Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: October 2013

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.