Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: 2013

Friday, December 27, 2013

Movie Review: Grudge Match (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

One of the unfortunate effects of cramming the viewing of so many awards-worthy films into the final months of the year is that a movie like Grudge Match ends up looking quite thin in comparison. No, this comedy-drama isn't a dramatic or technical heavyweight, if you'll pardon the pun, like others currently in release. But if it'd open just a month from now, in the winter doldrums just preceding the Oscars, it might be judged differently. Robert De Niro slums a bit, rehashing a lot of his Raging Bull tics in service of a turn that's more a parody than a performance. But Sylvester Stallone builds on his Rocky past in his continual bid to prove he can hold his own with more renowned actors.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

When considering all of your viable viewing options at the multiplex tomorrow, it might not occur to you to include The Wolf of Wall Street. But are you sure the cynic in you wouldn't be completely fine with it after spending the next 24 hours wrapping and unwrapping presents, in the company of strangers you just happen to be related to by blood or by marriage, eating and drinking well beyond the point some of us might call excessive? Even the most pious among us will recognize something kind of snarky and subversive about opening this mean, epic paean to greed and the Wall Street mindset on what is the culmination of the most materialistic season of the year.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Movie Review: Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

Sometimes, the cycle of a film's reception seems to run from praise to backlash and back again even before the movie is released. Such is the fate of Saving Mr. Banks, a charmer of a movie that is also a surprisingly well constructed story about Walt Disney's pursuit for the rights to adapt Mary Poppins from her skeptical author, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson). Unsurprisingly, most of the pushback stems from the rapacious corporatism many accuse the Disney company of in general and its need to buff up their founder's image to get more specific. I point you to a video by author and occasional movie critic Harlan Ellison for that take on the film, because no one can express it quite as well as he does and because I don't necessarily disagree. Let's just say that yes, Saving Mr. Banks is as much a fairy tale as Disney's animated product tends to be. But I still found it to be a moving film worth visiting and revisiting in the future.

Monday, December 16, 2013

UPDATED: Best of 2013: The 12 Best Films of the Year

by Tony Dayoub

This may be the earliest I've posted my top films of the year. That's because this year I voted in critic polls fairly early, including one for IndieWire and two for organizations I belong to, the Online Film Critics Society and the Southeastern Film Critics Association. That still doesn't mean I didn't fail to see some films that are probably worthy of consideration. But at this point my mind is jelly, and any other films coming my way might suffer from my condition. So onward and upward.

For your consideration, my top films of 2013, followed by the winners of the respective polls I voted in.

RIP Joan Fontaine

by Tony Dayoub

"At age 108, flying around the stage in Peter Pan, as a result of my sister cutting the wires. Olivia has always said I was first at everything; I got married first, got an Academy Award first, had a child first. If I die, she'll be furious, because again I'll have got there first!"
-Joan Fontaine, when asked how she'd like to die.

Well, she came pretty close. Joan Fontaine died this weekend at the age of 96. I found out last night while I was strolling with my family in Midtown Atlanta, less than a few hours after posting a small tribute to Peter O'Toole. Her death caps off a week in which we lost O'Toole, Eleanor Parker, Audrey Trotter, and Tom Laughlin. But in many ways it's Fontaine's passing that touches me most personally.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

RIP Peter O'Toole

by Tony Dayoub

"I can't stand light. I hate weather. My idea of heaven is moving from one smoke-filled room to another."
- the hard-living, harder-drinking, and even more talented performer, Peter O'Toole

Recommended Films - The Savage Innocents (although his voice is dubbed), Lawrence of Arabia, The Bible: In the Beginning, Man of La Mancha, The Stunt Man, Troy, Ratatouille,

And an even better list of movies I haven't seen but should: Becket, What's New Pussycat, How to Steal a Million, The Lion in Winter, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, The Ruling Class, My Favorite Year, Creator, The Last Emperor, Venus

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Late Show - The Late Movies Blogathon: Giant (1956)

by Tony Dayoub

This post is a contribution to The Late Show - The Late Movies Blogathon running through December 7th and hosted by David Cairns of Shadowplay.

