In Review: Vice

Vice arrives on the screen in a haze of dorm room pot smoke and farts, the kind of conceptual satire brewed up and whiffed out by dudes confusing vacuous provocation for sociopolitical sharpness. But the film’s larger problem is the self-awareness it lacks to see how its own gauche glibness bends closer to the boys club point of view of its demonic subject than it intends. The film belches ill-conceived sketches at us, guffawing at its structural somersaults as it depicts the wheel-turners of the Bush administration creating irrevocable circumstances both immediate and reemerging. Skewering is not enough to excuse how Vice renders some of the most dangerous people of our era into cartoons, resulting in a film grossly stooped in privilege, a film that wants to have its dumb cake and eat it too. It’s torturous, audience-hating claptrap.

vice-review2.jpg

Continue reading “In Review: Vice”

Best Actress of 2016

There may not be better proof of an overall strong film year than the oasis of leading actress performances we’ve been given. Best Actress giveth so much that it’s exceedingly difficult to take away from the many deserving performances by whittling it down to five. Missing from my final five is Isabelle Huppert’s Elle dexterity, Kate Beckinsale’s cunning shade in Love and Friendship, Rebecca Hall’s morphing intensity in Christine, the evasion of Krisha‘s addict Krisha Fairchild, and the deception of Min-hee Kim in The Handmaiden.

2016bestactresslineup.png

Amy Adams – Arrival
Consider the degree of difficulty that Adams makes look easy: the believability and coherence of Arrival‘s time-shifting twist (which only plays better on a second viewing). She’s its emotional and intellectual compass, without sacrificing either. The empathy and wonder in her face is transfixing.

Annette Bening – 20th Century Women
“Yes and no.” A performance of dualities and contradictions, as unknowable yet familiar to the audience as a parent to a child. There’s seldom a beat she doesn’t surprise, always remarkably underplaying emotion and humor. Reveals Dorothea even though Dorothea is evasive about revealing herself.

Sonia Braga – Aquarius
Her strength, her rage, her hair! Braga carries mortality, sexuality, and history (and with simplicity) for a full-bodied, lived-in performance. She layers the past into a fraught present while being wary of the future – she invites you into all of it so you experience it with her.

Viola Davis – Fences
A complete force of nature as Davis has ever been. Doting wife is a role Rose plays, but Davis lets the cracks show in that veneer. She disarms Washington because her resentments have built up as much as his. Davis makes forgiveness both Rose’s weakness and her strength.

Natalie Portman – Jackie
The many affectations only enhance the film’s study on ego and performance, but Portman is loose and unencumbered. At once a loose canon and frozen in place by the stages of grief, you never quite know what Jackie will emerge. Even her many selves deliver different kinds of rage.

And the Winner is…

Continue reading “Best Actress of 2016”

In Review!: “Nocturnal Animals”

For his 2009 debut A Single Man, fashion designer-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford had his share of detractors with a film labeled as “style over substance”. While that’s an unfair complaint in my estimation considering how it hums to the rhythms of Colin Firth’s soulful performance and its moments of sharp (yes, stylized) insight, his follow-up Nocturnal Animals doesn’t meet that superficial low bar. This time, the glossy veneer can’t distract from the blank experience of the film of dual narratives: frosty art maven Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) receiving a manuscript from her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal), and the grimy, violent novel itself (with Gyllenhaal playing its lead).

nocturnalanimals-review1.jpeg

The two stories are tied together in clunky ways, but the separate parts themselves are vacuously rendered enough to make Animals rarely more than tedious. Flipping back and forth between Morrow’s reflections on her marriage and the subpar book she reads, the film aimlessly flirts with genre and mood without goals or singular vision – the potboiler portion feeling particularly disengaged. The film throws (or rolls, or shrugs) quite a bit at the audience without any foresight on how to make it stick.

Continue reading “In Review!: “Nocturnal Animals””

In Review!: “Arrival”

Denis Villeneuve returns after the genius Sicario for another highwire balance act of theme, genre, and entertainment with science fiction wonder Arrival. As much as Villeneuve is proving to be a master of assembling precise craftspeople to create a harmonious experience with his films, Arrival also proves him to be one of the deepest empathy. If Sicario and Prisoners gave his worlds actual brutality, this time there is an agony of the soul to which he finds our greater natures – this is ultimately his most optimistic film, but the emotional triumph is also the most hard won. In a bravura feat of cinema, science, and language, Arrival will deceive you with its modesty and surprise you in its ideas.

arrival-review1.jpeg

From the film’s mysterious outset, Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is brought in as a language expert to facilitate contact with one of twelve alien vessels that have dropped across the globe. The intent of the visitation is unclear, the alien heptapods frightening but not obviously dangerous. As Banks develops vocabulary and communication with the visitors, the limits of language on her own planet escalates the sense of paranoia. Without spoiling too much, the film becomes about the very nature of language to alter our perceptions, our ability to think and feel.

Continue reading “In Review!: “Arrival””