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Recent Watches: ‘What is your threshold?’ Edition

SPRING BREAKERS

DIRECTED BY HARMONY KORINE

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The semblance of plot for Harmony Korine’s SPRING BREAKERS can be summed up in four college co-eds having this rite of passage in human debauchery while on Spring Break and how each young woman exits ground zero, St. Petersburg, Florida to be exact, reaching their threshold.  Nobody in the group grows from the spring break experience; there are no twists in discovering who these ladies really are or any shocks as to their actions that could not be found in their character introductions.  SPRING BREAKERS is not some coming of age, moralizing tale that passes judgment or condescending feelings toward its characters.  Frankly it feels like this epic poem from old mythology re-fitted with an interesting angle of gender politics into the sweaty Florida setting with a Skrillex soundtrack.  It documents the threshold of all four girls with a sense of style where the beauty and the grotesque get very interchangeable.   For its audience, SPRING BREAKERS does want us to drop our guard and try to realize the threshold we never thought we had amidst watching a movie that is sincerely absurd and absurdly sincere.   Personally, I was giggling and downright giddy toward the movie’s end surrounded by a baffled audience who thanks to the movie’s anti-marketing campaign (and props to co-distributors Annapurna Pictures and A24 for this method that paid off) thought they were in for a more disposable, linear, standard plot, broad movie.  So I guess I too will be cruising in my stolen Lamborghini out of hell. 

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Filed under annapurna pictures A24 SPRING BREAKERS Recent Watches Harmony Korine Selena Gomez James Franco movies of 2013 Ashley Benson Rachel Korine Vanessa Hudgens Skrillex 2013 films Spring Break Forever

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Recent Watches: Pulpy Political Cartoons Edition

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KILLING THEM SOFTLY

DIRECTED BY ANDREW DOMINIK

 This film is a political cartoon in hypertext that somehow came from one of the best crime novels of the last 50 years.  Do not consider KILLING THEM SOFTLY some run of the mill, typical crime thriller (from actually great source material).  Think of this film as John Milius does Doonesbury with some Cheech and Chong thrown in there for good measure (we will get to that later).  The George V. Higgins (same author of the book, THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE that later became an excellent vehicle for Robert Mitchum in the Peter Yates film of the same name) novel COGAN’S TRADE gets adapted in a modern parable where crime and the mob run parallel to the US Financial Crisis and 2008 Presidential Election.  It still takes place in Boston but due to the emergence of Boston-area crime thrillers thanks to natives Affleck and Wahlberg, it is sort of obvious this setting is not Boston but actually New Orleans.  Despite some of the Brad Pitt monologues, this film almost does not need to tell you what it is trying to say with dialogue with its visuals and news clips from 2008 playing in the background.  Wherein anybody could give a good guess as to what Kathryn Bigelow was trying to say with those news clips of Obama talking about torture on 60 Minutes or even the fact there is a brief George W. Bush at his faux-pinnacle with “Mission Accomplished” in ZERO DARK THIRTY, it is pretty super clear what Aussie Andrew Dominik (CHOPPER and THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD) is trying to demonstrate the parallels of crime, gambling, professional hits, and the American political and financial systems.  Yet the film still works in its very off-beat if unanticipated, unexpected way. 

 

First off, the film is one of the most beautifully shot films of the year.  Up there with Mihai Malaimare Jr.’s cinematography in THE MASTER.  DP Greig Fraser, who also did a much more subdued, intricate, guerrilla-styled, workmanlike but still engrossing handheld job as DP in ZERO DARK THIRTY, has given us another film where the camerawork is such an integral part of the story-telling.  The amount of contrast to those two pictures is astounding, and it is a shame he was nominated for neither film by the Academy Awards, but not surprising when one is objective camerawork for a procedural while this is a poetic verve of pulp.  A level of stylization and showboating are involved but it is not glamorizing the violence or drug-using in the film.  Rather, it informs the audience of the experience of these two major factors in exclamation points.  The hilarious drug scene in particular between Scoot McNairy’s Frankie and Ben Mendelsohn’s Russell shows the fact their drug experiences and human debauchery have, if anything, complicated their main job as these small-time crooks who earlier in the film are effectively robbing a gambling outfit.   McNairy, who had little to do in ARGO as one of the escaped US Embassy workers beyond looking a lot like the real Joe Stafford in 1979, is an actor to watch out for and I would say nearly walks away in this film but there are so many other solid performances to note. 