I'm sure it's been written about, but personally, I'm just speculating when I say that a classicist like George Stevens (Shane) probably had his hands full tamping down the Method-y exuberance of rising star James Dean when they collaborated on what would be the doomed actor's final film, Giant (1956). But why guess, when you can see the lengths Stevens went to in order to keep Dean from running away with Giant in the movie itself? Let's look at some screen grabs (off the new Giant Blu-ray and which can all be enlarged if you click on them) of three key scenes featuring Dean.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Movie Review: American Hustle (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

Marking the welcome return of the long con crime film subgenre, David O. Russell's American Hustle is an above average, populist comic film that could itself be seen as some kind of confidence game. The movie opens its prologue with Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges' romantic saxophone gem "Jeep's Blues," a piece that links Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), the two crooked lovebirds at the heart of the film. For its opening credits Russell then switches to "Dirty Work," another great sax tune more synonymous with AM light rock. This bait-and-switch signals that we are now entering a world where any perceived and addictive glitz and glamour bears the putrid trace of elaborate falsehood, a parallel drawn by Irving's discarded wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) in reference to her Swedish fingernail polish. Even its first title indicates that only "some of this actually happened," a reference to the ABSCAM scandal from the late 70s that it dramatizes, in which the FBI recruited a bunco artist to teach them how to ensnare crooked politicians willing to take bribes.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Seventies Cinema Revival: Nashville (1975)

by Tony Dayoub

"Only time I ever went hog-wild... around the bend... was for the Kennedy boys. But they were different."

In a way, Robert Altman's Nashville is a bookend to 1970's M*A*S*H, which addressed the country's misgivings about Vietnam behind the smokescreen of the Korean War and a madcap mobile surgical unit operating in Southeast Asia. While the city of Nashville is a much smaller canvas, it stands in for a more expansive concept, contemporary America at its Bicentennial. The memorable cast of characters—sycophantic lawyer Delbert Reese (Ned Beatty), womanizing folk singer Tom Frank (Keith Carradine), Napoleonic country star Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson)—rival those of M*A*S*H in terms of eccentricities and surpass them in number. They form a microcosm of the country after the disillusionment of Watergate, the collapse of the idealism of the 60s, the assassinations that marked that era, a satirical apotheosis of all of the critiques Altman and screenwriter Ring Lardner, Jr. first lobbed at the country in M*A*S*H.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a noticeable upgrade from the franchise's previous movie in nearly every way. The odd pacing of director Gary Ross's The Hunger Games often meant the inherent thrills of a premise involving arena games in a dystopic future often took a back seat to YA melodrama at the oddest of moments. The tacky otherness of this futuristic society's attire and florid names of its characters were made unintentionally distracting by Ross's inexperience directing what in essence is just a dressed-up action film. Successor Francis Lawrence (I am Legend) instantly proves a better fit as director, darkening up the visuals, accentuating the filthiness of the coal-mining District 12 that heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) hails from, concealing the flamboyance of the class-divided country Panem and its Capitol if not entirely burying it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Movie Review: Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

What is it like when you find out you've got less than a month to live? Is everything you see or hear a marker signifying the dwindling amount of time you have in the face of impending death? According to director Jean-Marc Vallée's Dallas Buyers Club it just might be. The Canadian director's last film, Café de Flore, displayed a penchant for magical realism even in the context of profound grief, perhaps overly so. But Dallas Buyers Club tempers Vallée's predilection for the whimsical while still allowing him to indulge in some not inappropriate lyricism. Small details like the perfectly timed but tangential Billy "Crash" Craddock lyric "...he loves her so much he wants to die..." playing on a car radio or a bright, bold "30" on a blank calendar after doctors inform shitkickin' electrician Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) of his terminal condition bolster the story of this irreverent antihero, on a quixotic quest to extend the lives of those afflicted with HIV/AIDS, including his own. But it's the sober, strong performances by McConaughey and costar Jared Leto that keep Dallas Buyers Club firmly anchored in reality.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Movie Review: Thor: The Dark World (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

The superhero fan in me often gets excited about sequels because they aren't restricted by the initial film's overrated need to spell out their characters' origins. Though the first Thor took a bit of a drubbing by critics for this, director Kenneth Branagh actually did a really nice job of weaving in the dense Norse mythology and Marvel Comics lore into the god of thunder's introduction. It was the actual story on Earth and the romance between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) which was tedious. But considering the copious amount of world-building the sequel still has to do, Thor: The Dark World should really be called Thor: The Exposition Continues. In fact, The Dark World almost feels like a reintroduction, a Thor 1.5 rather than a Thor 2.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Movie Review: Ender's Game (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

