Wednesday, December 14, 2011

One last flick before the ball drops

Where does the time go?  It’s been shamelessly long since the last review post.   Trouble finding a buddy to write with me, bled into busyness, and, well, like sands through the hourglass… Very happy to be back for this one with my brother, who previously joined me forThe Beginners.  Enjoy.    

Mike's Review of J. Edgar

As a young actor, Clint Eastwood got famous for his performances as archetypes of violent American masculinity, a cowboy (in Leone’s spaghetti Westerns of the 60s) and a vigilante cop (in the Dirty Harry films of the 70s). But in the latter half of his career, both in front of the camera and in the director’s chair, Eastwood has aggressively deconstructed such archetypes, in revisionist versions of the western (Unforgiven, 2002), the boxing picture (Million Dollar Baby, 2004) and the war movie (Flags of Our Fathers, 2006).  This project of critical revisitings continues in his latest effort, J. Edgar,  a  history and politics biopic in which Leonard DiCaprio plays the founder of the FBI.  

J. Edgar Hoover is an ideal subject for exploring the issues Eastwood has focused on in his recent films—power and violence; history and myth-making; men and masculinity.  For one thing, although Hoover biographers disagree on this point, rumour has long had it that he was a closeted gay man.  The film portrays him as such, showing him at one point tell his mother (played admirably and subtly by Judy Dench) that he “doesn’t like dancing with women.”  His implicit attempt at coming out is cruelly contradicted—like his overbearing mother, whom he adores to a fault, Edgar tries to deny that he is gay, even to himself.  He may be in love (and this is another popular speculation about Hoover) with his associate FBI director Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), with whom he takes two-man weekend getaways and lunches and dines every day, but he is too sexually self-hating to ever consummate this passion.  In one memorable scene, Tolson and Hoover come to blows in a hotel room when Tolson explodes in rage at Hoover’s denial of their desire for each other; in a moment reminiscent of Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, the dust-up ends with Tolson pinning J. Edgar on the floor and forcefully giving him the kiss that they’ve both been aching for.  A kiss that Hoover right away, guiltily repudiates.

Despite (or perhaps as a result of) his own need for sexual secretiveness, Hoover avidly collected secret information on the sex lives of his Washington political rivals.  For instance, Eastwood shows him using  ingeniously obtained evidence of Eleanor Roosevelt’s alleged lesbianism and, later, tape-recorded proof of the philandering of both Martin Luther King and JFK in order to maintain his leverage in the endless games of tug-of-war between his Bureau and the successive Presidents and Attorneys General who would curtail it.  In J. Edgar these cat-and-mouse games of trying to hide or out sexual impropriety are one corollary of Hoover’s most valuable insight, which is the biggest reason for his staggering success: that politics is public relations.

Indeed, the film hammers home the notion that the original G-man was the consummate PR-man, stressing for example that Hoover worked hard and purposefully to replace the gangster with the FBI agent as the figure Americans looked up to in crime-themed movies and comic books.  Not to mention that he was constantly and carefully crafting his image in the press, trying to pass himself off as a frontier sheriff despite the fact he was essentially a Washington lawyer and bureaucrat.  Interestingly, one way in which he did this was by alerting the press in advance about major FBI arrests (of celebrity hoods like Machine Gun Kelly and John Dillinger, for example) and using them as photo opps at which he, in spite of his maladroitness with guns and handcuffs, would be seen to apprehend the bad guy.  There’s a real poignancy to this aspect of Hoover’s characterization in the film: mortally ashamed of being a sissy, he copes with that shame by creating a fantasy public persona for himself as punishing law enforcement cowboy.

The movie’s preoccupation with the constructedness of great Americans extends beyond Hoover’s attempts to manipulate pop culture and the press to his calculated efforts to influence the history books.  In fact, the narrative conceit that structures J. Edgar is that Hoover, in the 1960s twilight of his life and career, is dictating his professional memoirs to a series of young FBI agents.  (To digress, my favourite American writer Gore Vidal used the very same form of mise en abyme—aging American statesman dictates his memoirs to young male secretary—in another piece of eponymous fictionalized biography, his masterful 1973 novel Burr.)  As we might have expected, Hoover turns out to be anything but a reliable narrator.  Toward film’s end, Tolson exposes much of what his boss has told his amanuenses as self-serving embellishments and calculated lies, reminding us that the history of Hoover and the FBI, like all history, is made, not born.

All of this is well and good if, like me, you have an interest in 20th century U.S. history and the ways in which the political life of a country plays itself out in popular culture and the media.  But for someone who doesn’t find these issues engaging in themselves, J. Edgar is likely to be a disappointing movie.  For while it starts strong—DiCaprio is compelling as the young, feverishly ambitious Hoover, a strange mix of priggish unlikeability and strident charisma—it bogs down somewhere between the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and Hoover’s petty attempts to discredit Martin Luther King with sex tapes.  And by the end, when we’ve been too long watching DiCaprio and Hammer trying gamely but implausibly, in heavy old-man makeup, to portray Hoover and Tolson late in life, the film—notwithstanding its thoughtful take on some important ideas—has lost its momentum as a story and its claim on our attention as the psychological portrait of a deeply conflicted creature.