 

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Mendelsohn and McNairy (the only actor who really gives it his all with a Southie Boston accent- and a pretty damn good one at that) are really out to lunch as these sleazy criminals.   Mendelsohn (who speaks in his normal Australian brogue rather than that Sylvester the cat American accent he had in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES) is by far the least competent of the two, which makes his fate somehow more true to life.  McNairy is this oddly charming type of sleazeball that seems pretty prevalent in Higgins’ fiction- and also pretty much plays Cheech Marin to Mendelsohn’s Tommy Chong as (through the lens of the Rockefeller Drug Laws) criminal kind of way.

 The rest of the cast with James Gandolfini as Mickey the ex-hitman, Richard Jenkins who uses his bland, corporate man exterior as good cover for his darker side as a man connected to the mob, and Ray Liotta as the emasculated runner of the poker ring Russell and Frankie rob, are all pretty damn good and compelling in small doses that you wish more time was spent on the three.  Brad Pitt as Jackie Cogan is a little harder to enjoy or find anything really compelling about him beyond his character description as a hitman, dressed in black, ‘angel of death’ figure who survives on cynicism and on the fringes in both the trade of the criminal underground and the American political system.  It is a role of remarkably little note which is surprising when Dominik and Pitt still made the man behind the legend of Jesse James work so well despite being a pretty minor character in a largely ensemble piece. 

 

I saw the 97 minute cut piece rather than the 2 1/2 hour cut that made it to Cannes a year ago.  I felt like the film’s length was enough though I’d check out the initial cut if it meant more Mickey, Driver, Frankie, and Russell.  KILLING THEM SOFTLY is a minor film that will probably be best remembered by some of our finest character actors of today turning out great performances in ancillary roles and the cinematography of Greig Fraser- who you knew when producer Megan Ellison saw the shots and dailies had found Kathryn Bigelow her DP to fill Barry Ackroyd’s shoes for ZERO DARK THIRTY.  The film is no classic and likely aged during the whole time between its Cannes premiere and US premiere but it still leaves room for somebody to take another whack at COGAN’S TRADE while itself being a fascinating visual feast. 

Filed under Killing Them Softly Brad Pitt Scoot McNairy Richard Jenkins Ben Mendelsohn James Gandolfini crime movies Greig Fraser Cogan's Trade George V. Higgins Annapurna Pictures Megan Ellison The Weinstein Company Zero Dark Thirty Kathryn Bigelow Recent Watches Films of 2012 2012 in film The Friends of Eddie Coyle

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Recent Watches: A War of Futility Edition

ZERO DARK THIRTY

DIRECTED BY KATHRYN BIGELOW

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How can a film invoke most recently David Fincher’s ZODIAC and still be a murkier film despite its actual pay-off in the form of the killing of Osama bin Laden?  People seem to conveniently forget this project’s early beginnings would center around the failed Tora Bora assassination plot in the immediate aftermath of September 11th but that film could never be produced due to fear of it being box office poison.  Then May 1st, 2011 happened.  The film was changed but still a lingering sense of obsession, loss, dehumanization, and ultimate futility that captured the so-called “War on Terror” has its finger-prints all over ZERO DARK THIRTY, the most misunderstood and, not mutually exclusive, one of the best film releases of 2012.  This is a movie about loss but begins as a revenge movie.

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Filed under zero dark thirty kathryn bigelow mark boal the hurt locker torture jessica chastain maya zero dark thirty maya jason clarke kyle chandler jennifer ehle recent watches films of 2012 2012 films film reviews oscars 2012 david fincher zodiac ZD30

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Recent Watches: Their Mother’s Children Edition

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A ROYAL AFFAIR

DIRECTED BY NIKOLAJ ARCEL

This is not going to be a typical period piece and not just because Lars von Trier has an Executive Producer credit.  Most period pieces usually are not political and even in the situations where a royal’s rise or fall was due to politics, namely Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, it is usually avoided for the personal stories of those people in their time.  A ROYAL AFFAIR bucks that and is completely defined by its politics.  Yes, it remains a very lush production of nice costumes and locales, but it is a political film that even if you were unaware of the story it is based on or Danish politics, it is a film that surprises in showing a form of governing a nation largely seen as the most backwards and of the past actually portrayed as a force for change and progress. 