Forget the external controversies regarding homophobic statements made by author Orson Scott Card, on whose novel the new science fiction film Ender's Game is based. The movie itself is problematic for a myriad of other reasons inherent to its source material. Ender's Game advocates fascism for a major portion of its nearly 2-hour running time. What makes this somewhat disturbing is the story's approach. It plays less like your usual Joseph Campbell-type hero narrative and more like a Young Adult novel with elements of authorial projection/wish-fulfillment fantasy. With most of its military characters being children played by children, it's not unlikely that kids are its target audience. This begs the question, is this the kind of deceptively benign space saga you'd want your kids exposed to?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Movie Review: Free Birds (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

Remember the last time you ate turkey for Thanksgiving? The alluring smell of garlic and herbs wafting through the house as your mother-in-law took care to keep an eye on the roast bird while you watched the Macy's Day parade and got ready for some football? As it was placed on the table you took a picture of it in all its resplendent, golden-brown glory. You couldn't wait to dig in. And then, one bite of the turkey your father-in-law carefully carved, and you realize that you'll need either a ton of gravy or the tallest glass of water ever to counter its dryness. Well, that's what the new, animated Thanksgiving movie Free Birds feels like... a pretty, overcooked turkey.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Double Vision: Tony Scott's Spirit Possesses Ridley Scott's The Counselor (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

The rumblings of a critical debate (or is it grumblings?) have already surrounded Ridley Scott's The Counselor. A script by Cormac McCarthy (The Road) helmed by the director of Thelma and Louise should have been a sufficient enough marketing opportunity for 20th Century Fox to capitalize on as they rolled it out during awards season. And yet the studio held a press-only screening Tuesday night before its opening, a move which signals they're likely as mystified about how to handle the film as critics are in trying to build a consensus around it. Given how peculiar it is, this is not surprising. The Counselor is in many ways an anomaly for Ridley Scott.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Movie Review: Two Jacks (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

Underrated director Bernard Rose (Candyman) buries his tendency to sex things up in Two Jacks, his latest update of a Leo Tolstoy tale. In this case, it's Tolstoy's short story "Two Hussars." The movie contrasts father and son scoundrels, one somewhat more lovable than the other, in a Hollywood setting. Familiar incidents and people link the two in mirror storylines differentiating Old Hollywood in the form of dad, famed filmmaker Jack Hussar, Sr. (Danny Huston), from New Hollywood in the person of his son, novice director Jack Hussar, Jr. (Danny's nephew Jack Huston of Boardwalk Empire). Though the opportunity is there for Rose to indulge in his usual eroticizing, the casting of the gorgeous Sienna Miller as Diana, a young actress who has a memorable fling with Jack Sr., is the extent of the director's foray into sexual territory. What the ultra-low budget Two Jacks does well is allow Rose to continue liberating himself from the regimented stylistic flourishes he had mastered in films like Immortal Beloved.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Movie Review: A.C.O.D. (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

Stuart Zicherman's directorial debut, A.C.O.D., is a pleasant enough, undemanding film that has the whiff of the autobiographical. When I turned to my wife after we were done watching it, I asked, "So what'd you think?" "It was alright," she said. "I thought it was okay for an indie," I said. "Oh, it was an indie? Yeah, it was pretty good for an indie." And then we went to bed. It's kind of sad, actually, when a movie with such a powerhouse comedic cast that includes the likes of Adam Scott and Amy Poehler (both from Parks and Recreation), the great Richard Jenkins, and the singular Catherine O'Hara can only muster a wordier version of "Meh!" from a film critic and his wife.

