Reviews written by registered user
|614 reviews in total|
Jake Gylennall channels Norman Bates and TV news gets cuffed around in
Nightcrawler an absorbing tale of cold blooded ambition. Shot in an
around the neo noir capital of LA Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom slithers
through its dark underbelly with a disturbing detachment that garners
him the attention and admiration of local station directors and talking
heads who live by the coda "If it bleeds it leads." Bloom, a petty
criminal out ripping off fencing and manhole covers one evening comes
upon an auto accident being covered by free lance videographers and
decides to give it a shot. With a second rate video camera and first
rate chutzpah he barrels into action, crossing police barriers and
getting what others can't. His work now leads the newscast and he
parleys that into bedding a ratings desperate news director Nina (Renee
Russo)and hot red muscle car to roam LA after dark in search of
carnage. When he is first on the scene to a house invasion with three
dead he gets the money shots but also withholds evidence in hopes of
stage managing an even bigger exclusive.
Gyllenhaal is annoyingly excellent as the creepy Bloom, a focused pragmatic, misfit void of empathy and compassion. He may lack social skills and border on psychotic but his self confidence and deductive reasoning remains dispassionately sound. In a strong supporting role Rene Russo's news manager may be more grounded but she is just as jaded and perverse as Bloom as she plays fast and loose with the truth for ratings.
Writer director Dan Gilroy does a fine job of maintaining suspense while hammering home the theme of the media run amok. In addition cinematographer Dan Elswit's night shots and fractured hand held imagery inform and provide a suitable backdrop to Bloom's task at hand. It is the highly effective and disturbing performance of Gyllenhaal though that remains at the center of Nightcrawler, elevating it to an above average thriller with some hints of Network thrown in.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ben Affleck's wooden ways work to his advantage in this suspenseful
missing wife tale based on the bestseller of the same name. Going up
against a determined and ambitious mate his dim abilities prove to work
to his advantage in the role as the craftier wife played with homicidal
aplomb by Rosalind Pike runs circles around him and the community.
Nick and Amy are about to observe their fifth wedding anniversary in less the best of circumstances where the home dynamic has become frayed over time. Upon arriving home one day he finds she has disappeared with evidence of perhaps a struggle. He reports her missing to authorities but becomes the focus of a possible murder investigation instead as he contradicts himself and evidence he can't explain pops up. Meanwhile Amy makes herself as scarce as possible by going trailer park chic as Ben squirms before authorities and the bright light of the media with a vile Nancy Grace type (played with unctuous relish by Missi Pyle) leads the attack. When the resourceful Amy runs into a road block with a couple of low rent operators she is forced to restructure her diabolical plan and works a former paramour into the scheme (Neil Patrick Harris), raising the stakes.
Gone Girl is part Gothic horror part parody of todays rabid 24 hour news cycle and internet village descending on a befuddled working stiff being pummeled by a comely harridan who has done her homework with a vindictive zeal not seen around these parts since Glenn Close boiled the rabbit in fatal attraction. Affleck's vapid acting chops work well with his clueless character as he fumbles over his alibi again and again as the focused and out of sight Amy makes life a living hell for him. While Affleck garners audience sympathy it is Pike's ruthless Amy that fascinates and lights up the screen with energy and venom.
Director Fincher's deliberate style lags occasionally and the plot reeks of incredulity at times but with logic suspended he delivers more than a fair share of powerfully edited tension filled scenes balanced against a sardonic take on media and society. When combined with a villainess for the times Gone Girl is one fine entertainment.
Woody Allen applies plenty of lipstick (period costume, jazz age cars,
lush interiors, grand gardens) to this torpid pig featuring Colin Firth
as a magician in pursuit of debunking a comely spiritualist played by
Emma Stone. Mannered and lifeless it casually takes its time to come to
its telegraphed conclusion in dull passionless fashion.
Renowned magician and exposer of frauds to the trade Stanley accepts an invitation to a country estate of a fabulously wealthy dowager to unmask a mother daughter team attempting to siphon cash out of the gullible senior. Smugly and sarcastically he confronts conjurer Sophie in their first meeting but she soon rattles him with revelations that turn him into a believer. Unanswered questions remain however.
