Kristen Wiig has been gradually trying her hand at the dramatic genre ever since 2013's Girl Most Likely. In Hateship Loveship, an adaptation of Alice Munro's Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, Johanna Parry (Wiig) plays a gawky caretaker/cleaning woman who finds herself watching over an adolescent girl named Sabitha (Hailee Steinfield), whose father, Ken (Guy Pearce), is too drug-addled and unreliable to be trusted. Sabitha lives with her aging grandfather, Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte), and is largely apathetic toward Johanna, except when it comes to playing a cruel joke on her with her best friend, Edith (Sami Gayle). The two decide it would be amusing to send love letters to Johanna under the guise of being Ken to watch her prudish, demure nature unravel at the seams. Promotional poster for Hateship Loveship

With the tag line "Dare to care," Hateship Loveship has an emphasis on human indifference, generally as a result of fear. In both Johanna and Sabitha's case, caring is an action that has never gotten them very far--usually resulting in an emotional fallout. Sabitha's impenetrable air stems from the recent death of her mother--caused by her father getting in a car accident while intoxicated. The traumatic event has made her a hardened and impassive person who can't see past her own block of problems.

The awkward serenity of Johanna

The common pattern in Wiig's dramatic performances is that they involve very little dialogue, thus Johanna is the type to silently judge and, in this way, shift people's behavioral tendencies. She does this first with Sabitha, and then her father, after stealing some antique furniture from Mr. McCauley and taking it to Chicago to live with Ken (under the delusion that he has been the one writing her love-filled emails all this time). Once she arrives, she is rudely awakened by Ken's oblivion to what she's talking about, and the fact that he's dating a fellow junkie named Chloe (Jennifer Jason Leigh, in a typical hot mess of a role).

From hateship to loveship

In the long run, however, Johanna's silent, determined tenacity wins Ken's heart (that, and her cleaning and cooking skills). He ultimately kicks Chloe out, starts snorting less drugs and even gets a promotion (two extra dollars an hour!). But all of the events leading up to this are, at times, painstakingly paced by director Liza Johnson, who has directed one previous film entitled Return. As for the adaptation of Munro's short story, screenwriter Mark Poirier (writer of Smart People and Goats) is parsimonious with dialogue--which is what film classicists prefer.

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Hateship Loveship succeeds in showing the rapid evolution of/fine line between certain sentiments, but, for the most part, you can't, as the tag line insists, dare to care.

In certain respects, Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 bears a strong similarity to Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2--except instead of a rampage of violence, Nymphomaniac contains a rampage of sex. Von Trier opens with the quiet hero of the story, aging bachelor Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), as he collects his things to get ready to leave his home. Rammstein's "Führe mich" plays with contrasting violence against the peaceful backdrop of snow lightly falling onto Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg, our nympho) while she lies prostrate in the street. It's a highly dramatic place to start, merely leaving us hungry for more (much in the way nymphomaniacs are hungry for their next...dalliance). Rehashing her escapades

Intrigued by Joe's aura of self-loathing, as well as how she came to be beaten and left for dead, Seligman listens to her recount the instances that prove she's a "bad human being." The first example being that she discovered her cunt at the age of two and was soon after playing salacious games with her best friend, "B" (Sophie Kennedy Clark), that included filling up the bathroom floor with water and wading around in it like frogs for their own sexual gratification. Like all nymphomaniacs, Joe prefers her father, to her "cold bitch" of a mother, Katherine (Connie Nielsen).

Favoring her father

Of course, Joe eventually gives into the naive concept of love after re-encountering the boy she lost her virginity to, Jerôme (Shia LaBeouf), who happens to be in temporary control at the office she's applied to a job for. At first hesitant to admit to herself or Jerôme that she has "emotions" for him, she bottles it all up inside until finally developing the courage to tell him in a letter. But by then, he's already gone--up and left with the other secretary. Naturally, this only confirms Joe's belief that rebelling against love through copious amounts of sex is absolutely essential.

Inter-office romance

In the midst of her next fuck-filled binge, Joe causes harm to Mrs. P (played with neurotic grace by Uma Thurman--another Kill Bill connection), who storms Joe's apartment after her husband abandons her and his three children to be with Joe. Living up to her masculine name, Joe is largely unmoved by Mrs. P's plight, and soon moves on to the next man. Still feeling largely empty and lonely, Joe notes, "Basically, we're all just waiting for permission to die." This statement comes after witnessing the protracted death of her father as a result of delirium tremens. She confesses to Steligman that she "lubricated" upon seeing his dead body.

A woman scorned

The road to sexual sobriety is briefly paved after, once again, Joe comes across Jerôme on one of her daily walks in the woods. After they finally have sex for the first time since she lost her virginity to him, Vol. 1 concludes with Joe exclaiming, "I can't feel anything!" (it's all very Samantha Jones). For a nymphomaniac to lose clitoral feeling is, obviously, the worst possible experience, and Joe is eager to restore her original state by any means necessary. Having a baby temporarily gets in the way, at which point Vol. 2 shows us how devoted Joe is to the cause of her pleasure and her pussy. At one point, she asserts, "Above all, I love my cunt, and my filthy, dirty lust."

Pleasure principle

Joe's increasingly tragic, yet somehow life-affirming existence takes her on a path toward "debt collecting," at which time it is only natural that Willem Dafoe as "L" makes an appearance. After her workplace forces her to try her hand at sex rehab, Joe recounts to L, "I've been working in an office, and I've never been really good at it." L nods and responds, "I can understand that. I mean, what's the point?" And so, for awhile, Joe's innate sense of sexual psychosis proves useful in getting people to pay back their debts, that is, until L insists that she take on a successor to her business. The girl L has in mind is "P" (Mia Goth), an impressionable and institutionalized 15-year-old. Initially resistant to the plan, Joe somehow finds herself becoming romantically involved with P, a relationship that becomes more complicated when Joe discovers that P has been having sex with Jerôme, one of the clients Joe has been called upon to collect from.

Promotional poster for Volume 2

Seligman, who has, by now, admitted to being an asexual virgin, remains non-judgmental of Joe's actions. Even after she tells him of some highly incomprehensible moments in her life, including having a vision of the Whore of Babylon and Messalina (a notorious nymphomaniac and the wife of Roman Emperor Claudius), Seligman is largely willing to believe her story and remain on her side--no matter how scandalous things become. The rapport they share is unlikely, yet genuine, often teetering by a perilous thread that could be destroyed at any moment. In comparison to Von Trier's second installment in the "Depression Trilogy," Melancholia, Nymphomaniac is far superior, if for nothing more than the symbolism of Joe and her "soul tree."

Pain turns to pleasure

Then, suddenly, although Nymphomaniac has encapsulated feminism, hypocrisy and vindication all throughout the narrative, it manages to combine all three of these themes into the final minutes of the film. Paralleling the notion that sex and death are interchangeable, the ending, though unexpected, is all too appropriate.

The implications of having a double are rather disturbing. Sure, we've all been told we have a doppelganger, but what would it actually mean to have a duplicate of yourself out there in the world--in the same city no less? Denis Villeneuve's Enemy (based on The Double by José Saramago) explores just that. Mild-mannered history professor Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) goes through the motions of his life with relative gusto, lecturing here, fucking his girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent) there. But it isn't until Adam watches an obscure, locally produced (bear in mind they're in Toronto) movie recommended by a fellow professor that he discovers one of the extras is an exact clone of himself--making him yearn for the boringness of life before. Promotional poster for Enemy

The name of Adam's double is Anthony Saint Claire. Though we never find out what Saint Claire actually does for a living apart from playing two-bit parts in bad movies, it's clear that whatever his job is affords him better accommodations than Adam's teaching salary. Saint Claire's wife, Helen (Sarah Gadon), suspects something strange is going on when Adam calls the house and she immediately mistakes his voice for Anthony's. Amid the backdrop of all this is a mysterious gentleman's club (the private kind that requires a key) with a woman's heel poised to stomp on a disgustingly large spider. The spider imagery, indeed, is an important piece of symbolism throughout Enemy, representing, in one respect, the tangled web of unresolvability that Adam has gotten himself into.