Movie Review: Escape Plan (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

I can't ignore that my kneejerk reaction to just about any Sylvester Stallone movie is, "This is gonna be good." So I'm putting that out there. But Escape Plan is just the kind of well-executed high concept thriller that I believe demonstrates how canny the actor's instincts have become, especially in his middle age. Here's a man who didn't listen to casting directors who wanted to pigeonhole him in stereotypical thug roles early in his career, wrote the Academy Award-nominated screenplay for Rocky to showcase his leading man potential, then after working with some notable filmmakers got sidetracked by movie star excesses in the 90s before returning to late stardom with The Expendables, a franchise which he humbly shared with action star friends and rivals, figuring that a rising tide lifts all boats.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

NYFF51 Review Wrap-Up: Blue is the Warmest Color (La Vie d'Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2) (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

Two of the year's best performances, female and otherwise, are found in this year's problematic Palme d'Or winner at Cannes, Blue is the Warmest Color (La Vie d'Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2). Abdellatif Kechiche's 3-hour lesbian romance stars Adèle Exarchopoulos as Adèle and Léa Seydoux as Emma, two young women who embark on a passionate love affair with serious, life-changing consequences for at least one of them. That would be Adèle, who the movie follows from her high school years on through to her first years as a schoolteacher.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

NYFF51 Review Wrap-Up: Nebraska (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

These days, it's rare that I leave a movie screening with my face hurting from having smiled throughout its entire running time. And it might surprise you that the film in question is Nebraska, Alexander Payne's return to the kind of caustic humor that pervaded his earlier movies like Citizen Ruth. Indeed, it's not that Nebraska is either particularly acrid or funny in the way that, say, Payne's Election was. The reason I smiled throughout is because Nebraska is that rare movie which feels like it is speaking directly to me, not condescending or talking up to me from a level of idiocy. From the moment the black-and-white film begins, with its familiar but now retired Paramount logo of the 1970s, I felt like I was going to be well taken care of for the next two hours.

Monday, October 14, 2013

NYFF51 Cinephiliacs Podcast

by Tony Dayoub

If you want to hear (that's right... hear) my thoughts on a few of the top films I saw at the 51st New York Film Festival, then you should check this out. Peter Labuza of LabuzaMovies had me on this week's Cinephiliacs podcast to discuss some of 2013's top movies, most of which you'll be hearing about come awards time but have yet to be released. It's a wide-ranging conversation which, thanks to Peter's astute questioning, produces some interesting insight into some of the festival's finest films. Download it here or on iTunes.

Friday, October 11, 2013

NYFF51 Review: Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)

by Tony Dayoub

A black velvet sky full of stars fills the screen. As the credits appear, the distinctive opening chords of rockabilly standard "Funnel of Love" start playing and the stars begin to streak in a clockwise direction. The image dissolves into an overhead shot of the song's 45 spinning clockwise on a turntable. Then a succession of dissolves and each time the camera spins and spirals ("...down, down, down..." as Wanda Jackson sings) closer into Eve (Tilda Swinton), a pale, white-tressed woman dressed in Eastern attire laying on a large bed, and Adam (Tom Hiddleston), a ghostly, raven-haired man splayed across a couch in more recognizable Western clothes, a guitar in hand. This alluring introduction sets the tone for Jim Jarmusch's most mesmerizing film in quite some time, Only Lovers Left Alive.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

NYFF51 Review: The Invisible Woman (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

Ralph Fiennes' second directorial effort, The Invisible Woman is an adaptation of Claire Tomalin's book of the same name, which detailed the long hidden love affair between author Charles Dickens and Ellen "Nelly" Ternan. Considerably younger than Dickens (played by Fiennes), Nelly (Felicity Jones) was an actress from a family of actors who the movie posits may have begun the relationship as a bit of a moon-eyed groupie. Dickens was already renowned for his works and his appearance was well known to many a Londoner. This makes for the film's best instances showing the at times negative aspects of fame Dickens—who enjoyed the adulation—had to contend with as he carried out his dalliance. No doubt this facet of the story was the easiest point of identification for the congenial and celebrated Fiennes.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

NYFF51 Review: All is Lost (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

While hardcore admirers of Gravity are getting their collective back up because astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is finding all kinds of nits to pick in their beloved movie, there's another front from which to criticize the science fiction survival film that has seen very little discussion. Let's be clear, just as Tyson admits he liked the film, I believe Gravity is a spectacular adventure. But its tale of an astronaut stranded in the vastness of space is not too dissimilar from All is Lost, starring Robert Redford as a man adrift miles from land in a sinking sailboat. Between the two, Gravity has nothing on All is Lost when it comes to creating even the impression of real despair in the face of peril.

