DON'T CRY FOR ME, ANTOLOGÍA - My Review of WILD TALES (4 Stars)… MoreDON'T CRY FOR ME, ANTOLOGÍA - My Review of WILD TALES (4 Stars)
Argentina's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee for 2014 is an audacious, edgy, hilarious collection of 6 short films by writer/director Damián Szifron called WILD TALES. While none are directly linked to each other, this group of short stories seems to share similar themes of rage and revenge and of people caught during their most stressful moments. Its opening credits alone, a series of wildlife stills indicates we're about to experience behavior of the basest levels. We follow people on a plane, in a diner, on the road, at a towing facility, after an accidental hit & run, and at the world's most insane wedding reception ever and I spent a good half of the time with my hand over my mouth trying to suppress either laughter or an "Oh no they didn't!". It's almost impossible to discuss this film without mild spoilers, but I'll do my best not to reveal anything too specifically.
The film opens with its shortest tale, a group of passengers on board a plane who quickly discover something diabolical is afoot. It ends with a gasp-inducing freeze frame you won't soon forget. It deftly sets the stage for the sick and twisted stories to follow, all displaying varying degrees of anger at the world and the terrible luck so many suffer. Shot with great muscularity by cinematographer Javier Julia, and infused with a wonderful nihilistic sensibility, each segment has its own style, and I felt like I was experiencing a great Coen Brothers film at every assured turn.
In a secluded diner on a rainy night, a server finds her sole customer to be an arch enemy from her past. Goaded on by her increasingly sadistic co-worker (memorably and hilariously played by Rita Cortese), this revenge fantasy simultaneously raises the dramatic stakes while playing off our distaste for awful, entitled customers and slow-moving service people. I loved how quickly one character wanted to murder another simply based on another person's recounting of past events, a perfect encapsulation of our too-quick-to-judge, don't believe everything you read on Facebook culture.
From there we're racing along a desert road as a handsome, well-to-do driver (Leonardo Sbaraglia, who first came to my attention in the film BURNT MONEY) gets stuck behind a slow-moving and weaving vehicle. His ill-advised choice to yell at the man leads to a face-off which redefines taking things too far even by Tex Avery standards. Imagine Steven Spielberg's DUEL cranked up to mythical proportions. It's in this segment where every single shot meant something, with the camera put in just the right place, and the editing and writing ratcheting up the tension with perfect, inevitable ease. Clearly final shots mean something to Szifron, and it's in this story where his last moment adds an extra, juicy layer to the storytelling.
Next, one of Argentina's most famous actors, Ricardo Darín (THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES), expertly mines every moment of his put-upon sad sack who naively takes on the system after getting towed. What makes this segment sing is the fact that his character is set-up as a man addicted to causing drama. I found my loyalties shifting constantly from his p.o.v. to those of the bureaucrats he torments. Again, every moment counts, from the initial set-up at a construction site to its homage to TAXI DRIVER.
The film continues with an unfortunate hit-and-run accident perpetrated by the son of a wealthy man (a great slow-burn by Oscar Martínez), who keeps making one ill-advised decision after another in an attempt to make the situation go away. This story exposes the never-ending levels of corruption and greed, placing a sad, lower class patsy into the mix (a terrific Germán de Silva) to remind us how stuck the 99% often feel in their lives. Knowing full well that no good can come from this situation, Szifron ends this tale with abrupt and off-camera sounds, putting just the right capper on its hopelessness.
Finally, a wedding reception from hell ends the film on a funny yet disturbing note as a cheating groom played by Diego Gentile (clearly Argentina's answer to Bradley Cooper) faces off against his distraught bride (Erica Rivas, explosively going past any semblance of sanity). Their performances are electric, and I wasn't surprised to discover that nearly the entire cast received nominations from Argentina's version of the Oscars. The jealously and rage of our newlyweds keeps boiling over, ending (here we are again with Szifron's mastery of final shots) on an image combining sex and messiness. It's a perfect way to summarize the experience of this thoroughly entertaining, not-to-be-missed film.
