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--not to mention one of the all-time great newspaper stories--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.