Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 18, 2014 2:00 pm 
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NEW YORK MOVIE JOURNAL (Sept.-Oct. 2014)

While in town for the 52nd New York Film Festival screenings and a short time thereafter I've also watched some movies in commercial releases around town and provided notes on these in the order in which I saw them.

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HONEYMOON (Leigh Janiak 2014) This starts out as a drama about how highly sexed newlyweds at a woodsy retreat start to discover odd edges in each other and gradually slides into B-horror-possession mode. And one criticism is that this development blunts the initial subtlety. But energetic, committed acting from Rose Leslie as Bea and Henry Treadaway as Paul makes up for any shortcomings in this intense, ultra-low budget picture. The first-time director is a woman. This debuted at SXSW. Seen at Cinema Village 15 Sept. 2014.

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BIRD PEOPLE (Pascale Ferran 2014). Since it debuted in Un Certain Regard Cannes in May this offbeat study of urban anomie set mostly at a fancy new Hilton Hotel on the edge of Charles De Gaulle Airport outside Paris has occasioned raves (Manohla Dargis, A.O. Scott) and some dissents (Richard Brody, Noel Murray). Anaïs Demoustier and Josh Charles star, with help from Roschdy Zem and Radha Mitchell. Charles is a Silicon Valley exec who decides while at the hotel to give up his job, wife, and life, and Demoustier is an uncertain Sorbonne student working as a maid at the hotel, whose own desires to take flight lead her to turn temporarily into a sparrow. This is a puzzle piece, and worthy of being seen, and debated. Seen at IFC Center 14 Sept. 2014.

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THE LITTLE BEDROOM/LA PETITE CHAMBRE (Stéphanie Chuat, Véronique Reymond 2010). Little Swiss French film about a grumpy oldster and frustrated woman who bond. Watched on a DVD screener to review for 26 September NYC theatrical release. Features the legendary French stage and screen actor Michel Bouquet. REVIEW,.

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JEALOUSY/LA JALOUSIE (Philippe Garrel 2013) Garrel's more pared-down autobiographical film, in which his POV is represented by a little girl and his father's stand-in is his son Louis Garrel, was shown in the 51st NYFF last year and I reviewed it then, but I enjoy Garrel's dreamy post-Nouvelle Vague world and his glamorously stark black-and-white images so I saw it again. Again I enjoyed the feisty little girl played by Olga Milshtein and the relatively closely scripted and tightly edited film. Metacritic 66. Watched 14 September at Quad Cinema, where it opened 14 August.

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THE MAZE RUNNER (Wes Ball 2014). Another YA action series, a leaner one whose action holds you throughout. It follows a makeshift society of teenage boys trapped in a "glade" surrounded by a giant shifting maze manned by critters called Grievers. In Thomas as played by the intense, chiseled Dylan O'Brian, the movie has a real leader figure, bold, brave, taking the initiative. The good supporting cast includes the Brits Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Newt) and Will Poulter (Gally). CGI is essential, yet not overused. The lone females are Kaya Scodelario (also a Brit) as Glade latecomer Teresa, and ex macchina lab baddie Patricia Clarkson. A fun way to unwind after a week of festival films. Metacritic 56%. Watched at Regal Union Square 20 September.

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THE SKELETON TWINS (Craig Johnson 2014). A hip indie Sundance hit, a bad news comedy starring SNL alums Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader as twins reunited after a decade on opposite coasts just when both have nearly offed themselves. One problem: this was one of those films whose every funny line and pointed moment was in the trailer so you check them off one by one all through as you watch. Definitely the actors, especially Hader as a rueful, modest gay guy, keep the action alive and play off each other well in key scenes. Luke Wilson is appealing as Wiig's normal-guy husband. The screenplay brings only routine resolution. Seems overrated by the critics. Metacritic 74. Watched at Angelika Film Center with a full crowd for a 5:15 show on Saturday, 20 September.

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THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY (Hossein Amini 2014). Iranian born, UK raised film writer Amini's first feature is an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's 1964 thriller. It's not quite one of her top-notch ones, but with its two American strangers, young and older, both of dubious morals, who meet in Greece and get involved in dodging the crimes of the older one and competing for his wife, it's very authentic Highsmith. They do a good job, with Kirsten Dunst right, Viggo Mortensen suitably blank and seedy, and the young Oscar Isaac of the Coens' INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS charismatic and mysterious. The period flavor is nicely maintained, even to the obtrusive "movie" music. Limited release 26 Sept., already Internet in Aug. Metacritic 66. Watched at Landmark Sunshine 28 September.