THE RING GETS CHLAMYDIA - My Review of IT FOLLOWS (3 Stars)
Often… MoreTHE RING GETS CHLAMYDIA - My Review of IT FOLLOWS (3 Stars)
Often pretentious, overly metaphorical, and uneven in pace, IT FOLLOWS is still writer/director David Robert Mitchell's praiseworthy attempt to inject a little originality into the often stale horror genre. Whereas THE RING was built on the premise that a mysterious videotape would bring death to its viewers, IT FOLLOWS promises being haunted by a shape-shifting specter unless you have sex with someone to transfer the target over to them. Think of it as the consequences of acquiring a sexually transmitted infection, but with more horrific symptoms.
As allegories go, it's rich with potential, and Mitchell clearly strives to make the most out of it. He works hard with cinematographer Mike Gioulakis to achieve an endlessly fluid shooting style rife with striking, unusual framing. One unfortgettable shot of blood in a swimming pool is almost worth the price of admission alone. Add a heavy 80s-style synth score, a strange, timeless, quasi-70s/80s production design that mixes cell phones with rabbit ear televisions, old rusty cars, a zonked-out, naturalistic acting style exhibited by its young cast, and the strangest clamshell cameo Kindle device that has never existed, and you're entering John Carpenter Land by way of Terrence Malick. The Malick reference gets its due in not only the unforced, elliptical way our characters converse but in choices Mitchell makes, such as concentrating on a shot of our heroine's hand grazing grass and flowers during a particularly quiet moment right before something awful occurs.
The film opens strong, with a twirling 360 degree shot of a young girl racing out of her home dressed in bra, panties and high heels. She's being chased by something unseen and before you know it, she meets an unexpectedly grisly fate. From here, we meet our heroine, Jay (Maika Monroe), who looks like the the product of a fourgy between Kelly Clarkson, Kat Dennings, Reese Witherspoon and Chloe Sevigny, as she wades in her backyard, above ground pool. This is one laid back teen. She's so laconic, she can't even be bothered to shoo an ant crawling across her arm. It's suburban Detroit and Jay's life consists of being observed by her horny pre-teen neighbors, drinking with her friends and family, and dating an easygoing guy.
It's at this date where things go seriously and irrevocably wrong. I won't spoil the plot much further, but the aftermath of some backseat sex isn't anywhere close to what Jay imagined. In most horror films, you pay for having sex. Here, sex is the only way out. IT FOLLOWS really turns up the creep factor after this initial sexual encounter, with a shocking cut to the next scene. It seems to be Mitchell's terror equivalent to finding out your partner just intentionally infected you with an STI.
With Jay dumped back home looking like a rape victim, those closest to her rally by her side to help her escape her fate. In an almost silent performance, Monroe must convey fear and a certain guilt for the rest of the film. There are a few good scares of the "jump out of your seat when somebody goes 'Boo!' variety" and a few haunting scenes where she's being stalked. The framing of the shots truly helps these sequences flourish as you're made to look around constantly to discover the predator. Knowing the threat could be coming from anywhere is part of this movie's simmering tension. Additionally, like a diagnosis of syphilis, our main character has a tough time disclosing what's happening to her.
Unfortunately, there's not much else to the film. Our leads run and run and run, stopping sometimes to have sex until they come up with a plan to conquer this "thing". Although visually stunning, that big sequence doesn't make a lot of sense, and it feels like the rules changed slightly to justify what happens. Ultimately, it feels like the film is a little light on incident and lacks a satisfying resolution, ending up feeling like a light campfire story instead of a big, hearty meal. More haunting than scary and more metaphor than fleshed-out storytelling, IT FOLLOWS is an admiral homage.
Rich Vreeland's score is an acquired taste. It booms in almost every frame in a way that reminded me of Christopher Nolan's DARK KNIGHT and is highly evocative of the score from HALLOWEEN. It feels intentional and will either feel like a propulsive addition to the storytelling (my feeling) or annoy the hell out of you. Same goes with the odd, can't-place-it time in which the story is set. For me, it kept me engaged in the film, with its vague, hazy memories of a time where we would have to talk with each other instead of texting. Others will find it to be a pretentious conceit. Fair enough, but love it or hate it, IT FOLLOWS has a lot on its mind and Mitchell clearly wants to establish a new, methodical voice in film storytelling.