Monday, October 7, 2013

NYFF51 Review: 12 Years a Slave (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

What makes 12 Years a Slave so incisive isn't that it is a particularly apt depiction of slavery. It's that director Steve McQueen makes the viewer feel like it is. In his previous film Shame, McQueen got us to identify with a lascivious sex addict. In 12 Years, his third film (and his third entry in the New York Film Festival), McQueen does something quite ingenious by choosing to follow the true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor). In electing to tell of the ordeal of an educated, free African American from the North, kidnapped and sold into slavery, he makes Northup's fear and outrage our own.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

NYFF51 Review: The Immigrant (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

James Gray is a director whose affinity for 70s New Hollywood films has always been obvious. The Godfather films are his most pronounced influence, and one could do far worse than to have those two movies guiding one's hand when directing. On its face, The Immigrant appears to be Gray's most blatant quote of The Godfather (Part II, specifically) yet. But it's how Gray subverts our expectations connected to that film that ultimately marks The Immigrant as his strongest film yet.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

NYFF51 Centerpiece Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

It is clear that The Secret Life of Walter Mitty represents a huge leap for Ben Stiller as a director. Not since his first film, Reality Bites, has Stiller turned his preoccupation with pop culture iconography into emotional signposts for the inner life of his characters. That's not to say that there isn't a vague sense of detachment when one sees this fantasy about a self-marginalized man who dreams of connecting with the people in his life, a work crush (Kristen Wiig), and ultimately himself. For a movie about forging such bonds Walter Mitty is curiously devoid of emotions for much if not necessarily all of its lengthy 114-minute running time. Still, this is the closest Stiller comes to creating a moving work, so it's easy to see why its filmmakers have award aspirations for it.

NYFF51 Opening Night Review: Captain Phillips (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

[A disclaimer: Though I actually saw Captain Phillips at a hometown press screening, I thought I'd present it alongside the rest of the films I'm watching at the New York Film Festival since it was their opening night gala selection. It opens in theaters across the country Friday, October 11th.]

The 2009 hijacking of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates off the horn of Africa was destined to become a movie in some form or another. That Paul Greengrass, action director of the two most popular Bourne movies and United 93, got his hands on it before it was relegated to TV movie status is, I suppose, the better alternative. Based on the book A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Phillips, the Alabama's captain, Captain Phillips is a knuckle-biter of a suspense film, depicting the siege in a way that still elicits fear and tension from events most of us know the outcome of. So now that we've established that I believe Captain Phillips is a well-executed nerve-jangling thriller, lets talk about its problematic politics, a subject which often arises when discussing Greengrass's films.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Movie Review: Gravity (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

Alfonso Cuarón—the director who so flamboyantly enhanced the dystopic Children of Men with a number of extended single-take shots nearly impossible to deconstruct—opens his newest film Gravity with its own dizzying, extended take which I clocked at 20 minutes long. It brilliantly introduces laidback veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and his high-strung novice subordinate, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) on a routine spacewalk. The shot establishes the majesty of their work environment in space and slowly ratchets up the unsettling feeling that in this unnatural environment the dangers are far from predictable. Emmanuel Lubezki's constantly pirouetting camera contributes to the stomach-churning feeling of disquiet that gradually increases as the shot goes on way past what most audiences are subliminally accustomed to. So when an unforeseen collision demolishes the space shuttle the two astronauts are tethered to, the shock and terror is more than palpable. In 3D on an IMAX screen, it is unforgivingly all-encompassing.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Movie Review: Rush (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

Rush—the first great movie of the fall—hits theaters today, and it's by Ron Howard? The journeyman director has always been competent, but hardly impressive. With no particular distinctive qualities to distinguish him stylistically from any other filmmaker, Howard has had a difficult time earning the respect of critics, though this has been less of an issue when it comes to his peers or audiences. In years to come, Rush may prove to be the key work in understanding Howard's invisible style.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Movie Review: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

Be assured, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is definitely better than the first. That being said, this is not a major accomplishment since the first movie was a major slog to get through. With a color palette that ranged from day-glo to rainbow-tastic and rubber-band-shaped characters with malleable, indistinct personalities to match, it was a forgettable movie where scientist Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) was forced to sabotage his own invention-gone-wild after it starts creating gigantic food-based weather issues for his island town, Swallow Falls. Overlong and predictable, it was a dull affair even for pint-sized animated film fans. In this respect, Cloudy 2 is a success; the kids at the screening I attended (including my own) were engaged throughout, as were a good number of the adults.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Movie Review: Inequality for All (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