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Filed under A Royal Affair Alicia Vikander Denmark Mads Mikkelsen Mikkel Boe Folsgaard Nikolaj Arcel Oscar contenders films of 2012 foreign language films period piece films recent watches David Dencik

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Recent Watches: New Masculinity Edition

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THE COMEDY

DIRECTED BY RICK ALVERSON

This a movie that boasts one of the most underrated acting performances of 2012.  Would you believe it was Tim Heidecker from TIM AND ERIC?  Me neither.  In fact, I still cannot believe it. It’s a performance that rivals DeNiro in early DePalma that was recaptured in THE KING OF COMEDY. The performance carries a film that is fiercely anti-comedy that offers uncomfortable laughter with audible gasps. 

The film is sort of what you think Lars von Trier in the 90s would have directed about the hipsterism of Brooklyn and the white male privilege of it all.  It begins with a slow-motion montage of human debauchery among a group of schlubby male friends who all seem to be living off their parents’ trust-fund.  The group of friends that support Heidecker are familiar faces in the TIM & ERIC universe such as Eric Wareheim, infamous prank-caller and first-time actor Jeff Jensen, Gregg Turkington, and LCD Soundsystem frontman (who should stick to producing and making awesome music) James Murphy.   These guys are all provocateurs be it in public places, holy places, or amongst each other with their in-jokes dripping with irony and sarcasm. There is something infantile to them but also pretty perverted.  Alverson captures them from a distance and when he does show them interacting with other people out of their group circle, you are on the side of these nameless characters they meet as things often get awkward fast. 

You get the feeling that Swanson (Heidecker) is a sociopath but then Alverson seemed to place it on daddy issues early on in the film; almost to keep it safe as this is not the most accessible movie- there have and will be walk-outs.  Although Heidecker sells the hell out of it with his lack of human connection, you cannot have him be stand-in for hipster Williamsburg Brooklyn and new masculinity only to then present the method to his madness as daddy issues.  Alverson does compensate by going out of his way to show the over-privilege and slumming down of these guys to try to almost fit in with their surroundings (including a pretty gusto scene of Swanson taking off his shirt and gardening with lowly-paid immigrant workers or Swanson trying to buy off a taxi driver to do some drunk driving across the city) and the film gets an edge after that revelation but there is still some metallic after-taste to that character and the movie itself. 

THE COMEDY is not for everyone.  It is a little outrageous, very uncomfortable and awkward, and in no way the Hipster Brooklyn male version of GIRLS and its titular anti-heroine Hannah Horvath who looks like a Patron Saint compared to Swanson- if that is any indication of how despicable Swanson gets in this film.  Yet, I was completely taken by Heidecker’s pretty fearless performance.  I hope he gets traction by serious directors to do more black comedies or even dramas.  The guy can actually act. 

Filed under The Comedy Recent Watches movie review films of 2012 Tim Heidecker Tim & Eric Eric Wareheim Gregg Turkington Jeff Jensen James Murphy hipsters Brooklyn Williamsburg brooklyn hipsters

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Recent Watches: Tradecraft Edition

ARGO

DIRECTED BY BEN AFFLECK

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I really wanted to like ARGO.  It being Ben Affleck’s third film as a director, I thought there would be nothing but improvement even though the trailer painted it as a by the numbers Hollywood thriller.  In his other two films, he rose above the crime novel origins of both into interesting and entertaining if disposable entertainment.  I hate to say it but to me this is Affleck’s least interesting film to date but it is pretty clear why a lot of people, specifically average viewers and Hollywood insiders love this movie.  For me, it felt like the less I knew about ’70s political films of the period, the history between Iran and the United States, and the CIA itself, that I would have liked ARGO a lot more.  Instead I was bored, completely not riveted by Affleck’s performance as lead, and frankly flummoxed by the script trying to pass off cutesy, serious, and insider all at once. 

The film begins with a brief visual prologue on the US-Iran relations that date back to the 1950s where the US, with the CIA leading the mission, removed their democratically-elected government to reinstall a stooge in the Shah, who ruled the country with an iron fist.  The revolt by the Iranian citizens brings us back to 1979 with the US Embassy in Tehran being under a retaliation for bad US deeds.  Much of the building is taken under hostage, becoming the infamous group of Iranian hostages that could make their own movie (or really mini-series in its complexity).  But six people do escape and flee to the Canadian embassy and so we have the movie’s plot of how the CIA will have to ‘exfiltrate’ them. 