THE F.L.U.F.F. (Funny but a Little Underwhelming Feature Film) - My… MoreTHE F.L.U.F.F. (Funny but a Little Underwhelming Feature Film) - My Review of THE DUFF (3 Stars)
Take a fun but nasty high school concept based on a bestselling novel, add a cavalcade of fresh talent, and an Academy Award-winning Director, and you should have the next classic teen movie, right? Well, kinda sorta almost. Standing for Designated Ugly Fat Friend, THE DUFF stars Mae Whitman (PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER) as Bianca, who learns from her hot jock next door neighbor Wesley (Robbie Amell) that her prettier, more popular friends keep her around in order to look that much better. Upon discovering this, she enlists her neighbor to give her romance lessons in exchange for help with his science grades. Whereas 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU was based on THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, and CLUELESS was based on EMMA, THE DUFF takes its cues from PYGMALION. There's no way this film won't take its place in the HEATHERS/MEAN GIRLS pantheon, right?
All of the ingredients are here for that to be true. Utilizing fun social media graphics and a delightfully uncomfortable performance by Whitman along with spirited turns by Amell, Allison Janney (as Bianca's mother), and Ken Jeong as her Journalism professor, director Ari Sandel, who won an Oscar in 2005 for his short, WEST BANK STORY, mostly keeps things grounded in reality. I felt every single moment of Bianca's humiliation and embarrassment, and the film's insistence on keeping everything genuine is what keeps it from launching into the stratosphere. The aforementioned classics often had thrilling flights of fancy, whether it's that bus hitting Regina George or Winona Ryder's head becoming a croquet ball. THE DUFF, however, is content to tell its story with very little fanfare. Perhaps I've become used to gross-out humor, but part of me wanted one big set piece or two to take this film to the next level. I can't imagine BRIDESMAIDS without the famous bathroom scene, and THE DUFF only manages a literal half-second, blink and you'll miss it vomit moment.
Sandel and screenwriter Josh Cagan have done solid work here and there's wonderful, unexpected chemistry between Whitman and Amell, but punches seem to have been pulled. Bella Thorne plays the resident bad girl, Madison, with a perfect, understated bristle, and yet it doesn't feel like enough. I was waiting for an epic meltdown or indelible lines like "F*ck me gently with a chainsaw", but the best we get from her are unmemorable, passive-aggressive asides. It's MEAN GIRLS-lite or NOT-SO-NICE GIRLS, and THE DUFF's predecessors have raised the bar to almost unattainable heights.
Almost completely eschewing camp, the filmmakers have made an understandable yet somewhat bland choice. We know where this movie is going from the moment it starts, and despite it being fun and well-observed, it's lacking those big moments such as a lively dance in the Homecoming scene, or some crazy naked hijinks in the men's locker room scene. Still, the movie is about something humane, that sometimes being yourself is the best option. That's not the worst message to put out there, but "I love my dead gay son" is unforgettable and I'll be quoting HEATHERS for decades. THE DUFF made me laugh when Allison Janney quoted THIS IS SPINAL TAP, but that's only worth a passing mention at my next cocktail party. The differences, and one can't help but compare, make ALL the difference.
ALL ABOUT THAT BASS - My Review of THE WRECKING CREW (4 Stars)… MoreALL ABOUT THAT BASS - My Review of THE WRECKING CREW (4 Stars)
Whether you grew up in the 60s/70s or if you're a fan of the classic music from that period, it's likely you'll treasure Denny Tedesco's loving, passionate, bittersweet documentary about the unsung heroes behind such recordings as "California Dreaming", "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelng", and "Be My Baby". Somewhat of a cousin to the Oscar-winning, "20 Feet From Stardom", Tedesco has been making this film since 1996 as a tribute to his late father, Tommy Tedesco, a guitarist with the group of West Coast session musicians who played on a jaw-dropping number of rock hits, movie and tv themes.
Finally getting their due, the musicians reveal that they, and not the original members of such bands as The Beach Boys, did the lion's share of the playing. The list of songs is staggering and I spent most of my time viewing the film with my jaw decisively dropped and my toes tapping. More important than uncovering these music industry secrets, however, is the true passion for music on display here. These are musicians who loved to play, to discuss it, and in one extremely potent moment, Tommy says to his reunited group, "They put notes on paper. That's not music. You make the music".