Firth is letter perfect as usual playing the pompous condescending Stanley, slowly disassembling before the enigmatic Sophie over the course of the film. Stone's Emma is all wide eyed beauty and anemic, feeding Stanley set up lines for him to expound upon or be confounded by. There is little wit or bite to go around in their conversation as the stylish and opulent look of the film threatens to supplant them as the main focus of the film in more than one scene.
The prolific hit or miss career of Allen continues to roll along at an astounding pace as he re-tools old story lines and themes (shades of Kiss of the Jade Scorpion and Scoop in this one) as well replace his alter ego from film to film. In the case of Firth he has an excellent one, more Wilde than Chayevsky, displaying the same hand gestures and classic Allen pontificating incertitude, fumbling over his thoughts. He is also working in his wheelhouse (the era) when it comes to his musical taste but no matter how much Bix he employs Magic in the Moonlight has none at any time of the day.
With his typical sophisticated British reserve Noel Coward barely
manages to get The Astonished Heart beating before it eventually
arrests completely. Coward, the author of one of cinema's classic tales
of infidelity Brief Encounter, gives an oh so proper but passionless
performance as a loyal marital partner swept up in an unintended
romance. Sound familiar? Dr. Christian Faber is totally absorbed with
his work as a psychologist while being ably supported by his
understanding wife Barbara (Celia Johnson). Enter school girl chum of
the past Lenora Vail (Margaret Leighton). Dr.Faber is not impressed at
first but the vampish Lenora remains intrigued, pursues and the two
dully hook-up. He walks on his wife but overwhelmed with guilt and the
fact Leonora is still looking around he sees the folly of his act and
Coward isn't the only one chipping in a sub par performance in this mawkish affair of the heart. Leighton's femme fatale is over the top and without boundaries while the magnificent Celia Johnson simply frets and looks wide eyed at the situation as a willing martyr. Neither show any chemistry with Coward who is too wrapped up in his own emotions as he enunciates his predicament in tremolo.
Lifeless performances aside the story itself never takes on much of an urgency outside of the opening scene clue that is the linchpin of this overheated bore of tepid passion and structured decorum. It doesn't even deserve a brief encounter never mind a full viewing.
Late one evening a restless Cheryl Draper (Barbara Stanwyck) witnesses
a murder in the apartment building across from her. She calls the
police but suspect and author Albert Richter (George Sanders) covers
his tracks quickly to cast doubt on Draper's story. After he gets the
body out of his apartment he goes on the offensive to frame Draper and
he succeeds in having her briefly committed.
Released earlier in the same year as Hitchcock's masterpiece Rear Window, Witness to Murder's two stellar lead players are given a rather far fetched at times script to work with as gaping holes in the plot and a villain with a brazen confidence that has the local law unwittingly colluding with him and browbeating and stepping all over Draper's rights rings false in more than one scene. No shrinking violet herself Draper in turn stomps on over to Richter's place to confront him and make herself an easier target.
Stanwyck provides some stale and strident Sorry Wrong Number hysteria along with a brief bit of Snake Pit horror while Sander's iniquitous Richter with sadistic inflection and multi lingual talent fare much better. Gary Merrill tepidly underplays the role of detective and romantic interest while Maytag repairman Jesse White as his partner has the film's best line mocking and humming the Dragnet theme and if I may quote Sgt. Friday regarding this film I would say "Nothing here to see folks, move on".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Maidstone is another flight of insufferable ego from Norman Mailer in
which the "great man" plays radical filmmaker and presidential timber
Norman Kingsley. Shot in color and the wide open spaces of East Hampton
on a bigger budget it is a marked departure from Mailer's two earlier
claustrophobic bores but it still suffers from the same disjointed
improvised stuttering about by clueless characters attempting to
interact with Mailer's badgering.
