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Review: Run & Jump

run-and-jump

Will Forte‘s evolution from screeching SNL cast member to serious actor continues with Run & Jump, a modest, largely likable indie out of Ireland. You’ll find the first few paragraphs of my review below. You can head to Next Projection to read my thoughts in full.

There’s a moment toward the end of Run & Jump when the melodrama reaches full boil. Our frazzled protagonist (Maxine Peake) has locked herself in her bedroom. Three men pound on her door: her husband, a cognitively-impaired stroke survivor; her son, a gay, self-harming teenager; and her lovesick admirer, a doctor who also happens to be studying her husband. Each man needs something from her. Each is his own unique source of stress. Each won’t stop pounding.

On paper it all reads like mush. It sounds contrived and manipulative, as though writer Ailbhe Keogan and director Steph Green have crammed enough weepy material into one film to prod us into tears every 15 minutes. But Keogan and Green have too much love for these characters to let Run & Jump devolve into soap opera histrionics. Theirs is an understated, genial film, despite the deluge of domestic strife hurled at its lead. Though it suffers from characters and moments that seem a little overly familiar, the film remains compelling for the empathy it shows those stuck in an impossible situation.

Run & Jump takes place over a few quietly turbulent weeks in small-town Ireland. It concerns Maxine (Peake), a jovial woman whose husband Conor (Edward MacLiam) has just returned from the hospital after a near-fatal stroke. Though his survival is a rare gift, Conor has lost much of his cognitive ability. He has trouble forming words and his behavior, particularly toward his son Lenny (Brendan Morris), is erratic, often hostile. Maxine knows her husband will never fully recover. With two children and a husband who requires equal supervision, she must learn to become the de facto caretaker of an entire house. For the sake of her children, and herself, she tries to do it with a smile.

2013-movie-triple

The following post first appeared on Next Projection. You can read it here.

You’ll find few through lines in the below list of great films released in 2013. They touch on historical drama and science fiction, coming of age and getting old, American greed and Indonesian genocide. 2013 gave us an eclectic collection of films worth discussing. I saw about 40 of them. These are the 11 that occupied the most space in my brain.

Honorable mention: The Wolf of Wall Street

Jordan Belfort received $1 million to have his life story adapted into The Wolf of Wall Street. Think about that. Belfort is a criminal, an emblem of capitalism’s worst impulses. And yet he made more money on this movie than many of us will earn in a lifetime. Belfort didn’t just screw people over as a broker; he’s now monetized the story of him screwing people over. It’s this fact, and not the movie’s deluge of nudity and drug use, that makes The Wolf of Wall Street a borderline immoral picture. Martin Scorsese doesn’t seem to see the irony here. He ends Wolf with an image that scolds cash-obsessed Americans for buying what Belfort has to sell, but didn’t Belfort pull the same trick – parlaying his notoriety into cash – by selling the movie rights to his books? The film itself paints Belfort as a Caligula-like monster, albeit one who’ll inspire the envy of bro-dudes for decades. Wolf is the kind of satire you could squint and interpret as either a celebration or a critique of its subject. Like my 2012 honorable mentionDjango Unchained, it’s a boycott-inducing romp that doesn’t say much but sparks a dialogue worth having.

Blue-is-the-warmest-color

#10 Blue Is the Warmest Color

Blue Is the Warmest Color is another three-hour epic one could easily condemn for its production details. The film’s (very young) leads have described the shoot as “horrible” and rife with “manipulation.” By their reports, director Abdellatif Kechiche prodded them way outside their comfort zones and became borderline abusive on set. I’m prone to believe the actors. I’m also prone to see the intimacy and volcanic energy on screen. Together with Kechiche, they’ve crafted a grand document on the highs and lows of young love. We get it all: the initial reverie, the sexual awakening, the blissful years, the atrophy, the colossal first break up, and, most gutting of all, the realization that you may never feel quite that strongly again. Save for the sex stuff, Kechiche renders these moments with remarkable care. We also see Adèle grow as an individual, outside of her relationship, as she tries on identities and political beliefs for size. Kechiche mars the film with a male-centric depiction of lesbian sex and several dumb moments intended to justify his obsession with female bodies. It’s a testament to the power of this coming-of-age drama that most of us are willing to forgive these sins. Continue Reading »

yeezus

Those first few seconds of Yeezus are the sound of Kanye West taking a knife to the fabric of social order.