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Ironically, while Adam may have started out as the more interested party in striking up an acquaintanceship with his lookalike, it is Anthony who pursues their, for lack of a better word, relationship further. Intrigued by how they could possibly be connected, Anthony even goes so far as to question his mother (played by Isabella Rossellini--always a good thing) as to whether she had another son. She denies such an accusation vehemently and then offers him some blueberries.

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To make matters worse for Adam, Anthony has taken a shine to Mary after following her to her workplace one day. He then makes the excuse that since he assumes Adam "fucked [Anthony's] wife," it's only fair that he should have a go at Adam's girlfriend. And because Mary is oblivious to the emotional upheaval Adam is going through with his double, Anthony threatens to reveal all to her if he doesn't comply. By the third act, it's quite clear that where there are two versions of one person, there is always one side that is evil and one side that is good.

Adam ("the good one") dressed in white and Anthony ("the evil one") dressed in black.

By the climax (or flatline) of Enemy, Javier Gullón's adaptation has displayed such incredible amounts of rich complexity that it doesn't even matter if you can't quite process the meaning of a giant spider hovering over the city of Toronto--or even a giant spider hanging out in Anthony's room (it's all very Kafkaesque). Plus, what kind of cohesion or concrete answers can you really expect from a movie starring Jake "Donnie Darko" Gyllenhaal?

There's nothing like a movie about slavery to give you a dose of reality regarding your own non-strife filled life. Based on the unbelievable true story of Solomon Northrop (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a freed man living in New York who was lured to Washington D.C. under the pretense of a job offer, 12 Years A Slave is a remarkable account of what the human spirit is capable of enduring. Not only is it a harrowing portrait of the treatment of slaves in the pre-Civil War era of United States history, but also an uplifting narrative about what one can accomplish when he refuses to give up.

Going from the departure of writing and directing a movie about a sex addict (Shame, also with Michael Fassbender), Steve McQueen showcases his incredible talent and versatility as a filmmaker. His collaboration with screenwriter John Ridley (acclaimed for writing Three Kings) reveals McQueen's collaborative propensities in addition to his strength as an autonomous writer-director. The fact that the film was born from the minds of two black men lend it far more meaningfulness and credibility as well.

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Not only is 12 Years A Slave an encapsulation of perseverance in the face of hopelessness, but also a testament to the depths of both human cruelty and kindness. Furthermore, McQueen has a keen ability to contrast striking imagery against emblems associated with justice or cleanliness (e.g. when Solomon is first imprisoned and the camera pans up to the backdrop of the Capitol Building or when Patsey [Lupita Nyong'o] receives a brutal lashing rendering her bloody and causing her to let go of the soap bar she was holding to make herself clean again).

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In spite of the film taking place centuries ago, Solomon's story still represents a relatable and resonant plight. As Solomon and others who were kidnapped ride the boat into Southern territory, one of his comrades warns him to keep his head down and just survive. Solomon counters, "I don't want to survive, I want to live." And that is the issue with so many of us: Most people are just surviving to get by. We're conditioned to believe that making waves will ultimately drown us.

The angry white man is never satisfied.

While Solomon may have played the game, so to speak, of acting the ignorant slave, it was never about rebellion in the first place. His struggle was always about tenacity, even in the face of evil like John Tibeats (played with racist precision by Paul Dano). There's not much you can't get through after being strung up to a tree and then waiting hours for your "master" (Benedict Cumberbatch) to cut you down. And yet, this is only the beginning of the waiting and horror Solomon must persist through. But rather than succumbing to his fate, he was consistent in his attempts to communicate with his family and others who were looking for him in the North. His triumph--and 12 Years A Slave as a whole--puts everything in such glaring perspective.

Looking like a cross between Taylor Momsen and Ashlee Simpson, Saoirse Ronan plays the role of Daisy/Elizabeth to angst-ridden perfection. Based on the award-winning novel by Meg Rosoff, How I Live Now is yet another dystopic portrait of life in the future--the setting of which always seems to be England. Adapted by Jeremy Brock (The Last King of Scotland), Penelope Skinner and Tony Grisoni (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), How I Live Now unfolds amid a vague, tense political backdrop. As Daisy arrives at the airport in England, she sees a news report about a bombing in Paris, but doesn't hear the content of the report because of her headphones. The symbolism of Daisy's headphones is, indeed, an early example of how very much inside of her head she is. Always tuning out the world.

The motive for Daisy's retreat to a house in the countryside to live with cousins she barely knows stems from her father's neglect (isn't that what it always stems from?). So, too, does her anorexia, an affliction that also causes her to replay all manner of self-hating thoughts over and over again in her head. Her surly attitude toward her cousins, Isaac (Tom Holland), Piper (Harley Bird) and Edmond (George MacKay), is immediately evident--though she shows a slighter amount of mercy toward Edmond.

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The children's mother, who Daisy knows as Aunt Penn (Anna Chancellor), is seldom seen by any of them, as she's holed up in her office to work and react to the impending war. However, Daisy's brief interaction with Aunt Penn reveals that her deceased mother, Julia, once stayed in the very same room that Daisy is sleeping in. The mention of her mother brings a certain fragility to Daisy's air, who blames herself for her mother's death (Julia died during Daisy's birth), and it only makes her all the more nostalgic for a home that no longer exists; her father's marriage to another woman and her pregnancy with his child only serves to accentuate the lack in Daisy's life.

Forbidden love.

In spite of her armor of vitriol, Edmond is able to penetrate through the surface (figuratively and literally). His seeming powers of telepathy are what help him to better understand the cause of Daisy's imperviousness. The fact that she refers to herself as a "fucking curse" is merely a small indication of her self-esteem issues. And just when Edmond is able to make some progress with her, a gaggle of soldiers infiltrate their home to put them in special "work camps." Luckily, the two make a promise to return to the house no matter how difficult the odds.

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Kevin Macdonald, who also worked with Jeremy Brock on The Last King of Scotland, directs the film in such a manner as to evoke the very sense of panic that Daisy and those in her world are experiencing. The jarring nature of the directing is, in many ways, similar to Alfonso Cuarón's 2006 dystopian narrative (also set in, where else, the UK), Children of Men. Except, unlike Children of Men, love is ultimately what saves Daisy, as opposed to leading her away on a rowboat with a baby.

Jill Soloway, known primarily for her work as a writer for Six Feet Under and United States of Tara, has proven that TV is a great jumping off point for creating a film that is razor sharp in the presentation of its characters and the many layers beneath (no stripping pun intended). For Silver Lake stay-at-home mom Rachel (Kathryn Hahn, who doesn't get nearly enough starring roles), life has become decidedly dull. Her sex life with her husband, Jeff (Josh Radnor), an app designer, is nonexistent. She spends most of her time dodging another mom at the school, Jennie (Michaela Watkins), who won't leave her alone about volunteering for the Jewish Community Center. It is a life Rachel has grown to loathe, and one that her therapist, Lenore (Jane Lynch), can seem to offer no solution for. Promotional poster for Afternoon Delight

And so, to feel as different as possible, Rachel takes the advice of her friend, Stephanie (Jessica St. Clair), to go to a strip club with Jeff to spice things up. Stephanie and her husband accompany them to a place called Sam's Hofbrau (a sexless sounding title for a strip club, yes) to ease their transition toward novel eroticism. Somewhat jokingly, Jeff buys Rachel a private lap dance from a stripper named McKenna (Juno Temple). Riveted by McKenna's comfortableness with her sexuality, Rachel can't stop thinking about her days later.

An unforgettable lap dance.

To manufacture a "chance" encounter, Rachel stalks the coffee truck outside of Sam's Hofbrau so that she can run into McKenna. Her fascination with this seemingly carefree 22-year-old (though she previously tells Rachel she's 19 as it's part of her method for turning guys on) stems from Rachel's own feelings of sexual stiflement and insecurity. Part of her sexual frustration (she hasn't boned her husband in six months) is a result of being a victim of her own self-perception. Because she views herself as a mother and a wife, it seems that Rachel is stuck in a mode of thinking she is generally frumpy and unattractive.

