by Bill Chambers There's something a little ghoulish about
still reviewing TIFF movies at this late date, I know, but I wanted to briefly touch on
a few of this year's selections I never got around to reviewing in full, before they became indistinguishable dots in the rearview.
Après mai **½/**** written and directed by Olivier Assayas
by Angelo Muredda Those who see Olivier Assayas's new film
stateside will be met with an ambivalent gesture right from the title card,
which juxtaposes the Godardian red and blue of the French title, "APRES
MAI" ("After May"), with the mousy English translation,
"Something in the Air." The French is the more precise, referring to
the dispirited state of radicals following the events of May, 1968, while
Thunderclap Newman's yearning anthem about armed insurrection evokes only a
roughly simpatico version of late-'60s American idealism falling into '70s
cynicism. Vague as the English title reads by comparison, though, it turns out
to be the more fitting of the two. Indeed, for all of Assayas's personal
attachment to this material, Something in the Air isn't significantly more illuminating
about the period than something like Almost
Famous, which uses the titular song to roughly the same effect, evincing
the same impossible nostalgia for a time when everyone was supposedly moving
together on one big bus, so to speak.
by Angelo Muredda There's a lot to love in Frances Ha, but the highlight
is surely a tracking shot of star, muse, and co-writer Greta Gerwig clumsily
bounding through the streets of Brooklyn to the sounds of David Bowie's "Modern
Love." (In a daily
dispatch for mubi.com, Fernando Croce astutely toasts her "galumphing
radiance.") You could read this moment as either a joyous corrective to
Michael Fassbender's miserable NYC jog in Shame or a direct lift, down to the song's
abrupt stop, from Leos Carax's Mauvais
sang--think of Gerwig as the
Ginger to Denis Lavant's Fred. Or you could just accept it as the clearest
expression of the film's ambling structure: a lovely headlong dive through
traffic en route to somewhere safe but rewarding.
ZERO STARS/**** Image D Sound D
starring Christine Ebersole, Jonathan Ward, Katrina Caspary, Lauren Stanley
screenplay by Stewart Raffill and Steve Feke
directed by Stewart Raffill
by Walter Chaw One of the most woeful and dispiriting films ever made, Stewart Raffill's Mac and Me qualifies as a hate crime. It's a feature-length commercial for McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Skittles, and Sears masquerading as a rip-off of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial ("MAC" = "Mysterious Alien Creature") that, what with Alan Silvestri's awful score, indicates that it's also ripping off Back to the Future during a key scene in which our wheelchair-bound hero, Eric (Jade Calegory), grabs the fender of a passing car and hitches his way to relative safety. Chips it might earn for casting an actual disabled kid in the role are cashed in when it's revealed that Eric's wrinkled-flesh puppet alien pal can only be sustained on this island earth by a combination of Coke and Skittles. It's enough to put you off not only junk food, but movies altogether. There's a place in Hell reserved for the clowns who peddle stuff like this (Ronald McDonald makes a cameo in the picture, and an even longer one in the trailer)--the movie is so venal and grasping in its conception, so astonishingly inept in its execution, that upon death, Raffill and writing partner Steve Feke should have this piece of crap projected onto their caskets to counter the pain of their passing. I'm serious. Mac and Me lowers the conversation for everyone, to the extent that it's almost a satire of greed and corporate malfeasance. Show it in a double-bill with Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room for an example of what corporations think they can get away with--and what they do.
by Bill Chambers 27 according to the IMDb but convincingly
aged down, Tatiana Maslany gives a star-making performance in Picture Day
as 18-year-old Claire, who's forced to repeat the twelfth grade after failing
math and phys-ed. It seems obvious that she in fact chose not to be jettisoned
from the womb of high school just yet, though she shows little interest in
actually attending classes, to the consternation of the vice principal
(Catherine Fitch). ("You can't stay in high school forever, Claire,"
the VP tells her. "You did," Claire snaps.) One day, she joins a kid
who's deviated from his gym class to smoke up--are teenage potheads really this
brazen now?--and discovers that he's Henry (Spencer Van Wyck), the timid boy
she used to babysit, all grown up. A science wiz who turned down a
private-school education (he sort of resents his intellect--plus, it was an
all-boys academy), he even grows his own marijuana, in a closet that contains,
among other things, a shrine to Claire filled with enough traces of her
DNA--chewed gum, soiled tissues, hair bands--that one wonders if he intends to
****/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B+ starring Richard Dreyfuss, Ronny Howard, Paul Le Mat, Charlie Martin Smith screenplay by George Lucas and Gloria Katz & Willard Hyuck directed by George Lucas
by Jefferson Robbins The skeleton key to George Lucas's American Graffiti isn't in its setting--the cruising culture of exurban southern California, 1962, as witnessed by young participants with the '50s at their back and Vietnam ahead. Instead, it's disassembled and scattered throughout the text, oblique until it becomes obvious. There's the front-seat monologue recited by Laurie (Cindy Williams) for the benefit of her drifting boyfriend Steve ("Ronny" Howard): "It doesn't make sense to leave home to look for home, to give up a life to find a new life." It sounds like her own reverie, but in fact she's quoting an offscreen speech by her college-bound brother Curt (Richard Dreyfuss), who earlier in the film has a hushed alleyway talk with the "cool" teacher (Terence McGovern) who washed out of an artsy New England school and came back to shape young minds in his diesel-scented hometown. This teacher's name, as it happens, is Mr. Wolfe. It's not so much that you can't go home again as that home changes under your very feet. The instinct to cling to its first incarnation--Curt's fondling of his old school locker, John Milner's (Paul Le Mat) continued mingling with high-school kids at roughly age twenty--is really a hope that you'll find something just as valuable in the wider world you know you must face.