Affleck sleepwalks around the first half of the film as CIA intelligence officer Tony Mendez.  I describe the performance as sleepwalking because he is pretty unremarkable in the CIA meeting scenes that present pretty elementary tradecraft.  Those scenes of rather vulgar and pretty dumb dialogue (such as somebody in the position of an intelligence officer actually asking the question of whether Iranian children are starving) are so detached from the film’s prologue in terms of the CIA dropping the ball on not seeing the Iranian revolution.  Does anybody feel a bit of guilt that they let people get taken hostage under their watch?  The only reference to the CIA dropping the ball is a quip from a British intelligence officer in that the CIA never saw revolutionary Iran coming. The film just portrays the CIA having blinders on this mission that while very interesting is a blimp on what the CIA was doing in 1979 and 1980.  You would never know what else they were doing at this time from watching the movie. 

After Affleck gets the CIA on doing a fake science-fiction movie in Iran to help get out the six people, he has scenes with Alan Arkin and John Goodman as Hollywood guys who help out with making the film passable to Iranian authorities where his character might as well just disappear into the background because he lets those guys chew up the scenery.  The common response to the Arkin and Goodman scenes is that it is another movie but really them and the CIA guys are just portrayed as smart guys with witty quips with no real empathy or moral conscience, instead just riffing.  To me the film becomes different when Affleck’s Tony Mendez meets the six people in the Canadian embassy.  Suddenly Affleck wakes up from his slumber and it becomes a little interesting, until the ending becomes completely unbelievable and so chest-thumping.  You wish there was more on the people in the embassy, mainly because the group included great character actors like Tate Donovan, Scoot McNairy, Christopher Denham, and Clea DuVall, or at least kept that sort of seriousness and tone throughout the film. 

I am frankly surprised how Affleck has stated he was influenced by the ’70s political films like ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, THE PARALLAX VIEW, and THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR.  There is a problem with that, and not just the tone.  Mainly because these films, and let’s include Warren Beatty’s REDS and early Oliver Stone for good measure, were a response to post-Watergate, post-JFK assassination, and Cold War era it lived in.  Those films were outright cynical about the period they lived in.  Affleck shows archive footage of populist anger and news clips but nothing really captures paranoia or a sort of American shame in the post-Vietnam War period.  ARGO really has no political or deep moral conscience to it until it absolutely has to and it goes for flag-waving celebration akin to Mission Control in APOLLO 13.  Affleck could have done so much more with the material he was given to go in that direction or at least capture the amount of precision necessary to get this right when so many things were going wrong in the CIA.  Instead he lets the script be all about Hollywood quips about Rock Hudson, Groucho Marx, and “Argo, fuck yourself!” although, that actually does not seem as bad as the fact CIA really not having a moral bone in their body until the third act. 

There is a scene near the end of the film where a CIA officer quips on the idea of the CIA as ‘good guys’ that cannot happen because of possible retaliation of the hostages (glad Affleck remembered them) and all the credit has to be given to the Canadians.  This was always a problem that I had from seeing the early previews.  To portray a pretty minor mission in an era of this CIA group, being the generation who gave us Iran-Contra among other disasters not too far in the future, as being heroes is a little much.  Maybe it could have worked if you gave more focus to the the people who had to get out and how their perspective of working in a nation in turmoil largely due to the interventions done by your own country and being the potential victims of intelligence blowback, such as Costa Gavras’ brilliant MISSING. 

ARGO has the look down but lacks a script with any real depth or hook into the era of deep moral and political dilemmas that films of the period did better (and if I had to pick contemporary films that captured that in such a way it would be TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY and ZODIAC).  ARGO is probably a good-to-great film for people who never gave the CIA a thought or know very little about the history of US-Iran relations.  For me it is a just a boring, perplexing, pretty elementary film of a past event that could have been better served with a script that was more serious, direction that kept stuff less pronounced, and a leading performance that was more than just a cipher. 

