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Entries in Reviews (339)


AFI Fest Closing Night - The Big Short

Anne Marie here, wiping the glitter from my eyes after another year of AFI Fest.

The closing night party of AFI Fest presented by Audi was the premiere of The Big Short, the star-studded story of the 2007 financial crisis. Director Adam McKay is best known for comedies like Anchorman, but in defiance of genre expectations, McKay has adapted a book by Michael Lewis of Moneyball fame. Nearly the entire cast walked the red carpet: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Christian Bale were in attendance (minus Brad Pitt), along with the lesser-used-but-no-lesser-in-our-minds Melissa Leo, Finn Wittrock, Adepero Oduye, and Academy Award Winner Marisa Tomei.

The Big Short is a tough sell as Wall Street movies go. If it had been made 2 or 3 years ago, McKay's comedy drama might have been considered on point, but after the Occupy Movement, Wolf of Wall Street, and an economy finally limping back towards recovery, The Big Short may have trouble motivating an audience. Part of its challenge is that McKay's protagonists are the traders who profited off of the collapse of the economy. Three groups of traders - Christian Bale's glass-eyed genius, Carell's angry Chicken Little, and Brad Pitt's charismatic "retired" trader, all corralled by Ryan Gosling's slick Wall Street insider - see the housing market bubble about to explode, and decide to bet against the house. McKay attempts to portray them as prophetic, or at least clear-eyed in the face of systematic stupidity, but a third act shift towards righteous indignation does away with any good will that may have been built.

Tone is a struggle overall for McKay, and the weakest point of a film with a lot of balls in the air. How exactly do you make a movie about the financial market that is entertaining, informative, and accessible? Drawing from his comedy roots, McKay keeps the build up to 2007 fairly light, adding fantastical inserts in order to explain financial concepts. (The audience favorite was Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explaining subprime loans.) However, these stylistic risks, along with random intertitles and quick montages, as often as not obscure rather than enlighten. Once the financial crisis hits, McKay pulls an abrupt about-face, and righteous indignation takes hold. Whether audiences take to the film's message may depend on how redundant this righteous indignation feels 2 hours into the movie and 7 years after the fact.

At the afterparty, crowds swarmed around the major stars who made a fairly hasty exit. However, we stuck around and got to meet Adepero Oduye, who plays a small role as Steve Carell's advisor in The Big Short, but is better known as the star of Dee Rees's lauded 2011 film Pariah. Nathaniel snagged a picture with Oduye and chatted with her about Meryl Streep's shoutout at the 2012 Golden Globes (all roads do lead to Meryl).

Later, we got into a brief conversation with Oduye about Pariah's influence. She was extremely gracious as she gushed over the film's personal signficance for her, and its importance in LGBTQ representation of people of color. Then we chatted about passion projects. We ended the conversation with a hug. That was hands down the warmest way I've ever ended a film festival.


AFI Fest: 5 Reasons to See 'The Lobster'

Margaret here, reporting from AFI Fest in Los Angeles..

The Lobster is the first English-language film from director Yorgos Lanthimos, Academy Award nominee for unsettling black comedy Dogtooth. The buzz since it debuted at Cannes (where it won the Jury Prize) has largely focused on its eyebrow-raising premise: in a society where being part of a couple is mandatory, the perpetually or recently single are rounded up and sent to The Hotel where they must either pair off or be turned into an animal. It's offbeat and biting and not for everyone, but it's also captivating and dryly hilarious. Here are five reasons you should check it out:

1) A bonkers premise improbably well-executed. The setup is so very odd that its ambition alone would make it worth seeing; the fact that the movie sells it without ever straining under the weight of exposition is masterful. In Lanthimos' bizarro world, where existing social rituals around courtship are both flattened and taken the extreme, lonely people scrutinize and reject each other with laughably trivial reasons and deadly serious consequences. Interactions are stilted, and many scenes sound for all the world like they've been dubbed over with a foreign-language translation, except what we're hearing are the actual words coming out of the actors' mouths. But the universe feels fully realized: odd as the relationship dynamics are, they're both internally consistent and recognizably human.

four more reasons after the jump...

