Back to the past via the future
When we first meet Henry Whipple, the farmer and seed salesman played by Dennis Quaid in Ramin Bahrani's "At Any Price," he's crashing a funeral with his reluctant son, Dean (Zac Efron), in tow, hoping to take some land off the hands of the dead man's poor, bereaved family. It's not the sort of introduction that inspires much sympathy from the audience and, for the most part, the film never attempts to turn Henry into anything resembling a likeable human being.
Baz Luhrmann meets F. Scott Fitzgerald
The hype preceding the long-awaited release of "The Great Gatsby" rivals the hoopla surrounding summer blockbusters — Cartier features Gatsby jewelry and Brooks Brothers (naturally) offers a Gatsby line of clothing; there's a video game, and who knows, maybe the toy stores will sell Gatsby action figures. As someone who has taught F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel for many years, therefore, I approached Baz Luhrmann's production with considerable trepidation.
Terrence Malick is a polarizing filmmaker. Some people respond to his works, in all their enigmatic glory — dreamy, abstract narratives told though hushed, half-conversations, weighty ideas contrasted against a fascination with the natural world and, always, endlessly expansive shots of sunsets.
A portrait of the artists and their muse
Whatever the complications and challenges in making any motion picture, films about great artists, especially in the graphic and plastic arts, should really make themselves. Beyond the inherent interest in the life of a particular famous person, the sheer process of creation holds its own fascination, and above all, the images themselves provide a rich possibility for the cinematographer — art, as it must, inspires art.
Third time's the charm
Summer movie season has officially arrived with the release of "Iron Man 3," the third (and-a-half, including last summer's "The Avengers") chapter in the story of billionaire industrialist and inventor, Tony Stark. The film continues Marvel Studios' winning formula of picking interesting filmmakers for their mega-budget superhero blockbusters over more commercially viable (i.e. boring) options.
A journey to the politics of the past
Despite the passage of time and age, the fading of memory, no matter how many horrors blight the last several decades, the Vietnam War still haunts the American soul. It remains one of those exclusively American tragedies, a wound that may never heal, still a source of anger, guilt, and blame.
Down by the water
After spending years slumming it in one dimwitted romantic comedy (more often than not co-starring Kate Hudson) after another, Matthew McConaughey appears to have grown tired of coasting and decided to remind audiences that he's still capable of, you know, acting. Starting with 2011's "The Lincoln Lawyer," he has made a number of good choices, taking interesting roles in several smaller indie films, from "Magic Mike" to "Killer Joe."
Whatever their merits, the devotion of their many fans, and the panegyrics of a whole gaggle of critics, those phenomenally successful semi-literary works known as graphic novels (in my day they were pretty much just comic books) often generate a certain pretension. The writers and illustrators introduce learned allusions, copy established literary patterns, interweave complicated plots and narratives, make unsubtle hints about ancient myths, provide some psychological depth and emotional complexity to their characters, and often underline their themes with a good deal of heavy melodrama.
Short and sweet
I've always loved the short-film format. I'm impressed and awed by a filmmaker's ability to tell a complete, self-contained, and satisfying story in a condensed period of time.