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The Films of James Ponsoldt

Off the Black


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The Spectacular Now (August 23/13)

Based on the book by Tim Tharp, The Spectacular Now details the unlikely friendship (and eventual relationship) that ensues between two almost diametrically-opposed high schoolers: Miles Teller's charismatic, heavy-drinking Sutter and Shailene Woodley's reserved, studious Aimee. Filmmaker James Ponsoldt does a superb job of immediately setting The Spectacular Now apart from its thematically-similar brethren, as the movie, written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, boasts a naturalistic, down-to-earth feel that's heightened by the stellar work of the various actors - with, in particular, Teller and Woodley infusing their respective characters with an easy authenticity that proves impossible to resist. The palpable chemistry between the pair certainly plays an instrumental role in the movie's success, and it's ultimately hard to deny that Sutter and Aimee deserve to be ranked alongside cinema's most engrossing, appealing teenaged couples. (They are, impressively enough, reminiscent of Say Anything...'s Lloyd Dobler and Diane Court.) And although Ponsoldt has infused the proceedings with a number of thoroughly engrossing sequences, The Spectacular Now is, by and large, is rarely able to establish itself as more than just a compulsively watchable little drama - with the movie's deliberate pace often preventing the viewer from wholeheartedly embracing the spare narrative (ie the film isn't generally quite as engrossing as the performances). It's nevertheless impossible to rank the film as anything other than a superior story about young love, with the optimistic ending, which stands in sharp contrast to the novel's downbeat finale, ensuring that The Spectacular Now concludes on an unexpectedly emotional note.

out of

The End of the Tour

The Circle (May 3/17)

Based on a book by Dave Eggers, The Circle follows Emma Watson's Mae Holland as she lands a job at a powerful tech company and soon finds herself drawn into the enterprise's increasingly sinister schemes. It's ultimately difficult to recall a film that so completely squanders its palpable potential, as The Circle kicks off with an impressively engrossing stretch detailing Mae's initial arrival at the titular expansive compound - with the effectiveness of these scenes heightened by filmmaker James Ponsoldt's briskly-paced and thoroughly stylish approach to his and Eggers' screenplay. (It doesn't hurt, either, that Tom Hanks delivers an absolutely hypnotic turn as the company's charismatic founder.) The movie's shift from engaging to tedious, then, comes as it marches into its distressingly predictable midsection, with the story taking as predictable and by-the-numbers a direction as the viewer could possibly envision - to the extent that one can't help but roll one's eyes when it becomes clear just what's happening (ie this is what the film is about?) Exacerbating matters is Ponsoldt and Eggers' slapdash approach to Mae's character arc, as the protagonist goes from Circle skeptic to devotee with a whiplash-inducing speed that feels artificial (to say the least) - which, in turn, ensures that the figure's third-act maneuverings couldn't possibly ring any more false. And although the movie contains a small handful of effective sequences within its disjointed second half (eg Mae and company use technology to track down a fugitive), The Circle ultimately comes off as a half-assed adaptation that feels as though it lost whole subplots during the editing process.

out of

© David Nusair