Filed under ARGO Recent Watches Ben Affleck All the President's Men The Parallax View Three Days of the Condor political films Iran hostage crisis films of 2012 movie review Alan Arkin John Goodman Tate Donovan Clea DuVall Scoot McNairy Iran '70s cinema

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Recent Watches: Rolling in the Deep & The Mask(s) of Sanity Edition

THE DEEP BLUE SEA

DIRECTED BY TERENCE DAVIES

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This is a film that I first heard about from one of my favorite film critics Mark Kermode from across the pond about a year ago.  Just seeing the scant clips available online, this film, director Terence Davies’ first scripted film since 2000’s HOUSE OF MIRTH, was going to be a visual feast for the eyes.  Watching the film whole, there is good reason for why, even a year after it was released in the UK, critics here in the US are praising it and putting a lot of Oscar buzz into the leading performance of Rachel Weisz. 

THE DEEP BLUE SEA is a war-time period film befitting to the old-fashioned film sensibilities of Davies (who most in the US best know for his love-letter documentary to his hometown of Liverpool, OF TIME AND CITY).  But the film is not a pastiche or even so nostalgic or a post-modern cynic’s take down of an era horrible to women like Rachel Weisz’s Hester.  Nothing is pronounced or immediately obvious but it tells of an era that seemed in between nostalgia and idealism, singing hand-in-hand at pubs and in the Underground but when the war had ended the return of a time where there were gender roles was clear.  Hester is in a pre-feminist quandary, stuck in a marriage with her much older husband Sir William Colyer (Simon Russell Beale) but Beale is introduced as an innocuous mama’s boy until he does assert patriarchal control, refusing to divorce her so she can re-marry the Royal Air Force veteran who swept her off her feet, that seems ill-befitting to a quiet, if timid-looking man.  But the genius of performances in this film are that they are dialed to such precise emotion in moments.

Weisz never plays Hester as an overly hysterical woman trapped in a textbook case of patriarchal control.  She is consumed with anger and sadness that you can feel the depression on the screen but she is not a Sylvia Plath poem, despite the fact the film begins with her reciting a suicide note.  Her interactions with Sir William are a master-class in passive aggression and her early courtship with Freddie is raw passion that when Cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister circles above them as they make love, to the point you lose track of who’s naked body is which, it shows how Hester could go from a hole in her life to just a rabbit hole with Freddie that, of course, turns out not be what she imagined. 

Hiddleston’s Freddie somewhat compares to another WWII veteran named Freddie, an American veteran, of Joaquin Phoenix in THE MASTER.  The American Freddie Quell breaks down into deviance after returning home, while Freddie Page the Englishman tries to express as much goodness and positivity but cracks emerge from him.  Hiddleston has Freddie speak in a high-volume register that is far more conscious of the film’s time period than Weisz or Beale when you think about how people talked in the movies back then but that register continues in scenes of anger and drunkenness.  It heavily compares to Beale’s quiet, well-meaning but lethal malevolence that Hiddleston is a spark of fire that can turn quickly.  The tone and sound levels never change with these two men.  One a impotent, quiet, imp of a man and the other a loud, physical and emotional force of nature who cannot stand being out of control specifically his relationship to Hester. 

Davies unleashes a color scheme and lighting texture that mixes with images of societal entrapment and lyrical urges from period songs (Jo Stafford’s “You Belong to Me” a standout) that is just beautiful to watch.  You knew from OF TIME AND CITY that this was an artist who had a mixture of emotions to the past as he narrated the life of a Liverpudian to black and white archived images but seeing that he could do so in all color palates, film form, and storytelling (basing this film off of the Terence Rattigan play) shows a real master of the craft.  But what I do not entirely buy with this film is the idea, made by some critics, that he lives through Hester as other gay artists have done through their female characters.  Weisz makes Hester a bottled up distressed woman who becomes staid.  Davies has too much of a palpable sense of humor to be a Hester. 

THE IMPOSTER

DIRECTED BY BART LAYTON

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How did he get away with it?  Why was there never a moment when one of them paused and thought if it was really him?  How did it take so long for somebody to point out how he could never have been an American in the first place with that accent?  Why does he continue to do it after earning such international notoriety?  What did happen to that boy? These are just a few of the many questions I had when seeing THE IMPOSTER for the first time.  I’ve revisited it again and again, and not only do those questions pop again, they are followed by an additional set of questions. THE IMPOSTER serves as partially an Unsolved Mysteries/Hard Copy recreation procedural (director Bart Layton with TV DNA in the popular Locked Up: Abroad series) and also a fascinating presentation of people who believed the lie.  Layton and his crew leave them for the audience’s judgment (and there is so much to judge) while making one of the most engaging recent documentaries not made by Errol Morris (who Layton owes a lot in style points). 

