2013 has been a busy year thus far. With plenty to focus on outside the realm of the cinema (i.e.; real life) my attention to my blog has been somewhat diverted. But as things begin to settle, I’m hoping I can keep my focus on developing Chicago Cinema Circuit. It has been a solid year on both the art house and mainstream Hollywood front, with plenty of intriguing films scheduled for release within the next few months. So expect the month of April to be a busy one for the site: more reviews, more columns, and the rollout of a major project I’ve embarked on.
This Home Movies column focuses on some of the many 2012 films that I missed upon their theatrical release. Small films, the following three films may range in quality, but they certainly fit the mold of small films that in one way or another certainly deserved a broader audience.
Celeste & Jesse Forever (Lee Toland Krieger, 2012) (3/10)
Celeste & Jesse Forever tinkers with an idea in its onset that bares some striking similarities to Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy. Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg banter like the best of friends even as the specifics of their relationship are not revealed. Unlike Kiarostami’s work, Jones and writer Will McCormack remove the veil and bluntly address the social circumstances in which soon-to-be divorced couple remains good friends. The mysterious aura (which is compounded by the picture’s Steven Soderbergh-esque cinematography) does not befit the slapstick humor on display. It is particularly disappointing provided that the film initially strikes me as something that yearns to be greater than its parts. The film simply shows no clear intent. The formal accomplishments of the film highlight the blighting aspects of the screenplay, which functions as a hodgepodge of trite Sundance trends. A solid cast and strong visual components elevate Celeste & Jesse Forever above other disappointing 2012 independent films like Safety Not Guaranteed, but not by much.
Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh, 2012) (6/10)
Martin McDonagh’s debut feature In Bruges was a refined example of Quentin Tarantino aping – a slight but memorable effort of writerly strengths. Seven Psychopaths fulfills the promise of McDonagh’s previous film, though is befallen by its ambition. A film about the writer’s struggle, Seven Psychopaths bridges the gap between realizing the creative process and actually living it. For that, the film is remarkably successful for both its comedic and violent flourishes. Thematically, it’s something of a mixed bag. As noted by Christopher Walken’s character when reflecting on a pitch for a movie ending ,“it’s got layers”. McDonagh acknowledges every pitfall and cliché known to Hollywood filmmaking. With a particularly nuanced way of acknowledging the way violent images are constructed in contemporary films, along with the way women are presented in action films, McDonagh embarks on a fairly scatting portrait of Hollywood filmmaking. But Seven Psychopaths becomes less a full-fledged film in its own right and merely functions as a groundswell of ideas strung together by a rather thin concept. It may truly be McDonagh’s intent to replicate the diminutive nature of the film’s he critiques, but the various layers Seven Psychopaths evokes suggests McDonagh was striving for something greater.)
Smashed (James Ponsoldt, 2012) (7/10)
While not a particularly insightful picture, Smashed captures the rhythms of strained relationships with graceful honesty. Most films dealing with addiction tend to become enraptured in showing audiences exaggerated portraits of highs and lows. Smashed does at times exaggerate its circumstances, but it never overextends its reach. James Ponsoldt keeps the proceedings fairly breezy and light. Rather than casting an overtly critical eye on his subjects, he allows them to wander. It’s an approach that works especially well in Smashed’s opening act, where the slight reverberations and surprises echo with commanding effect. The slight nuances that are imposed narratively work especially well in the hands of its two lead actors, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul, who give the material a gritty rawness that recalls the work of Al Pacino and Kitty Winn in The Panic in Needle Park.
Even as I have some reservations on the film, it’s one that has left a notable impression. The picture commendably replicates the allure that liquor can have within a social setting. Having been in positions of sustained sobriety to extended periods of social drinking escapades, Smashed speaks directly to some of my own experiences attempting to reconcile my on-and-off relationship with liquor. That allow makes it one of the more surprisingly effective viewing’s I’ve seen in some time.