Mini Reviews (October 2012)
The Tall Man, End of Watch, Lawless, Nobody Walks, Page One: Inside The New York Times, The Sessions, Chasing Mavericks
The Tall Man (October 1/12)
Written and directed by Pascal Laugier, The Tall Man transpires within a small mining community where young children have been continuously abducted by a mysterious figure known only as the Tall Man - with the movie detailing the chaos that ensues after the offspring of a local doctor (Jessica Biel's Julia Denning) is predictably taken during the night. It's interesting to note that The Tall Man is, at its outset, far from the gritty, engrossing thriller one might've expected, as Laugier, best known for helming 2008's notorious Martyrs, has infused the proceedings with a deliberate and generic feel that's initially rather distressing. And although the aforementioned kidnapping sequence is admittedly quite well done, the movie's barely-passable atmosphere persists right up until around the halfway mark - after which point Laugier, as was the case with Martyrs, takes the story in a completely unpredictable and, for a while, baffling direction. Laugier's willingness to keep the viewer in the dark for a prolonged stretch is rather impressive, and there's little doubt that the deliberate pace, which compounds the drawn-out nature of Laugier's screenplay, is generally (and consequently) not as problematic as it was in the movie's first half. (It doesn't hurt, either, that Laugier has peppered the proceedings with a number of eye-catching shots and images.) The final reveal is fairly ridiculous and almost anti-climactic, admittedly, yet The Tall Man nevertheless establishes itself as a slightly above average thriller that, for the most part, rewards the viewer's patience.
End of Watch (October 4/12)
A typically gritty effort from David Ayer, End of Watch details the exploits of two hotshot cops (Jake Gyllenhaal's Brian and Michael Peña's Mike) as they go about their day-to-day business patrolling the streets of Los Angeles. It's a fairly standard setup that is, at the outset, employed to better-than-anticipated effect by Ayer, as the writer/director does a nice job of initially establishing the central characters and their rough-and-tumble existence - with the compelling atmosphere heightened by the strong performances from both Gyllenhaal and Peña. Ayer's decision to continuously switch from Brian's first-person perspective (ie the character is shooting his on-the-job adventures for a school project) to an omniscient point-of-view tends to hold the viewer at arm's length, admittedly, as the pervasively jittery presentation is never not distracting and one ultimately can't help but wish that the filmmaker had utilized a more conventional visual sensibility. And although the film has been suffused with a number of memorable moments and sequences (eg Brian and Mike roll up on an attack on fellow officers), End of Watch's episodic narrative grows more and more wearying as time progresses (ie the movie often feels like a big-screen adaptation of Cops) - which does, as a result, ensure that the almost incongruously sensationalistic climax isn't quite able to pack the visceral punch that Ayer's clearly shooting for. The end result is a sporadically electrifying yet terminally uneven endeavor that works best as a showcase for its superb performances, as both Gyllenhaal and Peña manage to transform their respective characters into wholeheartedly compelling figures that wouldn't be unwelcome in another, better movie.
Lawless (October 5/12)
Based on a book by Matt Bondurant, Lawless follows a trio of Depression-era, bootlegging siblings (Shia LaBeouf's Jack, Jason Clarke's Howard, and Tom Hardy's Forrest) as they're forced to contend with the meddling interference of a slick new deputy (Guy Pearce's Charlie Rakes) - with the movie detailing the inevitable battle that breaks out between the brothers and the police. It's clear immediately that Lawless' most potent weapon is Hardy, as the actor delivers as mesmerizing and electrifying performance as one has come to expect - to such a degree that it is, at the outset, virtually impossible to wholeheartedly care about the film's myriad of other characters (ie one's interest dips significantly when the focus is taken off Hardy's Forrest). Filmmaker John Hillcoat, working from a script by Nick Cave, does an admittedly spectacular job of establishing the movie's 1920s landscape, with the movie's atmospheric visuals, combined with an eclectic supporting cast that includes Jessica Chastain, Noah Taylor, and Gary Oldman, going a long way towards compensating for the narrative's decidedly languid bent. And although Hillcoat has peppered the proceedings with a handful of standout sequences, Lawless' meandering sensibilities grow more and more problematic as time progresses - with the less-than-engrossing vibe exacerbated by an increased emphasis on Jack's hackneyed exploits (ie the character experiences a rise-and-fall arc that is, to put it mildly, somewhat familiar). A violent climax notwithstanding, Lawless subsequently peters out to a degree that's nothing short of incredible and there's ultimately little doubt that the movie, which never entirely adds up to much, comes off as an ambitious misfire. (A sporadically watchable misfire, to be sure, but a misfire nevertheless.)
