Another series of short cuts for you folks. Some [REDACTED], some gambling, some web-slinging, and some bears. A little for everyone I like to think.
Citizenfour (Laura Poitras, 2014)
I’ve mentioned I’m not the best at reviewing documentaries before, which is sadly why this one is getting shoved into the Short Cuts bin this month. Citizenfour is a documentary which places its lens on Edward Snowden, chronicling many meetings between the filmmaker, Laura Poitras, some reporters who slowly leaked information to the world, and the infamous whistleblower himself. When it doesn’t lose its focus for a mere few minutes in its back half, traversing countries to look at some of the impact Snowden’s revelations have had, the documentary is surprisingly engaging. There’s a constant sense of paranoia that lingers through the air, with our lead man knowing that at any moment he could be found and taken in by the US government. Something as simple as a maintenance fire alarm being set off in the hotel in which Snowden is living at the time of filming is terrifying, and that’s the reality that he has to live in.
It could arguably be considered not all that interesting by some, specifically those who aren’t interested in hearing Snowden reveal all sorts of things about our country. But it’s all further proof that we’re living in a fucked-up dystopia and that sucks.
Now playing in limited theaters.
Vic + Flo Saw A Bear (Denis Côté, 2013)
Vic + Flo Saw A Bear is a cool little Québécois film by Denis Côté – not to be mistaken with Denis Villeneuve, who is most people’s go-to Canadian director lately even though we’re not big fans of what we’ve seen of his work here at DtHL. Anyway, it’s a queer flick about two ex-convicts who move into a woodsy area and deal with the fun of togetherness. Exciting things like gardening, spousal arguments, taking care of an elder relative, dealing with a parole officer, having sex with strangers, and, most typical of all couple activities, getting harassed by other criminals who crave vengeance for past events. While the bulk of Vic + Flo takes its sweet time to move along, both Pierrette Robitaille and Romane Bohringer’s performances quiet and to the point, Côté smartly delivers his punches with a rather tough and unexpected final act.
Bitterness and dark comedy run rampant throughout it and what little sweetness there is in its depiction of a strained relationship is immediately combated by the low points of moving in together. One of the more interesting aspects of that is the way it deals with its sexual politics, never once shaming Flo for her decision to explore her sexuality outside of her relationship with Vic, even though the panic of cheating and being left alone are clearly shown in multiple scenes with Vic. Outside of that, I’d just like to mention that Bohringer should play Charlotte Gainsbourg’s sister someday and Marc-André Grondin looks as attractive as ever (a long way and look away from his C.R.A.Z.Y. aesthetic) and should call me up immediately.
Currently available to stream on Netflix Instant and Fandor (as of 01/04/15).
The Gambler (Rupert Wyatt, 2014)
There’s a scene in this film where Mark Wahlberg spends most of the class he teaches to about ten students talking about Albert Camus’ The Stranger. Admittedly, I’ve never read the novel, but somewhere in his prattling on about the thing – his seemingly nihilistic view becoming grating after about a minute of speaking – he discusses a gun with bullets, and a potential sixth bullet. I leaned over to my friend and whispered, “That sixth bullet. That’s for me if I have to sit through this movie any longer.”
It’s weird to see a filmmaker like Rupert Wyatt slide from the decent enough Rise of the Planet of the Apes to something as obscenely frustrating, and arguably pointless, as this movie. Simply put, the film is a vanity project for Wahlberg, who plays a professor who gambles his life away and is in constant debt. We don’t know why, but it’s impossible for anyone to actually care why either. Another admittance: I haven’t seen the film this is based on, but here’s hoping it’s better than this.
Without any real driving momentum outside of catchy little countdown montages until the day he has to pay his debt, The Gambler feels like it was strung together as loosely as possible, with no scenes really mattering until the very last moment. William Monahan’s script is, quite frankly, embarrassing. It features a series of dense and insufferable monologues, women who are even more poorly written than usual, and a complete lack of understanding of what gravitas and pacing is.
Even though it boasts a stellar supporting cast (John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Brie Larson, Michael Kenneth Williams, etc), they’re put to waste because of Monahan’s writing. Even Wyatt has claimed that Larson’s role was underwritten and it’s impossible to deny that fact after seeing the movie. For some reason, she’s hailed as a genius in her class; the only character to have the potential to be a novelist. We never see a bit of her writing and the little we do see has an “A++ SEE ME” tacked onto it that’s cut away from so quickly, there’s no point to even try looking. Goodman’s the only one who really comes out looking good after all of this, Monahan’s dark and dirty monologues tailored to the man who once played the charming devil (this time he does it nearly naked), while the others suffer.
If this is what Lange has to deal with when it comes to films, it’s no wonder she’s stuck to Ryan Murphy’s shitshow (American Horror Story) as long as she has. At least he gives her something to work and have fun with. The Gambler has nothing to offer anyone in its cast, except maybe giving Marky Mark the satisfaction of trying to lead a dramatic picture (or maybe it’s a “dark comedy”) with a dark, edgy character that has a sort-of-but-not-really existential crisis for two hours.
Now playing in theaters everywhere.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Marc Webb, 2014)
For all the fears and complaints I heard about this film being bloated due to “too many villains” and a multitude of other issues, it turns out I shouldn’t have been all that worried. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is actually kind of delightful! It’s a stupid movie, more interested in having a good time than focusing on anything dark, even though it does occasionally fall into boring territory. Andrew Garfield sold me in the first film as an apt depiction of Peter Parker, but practically everything about his performance echoes the character perfectly in this sequel. His interactions with Aunt May are top-notch (the American flag bit!), as is his chemistry with Gwen Stacy. That being said, the way the writers handle the foreshadowing of Stacy and Peter’s fate is particularly embarrassing; not an ounce of subtlety or tact when trying to implicate the danger to come. It’s not exactly the kind of film that needs a perfect story though, as long as it’s having good fun, and boy, does it.
Outside of Parker, its most delightful feature is, surprisingly enough, the villains. By no means is the narrative they’re handed anything ground-breaking or particularly impressive, but the actors fall into their characters beautifully. Giamatti’s not in it long enough to be considered anyone particularly important, which leaves us with Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osbourne and Jamie Foxx’s Electro. With the former, I’ll admit he took some time to grow on me when he was simply Harry the Rich Boy, but once DeHaan was given the chance to go wild with fear and anger as a man losing his health (and as the Green Goblin), he rocked. The same goes for Jamie Foxx; a little stilted at first, but once the film offers him room to get ridiculous, he has a good time with the role. If there was a single scene of his I could outright call a favorite, it would be the moment where he rises out of the fluids he’s being kept in set to Strauss’ “Blue Danube Waltz.” It’s a moment of sheer, giddy, comic book goodness that serves as a perfect example of why I enjoyed this movie, unlike most people I seem to know.
As a final note, ASM2 deserves bonus points for delivering one of the most heart-wrenching character deaths I’ve seen in a comic book movie adaptation in a very long time.
Available for purchase on Blu-Ray/DVD Combo.