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After getting to know McKenna over the course of their coffee conversations together, Rachel invites her to stay in her and Jeff's home upon seeing a tow truck taking away all of McKenna's possessions. Determined to help McKenna turn her life around, Rachel offers her a room in exchange for watching over her son, Logan. When Jeff learns what Rachel has done, he is slightly confused by her actions, but stays largely tight-lipped to support Rachel's pet project. Considering nothing and no one has captured Rachel's attention so fully in quite some time, Jeff sees McKenna's presence as an overall positive development.

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As McKenna and Rachel grow closer on an emotional level, Rachel can't be bothered to pretend to give a shit about volunteering for activities at her son's school. Instead, she asks McKenna to let her watch her have sex with one of her clients (for, by now, it's been well-established that McKenna is a "full-service sex worker." Even though Rachel feels like she's going to be able to handle watching McKenna give pleasure to one of her regulars (played by John Kapelos, who has seen better days pre-The Breakfast Club), she is taken by surprise by her own disgust and shock over actually seeing what McKenna does for money.

Waiting to watch.

It is at this point in the film that a schism develops between the two women, further pronounced by Rachel telling Jeff she doesn't want McKenna to watch her friends' children for a sleepover party. Wounded by Rachel's sudden judgmental aura, McKenna goes out of her way to prove that she's the whore Rachel now perceives her to be. In this way, Afternoon Delight throws something of a curveball in that, for most of the story, we assumed it was about McKenna and Rachel's relationship. However, what it really comes down to is Rachel's own emotional and sexual reawakening as a result of encountering McKenna. Even though it would have been nice to see the two women remain friends, McKenna and Rachel each served a singular purpose in the other's life, never to be reduplicated through consistent friendship.

The highly talked about, subjectively scandalizing Blue is the Warmest Color proves one thing: Even lesbians use the "I'm on my period" excuse to get out of sex. Except in a lesbian relationship, one of the women is actually in tune with when your cycle is and won't believe the lie, but instead read immensely into it. Not only that, but being a lesbian doesn't exempt one person in the relationship from being more into it than the other--not that we really needed writer/director Abdellatif Kechiche to tell us that. In fact, Kechiche's male gender is perhaps the most controversial aspect of Blue is the Warmest Color (unless you're new to the scissoring game). Love at first sight.

Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is a bi-curious high school student whose eye is drawn immediately to the charismatic, blue-haired Emma (Léa Seydoux). Confident and self-assured, Emma attends the Beaux Arts college to pursue her passion for drawing. The connection between Emma and Adèle is unignorable--primarily for Adèle, who is still grappling with the notion that she might not be straight. Her first sexual encounter with a fellow male student proves lackluster to Adèle, prompting her to call things off with him. With the help of a friend, Valentin (Sandor Funtek), who takes her out to a gay club, Adèle finds herself wandering into a lesbian bar nearby where she fortuitously runs into Emma.

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Although Emma is in a relationship and Adèle fears total banishment from her friends/conventional society, the two fall into a hopeless romance that ultimately results in Adèle's utter isolation as Emma throws herself into her art. Even among Emma's friends, Adèle feels awkward and out of place. More and more conscious that her true identity is just as ambiguous as her sexual identity, Adèle gives into the temptation of sleeping with a male colleague who teaches a class at the same school. Emma finds out about her indiscretion and throws her out without a second a thought. It is also during this scene that we learn lesbians aren't opposed to calling their girlfriends "slut" and "whore" either.

La tendresse.

It's difficult to say if Blue is the Warmest Color (which is actually titled La Vie d'Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2 in France and based on Julie Minoh's graphic novel) would be nearly as riveting without the same sex element and explicit sexual content. Its NC-17 rating, however, still comes off as absurd when compared to the R rating of The Wolf of Wall Street. While the love story between Adèle and Emma is moving, it is, by no means, epic. The only reason it comes across as such is due to the length of the film and the tragedy of the couple not ending up together.

Promotional poster for Blue is the Warmest Color

After their breakup, Emma and Adèle meet again. While Adèle tries to coerce Emma (who is now in a relationship with her friend, Lise) into infidelity, Emma rebuffs her advances, but affectionately tells her: "I have infinite tenderness for you. I always will. All my life long." It is with this sentiment in mind that Adèle accepts Emma's invitation to her art show, where she re-encounters a gallery owner, Joachim (Stéphane Mercoyrol), who showed interest in her previously at a party for Emma. Because the two had talked about New York and Adèle's desire to go there, he inquires as to whether she ever made the trip. She tells him she never did. But then, New York and France are two sides of the same coin--and it is this duality and sameness that mirrors Adèle's own explorative sexual saga.

Blue nails.

Although the film is saturated in blue--blue nails, blue jackets, blue dresses, blue hair, blue walls, etc.--it is invariably the pink (that's code for vagina in case you didn't get it) that has drawn so many moviegoers (read: straight people) to this particular narrative. It is, at best, maudlin and, at worst, falsely and exploitively avant-garde.

 

It is quite possible that there is no other population as passionate, expressive and full of life as the denizens of Italy--and Rome especially. In Paulo Sorrentino's (of This Must Be the Place acclaim) La Grande Bellezza, this fact is exuded in every frame--each one dripping with more decadence than the last. An obvious descendant of Marcello Mastroianni as Guido Anselmi in 8 1/2 (though many have compared the movie to La Dolce Vita), Jep Gambardella (Toni Sevillo) is a writer with a penchant for high society and throwing parties. The characters he encounters as he enters his sixty-fifth year (and, as a sixty-five year old, he parties much more intensely than anyone in their early twenties) reveal a different piece of the evocative collage that is Rome and life. Laughing at Rome's absurdity.

Beginning with one of the most unforgettable party scenes ever committed to film, Jep looks on at his eclectic collection of guests as one of the most quintessentially European dance tracks is played in the background. While everyone else is enthralled and enraptured by the throes of a good time, Jep remains unfazed, introducing himself by saying:

"To this question, as kids, my friends always gave the same answer: 'Pussy.' Whereas I answered 'The smell of old people's houses.' The question was 'What do you really like the most in life?' I was destined for sensibility. I was destined to become a writer. I was destined to become Jep Gambardella."

Partying amid the ruins/underneath the glow of the Martini logo.

After the night of his birthday, Jep undergoes something of a vision quest--though it's really more of a visual rumination on his time in Rome, and what's it's all amounted to. The only novel he ever wrote, The Human Apparatus, came out decades ago when he was in his late twenties. Since then, Jep has relied on writing robust cultural articles for a magazine run by a female dwarf named Dadina (Giovanna Vignola). It is through this means that he has been able to cultivate his lifestyle as the king of making any party a success or failure. Throughout the course of the film, a number of people ask him why he never wrote another novel after his first masterpiece (he didn't even bother Salingering it with a few short story collections here and there). To one person--a Mother Theresa-like saint named Santa Maria--he explains, "I was looking for the great beauty, but I never found it."

Taking stock, Italian style.

The great beauty he once found to inspire him was his first love, Elisa, who broke up with him in September of 1970. He is reminded of this time period after Elisa's husband finds him in the wake of her death to tell Jep that she never stopped loving him and wrote just that in a secret diary he discovered. This revelation prompts Jep to reflect intensely, even revisiting an old friend who owns a strip club to catch up and talk about old times. It is there that he encounters the owner's 42-year-old daughter, Ramona (Sabrina Ferilli), who he finds attractive on a cerebral level after she says, "Maybe beautiful things aren't for me." Although he does like her (as much as a jaded sixty-five year old man can like a woman), he is, at the same time, distracting himself from his own boredom.