...And what incredible music it is. The film dives in and out of the lives of some key players, interweaving a reunion roundtable with rare footage from the era and vibrant photos. I loved watching a very young Sonny and Cher make their way around the studios, these newbies facing a group of old pros. Brian Wilson looked truly inspired to record with the Crew, who unanimously loved working with this genius.
Tommy is a great main character. He's energetic and hilarious in footage where he's talking to students or reminiscing with his old pals. Drummer Hal Blaine carries a lot of the pathos in the film with a heartbreaking riches to rags story. A couple of the members broke out into solo stardom, chief among them, Glen Campbell and Leon Russell. The lone female in the group, Carol Kaye, steals every moment she's on screen. Clearly a warm person who suffers no fools, she never once played the victim, assimilating herself into this boy's club because of her undisputed talent as a bass player. A highlight of the film is watching Carol show us the original, too-spare bass line to "The Beat Goes On" and then demonstrating how she added her own touches to make it unforgettable. Every so often we'll hear a musician play, for example, "The Pink Panther Theme" and then Tedesco will lay the finished track on top of that footage. It's a terrific way to show us their artistry and bring these invisible talents front and center with the songs that shaped so many lives.
This isn't a perfect film, but it's a perfect experience. At times, the storytelling can duck down a few too many corridors, but it's an extremely minor complaint. The shaggy style constantly brings us gem after gem of music and lively reminiscences. Imagine turning a radio dial over and over and only hearing masterpieces and that describes the viewing pleasure of this film.
The journey to get this film released has been arduous. I met Denny back in the 80s as we both worked in film production. Years later, he started talking about a documentary he was making to honor his father who was starting to get ill. Tommy, and many others, did not live to see the final product, which, after a successful film festival run, has been held up for years dues to music rights. We see many people who are either gone (Dick Clark is among them) or have mentally slipped away (Campbell), making this film that much more essential as a time capsule. There were times, however, that it looked like this film would never get the proper release it so richly deserves. But Tedesco persevered, raised the hundred of thousands of dollars needed to pay off the endless list of musicians, and 19 years later we have THE WRECKING CREW. His passion to tell this story about a group of very passionate people was well worth the wait and is a glorious homage to REAL talent.
ARTISINAL, HAND-CRAFTED, AND SURPRISINGLY WONDERFUL - My Review of… MoreARTISINAL, HAND-CRAFTED, AND SURPRISINGLY WONDERFUL - My Review of WHILE WE'RE YOUNG (4 Stars)
Jane: You crossed the line!
Tom: It's hard not to cross it. They just keep moving the little sucker, don't they?
- BROADCAST NEWS (1987)
Noah Baumbach (THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, FRANCES HA!), in his completely charming and surprisingly deep new film, WHILE WE'RE YOUNG, wrestles with right and wrong similar to how it was handled in James L. Brooks' seminal film, BROADCAST NEWS. He brings questions of values into a beautifully specific, hilarious new comedy. In fact, these two films would make a fine double bill, as both feature relatable, vivid characters caught up in relevant ethical dilemmas.
Ben Stiller plays Josh, a film professor who has been struggling to finish his own documentary for years. He and his wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are childless and seemingly happy with their carefree existence. Enter Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried), an aspiring filmmaker and his entrepreneurial wife, who meet Josh in his class and a mentor/student relationship is born. Rather than hang with their peers (wonderfully represented by Adam Horowitz of Beastie Boys fame and Maria Dizzia), Josh and Cornelia find themselves reinvigorated by hanging with the cool kids. Not before long, they're experiencing every hand-crafted, artisinal option available to your average Williamsburg hipster - fun hats, street raves, hip hop class, and ice cream hybrids you didn't know existed a minute ago and now you can't live without.
A lesser director would have allowed this mid-life crisis story to serve as its only theme, but Baumbach, an impressively smart filmmaker, has much more on his mind. Cornelia's father Leslie (Charles Grodin in top form) is a legendary documentarian, and Josh has been forever trying to step out from his shadows. Soon, Jamie starts to infiltrate this world, bringing with him his own questionable ways of making a documentary. Josh the purist finds himself clashing with Jamie, who has no qualms about bending the rules to achieve his goals. It's to Baumbach and his wonderful cast's credit that every character is treated with such fairness. Driver could easily have been demonized for his actions, but Baumbach is almost insisting that we consider the seismic shift in priorities from one generation to the next. When Cornelia takes a hip hop class with Darby, the scene is played for geeky laughs, but Watts is having so much fun that you can't help but adore her for her "White Soccer Mom" attempts. Ultimately, Baumbach seems to be saying that ethics may be dying, but you can't blame anyone for trying to do whatever it takes in this cutthroat world.