Caitlin's Review of J. Edgar

Oh, Edgar
by Caitlin Murphy

Bio pics never work.  Not really.  Not fully.  I’m thinking it’s because they typically have much more to do with biography than film:  unable even to live up to their names, they’re doomed from the start.  Just as a film adaptation of a novel is always an adaption before it’s a film, a bio pic knows that its first duty is to the biographical subject, and second to the art of cinematic story-telling.  It’s an allegiance that’s impossible to avoid, and even less possible to hide.

J. Edgar, directed by Clint Eastwood, and written by Dustin Lance Black, stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the founder and many-term director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover.  The film also features Naomi Watts, in the initially promising (though ultimately rather thankless) role of secretary, Helen Gandy, Judi Dench (in a bit of under-considered casting), as Edgar’s mother, and Armie Hammer (that guy who was creepily cloned to play the twins in The Social Network) as Hoover’s long-time companion and second-in-command, Clyde Tolson.

Milk, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black’s previous film about Harvey Milk, won him an Oscar.  J. Edgar won’t.  Directed by Gus Van Sant, Milk was undoubtedly a much superior and more successful film.  Cynically, a life cut short by assassination is simply more dramatic, and also makes for a more manageable amount of material to cover.  But further, the people who made Milk were clearly as concerned about making a movie as delivering a biography; Milk more effectively evokes a place, and conveys an era, while simultaneously painting a portrait of a man; as a result, its world is far richer than the world of J. Edgar.

With so much ground to cover, bio pics notoriously rely on voice-over narration.    Finding the compelling context for this can of course be tricky:  how to drum up the occasion for someone to narrate their existence?  Here, Hoover recounts his memoirs to various amanuenses, and, as a framing device, it’s  rather limp.  Unlike in Milk, which found Harvey Milk speaking an eerily prescient “if I die” warning into a tape recorder, this device doesn’t put much at stake.  Sure, Hoover is clearly interested in laying down (his version of) the historical record, but that’s about it.  And the scenes themselves, with their revolving door of secretaries, lack vitality, nuance and conflict.

At 37 years old, DiCaprio spends most of the film playing out of his age range to cover the various periods of Hoover’s life addressed in the film.  Regardless of how amazing an actor is (and I don’t think DiCaprio is one of our strongest) aging is hard to play.  I think because basically, and perhaps mercifully, we don’t have much imagination for how we’ll age.  I was very prepared for wrinkles and fine lines, for example, not the general downward facial shifting I’ve witnessed instead.  Like most people I think, I have greeted signs of getting older with a rather bemused, “Oh, wasn’t expecting you, I thought the other guy was coming.”  

Here’s the thing:  if you’ve ever been to a college theatre production, you know what it is to feel badly for the 19 year old stuck playing the granddad.  No matter how good of a job the kid does, the role would always, of course, have been more convincingly played (and with considerably less effort) by an actually old person.  The problem with the college theatre production and with J. Edgar is this:  you feel like you’re watching a capital A Acting exercise, and, in the case of J. Edgar it all starts smelling like eau d’Oscar a little too quick.  Beyond a five-minute death-bed scene, the extraordinary advancements in cinema make-up quickly show their limits.  And acting cannot be measured by hours logged in the make-up chair, or efforts exerted ‘doing’ a voice.  

The most fascinating aspect of Hoover’s character, from what I could tell, was his gift for self-deception:  his affinity for exaggerating or changing the facts to suit a more appealing and heroic image of himself.  More so than his purported cross-dressing, mommy infatuation, or latent homosexuality, this was certainly his most intriguing and sympathetic side, and would have been a great peg for the film to more firmly hang its hat on.  Beyond this though, the heart of the story of J. Edgar, is of course Hoover’s heart, which is devoted, despite itself, to Tolson.  Unfortunately, the confrontation scene between the two men, when they finally acknowledge that what they share is called ‘love’, was so shamelessly overplayed that I had to wonder if Eastwood left the set for a coffee or briefly nodded off.   

Another area where Eastwood felt absent:   the many movements between past and present, which usually delight audiences with their clever ‘that was then, this is now’ editing.  They all fall pretty flat here.  One moment Edgar walks out onto his office balcony as a young man, and the next he walks back in from the balcony as the older Edgar (which sounds even more elegant than it was).  We’re naturally fascinated by before and after pictures, but if placed too far apart, they lose impact; there was basically a lack of finesse, or interest even, in inter-weaving the past and present.  

Along the way we of course get appearances by such famous figures as Richard Nixon and Robert Kennedy, suitably played by actors hired based on their physical and vocal likenesses.  Impersonation has an odd effect; at the same time that it sucks you in, it simultaneously throws you out.  Ironically, you become even more aware of representation and performance and less able to immerse in story.  No matter how well done – often most because it is well done – impersonation has an alienating effect, which points to a larger issue with how we view historical treatments like J. Edgar.  The privileging of verisimilitude – protestations of ‘yeah, but he actually walked like that’ – doesn’t go very far in assessing whether dramatic story-telling works or not.  Often vaguely gesturing to reality conveys the truth better than slavishly serving it.  An audience reaction of “that guy doesn’t look much like Nixon, oh well, let’s move on…” is actually more useful than “Wow… that guy totally looks like Nixon, sounds like him even!  I wonder if he’ll stand up to my scrutiny.”

