Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: September 2012

Sunday, September 30, 2012

NYFF50 Review: Frances Ha

by Tony Dayoub

You'd have to dig through Noah Baumbach's filmography, all the way back to Highball (pseudonymously credited to Ernie Fusco) in order to find as fluffy a trifle as Frances Ha. Not that there's anything wrong with that. At first glance, a slight, delicate character piece that is equal parts Brooklyn mumblecore, love poem and ode to New York, Frances Ha revolves around the not untalented Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the film with Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale). Not entirely by coincidence, Gerwig is also Baumbach's current main squeeze. The way Sam Levy's black-and-white cinematography showcases not just Gerwig but New York City recalls Woody Allen's Manhattan. And for a while I worried whether this was a sort of tribute to the latest incarnation of the "manic pixie girl" character actress that many younger film lovers, and at least some notable directors, often become infatuated with. The way Baumbach approaches Frances Ha, though, makes it much more than that.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

NYFF50 in Full Swing

by Tony Dayoub

With last night's gala opening screening of Ang Lee's Life of Pi, the 50th New York Film Festival is well underway. By most accounts a visually stunning adaptation of a long-thought unfilmable novel, Life of Pi suddenly jumps to the front of the Oscar derby despite its official release date (11/21) still being weeks away. I wasn't in New York for yesterday's press screening having returned to Atlanta last Sunday. But I'm okay with having missed it since apparently the effects-heavy film is still unfinished. Life of Pi aside, my coverage of the festival continues as I've seen a significant number of films I've yet to post reviews for. So keep coming back for about another week and a half for more on the NYFF50. After the jump, a few words on a couple of today's screenings.

Friday, September 28, 2012

NYFF50 Review: Hyde Park on Hudson

by Tony Dayoub

You would expect a film with a stately title like Hyde Park on Hudson to be the sort of movie one characterizes as "pleasant" or "charming." And in fact, it is both of those. But Hyde Park on Hudson is also quite extraordinary. Director Roger Michell (Notting Hill), whose work until now I'd characterize as yeoman, seems inspired by his subject in this film. Hyde Park on Hudson depicts a quiet summit held by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Murray) and King George VI (Samuel West) at FDR's upstate New York estate—as seen through the eyes of his distant cousin and secret lover, Daisy Suckley (Laura Linney).

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Digging up The Hole

by Tony Dayoub

Though its release has been held up for three years in most parts of the country, Joe Dante's The Hole has garnered a limited theatrical release in 3D before its upcoming DVD/Blu-ray debut. Rated PG-13, The Hole is a creepy, funny film perfect for everyone from mature tweens to parents and the young at heart. On the scare-o-meter, it falls somewhere between the Goosebumps TV show and Poltergeist, two properties it's reminiscent of. Fans of Joe Dante (Matinee) should be particularly pleased to see the director of films like Gremlins and The Howling continue serving up scares while accurately depicting the sensibilities his young leads.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

NYFF50: Cinema Reflected

by Tony Dayoub

One of the small rewards of having attended one of the earlier weeks of festival press screenings this year is that I've had the opportunity to sample a great deal more of the NYFF Sidebar entries than I usually do. Among the sidebars that should hold more interest for cinephiles should be the one titled Cinema Reflected, showcasing "illuminating documentaries and essay films about movies and the men and women who make them." Though I had issues with both of the entries I watched, Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out and Liv and Ingmar, I must keep reminding myself that these are not part of the festival main slate. So, at some level, they are diverting enough to merit a couple of showings at Lincoln Center.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Game (1997): Fincher Flips Mission: Impossible on Its Head

by Tony Dayoub

Long unavailable (domestically) in a proper home edition, David Fincher's unsung puzzle thriller The Game finally gets its due this week thanks to Criterion's shiny new Blu-ray upgrade of their own 1998 laserdisc release. The new Criterion release confirms that Fincher's film—and its hokey premise of a 1-percenter put through his paces in a punishing experiential game—plays as well if not better than it did when I first saw it theatrically fifteen years ago. After all, is there any way to watch Michael Douglas' shallow, well bespoke Nicholas Van Orton—a lonely investment tycoon with a pile of human debris (an ex-wife, a recovering addict for a brother) left behind in his wake—and not think of Mitt Romney? Especially in one scene where his car gets a flat, and he asks his ne'er-do-well brother Conrad (Sean Penn), "Do you know how to change a tire?" Van Orton’s investment banking career, the way he addresses his underlings, his slicked-back hair and expensive taste in suits . . . even his pinky ring, all reek of a privileged upbringing. Then there’s the long, powerful shadow cast by his late father. Van Orton’s similarities with Romney rob him of a little of the sympathy I'd normally reserve for a movie protagonist.


