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BAND AID

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BAND AID
USA
Director: Zoe Lister-Jones
Runtime: 90 minutes
Language: English

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Ever since Cassavetes and Bergman tackled their versions of marriage on the rocks in their now excellent dramas Faces and Scenes from a Marriage I’ve been waiting for a movie that at least attempts to approximate what it is that can make a marriage work even when it seems that, from the word go, it’s doomed to fail at every turn. Come have come close, some have slightly missed the mark, and that’s okay. In her first feature film, Zoe Lister-Jones (currently seen in Life in Pieces) basically becomes a one-woman show as director, writer, producer, lead actress, and lead musical performer, in a deceptively comic film about a couple caught in a rut  she holds nothing back: Anna (herself) and Ben (the totally gorgeous Adam Pally  who looks more and more like Joaquin Phoenix without the excessive brooding looks) are at each other’s throats over who gets to do the dishes. It’s an every day situation that anyone who’s been involved with another person can relate to: that point where even the slightest tick can set off a firestorm of comments that escalate and turn nasty, usually devolving the entire thing into a litany of “fuck yous” that basically erode away at the glue that would keep a couple together.

But before we get into the story, a a little back story gets thrown in about who these two people are. That’s essential, because that is precisely what shapes the fabric of LIster-Jones’ sharp observation about a couple facing the death of their relationship. Ben has had trouble keeping a job due to his personality and is more than happy to stay home and be “wife”. Anna, on the other hand, is a little more complex than that. Once upon a time she had Book Deal (and I’m not being too on the nose when capitalizing this event in Anna’s life). The Book Deal didn’t fall through; she’s been wallowing in barely suppressed self-pity while observing her other friends lead apparently Successful Lives and making ends meet as an Uber driver.

Somewhere down the line both Anna and Ben come across the revelation that perhaps they could use music to fill the void that their angst as a couple is creating. It’s no secret that most successful bands have used their personal turmoil to create some truly memorable songs,  and while it seems that Anna and Ben register hit some sharp notes while coming up with some songs in the alternative/punk style, just when they’re about to hit it big, Anna seems to be doing this with the expectation of securing some sort of greater compensation — a record deal, perhaps? — and finally make her mark in the world. Other heretofore issues that had been deftly placed in the background suddenly come to the surface, old pains materialize and bleed raw with emotion, and it seems that these ghosts that will not die might take a toll after all on this adorable couple.

I really don’t want to say more about Band Aid — it is that good, and mind you, this is a movie shot with next to no ‘style’, no flair other than a documentary-like feel, a sense of cinema verite perhaps, and Lister-Jones and Pally’s wonderful, electric performances that almost jump off the screen and sit right next to you. If you want to see what an unscripted marriage looks like, with all its ups and downs, moments of hilarity, awkwardness, sudden desire, sudden hatred for each other, hatred stemming out of deep, unresolved pathos, this is the movie to watch and it’s one of the breakouts for this year in my opinion. Watch for Fred Armisen, Brooklyn Decker, Colin Hanks, and Susie Essmann in small, but scene-stealing roles.

Band Aid is currently playing at the IFC in NYC and will be released on VOD platforms June 9th. Go see it.

A WOMAN, A PART

A WOMAN, A PART
USA
Director: Elizabeth Subrin
Runtime: 96 minutes
Language: English

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

If you’ ve been following the FX miniseries Feud: Bette and Joan, you will somewhat identify with the plight Anna, the character Maggie Siff (herself a TV actor) plays. Anna is over 40, she’s in a show she no longer wishes to do because the show proper doesn’t seem to know what to do with her own character. What’s an actress to do? Her agent advises her to take a week off and think about it (although if it were for Anna she’s break the contract and move to other waters. So off goes Anna, flying back to New York to her old apartment in Brooklyn, and there she reconnects with old friends Isaac (John Ortiz) and Kate (Cara Seymour, a stand out here and in a completely different movie altogether), with whom she is linked to from way back when the three of them were twenty somethings struggling to make it. [A grainy video showing the three of them in younger days makes a repeated appearance in crucial scenes.]

It’s safe to say that when Anna shows up at Kate’s birthday party, Kate isn’t too thrilled to see her but saves face and invites her in. It turns out, Isaac, who is now married to an aspiring actress, still carries a torch for Anna, although Anna . . . I’d say she’s looking into other waters. Anna drifts along during her week in the city, going to Kate’s yoga class, hanging out with a hot guy she meets there, and that is basically the entire plot of this existential drama that only raises the tension up a notch when Isaac asks Anna for acting tips for his wife and she finds a manuscript that she is able to peruse in its entirety and realize he’s been writing about her in a less than ideal way. [Didn’t I just see a movie about this same topic called Cezanne and I? Yes, I did.] A fallout happens, and then Kate’s problems come centerfold. Kate is being evicted from her place and moving upstate — she’s essentially been priced out, and anyone who’s been in the city knows what that feels like.