There are certainly some fun wink-wink history moments in the film though.  An early scene where Hoover shows off to Helen how he reorganized the library catalogue system and can find a book in under a minute is delightfully quaint to a generation of google-heads.  And the repeated dismissals of Hoover’s insistence on the use of fingerprinting and other forensic tools serve up some tasty dramatic irony. 

Ultimately, the average natural span of a human life simply does not squeeze very elegantly into the 2 ½ hour motion picture form.  What results can often feel like a series of vignettes; a meandering child’s narration, with events strung together with so many ‘and then what happeneds.’  J. Edgar doesn’t achieve much beyond this.  But it will at least make for one very happy make-up artist come Oscar night.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The past didn't go anywhere now, did it?

Bryan is a former colleague, dear friend, and beloved acting teacher. He's a treasured mentor too, but only cause he's old (things tend to go to his head, but that's only cause he's old too). Everyone I meet who knows him, agrees that he's the most wonderful, vital, delightful human. It gets repetitive and annoying. If you know the man and don't care much for him, please drop me a line. In the mean time, check out these reviews of Sarah's Key.

Bryan's Review of Sarah's Key

I will never forget the incident a friend of mine recounted when I asked her if in her role as therapist she had ever listened to the story of a patient that she found so horrific that it silenced her. Describing one such exchange, she said that after the patient had finished speaking the only response she could manage was to draw the attention of the two them, one the story-teller and one the witness, to a robin sitting on the branch of a tree outside the window of her office. In this way they both found a necessary peaceful oasis before re-entering the pain.

I recalled the need for this oasis after I saw French director Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s latest film Sarah’s Key, whose opening line extols the importance of telling stories so they are not forgotten, even if these stories reveal secrets and histories that threaten to shatter us to the core. “Truth has a price” one of the characters reminds us. We, the audience, are silent witnesses to the brutal reality of the July 1942 Vel’d’Hiv roundup of 13, 152 predominantly non-French Jewish émigrés and refugees and their French children and grandchildren in German-occupied Paris, an event only publicly acknowledged by Jacques Chirac in 1995. Told from the point of view of Sarah (Melusine Mayance), an 11 year-old Jewish child caught in the roundup, and Julia (Kristin Scott-Thomas), an American journalist working for an American publication in Paris whose assignment is to write a piece on the 60th anniversary of the event, the past and the present are interwoven in parallel stories. The director, who is also one of the screen writers, was recently quoted as stating that for him the overriding question in his film was “How can we make history feel closer to us?”

One of the ways in which Paquet-Brenner does this is to use close-ups of Jewish characters as they are brutalized by the French police and Secret Service on their journey to Auschwitz. Witness the terrified and hunted look on the face of Sarah’s mother when in 1942 the police break into her family’s apartment to transport them to the Velodrome d’Hiver. Witness the supernaturally composed expression on the child Sarah’s face as she hides her younger brother Michel in a closet so he will not be found by the police, making him promise not to move. From that fateful moment onwards the key to the closet is her only constant companion in a transient world of nightmares. Witness the faces of mothers contorted by screams as their children are forcibly separated from them in the Beaune-la-Rolande transit deportation camp just before the adults are sent to Auschwitz. Witness close-up the trauma of those who find the decomposing body of young Michel when weeks later the closet is finally opened by an inconsolable Sarah. The depiction of pain, reinforced by the dark color palette of the film, is unrelenting, as are the emotional demands of the film. This is both the film’s strength and ultimately its weakness.

The strength lies in the ability of some of the key actors to express the dignity that comes through the ability to endure horror while trying to protect the soul. Eleven year-old Melusine Mayance’s performance as Sarah is entirely convincing and remarkably accomplished. We see her transformation from a carefree child giggling with her brother under the bedcovers in the only innocent scene at the beginning of the film, to a body crumpled on the ground after she is separated from her mother, and then to a fiercely purposeful older sister, unafraid, an angel on a mission of mercy. All of this is done without affectation, and thus we come to understand something about the tenacity of children to maintain their innocence. The performance of Niels Arestrup as Jules Dufaure, who shelters Sarah with a kindness borne of dangerous compassion, has a depth to it, and a roundness that securely guides us through the emotional terrain of the film.

It is Kristin Scott-Thomas’ performance as Julia, the conscience of the audience, which exemplifies the weakness of Sarah’s Key and ultimately its failure to provide the transformative catharsis that we yearn for in this film. Julia is the voice of present-day discovery. When she uncovers the shameful past of July 1942 and the terrifying proximity of Sarah’s story to her own life, she unearths what she truly values, but it is not without cost. As one character says to her: “When you look into this you won’t come out unscathed.” Kristin Scott-Thomas often displays the ability of so many good English actors to communicate the internal conflict that accompanies the demands of self- sacrifice in an intelligent way, without sentimentalizing it. However, about half-way through watching her in this film, I was aware of how cold, tense, and static her performance became, how fixed her expression of pain, how difficult it was for her to sustain the insistence of the director on the close-up scrutiny of the face. The overall effect of this directorial approach with its unrelenting rhythm of anguish, and of the shortcomings of the lead actor to provide nuance in the face of it, was to leave us numbed, and frankly, feeling somewhat manipulated.