This may sound heavy, but the film is so funny, so richly detailed, so well-observed, you hardly notice. What could have easily been a throwaway scene in which a married couple in bed are at cross purposes when one wants to read while the other needs sleep, turns indelible when the discussion turns to the wattage of the reading lamp bulb. During the fizzy honeymoon period when Josh and Cornelia are still worshipping at the altar of their younger friends, Watts memorably notices that they've decorated their apartment with everything they threw out, but somehow they make it look so cool. Even a tiny scene with a doctor yields a great joke about arthritis.
Each of the cast members does some of their best work, with Amanda Seyfriend finally getting another chance at comedy since MEAN GIRLS, and scoring again with her turn as a seemingly flight wife who may just be the sanest person in the room. Stiller is a master at deadpan angst, and while he doesn't stretch here, it's the passion he brings to Josh's convictions that make this part memorable. Even some of the smaller roles have yielded great results, particularly Matthew Maher as Josh's long-suffering editor. Completely eschewing histrionics, he quietly and persistently makes his voice heard, despite the totally self-involved nature of his boss. Ryan Serhant plays a glib, uncaring Agent to perfection. I completely bought into his over-excited energy when hyping Jamie and his total indifference to Josh. He nimbly represents every infant who has somehow achieved great power without caring about history.
Technically, this film is a low-budget treat. Cinematographer Sam Levy has a nice feel for New York streets and for keeping his cast vibrantly engaged in the frames. I particularly loved an extended shot of Josh and Jamie riding bicycles, starting with exhilaration and ending with silly, but relatable slapstick. George Drakoulias does a fine job as Music Supervisor, mixing classical themes (perhaps ones that are a little too played out) with modern tracks and unearthing some long-forgotten but killer oldies such as NINETEEN HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-FIVE by Paul McCartney and Wings.
Sometimes Noah Baumbach can get a little too heavy and navel-gazing (MARGOT AT THE WEDDING anyone?), but with WHILE WE'RE YOUNG, he's loosened up and allowed himself to inject great humor and heart into a subject matter that's dead serious and completely of-the-moment. As a result, he's made one of this year's best films.
STILL MALICE - My Review of MAPS TO THE STARS (2 Stars)
THE PLAYER,… MoreSTILL MALICE - My Review of MAPS TO THE STARS (2 Stars)
THE PLAYER, THE DAY OF THE LOCUST, SUNSET BLVD., and ALL ABOUT EVE are films that come to mind when I think about great show business satires. Unfortunately, David Cronenberg's MAPS TO THE STARS, with a screenplay written by famed Hollywood Skewerer, Bruce Wagner, will not join that legendary pantheon. Instead, it's a tone deaf, deadly dull, pretentious slog only occasionally elevated by a great performance by Julianne Moore, reliably edgy work by Olivia Williams, and a truly disturbing turn by Evan Bird, who almost manages to Out-Bieber Justin Bieber.
Things start out on the wrong foot as we meet Agatha (a pretty blank performance by Mia Wasikowska) a new arrival to LA who hires a limo, driven by Jerome (Robert Pattinson, also blank) to return her to a decaying city. The timing and dialogue are stiff, filled with awkward pauses and miss opportunities for landing jokes. I'm certain Cronenberg and Wagner and company were going for that effect, but it just comes across as flat and amateurish.
It's only until Julianne Moore's character, Havana Segrand, a fading actor hellbent on landing a role in a remake of a film that initially starred her late mother, that the film truly takes flight. Luckily, her role is large, so we're treated to every nuance of Havana's narcissism, neurosis, and contempt. Moore takes self-loathing to new heights here, richly deserving her Golden Globe nomination for her performance. In need of a new personal assistant, or "chore whore", Moore hires Agatha, whose past is clearly troubled if we're to go from her burn scars and disaffected manner.