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THE DROP (Michaël R. Roskam 2014). Brooding, tense final James Gandolfini film, also the rarity of a film adaptation written by Dennis Lehane from one of his own short stories ("Animal Rescue"), transferring the setting from Boston to NYC. With Noami Rapace of DRAGON TATTOO fame and another ace young European actor, Belgian Matthias Schoenaerts of Audiard's RUST AND BONE, whose fellow countryman Roskam also directed his breakout 2011 film BULLHEAD (in Flemish). It's the brilliant 37-year-old English actor Tom Hardy (INCEPTION; TINKER, TAILOR; DARK NIGHT RISES; LOCKE) who makes the movie though. Another example of the impressive variety of Hardy's characterizations. Metacritic 69. Watched at Landmark Sunshine Sunday 5 October.

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PRIDE (Matthew Warchus 2014). One writer (Neil Smith, Total Film) about sums up this heartwarming new British film: "A feel-good charmer with an important message, Pride will have you clutching your sides, wiping your eyes and punching the air in triumph." It's based on the true story of how a small London gay and lesbian group raised significant amounts of cash to support the Welsh minors in their year-long strike bitterly fought by Margaret Thatcher, and formed a bond with a small Welsh community in 1984. At London Gay Pride in 1985, the Minors Union sent many busloads of members to support the celebration and show their gratitude and solidarity. Headliners in a big cast with much depth include Paddy Considine, Bill Nihy, Imelda Staunton, Ben Schnetzer and George McKay. Wonderfully low-key performance by the usually flamboyant Nihy. Metacritic 80. Watched at Regal Union Square Wednesday 7 October.

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THE OVERNIGHTERS (Jesse Moss 2014). A powerful recession documentary about men who flock to a little town in North Dakota where oil fracking booms and encounter local hostility when they can't find lodging and a Lutheran pastor helps them with his "Overnighters" program. How much lives hang by a thread, how hard it is to do good, how complex people are, these are among the troubling elements Moss unearths by sticking to his subject and watching what happens, which you could not predict and gets you in the gut. Metacritic 89. Watched at IFC Center Sunday 12 October. REVIEW.

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ST. VINCENT (Theodore Melfi 2014). Another "bad dad" tragicomedy arguing that very flawed individuals can qualify as "saints," such as Bill Murray's profane, paunchy, alcoholic gambler, who also turns out to be a war hero, loyal to his demented wife and a beloved mentor to a neighbor kid. Terrific performance by Murray. Warmth also from Naomi Watts, Chris O'Dowd, and (playing it straight) Melissa McCarthy, and child actor Jaeden Lieberher holds his own in the number two role. Not bad debut from director Melfi. Metacritic 64. Watched at Regal Union Sqauare Monday 13 October.

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KILL THE MESSENGER (Michael Cuesta 2014). Cuesta's 2001 L.I.E. was a bold and risky film but he got lost in TV thereafter. This narrative of how San Jose Mercury investigative reporter Gary Webb blew open the 1980's crack cocaine-C.I.A.-Contras funding story in 1996 and then was ostracized and silenced is disappointingly flat and by-the-numbers. Watch it for the information (it's a very important story) and the energetic performance by Jeremy Renner as Webb. Viewers should perhaps also see Shadows of Liberty (Jean-Philippe Tremblay), excerpted on Democracy Now's coverage of this topic. Tremblay's film presents Webb's story as an example of corporate media repression, destroying Webb's career for his best story, even when the CIA later fessed up. Metacritic 60. Watched at Angelika Film Center Tuesday 14 October.

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EVOLUTION OF A CRIMINAL (Darius Clark Monroe). A thirty-something African American NYU Film student makes a documentary (a bit on the rough side) about how at 16 he and some pals robbed a bank of $140,000 and he did jail time. The film was produced by Spike Lee. He (Monroe, not Spike Lee) organized the robbery to help his mother pay off family debts. He has tried to rise above this youthful mistake. The end of the film leads up to his studies at NYU. Several of his teachers say if they'd known his background they would not have trusted him, and a public defender (like one or two reviewers of the film) wonders if he's really reformed. This may leave you with mixed feelings, but it's different. Metacritic 76. Watched at IFC Center 14 October.

