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im-pec-ca-ble// of performance, behavior, or appearance in keeping with the highest standards. Faultless.Flawless. See: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Paul Dano, Rachel Weisz. Spotless, immaculate, perfect. Exemplary. Hear: David Lang. In response to a reporter, Michael Caine said: "I just wish I could get my youth back, but I can't, so the next best thing was to be in a film called 'Youth'". I now know what he means - if you can't get your youth back, the next best thing, perhaps the first step, may be seeing this film. I like what Michael Caine says about "Youth": "This film is about life. It's funny, it's sad, it's everything. It's not a comedy, it's not a drama, it's not a satire. It's not a musical, but there's a lot of music in it. It's Paolo, that's what it is, Paolo's view of things and I love it." I loved it too.
The Legend of Tarzan (2016)
Romance & Adventure
Ah, yes, this is why we go to the movies. Entertaining, inspiring, an escape, thrilling and wildly imaginative, "The Legend of Tarzan" would make Edgar Rice Burroughs proud. And I think he'd enjoy the updating of the story by using as a backdrop the horrifying, true story of the many atrocities committed by Belgian King Leopold in the Congo. This movie is likely to go unappreciated by "serious" film critics just as Burroughs was neglected by serious literary critics. Although In a "Paris Review" interview, Ray Bradbury said of him that "Edgar Rice Burroughs never would have looked upon himself as a social mover and shaker with social obligations. But as it turns out and I love to say it because it upsets everyone terribly Burroughs is probably the most influential writer in the entire history of the world..." Bradbury continued - "...by giving romance and adventure to a whole generation of boys, Burroughs caused them to go out and decide to become special." This movie couldn't be more true to Burroughs' portrayal of Tarzan, Jane, and the Mangani, the fictional species of great apes that foster and raise Tarzan.
The Nice Guys (2016)
Boogie Nights Redux
One of those films so aswim in the culture of porn that you wonder why....oh yes, there's that, the seeming limitless appetite of Hollywood for pure, unadulterated trash with a heavily misogynistic overtone. Maybe the word should be undertow. Everything that passes for a plot is mere window-dressing, what sustains this awful effort is the lurid atmosphere. And there is one disturbing element that is so prominent it can't be an accident. The children in this film, appearing in very disturbing scenes - it's downright degenerate. "Boogie Nights" used banal acting and a tired plot to mimic the feel of porn films. So it could claim (a lame claim) to be a parody, although its moral emptiness was so close to the real thing it might as well have been the real thing. "The Nice Guys" has something of the same feel. The exploitation of women and young girls, dumb scenes (hundreds of rounds shot, no one hit), cheesy music, how really different it is from the junk the porn industry turns out - except for two A-list actors?
People doing the wrong things
In some ways it is a brilliant furbishing of Bergman's "Winter Light", a re-visioning that demonstrates the never-ending nature of the struggle between good and bad people, from country to country, spanning centuries, across cultures. The battle here is portrayed through a religious lens. And while I haven't seen any film like it in many years, it did remind me of a time when much of the art in Western culture reflected such struggles frequently (i.e., the novels of Graham Greene). Today, according to the Gospel of HBO, there are no bad people. Just quirky, misunderstood, discounted, and unfairly treated people who haven't been given a break. A belief that basically people do the right thing, that the basis of democracy is the willingness, if not the necessity, to assume well about other people, regardless of their conduct. This film doesn't buy it, I don' buy it, Einstein didn't buy it - as he said, "The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it." I knew people like Father James growing up, sentinels of a sort, pillars of decency: one look. That's all it took. "Calvary" captures perfectly the make-up of our modern world, hardly distinguishable from the world you'd find in any era, a world filled with...dangerous human beings. It's a pitch-black world, but Father James is around to help, guide, console, forgive, providing a moral compass. Two other recent films, both terrific, capture this deep sense of living in an indifferent, alienating, selfish world, "Time Out of Mind", a tone poem about homelessness in New York City, and "Love & Mercy", about the crushing exploitation of a creative soul. No easy answers here, just a telling of the way it is, the way it always will be.
Sins of the Fathers
The construction of this film is so traditional that at times it feels old-fashioned, having an almost "I've seen this all before" quality. Clearly the objective is to deliver the story in as efficient a manner as possible. No fireworks. No soundtrack that grabs you by the throat. No chewing of the scenery allowed. Remember "Erin Brockovich"? Julie Roberts wouldn't have known what to do with herself on this set. But somehow it all works. By some strange alchemy "Spotlight" is one of the three most soulful films I've seen this year. (The two others - "Love & Mercy" and "Time Out of Mind".) Much attention has been given to the performance of the "good guys", Keaton & Company, and deservedly so. But I thought "Spotlight" did a brilliant job of showing the venality of the kind of corruption that allowed the sins of the priests to go unchecked: The performances of Billy Crudup and Paul Guilfoyle were pitch-black perfect.
