Monday, September 8, 2014

My Old Lady












My Old Lady is basically a three-character play without a single character you can believe in. Mathias Gold (Kevin Kline), a penniless failed novelist and three-time divorcé, arrives in Paris to sell the stately apartment his father has just bequeathed to him. But he can't take possession, he learns, as long as Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith), his elderly tenant, is alive, because she sold the apartment to his father under France's viager system, in which a buyer gets a property in exchange for a low down payment and a commitment to pay the seller a monthly fee for the rest of his or her life. Mathias makes an uncomfortable and highly unlikely arrangement with Mathilde, settling into an empty room in the apartment to wait for her to die. When he's not learning about her past or haranguing her about his, he's selling Mathilde's furniture piece by piece behind her back to finance his stay, or trying to find a way to dislodge her and her daughter, Chloe (Kristin Scott Thomas), a tart-tongued woman who takes an instant dislike to him.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Starred Up











Starred Up opens in a dark anteroom where 16-year-old Eric Love (Jack O'Connell) is being processed into a prison for adults, a status he earned (the Brits call it being "starred up") due to the violence and the frequency of his crimes. O'Connell plays Eric as a near-feral survivor of abuse and neglect; his movements economical and confident, he carries himself like a cat, quick to react to a threat and prone to bursts of ferocity. Soon after arriving, Eric nearly kills a fellow prisoner who's done him no harm and then battles the guards who try to subdue him, creating a standoff by taking one man's penis in his mouth through his pants and threatening to bite it off. Though this preemptive strike is presumably intended to keep the other prisoners at bay, it has the opposite effect, earning Eric the enmity of powerful alpha dogs like one of the guards who runs the prison and the suave prisoner who unofficially runs Eric's unit and doesn't want some crazy kid causing trouble on his turf. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Are You Here












When TV weatherman Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson) asks for his job back after quitting in disgust following years of bad behavior, he’s startled to be welcomed back—and given a promotion. “Jeez, what do you have to do to get fired around here?” he asks.

You might ask the same thing of Matthew Weiner, the writer/director/producer of this rambling, tedious film, which keeps going and going but never gets anywhere. Stumbling from unfunny “comedy,” like an icky, overlong sequence in which Steve kills a chicken, to drama that’s generally either unconvincing or overplayed, Are You Here can’t settle on a tone.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Coldwater







There's a certain kind of fantasy, appealing to teenagers, that involves imagining yourself in a situation harsh enough to justify the alienation and rage flooding your soul. The attraction is the perverse satisfaction of enduring nightmarish scenarios, no matter how high the deck is stacked against you. Coldwater has the feel of one of those fantasies, from its melodramatic mixture of grandiosity and powerlessness to its view of the world as a torture-chamber crucible for an angry young man who has to grow up too fast. So it comes as no surprise that writer-director Vincent Grashaw wrote the film's first draft soon after graduating high school.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey












In The Hundred-Foot Journey, the Kadam family—-doe-eyed Hassan (Manish Dayal), a chef who learned all he knows from his mother; his bullheaded father, referred to only as Papa (Om Puri); and Papa's four other children—-leave India when their family restaurant is torched. The fire, a hate crime that incinerates Hassan's mother, is described only as the result of "some election" and quickly dismissed, as there's no place for grief in this upbeat dramedy.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

100 Words On ... Annie Hall












Annie Hall was supposed to be a murder mystery and a psychological anatomy of Alvy Singer, the first of Woody Allen’s alpha neurotics. But when the footage proved lifeless in the editing room, the filmmakers reworked it radically, focusing on Singer’s relationship with Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). The result is one of cinema’s great love stories, a funny, tender tribute to one very specific, goofily lovely woman that also speaks to all the loves we’ve ever lost, thanks to a built-in running commentary (including jokes and asides Singer delivers to the camera) on everything from the nature of love to the perils of living too much in your head.

Written for The L Magazine

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Master Builder














“I would like to tell you a very strange story—I mean, if you’d be willing to listen to it,” title character Halvard Solness (Wallace Shawn) says in A Master Builder, a production headed by Shawn (who wrote the screenplay from his own translation of Henrik Ibsen’s play) and his longtime collaborator Andre Gregory (who adapted it for the stage and plays another of the main roles), with the help of Jonathan Demme, who the two recruited to direct. Halvard’s line, which could easily have come from either of the two old friends’ other films, is spoken early enough to feed our hopes that A Master Builder will follow in the nimble footsteps of My Dinner with Andre and Vanya on 42nd Street, deftly exploring human nature and the nature of language—both the stories we tell and the things we leave unspoken. Unfortunately, this film is as flatfooted as the others are agile.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Land Ho!












The industrial-strength whine of an unseen engine dominates the opening moments of Land Ho! What could it be? A plane getting about to take off for some exotic place? A chainsaw preparing to rip through something--or someone? Nope, it’s a vacuum cleaner, wielded by Mitch (played by Earl Lynn Nelson, co-director Martha Stephens’ second cousin). Mitch, we soon learn, is a recently retired surgeon who’s cleaning up a bit before his favorite ex-brother-in-law, Colin (Paul Eenhoorn) comes over for dinner.

That aural punch line is a nice introduction to this deadpan but lively film, which presents everyday situations and encounters with just enough of a twist to focus our attention on them. And you’ve got to savor the small stuff, as Land Ho! gently reminds us, because those seemingly inconsequential moments make up the warp and the weft of our lives.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2014: The Supreme Price














The recent kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls by the terrorist group Boko Haram highlighted many of the problems that are corroding civil society in Nigeria, including a brutal and growing disregard for women's rights and a government that is as ineffective at protecting its citizens as it is adept at punishing them. Those are the problems that Hafsat Abiola, the heroine of The Supreme Price, is devoting her life to addressing.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

100 Words on ... Elena











An homage to the beloved older sister cowriter-director Petra Costa lost when she was 7 years old, Elena is a detailed anatomy of grief—-and a poetic tribute to life, love, and the transformative power of art. Costa combines family video, photos and testimonials from her sister with new footage of herself and New York, the city where she retraces the contours of Elena’s life and explores its effect on her own. Her entrancing, beautiful footage frequently features blurred images, soft colors, slow pans, slow motion, and scenes involving water, which set the stage for her concluding metaphor for the healing power of time: “Little by little, the pain turns to water, becomes memory.”

Written for The L Magazine