Can't Stop the Movies - No One Can Stop The Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Paddington (2015)

Subway rescue

Many years ago, an explorer entered darkest Peru and met a tribe of bears who took a shine to marmalade.  Now, in modern-day London, a young bear leaves his home in the wilderness to try his luck in the city.  Paul King directs Paddington from a script he co-wrote with Hamish McCall and stars Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, and Nicole Kidman.

Subway rescueI was not looking forward to this as the teaser trailer for Paddington was one of the most unbearable things I’ve sat through in recent memory. As the pratfalls and humor continued to settle around a collection of Rube Goldberg mechanics I grew annoyed that the eventual product would be nothing but the same. Unfortunately, Paddington very often plays to this painful kind of humor. The many wacky shenanigans and complex devices which fill the film are less to delight and more to prolong a punchline whose conclusion was telegraphed well in advance.

If all of Paddington was at this level it would have been a trying experience. The good news about Paddington, which is not enough to redeem it but quite enough to move it up a grade, is those moments are just one part of a film with many moving parts. There are sections of Paddington which are lovely, utilizing a storybook motif through a child’s lens to tell the unusual story of the youngest in a family of bears who enjoy marmalade and want to find safety in a troubled world.


Accidental Love (2015)

Not a makeshift family

Alice is living the dream.  She's well-liked at her job, has a loving family, and her hunky boyfriend proposed during a romantic evening.  But after a strange accident results in a nail gut shooting its payload into Alice's skull, she finds her emotions uncontrollable and her new fiancée distances himself from her condition.  She decides to go on a trip to Washington D.C. to lobby for a bill to help uninsured workers like herself.  Accidental love is written and directed by David O. Russell and stars Jessica Biel and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Not a makeshift familyIt would be irresponsible of me to dismiss Accidental Love without considering the troubled production history behind it.  This was supposed to be writer / director David O. Russell's return to the big screen after his painfully whimsical 2004 film I Heart Huckabees.  Instead the production of Accidental Loved turned into a disaster with on-set disagreements, dissatisfied crew, and a lack of funding caused the shoot to run over two years.  Russell abandoned the project, created the Oscar-winning The Fighter instead, and has turned into Academy royalty since.

I add this preface because it's difficult to review a film which its creator eventually wanted no part in.  But it's easy to see the Russell's storytelling DNA in Accidental Love.  The plot is classic Russell, if a bit more screwball than normal, with an unconvential family forming amidst a weird crisis.  Some of the scenes capture the unstable energy which make Russell's best films a joy to watch.  So Accidental Love is definitely a Russell film, even if he wanted it to be credited to his pseudonym of Stephen Greene instead.


The Voices (2015)

Gotta listen to someone

Jerry is trying to live a normal life.  All he needs to do is take his medication, get to work, and relax at night.  But when he starts flirting with one of his coworkers he starts to get advice from an unlikely source - his pets.  His cat wants him to give into his darker impulses while his dog still sees the good in his master.  As things go from pleasant to murderous Jerry's behavior grows more suspicious and his pet's advice louder.  Marjane Satrapi directs The Voices, written by Michael R. Perry, and stars Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, and Anna Kendrick.

Gotta listen to someoneRyan Reynolds is a charming man. This may seem like emphasizing a point so obvious it needs not be said, but his charm does not necessarily make him a good actor. Yes, there have been movies which tried to put his charm to their advantage, but they all end up bland (Van Wilder), or pleasant if unremarkable (Definitely, Maybe). He’s not like fellow handsome charmer Bradley Cooper, who has wowed me in recent years with increasingly risky performances. Reynolds is just a nice guy who can brighten up a screen for a bit before it fades into the credits.

The secret to Reynolds’ best performances in fare like Buried and The Nines is he’s trapped in a situation where his pleasant demeanor will not help him. He plays such a character in The Voices and is an absolute hoot but tragic at the same time. A lot of this has to do with how director Marjane Satrapi turns the screenplay from Michael R. Perry into a sort of middle class woman’s nightmare. Jerry (Reynolds) may seem sweet and helpful on the exterior but mask for deep problems no amount of good cheer will solve.

