Shawn Levy and Jonathan Tropper‘s This Is Where I Leave You (Warner Bros., 9.19) is one of those soothing suburban-middle-class family comedies in which the major characters (four 30something kids and their mom) fret about, examine and resolve their respective issues. I missed the opening 25 minutes in Toronto so I caught it again last night. It’s not bad — it just starts to feel like a sedative after the first hour. It occured to me that movies of this sort always take place in a really nice (usually pre-war) home with a nice big lawn shaded by big trees, plenty of bedrooms, loads of food on the dinner table, etc. And the photography is steady and unfussy and the lighting is just right with everyone looking well-dressed in a casual sort of way with perfect hair, etc. The idea is to make the audience feel as flush and comfortable as the characters. But I need to give Levy credit for handling the husband-discovers-wife-in-bed-with-his-boss scene (which is in the trailer) in an unexpected way. The husband (Jason Bateman) is holding a birthday cake when he walks in on the nasty-doers (Abigail Spencer, Dax Shepard), and right away you’re expecting Bateman to dump the cake on Spencer’s head. Or on Shepard’s. I’m not going to spoil but Bateman doesn’t do that. And what he does is just right. It might be the best scene in the film.
From my 1.17.14 review: “Damien Chazelle‘s Whiplash (Sony Pictures Classics, 10.14) is a raging two-hander about a gifted drummer named Andrew (Miles Teller). Enrolled at an elite Manhattan music school and determined to be not just proficient or admired but Buddy Rich-great, Andrew is a Bunsen burner. We can see from the get-go he’s going to be increasingly possessed and manic and single-minded about the skins. (All great musicians are like this to varying degrees.) On top of which he really doesn’t want to be like his kindly, failed-writer dad (Paul Reiser), and he can’t find peace with a pretty girl (Melissa Benoist) because she isn’t as consumed as he is — too uncertain and unexceptional.
“That’s combustible enough, but Chazelle turns it up with the villain/angel of the piece — a snarling, egg-bald, half-mad music instructor named Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). This guy is definitely not sane and yet he knows what it takes to be great. Andrew recognizes this kindred (if dominating) spirit and wham…we’re off to the races. You know these guys are going to butt heads, and that a lot of emotional-psychological blood will be spilt (along with the actual stuff). This is the super-demanding realm of classic jazz. Everyone listening to Rich and Charlie Parker and other legends of that ilk. Playing the hell out of ‘Whiplash’ and ‘Cherokee’ and dreading Fletcher’s wrath. No pikers, whiners or jerkoffs.”
Fatih Akin‘s The Cut is “a big, ambitious, continent-spanning piece of work…but it’s a little simplistic emotionally, especially in its latter half as the film trudges across America with its hero. It doesn’t have the sophisticated nuance and wit of Akin’s contemporary German-language movies, like Head-On (’04) and The Edge of Heaven (’07). [The title] can mean the brutal act of murder itself; it can mean the division of husbands from wives, parents from children, and it can mean the present from the past, the insidious amputation of memory. Whether The Cut encompasses this last sense is up for debate, but it is a forceful, watchable, strongly presented picture and a courageous, honest gesture.” — from Peter Bradshaw‘s Guardian review, filed from Venice Film Festival on 8.31.14.
If you’re a cultured film cricket or impassioned film hound, there are two ways to go with Scott Frank‘s A Walk Among The Tombstones. You can praise it for being “an uncommonly well-made thriller,” as Village Voice critic Alan Scherstuhl did today, or you can say it’s too venal and misogynist (the bad guys are as animalistic and bloodthirsty as the Islamic State fighters) despite the gritty, well-honed, old-fashioned chops. But you can’t just wave it off. You can’t dismiss it for being retro (there’s nothing wrong with taking a basic ’70s-style approach) or for not being exceptionally well made (a ludicrous thing to say) or because it’s not cartoonishly violent in the rote style of the Taken films. Or because it invests in secondary characters. Or because it has a heart.
“The Taken films invite viewers to cheer violence,” Scherstuhl writes. “A Walk Among the Tombstones, with some moral force, insists that you want nothing to do with it.”
In short, you can say you don’t like Tombstones for whatever peculiar reason you may choose (as I often do), but you can’t fault the obviously high level of craft. You’ve got to at least show proper respect. Theatrical urban thrillers really need this kind of smart, low-key approach. Or…aahh, fuck it, maybe they don’t. Maybe it’s better to just let this level of writing and acting migrate to cable television where it belongs. But this is the kind of good-detective-vs.-maniacal-villain flick that nobody makes any more. It’s composed of well-ordered material and the right kind of instincts. It’s a bit like John Flynn‘s The Outfit, that 1973 Robert Duvall film that finally re-surfaced on DVD a few years ago. One of those tone-it-down, less-is-more exercises. And quite gripping in its own way. It just doesn’t pander to morons.
We know that Chris and Jonathan Nolan‘s Interstellar (Paramount, 11.5) involves an attempt to…you tell me. We know that the earth is dust-filled and polluted beyond hope and less and less capable of sustaining life, and that Matthew McConaughey is part of a team of space voyagers who want to somehow turn things around…but how? It’s a slim thread of a notion of a vague idea of something or other, and it’s been floating around for several months now. Does anyone know what Interstellar is actually about without the dandelion pollen? I’m not trying to be an asshole. I’m just feeling fed up with the vague-itude.
About ten days ago, or dead smack in the middle of the Toronto Film Festival, New Beverly Cinema owner Quentin Tarantino announced that he’s not only renovating the famously grimy, down-at-the-heels repertory theatre (it’s due to re-open sometime next month) but is totally committed to an all-35mm, all-the-time policy. The retro-minded director is not that worried about profitability. What matters to Tarantino (and I totally respect this) is standing by celluloid to the bitter end. “The big thing about what’s going to change now that I’m taking the theater over is, from here on in the New Beverly is only showing film,” Tarantino told Deadline‘s Jen Yamato. “That’s it. No digital. If something’s playing at the New Beverly, if we’re showing it, it’s on film.”
That means getting rid of the digital projector that theatre manager Michael Torgan (son of the late honcho/founder of the New Beverly) had installed. That also means Tarantino is taking over the New Beverly programming for the first three months of the new incarnation and showing many of his own 35mm prints, most of which are presumably in pretty good condition, along with pre-show shorts and cartoons and whatnot. (He basically wants the place to simulate a ’70s grindhouse vibe with a mixture of exploitation and art fare.) This also means that Torgan’s involvement in the new operation is…uhm, uncertain. Yamato wrote that while “terms of the takeover remain vague,” Torgan “might stay on as the New Beverly’s Julia Marchese and Brian Quinn step up as assistant managers.” Tarantino’s actual quote: “I want him to be involved”…hah!