A long time ago, we used to be friends
But I haven’t thought of you lately at all
If ever again, a greeting I send to you,
Short and sweet to the soul I intend.
-”We Used to Be Friends,” The Dandy Warhols
Short and sweet to the soul is all Rob Thomas intended for the “Veronica Mars” movie. After using the crowd-funding site to back the film version of the prematurely cancelled hard-boiled cult hit about a pop culture-savvy teen detective, Thomas returned the favour to fans with a small screen valentine wrapped in a big screen bow. And that’s the problem.
“Veronica Mars” is not a movie, it’s a TV show. Seven years after the last episode aired, the “film” is basically four new episodes jammed into one overly long installment. That’s why you get that strangely underwhelming feeling watching it on the big screen that you never got watching it on the tube. That’s why the voice-overs, the beveled glass flashbacks and the pop-tinged delivery that were so charming on TV are a lot less impressive on film — parochial even. “Veronica Mars” at the movies is like a country girl in her hometown duds trying to impress at a downtown soiree. She’s just never going to measure up.
“People who love some Wes Anderson movies and hate others: You are mysterious and I don’t get where you’re coming from,” tweeted Scott Tobias, editor of the film site The Dissolve, last week. And, after much thought, I have found the solution to the mystery: Owen Wilson.
Just like that of any other artist in the world, Anderson’s work has gone through stages. The first stage could be categorised in layman’s terms as “the quirky indie comedy,” though I will admit that is a reductionist designation that does “Bottle Rocket,” “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums” a severe disservice. More than anything, these films are eccentric character-driven odes to universal themes like changing relationships and growing up. And the fact that all three were co-written by Anderson and Wilson seems to be a big part of that.
'We own this thing. For real.'
Christian Bale is as good as “American Hustle” gets. And it stops there. As Irving Rosenfeld, a portly con artist costumed in a comb over, velvet suit and aviators, he not only tricks the characters in the film, he tricks the viewers. Bale’s greatness dupes us into believing David O. Russell’s film is a great piece of work. But let’s be real, it’s not.
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” has a serious case of ADD. Where Gary Ross’ “Hunger Games” wasn’t pulse-racing enough, Francis Lawrence’s follow up appears to have been injected with whatever drove “Crank’s” Chev Chelios to fornicate in the middle of a Chinese market back in 2006. The movie was so manically cut that by the end of the first half I was so bored by the monotonously relentless action I almost fell asleep.
I thought I signed on to a Steve McQueen film?
In the wake of the virtually unanimous critical acclaim surrounding “12 Years a Slave,” criticising Steve McQueen’s magnum opus about American slavery (oft-ignored in cinema) is tantamount to kicking a kitten. But that’s what I’m going to do (not the kitten part). Because a piece of art — and I’m pretty sure most critics would agree with this — should be more than its subject alone. There’s a reason Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” is more celebrated than Brueghel’s.
McQueen’s third feature is an adaptation of the 1853 autobiography by a black man who was once free and then kidnapped and sold into slavery. From his charmed life in Washington, D.C, he finds himself transported in shackles to various plantations in Louisana. It’s unsurprising that a number of critics have compared the film to Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust epic “Schindler’s List” considering McQueen is dramatising what many consider to be the American Holocaust. But the two films are similar in another way: They are both unmistakeable products of the Hollywood machine.
The two central performances in “Breathe In” are like a pair of Breughel paintings. There is so much going on — a glance here, a smile there, a whole lot of very shallow breathing — that you feel the urge to watch it over and over in the hopes that you will decode just one of the many pregnant pauses, each of which contains an entire story of its own. The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy called the film a “nuanced work that has the weight of a modest short story rather than of a larger composition.” But even the smallest stories can pose the biggest questions.
This blue-toned rhapsody by Drake Doremus (who co-wrote it with Ben York Jones) stars Felicity Jones as Sophie, an exchange student from the UK who arrives in turmoil at her host family’s upstate New York home. A prodigious pianist, she has fled her hometown just as she has fled her talent and is now left with a sense of freedom she doesn’t quite know what to do with. Should she be a pianist just because she can? Should she quit? Should she have stayed in England? Should she even be worried about any of this? She is “constrained by options,” according to Guy Pearce’s character, Keith, the host family dad, who is himself a rocker manqué. Sophie arrives just as he is on the brink of possibly recapturing his old life (or a variation on it) by becoming part of an orchestra and leaving teaching behind.