Pulling a Lucy Ricardo: One of the many colorful characters in Jep's orbit

Ramona's spending habits are apparently what force her to continue stripping, even though she won't tell anyone where all her money goes. She ultimately confesses to Jep that she puts it all toward "curing [her]self." The many layers of this statement is indicative of Rome itself: Youth- and diversion-obsessed, two fixations that can prove to be rather expensive. Later in the narrative, Santa Maria appears to put the exorbitant lifestyle of Jep and his inner circle to shame as she asserts, "I took a vow of poverty. That means I must live it. Not talk about it."

Nuns among affluence.

And this "living" as opposed to "talking" is one of the sources of Jep's issues with returning to writing--he is far too busy with frivolity to concern himself with real action. There is also the film's opening quote to take into account, extracted from Louis-Ferdinand Céline's Journey to the End of Night, which states, "To travel is very useful, it makes the imagination work, the rest is just delusion and pain." Jep's attachment to Rome, his seeming inability to leave it is a part of what has made him static, a caricature of the party scene. Nonetheless, it is often the case that our bane is our inspiration. In a way, we're all writing the unwritten novel of our lives, whether we're actively contriving the direction or not. It is as Jep says: "Beyond there is what lies beyond. And I don't deal with what lies beyond. Therefore, let this novel begin."

There are many levels of incestuousness in John Wells' August: Osage County. Based on the play by Tracy Letts (who also adpated the screenplay), the film is Wells' second foray into directing for features. Previously, Wells' primary experience was as a TV producer, most notably for ER, which brings us to point one of incestuousness: The collaboration with George Clooney, who also serves as a producer on the film. Further, Julia Roberts and Dermot Mulroney appeared together in My Best Friend's Wedding, Chris Cooper and Meryl Streep appeared together in Adaptation and Julia Roberts and Sam Shepard appeared together in The Pelican Brief. Thus, it seems that there was a bit of casting genius afoot on the parts of Kerry Barden and Paul Schnee.

Uncomfortable conversations.

Like Tennessee Williams before him, Letts' work not only seems to transition seamlessly onto film (albeit without the flagrant omission of homosexuality), but also favors the tragic shown through a darkly comedic lens. The play, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008, segues quite nicely into a screenplay version, especially with such a cum-inducing ensemble cast. August: Osage County opens ironically with Beverly Weston's (Sam Shepard) recitation of the famed T.S. Eliot quote, "Life is long," as he hires a Native American (a term that comes up derisively several times later in the film) caretaker named Johnna (Misty Upham) for his mouth cancer-ridden wife, Violet (Meryl Streep, who continues to make every other actor look inadequate). The bittersweetness of his decision to use this quote is quickly felt after he goes missing--prompting his daughters to return to Osage County--and is discovered to have drowned himself.

Funeral for a father.

Barbara (Julia Roberts), the oldest daughter, is the one most deeply affected by the loss of her father, for Violet is largely too drug-addled (prescriptiosns are her specialty) to express any real emotion and the other two daughters, Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis), are clearly the least favored of the children. Her emotional turmoil is heightened by the fact that she brought her husband, Bill (Ewan McGregor), and must mask the obviousness of their separation from her fault-finding mother. Also along for the ride is Barbara's daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin), who Barbara finds annoyingly precocious. One of the most divergent elements from the play, in fact, is Jean's plotline. One of the main sources of contention in the film is her pot smoking exchange with Steve (Dermot Mulroney), Karen's fiancé. To give you an idea of his personality, his most memorable aphorism is: "I'm white and over 30. I can't get in trouble." In the play, however, this event occurs with Johnna, who Jean develops a rapport with.

Ewan McGregor and Benedict Cumberbatch on the set of August: Osage County

Barbara's emotional duress is augmented by the barrenness and desolation of being back in this environment--because essentially the only thing Osage County has going for it is that a portion of Tulsa extends within its jurisdiction. As she drives with her daughter to identify the body of her father, Barbara notes, "Thank god we can't tell the future. We'd never get out of bed." The humorous, yet melancholy manner in which she states this is indicative of the collective state of mind of the Weston family, who has been through too much suffering not to take it all somewhat lightly.

Drugs are hugs.

As for Julia Roberts, the actress has more than made up for her last filmic affront, Mirror Mirror. Her acting chops are neck and neck with Meryl's, who might soon be usurped as Roberts approaches what Hollywood deems "the old bag age." Relatedly, Violet's assessment of women during a moment when she's looking at past pictures of herself with Ivy prompts her to note that women only get uglier past a certain age--that the only true beauty is youth. But even if that's the case, Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep defy the norm together through their unignorable presences onscreen. The acting is paired beautifully with Letts' incisive dialogue, which promotes the harmonious coalescing of playwriting and screenwriting.

For the cynics and skeptics of love, you may have once scoffed at the adage, “There’s someone for everyone.” Spike Jonze’s Her proves this once bathetic statement to be true. Because, in the not so distant future, you can be with your computer’s Operating System. Jonze’s last major film, 2009’s Where The Wild Things Are, could never have given audiences the indication that he would go in the thematic direction of Her, which follows the story of an emotionally stunted letter writer (#612, to be exact) named Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix, constantly distancing himself from that time he was pretending to be a rapper with every new film role). Promotional poster for Her

Living in Los Angeles (the perfect city to evince disconnection no matter what era it’s supposed to be), Theodore works as a writer for beautifulhandwrittenletters.com. Because the film is set in the near future, perhaps creating quaint-looking, heartfelt letters for other people is a lucrative business due to the sheer novelty of it. Theodore, modest and melancholy to a fault, is touched when the receptionist at his office, Paul (Chris Pratt), pays him a compliment regarding how moving his letters are. In fact, Paul is one of the few people he interacts with since his separation from his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara, looking her most Natalie Portmanesque). Other than that, his sole comrade is an old college friend named Amy (Amy Adams, who is not nearly as hot in this as she is in American Hustle).

Roaming the beach alone--but with Samantha.

With such scant sources of in-person communication, it’s not surprising when Theodore uses his Operating System (the pre-Samantha [the voice of Scarlett Johansson] one) to find other people he can have, for lack of a better term, phone sex with. At first turned on by “SexyKitten” (the voice of Kristen Wiig), he is reminded why he can’t deal with women when she starts talking dirty about him strangling her with a dead cat. This, of course, is not the only awkwardly innovative sex scene in Her. There’s also about three minutes of blackness while Theodore and Samantha make noises of ecstasy together after they acknowledge they share a connection. Oh, and that time Samantha gets a "surrogate" named Isabelle to try to bone Theodore as she speaks through Isabelle's body.

http://youtu.be/WzV6mXIOVl4

After Theodore’s upgrade to Samantha, he starts to wash away the bad taste of unwanted blind dates (Olivia Wilde, playing a strange, throwaway character) and the feelings of moroseness he has as a result of his failed relationship with Catherine. Her vibrant, bubbly spirit bursts through even without a body to showcase it. And perhaps it was Jonze’s penchant for irony that prompted him to choose Johansson as the voice of the Operating System considering she has one of the most evocative bodies in Hollywood.

http://youtu.be/ZACOU3H5KO8

Even though the potential for having any real connection to Samantha is theoretically minimal, Theodore has never felt as close to anyone before as he does to her. And maybe because there’s no real risk involved—or so he thinks. But the more intimate they become, the more disarmed he is by their relationship, particularly when Catherine points out to him that it was always his dream to have a girlfriend without any of the real emotions that are involved. Theodore’s friend, Amy, by contrast, feels that, since we’re only here for such a brief period, we should do all we can to feel joy, even if that means having sex with an omnipresent voice.

http://youtu.be/mUerj_LWtKI

Amy, also, is one of the most interesting characters in Her as we watch her marriage break down in just a few telling scenes. Although she was with her husband for eight years, she confesses to Theodore that she was tired of being made to feel like shit on a constant basis—and it was all set off by the trivial argument over her husband yelling at her to take off her shoes before she sat down on their couch. But such seemingly inconsequential requests were indicative of a larger need for her husband to control and change Amy. And it is this subplot that seems to act as a defined mark in the pro column for having a relationship with a non-person.

http://youtu.be/zCRXJmctcFg

As Jonze’s first solo screenplay, Her is a testament to the fact that one can always reinvent the wheel of “the love story” genre. But Jonze isn’t simply highlighting the notion that human relationships are more complicated than any other. He’s also foretelling the nature of how humankind will interact with technology as time forges on and systems become more advanced. And, as creepy as that concept may be, it appears to be an inevitability. Though the very idea that a machine could throw as much emotional complexity into your life as the other people you already have to deal with is mildly ominous, one can only hope that Arcade Fire will likewise serve as the score to such a transition.