Whether it's Fox News or MSNBC, if you watch cable news, you've seen Robert Reich before. The 4'10" economics expert is a frequent guest pundit on political talk shows. Currently a Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley and famed for his tenure as Bill Clinton's labor secretary, Reich also comes across as a bit of a showman in Inequality for All. This is not entirely a bad thing as the new documentary demonstrates. Sometimes it takes someone with a sense of the theatrical to explain our fractured economy in a way the layman can understand.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Movie Review: Enough Said (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

A sweet, sensitive romantic comedy, Enough Said seems like the perfect vehicle for Julia Louis-Dreyfus to finally get a shot at big-screen stardom. The untimely death of James Gandolfini, whose range was often underutilized, is heartbreaking given how director Nicole Holofcener manages to position this story of two divorcées finding love as a could-have-been potential breakout hit for both TV actors. Because of Gandolfini's passing, a bittersweet pall hangs over Enough Said that sometimes threatens to obscure the inherent gentleness of the film. Ultimately, though, both stars' engaging performances allow the movie to transcend whatever preconceived notions, real-world or otherwise, we attach to them.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Movie Review: The Short Game (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

Opening today in Atlanta (at AMC Phipps Plaza 14 and AMC Barrett Commons), The Short Game is a documentary about child golf champions. Of interest to more than sports fans, Josh Greenbaum's film presents us with close to ten kids from all around the world who in many cases seem better equipped to handle the pressure of competition than their parents or even, maybe, you. The first half is spent getting to know each golfer, their "daddy caddies" (the parent who helps them set up for the next shot), and their particular strengths and weaknesses. Most notable among the players: the surprisingly well adjusted Allan Kournikova, 7-year-old brother of, yes, that other famous Kournikova; 7-year-old Alexa Pano, reigning female world champion for her age who's even beat some 13-year-olds in competition; 8-year-old Amari Avery, a rising star with a bit of a temper when things don't go her way and nicknamed Tigress because her ethnic background is similar to that of Tiger Woods; 8-year-old Zama Nxasana, who's traveling all the way from South Africa for his next shot at bringing a trophy home; and 8-year-old Sky Sudberry, a diminutive Texan who never gets too caught up in the ups and downs of chasing down her dreams.

Movie Review: Prisoners (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

Few of us who have children could imagine how we would react if they had been kidnapped. Would we crumble under the emotional pressure, or would we keep enough of our wits about us to try to somehow deal with the situation? Denis Villeneuve's harrowing Prisoners presents us with a spectrum of parental reactions, ranging from that of an utterly broken mom spending most of her time weeping in bed to that of a bitter father charging through crime scenes at suspects who might not even have much to do with the disappearance at all.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Movie Reviews: In a World... (2013) and Things Never Said (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

As Carol Solomon, Lake Bell plays a vocal coach whose only work prospect at the moment is coaching actress Eva Longoria on a cockney accent for a movie she has to completely re-loop.
Longoria: Is that what you think you stupid slapper?
Carol: "Fink." Switch out the "t-h" for an "f'."
Longoria: Is that what you fink you stupid slapper?
It's a thankless task, made worse by the fact that Carol's dad Sam (Fred Melamed) believes it's the closest she'll come to following in his famed footsteps. Dad is a semi-retired movie trailer voice-over artist operating under the stage name Sam Sotto. His assertions of few opportunities for women in his line of work are constant and dispiriting. But Carol makes her own breaks, and is soon pursuing a career holy grail, to resurrect the cliché opener for many film previews, "In a world...", words that haven't been uttered over a trailer since the passing of the man most associated with the phrase, Don La Fontaine. The slight yet ingenious premise of In a World... allows Bell, who also wrote and directed, to craft a hilariously original comedy that feels like a Christopher Guest-directed mockumentary with an eccentric Annie Hall-type at its center.