This was not helped by the script of Sarah’s Key, which is based on the internationally best-selling novel of the same name by acclaimed writer Tatiana de Rosnay. Many threads were interwoven in the film, but without the time for the scriptwriter to develop these threads in the way of the novelist, and without the space for the audience to reflect on the overall tapestry that is afforded when one reads a novel at one’s leisure, without these the script seemed too contrived. This was especially evident at the end. Here the story and all of its unimaginable horror is too-quickly resolved in a sentimental and predictable way that is far too facile to serve as the catharsis that the director knows he must provide. Rather than bringing us closer to history, in this film we are left alienated by it.

Watching the news the evening after I had seen Sarah’s Key, with the usual offering of present-day war, I wondered how these horrors would be told to future generations, what secrets would never be told, what truths would be sought after, and what courage it takes to remember. In this way Sarah’s Key is undoubtedly brave, despite its weakness as a film. Finally, that is what I took from watching this film – its courage to try and re-imagine the unimaginable.

Caitlin's Review of Sarah's Key

A Novel Dilemma by Caitlin Murphy

I stopped reading novels.  Quite a while ago actually.  Though I’ve still not articulated to myself exactly why.  The best explanation I’ve come up with so far is that they’re just too novely.  Not much of a defense, I guess.  And yet.  When I read blurbs on books that supposedly ‘span generations,’ ‘bridge cultural divides’ and ‘expose long-buried truths,’ or I watch a movie like Sarah’s Key, I’m reminded of this word novely, and re-inspired to give it substance.

Directed and co-written by Gilles Pacquet-Brenner, and based on the French novel, Elle s’appelait Sarah, by Tatiana de Rosnay, Sarah’s Key focuses on a shameful chapter in France’s war history, known as the Vel d’Hiv Roundup.  In 1942, French police forced thousands of Jews from their homes, crowded them into a local stadium with deplorable conditions, and eventually transported them to their deaths at Auschwitz.  When the Starzinsky family is arrested, daughter Sarah (Melusine Mayance) hides her brother from the police by locking him in the closet, making him promise to wait for her return.  Discovering Sarah’s story from the perspective of the present day is Julia (Kristin Scott Thomas), a journalist writing an anniversary piece on Vel d’Hiv; she is also, as she realizes, about to move into the Starzinksy’s former apartment, which was perhaps illicitly acquired by her in-laws.  The narrative flips back and forth between Julia’s investigation and soul searching, and Sarah’s eventual escape and devastating post-war life. 

Much of the exposition in the film – and of course much was needed –  was handled quite awkwardly.  Often with earnest questions inserted into the mouths of twenty-somethings, followed by shocked replies from their elders:  “you mean you don’t know about…?  Well, I’m going to tell you now then.”  Clumsy exposition sadly doesn’t help the cause – when history feels like a history lesson, especially in film, we tune out.  It’s not about the message, it’s about the medium.  Walter Murch, editor of The English Patient, among many other films, has said that in adapting a novel to the screen, “The most frequent problem is abundance.”  Books simply cover much more material than film can (effectively) cover.  A novel that focuses on the historical record as well then would seem doubly hampered.  Over-abundance often results in having to be obvious (the shoe-horning described above), and having to be general (the enemy of good art). 

For me, the frustration with stories like Sarah’s Key is that they feel telegraphed somehow; eventual epiphanies seem decided by the first frame, and the potential for discovery and surprise (so crucial to an audience’s journey) feels largely absent. Even the film’s poster – Kristin Scott Thomas standing before a clouded sky, clutching an old photograph, looking wistfully off into the distance – suggests a knowingness, a story that already knows itself too well before it’s even begun, before its audience has found their seats.

Even the original French title of de Rosnay’s novel, which translates to Her Name Was Sarah, sounds so clearly decided about its position in relationship to its subject matter.  A door seems shut somehow; the body feels cold.  I’m starting to wonder too about the degree to which familiar, horribly charged material (like the Holocaust) doesn’t painfully inhibit people, even creative people.  Our muscle of reverence spasms; we are understandably overwhelmed by our inability to fully conceive of or appreciate the unique traumas of others.  And in response, we stiffen.  Often the result of this inhibition is that we succumb to the general, as mentioned above.  Perhaps because being specific, which gives a story its texture and impact, feels crass, presumptuous somehow.  I’m not sure.  I have experienced this very stiffening even trying to write this review though, so the phenomenon feels real and relevant.  

British by origin, Kristin Scott Thomas’ command of language (speaking French much of the film) and accent (playing an American) are impressive.  In this very literary feeling film though, Scott Thomas (also of The English Patient, another novel/film) starts feeling a bit too literary herself:  like the idea of a character, more so than a hot-blooded human.  After a while too, Julia’s mission feels too singular and her character too one-note, but I’m not sure Thomas’ performance could have countered this.  The acting overall is wildly divergent.  Some performances are compelling and heart-breaking (an older couple who eventually adopts Sarah are achingly lovely) and others, forced and near amateur (the actor playing Julia’s boss seemed never to have read a magazine let alone run one) and  Aidan Quinn, looking a little puffy these days, delivers a few rather unforgiveable moments of melodrama.