 

 

 

 

 

“Some of this actually happened.” So says the title card leading up to the opening of David O. Russell’s American Hustle (not to be confused with the 2007 Katt Williams movie of the same name). And, in fact, the film is based on the FBI’s ABSCAM operation that took place in the late 70s and early 80s. Designed to target government officials accepting bribes on a massive scale, American Hustle takes elements from this fragment in FBI history and centers it around con artist Irving Rosenfeld (a grotesque Christian Bale), a real Long Island type. Irving and Rosalyn.

Although Irving is married to a high-strung, manipulative woman named Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence, in a trashy role played to perfection), he quickly falls in love with, Sydney (Amy “Tit Showcaser” Adams), a gifted con woman with a shared love of Duke Ellington. The fact that Irving could love two women so disparate from one another is a testament to the male reproductive organ fiending for a taste of every type. His preference, though, is ultimately for Sydney. Their partnership in con artistry, unfortunately, is abruptly halted when they’re busted by small-time FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper).

70s swag

In exchange for Sydney’s freedom, Irving cuts a deal with Richie: Four busts of high-profile politicians and Richie will forget about the whole thing. Richie’s attraction to Sydney makes Irving feel automatically uneasy about being under his thumb. The love triangles and squares of American Hustle are perhaps a mirror of the time period, as well as Rosalyn’s whimsical kissing of Sydney after they have an argument in the bathroom.

Irving and Carmine (Jeremy Renner) looking at the latest marvel, a microwave

Still, Richie’s (who also happens to have a fiancée) so-called love for Sydney can’t be matched by Irving’s desire for her. Although, in the past, David O. Russell has revealed a more cynical side (e.g. I Heart Huckabees and Flirting With Disaster) with regard to love, there is a hopeful tone throughout American Hustle that reflects the general sentiment of a nation looking forward to the end of a recession and the end of Jimmy Carter.

Bathroom standoff

Even the mention of divorce, which is at first appalling to Rosalyn, eventually seems like a commonplace idea for her—yet another indication of the 70s and how comfortable people were becoming with the idea. After all, Rosalyn “just wants to be loved,” as she tells Irving so vehemently after ratting him out to one of Victor Tellegio’s (Robert DeNiro) mafia henchmen about Irving being in cahoots with the FBI. Thus, Rosalyn’s dysfunctional methods for attention all seem justified to her, for it’s all in the name of Irving’s love. It is in this way that Rosalyn is one of the most deranged, emotionally complex characters in the film—in spite of coming off as a vapid Long Island wife on the surface.

Love triangles.

And then there’s the relationship between Richie and his superior, Stoddard Thorsen (Louis C.K., in a deadpan role that suits him). Stoddard’s reluctance and caution in pursuing heavy-hitting politicians like Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) irritate Richie to no end, especially when Stoddard tries to tell him a story about ice fishing in Michigan as a metaphor. Even though their rapport is a subplot of the movie, Russell displays such a knack for creating interesting character dynamics that it stands out as one of the most memorable friendships apart from the one between Irving and Carmine.

Love triangles.

Although American Hustle is a film with many messages from which to cull, it comes down to two phrases stated by Sydney and Irving: “I wanted to be anyone else but who I was” and “You con yourself just to get through life.” And there’s no better country than America to achieve both of those sentiments at an optimal level.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I've talked a lot of shit about the Coen brothers in my day. And I've been criticized heavily for my perplexity over the constant sonnets of exaltation that Joel and Ethan Coen consistently receive. But now, with Inside Llewyn Davis under their belt, I am forced to eat a diarrhea-inducing amount of humble pie. A sobering, tragicomic glimpse into a week in the life of flailing folk singer Llewyn Davis during 1961 in Greenwich Village, the film is often plotless and frequently resonant for anyone who has ever tried to successfully live a non-normal existence. Pained.

To know pain and agony in this lifetime, all you need to do is have aspirations to be an artist. But what is "being an artist"? Can you not just be one simply by saying you are and then doing the things that your artistry entails? In a word, no. The looseness of the term not only encompasses the type of medium you're pursuing, but also an intense aversion to a conventional lifestyle. Because adhering to conventions and molds is, for an artist, almost more excruciating than failing at one's art--and by failing, what is of course meant is not making money. Llewyn Davis (played by Oscar Isaac, who has come a long way from his minimal role in Drive) is a man at the brink of continuing his passion or giving up and succumbing to the call of a more lucrative profession.

Collaborations.

His career has stalled in the wake of his former music partner's suicide, and very few people seem to be able to take Llewyn seriously as a solo artist. His best friends and fellow folk musicians, Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carey Mulligan, easily playing the most expressive and ardent character in the film), help him get by through the more than occasional couch surfing allowance and informing of him of any gigs they hear about. But the kindness of friends and often strangers is not enough for Llewyn, who is starting to feel the clock tick on this mode of living, eking out an existence with nowhere to live and no tangible form of success. But then to "just exist"--as Llewyn calls it--like a regular person sounds equally as unappealing and debilitating.

http://youtu.be/eXMuR-Nsylg

After recording a track with Jim and his friend, Al (Adam Driver, playing essentially the same person as he does on Girls), Llewyn talks Al into letting him stay at his apartment for a few nights. It is Al who informs him of a gig in Chicago that leads Llewyn on a road trip with a stray cat, a grotesque jazz man named Roland Turner (John Goodman) and a practically mute driver named Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund, who is always at his best in mute roles). The presence of the cat, who Llewyn finds himself in possession of after assuming it was a different one that he was trying to return to a friend, is, according to the Coen brothers, one of the few sources that propels the plot. But it's also, in many ways, an allegory for Llewyn himself: Constantly flitting around from place to place yet somehow landing on his feet.

http://youtu.be/jAeK97yJElc

Llewyn ultimately abandons the cat and the road trip after Johnny gets picked up by a police man. When he arrives in Chicago, he seeks out Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham) a music manager that was supposed to have received a copy of his record, but never did. And so, with passion and earnestness, Llewyn performs a song from the album as Grossman watches with eerie stoicism. Once Llewyn finishes, Grossman bluntly states, "I don't see any money in this." And it is this sentiment that lies at the core of every artist's problem in trying to gain recognition. For one can't establish oneself on a grand scale without financial backing and the belief that the investment will be made back many times over--which is, rather obviously, an absurd and narrow-minded way to view someone's art.

Morose and penniless: The life of an artist.

What the Coen brothers are trying to say with Inside Llewyn Davis is not entirely concrete. On the one hand, the conclusion of the film can be interpreted to mean that all artists should just give and spare themselves the shame and indignity of continuing to try. But on the other hand, how do you not keep going when it's so ingrained in you? When it's the only skill you have and the only thing you're truly interested in? In this way, it is simultaneously one of the most demotivating and galvanizing films you may ever see.

We're all recovering from some type of trauma. The trauma of leaving home, the trauma of working, the trauma of existing. But for Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), her form of suffering was (and is) the loss of her son, Anthony--renamed to Michael upon being adopted and taken to America (Sean Mahon). After giving birth to him as a teenage girl outside of wedlock, Philomena was forced into a convent where Catholic nuns told her to sign her rights away as a parent. Fifty years later, she still hasn't stopped thinking of Anthony. Promotional poster for Philomena

Enter Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan, who relishes any chance to play a bit of an asshole), a Labour party advisor recently dismissed from his position after being accused of attempting to "bury" information in the wake of 9/11. With no job on the horizon and a largely ostracizing interest in Russian history, Sixsmith grudgingly agrees to write a human interest story brought to his attention by a server at a party. The server turns out to be the daughter of Philomena, who finally confessed to her that she had a son fifty years earlier. Martin pitches the story to an editor friend, who is interested enough to foot the bill for him and Philomena to go to America to look at any existing records for Anthony Lee.

