Category Archives: Vague Visages

The Nice Guys (Shane Black, 2016)

Setting aside the genre and tone flip-flopping of Adam McKay’s The Big Short, it’s been five years since Ryan Gosling last flirted with an overtly comedic role by way of Crazy, Stupid, Love. (Your mileage may vary as to whether his hissy-fit scream at a partner about halfway through Only God Forgives counts as intentional humour.) Russell Crowe, meanwhile, hasn’t really ventured down the intentionally comedic path since Ridley Scott’s poorly received A Good Year back in 2006. After a scattering of commercial and critical misfires during those respective intervening periods, both men come across as especially rejuvenated in their team-up feature The Nice Guys, a film where the greatest assets are ultimately their chemistry and commitment to a lack of vanity…

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James White (Josh Mond, 2015)

In the mid-2000s, music critic Andrew Harrison coined the term ‘landfill indie,’ used to describe the plethora of samey British guitar bands that received a major label push in the wake of the meteoric rise of Arctic Monkeys; wherein the deliberate crafting of groups into bland, crowd-pleasing conformists veered so-called indie music away from being independently spirited to being an actual mainstream pop genre, rife with discernible tropes to easily tick off a checklist. The term could so easily be applied to American independent cinema from the early 2000s onwards. There’s a reason ‘Sundance movie’ gets bandied about by so many, as ‘indie’ has become something of its own mainstream genre in the wake of Fox Searchlight’s success with Little Miss Juno and the Dying Garden State.

James White isn’t a Fox Searchlight release, but based on logline alone it sounds like a potential rehash of the stock Sundance movie beats and clichés: a white twenty-something New Yorker, who happens to be an aspiring writer, struggles with familial estrangement and his self-destructive tendencies. Leave your preconceptions at the door, however, for James White is a far cry from a Zach Braff or Josh Radnor ego trip. Closer in spirit, tone and execution to John Cassavetes, the arguable godfather of American independent cinema (at least in terms of the white guys), Josh Mond’s directorial debut has more raw emotion and authenticity than a hundred examples of Sundance landfill…

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Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015)

After an opening credits sequence in which we follow a male individual through the streets of 1950s New York and into an indoors encounter with a female acquaintance, director Todd Haynes drops a fairly explicit reference to another film in the beginning of his new movie, Carol, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt. The film he references is David Lean’s 1945 effort Brief Encounter, oft-considered one of the great works about the intertwining of romance and repression. The reference comes through this male individual’s unfortunate interruption of a meeting between that female acquaintance, Therese (Rooney Mara), and the woman she has been listening to with such intent, Carol (Cate Blanchett). The male’s unbeknownst disturbance upon a most important meeting sees Carol make an early departure, touching the seated Therese on the shoulder as she leaves the public venue, just as Trevor Howard does to Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter.

Like in Lean’s film, there is a sense that this may be the last time the pair meets, and that their precious time together has been cruelly cut short by a frivolous link to their lives outside of each other (the male acquaintance is a friend of Therese’s male beau). In what’s also a similar structural conceit to Brief Encounter, this scene will repeat itself towards the end of Carol, as what’s in between fills in the blanks, revealing what this relationship is all about. It’s a bold move to so overtly bring to mind another major romantic work at the very beginning of your own, but it’s a gambit that doesn’t see Haynes’ efforts flounder. As premature as it might be to say in a review for an initial theatrical run, Carol more than earns the right of comparison to Brief Encounter in terms of quality. Frankly, it’s one of the new great romantic films…

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Macbeth (Justin Kurzel, 2015)

Like its eponymous character, Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of Macbeth is a film pulled in myriad directions for a sense of purpose. It is faithful to Shakespeare’s text in many ways, including period setting, but the film also cuts iconic moments (no “something wicked this way comes”) and reframes many a key scene with notably different staging. Macbeth keeps Shakespeare’s dialogue, but the stars will often deliver the lines at considerably more guttural and mumbling pitches than you’re likely to find on stage.

Kurzel’s film veers from being upfront and unapologetic about its protagonist’s gory rise to power in some sequences (something carried over from the director’s debut, Snowtown), but then dilutes other moments of violence with editorial embellishments that pull back from the horror. The combat sequences range from thrashing Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones-esque melee to slo-mo sword-swinging somewhat akin to 300 (which Macbeth star Michael Fassbender was actually in), thankfully minus the part where it looks like a computer vomited up bronzer…

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Spectre (Sam Mendes, 2015)

The latest James Bond film, Spectre, is named for its revival of the sinister SPECTRE organisation, the group behind the source of much of the world’s woes in the series’ earlier entries. That is the objectively true reasoning behind the film’s title. Upon viewing Sam Mendes’ second Bond outing, however, the title takes on a different layer. Spectre is an appropriate title because there’s only a glimmer of a pulse in the film’s 148 minutes…

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Live from New York! (Bao Nguyen, 2015)

Anyone looking for a really meaty documentary on a still on-the-air television show may be put off when hearing of extensive involvement of the head honchos behind said property. Even more worrying is also finding out that the 40-year portrait of the series only runs 78 minutes (despite what IMDb may tell you), which doesn’t exactly sound like the most ideal length considering that the documentary is about Saturday Night Live, a television show riddled with myriad controversies, success stories and career implosions over those 40 years. If you have a hunch that Live from New York! might play like little more than a hagiographic, superficial skip through self-serving sound-bites, then… well, you’re absolutely right…

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The Corpse of Anna Fritz (Hèctor Hernández Vicens, 2015)

World famous Spanish actress Anna Fritz (Alba Ribas) has suddenly died. On the night of the death, young mortician Pau (Albert Carbó) takes a photo of the dead celebrity and sends it to his friends, Ivan (Cristian Valencia) and Javi (Bernat Saumell), who promptly turn up at Pau’s hospital while on their way to a party. After doing some coke by the hospital’s bins, Pau and Ivan think it a good idea to have a look at the body up close in the morgue; the comparatively mature Javi is disturbed by the idea but tags along anyway. Down in the morgue, Ivan feels an apparent need to touch the beautiful starlet, and also observe her fully nude form. Ivan then also feels an apparent need to defile her body. And then so does Pau. And then, ignoring Javi’s disgusted protests, they proceed to do so.

If you’re still reading this review after that initial plot dump, let it be known that the remainder of this piece will not shy away from spoilers, as The Corpse of Anna Fritz, the feature debut of director Hèctor Hernández Vicens, is difficult to discuss without divulging information beyond, say, the 20-minute mark of the film. It is vital to discuss where this film gets at least a little interesting, as the opening 20 minutes which encompass those cited plot points are, frankly, hideous without the context of what follows (and are still a rough enough ride even with the next developments). Ready? Okay…

Full review for Vague Visages