To be honest, I didn’t know about the Vel d’Hiv Roundup, or don’t remember knowing about it, and the political role of story-telling to remind us of these chapters of history is obviously one to be commended and continued.  We should return repeatedly and marvel at the cruelty that we’re capable of:  a scene in which mothers are separated from their children was especially horrific and wrenching.  Sustaining such a journey though, and all the unrelenting heaviness it involves, is once again, likely better achieved in a book (where the reader can pause, breathe, reflect) than a film adaptation in which a lot of the story-telling ends up being about keeping heads bowed and barrelling through.

In the film’s final scene, Julia admits doubts about her own motivations; after the unravelling of Sarah’s story was complete, she explains, she was forced to reflect on what had really driven her so deeply into the past, into the life of a girl she never knew.  And I wished that this briefly aired concern had been a more pressing and central one for the film overall:  to investigate the very investigative urge that possessed Julia and lead her, ultimately, to name her own daughter, (the one she didn’t think she could have, and her husband rejected her for wanting), Sarah.  The guilt that comes with knowledge, the paralysis we feel in face of our unchangeable histories – what do we do with these feelings?  What ought we do with them?  In relationship to the past, we stand, always, ultimately helpless.  We can only console ourselves that in shading the present with some of the past’s colours, we mute some of its horrors.  But this sort of reclaiming of other people’s stories also starts looking pretty quickly like appropriation.  Ironically it’s a very thin line between reverence and exploitation.   

And so I return to this idea of novely, which certainly doesn’t apply to all novels or justify my giving up on them.  But I think, ultimately, the word has something to do with stories not feeling novel at all.  Feeling too tidy and decided, too polished and self-aware, more refined, than raw, more feeling than felt, chaos too contained.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

So chick rhymes with flick

Lydia is not only a great friend but also my filmmaking partner. Seems super appropriate then that we got together to blog-buddy for the following independently produced, female-driven recent release. Enjoy!

Lydia's Review of The Future

Miranda July completely won me over with her charming and absorbing debut feature Me and You and Everyone We Know. As writer, director, actor and performance artist extraordinaire, July brings a fresh voice to the film industry, telling stories the way she wants them to be told. After winning the Camera D’Or at Cannes and the Special Jury Prize at Sundance, it is no surprise that her follow-up feature was met with high expectation and much anticipation — from myself included.

Caitlin's Review of The Future

Scare Quote Scare by Caitlin Murphy

I don’t love Miranda July’s films. In fact, I’m not even sure I really like them. But I’m bloody glad she makes them. If female protagonists are despairingly rare at the local googleplex, female writer/directors are almost nowhere to be seen. Though July’s recent outing, The Future, has lots to offer, ultimately it plays its emotional cards too close.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


This week original co-blogger, Brian, makes a welcome return (after triumphantly handing in
his thesis -- woot woot!). Of note too, this is the first documentary reviewed on Fruits. Enjoy.

Brian's Review of Project Nim

Fiction–Nonfiction by Brian Crane

Project Nim tells the life story of a chimpanzee named Nim, and that story is compelling. He lives with a human family, learns sign language, passes through a medical lab where he’s used to test experimental vaccines and ends up alone in a cage on a horse sanctuary in Texas until the last years of his life. The documentary Project Nim is not, however, a compelling film. Worse, to my eye, it misses its subject near completely.

Caitln's Review of Project Nim

Of Chimps and Chumps by Caitlin Murphy

Chimpanzees are creepy. Cute sure, but creepy too. With 98.7% of their DNA identical to humans, they’re a bit too close for our “aren’t we so darn special” comfort. Intellectually, we know that we’re animals, but deep down I doubt most of us fully believe it. Perhaps not surprisingly, Project Nim, a documentary that recounts a famous chimpanzee study, is more about the human incompetence, self-absorption and delusion involved in conducting the study, than its supposed animal subject. Basically, there’s a lot going on in that 1.3% DNA difference – and it ain’t all pretty.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

After the pit-stop

Been a long time since the last review! Hung out in the lake for a while, and also shot a short film. Happy to be back on board this week with previous blog-review-buddy, Pauline. Enjoy!

Pauline's Review of The Trip

With food consciousness, food fetishism and food snobbery at an all-time high, it’s not unreasonable to assume that The Trip, which chronicles two actor friends’ weeklong journey to northern England’s finest restaurants, might hinge on the role played by food; not so. Viewers hoping to learn about restauranteering, the cultural significance of food, or British culinary trends won’t have the opportunity to indulge in more than a few minutes’ worth of food footage and a couple of serious-chef-at-work/snooty waiter scenes. An odd twist since one of the main characters is supposed to be writing restaurant reviews.

Caitlin's Review of The Trip

Cheque, Please!
by Caitlin Murphy

The road trip flick, episodic in nature, can be difficult to imbue with meaningful coherence. Watching The Trip, I struggled to figure out what I’d say about it, mostly cause I had this consuming feeling that the whole thing felt like a great idea for a reality t.v. show. And then, Wikipedia, as it so often does, cleared up my confusion, explaining that The Trip is an “improvised six-episode comedy series… the episodes were edited together into a feature film.” Indeed they were. Edited together. Into a film. The thing is: intention matters. Genre matters. And obviously, Wikipedia matters. When you sit down to write a frothy pop song, you rarely, by accident, compose an opera; and when you set out to make a six-episode t.v. series, you likely don’t also happen to find the makings of a feature-length film. They’re different beasts. And having one dress up like the other just doesn’t work. After the fact insertions, cobblings, and re-arrangements are always somehow felt. Essentially, The Trip is an exercise in re-packaging, and it feels like one.

