Wednesday, February 11, 2015

100 Words on ... My Man Godfrey

As daffy Park Avenue princess Irene Bullock, Carole Lombard sometimes veers from comically disarming child-woman to annoying brat, but her character’s wide-open innocence is the perfect foil for the guarded grace of William Powell’s Godfrey in this shimmery, silver-and-black Deco dream. Characters are deftly revealed or reformed as Godfrey leaves a camp for homeless men to be the butler—and the voice of reason—for Irene’s pampered, “nutty” family. Helped by a stellar supporting cast (this film was the first to get Oscar nominations in all four acting categories), director Gregory La Cava, who started his career in animation, maintains an atmosphere of controlled chaos, whether he’s packing the frame with a roiling mass of bad behavior or homing in on Godfrey and Irene as they play out their improbable, inevitable courtship.

Written for The L Magazine

Monday, February 9, 2015

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem is part of a recent spate of excellent films about—and often by—Israeli women, including Zero Motivation, S#x Acts, and Jellyfish. But while those others feature situations that could easily have played out in any industrialized Western nation, Gett's Viviane Amsalem (Ronit Elkabetz) is trapped by misogynistic religious laws that feel shockingly archaic.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Seventh Son

Time-lapse photography, a bombastic soundtrack, and a swirling 3D camera partial to taking aerial shots of mountaintops and whooshing down into underground prisons are just some of the tools Seventh Son employs to grab audiences—and that's just in the first one or two minutes. In one scene, smoke appears as if it might spill right into the movie theater, but director Sergei Bodrov mostly uses the 3D format as a way of heightening the effect of scary things flying rapidly across the screen. And if you've seen one witch transform herself into a dragon and swoop toward the camera, you've seen them all, so by the third or fourth time you may find yourself thinking how much more lifelike Peter Jackson's Smaug felt, or how much scarier that flying-cloud-of-smoke effect was when it depicted Dementors in the Harry Potter films.

100 Words on ... The Palm Beach Story

Gerry (Claudette Colbert) is a gloriously self-assured young beauty whose determination to leave her husband for someone who can keep her in ball gowns and diamonds would be hateful if she weren’t so matter-of-fact about it—and so in love with the comically earnest hunk (Joel McCrea). With Robert Dudley as a cranky but lovable old millionaire, William Demarest and a gaggle of other distinctive character actors as the rowdy members of the Ale and Quail club, and Rudy Vallee as a sweet nerd who just happens to be one of the richest men in the country, Gerry has plenty of suitors. She spars with them gently, sparkling with game merriment and irrepressible joie de vivre in this cheery raspberry to marriage and other pious institutions.    Written for The L Magazine

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Cake is a study of grief that drowns in a cold bath of grim self-pity. It introduces the prickly, disheveled Claire (Jennifer Aniston) at a workshop for chronic-pain sufferers, where she's pressed to talk about the recent suicide of a group member named Nina (Anna Kendrick). Their leader (Felicity Huffmann) seems infuriatingly certain that her processing formula will allow the group to efficiently dispense with feelings as complex as the shock of losing a colleague to a temptation many are wrestling with themselves. In the face of that programmatic, bullying "empathy," Claire's sardonic defiance reads like heroic truth-telling. But as the film drags on, the character's brusque insistence on speaking her mind is almost always applied to undeserving targets, like her still loving and supportive ex-husband (Chris Messina) or her saintly housekeeper, Silvana (Adriana Barraza), whose empathy floods every scene she's in, setting Claire's chilly self-absorption into even sharper relief. In time, Claire's behavior begins to read as the bitterness of an entitled person who doesn't much care how her actions affect anyone else.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Gangs of Wasseypur

A cheeky repudiation of traditional Bollywood treacle, director-cowriter Anurag Kashyap’s gangster saga is a little bit Tarantino, a little bit Coppola, a little bit Scorsese, and ultimately all his own. Thanks to title cards and a voiceover by Nasir Ahmed (Piyush Mishra), a friend of the gangster Khan family around whom the action revolves, the two-part, 5-hour-plus saga charts the bloody rise and fall of three generations of the family while providing a crash course in Indian politics from shortly before independence to the present.

100 Words On... His Girl Friday

Perhaps the greatest of prewar Hollywood’s comedies of remarriage, His Girl Friday is a fast-talking, word-drunk joy. Roz Russell and Cary Grant spar and spark as Hildy Johnson and Walter Burns, Hawksian heroes who see clearly, feel deeply, and keep the patter light. As a canny newspaper editor and his ex-wife, who is also his star writer, they’re so effortlessly in tune with each other and so good at their jobs that Hildy’s attempt to quit and keep house for her sweet, boring fiancé (Ralph Bellamy) is clearly doomed. But oh, the fun to be had in watching Walter contrive to make her stay, in a battle of wits they both wound up winning.

Written for The L Magazine

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Play and Involuntary

For Ruben Östlund, a movie camera is an instrument of provocation and exploration. Often shooting his subjects from above or from a great distance in order to emphasize their relationship to one another, he studies his own culture like an anthropologist, dissecting social norms and looking for patterns in the ways individuals relate to one another.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Taken 3

The latest, and ostensibly final, installment in the Taken series has landed on our doorstep with a heavy thud. Directed by the aptly named Olivier Megaton and co-written and produced by Luc Besson, the film is, like its predecessors, a numbing exercise in overkill. Once more, ex-special ops agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) goes into superhero mode, this time to find out who murdered his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), and pinned the blame on him. And once more, ubiquitous aerial shots, swirling cameras, and pounding music strain to make even something as innocuous as an establishing shot of Los Angeles's jammed freeways feel as significant as the dispiritingly frequent chase scenes, gunfights, and beatings. Broken up into quick cuts and often filmed from confusing angles, the action seems aimed less at cluing us in on what's happening than simply amping up our adrenaline—and masking the impossibility of some of Mills's literally superhuman feats and escapes.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Episodes Season 4

Television veterans and real-life couple David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik do all the heavy lifting on Episodes, writing every word and directing and producing each episode. Klarik says he writes for revenge, and one can feel the sting of anger in sequences like the montage in the second episode of the show's fourth season. Grotesquely cheery insincerity reaches monumental heights as network executives shower the show's main characters, husband-wife writers Beverly (Tamsin Greig) and Sean (Stephen Mangan) Lincoln, with compliments on the new TV series the pair are pitching, then promptly suggest changes that would undo its very essence.