This month: “Bad Lieutenant”, “La belle personne”, “The Beloved”, “City of Ember”, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, “End of Watch”, “God Help the Girl”, “Gone Girl”, “Goodbye First Love”, “Keep the Lights On”, “Larger than Life”, “Life of Crime”, “The Long Goodbye” (pictured above), “Magic in the Moonlight”, “Maps to the Stars”, “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”, “Passion Play”, “Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets”, “Punch-Drunk Love”, “The Razor’s Edge”, “Reign Over Me”, “Sex Tape” and “Spanglish”.
I wrote some features recently you can find elsewhere, including a preview of London Film Festival 2014, a collection of “The Bill Murray films you probably haven’t seen”, an argument about “Why Gone Girl is David Fincher’s best since Zodiac”, a trend-watch piece on “How auteurs are taking over concert films”, a reminder that “Adam Sandler is still trying to be a serious actor”, and a deep look into “Woody Allen’s question to find the best Woody Allen”.
This month, the average rating is 5.02/10 with film of the month being the unproduced screenplay on my laptop. Follow @halfacanyon for more.
Bad Lieutenant (1992) – 7.5/10
Director: Abel Ferrara
Writers: Paul Calderon, Abel Ferrara, Zoë Lund
Starring: Harvey Keitel
“I’ve done so many bad things.”
La belle personne (2008) – 7/10
English title: The Beautiful Person
Director: Christophe Honoré
Writers: Christophe Honoré, Gilles Taurand, Madame de la Fayette (novel)
Starring: Louis Garrel, Léa Seydoux, Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet
“I know we’re two people, and so like anyone we could be together. But for how long?”
Once I accepted Garrel wasn’t Ben Schwartz with a French accent, I fell headfirst for Honoré’s playful modernisation of La Princesse de Clèves in a school – without the phoniness redolent of American romcoms updating Shakespeare. Junie (Seydoux) is the new girl in class who’s lost her mother, but attracts the attention of the boys, including her Italian teacher, Nemours (Garrel). Honoré fits the old-fashioned story into a 21st century setting where outdated ideas of romanticism still exist to everyone’s downfall. Even Nemours, a handsome teacher already juggling a few women around school, finds himself unable to resist Junie’s charms – mainly because she is, to him, a modern princess. (And she is, according the adaptation, a modern Princess de Clèves.) Honoré waits until the final act to throw in a few tantalising French New Wave touches that touch upon an emotional climax befitting a princess. A Parisian high school acting out a 17th novel, sure, but in tune with the adolescent pains represented by a soundtrack of Nick Drake melodies.
The Beloved (2012) – 4.5/10
Director/Writer: Christophe Honoré
Starring: Chatherine Deneuve, Milos Forman, Ludivine Sagnier, Louis Garrel, Paul Schneider
“Am I allowed to get undressed? It will stop me from saying stupid things.”
City of Ember (2008) – 4/10
Director: Gil Kenan
Writers: Caroline Thompson, Jeanne DuPrau (novel)
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Harry Treadaway, Bill Murray
“If this is a potato, then I’m 16 and sexy.”
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2012) – 2.5/10
Director: David Fincher
Writers: Eric Roth, F. Scott Fitzgerald (short story)
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson
“Some people were born to sit by a river.”
End of Watch (2012) – 6.5/10
Director/Writer: David Ayer
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick, Natalie Martinez
“Dude, after you think about it, think about it again. Jesus!”
Ayer’s engrossing buddy crime drama sort of brushes aside genre cliches to handcuff its central partnership: two cops who cope with near-death on a daily basis by making mean comments to each other. While there are shootouts and house raids, the thrilling scenes take place at weddings, casual dinners, and two friends calling each other “brother”. But, my God, the found-footage – now that’s the real crime going on.
God Help the Girl (2014) – 2.5/10
Director/Writer: Stuart Murdoch
Starring: Emily Browning, Olly Alexander, Hannah Murray
“If you want to hear you voice floating in a beautiful tapestry of frequencies, you’re gonna need a pop group.”
I own nearly every Belle & Sebastian CD. I will probably never listen to them again. Murdoch’s feature debut is a visual representation of his worst album – by which I mean the original God Help the Girl that came out years ago to muted response. I’ve heard a few comparison made between Emily Browning and 1960s Anna Karina, but I can’t see any link besides the hair, because that would make Murdoch another Godard. And God Help the Girl is certainly no A Woman Is a Woman. To paraphrase Aleksei German: it’s hard to be a Godard.