In America

The disparate natures of Martin and Philomena become even more apparent while they travel together, with Philomena stopping at the nearest church for confession and Martin rolling his eyes over the ridiculousness of believing in God. Her ardent reading of romance novels and reciting the plots to Martin also wear on his nerves, and yet there is a certain affinity for the old woman he can't explain. Upon learning that her son was a well-respected advisor for both Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr., Martin is saddened to learn that Michael (in an ironic twist of fate) died of AIDS in 1995.

http://youtu.be/4DBPqcp6Hc4

Initially, Philomena feels as though she's "lost him all over again" (a quote Martin's editor urges him to use) and wants to return to England immediately. But, once at the airport, Philomena begins to reconsider, wanting to figure out more about her son by talking to the people who knew him. Searching for some sort of sign that he ever thought of her, Philomena becomes almost more determined than Martin to make the most out of her tragedy. As she unravels the truth about Michael's struggle with AIDS while working for an administration determined to strip all funding and research for a cure, Philomena feels a sense of closeness to him that she never could have imagined.

http://youtu.be/tv0JylBOlIs

The script, which was written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, is directed with empathy by Stephen Frears (best known for High Fidelity, Dirty Pretty Things and The Queen), who portrays Philomena with a gentleness and understanding that makes her unwavering Catholic faith in the face of being so blatantly fucked over by the convent even more endearing. Her ability to forgive the hypocrisy of nuns who made her feel like an eternal sinner for an action she committed in a moment of passion and earnestness is the crux of what the film is about.

http://youtu.be/B72bGjiiD-w

Striking the delicate balance between dramatic and comedic, Philomena is a story that illuminates the inner strength that each and every one of us is capable of in the face of strife, loss and generally shitty circumstances.

 

When it comes to movies, there seems very little emphasis on or interest in portraying small town America. Generally, the films we see are set in some metropolis that's supposed to be New York or L.A. Very rarely is much thought or attention given to what goes on in the many places outside of these two cities (granted, not very much goes on at all). Still, it is a testament to Alexander Payne's nuanced style of filmmaking that he would be the one to bring Midwest life to the forefront. Payne, born in Omaha, is one of the few writer-directors willing to give a story and its characters the time they need to develop and, not necessarily arc, but at least have a revelation or come to terms with something unpleasant. Promotional poster for Nebraska

For Woody Grant (Bruce Dern, who has been having a come-up since appearing in Django Unchained), that unpleasant something is realizing that a million dollar sweepstakes notification he received in the mail is completely bogus (a word I try to use apart from talking about Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey). His son, David (Will Forte, in a role that proves he's so much more than an awkward drag queen in 30 Rock), is saddled with the responsibility of constantly fetching him whenever he tries to make the trek from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska in order to collect his winnings from the sweepstakes headquarters. Woody's wife, Kate (June Squibb), is all too wary of his behavior, clinging to the help of her other son, Ross (Bob Odenkirk, who comes across surprisingly un-Saul like), to back her up on putting him into a home.

Father-son bonding.

David, the most sympathetic to the real reason Woody is chasing the ghost of a good thing, insists that they indulge him in his fantasy at least for a little while. With his own slew of problems to contend with, including working a dead end job as a salesman at a home entertainment and electronics store and his girlfriend recently moving out of their apartment, David is all too eager to take a trip elsewhere for a simple (though minimal) change of scenery. The dynamic between David and Woody is archetypal in terms of the new school penchant for emotions colliding with the old school predilection for stifling every possible feeling. Because Midwestern men's communication skills are, to put it mildly, sparse, it's fascinating to watch Woody's latent sentiments come through as the plot progresses.

http://youtu.be/UT5tqPojMtg

Another element of Nebraska that highlights the ways of "the common man" is the modesty of the primary characters' desires in life. Woody's sole interests after getting a million dollars are to buy a truck and a compressor. A soulless bourgeois East or West Coaster would find far more financial damage to cause with that kind of money. But modest desires stem from modest expectations, which is what many Midwesterners have been conditioned to adhere to (a history of scarcity has instilled too much fear in them not to). Shot in black and white, the ennui and grimness of such an austere existence shines through in the cinematography and stylistic nature of Nebraska.

http://youtu.be/IkDMNwcsWs0

While audiences might assume that a story about the Midwest is, invariably, a story about the American dream, Nebraska is, more than anything, a story about the value of acceptance, contentment and being satisfied with what you have and what you're realistically able to materially gain. Payne's gift for striking the perfect balance between the tragic and the comic is what makes all of his films seem timelessly resonant. For the themes of Nebraska will always be relevant in human existence. At least average, non-famous ordinary man existence.

It seemed fitting to see Dallas Buyers Club on this November 17th, Rock Hudson' s 88th birthday. Largely responsible for publicizing the so-called "gay disease" upon his death in 1985, every film about AIDS manages to make reference to this game-changing headline in the news. In Dallas, Texas, amid oil workers and God-fearing folk, the relevancy of this epidemic, on the surface, would appear remote and unlikely. Friends of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey, in all his Christian Bale in The Machinist glory) are so ignorant of the situation that they say, "You know, Rock Hudson...the guy in North by Northwest." Promotional poster for Dallas Buyers Club

The symbolism and intensity of the film is established from the outset as Woodroof engages in an orgy (condomless no doubt) while the bucking bull outside the pen where this little burst of passion takes place is the sole point of focus on Woodroof's mind. He watches with alert anxiety as the rider on the bull tumbles to the ground. It is, truly, a filmic metaphor at its finest. His awareness of his condition is triggered after getting electrocuted at the oil plant where he works (after refusing to go to the Middle East to work for "sand niggers," a term that seems both quintessentially 80s and Texan). Upon awakening to the sight of Dr. Sevard (Denis O'Hare) and Dr. Saks (Jennifer Garner, who also appeared with McConaughey in the much schmaltzier Ghosts of Girlfriends Past), Woodroof is appalled when said doctors inform him his blood work has tested HIV positive.

Learning the ins and outs of AIDS

After the pronouncement that he has approximately thirty days to live, the phases of denial and acceptance occur fairly rapidly. One minute, Woodroof is having another coke-addled orgy, the next he's seeking the help of a hospital orderly to provide him with the then unapproved drug/"cure" AZT. But, before this occurs, one of the most memorable scenes from director Jean-Marc Vallée (best known for The Young Victoria) takes place in a strip club. Initially, it looks as though Woodroof is praying to God and seeking redemption over the candles in a church, but the camera quickly pans up to reveal a stripper hovering above Woodroof as his attention is drawn to the man sitting nearby who can sell him AZT under the table.

A fun-loving man.

In the long run, this plan fades out as the hospital orderly no longer has a supply with which to furnish Woofroof. Instead, he gives him the address of a doctor in Mexico who provides Woodroof with an arsenal of natural vitamins, supplements and fatty acids to restore his immune system. Around this time, Woodroof encounters a transgender AIDS victim named Rayon (Jared Leto, who makes everything come full-circle back to My So-Called Life as Rayanne sounds quite akin to the sound of Rayon). In spite of his extreme homophobia, Woodroof agrees to give Rayon a cut of his profits, knowing that he needs her to gain buyers in the gay and transgender community--effectively initiating the network that ultimately becomes the Dallas Buyers Club. During one scene that shows Woodroof finally shedding some of his prejudices, he enters a gay club with Rayon as songs from 80s staples like the Pet Shop Boys play exuberantly in the background--exhibiting a sense of deliberate irony as everything and everyone surrounding this happy music is crumbling apart at the foundation.

Rayon and Woodroof: An unlikely business partnership.