Friday, July 1, 2011

O Brother, There Art Thou!

My brother and I have long loved talking about movies, pondering over them, raving about them or ripping them apart. He's recently moved away and I miss these animated chats. It was great to get some long-distance bonding by blog-buddying this latest. Enjoy!

Mike's Review of Beginners

Son and Lover by Mike Murphy

In recent years, a number of indie-ish films have centred on angsty thirty-something white guys finding redemptive meaning to their lives by falling in love with beautiful but quirky women.  The standout example is Zach Braff’s Garden State (2004), though Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown (2005) fits in, as does the goofier recent variation on the subgenre, Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg (2010).

Caitlin's Review of Beginners

a review by Caitlin Murphy
As the most intensely collaborative medium, film can bear witness to some strange alchemy.  Often a movie has so many great things going for it, yet those things somehow don’t add up the way we sense they were intended to.   Mike Mills (Thumbsucker, 2005) had a few too many gifts under his writer/director’s Christmas tree for his most recent outing, the often charming, but uneven Beginners.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Super Hate

So awesome. This week, my brother-in-law who actually set up this blog for me, inspired me to use it, and likes to remind me that he still has admin privileges, suggested hurling some poop at this new summer blockbuster. I couldn't help but oblige. Enjoy!

Caitlin's Review of Super 8

Manufacturing Restraint
a review by Caitlin Murphy
One of my favourite lessons from a Blockbuster movie comes from Jurassic Park.  Though cynics could construe the film’s point to be that “movies about dinosaurs sell toys,” the mayhem unleashed when scientists replicate the Jurassic age had a deeper thematic message.  An old friend of mine used to love referencing the film’s moral whenever a situation called for it: “Just because we can do something,” she’d sing-song, with feigned righteousness, “it doesn’t mean that we should.”  It’s an idea that manages to be pat and profound at the same time; it’s a consideration that feels really absent right now.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Michael's Review of Super 8

Stephen Speilberg does not make films anymore, he just pays for them. You might be surprised to hear this as you have no doubt seen his name attached to lots of movies lately. Movies like Super 8. They get a lot of undeserved attention for their hot-shot directors (J.J. Abrams) and Executive Producers who seem eager to throw scads of money at anything involving big, squishy aliens or World War II. It is marketing masquerading as film making  and I for one am getting tired of the prepubescent, Ritalin-dependent boys who slog this crap into theaters all summer long. Mr. Speilberg, would you please put down the G.I. Joe action figures and get to work on Schindler's List 2 or something?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Back in the Saddle

Been off the blog-beat for a while due to life stuff, but glad to be back for this, the 10th review! This week, Olivier, the boyfriend of my friend Pauline (previous blog-buddy for Biutiful) and I were supposed to catch the Morgan Spurlock doc, but it disappeared crazy fast. He kindly switched gears and took in Woody Allen’s latest. Enjoy!

Olivier's Review of Midnight in Paris

Films that fail to elicit a strong reaction in their audience, good or
bad, are the worst ones to have to review. I go to the movies to learn
something about myself, events, ideas or other people. I like to be
inspired. I like to be impressed. What I hate and what I think is a
waste of time is to go to the movies and to be mildly amused.

Caitlin's Review of Midnight in Paris

Pitch-Perfect Paris by Caitlin Murphy

Woody Allen makes movies so often that it’s ironically pretty easy to forget that he makes movies. His films are givens, inevitabilities like Christmas or taxes. Like most women, I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with Woody Allen. Sometime after the initial flurry of excitement for his impressive body (of work), I lost interest. Predictably, it was the corny humour and creepy sex stuff in Allen’s work that I’d learned to dread; so, I found the off-ramp. By the time he was hitting a new stride with his more recent fare, I couldn’t really muster the energy to merge back on. However, Allen’s latest offering, Midnight in Paris, is an absolute delight, one that finds him in fine form indeed, and me feeling surprisingly seduced anew.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Rhyme and Reason and Rubber

My friend Jordan, who I've acted and created with in the past, always seems to have things on his radar that are completely outside of my time zone. When he kept recommending I watch this next little oddity, I challenged him to 'blog-buddy' it. He agreed and delivered. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sighthound's Review of Rubber

A review of the Quentin Dupieux film “Rubber”
by The Sighthound




85 Min



English, French

DIR Quentin Dupieux

PROD Julien Berlan, Gregory Bernard

SCR Quentin Dupieux

DP Quentin Dupieux

CAST Stephen Spinella, Roxane Mesquida, Jack Plotnick, Wings Hauser, Ethan Cohn,
Charley Koontz, Hayley Holmes, Haley Ramm, Tara Jean O'Brien, Remy Thorne

ED Quentin Dupieux

PROD DES Pascale Ingrand

MUSIC Gaspard Augé, Sébastien Akchoté, Quentin Dupieux

SOUND Zsolt Magyar

“All great films, without exception contain an important element of No Reason”.
-Lieutenant Chad

I’m afraid I’m very hard to impress, or engage anymore. I watch a lot of movies and as someone who has spent years not only in marketing but in car sales as well, I’m difficult to “sell” new ideas to. But from the very first scene, Quentin Dupieux’s “Rubber” had me engrossed guaranteed that I was going to watch every single frame of this crazy film about a lovestruck tire on a killing spree.