THE COLOR PURPLE ***/**** DVD - Image A- Sound A- Extras A- BLU-RAY - Image A Sound A Extras A- starring Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Adolph Caesar, Margaret Avery screenplay by Menno Meyjes, based on the novel by Alice Walker directed by Steven Spielberg
EVE'S BAYOU **½/**** Image B Sound B Extras B+ starring Samuel L. Jackson, Lynn Whitfield, Debbi Morgan, Vondie Curtis-Hall written and directed by Kasi Lemmons
by Bill Chambers In the prologue to Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple, black sisters Celie (Desreta Jackson) and Nettie (Akosua Busia) play patty-cake in a field of blue-pink flowers. Celie, the ugly duckling, is pregnant with her second illegitimate child, and when she has the baby, her father (Leonard Jackson) cruelly whisks it away to a new home, as he did her firstborn. Later, her father disposes of Celie, too, betrothing her to Albert, a.k.a. "Mister" (Danny Glover), a vicious stranger on horseback seeking Nettie's hand in marriage. Concerned with more than just lonely Celie (Whoopi Goldberg as an adult) summoning the confidence to defy Albert (less through her own sexual awakening, as in The Color Purple's source material, than through a cultivated sisterhood with the women in her orbit), the picture examines a generation of emancipated African-American men who, poisoned by the slave mentality, treat their women like Cinderella in a misguided salvo to independence. Shit rolls downhill, in other words.
***½/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras A- starring Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, David Proval, Amy Robinson screenplay by Martin Scorsese and Mardik Martin directed by Martin Scorsese
by Bill Chambers I had my suspicion that there is no archetypal Martin Scorsese fan perhaps confirmed for me after doing an oral presentation on him in my "American Cinema" class: A football jock taking the course as an elective sauntered up to me asking to borrow my tape of Mean Streets. He couldn't believe there existed anything like the scene I had just shown--the one where Harvey Keitel's Charlie takes Robert De Niro's Johnny Boy into the back room of their hangout to get to the bottom of Johnny Boy's unpaid dues--despite the strong scent of Abbott & Costello in its staccato rhythm. (For what it's worth, this is also the passage that convinced Warner execs to acquire the film.1) I immediately recognized the look in his eye, the Scorsese itch, and began to long for that first high, as they say; and I probably hope to become a mass enabler in reviewing Scorsese's work. Fitting that Mean Streets should be the catalyst for such nostalgia, marinated as it is in a mnemonic broth that makes the picture more explicitly autobiographical than Who's That Knocking At My Door, with Scorsese going so far as to use his own voice interchangeably with Keitel's when Charlie's narrating the piece (or, more precisely, when Charlie's talking to God).
Sommaren med Monika ***/**** Image A Sound A Extras B- starring Harriet Andersson, Lars Ekborg, Dagmar Ebbesen, Åke Fridell screenplay by Per Anders Fogelström directed by Ingmar Bergman
click to enlarge
by Bryant Frazer In the annals of Early Bergman, Summer with Monika is The Big One--the international hit that established the striving Swede's cred as a major filmmaker. The irony is that it's among the slightest of his works. Its notoriety is mainly the result of a promotional campaign selling it as a sex film, using imagery that suggested a nudie pic rather than a melancholy (and cautionary) rumination on life, love, and gender relations. Of course, it wasn't just the trenchcoat brigade that turned out in force for a movie that was at one point evocatively retitled Monika, the Story of a Bad Girl(!). In fact, Monika was the one that made Woody Allen a lifelong Bergman fan. And it left a huge impression on Jean-Luc Godard, who, in 1958, wrote that Monika is "the most original film by the most original of directors," arguing that Bergman's loving photography of Harriet Andersson predated (and thus eclipsed) Fellini's widely lauded use of Guiletta Masina in a neo-realist mode in Nights of Cabiria, and that it surpassed in craft (mais oui!) Roger Vadim's employment of Bardot in And God Created Woman.
*½/**** Image A+ Sound A Extras B+ screenplay by Simon Wells & Wendy Wells, based on the book by Berkeley Breathed directed by Simon Wells
by Angelo Muredda It's hard to say who Mars Needs Moms was made for. An expensive but passionless special-effects exercise from yeoman director and co-screenwriter Simon Wells (The Time Machine) and producer Robert Zemeckis, who's put all his creative eggs since The Polar Express in the motion-capture basket, Mars Needs Moms sits uneasily with compatriots like The Pagemaster in the no man's land of children's films too dreary for most children to sit through. If it's too taxing a journey for kids, though, it's largely a bore for anyone else--a flat 80 minutes of animated bodies tumbling through metallic space chutes and neon hallways ripped from Tron: Legacy, scarcely made watchable by some of its impressive technological feats and by its surprisingly subdued tone, which at times borders on the elegiac.
