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.
We need to stop this charade!
“Silver Linings Playbook” is, unfortunately, as prosaic as its title. It’s a paint-by-numbers indie dramedy with slightly less quirky protagonists with slightly darker histories, a verite “Little Miss Sunshine” without the laughs or the cutesiness. And, surprisingly, considering weirdo filmmaker David O. Russell is at the helm, it’s chock full of banality.
Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solitano, an ex-high school history teacher who spends eight months in a mental institution after going ape shit over his wife having an affair. Turns out he has bipolar disorder and his trigger is now his wedding tune, Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” (quirk #1). Upon returning to his parents’ house, where his dad (Robert De Niro, who subtly, beautifully acts the pants off his meager character) is an OCD football nut (didn’t Vincent Gallo already cover this, better, in “Buffalo 66″?) and his mom (an enjoyable Jacki Weaver) appears to spend her days looking worried and cooking up batch upon batch of “crabby snacks and homemades,” he meets another tortured soul. In movies like this, when you leave a mental institution, it isn’t long before you stumble upon another crazy who also just happens to be as hot as you. That would be Jennifer Lawrence’s juvie widow Tiffany.
"It's fucking cold out here!'
A number of critics have nominated “Skyfall” the best Bond yet and their mistake is an honest one. Sam Mendes’ attempt to humanize the formerly slick super agent is a welcome change in an otherwise formulaic franchise. Unfortunately, “Skyfall” is so packed with punches that it ends up pulling its emotional punch. Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir is one the few film critics to call this 50th anniversary 007 installment like it is, “an overstuffed and rather chilly spectacle.”
Don't mess with the 'Polisse' posse
I have never been inside a Child Protection Unit but after watching “Polisse,” I’m pretty sure I never have to. Though it’s unsurprising that filmmaker Maiwenn lived with the officers of a CPU unit in order to create this Cannes jury winner, that does not a movie make. But somehow this little known French director, who was once married to the far less talented Luc Besson, was able to capture the dysfunctional CPU family to a T. It takes a master of cinematic choreography like Robert Altman to tie together multiple story lines and multidimensional characters, but Maiwenn, with only three films under her belt, does more than manage it here.
Sarah Polley and her dad in a rare moment of truth in 'Stories We Tell.'
Sarah Polley has a bit of an ending problem. It happened in “Take This Waltz” and it happened in “Stories We Tell.” I’m not sure if it happened in “Away From Her,” because I haven’t seen it, but the fact is, when she’s filming her own material (in the case of “Waltz” it was her own script, in the case of her first documentary, “Stories,” it’s her own life) she appears to have trouble reigning it in.
It’s unfortunate because “Stories We Tell” had the makings of a brilliant non-fiction film. It revolves around Polley’s discovery that she was the product of an affair between her mother and a Montreal producer, Harry Gulkin, a story that the filmmaker tells in meta-form, exploring as much memory and its tenuous connection to the truth as her parentage.
In one of the film’s most arresting scenes, Polley reveals that much of the footage the audience believed to be comprised of her family’s home movies, was actually made up of dramatizations caught on retro Super 8 cameras by Polley herself. You could almost hear the viewers’ collective gasp as Polley is revealed to be the one filming a group of kids who were thought to be her siblings goofing off at the dinner table decades ago and what turns out be an actress who is merely the spitting image of Polley’s deceased mother. In fact, that moment would have made the film’s ideal ending as it neatly ties up both the story of the affair and Polley’s thesis on the weakness of memory.
'I have no idea what I'm doing - does he notice?'
I can understand why “Take This Waltz” made the 2009 Black List of best unproduced screenplays. This is the sort of movie that no doubt looks ravishing on paper, complete with water dancing flirtation (bear with me) and raunchy hot sex talk. But a good script, solely, does not a movie make. A large number of reviewers have been content to simply praise writer-director Sarah Polley’s new film for its refreshing insight into modern relationships, despite the fact that it’s presentation here is flawed. That flaw has a lot to do with casting. Michelle Williams’ casting to be precise.
In the film, Williams plays Margaux, a 20-something freelance writer (I wish I had a chicken-cookbook writing millionaire of a husband) who one day bumps into the man of my dreams, Daniel (Luke Kirby), and proceeds to spend the next two hours trying not to have sex with him (impossible). The only problem is, according to the film’s synopsis, she’s in a happy relationship with Seth Rogen (sorry, his name’s actually Lou). The reason I refer to the synopsis is because nothing about Margaux’s relationship with Lou had me convinced they would ever be together, let alone be happily married.
'Is this the best you can do?'
Throughout “The Hunger Games,” Jennifer Lawrence’s heroine, Katniss Everdeen, is referred to as the “girl on fire.” It’s too bad the movie doesn’t share in that heat. The first in the adaptation of the Suzanne Collins franchise, in which a poor 16-year-old girl must fight to death for the entertainment of the 1%, is woefully average. It looks alright, the actors aren’t terrible (though, poor Lawrence, is acting her boots off for a character that isn’t written particularly meatily for the screen) and it doesn’t try to jam a tome into 2.5 hours (like “Twilight” did), but that ain’t saying much.
The problem is that there is very little of that pulse-racing, mind-blowing life and death feeling that the book purports to have (full disclosure: I haven’t read it but I’m a proponent of the-movie-should-stand-on-its-own theory). There is a lack of urgency and drama to the entire movie — maybe it’s because of the lack of build-up, but one (particularly one who hasn’t read the book) never gets the sense that the Hunger Games are as foreboding as everyone says. And being that they are the foundation upon which the suspense of the entire franchise lies, that’s not a good thing.
'No, I ehm not an H&M modeel.'
The opening credits of David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” pretty much sum up the reason it doesn’t work. Like the start of any number of James Bond films, a stylized overly CGI world of “primordial tar” (as Fincher himself called it, I believe) births Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) and Michael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and presumably the theme of the journey upon which we are about to embark. The only problem is, though this may be a franchise, it is not a James Bond movie. Or a super hero movie. In fact, this is a movie about a regular (if slightly more grey and snowy) world, in which an extraordinary hacker ekes out her existence under the radar. Sure, there are baddies (one could argue Lisbeth’s half-brother is somewhat super with his inability to feel pain) but heroine Lisbeth is not designed to be some haute-couture sporting super model who happens to also know jujitsu. Sadly, that is what Fincher has made her out to be.
'I don't understand my character either.'
With “Young Adult,” Diablo Cody proves, yet again, she’s a dab hand at one liners. But the shtick is getting a little old. In this case, quite literally. If Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) weren’t so contrived, I would have imagined she was the product of the same writing error as Angela Chase’s mom, who speaks in the same language as her daughter despite the twenty years between them (that modern day version of the religious painter who has difficulty making baby angels look like babies, though in this case it’s adults with baby voices). Instead, considering Cody clearly wanted to create an unlikable immature character (“Everyone gets old, not everyone grows up,” is “Young Adult’s” tagline), I was left wondering whether Mavis was anything more than the personnification of graffiti on the bathroom wall.
Mavis is a fiction writer who returns to her hometown of Minnesota to win back her ex, a now happily married semi-moron named Buddy (Patrick Watson), who also dotes on his newborn daughter. Basically, Mavis is what you would imagine “Mean Girls’” Regina George to be as an adult if she failed to undergo any semblance of growth or change between her teens and age 37. So, either Mavis has a DeLorean handy or those reality TV shows she’s been watching have fried her brain.