The 51st New York Film Festival

by Tony Dayoub

Here's a tantalizing taste of the films playing in what I consider to be the most prestigious film festival in the U.S. Next month, I'll be doing my customary week of press screenings. Until then, enjoy a look at some of the amazing movies I plan on covering.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Movie Review: Short Term 12

by Tony Dayoub

Such is the power of Brie Larson's performance that it is, I assure you, what people will remember Short Term 12 for, both at the end of the year and perhaps far into the future. Larson has had some memorable turns before. She played Scott Pilgrim's bleached blond ex-grrlfriend Envy in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World; Molly, the popular high-schooler mixed up with a small-time dealer in last year's 21 Jump Street; and Cassidy, the level-headed ex-girlfriend of slick alcoholic Sutter in this year's The Spectacular Now. Get the picture? Larson is a talented actor who keeps getting stuck with pivotal, but still second-tier, supporting parts in some fairly good films. In Short Term 12, an astonishingly unpretentious indie about a foster-care facility for wayward teens, Larson gets to take center stage as Grace, an astute but conflicted counselor. And it is the viewer who gets to reap the rewards.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Movie Reviews: Austenland and Riddick

by Tony Dayoub

Summer blockbuster season is over. Film festival season has begun. But Oscar contenders (and this year there are many) haven't exactly started to filter out of the festivals and into general release just yet. In the meantime, studios are padding out their schedule with their second-tier product. Two films opening today in Atlanta fall into this middle ground. Not quite potential cash cows or destined for critical acclaim, each is a niche movie designed to appeal either to males or females but probably not both. Austenland is about an obsessive Jane Austen fangirl who has the opportunity to visit the immersive Austen getaway whose name gives the film its title. Riddick is the third entry in the Vin Diesel science fiction franchise created by writer-director David Twohy. One is a fairly original story with potential for unique greatness. The other is built on a hackneyed plot offering few surprises. Which do you think is the more successful of the two? Read on... it's probably not the one you'd expect.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Movie Review: Closed Circuit (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

True to its title, Closed Circuit begins with a view of a London marketplace through a closed circuit camera. Gradually, the view changes from that of just one camera to two, then four, then eight, multiplying exponentially with each new conversation the cameras pick up from shoppers strolling through the street market. In this age of global terrorism, this is what life is like in one of the most wired-for-surveillance cities in the world. And director John Crowley's split-screen effect underscores how difficult it is to keep track of multiple information flows simultaneously. Just when you think you've gotten your bearings a truck pulls into the market, stopping illegally in front of one complaining vendor and occupying an increasing amount of visual space in each camera angle and therefore the entire screen. You don't have long to surmise something's wrong before the truck explodes, killing all of the innocent bystanders discussing their mundane life events minutes earlier.

Monday, August 26, 2013

August Blu-rays

by Tony Dayoub

This will probably be my final opportunity to recommend some Blu-ray releases (along with actual screen captures) before we get into festival and awards season. Let's look at a few of the best August had to offer.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Movie Review: You're Next

by Tony Dayoub

After a terrifying prologue, You're Next begins with ultra-cute Erin (Sharni Vinson) and her pudgy boyfriend Crispian (AJ Bowen) on their way to a weekend at his parents' secluded vacation home. They're to join a family reunion to celebrate Mom and Dad's anniversary. The conversation in the car is about what you'd expect. Erin asks if Crispian's parents are as "loaded" as she's heard. A visibly nervous Crispian admits this is true. But what's really creating the unspoken tension is Crispian's reticence for Erin to meet his complicated family. Who hasn't been in that situation? "What's wrong with them?" Erin asks. After a moment of silence that lasts for what seems like eons, Crispian says two words.

"You'll see."

Friday, August 16, 2013

Movie Review: Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

You can divide audiences for historical movies into a few categories. Of course, there are those that view them simply as entertainment the way they view all other films. There are people like me, who hope to uncover something new, i.e. Lincoln reframed much of what I knew about my favorite president through the lens of today's politics. Then there are those who simply want what they already believe to be validated by such a movie. It's hard to figure out who Lee Daniels is talking to with Lee Daniels' The Butler (the last time I'll be referring to it by its full, unwieldy and legally imposed title). On the one hand, The Butler is eminently watchable, moving along at a very nimble pace that should appeal to both young audiences ignorant of civil rights history and older audiences wanting to re-experience the history the turbulent times they lived through in a nutshell. But I'm not certain that Daniels is aiming for either constituency.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Underrated: Rock Hudson in Seconds (1966)

