Inherent Vice

Written and Directed by P.T. Anderson
Based on Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon


Last week I decided to watch The Godfather. Actually, I decided to watch The Godfather Part I and Part II but, overestimating my endurance and underestimating the level of commitment required just in time alone, I only managed to watch Part I. This time around I noticed how particular elements of that film have begun to age. Some of the Foley sounds come across a little cheap. The depth of field is ridiculously shallow in certain low-lit scenes, which would become most evident when Brando would move unpredictably, brilliantly through a shot, occasionally coming unglued from the camera’s focus. It all stands to reason, of course, and none of this should be regarded as legitimate criticism, merely observation. Yet, digital filmmaking coupled with the rise of excellence on the small screen leaves this kind of grand, self-important style of filmmaking open for critical relapse. There are few big screen auteurs remaining in Hollywood, an American industry whose ambitions have notably declined in recent years. Much of what’s on TV continues to get sharper and more focused and much of what’s in theaters, perhaps in order to compensate, gets bigger and louder. There are exceptions but not necessarily in the way you’d think. For instance, the latest from P.T. Anderson, Inherent Vice, is not particularly big or loud. But it isn’t particularly sharp or focused either. Continue reading


Gone Girl

Written by Gillian Flynn
Directed by David Fincher
Based on Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn


This review contains spoilers…

In some ways, filmmakers get a raw deal. In no other art form are people surprised, often not pleasantly, at being asked to think deeply about what they’ve just experienced. The highest commercial art form, trumping even advertising in its ability to invade and shift the public consciousness, movies continue to be separated, by critics and consumers alike, by their capacity to entertain or enlighten. And while the evidence is everywhere, it’s not exactly a ne’er-the-two-shall-meet situation. Christopher Nolan largely galvanized the current trend of serious and semi-serious superhero films with his Batman trilogy. The latest installments of the 007 franchise find the formerly kill happy secret agent developing a conscience. Though these films may seem like evidence to the contrary, the AMCs and Regal Cinemas of the country are nevertheless chock full of pointless violence, unquestioned misogyny and insipid romance. Like Nolan, David Fincher has leveraged his commercial success to create highly personal projects that draw large audiences. Comparatively, Nolan’s advantage is obvious: Batman is one of the most universally recognizable superheroes in the American consciousness second only to Superman, who, even after a recent reboot, is still dully one-dimensional. Excluding the possibility that film attendees everywhere have suddenly and universally subscribed to the theory of auteurism and recognizing that Fincher avoids the myth-baiting actor/muse relationship (Nolan and Christian Bale, Scorsese and Leonardo Dicaprio, JJ Abrams and lens flare), the precise reasons why Fincher’s latest film, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s New York Time’s bestseller Gone Girl, is the most exciting movie currently in wide release are enticingly elusive even as the film’s cinematic merits are impressively self-evident. Continue reading

Hector and the Search for Happiness

Written by Peter Chelsom, Tinker Lindsay & Maria von Heland
Directed by Peter Chelsom
Based on Hector and the Search for Happiness by Francois Lelord

HECTOR_AND_THE_SEARCH_FOR_HAPPINESSThere’s a certain type of person who will reflexively cringe at a film titled Hector and the Search for Happiness. Sincerity has the power to disarm the ironic, confound the cynical and stultify the overly serious. This is the established advantage of sincerity, in life as in art. However, the artistic value of sincerity stops here. In the movie business, “heart warming” and “life affirming” are generous synonyms for “sentimental” and “optimistic fluff.” Worse still, the cinematic merits of these films are often overshadowed by the conclusion that there is a good kind of escapism. And that’s if the aforementioned sincerely-made, life-affirming and heart-warming film can avoid being smothered by an oceanic tide of bad press from critics who are rightfully bored with stories burdened by clichés and trite existentialism. Hector and the Search for Happiness will not avoid these kinds of reviews. After all, its director is especially infamous for giving the world a full-length feature film starring Disney-era Miley Cyrus. Still, as a movie that will live and (mostly) die by its press, good and bad, Hector is a defensible if relatively inconclusive comedic musing on finding satisfaction in middle age and learning how to be critical of oneself while avoiding self-pity. Continue reading

Guardians of the Galaxy

Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman
Directed by James Gunn
Based on Guardians of the Galaxy by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Marvel Studios, 2014


Formerly the black sheep of the film world, science fiction was long considered simply an outlet for puerile impulses despite the mature social commentary of War of the Worlds (1953) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and the grand art experimentation of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The new millennium has enjoyed a renaissance of thinking when it comes to sci-fi, which now competes with medieval fantasy for the crown of most influential genre in film and television. But with great success often comes great misunderstanding. The overt seriousness of so many sci-fi films has undermined their former strength. In having to prove themselves against the suspicion that they were without value, science fiction writers and directors subverted and largely coveted their disadvantages. Seriousness was masked by shtick, statement by theatrics, as if to say: I dare you to enjoy me. In a genre that has become tired at a shocking pace, there has never been a greater need for humor and self-awareness. Almost inexplicably, a fantastic, fun and funny film came to rescue a genre that, like a king soon to be betrayed, was in desperate need of some new ideas. That film was Guardians of the Galaxy. Continue reading

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Written & Directed by Wes Anderson


If you’ve waited this long to see the new Wes Anderson film you’ve probably already heard it emphatically described this way: it’s a Wes Anderson film. For the better part of the last two decades Wes Anderson has been keeping auteurism alive in America. His films are colorful, vivacious, wry, quick witted and regularly brilliant. Perhaps of greater importance than the films themselves is their director. Through his features and commercial work Wes Anderson has established his creative vision as a unique brand. It’s a look that can be co-opted (his influence is all over the tide of quirky indie comedies that have been flooding the market for the last ten years) or purchased (Anderson has directed smart, self-aware ads for Prada, American Express and Stella Artois). The last five years of Anderson’s career have seen a shift away from the character driven story telling that dominated early films like Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. More recent films have placed a greater emphasis on grand experimentation and nostalgia. That shift was perhaps no more apparent than in the bizarre Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson’s feature length foray into animation. The temporary abandonment of live action seemed to make sense at the time: Anderson’s films have always possessed a stagey-ness that lent them a sense of the otherworldly. Their action seems to take place in a world free from convention. In some ways that makes Anderson’s latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, a return to form: it situates itself firmly in a historical context (albeit a fictional one) in which a vain concierge (Ralph Fiennes) finds both himself and his hotel in the midst of a whodunit as well as an imminent continental conflict. Yet in more profound ways, the film is a continuation of the trajectory established by Mr. Fox: a wild adventure with serious undertones that can’t quite figure out how to evoke real feeling in its audience. Continue reading