Monday, September 24, 2012

NYFF50 Review: The Bay (2012)

by Tony Dayoub

The most surprising thing about the disturbing The Bay, the first of the New York Film Festival's new Midnight Movie entries, is the fact that Barry Levinson (Diner) directed it. Cobbled together from a wide range of digital video "found footage," The Bay draws on recent reports of parasitic isopods infecting fish just off the Jersey coast. As one recent report says, "There's a horror film waiting to be made about this thing." And so it has been—The Bay is a harrowing, nerve-jangling trifle from a once popular director all but written off in recent years.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Master (2012)

by Tony Dayoub

"Life is but a dream."

Waves ebb and flow, created by the wake a boat leaves behind. Jonny Greenwood's dissonant musical chords thunder loudly. The recurring image, and its changing relationship to the soundtrack, mark three distinct chapters in Paul Thomas Anderson's beautifully elliptical The Master. The first chapter introduces Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a sneering, gnarly, hunchback of a man, a variation of There Will Be Blood's upright Daniel Plainview. During World War II, Quell spends his time on a naval gunboat making moonshine. The women he dreams of during his shore leaves are not human beings but objects for him to jerk off or hump to, as he does with a sand mermaid his shipmates build on some Pacific beach.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

UPDATED: NYFF50 Review: Passion (2012)

by Tony Dayoub

Twenty years since their last collaboration, director Brian De Palma and composer Pino Donaggio reunite in their latest work, Passion. The reunion both recalls the virtuosic filmmaker's best period—the late 70s/early 80s—and revitalizes the career of a master, whose recent filmography's quality has been spotty at best. Redacted (2007) was an interesting experiment in utilizing found footage to tell a story about the Iraq war that collapsed under the weight of its propaganda-like liberal agenda (and I say this as someone who leans considerably to the left). And the postwar neo-noir, The Black Dahlia (2006), should have been a slam dunk for a director who's always shown an ease for crime stories, but instead, it felt oddly inept at delivering its admittedly sprawling, complicated plot. Not since 2002's Femme Fatale has De Palma manipulated his audience so boldly or so wittily as he does with Passion.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

After the Triumph of Your Birth

by Tony Dayoub

First films. You can usually lump them in one of two categories: watered-down retreads of a pick-your-genre kind of movie or amateurish stabs at revealing something personal (but not particularly interesting) about its creator. Jim Akin's first film is neither. After the Triumph of Your Birth is a beautifully photographed, ambitious foray into the American psyche, replete with resonant musical interludes featuring Akin, his wife Maria Mckee (formerly of Lone Justice) and star Tom Dunne. Fusing Paul Thomas Anderson's sense of the absurd with David Lynch's skewed perspective on Americana, Akin turns a hairy eyeball toward the disconnectedness of the archetypal loner encouraged by our popular culture.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Killer Joe

by Tony Dayoub

Sometimes, like a crooner scat singing his way around a time-worn standard, the sharpness of a filmmaker's instrument is best revealed in nothing more impressive than an old, reliable genre piece. This has certainly been the case with William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist). After a few misfires in the '90s, one of the most zealous of the enfants terrible to make their name in the New Hollywood of the '70s proves he's still capable of hitting some shocking high notes with his latest, Killer Joe. The second of two fruitful collaborations with playwright Tracy Letts (August: Osage County), Killer Joe is based on his first play. It's a seamy look at a greedy trailer park clan through the skewed but precise eyes of the film's titular corrupt police detective.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The 50th New York Film Festival

by Tony Dayoub

Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace in Passion

I'm very excited to have been accredited to cover the New York Film Festival (NYFF) again, especially this year, in its 50th Anniversary. I can only go for a week since funds are limited (especially with the new business we opened earlier this year). I'm still finalizing travel plans, but I've zeroed in on a week with a more eclectic selection of films than I usually go for. This because I could not pass up a chance to see the U.S. premiere of Brian De Palma's latest, Passion, a remake of Alain Corneau's Love Crime. Other notable films I should have the opportunity to review include Barry Levinson's The Bay, Christian Mungiu's Beyond the Hills, Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha, and more. So keep checking in for festival dispatches, early reviews, and more on this year's crop of NYFF films and awards contenders.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Whistleblower films on DVD and Blu-ray

by Tony Dayoub

What is our attraction to movies about whistleblowers? Is it our admiration of one loner speaking truth to power when confronted with an injustice that person may have been a party to? Or is it our own distrust of the establishment, an inborn characteristic in the more rebellious of us, conscious of the way our own place in the world came to be when our forefathers overthrew the armed forces of their mother country? It's arguable whether the humdrum phone hacking scandal — which started with the News of the World and has embroiled everyone from its parent company's CEO, Rupert Murdoch, to talk show host Piers Morgan — registered much with the average American until the mysterious death of 47-year-old Sean Hoare. A former reporter for the British tabloid, Hoare was one of the first to expose the newspaper's questionable methods of acquiring information. Speculation immediately drifted towards some conspiracy angle despite Hoare's notorious abuse of drugs and alcohol.