Nobody Walks (October 9/12)
Nobody Walks follows Olivia Thirlby's Martine, a struggling artist based out of New York City, as she arrives in Los Angeles to work on her latest piece, with the film detailing the impact that her presence ultimately has on the family with which she's staying. There's little doubt that Nobody Walks fares especially poorly in its initial stages, as filmmaker Ry Russo-Young, working from a script cowritten with Lena Dunham, has infused the proceedings with a strange and almost standoffish feel that's compounded by a recurring emphasis on avant-garde elements (eg the laughably pretentious film that Martine is working on). Russo-Young's efforts at establishing a very specific mood, as a result, generally fall flat, and it's not until the director stresses the melodramatic exploits of the various characters that the movie begins to improve - with the relationship that develops between Martine and John Krasinski's married Peter certainly standing as the most obvious example of this. It's worth noting that the movie's meandering midsection is consequently not as problematic as one might've feared, although, by that same token, there does reach a point, somewhere past the one-hour mark, at which the languid atmosphere adopts a somewhat oppressive feel and the hit-and-miss narrative becomes more miss than hit. The end result is a misfire that feels long even at 83 minutes, which is a shame, really, given that the movie does possess several stirring performances and a handful of compelling sequences.
Page One: Inside The New York Times (October 11/12)
Page One: Inside The New York Times is a sporadically intriguing yet hopelessly unfocused documentary revolving around the current state of the titular newspaper, with the film exploring everything from the paper's struggles to stay afloat to the exploits of key journalists to the rise of online competitors. Filmmaker Andrew Rossi has employed a catchall modus operandi that results in a haphazard atmosphere that ultimately proves disastrous, and there's little doubt that the movie does, for the most part, flit from topic to topic with little regard for consistency or relevancy. It's just as clear, however, that Page One: Inside The New York Times possesses a handful of admittedly stirring sequences, with, for example, virtually everything involving grizzled crackhead-turned-reporter David Carr standing head and shoulders above the film's myriad of other subjects (ie it's not difficult to envision an entire movie revolving around Carr's hard-nosed exploits). The film's pervasive unevenness ensures that it naturally fizzles out to an increasingly demonstrable degree as time progresses, with the novelty of the movie's locale wearing off long before it reaches the one-hour mark - which, in the final analysis, cements Page One: Inside The New York Times' place as a disappointingly tepid endeavor that squanders the inherently engrossing nature of its subject matter.
The Sessions (October 22/12)
Based on a true story, The Sessions follows John Hawkes' Mark O'Brien, a 38-year-old poet who has been mostly paralyzed since a childhood bout with polio, as he decides to lose his virginity with the help of a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt's Cheryl) - with the movie detailing the offbeat relationship that naturally ensures between the two characters. Filmmaker Ben Lewin has infused The Sessions with a pervasively subdued feel that proves a natural fit to his low-key screenplay, with Hawkes' absolutely engrossing work initially compensating for the movie's palpable lack of momentum. The actor manages to crawl inside the skin of this fascinating figure to a degree that's often astonishing, and there's little doubt that his character's chemistry with Cheryl, which is heightened by Hunt's equally enthralling turn, plays a significant role in The Sessions' early success. There does, however, reach a point at which the narrative settles into a well-worn groove and stagnancy begins to set in, with the fairly repetitive midsection ensuring that the film's latter half is simply unable to reach the heights of everything preceding it - with the conventional, movie-of-the-week-like atmosphere becoming more and more difficult to comfortably overlook. The film's inability to live up to the promise of its early scenes is rather disappointing, admittedly, yet the power of Hawkes' spellbinding work ultimately makes it impossible to entirely dismiss The Sessions - with the movie, in the end, establishing itself as a perfectly watchable showcase for two undeniably above-average performances.
Chasing Mavericks (October 26/12)
Chasing Mavericks tells the true-life story of legendary surfer Jay Moriarty (Jonny Weston), with the movie revolving primarily around his relationship with mentor Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler) and the pair's ongoing efforts at preparing for a mythic surf break known as Mavericks. Filmmakers Michael Apted and Curtis Hanson have infused Chasing Mavericks with a hopelessly generic feel that's reflected in its myriad of attributes, and there's subsequently never a point at which one is able to work up the slightest bit of interest in or enthusiasm for the one-dimensional protagonist's exploits. The film does, as such, suffer from a complete and total lack of forward momentum that's nothing short of disastrous, with the pervasively stagnant atmosphere highlighting the many, many problems within Kario Salem's bland screenplay - including a continuing emphasis on padded-out and hopelessly pointless subplots (eg Jay's relationship with his junkie mother, Jay's dealings with a childhood bully, Jay's crush on a local beauty, etc, etc). It doesn't help, either, that Apted and Hanson are either unwilling or unable to inject the movie's surfing sequences with even a hint of excitement, which, when coupled with a second half that's swimming in melodrama, ensures that the movie only grows more and more interminable as time progresses. By the time the laughably anticlimactic finale rolls around, Chasing Mavericks has confirmed its place as an almost epically unwatchable drama that stands as an obvious low point in the careers of both Apted and Hanson.