Subrin’s film is to an extent, good at examining the position of actresses under contracts who also are of a certain age and need to contemplate where they stand in the industry and how sexist it can be, but it doesn’t really manage to give a tight narration or bring sympathetic characters that one could at least project onto. It seemed, at times, that the intrusion of Isaac into Anna’s place, or Anna and Kate helping Kate out with her move out of the city is forced interaction because let’s face it, this would probably not happen in reality, but I get it. It just seems to be too enamored of a concept and then not knowing how to take the concept into a full fruition. A little bit of edition would have been great, as there are scenes that run too long or exist for the sake of it.

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Hell is other people. Trapped in a box. With partial information that something worse walks the ground outside the box, just waiting for you to come out. Oh, and with the creeping, crawling terror that the man that saved you from a grisly fate is also operating on a faulty elevator that doesn’t go to the top floor . . . and is all eyes, suspicion, and sudden, violent reflexes.

Imagine that you’re in a bad relationship of sorts (although, when that relationship comes under the form of Bradley Cooper, I’d be hard-pressed to say I’d want out. Has anyone seen the man’s legs and buns?). You’re in a frenzy, packing what little you can and zooming the heck outta dodge. Later that evening while on the road, boyfriend calls. You let it go to voicemail. He calls again. A report of some unusual activity catches you off guard and suddenly–

–you wake up in what looks like a cellar. Dim lights. Chained. An IV tube attached without your explicit permission to your arm.

Don’t you hate it when that happens?

Michelle wakes up and immediately is all reflexes and tense, jerky motions. She was in a situation she didn’t ask for, but this one is much worse. And then,  a man you wouldn’t imagine to be looney tunes walks in and tells you he’s saved your life. Played by John Goodman, you think, okay, this is Roseanne’s husband; this is about to get fun. Oh, yes. Fun it will get. Just . . . not the kind you think about.

You see, John Goodman’s character, Harold, is a lot of things: former marine, for example. A former father who lost his daughter Megan. He’s also a doomsday prepper, and tells you there’s been some attack on the planet and upstairs, the world as we know it, is now gone.

Michelle isn’t having it and she decides she’s going to take matters into her own hands. It backfires, badly, because Goodman goes from a mild-mannered if slightly creepy host to a dangerous psychopath in less than five seconds when while at dinner, she tries to flirt with a fellow prisoner, Emmet (John Gallagher, Jr.). [The scene is as frightening as anything in the movie because Goodman looks like he could kill her right there and then for her affront.] It doesn’t end there. Michelle has somehow managed to get Harold’s keys from him. Herself still a caged animal intent on fleeing, she attacks Harold and by sheer force makes it to ground level. There she encounters a woman with peeling skin on her face who asks to be let in. Michelle is literally frozen in a quandary with the lurching Harold bellowing to her that the woman is infected and the woman progressively losing her shit and banging her head against the window that separates her from the momentary safety where Michelle stands. Michelle realizes that Harold may actually not be the bad guy after all.

And thus begins a sequence of complacency where the two tenants (captives) start to accommodate themselves into domestic complacency. When you’re in a bunker, there’s not much else to do, you know? Bonding inevitably happens, and Michelle learns about Harold’s daughter Megan. Until a chance trip to regulate the air vents leads Michelle to a chilling discovery, one that shatters every sense of this fake reality she’s been forced to live until that moment.

Dan Trachtenberg’s first movie is an excellent game of cat and mouse with homages to Misery and The Twilight Zone’s episode The Shelter. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a final girl unlike any I’ve ever seen. She doesn’t play dumb; her character is so invested on returning to the free world even if it means exposing herself to toxic air and . . . other things, she makes a weapon and a tool out of everything she can get her hands on. There isn’t a single scene where one isn’t rooting for her other than in Cloverfield when the tired trick of TJ Miller yammering off screen as he films everything as “documentation” wears itself out pretty quickly. John Gallagher, Jr. plays his part pretty much straight; he’s almost a baseboard for Winstead to act against. And Goodman . . . I wouldn’t cross that man if my life depended on it. He doesn’t hobble anyone, but Jesus on a stick he’s crazy. And his crazy comes from a real fear — that makes him all the more unpredictable.