The story is ostensibly about the formation of a band. Eve (Browning), hospitalised with an eating disorder, eases herself back into everyday Scottish life with the help of James (Alexander), a foppish indie kid who strums acoustic girls and requires a muse. (There’s also Cassie from Skins playing someone called Cassie, who seemingly exists just for backing vocals.) Despite running nearly two hours, not much else happens in God Help the Girl; the structure flimsily hangs like broken quavers around songs, sung by Browning with less conviction than an amateur karaoke singer.
Murdoch’s direction is dictated by twee fantasies dressed up in vintage outfits and tries to turn bulimia into the sexiest of illnesses. The underlying message seems to be: develop an eating disorder; the first curly-haired boy you find will fall in love with you and grant you free accommodation in his spacious flat. If you think I’m being harsh, know that James sits by the door when Eve bathes, fantasising about nursing his dangerously skinny housemate and sings, “Please allow me to rub/ Please allow me to scrub.”
Despite a mild amusing nod to Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night, there’s little to differentiate from a Belle & Sebastian music video you would probably stop watching on YouTube about 30 seconds. Except now it’s 111 minutes, complete with stilted dance sequences are less animated than A Charlie Brown Christmas. Considering Murdoch has been nursing the project for nearly a decade, he lets slip a few secrets, like his thoughts on the rest of Belle & Sebastian – “Ugh, but I don’t want anybody else in the band!” – and perhaps his own doubts on the film itself. By this, I’m referring to James making his only salient point: “There’s nothing more boring than other people’s dreams.”
Gone Girl (2014) – 8.5/10
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Gillian Flynn
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris
“Amazing fucking Amy is getting fucking married.”
A film journalist called Nick who doesn’t show much emotion and has trouble sleeping more than three hours a night. Did David Fincher adapt my personal diaries? No, he’s adapted the Gillian Flynn bestseller that’s been splitting opinions (and marriages) since 2012. Like the main character, my excitement for Gone Girl completely evaporated when I read the disappointing novel. I balked at the 149-minute runtime and a cast that included someone from Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” video. There was no way this could be good.
It was. Read my extended thoughts here.
Goodbye First Love (2011) – 7.5/10
Original title: Un amour de jeunesse
Director/Writer: Mia Hansen-Løve
Starring: Lola Créton, Sebastian Urzendowsky, Magne-Håvard Brekke
“We have all the time to be serious. Let’s enjoy our youth.”
Love is a bit like the “Happy Birthday” song in that it’s introduced at a young age and, despite your best judgement, it can’t be forgotten (or reused for copyright reasons). Camille and Sullivan are two teens in a romance propelled by geographical intimacy; they ride horses, swim in lakes, and gaze at each other’s eyes without any passersby. The issue for Sullivan – slightly older, entering adulthood – is that he needs to enrich his mind elsewhere. Their relationship may be perfect, but it’s come too early.
Hansen-Løve follows Camille’s inability to shake off heartbreak over several years by jumping time like A nos amours. Créton’s facial expressions say it all: she picks up a variety of odd jobs, cuts her hair, but has a look in her eyes of lost longing. When her mother asks when she’ll get over Sullivan, there’s an understanding that love isn’t an emotion – it’s an idiosyncratic loyalty only a 15-year-old can develop and comprehend.
Keep the Lights On (2012) – 6.5/10
Director: Ira Sachs
Writers: Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias
Starring: Thure Lindhardt, Zachary Booth, Julianne Nicholson
“I never feel certain that you will come home on an evening we have not gone out together.”
Maybe it’s the recent flood of Boyhood coverage (and seeing it twice at the cinema), but I’m going through a ridiculous phase of seeing everything via Boyhood, or wondering, “Yeah, but it’s no Boyhood.” I saw an episode of Seinfeld and couldn’t help but wonder what George would be doing in 12 years time. (Curb Your Enthusiasm, probably.) With Keep the Lights On, there is a bit of a Boyhood effect – I’ve done it again – with an intimate portrayal of a gay relationship over the course of a decade.
The central romance stems from a phone sex line that threw together two men with an unexpected chemistry. Whether that connection is positive or not, that’s a question posed over small conversations and tiny incidents that grow significance years later. Both lovers – one a filmmaker with no day structure, the other a photographer whose day structure involves heavy drugs – break apart and reunite. Miserable together, miserable apart. Ultimately, it’s about choosing between which misery is less painful.