At last given his due for the contributions he made to improving the quality of life of other AIDS patients, Dallas Buyers Club takes several creative licenses without tarnishing the memory of Woodroof--a feat that is always difficult to achieve in a biopic. The timeline of the real Woodroof's AIDS diagnosis began in 1986, at which point his prognosis was six months to live. It wasn't until 1988 that the Dallas Buyers Club was actually formed. In many ways the Erin Brockovich of FDA battles, Woodroof's fight and desire to live propelled him to do an immense amount of good for others suffering from the isolating and ostracizing nature of the disease.

http://youtu.be/Hs1kpGNSRVk

The most memorable aspect of the movie, of course, is Jared Leto. How much of Rayon is real or imagined may be something only screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack can reveal. Suffice it to say, this character is one of the richest in the echelons of 2013 moviemaking. Using Marc Bolan as a talisman for existence, Rayon is likable not only for her taste in pop culture, but also her essence as a whole. In many ways, it's easy to relate Bolan's own premature death in a car wreck at the age of 29 to the tragic nature of Rayon. Incidentally, Gloria Jones, Bolan's girlfriend at the time, wrote the famed song "Tainted Love," a pop ditty that is all too appropriate when it comes to having sex with someone who has AIDS.

Miss Man, as Woodroof calls Rayon.

As one of the most perilous and equivocal times in twentieth century American history, Dallas Buyers Club addresses a topic that so many still struggle to deal with--and one that is all too fresh in the memory of those continuing to deal with the loss of loved ones. And so, it isn't just the weight loss and the acting of the film that is notable, but the bravado and candor of the subject matter itself.

Julian Assange is perhaps one of the most controversial men to emerge from the past decade—apart from George W. Bush and Sarah Palin (whose gender might still be questionable as no woman could hate women that much). In the realm of news and information, he unquestionably altered the course of how we view media: As merely telling only part of the story. His sordid past and unwieldy psychosis, however, seem to be the primary emphasis of director Bill Condon’s (who is best know for Twilight, but has at least also directed The Others) The Fifth Estate. Dubious taglines.

Screenwriter Josh Singer, known primarily for his work on The West Wing and Law & Order, does his best to extract the key pieces of Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s 2011 memoir, Inside WikiLeaks: My Time With Julian Assange and the World’s Most Dangerous Website. Domscheit-Berg’s (Daniel Brühl, best known for his role as the prick Nazi—though that might not narrow it down—in Inglourious Basterds) role in the film is decidedly played up as a direct result of basing the screenplay on his work. This is evident based on Assange’s extreme ego, and the fact that it seems implausible that he would ever allow someone to have any control over one of his projects.

http://youtu.be/ZT1wb8_tcYU

Using the old start at the end, flash back to the beginning method, Condon opens The Fifth Estate with Domscheit-Berg sitting in front of his computer with The Guardian’s headline about over 90,000 confidential documents from Afghanistan being leaked. Frantic over the release, Domscheit-Berg sees Assange on TV giving an interview and appears frantic about getting a hold of him. The script then jumps back to 2007, the year Domscheit-Berg first met Assange in Berlin.

http://youtu.be/NY2D-ixFNKQ

Interested in Assange’s activist aura, Domscheit-Berg gravitates toward the WikiLeaks cause instantly, especially after Assange assures “we have hundreds of volunteers.” The close connection Assange feels with Domscheit-Berg comes off as forced in the film, particularly when Assange attempts a heartfelt exchange by confessing that he was raised in an absurdly depraved cult (the ultimate explanation for his own secrecy and the motive behind exposing the secrets of others).

http://youtu.be/C-X8dxsuOOw

Of course, Cumberbatch himself is what makes The Fifth Estate so intensely watchable. It is as though Cumberbatch has taken on Assange’s entire persona and, in so doing, has forced his own identity to disappear altogether. On the heels of another film about WikiLeaks and Assange—a documentary entitled We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks—it would seem that in spite of Assange’s fall from grace, history is still positioning him as a seminal figure.

http://youtu.be/VtfOxmOzcec

Ironically enough, it is American history that this Australian-born, England resident has so strongly altered the course of—so much so that the Department of Justice has attempted to prosecute him for his roguish behavior, namely, stealing U.S. documents from military and diplomatic arms of government. His diplomatic asylum from sexual assault charges at the Ecuadorian embassy in London is perhaps, for some, not the sort of vindication they were hoping for. And, although he may be in a form of retreat now, it seems likely that The Fifth Estate is not to be the last biopic we see of Assange. But then, no one will be able to play him as Cumberbatch has.

 

 

Much in the way of laudatory comments has been said about Gravity: Great cinematography, innovative approach to screenwriting, et cetera et cetera. So maybe I’m missing something, because, after seeing the film, the only thing I wanted to do was crawl into a hole in my apartment and never emerge again. For that is the feeling that Gravity gives you: If you leave your house, let alone venture into the lawlessness of space, you will be fucked. Apart from the anxiety of watching Sandra Bullock hyperventilate for the majority of the film, the lack of plot, dialogue or scenic variety is enough to make you go slowly insane. So, without further verbal disdain, here are six things I’d rather do besides ever see Gravity again. Promotional poster for Gravity

6) Read Gravity’s Rainbow, a book everyone claims to have read (much like Infinite Jest) but never actually has.

At least reading this meant I read a book.

5) Hang out with Major Nelson from I Dream of Jeannie (even though he seems like a real stick in the mud).

I'd rather hear Major Nelson talk about space than see Sandy B get stuck in it

4) Watch the entire The Facts of Life series.

George looks much better without a space suit on.

3) Spend an hour and a half doing my hair like Princess Leia.

Time-consuming, but timeless.

2) Sit through Speed 2: Cruise Control

At least you can play better drinking games when you watch this.

1) Risk a conversation with Alfonso Cuaron to talk about making a sequel to Y Tu Mama Tambien

Salacious dialogue is preferable to listening to Sandra Bullock howl

And there they are, six more useful, less mental disorder-inducing activities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lengths a person will go to for the person love are difficult to envision in an age of such apathy. But David Lowery's Ain't Them Bodies Saints is a reminder of what one is capable of when love is involved. Of course, when an outlaw like Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck, the less appreciated Affleck brother) is in love, there's no limit to what he'll do for the woman he desires, in this case, Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara). Set against the backdrop of Texas in the 1970s (which doesn't look all that different from present day), Bob and Ruth are prone to making mischief with their gang, but one of their heists goes awry when Ruth accidentally shoots a police officer. Love torn apart.

Knowing that Ruth is pregnant--and for the simple fact that he would do anything for her--Bob offers to take the rap for shooting Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster, who has grown up quite nicely since his days of being on Flash Forward). She promises to wait for him (and it actually doesn't sound like bull shit), while he, in turn, promises to get out of jail expediently. After four years pass, Bob makes good on this vow by managing to escape from prison. His escape affects the lives of everyone from his past, including his father figure, Skerritt (Keith Carradine). More than slightly irritated by Bob's reemergence, Skerritt threatens that if he tries to go back for Ruth and his daughter, Sylvie (Jacklynn and Kennadie Smith--that's right, it's the Olsens part deux), he'll kill him. Understandably, Bob is shaken by this threat, feeling that Skerritt has no right to tell him to stay away from his family.

Ruth and Sylvie

Naturally, Bob does not heed Skerritt's warning, and continues about his mission to take Ruth and Sylvie away. Relying on his old friend Sweeter (Nate Parker) to help stow him away in the room above his bar, Bob manages to hide rather effectively from Officer Wheeler. In the meantime, Wheeler has taken an overt shine to Ruth, who seems already wary of his advances. At the same time, she knows in the back of her mind that Sylvie could use some sort of masculine presence in her life. And so, she invites Wheeler over for Sylvie's fourth birthday. But even before Ruth takes this vague step toward betraying Bob, she has already written him a letter explaining that she can't go with him, but, at the same time, that she hopes he never gets the letter indicating her rejection--even though she knows his appearance will, in effect, result in their demise. Her only means of delivering this correspondence is through Skerritt, who, obviously, has no intention of being the messenger.