Agatha comes from a well-to-do, completely dysfunctional family consisting of her self-help Guru father (John Cusack), nervous wreck manager mother (Olivia Williams, who with this and GHOST WRITER has clearly cornered the market on this type of character), and sociopathic child actor brother (Evan Bird). Clearly there are deep dark secrets to be revealed and their story overlaps with Havana's in multiple ways.
On paper, this should be a fun, smart, scabrous experience. Instead, it's oftentimes a plodding, humorless dirge. Sure, Cronenberg instills it with his trademark creepy moments, including an in-your-face limo seduction, a tense Russian Roulette scene, and a shocking, very bloody murder, but too much of the time I found myself wishing Billy Wilder would swoop in for a rewrite and an admonishment to all involved that it wouldn't hurt to lighten up.
Julianne Moore gets it. It's an alive, over-the-top performance whether she's bragging about her having spent time with the Dalai Lama, sitting on a toilet while she barks orders at her assistant, or not-so-subtly taking down her competition for her next role. Her emotions are so raw, whereas most of the cast has been directed to flatline everything. Sometimes it works, as Bird's approach to his just-out-of rehab 13-year-old is a chilling portrait of a soulless, amoral success story. Other times, such as with Pattinson, it just feels like disaffection for disaffection's sake, and not to truly serve its characters.
Technically, however, this is a beautiful movie, with legendary Cinematographer Peter Suschitzky and longtime Cronenberg Production Designer Carol Spier providing a sleek, rich, believable Hollywood look to the table. It's unfortunate that a movie about the crazy energy this town generates on a daily basis isn't captured for most of its running time.
TIE ME UP, LET ME DOWN - My Review of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY (2 1/2… MoreTIE ME UP, LET ME DOWN - My Review of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY (2 1/2 Stars)
Based on the originally self-published book by E.L. James, which originated as fan fiction of the TWILIGHT saga, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is as toothless as its inspiration and strangely enough, bloodless. This is odd considering the BDSM nature of its central relationship.
Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson (NOWHERE BOY) and adapted by Kelly Marcel (SAVING MR. BANKS), the filmmakers appear to have borrowed more from its kinkier 1986 predecessor, 9 1/2 WEEKS, than from the aforementioned Vampire Trilogy. With sleek but barren 80s-style Production Design by David Wasco (PULP FICTION) and uncharacteristically faceless cinematography from the usually brilliant Seamus McGarvey (ANNA KARENINA, ATONEMENT), FIFTY SHADES feels like an empty product from a lost time. Think FLASHDANCE with light domination instead of tight gyration. I mean, Jesus! Our heroine uses a flip phone fer crissakes! A flippin' flip phone!
Fortunately, that heroine is played by Dakota Johnson (daughter to Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith), and she is so good here that she almost makes the film worthwhile. I loved her on the short-lived sitcom, BEN AND KATE, noting her ability to utilize terrific comic timing while making room for vulnerability. Her style is highly reminiscent of her mother's, who claimed she learned how to relax and breathe in front of the camera by working with Mike Nichols on her star-making triumph, WORKING GIRL.
Her daughter has clearly taken her mother's advice and brings such charm to her role. The character is Anastasia Steele, a ridiculous name that I think even Fabio would be embarrassed were he to pose for a book cover called THE BODICE RIPPINGS OF ANASTASIA STEELE. Indeed, it's exactly where that character name belongs. Regardless, Johnson is poised to become a huge star, and her work here is deserving of praise.
Back to the story - Anastasia is sent by her roommate Kate, who comes down with the flu (Eloise Mumford, a dead ringer for Sienna Miller) to interview business tycoon, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) in her stead. Grey, of course, turns out to be young, gorgeous and manipulative. They quickly fall for each other. You can tell because she chews her pencil and he stares at her. Soon enough, he admits to her that he doesn't do romance and instead prefers a dominant/submissive relationship.
Naturally, because he's rich, great looking, has a helicopter, rents out gliders, and owns a killer apartment, she says yes. I suppose that's the aspirational appeal of this claptrap, but let's not kid ourselves; had Christian Grey been played by Jonah Hill as a homeless sexual deviant, she would be spraying mace instead of her scent all over this stinker.