by Tony Dayoub

I admit it's something of a misnomer to call Rock Hudson's performance in Seconds underrated. For years, Hudson has been praised for his turn in the John Frankenheimer thriller and deservedly so. But ask even the most avid film buff if they've seen the movie and you usually get something along the lines of, "I keep meaning to, but I just haven't gotten to it yet." Well, that should change after today with the Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray release.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Tucker: The Man and His Dream at 25

by Tony Dayoub

As you've no doubt noticed from the last few entries in this series, the waning days of 1988's summer didn't feel quite like the blockbuster season we now see extending all the way up to September. Opening on August 12, 1988, Francis Ford Coppola's Tucker: The Man and His Dream was the kind of prestige project you'd more likely associate with awards season. For Coppola, it is among his most personal films, not only because it spent the longest time in gestation, but because it's the closest the filmmaker has ever come to a confessional about the professional betrayals he'd contended with in his career, and the virtues and flaws of mounting a creative collaboration.


Friday, August 9, 2013

Movie Review: The Spectacular Now (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

"Have you turned her into a lush yet?" That's the pertinent question Cassidy (Brie Larson) asks her ex-boyfriend, Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) in James Ponsoldt's The Spectacular Now. Cassidy's concern belies the fact that she's referring to Sutter's new girlfriend, Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley). Is she trying to protect the naïve Aimee from the perhaps alcoholic Sutter's charming sort of peer pressure? Is Cassidy warning Sutter not to lose his new love the way he lost her, by refusing to look past the present? Or is she mindful of her own unresolved post-breakup feelings over Sutter's inability to simply subsist without an oversized plastic cup full of spiked soft drink in hand to sweeten the day? This unpretentious but loaded line of dialogue is representative of the kind of complexity that makes The Spectacular Now feel like a teen romance with an old soul.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Movie Review: The Canyons (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

Paul Schrader gets no respect. After considerable trouble mounting his newest film, The Canyons, detractors seem to be delighting in pointing out how shallow the film is, taking particular aim at his casting of porn star James Deen and troubled actress Lindsay Lohan as the leads. It's another instance, a la The Lone Ranger, of critics taking part in a bit of schadenfreude. Months before its release, a journalist examines a movie's troubled production history ad nauseam and the zeitgeist signals rough times ahead for said film. But those looking only for evidence to support their pre-conceptions are missing or willfully ignoring the underlying tension Schrader explores in The Canyons, an elegy for traditional cinema and its filmmakers in the advent of fractured world of digital moviemaking.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Movie Review: The Wolverine

by Tony Dayoub

Up until its over-the-top, meta-power-laden ending, The Wolverine is so unlike the prototypical superhero genre film one wishes it were as good in execution as it is conceptually. As dark and exotic as its setting in Japan promises, much of The Wolverine plays like a 70s style crime thriller with the feral Logan (Hugh Jackman) in the role of the gaijin outsider in over his head. Echoes abound of Sydney Pollack's The Yakuza (1974) and Ridley Scott's Black Rain (1989), both films featuring a world where ritual is inextricably tied to methods of conducting business and clan warfare starring deceptively low-key Japanese actors who outflank their iconic American co-stars. And at least in this role, after his unprecedented fifth outing as Wolverine (sixth if you count his X-Men: First Class cameo), Jackman has crossed over into something close to superhero icon.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Four Suggestions for the Final Weekend of Barnes and Noble's Criterion Sale

by Tony Dayoub

Barnes and Noble's semi-annual Criterion Collection sale, where one can obtain the pricey but well-curated discs for 50% off, is over on Monday, July 29 August 5th [Update: the sale has been extended for an additional week. (h/t to Scott Nye)]. I've got my discs. Do you have yours? If not, may I suggest four of their most recent Blu-ray releases for your perusal. Three are upgrades from films previously available on Criterion DVD, but the first one listed here is new to the collection.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Dennis Farina

by Tony Dayoub

Perhaps Dennis Farina was best known for Law & Order where he played the sartorially gifted police detective Joe Fontana for two seasons. But Farina didn't just play policemen on TV. He was the real deal. A former Chicago cop, his streetwise affect led him to be typecast as either cop or thug. And his conviviality frequently made him ideal for filling the role of comic relief. But there was a dark streak that ran through Farina that was often untapped. Rarely was his ability to lapse into cool callousness utilized best than when he worked for the director who discovered him, Michael Mann.