Jennifer Lawrence has her game face on in David O. Russell's Joy.

David O. Russell’s ‘Joy’ is the underrated ugly duckling of 2015

When I assess films, I often look for a degree of perfection, a sense that everything is in its right place and has a purpose within a film. Joy is very, very far from achieving this kind of precision. Rumors circulated prior to its release that there post-production struggles and that they were having difficulty completing the film in time for its Christmas day release. When the credits roll, you will see four editors listed, which I consider ample evidence to confirm the accuracy of those rumors. The film confirms them too, as it is a choppy, sloppy, and somewhat scatterbrained string of sequences. There is a lot to criticize about David O. Russell’s Joy. But at the end of the day, I just didn’t care because its just so much damn fun to hang out with these characters. What Joy may lack in precision, it more than makes up for in ambition and sheer entertainment. Continue reading David O. Russell’s ‘Joy’ is the underrated ugly duckling of 2015

Kate Beckinsale admires herself as Lady Susan in Whit Stillman's Love and Friendship.

‘Love and Friendship’ is a daring and hilarious take on Jane Austen

Of all the genres and kinds of films that get produced by Hollywood and independent filmmakers in this day and age, few are traditionally more uptight and limited in form that of the period piece adaptation of a classic piece of literature. When dealing with a period piece of any kind, incorporating anything outside of a strictly formal treatment is hard to get away with and will likely alienate the audience, if not a studio even prior to the film’s production or release. Whit Stillman’s Love and Friendship, a Jane Austen adaptation, totally defies this tradition, abandoning formal presentation in favor of snappy, fast-paced and humorous dialogue, abrupt musical cues, on-screen text, freeze-frame character introductions, and a host of other atypical inclusions.  Continue reading ‘Love and Friendship’ is a daring and hilarious take on Jane Austen

The hotel of online dating in Yorgos Lanthimos' 'The Lobster.'

‘The Lobster’ is a profound head-trip about the heart

Yorgos Lanthimos burst onto the scene in 2009 with his proclaimed “absurdist comedy” Dogtooth, that looked into family dynamics through a disturbed lens of abuse, incest, rape, and manipulation. In 2012 he returned with Alps, a slightly more palatable surrealist drama about a service that provides imitation phone calls for the recently deceased. In the opinion of this humble critic, Lanthimos exposed with Dogtooth, as Darren Aronofsky did with Pi and Requiem for a Dream, that he is a fearless filmmaker in terms of raw content, and that he is a visually accomplished artist as well. Continue reading ‘The Lobster’ is a profound head-trip about the heart

Michael Keaton and co. sit around a desk in Spotlight.

‘Spotlight’ sheds light on a dark corner in a modest manner

This year’s “surprise” best picture winner is a lovingly modest feature that tells the story of one of the most important journalistic exposes in history. The story, by now a secret to no one, is of the Spotlight team of journalists at the Boston Globe that in early 2002 brought to light the full scope of the Catholic priest sex scandal. Written and directed by actor-turned-filmmaker Thomas McCarthy, Spotlight is both aided and tarnished by its primary quality: modesty. Where it would be tempting to really celebrate these investigative journalists as heroes, the film wisely takes a less celebratory approach that while setting a perfect, realistic tone, also made it feel lacking to this viewer in at least my initial viewing. Continue reading ‘Spotlight’ sheds light on a dark corner in a modest manner

The team raps in a car in Everybody Wants Some!!

‘Everybody Wants Some!!’ proves that even college sex comedies can be art

One of the most tiresome inquiries I get as a film buff/critic is “what is your favorite kind of movie?” I hate this question because my honest answer is I don’t have one. And that is probably true of most if not all who are really passionate about film. Those that really study the craft learn to appreciate all genres, enjoying films based on quality of execution, not subject matter. I always try to teach people to follow not genres or stars, but writers and directors, as this is a reliably more accurate way for anyone to track down films they might like.   Continue reading ‘Everybody Wants Some!!’ proves that even college sex comedies can be art

Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett have a romantic meet-cute in Todd Haynes' Carol.

‘Carol’ demonstrates that neither life nor love is always fair

Todd Haynes has built one of the best, most accomplished filmographies of just about any American independent filmmaker of the past three decades. He emerged in the early ’90s alongside the likes of the Coen brothers, Quentin Tarantino, Richard Linklater, David O. Russell, and a host of others. He always existed a little off to the side of those other mainstream filmmakers as his work has always had a more serious bite to it and regularly looks at the issue of homosexuality in the kind of dead on way that until recently would almost always limit the cultural reach of his work.  Continue reading ‘Carol’ demonstrates that neither life nor love is always fair

Steve Carell and co. all yell at Ryan Gosling in The Big Short.

A look at ‘The Big Short’ and its use of pop culture imagery

With Adam McKay’s (director of Anchorman and Step BrothersThe Big Short landing on DVD, Blu-Ray, and online streaming services last week, I decided to take a second look at it, my mind having warmed up to it in the months that followed my initial viewing. This is not to say I disliked it first or that I dislike it now. But I do find it to be a cluttered clash of tones, moods, and imagery that lacks strong character arcs, though it does offer an informed perspective on the housing crash of 2008 that is accessible to the layman.  Continue reading A look at ‘The Big Short’ and its use of pop culture imagery

Michael Shannon holds Jaeden Liberher in Jeff Nichols' Midnight Special.

‘Midnight Special’ is a perplexing but ambitious piece of sci-fi

Jeff Nichols has established himself as a disciplined, but old fashioned hard realist of a filmmaker whose work reflect that of modern american folktales. His first three films, Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter,  and  Mud, all take place in the south in contemporary times, but with a feel of the late ’80s. They are all rooted in complex moral issues, delivered with an element of mysticism and even spirituality. Still, they are very stripped down stories that feel like leftovers from a Flannery O’Connor collection. So it was a little surprising when the small time indie filmmaker announced that his next film was to be a studio produced work of science fiction. But such was the case with Midnight Special. Continue reading ‘Midnight Special’ is a perplexing but ambitious piece of sci-fi

Sean Parker’s Screening Room is a subtle assault on cinema

Never in the eight years that I have been writing about film in a journalistic capacity have I dedicated an entire post to news about a startup. But today we have a precedent broken. Until now, perhaps startups didn’t really possess the potential to alter the industry to the degree that Sean Parker’s Screening Room just might. Or more frighteningly, perhaps now cinema is finally reaching the pinnacle of its vulnerability in the face of television, streaming, youtube, and even snapchat. Continue reading Sean Parker’s Screening Room is a subtle assault on cinema

Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger in Black Mass and Jack Nicholson as Frank Costello in The Departed.

‘Black Mass’ and ‘The Departed’ bring Whitey Bulger to the big screen

Following an unusual train of thought off my post from earlier this week about Trumbo and Hail Caesar and how they took the story of communism in Hollywood to the big screen in decidedly different ways, I’ve decided to look at a different pair of films that take on the same subject matter: The Departed and Black Mass. That just about ends the similarities between this post and the previous one though, as the esteemed mob leader Whitey Bulger has very little to do with either Hollywood or communists. Continue reading ‘Black Mass’ and ‘The Departed’ bring Whitey Bulger to the big screen