Sneaking in under the wire to qualify for the Oscar nominations, one or two of which it might get, Promised Land–written by its stars, Matt Damon and John Krasinski–might just get patronized by Hollywood types watching its screener at the Polo Lounge. Its lazy publicity gives off an aromatic mixture of predictable Americana, but don’t you believe it: This is a B-plus movie beautifully acted–again credit Damon and Krasinski, with Frances McDormand–with a story by the great Dave Eggers.
The New Year holiday always brings out confusing emotions in me: bittersweet and nostalgic regret for the year just passed, unadulterated stress for what might lie ahead, the constant reminder that I’m one year closer to being dead. I may need to talk to someone, especially since we’ve just come through the other end of 2012, a year in which we were forced to confront our mortality in more ways than were comfortable.
Film Reviews / By now, we’re all familiar with Peter Jackson’s long, drawn-out, expositional style of filmmaking, in which the first hour–the so-called “popcorn hour”–amps up to a majestic battle of good versus evil, or in one case, a giant primate going berserk in Manhattan. At best, the long lead-in creates suspense and excitement, but when the droll fluff begins to cloy, we moviegoers suffer.
Before we get to Film of the Year . .
Oscar-bound, and for all the right reasons, the cunning true-life story in The Sessions is based on the writings of Mark O’Brien, iron-lung-encased polio victim, who, at age 38, decided to seek out a sex therapist to help him lose his virginity. He does, finding a compatible spirit in the form of Cheryl Greene, as played by Helen Hunt, returning triumphantly here to the screen in a starring role.
The drama of a prisoner and the long-suffering woman/mother/child who waits for him was a cornerstone of the Depression–and Depression-era movies–when life was lived on the margins and the system created miscreants (see: Criminal, They Made Me A). Indeed, my great-uncle, Robert Tasker, a convict at San Quentin in the early ‘30s, wrote chain-gang and jailhouse movies upon his release.
A collision of West and East, the Chinese-made Dangerous Liaisons doesn’t run away from the -isms that typically imprison works of art in cages of politically determined rhetoric. With a wave of a cigarette holder, it pleads guilty of Orientalism, exoticism, Francophilism, gaze-ism and probably some others yet to be invented in the halls of academe.
Do audiences care whether a movie is biochemical (imprinted on film, as it has been for a hundred years) or digital (no film involved–images converted into numbers and then turned back into images when projected)? Probably not, although it appears that one day digital will have higher image resolution.
When we were young and just acquiring a taste for Junior Mints and Jujubes, a movie meant only one thing: fun. There were varieties of fun–thrilling, spooky, slapstick, virtually any of The Spawn of Godzilla–but that was the promise, and the joy, of going to the movies (along with meeting up with your friends and scoping out the other kids).
Passing through a tunnel on the way home after his first Homecoming dance, his first high school party and his first “special” brownie with the first friends he’s had since his best friend killed himself, Charlie looks up at Sam standing in the truck bed with her arms outstretched as Patrick cranks up David Bowie’s “Heroes” on the radio. With the lights rushing past them he turns and says, “I feel infinite.” And it makes sense in the suspended transition of growing up but not really going anywhere.
Written and directed by playwright Martin McDonagh (the sublime In Bruges), the beautifully cast Seven Psychopaths is right next door to ultraviolence but delivers big laughs to a tough-minded audience. The story is what used to be called zany, but it’s also foul-mouthed (sometimes inspiredly so) and inventive.