***½/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras C+ starring Jacob Wysocki, Olivia Crocicchia, Creed Bratton, John C. Reilly screenplay by Patrick deWitt directed by Azazel Jacobs
by Angelo Muredda On paper, Terri looks insufferable. From its unfortunate trailer, which sells a uniform-outfitted protagonist and whimsical, quintessentially Sundance plot in which a young misfit bonds with a fortysomething man (John C. Reilly, naturally) and feels the first pangs of young love, you'd think it was assembled from the discarded organs of Wes Anderson movies past. What's most surprising about Terri, though, is its skepticism towards the calculated quirkiness of botched American indies about social rejects. When people behave strangely in this film, it isn't the result of a screenwriter groundlessly insisting on his creations' idiosyncrasy (Natalie Portman is thankfully not on hand to make a series of unique sounds when dialogue dries up), but rather a token of what Reilly, in one of many lovely moments, affectionately calls the "unknowability" of people. That curiosity about the unusual and sometimes dark impulses that decent individuals wrestle with makes director Azazel Jacobs's first feature since 2008's Momma's Man something special: a humane portrait of people who speak in fits and starts, throw inappropriate temper tantrums, and awkwardly test their sexual boundaries. Most importantly, it doesn't presume to have its young protagonists figured out. The result is an affecting twist on the coming-of-age narrative, as well as a rare film about teenagers that's in no hurry to turn the amorphousness of late adolescence into something solid and prescriptive.
**½/**** Image A+ Sound A Extras C starring Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Kevin Bacon screenplay by Dan Fogelman directed by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
by Angelo Muredda There's a pretty good movie inside Crazy, Stupid, Love., but no one involved seems to put much trust in it. Lightly melancholic and affecting when it finds its cast at their manic lows, the film at first cavalierly launches its ensemble like discrete pinballs, to great comic effect, only to collapse in a fit of contrived set-pieces torn from the Paul Haggis playbook. It's a shame. If the third act's everyone-at-the-garden-party resolution is economical, it's also distressingly uncrazy: a geometrically tidy solution to a film that's begging for something gawkier.
**/**** starring Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry screenplay by Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin, based on Alibar's play "Juicy and Delicious" directed by Benh Zeitlin
by Angelo Muredda The trailer for Beasts of the Southern Wild promises a harmless experience, but woe to anyone who goes in expecting a triumphal horn concert only to find Benh Zeitlin's accomplished yet exasperating debut, a libertarian wolf in a fuzzy Aurochs suit. That the film is far trickier than its marketing hook suggests is at once refreshing and troubling, given what it actually has up its sleeve. An oyster banquet pitched on a burial site, it's the sort of ethnographic celebration of a disenfranchised people that ends with the unspoken maxim, "And then they all died like men, and faded into legend."
***½/**** starring Anna Paquin, J. Smith-Cameron, Jean Reno, Matt Damon written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan
by Angelo Muredda The early word on Margaret was that it was a promising three-hour-plus city symphony wrested away in the editing room from writer-director Kenneth Lonergan. Still mired in legal troubles from the production over the course of its quiet release and critical resurgence last fall, Lonergan briefly spoke up to deny that what a coterie of critics and audience members had seen up to that point was damaged goods, admitting the 150-minute theatrical version is more or less his Director's Cut. While the Blu-ray release includes the famed longer version*, then, it bears mentioning that if the theatrical cut is a thwarted masterpiece, uneven but conceptually daring and powerful, it's very much Lonergan's thwarted masterpiece.
*½/**** Image A Sound B Extras C+ starring Aimee Teegarden, Thomas McDonnell, De'Vaughn Nixon, Danielle Campbell screenplay by Katie Welch directed by Joe Nussbaum
by Bill ChambersProm--not inconsequently promoted as "Disney Prom"--is an ensemble piece I'd love to call Altman-esque, but its major influence appears to be episodic television, specifically the seriocomedies one finds on Disney- owned and operated ABC Family. Much like that weekly dose of "Greek" or "The Secret Life of the American Teenager", Prom features multifold, compartmentalized storylines, a cast that meets the minimum requirements for forming a model U.N., an unyielding soundtrack geared towards dictating emotions and/or spurring iTunes downloads, and subject matter that alternates between light comedy and light controversy. Its ending even feels like that of a season finale--enough to tide viewers over during the summer, perhaps, but hardly the soaring stuff of Chuck Workman montages. Audiences seemed to sense that Prom was just going to place a big-screen surcharge on the type of thing they'd normally watch for free, and without any larger box-office incentives (3-D, a certified heartthrob, a pre-established character), the film barely recouped its paltry $10M budget.