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Review: Spectre

Tim here. Four films in, it feels like it's been enough time for the Daniel Craig era of James Bond films to stop doing the origin story thing, but nope, Spectre – the 24th film in the franchise, and the first in its second half-century of life – once again finds the rebooted series putting a whole movie's worth of energy into establishing something that was covered in, like, one scene back in 1963's From Russia with Love. That being the existence of the titular criminal organization, the Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion. It's not so much frustrating as it is baffling: "learn more about Spectre" is basically the whole of the film's plot, with no real threat that needs to be stopped. There's some weird and unsatisfying business with a multinational agreement to share espionage resources, I guess that's the thing driving the plot. A cache of stolen nukes or an attempt to start World War III, it ain't.

Does any of that really matter? If anything, Spectre reveals the core pleasures of the Bond franchise, by removing even the vestige of an actual narrative. It's an exercise in lifestyle porn globetrotting, with Craig handsomely filling out a whole bunch of Tom Ford suits as director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema take great pains to make a lot of extremely gorgeous locations in Europe and North Africa look, well, gorgeous. At frequent intervals there is an action setpiece, most of which are pretty terrific. [More...]

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AFI Fest: "By the Sea" Premieres

Greetings from sunny Los Angeles. I've been offline so I have to thank the team for keeping us up to date in the news. In the interest of not getting too far behind, let's talk about Thursday's opening event.

A rental car misshap nearly prevented me from attending the glitzy premiere of Mr & Mrs Pitt aka By the Sea but I made it in the nick of time. Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt manage the uncommon feat of looking as beautiful as the seaside scenery onscreen and just as beautiful offscreen. They were both glammed up like it was Oscar night in full tux & perfectly groomed hair (Brad) and shimmering form fitting white gown (Angie). Their new film is a marital vacation drama that feels like an uncomfortable fusion of three film types. The first is the enigmatic 60s Italian pictures -- think Antonioni letting Monica Vitti languidly sex up the camera and drive everyone mad while everyone forgets about the plot because "plot? --  how banal!" The second is a kind of meta-interest "vanity project" like a Burton & Taylor joint and I use the term vanity project in the most flattering way possible; no one earns vanity like the great movie stars and both Brad and Angie qualify for that designation. The third is hostile vaguely unreal marital drama erotica. In all three cases the film doesn't go nearly far enough: it needs to be more enigmatic / indifferent to the audience like L'Avventura OR more terrible and superstar campy like, say, Boom!, OR more sexually charged and surreal like maybe Eyes Wide Shut.

It's tough to imagine who the film might satisfy as its mostly inert and repetitious (not a total problem if you like art films), approaches sexually charged material rather timidly (a bigger problem), and is oddly backloaded story-wise which suddenly makes the film feel ill at ease with its languid despair at the last moment "oh, there needs to be A Story" 

But for what's it's worth it's an interesting curiousity. Along with a few truly great moments, it's fun to hear Brad Pitt speaking French and he acts drunk well.

It's interesting that Jolie  keeps challenging herself with different types of films even though she doesn't seem like a "natural" at directing, truth be told. I refuse to call her "Angelina Jolie Pitt" -- women need to stop defining themselves as belonging to a man and it's even worse when celebrities do it. Nearly all instances of famous people changing their public name for marriage end in tears and it looks sloppy on filmographies. Joanne Woodward didn't change her professional name to Joanne Newman when she married Paul and look how happy they were and remained for his whole life!