Caitlin's Review of Rubber

Wink, Wink, Nod Off by Caitlin Murphy

Several vintage stores line a section of Saint-Laurent, a busy street near my house. Their windows are chock-full of kitsch – the originally unironic belongings of now dead people, crying out to be reappropriated by Montreal hipsters with a keen sense of the fantastically awful. Lined up in a row, these stores seem to project a collective personality, exude a uniform attitude. And I often find myself hating these stores as if they were people. Smug people. In hawking their scavenged wares, they epitomize the celebration of all that is so bad, it’s good; so stupid, it’s smart; so ugly, it’s pretty; so dumb, it’s cool. It’s an approach to the world, to stuff, to being alive that seems easy to me, safe and boring, somehow self-entitled, and sometimes kinda slimy. I walk hurriedly by these stores, with a similar sense of recoil that I felt watching Rubber.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


A film about a father and his daughter, made by the filmmaking daughter of a filmmaking father... Seemed right to tackle this one with my dad.

I thought the car in the film was a Ferrari, but my dad refers to it as a Maserati. Knowing us, we are both wrong. Enjoy.

Dad's Review of Somewhere

Sofia, so subtle, so slow, so beautiful…. so what?
What was big in Japan didn’t work in Milan

by Denis Murphy

So… after a fine Saturday night dinner, we (my wife Mary and I) screened the DVD version of Sofia Coppola’s film Somewhere. As the final credits came up, Mary’s reaction was, “That’s the worst movie I’ve ever watched through to the end. It was like watching paint dry.”

Caitlin's Review of Somewhere

Got Anywhere Else? by Caitlin Murphy

Somewhere, written and directed by Sofia Coppola, is about a man who decides to (spoiler alert) move out of a hotel. Okay, there’s slightly more to it than that, but not much. The film is essentially 97 minutes of watching someone you don’t really care about stumble slowly towards an epiphany that is so banal it should be called something else.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Going Dutch

When I saw the preview for the Dutch film behind this next review installment, I knew who I had to invite to write: my own boyfriend who is from the Netherlands. As an English second language speaker and non-writer, he jokingly threatened he would just take a Dutch review off the internet and translate it. He didn't. He struggled. He's great. Enjoy.

Hidde's Review of Oorlogswinter

Oorlogswinter by Hidde Sikkes

Back in the days, when I was an even littler man than I am now, I read everything I could get my hands on; at one point I started reading Oorlogswinter by Jan Terlouw.

Caitlin's Review of Oorlogswinter

Out of Breath a review by Caitlin Murphy

Perhaps my first comment to my Dutch viewing companion upon exiting the Dutch film Oorlogswinter – “Wow, you guys really like to ride bikes, eh?” – sums up how deeply the film’s characters, story and themes collectively affected me: not very. Though Winter in Wartime was short-listed for Best Foreign Language Film for the 2010 Academy Awards, it’s easy to see why it never made the final cut of nominations.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Another twist...

When I put out the word that I was looking for film-reviewing blog-buddies, I wasn't expecting retro-active submissions, but I got one! My good friend and frequent co-pilot on artistic projects, Kaila, clearly didn't agree with what I had to say a few weeks back about 127 Hours. Here's her take on the movie. Enjoy!

Kaila's Review of 127 Hours

When I first watched the trailer for 127 Hours, I asked myself: “Who on earth would want to sit through that?” I was sort of familiar with the story: an extreme sports enthusiast gets stuck in a cave, and 127 hours later, cuts his arm off to save his life. So what? And not helping matters was the fact that the largely one-man show was carried by James Franco, whom I find completely unlikable. However, after sitting through it, I’m glad that I did.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

And Guest...

After losing my original blog buddy (to the demands of his thesis) and writing solo for a bit, I decided to recruit friends to be guest-bloggers and join me in writing a film review. 

This week, one-time roommate and all-time friend, Pauline, joined me to see Biutiful. Here are our reviews. Hope you enjoy them. (spoiler alert though)

Pauline's Review of Biutiful

How not to go gentle into that good night a review by Pauline Gregoire

I am quite certain that years from now, I will remember the experience of watching Biutiful more than I will remember the plotline itself; this is a story so heartrending, so tragic, that I went into self-preservation mode about three minutes in, refusing to let myself get too caught up in what was happening onscreen, and focused instead on how Javier Bardem was just acting in this movie, he was just doing his job, and what’s more, he goes home to Penelope Cruz, so really, how bad can it be, right? Right?