The record opens in a blast of distortion, as if Kanye’s hijacked the airwaves to disrupt our regularly scheduled programming. It grabs you like the screeching of an emergency weather alert. Both sounds transmit the same message: Cut the forgettable pop jams. Listen up. We’ve got real matters at hand.

Think about that: Yeezus more readily recalls a siren designed to interrupt the radio than music you’d actually hear on the radio. Now try to think of another top-40 superstar who takes such great creative risks.

Yeezus plays like a loose concept album over its 40 dense minutes. Kanye begins the record as a club-addicted angry young man who “can’t wake up from the nightlife” and ends finding true love “in the club on a Thursday.” Before he can complete this character arc, he must first scream several hundred opinions in your ear over abrasive industrial beats.

Yeezus is the balls-out bacchanal, the final purge of sin, before the act of settling down. That it arrives the same year as the birth of his first child and his engagement to Kim Kardashian doesn’t surprise me. He’s transgressing every norm before he settles down and becomes one of the Normals himself.

Continue Reading »

phantom

Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise.

Last week, I tag-teamed a feature article with Hubert Vigilla on 12 films that should receive prestige re-releases from the Criterion Collection. The piece appeared in Pop Matters. You can read it in full here.

For this exercise, Hubert and I tried to select films that would tangibly benefit from a Criterion release. This wasn’t a simple (re: lazy) listing of films we like that aren’t in the collection. Instead, we sought to highlight films that are either hard to find or woefully under-appreciated. We stressed rare cult oddities, genres often ignored by Criterion (musicals, animated features), and films that deserve better than the bargain bin. I wrote the entries for Beau Travail, Possession, Phantom of the Paradise, True Stories, Begotten, and Turkish Delight. You’ll find my entry on Phantom of the Paradise below. Here‘s a second link to the Pop Matters piece for good measure.

Though it came first, Phantom of the Paradise has for decades lived in the shadow of that other ‘70s rock opera: The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Now, in 2013, Brian De Palma’s deranged horror-comic opus appears primed for its cultural moment. Earlier this year, the members of Daft Punk hailed Phantom of the Paradise as “the foundation for a lot of what we’re about artistically”. Just look at those masks. Daft Punk’s omnipresent new record even features Paul Williams, Phantom’s costar and the maestro behind its music. All this is to say: Criterion should ride those “Get Lucky” coattails with a re-release of this underseen acid trip of a musical. The company has already resurrected two De Palma films (Blow Out, Sisters), and Phantom’s current DVD is a minimal affair from 2001. Like Rocky Horror, Phantom makes for great group viewing. The film has inspired costumes, festivals, musical covers, and other cult marginalia. An entire community of fans exists around Phantom of the Paradise. That community deserves, at last, a definitive home release of its beloved film.

elliott

Elliott Smith fans marked a grim anniversary this week. For us, Monday, October 21, 2013 represented the ten-year mark since Elliott’s death at the age of 34.

Elliott has remained my favorite musician since I was junior in high school. Despite my 12-plus years of obsessive fandom, I have never written critically about his music. Friends had urged me in the past to write about posthumous releases like New Moon and From a Basement on the Hill. But I could never bring myself to do it. I felt genuinely unable to assess his music on anything other than a gut, emotional level. For the ten year anniversary, I figured I’d finally give it a try.