Gena Rowlands at the opening night partyAt the after party, I wasn't able to get close to Angelina or Brad and didn't spot the beautiful French stars Melanie Laurent & Melvil Poupaud (though they were at the premiere as the other couple in the film) but the most famous married movie stars in the world were real troupers hanging at the party for a good long while and speaking to well wishers in their über glamorous duds. The after party did provide one moment of pure movie bliss though: I was able to congratulate Gena Rowlands on her impending Honorary Oscar. It was brief but heavenly. She was gracious and beaming. Sasha Stone snapped the picture of this blessed moment. Thanks Sasha!

More from the AFI fest soon!


"Suffragette" Shoulders into the Oscar Fray

Is “Suffragette” faltering under the weight of overly high expectations?  With its impressive pedigree and unimpeachable subject matter, Sarah Gavron’s historical drama about the militant wing of the British suffragist movement seemed poised to be a strong Oscar contender for this fall.  Now, as we move towards the holidays, its status is looking uncertain: reviews have been mixed, and it’s drawn criticism for everything from its limited narrative focus to the limited screen time of Meryl Streep, who receives top of the line billing for a role that’s essentially no more than a cameo.  

If there’s a common trend to the criticism, it’s that the critics seem mostly preoccupied with what the movie doesn't do rather than what it does.  “Suffragette” is less a historical chronicle of the suffragettes than a snapshot view through the eyes of one (fictional) working class woman who’s accidentally and at first reluctantly drafted into their ranks.  It’s a study of what circumstances would drive such a woman to join a movement that would seem to hold no immediate benefit or attraction for someone in her position.  [more...]

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Review - Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension

Tim here. Autumn is in full swing, Halloween is around the corner, and it's time for a visit from an old seasonal friend in the form of the Paranormal Activity franchise. 2015's entry, the sixth overall, is titled in full Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, and it's important for two reasons: it's the first one to be shown in 3D, and it's allegedly going to be the last one. Oh sweet Lord, please let it be the last one.

The 2007 Paranormal Activity was an exercise in brutal simplicity: sometimes, terrifying things would happen in a couple's bedroom while they were sleeping, and they had a camera set up to record all of those terrifying things for our benefit. It's as blunt and unfussy as three-chord rock. And all of the film's sequels have taken it as their primary goal to screw that up as hard as possible, adding layer upon layer of nonsense mythology, time travel, and a community of witches cultivating one family across generations to be the handmaidens to a malevolent spirit called Toby.

The Ghost Dimension takes as its stated goal the summation of all this mythology into one definitive chapter where all is explained. It fails, of course. Summing up the messy dog-ends of the Paranormal Activity pictures would have been beyond the scope of one movie, and given the increasingly arbitrary twists in the franchise, it would hardly have been satisfying. What The Ghost Dimension does manage to do is execute the reveal that all six movies have been building up to a tediously straightforward "find a body for the Devil" scenario, something that plenty of other movies have been able to sketch out in a first act, and not several hours over the course of more than a half of a decade. It's a damp squib of a finale if ever there was one.

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Review: Macbeth

Andrew here to talk about a Shakespeare adaptation

There’s a moment in the recent adaptation of Macbeth that’s legitimately surprising for audience, even those who have read the play. Towards the end of the film Marion Cotillard appears on screen for Lady Macbeth’s moment of reckoning – that iconic “Out damned spot!” speech. The scene unfolds, naturally, in a different fashion than it does in the play. The monologue, though, becomes especially striking when the camera draws back to reveal “who” she is speaking to. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it, but a few of the persons in the row behind me gasped at the cutaway. It’s meant to be a jolting moment in the film, and it is, although it’s also a baffling one. The moment has stuck with me since I’ve seen the film as I’ve tried to make sense of it within the film’s framework. And, the more I think on it, the more it emerges as emblematic of this adaptation.

Let it not be said that Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is not without ambition and energy. This Macbeth is transposed to the cinema in language that’s distinctly visual. This is a Macbeth about movement and space and contact, and then the ensuing loss of that same contact. The language of the film is restlessness and mournful agitation from its first shot and the entire fair is slick and confident, but I go back and forth on how effective it is.

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