It is the story of con-man and serial fraudster Frederic Bourdin posing as a missing Texas boy Nicholas Barclay years after he disappeared without a trace.  He manages to get a passport and passing himself off as Nicholas Barclay to strangers but then the real test belongs to the Barclay family who accept him even through his distance, detachment, a bad hair-dye job, and broken English.  Even when speaking knowing that Bourdin used them, they speak of him in a way of empathy, concern, and casualness that you almost feel like they are still talking about Nicholas.  Were they in denial?  Even when the FBI tells them this could not be Nicolas, there is a bizarre scene recreated of Nicholas’ sister embracing Bourdin at the airport right in front of the FBI agent like it never happened.  Is it too easy to just say they wanted to keep Nicholas alive when he reappeared not dead?  Or was there a more malicious reason behind accepting a fraud as Nicolas?  The latter question is largely in the third act and basically implicates how dead members of the Barclay family could be suspects for Nicholas’ disappearance but far-fetched and the main person behind that theory is none other than Frederic Bourdin.  Why should we believe him? Layton interjects his own point of view of who to believe following Nicholas’ sister for the first time breaking down about how he could accuse them of wrongdoing from his prison cell by showing Bourdain dance in his prison cell.  It is spine-tingling and mesmerizing and infuriating all at once. 

Bourdin is the star of the film.  Layton masterfully edits Bourdin’s testimonies about his series of lies in becoming Nicholas Barclay such as using Bourdin’s own voice to recreate the phone calls he made to authorities.  This guy was a professional fraudster.  Why does he do it?  Bourdin bluntly says it was because he was born with a mixed identity as a mixed-race Algerian and he felt more comfortable taking other people’s identity, playing a role, than his own confused cultural identity.  That is a little too perfect of an answer.  The highly logical parts of Bourdin’s testimony make me want to play armchair psychologist and declare him a psychopath right then and there.  You are dealing with a guy who likes playing different roles when it serves him well in his own words, why would he not want to manipulate the audience here?  He has always been an actor and Bourdin leaving me with possible illusions and doubt, with Layton all but confirming we were just in the presence of a ‘great actor’, made me want to seek out more of this story and more about Bourdin’s own history. 

When you have a case like this, the most sensational parts consume the story itself of the tragic circumstance of Nicolas Barclay as the fraud of that was not Bourdin’s first rodeo.  But I will say the film lost me in the sensational parts when it related to Nicholas, with the P.I. and former consultant of Hard Copy, Charlie Parker is ‘intrigued’ by the case and does his own free-lancing work that leads him to go around walking in a nice suit and shovel looking to dig up Nicholas’ body.  That was a little too much. 

But THE IMPOSTER is, nonetheless, a stirring piece of true crime that will definitely have its viewers engage in more conversations and research about the case and also Frederic Bourdin as an individual who may be a genuine psychopath.  It is very visual and flashy with some great recreated scenes set to popular rock music (my favorite was David Bowie’s “Queen Bitch). This was my favorite documentary this year by far. 

Filed under The Imposter Nicholas Barclay The Deep Blue Sea Terence Davies Bart Layton Rachel Weisz Simon Russell Beale Tom Hiddleston Frederic Bourdin documentary recent watches film best films of 2012 2012 documentaries

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Recent Watches: Quickfire Challenge Edition

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SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED

DIRECTED BY COLIN TREVORROW

I watched this after its director, Colin Trevorrow, was reported to be on a rumored short-list for the Star Wars Episode VII film (for which my wide range of feelings about the project are longer than my senior thesis*).  You can see why with its low-budget sci-fi adventure story being very charming thanks to the scenes between Mumblecore Icon Mark Duplass and Aubrey Plaza being the heart of the film.  However, what surrounds that heart is so by the numbers due to a really average script that has its B-story of Jake Johnson, as the skeptical reporter looking into this guy (Duplass) who puts an ad in the paper of his plans to travel back into time, go through a rough relationship with a girl from his past (get it?) only to have a bromance bloom with the stereotypical nerd character. 