Eventually, Grey starts raising the stakes by...um...really? He spanks her? He flogs her lightly? He covers her eyes and binds her hands with a necktie? I'm sorry, but I've seen more subversive acts in a Village People video than anything going on here. Late in the film, she asks Grey to bring out the big guns. He chooses a simple belt to whip her a few grades harder than before, but that damn belt was hanging next to notched paddles and fare edgier fare. Why pull punches at the climax? Many will say it's because Grey is developing feelings for Anastasia. That would be true if I believed Grey possessed them, but as portrayed by Dornan, he's a one-note empty shell. Sure, that's the part he was hired to play, and I'm sure Dornan has some talent, but he's just not given the chance. I kept waiting for something shocking - a cigar burn, welts, blood, crazy zipper masks - I don't know. When did sex movies become so tame? This is just kinda boring, meandering, and oftentimes silly. It's not the disaster everyone was fearing/hoping for, mainly because of Johnson, but it's not gonna make anyone whip out a c*m rag either. SHORTBUS seems so long ago.
TWO'S COMPANY - My Review of THE LAST FIVE YEARS (3 1/2 Stars)
With… MoreTWO'S COMPANY - My Review of THE LAST FIVE YEARS (3 1/2 Stars)
With its innovative yet sometimes confusing structure, and its strict adherence to a two character chamber piece, THE LAST FIVE YEARS may fall a little short of reinventing the movie musical, but it certainly succeeds as a lush, emotional, beautifully felt breath of fresh air. Adapted and directed by Richard LaGravenese (UNBROKEN, BEHIND THE CANDELABRA, among many others) from the Off-Broadway hit by Jason Robert Brown, the film tells the story of Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) an up-and-coming novelist and his five year relationship with Cathy (Anna Kendrick), a less successful aspiring actor. Jamie's numbers are told chronologically, while Cathy's start at the end of the story and work backwards. While each song acts as an interior monologue of sorts, they join up for a lovely duet in the middle during a marriage proposal sequence. The structure allows for some wonderful introspection, allowing the audience to notice the highs and lows of their relationship with a heightened sense of clarity, thus enriching the impact of an outcome we've known all along.
Jordan and Kendrick have chemistry to spare, each possessing fantastic singing voices and a fully realized commitment to the material. These aren't deep or particularly detailed characters. They adhere to the standard New York artist archetypes - he's Jewish and confident in his talent, while she's a Shiksa who struggles to play second fiddle to his rising star while filled with doubt about her place in the world. Kendrick is no stranger to musicals (CAMP, PITCH PERFECT, INTO THE WOODS), but here she feels more emotionally connected, beginning with her stock-still, quietly aching opening number until the very end. Jordan's success has been fast, from his Tony-Nominated performance in NEWSIES to his appearance on the television series, SMASH. He clearly has an easy grasp of emotions, a big, big voice and a winning way of bringing out Kendrick's often under-explored sexuality.
Most of the songs, and this is a sung-through musical, save a few lines of dialogue here and there, are tender ballads, however the standouts are "A Summer In Ohio" and "The Schmuel Song", and "Climbing Uphill/Audition Sequence" all mid-tempo charmers that fully exploit the winning energy and comic timing of the leads. Kendrick is especially great during the "Audition Sequence", adept at spitting out a mouthful of lyrics while getting us inside her head as she bombs one tryout after another. Reminiscent of Sondheim, the songs fit fully within the standard Broadway cannon. They're melodic, piano-based, lyrically dense and from the heart.
Technical credits are terrific, especially for a micro-budget feature shot in 25 days. Cinematographer Steven Meizler and Production Designer Michael Fitzgerald (who designed I DO for me) create believable New York environs, nimbly tracing the changes as Jamie becomes more successful, while still being realistic about what even a bestselling novelist can afford in the Big Apple.
My biggest quibble with the film is the lack of truly coherent signposts to indicate the various time periods. Often, I found myself confused or having to stop and do a little math to try and figure out where we were in the story. I can appreciate LaGravenese for not wanting to spoon feed this information to the audience, but here's one film I would have appreciated a little dumbing down in that department, be it lower thirds with dates or different signs at times. Dated signage at a couple of parties and at an Ohio Summer Stock theater blended together and only led to more confusion.
It's a minor complaint for a film that wears its heart on its sleeve. Haters of musicals may not change their mind with this entry, but I left the theater fulfilled by its fascinating Rubix cube structure and haunting melodies.