Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Review: The Overnighters (2014)

* * * 1/2

Director: Jesse Moss

No good deed goes unpunished, and the central figure of Jesse Moss' documentary The Overnighters learns that the hard way. His loss, though, is Moss' gain as the director has the kind of good luck similar to that of Lauren Greenfield, the director of the great 2012 documentary The Queen of Versailles, in terms of being in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. Having set up the cameras to capture one kind of compelling story - in this case the North Dakota oil boom and the related problem of a town unprepared for and unable to meet its sudden and dramatic increase in population - Moss is there and ready when an even more compelling story begins unfolding out that original one. Like The Queen of Versailles, I would argue that The Overnighters is a film that very much captures how things are now in our socio-economically unbalanced and increasingly unsustainable times, and as a result it's a film that inspires frustration, heartbreak, and astonishment in equal measure.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

21st Century Essentials: Bad Education (2004)

All eras have works of art that are fundamental to our understanding of not only the craft itself, but the culture from which it was created. The 21st century is still nascent, but it isn't too early to start creating a canon that demonstrates the heights to which film as an artform has reached since the year 2000. These are the essential films:

Director: Pedro Almodovar
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Fele Martinez
Country: Spain

No one does it quite like Pedro Almodovar. Who else could so successfully make a noirish melodrama about a sexually fluid/opportunistic young man willing to do anything to become a star, including exploit a story of child sexual abuse for his own gain, and do so in a way that depicts the perpetrator of that abuse as, if not “sympathetic,” exactly, then at least as another kind of victim? In Bad Education, a film with a movie within the movie and where the division between life and art is as malleable as the notions of “truth” and “identity,” Almodovar does just that and manages to create a narratively complex, ambitious, daring, and provocative film – but, of course, pretty much all of Almodovar’s films can be described using all of those words.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Canadian Film Review: Mommy (2014)

* * * 1/2

Director: Xavier Dolan
Starring: Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clement, Antoine Olivier Pilon

Often in film, family dysfunction is presented as "quirkiness," an eccentricity played for laughs and something that is ultimately harmless and, when push comes to shove, makes the family unit stronger. Xavier Dolan's Mommy goes in a different direction, centering on the kind of dysfunction that is painful and exhausting, on a son whose often violent outbursts can't be anticipated let alone controlled, and on a mother who is so overwhelmed and lacking in support that her love for her son may never be enough. Thematically, Mommy is one of Dolan's most mature and sensitive films (I'd say that Laurence Anyways is the only one that truly gives it a run for its money in that regard), though like all the director's films it can be exhilarating and trying in equal measure - sometimes even within the same scene.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ten Years Later... Guess Who (2005)

On this day in 2005

Though never quite as daring as it likes to give itself credit for, Stanley Kramer's 1967 film Guess Who's Coming To Dinner is nevertheless considered a landmark Hollywood movie, one which gently spoon-fed issues of racism and race relations to a white audience at a time when social/political tensions were at a particular high and when other films such as In The Heat of the Night (which was nominated alongside Guess Who's Coming To Dinner for Best Picture and won) offered a more blistering and hard-edged picture of the times. Seen today, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner seems quaint and not a little bit problematic, but you can at least argue that it had a point it was trying to make and it had its heart in the right place even if it expressed that in ways that are sometimes misguided. The point of the 2005 loose remake Guess Who is anyone's guess, given that though its entire premise is to invert the "white woman brings a black man home to meet her parents" story of the first, it remains awfully shy about actually addressing issues of race save for a few jokes tossed in here and there to remind the audience that it is allegedly a remake of that earlier film.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Netflix Recommends... This Means War (2012)

* *

Director: McG
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hardy, Chris Pine

Recommended to me based on my having watched Warrior, which also starred Tom Hardy so at least there's some scrap of reasoning behind it. Because I remembered how poorly This Means War was received when it was released in 2012, my expectations for this movie were extremely low but, much to my surprise, I actually sort of enjoyed it. It's not a good movie by any means - it's ridiculous, all over the place, and parts of it are extremely problematic (more on that later), but it's also weirdly fascinating with respect to its not at all subtle gay subtext. Seriously, This Means War is rivaled only by Top Gun in the "they have to be doing this on purpose" department. It's amazing, and it's pretty much the only reason to see this one, unless you're just curious to see Tom Hardy in his least "Tom Hardy-like" role.