High school sweethearts and the dwindling romance between them that soon fizzles out, like a wet blanket thrown over a fire. Such is life, and that is what Celeste and Jesse Forever features. The death of love and the reminiscence of it. Lovely stuff, nice and light. The usual back-and-forth that Jennifer Anniston and Vince Vaughn popularised in The Break-Up features within this Lee Toland Krieger feature. It is hard to escape the rise and fall and rise again of a couple going through the motions and falling out of love. Quick as a flash, audiences are shown an entire relationship in just a few snapshots. That is all Celeste and Jesse Forever can offer throughout, though. Snapshots of an interesting experience.
Who appears on the cast of an ensemble feature is just as much a reason to view as the plot or those in the directing chair are reasons. It sounds unreasonable, but it is true. Many have suffered through the slog of catching up with the unknown, shadowy parts of their favourite filmographies. There is a reason, naturally, that people have watched Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. Whether that is because their father marks it as their favourite film or because it is a feature that J.K. Simmons featured in is beyond the reasoning. Take refuge in the ensemble feature, good or bad. Burn After Reading happens to be good. Just good, mind. Not more than that.
Nostalgia can turn a man desperate to reconnect with happier times, simpler times, when the most taxing part of the world was the build-up to secondary school or returning a book to the library. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is that for so many. So much for so many. There is no way of cutting through it without bias because of how close it resonates, how many lost afternoons sitting comfortably with the parents around Christmas were founded on the world J.K. Rowling created and Christopher Columbus adapted, arguably better. Columbus, ironically given his name, pioneers the Harry Potter franchise to a developed strand of features that were set to be the next big fantasy entity.
From its high-pitched wails as the opening credits crawl over some uninspired background shots of mountains, audiences will have no choice but to stare and clutch at their ears as Death Hunt opens. Its score is poor and that should not matter to any action feature until it becomes an unavoidable focus. But what else would there be to focus on in the great Canadian outback, eh? Just like the score gives way to bold and recognisable actors, the direction of Peter Dick eventually secedes away from snowy background shots and into the real meat and bones of this early-1980s action flick. Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson are steady hands to have on board, but from Death Hunt, it would seem their days in the spotlight are numbered.
Tenacity in the face of modern distribution. Disturbing commitment to a project trying to abandon him time and time again. Only Terry Gilliam could have such back in making a movie. A feature that took him nigh on two decades to make. The result? A fine feature. One that will leave little, if any, lasting impression. A noble sacrifice to have Don Quixote adapted and there for future generations to use should they hope to avoid reading. Noble. He Dreams of Giants is a follow-up to Lost in La Mancha, a documentary about how Gilliam failed to make an adaptation of Don Quixote the last time around. What this means is that the ratio of documentaries about Gilliam’s failure to make a film adapting the writings of Miguel de Cervantes outweighs the number of adaptations Gilliam has made of Cervantes’ work.
Springing to mind immediately are the immortal words of Tommy Lee Jones, uttered in disgust to cast member Jim Carrey. “I will not sanction your buffoonery”. If Jones does not have to sanction it, then why must audiences? Comical stuff. But that is Batman Forever, a feature that cannot take itself seriously because director Joel Schumacher dared to touch close to the Adam West influences. Icarus he is not. Flying too close to that line means there is a rift between what Schumacher wants to try out as a comical feature and what newcomer to the Caped Crusader series Val Kilmer wants to do with a performance that, if handled right, could offer much depth.
Truthfully, the adaptions of Agatha Christie’s work should be a gold mine for directors looking to get a foot on the ladder. They should not be a bright ensemble taking control of good prose but an example of how and why simple tropes still appeal to an audience. Kenneth Branagh’s starring role and work behind the camera as director of this latest Death on the Nile adaptation will continue on his trend of fascinatingly acceptable features. He can neither leap to greatness nor sink to degeneracy and in that mediocrity comes a seething resentment for a man doing just fine. A second turn for the man as Hercule Poirot beckons not how to solve this latest case, but why it needs presenting in this manner.
Throughout his career, Sean Baker’s output has focused on marginalised communities in a compassionate, humanistic, and frequently funny way. In Red Rocket he again takes his audience into the lives of those rarely seen on the big screen, this time in a comic drama that is as quietly moving as it is laugh-out-loud funny.
The film follows washed-up pornstar Mikey Saber (real surname Davies), played by Simon Rex in a revelatory performance, as he returns to Texas City following some difficulties in Los Angeles that have left him beaten and bruised. He arrives unannounced at his estranged wife and mother-in-law’s house expecting to stay over a few days while he gets back on his feet. Following a few attempts at getting a job, he winds up dealing drugs again for an old acquaintance. The rest of the film sees his attempts at building himself back up for a comeback while falling in love with a young girl called Strawberry working at a doughnut shop.
Before Bronson came Chopper. Notorious criminals and the fame they garner for themselves as being beyond the level of usually hardened cell fodder is a fascinating avenue that has grown commercial through true crime and true fascination. No wonder the life of Bronson was turned into a Tom Hardy-led biopic. No wonder the life of Chopper was turned into a self-titled biopic helmed by director Andrew Dominik and starring Eric Bana as the caricature presentation of a tough, Australian criminal. Is there any difference between the tough-as-nails brutality found here and the more sophisticated mobsters of the Martin Scorsese-fuelled 1990s? Not too much. What separates them is the style of crime and the class in doing it.
Who better to portray someone with a soul the size of a chickpea than Paul Giamatti? A man whose obsession with anger, spite and conformity to his own reality has steered some of his finest performances. Cold Souls feels like a continuation of the narcissism of Miles from Sideways. He wasn’t as soulless, but certainly just as driven and running on empty. There are parts of American Splendor chipping away at the isolation and glum colour tones used throughout this Sophie Barthes piece. What an undersung piece it is too, with its commentary on Anton Chekov bleeding through into a piece that looks to rip into Giamatti’s neurosis and talent as he adapts his best character of all, himself.