“When are we leaving?” Keith asks Sophie early on in the film when they are stuck at a soiree at a family friend’s grotesquely huge house. His desperate look is held too long to be fleeting — it’s existential. It’s moments like these that are the film’s most affecting because Jones and Pearce are so perfectly matched (I am a big fan of Doremus’ “Like Crazy,” which also starred Jones, but I always got the feeling Anton Yelchin could neither measure up to the subtle material, nor to his co-star).
I have to talk AGAIN in this scene?
“In space, no one can hear you scream.” That was the tagline for “Alien” back in 1979, and though it would have been equally apt for “Gravity,” perhaps more accurate for the latter would have included the response: but they can sure as hell hear you talk. “Visually, it was amazing,” a friend of mine said after the three of us came out of the film last night. We nodded, silently, as had a planet of critics before us. Then he added one more thing: “I just wish it would have shut the fuck up.”
We don't have time to sing you a waltz, we're too busy fighting.
“I believe if there’s any kind of God it wouldn’t be in any of us, not you or me, but just this little space in between. If there’s any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something.” Spoken by Celine in “Before Sunrise,” those words formed the backbone of a film about a couple of strangers who bump into each other on a train, share a night together lost in each others’ thoughts and disappear from one another’s lives again. Nine years later, in “Before Sunset,” Celine and Jesse find each other again and ensconce themselves back in that “little space in between.” But nine years after that, in “Before Midnight,” the magic is lost. Director Richard Linklater and writers Julie Delpy (Celine) and Ethan Hawke (Jesse), appear to have forgotten the importance of the “space in between” in favour of a sort of Godless personalisation (excuse the overblown expression, we’re in Linklater territory now).
After seeing “Trance” last night, I joked that it was so slap dash Danny Boyle must have made it while on break from his Olympics duties. Turns out, he actually DID film it during a break from his two-year prep for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Summer Olympics last year.
It seems that writer Joe Ahearne sent the script in 1994 to Boyle, who thought it would be “quite difficult” for a green screenwriter to direct. Ahearne ended up turning it into a TV movie in 2001. Then Boyle took it on and, well, perhaps it was just a little too “difficult” for him.
The plot revolves around a dream within hypnosis within a riddle wrapped in an enigma. Bored? Yeah, so was I (not to mention my best friend) towards the end. James McAvoy plays an art dealer who gets mixed up in a heist and, after a blow to the head, forgets where he put the stolen painting, “Witches in the Air” by Francisco de Goya. So he goes to hypnosis to mine his memory but the manipulative hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) ends up almightily screwing with his mind (and body) and ours, all within the neon booming bass of Boyle’s club-addled style.
'We're in on in it! We are!'
The whole time I was watching “Spring Breakers” I couldn’t stop thinking about “Natural Born Killers,” specifically the fact that Oliver Stone made a similar point to Harmony Korine 21 years ago — a point that was even tired then. At that time, the moral of the story was that it’s bad for the media to glorify mass murder. This time around, the lesson is that mainstream America glorifies the American Dream — free-flowing fortune and no responsibilities, aka spring breeeeeeeak — and as fun as that looks, it still heralds the demise of humanity, you guys.
While some people compared “Spring Breakers” to “The Great Gatsby,” others saw it as a homage to Henry Levin’s “Where the Boys Are,” but those comparisons only highlight how much Korine falls short in his attempts to emulate either of them. What starts out as a Vice-like feast for the eyes (tits! ass! baby beer bongs!), largely thanks to French cinematographer and Gaspar Noe’s fluorescent-fuelled main man Benoît Debie, ends up becoming a heavy-handed piss-take of mainstream America. If Korine wanted to create a PSA about the problems with the American Dream (as if we still had to be told), he could have cut “Spring Breakers” down to about 10 minutes and gotten his message across. “Does all this colorful and ecstatic mess add up to a movie? I mean, tastes vary and all that, but basically the answer is no,” was how Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir put it.