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DIPLOMACY/DIPLOMACIE (Volker Schlöndorff 2014). Film from a play (with the original actors) giving a fanciful version of how the German Nazi governor of Paris (Nils Arestrup) may have been persuaded by a Swedish diplomat who was born and spent his whole life in Paris (André Dusollier) to cancel the order, at the end of the war, just before the Americans took back the city, to blow up everything. It nearly all takes place in a royal suite of the Hotel Meurice. Wonderful actors, but a bit pedestrian proceedings. The most powerful thing is being made to contemplate the awful thought of Paris being systematically blown up: all the bridges (except the Pont Neuf), the Opéra, the Place de la Concorde, the Louvre, the train stations, flooding it all and turning it into rubble and creating a humanitarian disaster. Arestrup is the more impressive here. He speaks both German and French; he and Dusollier speak French. Metacritic 74. Watched at Film Forum 17 October.

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FURY (David Ayer 2014). Can a WWII action movie be completely traditional and still justify its existence? I guess with acting like Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, and their costars deliver and honesty and grit in the fight scenes like this, the answer has to be yes. This doesn't have the meaningful framework of Bernhard Wicki's 1959 The Bridge/Die Brücke, or the advantage of being from the German point of view, but its final to-the-death battle sequence reminded me of that powerful work. Ayer grew up in South Central L.A. and jointed the Marines at 18, so he has a knowledge of hard knocks. Metacritic 63. Watched at Regal Union Square 17 October. REVIEW.

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RUDDERLESS (William H. Macy 2014). Begin Again meets We Need to Talk About Kevin. Billy Cruddup as a father in an alcoholic tailspin after his son's death in a (university) school shooting gets a cache of the boy's stuff from his ex-wife, including CD's of a lot of listenable indie-emo songs he wrote and sings one at a club, Anton Yeltson loves it, and they form a band. This plot is sabotaged later on by a sick plot twist. Some find Yeltson annoying here; debatable. Crudup is good as usual. Not a success for Macy and not recommended. Metacritic 52. Watched at City Cinemas Village East Cinema, 2nd Ave., Saturday, 19 October.

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JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (John Ridley 2014). This movie about Jimi Hendrix, primarily restricted to his year in England up to just before he goes to the Monterey Pop Festival and becomes world famous, is oddball and English in style, POV and setting. There is much focus on Jimi's English manager and posh English admirer/promoter, Keith Richard's girlfriend (Imogen Poots). Writer/producer John Ridley (scripter and producer of 12 YEARS A SLAVE), who wrote and directed, however, is African American. André Benjamin, the musician and actor who plays Hendrix, is very good. JIMI, unconventional in lacking any iconic song performances due to copyright restrictions, is meandering and low-energy as well as excessively artsy and offbeat in camerawork and editing and goes wrong in some other key ways, but still has good lines and fine moments and Benjamin's performance and for fans of the music is a must-see. Metacritic 66. Watched at Landmark Sunshine 21 October.

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RELATIONSHIP STATUS: IT'S COMPLICATED (Manu Paayet 2014). This French rom-com isn't bad, merely blah. It brought back memories of Paris, because normally only in Paris would I see such a film. Payet, a TV comic, co-wrote and co-directed and stars as an appealing nebbish who's distracted from upcoming marriage to a wholesome girl (Anaïs Demoustier of BIRD PEOPLE, wasted, and badly photographed) by the return of an "American" flame (bilingual Emmanuelle Chriqui) he was in love with during middle and high school, who then went back to America 10 years ago. Good moments and hardworking comic supporting actors, but it doesn't sparkle. AlloCiné press rating a mediocre 3.0. Watched at Quad Cinema 22 October.

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JOHN WICK ( David Leitch, Chad Stahelski 2014).
It's baffling to me how this numbingly repetitious and virtually plotless revenge actioner got such relatively good reviews. The NY Times reviewer Jeannette Catsoulis called it "brilliant in its simplicity" and a "crafty revenge thriller" with "so much style" you don't notice its "lack of substance" as soon as you ought to. I noticed in the first five minutes, when the directors, one of whose background is as the star Keanu Reeves' stunt double, shows their inability to set up their protagonist in a fluid or interesting manner. Subsequent "elegance" doesn't make this generic violence worthwhile. Watched at a cineplex in South Hadley, MA on a side trip from NYC 25 October.

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THE HEART MACHINE (Zachary Wigon 2014). A little first feature set in NYC about a young man who suspects his cyber girlfriend is lying and is in the same city he is, and he sets out to investigate. Interesting. Watched at Cinema Village 26 October. REVIEW.

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REVENGE OF THE MEKONS (Joe Angio 2013). Doc about the well-liked (but never "successful"?) Brit punk/country band that with changing personnel has continued to thrive in its way since the late 1970's. Its continued life seems to be owed to strong and faithful members, flexibility, and never having to face "success." An appealing film but I never saw the magic of the group or its music, which in any case, seems to have varied over the years. Watched at Film Forum 31 October 2014.

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