Again, it is Plaza and Duplass who sell the concept of this movie and you wish more screen-time was devoted to them.  It felt like the other male nerd in the triage of Plaza and Johnson would cut any remote sexual tension between the other two characters and also give Johnson something to do besides being a mopey broken heart.  I can dig the low-budget indie mixed with sci-fi (Brother from Another Planet by John Sayles immediately comes to mind) but this movie had some identity crisis where the sci-fi stuff could have been better explored and concentrated on and just left the indie feeling out of it.  I understand the yin and yang purpose of Plaza and Johnson together pursuing Duplass but Johnson felt like he stepped into another, lesser movie and then promptly returned in time for the third act.

The direction was good and the special effects were definitely good as far as indie movies go but the performances save its script.  Unmemorable and I am certain its director will go on to better stuff. 

*-My senior thesis was over 120 pages long, not including the pages of citations and references. 

FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL…

DIRECTED BY JAMIE TRAVIS


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I was really looking forward to this as a fan of Ari Graynor’s work, and truly believing she should be a much bigger star than she is currently, but this “film” left me with the after-taste of days of yore when failed TV pilots would re-emerge in the summer as ‘A Special TV Presentation’ when that entire concept of the show basically can only stand for that single pilot or in some cases, barely stand for that entire episode.  For a Good Time, Call… in concept barely lasts through the first act and certain things seem forced upon the film to keep things interesting that not even Graynor’s still charming performance can save. 

The film explores female friendships about these two underemployed twenty-somethings, Graynor and co-writer Lauren Miller, trying to pay their rent running a phone sex-line.  It turns into a sweeping success but then the dignity of running such a line comes from Miller’s character’s end with her parents and a typical 9 to 5 job emerging as conflict.  Graynor’s character does not really have a conflict regarding the phone-line besides she and Miller having a past that becomes immediately disposable.  She sort of has the Michael Fassbender problem in Shame where her lack of real intimacy pushes her into the rigid structural norms of sexuality, which seems like a major mixed message for the film to tell when Miller’s character is introduced as being dumped by her chump boyfriend for her vanilla sexuality. 

The only thing that keeps this film to go into the third act is the bizarre sexual subtext of the Miller and Graynor relationship that is sort of the female version of those bromantic homosocial relationships we see in other films.  But then it just gets way too aware and pronounced by the end of the film. 

This is watchable if you imagine this was originally conceived as a three-part, television special of television show on phone sex-lines that is pretty much a star vehicle for Ari Graynor.  Justin Long and Mark Webber also star as key supporting players and are pretty charming in their roles while James Wolk as Miller’s boyfriend could not be more uncompelling and unlikable.  There are a few distracting cameos, only one actually works, and I was really rooting for this to work.  I accepted the inherent flaws of Bachelorette in its rigid, on-stage origins but that was well-written and did not mind being dark.  This seemed written as a middle-brow half-hour cable comedy that has a nice middle-section with a slogging beginnings and endings. 


QUEEN OF VERSAILLES

DIRECTED BY LAUREN GREENFIELD


allhailthequeen

This is part-Grey Gardens and part-the opening of Citizen Kane from the fake news report on the making of the ridiculous, unfinished, costly home of excess, Xanadu.  The nouveau-riche couple of David and Jackie Siegel let a documentary crew follow them on the making of the grand, ambitious construction of Versailles (partly based on the actual home of King Louis XVI and partly on the Las Vegas version of that structure) that is described as the biggest house ever built in America.  But then the financial crisis of 2009 occurs and suddenly Versailles, like the actual Versailles in Paris, takes on a different connotation. 

Although David Siegel does do interviews, he increasingly seeks hermitage in his study that even distances himself from his wife,  when the financial dire straits of time-share business becomes increasingly clear.  But we are not made to hate Jackie or David Siegel.  Jackie, although some critics seem to focus the attention on her plastic surgery and trophy-wife status, she was an accomplished, smart woman who gave it all up before she even met David.  David is introduced as a driven man who never really had genuine human interactions with his own family members but he did provide and give to them materially to fill such voids. 

Throughout the film we see the decline of the unfinished Versailles that has to be put on the market, a sure financial loss for the Siegels, while their own home is falling apart with their children running wild and consequences to their lack of personal responsibility, like missing and dead animal pets.   We do get testomonials from employees, blue-collar and white-collar, who are beholden to the Siegels that show how trickle-down economics also has the negative consequences as well as the supposed positive.  Those people make the film for me.  That and those moments where the Siegels have to fly on a commercial and not private airplane for the first time when Jackie visits her hometown for the first time and decades.  Had the Siegels or the film for that matter remained that detached from the outside world, I think this would have been unwatchable. 

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