It's all moribund living theatre as Mailer/Kingsley and camera roam grand East Hampton estates and get in the face of a bevy of false eye lash candidates explaining obliquely what the role entails which from the looks of the footage a substantial amount of it calls for making out with the sybaritic Norman. There are some pallid attempts to shock with some crass soft porn as well as address social issues with disenfranchised minorities along with heavy doses of Mailer pontificating in a couple of accents. Meanwhile he hacks at the editing with a machete turning everything into a sound bite.
Later under a shady tree Norman summarizes to cast and crew what he was attempting to get at with his seesaw reality/fiction production likening it to a battle and attack, something it seems actor Rip Torn takes to heart when he attacks Norman with a hammer since fictional Kingsley is target for assassination. Mailer is taking a beating before wife Betty Bentley and the kids step in to save Norm. But the camera keeps rolling as the winded, bleeding and incredulous writer stumbles off (along with his traumatized family), a victim of his pretentious hyperbole but not before recording the most powerful and absorbing scene of the whole film in which Mr. Torn must be given writing credit. Despite this happy ending it remains an arrogant mess of smarmy guerrilla theatre filled with the fatuous musings of a guy desperate for attention willing to say anything to do just that.
Made before, after or the same night as the abominable Wild 90, Norman
Mailer and buds take it up a notch in Beyond the Law. It is still
terrible filmmaking but anything is an improvement over 90, an
indecipherable mishmash of inebriated bravado not worth the celluloid
it is printed on. In Law there is more of a storyline, a larger cast of
characters, a variety of location and some sloppy jump cutting that is
more frazzle than dazzle by auteur Mailer who chips in another
incoherent performance along with his smooth operator pals.
Law opens in a NY precinct with a line-up in progress. Plenty of tough talk improvisation and poor recording render it banal immediately. There is more of the same in rooms with suspects being grilled by indecorous cops who believe physical force is the best motivator. The mayor (George Plimpton) visits to see if the cops are playing by the rules and walks away clueless and convinced they are. Off duty our heroes meet up with the ladies and juxtapose their down time with their on the clock shenanigans, quite prevalent as the Knapp Commission would later show.
Mailer has the bare bones of a decent story that might have had some traction in the hands of a semi-competent filmmaker but as in Wild 90 old Norm and cast decide to clumsily improvise their way around as a boom mike makes surprise entrances in scenes attempting to capture some of the garbled dialog while the actors attempt to keep straight faces. Plimpton in particular shot from ankle angle does a poor job at doing either. Mailer of course is not about to be upstaged and mid-picture he decides to adopt an Irish accent which also fails to make him any more intelligible to translate. Rip Torn as suspect Popeye offers up the film's only interesting character and decent performance but he's not around for long while the abrasive Mailer wallowing in stumbling self indulgence refuses to go away. Terrible film? Yes, but Mailer's done worse.
In his directorial debut author/journalist and tireless self promoter
Norman Mailer has nowhere to go but up after this incoherent mess about
three "tough guys" holed up in a grimy room in lower Manhattan spouting
nonsequiter gibberish throughout its length. Rock doc low rent Maysles
Brother wannabe DA Pennebaker is also along for the ride to take blame
for the "script" and the atrocious camera and sound work in as abrasive
an Indy as one could ask for.
The film opens with a sloppy tracking shot of a clock reading 6 (AM, PM?) with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. It then cuts to a sparse mostly unfurnished apartment where the self satisfied Prince (Norm), Buzz Cameo and 20 Years drunkenly palaver and brag as they drink from quart bottles of Old Grand Dad, Seagrams and box with a light bulb. Some people drop in ( Mailer's wife, Light Heavyweight Champ Jose Torres as Kid Cha Cha) on the incipience to add nothing and the film ends as it began with a tracking shot of the same clock at 6:04. Was it all a dream? Try a case of very bad indigestion.