Promotional poster for Ain't Them Bodies Saints

Instead, Skerritt takes it upon himself to carry out his personal vendetta against Bob by attacking and shooting him. Bob, fueled by the vision of his wife and child, manages to escape with a "nick" on his arm. He then hitches a ride from a driver--somewhat less afraid of him than other people Bob has encountered since gaining fugitive status--named Will (Rami Malek). As the buildup to the conclusion leaves us wondering if Bob and Ruth will ever reunite, Ain't Them Bodies Saints knows just how to pull at your heartstrings at moments when you think everything is about to end fatally. But no matter what the outcome, together or apart, Bob's never ceasing dream of being with Ruth would have endured under any circumstances, as evinced by one of his letters to her in which he writes, "Every day I wake up thinking today's the day I'm gonna see you. And one of those days, it will be so. And then we can ride off to somewhere. Somewhere far away."

 

 

Posted
AuthorSmoking Barrel
CategoriesDrama

It’s a love story to end all love stories in terms of the macabre. The last ten years of Liberace’s (Michael Douglas) life found him entranced with a younger man named Scott Thorson (Matt Damon). After meeting Scott backstage at one of Liberace's Vegas shows when Scott was seventeen, Liberace hired him as his, ahem, assistant. Scott’s experience as an animal trainer for movies was the initial excuse Liberace used for needing Scott’s aid with his aging poodle, Baby Boy. As the supposed last feature-length release from Steven Soderbergh, Behind the Candelabra (based on Thorson’s memoir of nearly the same name) seems, on the surface, like an unusual choice. However, Soderbergh’s history in creating lush, complex visual tableaus makes complete sense in this particular story of decadence and hedonism. Promotional poster for Behind the Candelabra

Richard LaGravenese’s (who every girl unwittingly loves for writing A Little Princess) script manages to cover an immense amount of ground, starting in 1977 and ending in 1987, the year of Liberace’s death (predictably, of AIDS). Along the way, there are plastic surgeries, drug addictions, porn palaces and affairs. But before any of that arises, there is a genuine tenderness between the two men. In spite of Scott insisting on his bisexuality, Liberace—a quintessential Taurus—has an overt need to be in control, which doesn’t allow much room for Scott to explore his so-called interest in women. For about two years, the couple lives in relative harmony—that is, until Liberace gets plastic surgery not only for himself but for Scott as well. To make the “gift” even creepier, Liberace asks of his doctor (played consummately by Rob Lowe) to make Scott look like a younger version of himself.

http://youtu.be/fp3wAyRf15c

Although Scott manages to hold Liberace’s attention for a longer than average amount of time (previously, it was his protégé, Vince Cardell—renamed to Billy Leatherwood and played by Cheyenne Jackson in the film), the pianist’s attentions gradually begin to divert toward other (read: younger) clientele. In spite of all the promises Liberace made to Scott about loyalty, money, property, etc., these vows quickly fall by the wayside as Liberace grows increasingly bored on a sexual level.

The original piano man.

While Scott is preoccupied enough with his drug obsession to agree to an “open relationship” with Liberace, the second he has a flirtation or dalliance of his own with another man, Liberace flies off the handle. The jealousies and the double standards are too much for Scott to bear, who is ultimately cast aside anyway—but not with out putting up a legal fight. In the end, Scott wins financially, but loses his entire world. Liberace, on the other hand, is contented enough with his houseboys and fledgling career—until karma bites him in the ass with the AIDS card.

http://youtu.be/axbjK-nNMKU

Behind the Candelabra may be a biopic, but is, above all, a story of the purest form of love—one that expresses an impenetrable connection between souls, for that is exactly what occurred between Scott Thorson and Liberace. Either that, or Thorson was a glorified rent boy. I suppose we’ll never truly know for sure, but I prefer to see their romance through Soderbergh’s beautiful lens.

 

 

 

Surprisingly, no one has ever thought to adapt one of David Sedaris’ short stories into a film. Of all the possible selections, “C.O.G.” seems like one of the less appealing choices (though it is one of the more robust stories in Naked, starting at page 153 and ending at 201). Still, Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s second feature shows undeniable promise—even though his debut, Easier With Practice, is far superior. Alvarez’s attraction to the story is simple enough to understand as it's about a sheltered type renouncing his normal way of life to go apple picking and get off the grid for awhile. The potential for hilarity knows no bounds, especially when you’re picturing David Sedaris in this scenario. Unfortunately, it is Jonathan Groff (known for his roles in Glee and Taking Woodstock) you have to see instead—who is not nearly as gawkily humorous as Sedaris. Promotional poster for C.O.G.

There are a number of problems with transforming a short, distinctly autobiographical story into a watchable narrative. The first and foremost issue with C.O.G. is that Sedaris himself is so singular in his mannerisms and affectations, that it seems pointless to try emulating his “character.” The adaptation of Augusten Burroughs’ Running With Scissors suffered a similar fate. Presumably one of many coming-of-age stories in Sedaris’ wheelhouse, C.O.G. takes one of the author's more esoteric experiences and turns it into something decidedly weird and uncomfortable, rather than entertaining and enlightening (as most of Sedaris’ work is). Although in the short story version Sedaris is escaping his prior job working as a dishwasher for privileged college students, C.O.G. changes it to the main character being a graduate student from Yale who seems to have lost his sense of purpose.

http://youtu.be/XCqtkVrHqtQ

David's motives for going to Oregon to try his hand at apple picking remain the same: His friend, Veronica--or Jennifer (Troian Bellisario) in the movie--is inspired to pronounce, "Migrant labor, that's the life for us" after reading a copy of The Grapes of Wrath while living with Sedaris in San Francisco. One of many discrepancies in the film is that Jennifer leaves David before she even arrives in Oregon, whereas, in Sedaris' version, it isn't until after a season of picking together, when the two return to North Carolina, that Veronica gets a boyfriend and decides not to return with David.

Apple pickin' fiends

Among the few friends David makes is Timothy, better known as Curly (Corey Stoll), a fork lift operator who works at the apple factory where David has been recommended by his former boss, Hobbs (Dean Stockwell) at the apple orchard. Unlike in the story, David is actually eager to be friends with Curly, who seems to pick up instantly on the fact that David is a repressed gay man. Conversely, when Curly makes a move on David in the source material, David's internal reaction is: "...it horrified me to think that he might have mistaken me for one of his own. Was it my clothing? The pallor of my skin? My tendency to let my mouth hang open while bored?" David's situation is worsened once Curly lures him back to his trailer and into his bedroom. While the film incarnation of David is wont to stand there mutely in front of Curly's collection of dildos, the literary version sounds a bit more coherent as he muses, "Whatever Curly's theatrical fear, it could not begin to match my genuine horror as he opened the door to his bedroom."

The cast of C.O.G. (from left to right): Denis O'Hare, Jonathan Groff and Troian Bellisario)

The motives and aspirations of film David and literary David are also very different. The David in the movie is escaping a recently revealed truth--that he's gay--to his parents, while the David in the short story is about exploring new options and starting anew, noting, "If I could just stay here a little longer, perhaps I could form the emotional calluses people needed to leave their pasts behind them and begin new lives for themselves." It is at this point in the short story that Jonathan Combs, C.O.G. (Denis O'Hare) is introduced. Earlier in the film, however, David encounters him after Hobbs demands that he goes to refill his container of gas. Once David rolls the barrel all the way into town that he encounters Jon passing out a pamphlet that asks, "Are you with C.O.G.?" Naturally, Jon's inclination is to start harassing the obviously faithless David by asking him what he thinks C.O.G. stands for, to which David replies, "I don't know. Capable of genocide?"

David (Groff) and Jon (O'Hare)

In both the movie and the story, David has no choice but to turn to Jon for help--particularly after he surrenders his job at the factory. The relationship they share in each incarnation is disparate. Ultimately, in C.O.G., the rapport between Jon and David leads to a dramatic and saddening conclusion, while, in the short story, it takes on a much more light-hearted tone. What can be said for C.O.G. is that it gives you hope for another, better David Sedaris story to be rendered on film--and hopefully next time something much more comical (maybe something from Me Talk Pretty One Day, so Amy Sedaris can play herself to perfection).