Head over to Consequence of Sound to read my piece on the 10 most essential Elliott Smith songs. This was a tough piece to write, both for the emotions involved and for the simple act of selecting my 10 favorite Elliott tracks. Many songs just narrowly missed the cut here. Among them are “Angeles,” Angel in the Snow,” “Condor Ave,” “Last Call,” and “2:45am.”

No “top 10″ list can encapsulate Elliott Smith. My simple hope for this post was to celebrate the man and introduce more casual listeners to his music. I tried to cover his entire career — the Heatmiser days, the early home recordings, the big studio sound, the late-era experiments, and the b-sides. I hope you enjoy this humble tribute.

walt

Last Friday, I took to Next Projection to air a grievance I’ve had with many of my favorite TV critics. From the New Yorker to Vulture, NPR to Huffington Post, the critics I read every week seem to have become fixated on a single topic: To convince “Breaking Bad” viewers that Walter White is a bad man and that those who continue to sympathize with him are either “Bad Fans” or blind “Team Walt” devotees. I think there’s another, simpler answer. You’ll find the first few paragraphs of my piece below. For the full article, head here.

Last week’s rattling episode of Breaking Bad has already inspired a small anthology’s worth of online criticism. This post attempts to dismantle one or the most prevalent arguments made in relation to that episode, and the show as a whole. It contains no actual spoilers.

The episode, “Ozymandias,” once again forces us to reassess how we feel about Walter White, the show’s slippery anti-hero. Much of the discussion has focused on an explosive phone call between Walt and Skyler. In reference to this specific scene, many of our finest TV critics have written recaps and tweets mocking those who continue to hold warm feelings for Mr. White. These viewers are “bad fans” who are “watching wrong,” says Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker. They are the same simpletons who misinterpreted the ending of The Sopranos or thought that show had “not enough whackings,” says Matt Zoller Seitz and Mo Ryan. They are “freaking me out” says Linda Holmes of NPR. They are, quite simply, the “the worst of #BreakingBad fans,” says Alyssa Rosenberg.

There’s something amiss here, and it’s not just the obvious contempt these writers have for viewers with whom they disagree. In the eyes of these critics, Walter White supporters are either mindless thrill-seekers whose ideal version of Breaking Bad is a parade of Heisenberg outbursts, or they’re just morally dubious people who’ll rationalize any evil. The mere fact that they continue to identify with Walt suggests that there’s something wrong with them, either as viewers or as people…

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Wong Kar-Wai presents The Grandmaster at the Museum of the Moving Image on August 10, 2013.

Earlier this month, I caught an advanced director’s screening of The Grandmaster, the new film from cinematic titan Wong Kar-Wai. No more than 10 minutes into the film, I knew I’d  have to see its original Chinese cut before I could discuss it critically. The American cut of The Grandmaster, like no Wong film I’ve seen before, contains a great number of clunky expository passages and narrative jagged edges. Having now seen both versions, I share my thoughts in this review over at Next Projection. You can sample the piece below or read the full article here.

Flecks of rain float through the air. Feet slide along a wooden floor, circling their target. A cigarette smolders in the night.

These are the images you relish in The Grandmaster. The film isolates its moments of white-hot intensity and mounts them like individual works of art. Wong Kar-Wai shoots every cracked neck and body blow with tremendous precision. He allows us to savor every carefully choreographed bodily movement. A hyper-stylized kung fu ballet, the film unfolds as a torrent of gorgeous isolated moments.

Which is a real shame, given how poorly these little pearls are strung together. The most expansive film of Wong’s career, The Grandmaster suffers from its own wealth of ambition. The film spans several decades and strives to capture the inner lives of multiple characters, the transformation of a country and its people at war, and the evolution of various strains of kung fu — all while, you know, kicking ass every few minutes. Given its visual impulse to slow down and marinate in its moments of pure grace, it simply can’t cover that much narrative ground.

It doesn’t help that a ruthless, tone-deaf edit by The Weinstein Company has shortened the film by 20 minutes from its original theatrical release in China.

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