t any is because Black’s all in, and so are Crowe and Gosling. Their play off each other is one for the ages. It’s a noirish delight that both puts its arm around you with avuncular warmth and smashes you in the face. Black loads up the reels and never relents.

Angry Birds

23 May

It’s been in the works for years – perhaps too many. The game, once the hottest thing you could have on your iDevice, has become the “Asteroids” of the now. (In short, irrelevant.) That and logic aside, here it comes, just what we all needed, the “Angry Birds” in their very own movie.

051916i Angry BirdsIf you haven’t experienced the game, wasting away the hours by mindlessly launching flightless birds beak-first at roly-poly laughing green pigs in rickety fortresses, consider yourself lucky. Even if you got caught up in the craze, you probably had no idea why the birds couldn’t fly. The bigger-screen animation, in which flightless avians live on a remote island in a bird-only community, never really answers the question either, but we do gain insight into Red (Jason Sudeikis), the stout ostensible cardinal with Groucho Marx eyebrows and anger issues. The sassy bird, we learn, was an orphan. As a result of his intolerable behavior, Red lands in an anger management school led by a yogini who farts sparkling radiation that can take out a few houses. She’s not the only one with odd talents; there’s a pudgy grouse called Bomb (Danny McBride), who can level a treehouse with his flatulence if riled. It brings a whole new meaning to “Birdie, birdie, in the sky.”

None of this, or the legend of Peter Dinklage’s Mighty Eagle character, really matters much. For his misdoings Red’s essentially cast out of the village and sulks in a pretty swank seaside villa until a tricked-out Mayflower leaden with green pigs drops anchor – right on Red’s digs. They’ve got technology, a devious leader (Bill Hader) and a yen for eggs. The pigs pilfer the eggs and make off across the sea, leaving behind a humongous slingshot.

The path of misfits becoming heroes and shameless acquiescence by leaders – letting invaders into their midst when the veiled guise is so obvious – serve more as plot points than provide real meaning. The risks of false idols and the importance of relying on yourself may be the biggest takeaways, but overall the film’s a long play of a video game barely propped up by plot and stock personalities. Dinklage, Sean Penn and other celebs lend their voices (there’s even a Judge Peckinpah in there, performed by Keegan-Michael Key), but it’s on the down low, swept under with a feather duster, loaded into a slingshot and lobbed into the theater as a benign, pleasurable waste of 90 minutes. It’s probably far more rewarding that attaining Level 53 in “Angry Birds 3” on your iPhone, though.

Captain America: Civil War

6 May

The good news about the latest Marvel project to land on the screen is that it’s livelier and more entertaining than the other “Avenger” offerings – even if this one technically waves the “Captain America” banner. “Captain America: Civil War” is a follow-up to the last Cap adventure, “The Winter Soldier,” with Cap’s troubled old pal and fellow modified, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) at the heart of the drama again. If you don’t recall, Bucky’s a Manchurian candidate of sorts, a brainwashed mercenary with a bionic arm who’s just as nails-tough and superhuman as Cap. In short, he’s lethal, and because his brain’s been scrambled and put back, he’s a sleeper cell who’s been in the hands of wrong-minded parties.

050516i Captain America- Civil WarThis has ramifications across the Avengers’ alliance. Bucky’s been underground since Cap put him down, but shadowy images show Bucky pulling off an assassination in Africa and there’s something about a 1991 incident for which we keep going back to video footage and getting new insight what happened and how the pebbles of one cold act ripple through time.

In the now, those ripples have become waves that put the square and righteous Captain America (Sudbury’s Chris Evans) at odds with old steel claptrap, aka Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), first over an accord that seeks to limit the Avengers’ doings because too much collateral damage has befallen the world (a diverted bomb blowing up a building full of innocents, for instance) and later because of darker reasons tied to that mysterious 1991 incident.

When Stark and Cap square off, the teams line up for a street rumble of sorts. You could think of it as the Sharks vs. the Jets. It’s more chest pounding and posturing, and while there’s no Hulk or Thor in the mix, Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), newly drafted, steal the show with wide-eyed naiveté and mini-man maxims. it’s a delicious add to the regular bang-boom-pow auto cycle. Many of the usual suspects, such as Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and other additions, such as Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), fall into the background; Vision (Paul Bettany) like the similar-colored and suited Spider-Kid, gets some of the best dialogue, especially cooking a meal for the Scarlet Witch to ease her anxieties – the kicker being that he has no idea what paprika or food tastes like, as he’s never eaten. Continue reading

High Rise

5 May

When the Poseidon Adventure came out during the tumultuous 1970s with Nixon in the White House, there were those who saw the capsized ocean liner as a metaphor for a society that had been upended. Much like Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer, the new film from British avant-goremeister Ben Wheatley, High Rise,turns to a spiritually similar device to explore a civilization’s descent into madness. In this case, it’s the titular high rise in which the wealthy and privileged live. Inside, various cliques compete for the best party, the best booze, and the best women, all in their depraved pursuit of libertine activity.

Sound off the hook? Wheatley’s latest definitely is — you might even call it gonzo. All of this is to be expected considering the director’s previous films, Kill List, a hitman saga that veers off into Wicker Man territory, and A Field in England, a nutty, black-and-white psychedelic epic. High Rise, based on the novel of the same name by the edgy futurist J. G. Ballard, is a frenetic, sometimes incoherent, dystopian roller coaster ride that ultimately comes together. Continue reading