Larger than Life (1996) – 1/10
Director: Howard Franklin
Writers: Roy Blount Jr, Pen Densham
Starring: Bill Murray, Matthew McConaughey, an elephant
“You know how they say an elephant never forgets? What they don’t say is that you never forget an elephant.”
Life of Crime (2014) – 5/10
Director: Daniel Schechter
Writers: Daniel Schechter, Elmore Leonard (novel)
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, John Hawkes, Mos Def, Tim Robbins, Isla Fisher
“What happened to you? Did that car accident turn my husband into a crazy person?”
When Mickey (Aniston) is kidnapped by two inept criminals who clumsily smash open the front door, the inevitable comparison is Fargo. Like the Coens’ classic, the operation is to bill a $1m ransom to rich husband Frank (Robbins) – but he doesn’t want to cough up the dough. But unlike anything by the Coens, Life of Crime proceeds in a safe style devoid of outspoken personalities. There’s no contrasting rhythms of a blabbermouth and silent sociopath; just mild-mannered pawns in a deft storyline.
The Long Goodbye (1973) – 7.5/10
Director: Robert Altman
Writers: Leigh Brackett, Raymond Chandler (novel)
Starring: Elliott Gould, Nina Van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden
Roger Wade: “You ever think about suicide, Marlowe?”
Philip Marlowe: “Me? I don’t believe in it.”
Altman inverses the Philip Marlow formula by planting Gould into Chandler’s noir story as a private eye who rambles and is barely a shadow of Humphrey Bogart. It doesn’t take long for this incarnation of Marlowe to lose his cat and find himself on LA’s downside; even his neighbours (Californian women practising semi-naked yoga) are a puzzle who eventually ignore his conversation.
The mystery isn’t a traditional shuffle of clues, trails and red herrings. He’s more of an investigator than detective, which means more suffering and being a made a fool by policemen, suspects and Altman himself, given the unflattering non-action sequences. Altman is more interested in his slacker protagonist engulfed by the surroundings – never more overwhelmingly than at the beach where waves can swallow a man whole, if life hasn’t done so already.
Magic in the Moonlight (2014) – 5.5/10
Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Hamish Linklater
Note: Originally written for The Digital Fix.
“There’s only one superpower guaranteed to turn up, and it wears a black robe.”
The emergence of a new Woody Allen film is a reminder of mortality: a whole year has already passed, and chances are you’ve accomplished less than Allen himself. It’s also a call for the same criticisms to reappear, namely that the 78-year-old’s output is increasingly the same but set in a new European city. For better or worse, Magic in the Moonlight won’t be dispelling those complaints as it possesses a title and plot that could only be more Woody Allen-y if it was called Magic in Manhattan. It’s even set in 1928, for little reason other than to include one of his trademark jazz soundtracks.
Allen’s lifelong obsession with magic – and particularly the craft’s showmanship– has featured in at least 10 of his films. However, Magic in the Moonlight is his first with two immersed in the occupation, enabling them to develop a competitive (and romantic) edge. At first we see Wei Ling Soo, a Chinese illusionist who steps into an upright coffin and emerges from a chair on the other side of the stage. Although the crowd applaud enthusiastically, they miss his greater trick backstage: he removes his makeup and is revealed to be a boisterous Englishman called Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth). It would perhaps be offensive if it wasn’t so ridiculous.
Stanley is unlike Allen’s typical leads – or, let’s face it, Allen ciphers – in that he exhumes confidence, as if his loquacious mannerisms are born more from tranquility than nervous energy. Basically, Colin Firth is doing Mr. Darcy, if Jane Austen was obsessed with debunking rivals in the spiritual business. Next on Stanley’s list is Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), a clairvoyant who he assumes is a fraud because, well, she claims to be a clairvoyant. (And also because her name rhymes with “faker”, which gives you a sense of the film’s gentle humour.) When Sophie accurately reads into Stanley’s background and delivers a somewhat convincing séance, he starts to wonder if she is in fact gifted. Could he also be wrong about religion and, dare he say it, love?
Strangely, Stanley doesn’t take much convincing to fall under Sophie’s spell, even though he’s supposedly a lifelong atheist. This is as the script rushes into a more conventional – and less engaging – middle act whereby Stanley and Sophie form a tight bond. Their pleasant, aimless conversations aren’t just Allen on autopilot, but romcom on autopilot. Luckily, Firth and Stone possess a knack for Allen’s snappy dialogue and screwball tone. The lush setting of the French Riviera certainly adds to the warmth, with Darius Khondji’s cinematography conjuring up its own hex: an intimate surrounding full of greenery, like the magical forest in A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy.
