Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: July 2013

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.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Movie Review: The Conjuring (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

How long has it been since a so-called horror movie actually scared you? Made you jump? Yes. Turned your stomach? Sure. But actually sent chills up your spine? The Conjuring is the first fright movie in years that accomplishes that. And without the aforementioned cheap tricks either. The Conjuring instead resorts to some of the tried and true techniques of classic horror cinema—the slow burn, viewer investment in its characters, polished camerawork—that have long been absent from the genre.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Movie Review: Pacific Rim (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

Pacific Rim—as hulking and earnestly dumb a blockbuster as are its robot Jaegers—represents a bit of a concession to box office realities from its director, Guillermo del Toro. While Del Toro is not exactly unknown, anyone outside of the most ardent film buffs or fanboys will probably not have heard of him. His finest films, The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth are both foreign language fantasies that mostly played in art houses. His previous stabs at box office respectability, Blade II and the Hellboy features, are horror tinged masterpieces of the comic book variety, released way before the popularity of superhero films really hit its peak. And just before he was to direct The Hobbit films for producer Peter Jackson, Jackson took the movies back for himself to helm. Well, he may have dodged a bullet with that last franchise, but you get the picture. Del Toro's a talented filmmaker with the worst kind of luck, still trying to prove to studio honchos that he can place the butts in the seats. So it's ironic that the well-reviewed Pacific Rim, as honest an attempt by Del Toro to prove he has what it takes to both excite and attract audiences, has been tracking so poorly in most box office forecasts.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Rehabbing Tonto

The Lone Ranger as Picaresque Tale

by Tony Dayoub

As The Lone Ranger shifts from the point of view of its hero, John Reid (Armie Hammer), to the first-person narrative of his Indian sidekick Tonto (Johnny Depp), the tired pulp story becomes a postmodern picaresque. A type of story with a long literary tradition but seldom seen on film, a picaresque is usually episodic in nature, a fact that contributes to what many perceive is the messiness of The Lone Ranger. Tonto exemplifies the typical picaresque hero (or picaro), noble in intentions but misguided and perhaps even unreliable in his perception of the events in which he is usually at the center. Like Arthur Penn's Little Big Man, this film begins with a rather decrepit Indian as a dubious storyteller, spinning a yarn full of non-sequiturs and magical realism that both uncomfortably overlap with heinous atrocities in order to subvert the typical white victor's perspective of the American western. The first appearance of Depp, made up to look a hundred-odd years old, is itself a metatextual reference to Little Big Man’s protagonist, Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman). Crabb is a white man raised by the Cheyenne who encounters famous figures like Wild Bill Hickok and George Armstrong Custer (who, in The Lone Ranger, finds his own visual parallel in a cavalry officer played by Barry Pepper), just before their grand, untimely ends...


Friday, July 5, 2013

2013 So Far: Midterm Top 10

by Tony Dayoub

So far, 2013 has been a stronger year for American cinema than I expected. But admittedly, my near complete ignorance of this year's foreign films probably has more to do with my lack of easy, timely access to them. By awards season I'll have seen most of this year's movies, and that usually upsets my list considerably. So I'm sure you'll see representation of the overseas contingent then. Anyway, whatevs... the list of 2013's best films so far, my response to Indiewire's recent Critics Poll, appears after the jump.