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The relationships that exist between people – and the motivations that drive them – are often the best fodder for storytelling. The reasons we do the things we do and the people for whom we do them can be the purest distillation of our character.

Novelist Donald Ray Pollock has a knack for evoking the dark side of that equation; his books are packed with the brutality and evil that people do even while feeling utterly justified in doing them.

That sense of physical and emotional violence is omnipresent in “The Devil All the Time,” an adaptation of Pollock’s 2011 novel of the same name. Directed by Antonio Campos from a screenplay he co-wrote with his brother Paulo, the film is set in midcentury West Virginia and Ohio and follows a sprawling collection of different characters through narratives whose connections – both overt and subtle – constantly ebb and flow toward one another.

It’s a story of sin, of the evil that even the pious are capable of if they can convince themselves of the righteousness of their acts. It’s a striking representation of the time and place, to be sure, while also featuring an incredible collection of talent in the cast. But that unrelenting representation of the dark side of human nature, the ongoing parade of terrible people doing terrible things for terrible reasons – it’s a lot. The bleakly entangled constancy of sex and violence and power and religion is frankly exhausting, though the excellent performances and quality filmmaking make it worth the undertaking nevertheless.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 02 September 2020 16:01

Time is (not) on my side – ‘Tenet’

Christopher Nolan has clout. And he’s unafraid to use it.

It’s almost cliché at this point to talk about Nolan’s position as the last bastion of original idea-driven blockbuster filmmaking. Yes, the cinematic landscape is defined by the ebb and flow of franchises now. Hell, Nolan understands that better than anyone – he did his franchise turn with Batman, after all, though those films are obviously superhero outliers. But he’s the guy who can get a nine-figure check to direct his own non-IP script.

He’s at it again with “Tenet,” currently in theaters. I’ll be real with you – I’m not at all sure how to talk about this movie to people who haven’t already seen it. But hey, that’s the gig, right?

There’s obviously a lot of baggage here. Nolan’s insistence that the film be experienced in a theater turned it into a bellwether, leaving it to assume the burden of expectation with regard to theatrical reopenings writ large. That pressure can’t help but inform the way audiences experience the film. Add to that the outsized expectations that always accompany the filmmaker’s work and you’ve got a recipe for disappointment.

Thankfully, Nolan’s skill is such that he largely manages to sidestep that potential letdown. “Tenet” isn’t a perfect movie, but it is the sort of meticulously-constructed blockbuster that we’ve come to expect from the director. It is massive in scope, a challenging puzzle box of a film that works both as pure spectacle and as something a bit more thoughtful. The complexities of the plot skate right up to the edge of confusion, but anyone sitting down to watch a Nolan movie should probably expect some sort of chronological convolution.

And boy, do we ever get some of that.

Published in Movies

As the brilliant Scottish poet Robbie Burns once said (apologies for the English paraphrasing), “The best laid plans of mice and men/Go oft awry.” It’s a sentiment that rings true across all avenues – and the movie business is no exception.

For instance, say you had a film. You had three talented actors leading the cast, including an Oscar winner and a couple of legitimate movie stars. You had a rising young director and a screenwriter adapting his own Pulitzer Prize-winning novel for the screen. All of this folded into a period piece with a striking setting. You’d think that it was poised to be a great film, yes?

Alas, in the case of “Waiting for the Barbarians,” the sum total falls short. Despite the presence of the brilliant Mark Rylance and bold turns from the likes of Johnny Depp and Robert Pattinson, despite the presence of director Ciro Guerra, despite J.M Coetzee’s adaptation of his own 2003 novel of the same name, the film can’t scale the heights to which it so clearly aspires.

It’s a story of isolation and empire, a cautionary tale about colonialism that can never fully get out of its own way. There’s no denying the quality of performances or the stunning backdrop against which they are set, but the film simply never generates any kind of momentum, limping along through most of its 114 minutes without ever presenting a sense of dramatic urgency. All the pieces are there for a great film, only they’re assembled into something that is just OK.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 21 November 2012 16:29

The end of the Twilight' saga

'Breaking Dawn: Part Two' is the fifth and final movie in the 'Twilight' series. 'Twilight' fans were thrown through hoops and were on an emotional roller coaster while watching this film. Thinking that I knew what to expect from having read the novels, I was surprised by quite a few scenes, one in particular which even caused me to shed a couple tears. Anyone who has been a fan of 'Twilight' since the novels, or just fans of the movies, will not be disappointed by the way the saga finalizes. The ending is certainly an unexpected twist.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 29 August 2012 13:32

The Twilight of Twilight'

You know, I'm a sensible woman. I like to think that we're all sensible people. We may read books, watch movies, and play Sudoku to escape the humdrum of everyday life, but we've still got our wits about us. We don't need fairy-tales, so why, oh why, when Kristen and Rob broke up, did it hurt so much?

You may think I'm kidding. What kind of grown woman - English teacher extraordinaire, mother of three - could seriously feel heartbreak over the breakup of two 20-somethings in Hollywood? It's not like I'm going to film myself crying copiously into my Kleenex on YouTube. I'm not about to put on a public display of my private mourning, though I am writing about it in a newspaper (the warning signs were there all along).

Published in Buzz
Wednesday, 01 August 2012 13:20

Celebrity Slam - Aug. 1, 2012

Robsten no more?

So it looks like there's trouble brewing for Hollywood's second-favorite portmanteau (you're still number one, Brangelina!). That's right: Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart are on the rocks.

Some photos came to light last week of K-Stew engaged in all kinds of naughty cheaty activity with Rupert Sanders, the older (and extremely married) director of her film 'Snow White and the Huntsman.' These pictures are the sort of smoking gun that is extremely difficult to ignore.

She should have tried.

Published in Celebrity Slam

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