Magic in the Moonlight is the kind of small story that would usually fit into one of Allen’s short stories or subplots – perhaps one of the segments in From Rome with Love. It’s down to Firth and Stone to carry the film, and I’m sure they were delighted to be working with Allen. Actually, it isn’t so much that the characters fall in love with each other, but they discover a mutual passion for Allen’s universe. It’s the kind of cinematic magic that’s too easy to debunk, but worth playing along with for 96 minutes.
Maps to the Stars (2014) – 3/10
Director: David Cronenberg
Writer: Bruce Wagner
Starring: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson
“Everything is research on some level.”
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011) – 4/10
Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Writers: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan, Ercan Kesal
Starring: Muhammet Uzuner, Yılmaz Erdoğan, Taner Birsel
“Are you dead?”
Passion Play (2010) – 1.5/10
Director/Writer: Mitch Glazer
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Megan Fox, Bill Murray
“She’s some kind of goddamned freak of nature, but she has wings.”
Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets (2014) – 3/10
Director: Florian Habicht
Starring: Jarvis Cocker
“If you put too much importance on something, you’re just asking for it to crumble and be rubbish.”
Look (or listen), I love Pulp. I have all their albums (including the really bad early ones), saw them live, can list you my favourite b-sides (“Ansaphone”, “59 Lyndhurst Grove”, “Forever in My Dreams”). But, like the band’s reunion, Pulp: A Film… is mostly unnecessary and doesn’t have much of an argument for itself. Pulp haven’t been away for that long (especially with the film coming out a year after the tour and new single), and don’t have much to say. Nor are the attempts to intellectualise the lyrics too convincing, either.
When they were around, Jarvis was the only band member you wanted to hear from. Now, there are interviews with the others a decade after the event, spliced together with talking heads from fans surprised to be in the doc. As predicted, Jarvis’ weary wit and fragile honesty proves to be the highlight. He’s also a regular figure in the media (especially for anything loosely tied to Britpop) who doesn’t need a filmmaker to follow him around.
Punch-Drunk Love (2002) – 9/10
Director/Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman
“I would say that’s that, mattress man.”
I’ve watched this so many times, and finally wrote about it for a feature.
The Razor’s Edge (1984) – 7.5/10
Director: John Byrum
Writers: John Byrum, Bill Murray, W. Somerset Maugham
Starring: Bill Murray, Theresa Russell, Denholm Elliott
“For me, this is a religious experience.”
Reign Over Me (2007) – 3.5/10
Director/Writer: Mike Binder
Starring: Adam Sandler, Don Cheadle, Liv Tyler, Saffron Burrows
“I need some air. You know? I mean, I love her. But come on, give me some air, man. It’s like I’m not even me anymore. Not some damn Siamese twin. I’m me.”
Sex Tape (2014) – 3/10
Director: Jake Kasdan
Writers: Kate Angelo, Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Jason Segel, Cameron Diaz, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper
“My dick can see the future. That’s why we call it nostracockus.”
Nicholas Stoller’s Bad Neighbours begins with Rogen and Byrne as a couple who discover childcare is a spanner in their sex life. Sex Tape shares a similar set-up and a Stoller co-write, which makes me wonder how much is just rejected material. In fact, Sex Tape could be rejected material from the 90s that’s been disguised as modern through namedropping Apple technology.
Segel and Diaz, a one-time horny couple, now only use the bedroom for sleeping after the debilitating weight of raising two children and having weird media jobs. That’s when they have an idea: why not make a sex tape? A cameo from Rob Lowe should be enough of a reminder. But Sex Tape isn’t about whether sex is a shameful act, or if close friends will ever look at you the same way if they’ve seen your dangling bits. Yes, despite the title, Sex Tape is neither about “sex” not a “tape” – it’s actually an MP4.
When iPads are distributed as gifts, Segel forgot about the iCloud – meaning recipients gain access to a three-hour clip or the couple fornicating on the kitchen floor. What follows is a mad dash to track down the tablets and destroy the evidence. Except this “mad dash” is tediously driving to houses, knocking on the door, and retrieving the iPad. The process is slow and never really gets going until Diaz snorts coke with Lowe – and even that is brought down by an exhausting subplot of Segel running away from a dog.
Spanglish (2004) – 6/10
Director/Writer: James L. Brooks
Starring: Paz Vega, Adam Sandler, Téa Leoni
“Do you know how many books on parenting I’ve read?”
Follow @halfacanyon for more.