As famous for stabbing one of his wives at a party, sucker punching a gay writer (Gore Vidal) or making outrageous statements to an adoring NY Press as his checkered literary forays Mailer dives into filmmaking with the same braggadocio but with even worse results. Conversations are muddily recorded, shots over-lit, Mailer's inebriated musings indecipherable most of the time. From its all around sloppy construction I would venture the self assured Mailer probably caught a late night showing of Cassavetes, Shadows and a few hours of Warhol to know he could deliver the goods with his cool buddies and overwhelming charisma dispensing add-lib bon mots. He doesn't and it doesn't. Did it dent Mailer's ego or confidence as a filmmaker? Hardly, there would be more. Not as bad as Wild 90 but nevertheless terrible.
Employing his juggling expertise and visible nuances he carried into
his sound pictures one can almost hear W.C. Fields voice as you read
his title cards in Sally of the Sawdust. Younger, thinner and with less
dissipation about him Fields plays of all things a doting parent to
Sally (Carol Dempster) an orphan with a traveling circus.
Before Sally is born her well bred and off mother decides to run off with a show person against parents wishes and is disowned. With the father dead and the mother dying Poppy (Fields) agrees to return the child to her parents but then he decides to raise her himself. Together they tour and perform into her adulthood when the day of reckoning approaches, further complicated by Sally's romance with a swell and member of her grandparents polite society who disdain show people.
Directed by D.W. Griffith in the latter half of his career, Sally has a dated look for a 25 silent with many scenes hearkening back to his halcyon period a decade earlier as his famous montage style looks more like a Mack Sennett Keystone short in spots. Once again he focuses on societal hypocrisy and intolerance but it comes across hackneyed. Silent film had moved into its golden era and Griffith remained inert while Vidor, DeMille and Ingram were taking form and content to another level.
Fields is both funny and touching as he protects Sally and tries to make a living in a variety of dubious enterprises. Dempster is remarkably agile as she takes her licks in more than one scene as well as have a chameleon like look that goes from homely tomboy to deco sleek vamp. It is the energy and talent of both that carry Sally as they leave D.W. anachronistic style in the dust.
Ken Russell's audacious take on the life of composer Peter Tchaikovsky
will either dazzle or enrage you with its no holds barred presentation
of the tortured composer. Utilizing Tchaikovsky's music with both
romantic and sardonic abandon Russell paints a flamboyant picture to
accompany his score with stunning countryside homes and belle époque
surrounding of grandeur while savagely crosscutting squalor, depravity
and the horrors of asylum existence. Whether pluming the depths of
despair with his Symphony Pathetique (6th) or dark comically putting
the 1812 Overture to use Russell eviscerates the man with his music
while at the same time sympathizing with his plight. When first
released I can recall parents ushering their children from the theatre
during the first two reels. It was no Sleeping Beauty.
Russell opens his film in bravura fashion at a winter carnival with an energized montage that expeditiously introduces key players in his life. It ends in overt declaration by confirming rather than hinting at Tchaikovsky's homosexuality. With this out of the way he concentrates on his poorly planned and ill fated marriage to Nina (Glenda Jackson)as well as relationship with family and patroness Von Meck who gives him the freedom and ability to write and compose. When she unceremoniously cuts off his allowance without reason he turns to conducting which provides a huge source of income and honors. Meanwhile Nina is rapidly descending into madness.
As Tchaikovsky, Richard Chamberlain does a fine job of conveying the highs and lows of the composer's existence as well as an impressive feigning of the First Piano Concerto. Glenda Jackson's Nina is a raw unforgettable powerhouse of madness that few in the business might be capable of rising to. The cast also boasts some strong supporting performances from spot on acerbic foils Max Adrian, Ken Colley and Maureen Pryor.
Douglas Slocombe's lush cinematography and wife Sheila Russell's costuming greatly add to Russell's vision of the paradise and hell on earth the tragic composer lived and rather than allow for the mundane tedium and worship that goes along with most bios of great men and women went to it with an unquenchable ruthless energy brilliantly juxtaposing Tchaikovsky's (along with a few perfectly placed bars of Rimsky Korsakov) music with his poetic license to create one disturbing an unforgettable biography of a musical giant.
|Page 1 of 62:||          |