Caitlin's Review of Biutiful

Buried Life a review by Caitlin Murphy

In various versions of the same quotation, Ernest Hemingway explains his ‘principle of the iceberg’ – essentially advice to story-tellers about how little they actually need to show of what they know; the more you can bury, the better, Hemingway argues. He would have liked Biutiful.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Review of 127 Hours

93 Minutes by Caitlin Murphy

I remember watching the preview for 127 Hours, familiar with the harrowing ordeal on which it’s based, and asking myself: “How could that story possibly be turned into a feature-length film?” The answer, I now believe, is that it can’t.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Review of Another Year

What It Is a review by Caitlin Murphy

I’ve always been intrigued (read: suspicious) when people opine that something is “good for what it is.” The expression sounds incomplete somehow, as though the speaker really wants to add a closing parenthetical comment: “(which is bad).” “Good for what it is,” when I’ve heard it or used it myself, feels like a vague apology for not liking something more, or else a need to identify as someone who can intellectually recognize quality even when one is emotionally unmoved by it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Oscars

The Kids Aren’t All Right by Caitlin Murphy

When I was twelve years old and watching the Academy Awards, something amazing happened: Daniel Day-Lewis won the Best Actor award for his portrayal of Christy Brown, a writer with cerebral palsy, in My Left Foot. Having seen the film and been in awe of his performance, I was thrilled. Beyond thrilled though, I remember feeling a deep belief that something right had happened. Never a sports fan, unable yet to vote, I felt rewarded for my convictions the way I imagined other true-blue supporters might. My passionate rooting had paid off, and the resulting feelings of glory – though ultimately vicarious – were no less visceral. I have ever since loved the Oscars, and looked forward to watching them every year. And in response to those who would drone on to me about how the awards were political, or rigged, or unfair, or just plain stupid, I had nothing really to say; I simply held onto that pleasure I experienced in caring deeply about my favourite films and actors, and wanting so much to see them acknowledged: someone needed to tell Daniel Day-Lewis how great he was, simply because I couldn’t.

This year’s Oscars sucked. Sucked so hard that I might not be coming back.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Caitlin's Review of Blue Valentine

Love hurts and so will this by Caitlin Murphy
I have long suspected it. And now that I have official confirmation, I can confess: I hate movies about couples. More specifically, I hate movies that chart the evolution and inevitable dissolution of couple relationships. I’m still in the midst of refining this category, so bear with me. Comedies don’t count; Annie Hall for instance: safe. And brilliant masterworks don’t count either; Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf: also safe. But movies like Revolutionary Road, and, recently, Blue Valentine: danger, danger, danger. You know that people will say horrible, irretractable things to one another; painfully awkward attempts at physical intimacy will be made; alcohol will feature prominently; third parties will linger seductively in the wings; long-suspected truths, hitherto too awful to admit, will finally be revealed; and last ditch efforts will be hurled across the kitchen. And. All. For. What?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sick, no flick

Due to illness this week, we didn't get to catch a movie, hence no reviews. Looking forward to getting back at it tomorrow!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Caitlin's Review of The Fighter

by Caitlin Murphy

I don’t know much about boxing, but it strikes me that to be any good at it you have to be pretty nuts. (Hell, any inkling to go near a boxing ring is a brand of crazy in my books). Acting’s rather similar though. After all, when your entire M.O. is an intense commitment to pretending to be someone else, mental health issues can’t be looming too far off. Christian Bale is an absolute nut-bar. And I love him for it. Were I his mother or girlfriend, I would surely fret over his oft-cited obsessive approach to character. Thankfully, as a mere audience member, I sit happily in awe.

Brian's Review of The Fighter

Two For One by Brian Crane

The Fighter
is an easy movie to like. And I did. Thing is, though, I’m not sure it’s very good.

The problem is that there are really two movies here. The first is Christian Bale’s, and it’s just your basic addiction-of-the-week story. In this case, a washed up boxer-become-crack addict wrecks his life while creating endless problems for his longsuffering family. The interest is in the spectacle of people’s silence, a mother’s complicity, the ugliness of rock bottom. To the extent there is drama, it is predictable and uncomplicated, leading from a jail cell epiphany to recovery to reconciliation, step by step by step.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Brian's Review of True Grit

Like They Used to Make Them
by Brian Crane

The Coen brothers have immense narrative gifts and a natural sense of genre. They work squarely in the highest traditions of classical cinema. True Grit is a virtuoso performance of this style of filmmaking. The only break from the invisibility of the narration for most of the film is the achingly beautiful landscape photography. Is the image desaturated or the landscape merely colorless?

Caitlin's Review of True Grit

TRUE DAT by Caitlin Murphy

In the very first images of True Grit, a so-very Coen Brothers sleight of hand: from the black screen, a warm, orange glow in the upper-right corner slowly emerges; instinctively, we lean into it, seeking its source, to find a front porch basking in its embrace. The next thing we notice: the dead body on the front lawn. And that's kinda how life happens, isn't it? At least according to the Coens. Creeping up on us when we're falling for something else. Or is it busy making other plans? However expressed, it seems the brothers enjoy teasing us with this truth, as though asking: “feeling welcome?... lulled?... content?... well, (pointing at something dastardly) explain that then!”

The Monday Matinee Project

So, when my BFF Crane and I realized we had a common free period on Mondays (in our otherwise gruelling CEGEP teaching schedules), we thought: 'hey, what better way to start off the week than catching an afternoon flick?' (that, and we sometimes think we need alternative activities to drinking). We decided to set ourselves the task of writing reviews of all these Monday movies. We don't always agree on what constitutes a quality flick, but I told Crane I have always been intrigued by his views, and, he gently told me, he has always been tolerant of mine. Enjoy.