So far, so good with 10 Cloverfield Avenue. I wouldn’t really call it a direct sequel (not even the monsters are similar), but the same way Stephen King’s books transpire in alternating or overlapping universes that relate to a single Event, this one seems to be of the same vein. This is one solid, nerve-wracking horror movie with a spectacular pay-off. Except more from where that came from.

10 Cloverfield Lane hit theaters March 9.

 

 

TUMBLEDOWN

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

Hunter Miles, like his real-life counterparts Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin, met an early demise at the prime of his life, and while he only produced one album, it caused such an impact among music lovers that they make pilgrimages to his grave and leave tokens of remembrance. Hannah (Rebecca Hall), his widow, has been somehow left in suspended animation: frozen in time and grief, but surviving regardless. She’s seeing a lumberjack (Joe Manganiello) as a form of sexual escapism while trying to write a book about Miles. What she doesn’t yet know until the call comes, is that someone else is interested in writing about Miles, and he may have a more objective point of view than hers.

The person in question is Andrew (Jason Sudeikis). A pop-culture professor, he’s aware of Miles’ influence and thinks there is a good book here. Conversations with Hannah both on the phone and in person turn immediately confrontational: they have different points of view, and it looks like the book will be buried even before the first sentence.

She decides to give it another swing, but their relationship alternates between professional and antagonistic. It’s understandable and Sean Mewhaw draws a solid study of a woman’s controlled pain confronted by the impending catharsis of a biography, but I suspect that Hannah’s cagey behavior hides the fact that she actually likes to be around Andrew, more than she would care to admit. The problem — and it’s one that Andrew himself will ask her at a point during the movie — is that he can’t possibly compete with perfection. And Hunter Miles was precisely that.

Tumbledown alternates with gentle comedy and drama well, reaching a solid, satisfying balance that will please women looking for a rom-com that’s not too sappy. Rebecca Hall continues to essay characters with repressed inner conflicts as she did in A Promise. Jason Sudeikis is quite good here, removed from the sillier comedies he’s done, and he fills his leading man shoes believably, with sensitivity. Perhaps the removal of some unnecessary characters thrown in for some quasi-romantic tension (Diana Agron, Joe Manganiello) would have sparked a two-character plot about discovery. Even as such it’s a good little variation on the opposites attract. Watch for Blythe Danner and Griffin Dunne in small, supporting roles that balance Rebecca Hall perfectly.

On Amazon Instant Video and iTunes

EDDIE THE EAGLE

Hooked on Film rating:

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

You’ve probably seen this kind of uplifting movie before because it goes all the way back to The Little Engine that Could, and you wonder: why do you keep coming back for more? This is what I thought on first viewing of the trailer which came out of nowhere a month ago since leaving Sundance. Eddie the Eagle can basically be summed up in its title and aforementioned trailer. There are no surprises to be found here, no insurmountable conflicts to be had, no left turns. Not one. But . . . damn it! Talk about getting suckered in. It’s a well-made,  often funny movie about proving the opposition wrong with a feel-good vibe led by newcomer Taron Egerton and flanked by Hugh Jackman, and offering some solid supporting by British actress Jo Hartley as Edwards’ redoubtable mother.

Now, the only thing I differ with is the “based on a true story”. While in fact, Eddie Edwards did go on to make last place at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, the movie is as true as the final sequence of Argo by introducing a mentor character played by Hugh Jackman. No–Bronson Peary did not exist, and no, that’s not a spoiler.

Most movies about underdogs feature some kind of mentor-pupil relationship down to Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Greek fables about heroes in the making. The mentor In this case is Peary, a one-time Olympian himself, who at first shoos Edwards away, but reluctantly (or because Edwards himself refuses to leave) comes to his aid and in the process comes to discover he’s not a loser after all. Cue the Kleenex! So as you see, this story is, predictably, no different.

The real Edwards went at it in a completely different way. Which makes me think that whoever produced the story believed that this would be the way to go and thus, keep audiences engaged.

I’ll admit, adhering or not to the actual events, Edwards’ cinematic story is purely anchored by the freshness and innocence of Taron Egerton who tackles the role as a man-child Mr Magoo in a world of pros. If he were but a little less so, the film, for all its intents and purposes, would have nowhere to go and would be a hard sell. The audience always loves a winner, especially when he has all the odds stacked against him, and Eddie the Eagle in this case is a total crowd-pleaser.

RENDEZVOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA

For two weeks in March (from the 3rd to the 13th) New York and the Film Society of Lincoln Center comes alive with two film festivals. The first of them is Rendezvous with French Cinema, an event that brings some of the best movies from France that one can get to sample before they get properly released either theatrically or on DVD. The second is New Directors – New Films, later in the month, which serves as a warm up for the Tribeca Film Festival that hits the city in April.

This year Rendezvous with French Cinema will show case new pictures from Julie Delpy (Lolo), Emmanuelle Bercot (Standing Tall, featuring Rendezvous perennial Catherine Deneuve), Maiwenn (Mon Roi), Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi (Three Sisters). On opening night, Guillaume Nicloux, who directed The Nun (2013) and The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq (2014) introduces his latest film Valley of Love, starring French giants Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert. Cannes Palm D’Or winner for Best Picture in 2015 (and an early contender for France’s entry for Best Foreign Oscar) Dheepan closes the festival.

This is a festival you should not miss. For more information (and tickets), visit the Lincoln Center‘s site.

The First Post…

…is always the most difficult. How do you begin? Welcome to my blog, hope you like what I have to say, grab a coffee, take a sip and peruse through? I don’t know. I barely even know my name at the end of a long day and it’s still Monday evening in New York. Winter seems to be thawing prematurely but as is its wont, December holdovers are all over the place. Even films that have no nominations in any award show are still going strong (I’m talking to you, Lady in the Van. I loved your wit and that thing you did with Alex Jennings playing playwright Alan Bennett, twice, as if he had an invisible twin, or the voice of his own conscience. I thought that there was room in the Best Actress category for Dame Maggie Smith but the academy, it seems, disagreed.)

the-lady-in-the-van
Dame Maggie Smith in The Lady in the Van

Youth is still playing. One theater, a few showings, which tells me it will probably exit come Thursday. If the  Quad Cinema were open that is where it would go for a second run among tinier indies. However, I’m afraid this is the last NYC will see of it. Next stop: Netflix, Amazon, et. al.

In a way, all these holdovers aren’t a bad thing: many movie goers don’t want until they know a film is “Oscar Nominated” to go see it and be the judge for themselves if it deserved its accolades or not. They also want and need to be fresh in people’s minds so that cancels any significant new entry. I personally long outgrew that phase. I can’t recall when was the last time I saw a movie for awards it received. Now, its participation in certain film festivals can’t hurt–quite the contrary, the sole mention of Cannes  (in its main or tangential lineups), Venice, Locarno, SXSW, Tribeca, Sundance, Berlinale, New York Film Festival, or New Directors/New Films is more than enough to spark an interest.

Even so, I totally get it. The vast majority seeks out only what has been recognized. That’s where they measure a movie’s quality, an actor’s performance, a director’s choice in light, shadow, and camera movement (or lack thereof). And that’s perfectly fine.

For me, it goes much deeper than that. Year after year I see tiny movies that go completely unnoticed or play under the radar of “what’s hot” in arthouse theaters for months on end. Those are the pictures that I like. Those are the pictures that move me. Sometimes I will be disgusted, or left somewhat perplexed, but seeing an indie or a foreign or a documentary is akin to venturing into another man’s skin. Another time and place. Yes the story may be archetypal, or it might not possess the flair that a 300 million dollar budget would allow, but for me, it’s the journey. Seeing a story told in a smaller scale, reaching the same emotional impact a larger enterprise can give with enough retouching.

Phillippe Garrel's In the Shadow of Women
Phillippe Garrel’s In the Shadow of Women

January saw a couple of good releases –nothing mind-blowing–but smaller events that still carry a big punch. Both IFC and Lincoln Center played two New York Film Festival selections: Philippe Garrel’s In the Shadow of Women, and Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu’s The Treasure. Both films couldn’t be more different: the former is a story about a couple in trouble, the latter about a man who gets an offer he can ‘t refuse. While I could see both of them in one sitting (combined, both movies total  about 165 minutes), the stories proper are told with so much restraint and deadpan humor i found them somewhat heavy  to endure, even when the end result leaned towards a positive outcome. Perhaps a second view on DVD will bring the scale closer to home. That of,  course, remains to be seen. Both directors have a rather droll visual style, but exert a certain pull for the fabric that composes their stories and I enjoy that very much.

At the moment, I’m looking forward to this lull, then catching up with last week’s premiere of Aferim!  (Romania’s entry to the 88th Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture), and upcoming releases like Peter Greenaway’s Eisenstein in Guanajuato, Pablo Larrain’s El Club (Chile), and Atom Egoyan’s Remember, followed by the February festival Film Comment Selects which runs February17  – 24 at the Lincoln Center.