Time Out of Mind (2014)
Oren Moverman Cares
A thoughtful, deeply moving study of homelessness in urban America, specifically, what it's like to be homeless in New York City. "Time Out of Mind" is a maddening film. It fits none of the expected narrative templates that we've come to expect from a mainstream movie, and because of its seemingly pointless, aimless plot - nothing that matters of any consequence happens to anyone, and the main character, George, appears dazed, lost in every sense of the word - I gave up on it...then decided to keep watching. I finished the movie and felt I had seen something profound, profoundly disturbing about the indifference we show those at the margins, the "failures". It's not an easy film to watch. I think that's the point. This is a subject that we all would prefer to turn away from. When homeless, nobody cares. Virginia Woolf said this about Charles Dickens, "We remodel our psychological geography when we read Dickens; we forget that we have ever felt the delights of solitude or observed with wonder the intricate emotions of our friends, or luxuriated in the beauty of nature." This film has re-shaped my "psychological geography" when it comes to NYC. Maybe Woody Allen heard Gershwin while wandering Manhattan. I now hear the distracting noise - the intrusive cellphones, the traffic, all of it - a fierce onslaught that can't be kept at bay. The sound design is relentless and off-putting. And it's true to life. I've been visiting NYC for years, I was there in December. It has never been louder or more annoying. So for George, cursed to live on the street, there is no peace and quiet. Ever. The performances are brilliant, all of them. Gere and Kyra Sedgwick are mesmerizing. And top honors should go to Oren Moverman. What an artist. He wrote another movie this year about the fragility of the mind, about the losing of one's mind, "Love & Mercy". Two fantastic, soul-exploring movies in one year by Oren Moverman. A remarkable achievement.
Love & Mercy (2014)
Band of Brothers
I had no idea what this film was about. I thought it would be another musical biopic like "Walk the Line" or "Ray". It's nothing like those movies. This is the most intense, in-depth, and soulful look at the fragility of the creative mind since "All That Jazz". "All That Jazz" is the best film ever made about choreography and dance, this is the best film ever made about rock 'n roll. Dark, often depressing, but also exhilarating, "Love & Mercy", like "All That Jazz", captures the sense of loneliness and despair many creative geniuses suffer. And when the music starts, it's cool, loud, and breathtaking. "A Beautiful Mind" is the best film ever made about mental illness, because it's an unflinching and compassionate portrait rendered with remarkable artistic skill by director Ron Howard and acted by Russell Crowe. "Love & Mercy" is its equal: Director Bill Pohlad tells an equally moving story of a man's mind falling apart, every bit as skillfully as Ron Howard, and the performances by Paul Dano and John Cusack are each Oscar worthy - as was Russell Crowe's. And first and foremost, I found it to be one of the most painful and frightening portrayals of a tyrannical father ever put on film. Brian Wilson was surrounded by monsters, real and imaginary. In many ways the Beach Boys were a performing family, like the Osmonds or the Jackson 5, a band of brothers at the mercy of a brutal father. I could go on and on,there's a lot going on here - it's a terrific love story too - this movie delivers on so many levels.
Stranger things should have happened
A very good movie but could have been better. You could see it all coming. In good weird stories there are surprising resolutions. "Her" was more of a somber meditation than a story. I wonder what three great short story writers would have done with it. The story is not unlike Vonnegut's "Jenny", but "Jenny" is more bizarre and troubling. And then there's George Saunders' dark and disturbing "The Semplica Girl Diaries" from "Tenth of December: Stories", and pick any of the what-the-hell stories in "Stranger Things Happen" by Kelly Link. Vonnegut, Saunders, and Link can shock and create laughs, combining slapstick with horror. "Her" was a great idea for a story, but someone else should have written it - but visually it's a knockout.
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
O Unlucky Moviegoer!
"...is sickening, utterly worthless, shameful trash. If it is not the worst film I have ever seen, that makes it all the more shameful: People with talent allowed themselves to participate in this travesty. Disgusted and unspeakably depressed, I walked out of the film..." That's Roger Ebert on "Caligula", a man who rarely walked out of films. Put together by the publisher/pornographer Bob Guccione, the graphic and elaborate orgies in "Caligula" featured A-list talent: Malcolm McDowell, Peter O'Toole, John Gielgud, and Helen Mirren. One difference separating these two cinematic debaucheries - upon release everyone connected with the film disavowed it, and Gore Vidal, after seeing it, sued to have his name taken off it. (He wrote the original screenplay.) It seems everyone connected with "The Wolf of Wall Street" is standing proudly by it. Many better critiques of capitalism have been made about selling out. Just a few: "The Devil's Advocate", "Glengarry Glen Ross", "The Boiler Room", "The Social Network', "Wall Street", "Trading Places", "Risky Business" and "Blow". And then there's the incomparable "O Lucky Man!" by Lindsay Anderson, another allegory about the pitfalls of capitalism. And oddly enough, it stars the star of "Caligula", Malcolm McDowell. And Helen Mirren too. Inspired by "Candide", McDowell's character, Mick Travis, experiences a moral revelation at the end. (As does Kevin Lomax in "The Devil's Advocate".) Jordan Belfort? No revelations of any sort, moral or otherwise. And no revelations for the audience as well. As Ebert wrote of "Caligula", shameful.
12 Years a Slave (2013)
Evil has a compass
David Denby says this is easily the greatest feature film ever made about slavery. HIgh praise, and it deserves more. This is easily one of the greatest feature films ever made, period. It is brilliant storytelling without the hand-holding musical cues and editing tricks that trigger the viewer's emotional responses. Scenes play themselves out in a painterly way, letting the moviegoer's gaze take hold. The viewer enters this film in a way few if any contemporary films allow. You are there. And there, the deep South, was an evil place. Where does evil reside? In a time when many feel we've lost our moral compass comes a film that can serve as a compass. I wonder where this film will lead us?