Satrapi sets up an uneasy tone before we even meet the over-eager Jerry. Machines circle around a factor bright pink carting around bright pink employees and bland packages. They move with an eerie symmetry and the deep focus keeps the dance of forklifts in time with the cheery soundtrack. The images rely on our association with factories as there are no factories this sterile and cheerful, especially with choreography that precise. We know the industrial world is not an easy one even with its occasional pleasures, so there must be something wrong.


The Cobbler (2015)

I can be whoever I want

Max is tired of living his father's life.  He took over a struggling downtown shoe repair store after his father vanished without saying a word to he or his mother.  But when Max's equipment breaks down he is forced to use a rickety old stitching machine his father kept in storage.  Max discovers he can assume the form of whoever's shoes he repairs with the machine, and tries to figure out what he can do for his neighborhood with this new talent.  Thomas McCarthy cowrote and directs The Cobbler, starring Adam Sandler.

I can be whoever I wantI don't watch Adam Sandler movies, but I happily consume movies that feature Adam Sandler in the hopes he'll one day reach the heights he did in Punch-Drunk Love.  In one nervy, agonizingly tense performance, Sandler proved he could hang with the best performers of any generation in the hands of a capable director.  It's quite possibly my favorite performance ever, and I approached The Cobbler hoping that Thomas McCarthy would be able to harness some of the same greatness Sandler showed himself capable of.

In a strange twist of alchemy I would not have predicted from someone of McCarthy's strength in writing and directing, The Cobbler turns out to contain the worst aspects of Adam Sandler films and middlebrow indie dramas.  This is remarkable, if sad, as McCarthy turned out career-high performances from Peter Dinklage, Richard Jenkins, and Paul Giamatti in the three movies he's written and directed.  But The Cobbler features all the magical nonsense of Sandler's worst films, combined with muddled social commentary from McCarthy.  The Cobbler is positioned as a modern-day fairy tale and ends as dull slapstick, clumsily tripping over several different tones in the process.


A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

My shadow

There's little else but dust, drugs, and industry in the decaying Iranian town known to its residents as Bad City.  They whittle their days away in despair while grasping at some image of what they would like to be at night.  During these moments of escape a girl walks in, unassuming and quiet, while hiding a secret.  Ana Lily Amirpour writes and directs A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, starring Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh, and Mozhan Marnò.

My shadowOne of the most engaging forms of film which I've learned about over the last few years is diasporic cinema.  It consists primarily of creators who have become exiled, either through force or through lack of options, from their homeland and try to reconnect with some idea of where they came from.  Atom Egoyan's early films are rife with this, most notably in Calendar, as there is no unified language, the cinematic chronology is scattershot, and the characters are on always on the outside of society.  The vampire story, beginning with Bram Stoker's Dracula, shares many of these qualities and Ana Lily Amirpour, with her stunning debut film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, pushes the vampire story to new cinematic heights through her hypnotic blend of diasporic elements.

Amirpour describes her film as an Iranian vampire Western.  But there is an unmistakable tinge of nostalgia, meant in the sense of memory paired with painful longing, as threaded throughout Amirpour's film is an attempt to grasp a society which is always in a state of decay but never dead.  This nostalgia mixes with the Western and Iranian iconography Amirpour borrows from liberally and mixes with horror, romance, a love of disco, and embrace of transgendered lifestyles.  After all, the vampire is nothing if not a gender-fluid construct as men and women alike must learn to penetrate and suck in the essence of their once-fellow humans, and Amirpour works that gender fluidity into crisp black and white images which are downright magical at times.

If that seems like an unusual result for a vampire film, it's because this is unlike any vampire film I've seen in the last few years.  It doesn't have the high camp value of the Twilight films, of which I'm a big fan, or the creeping dread of Let the Right One In.  Amirpour moves from scenes where gentle dancing mixes with synthetic beats to moments of grotesque violence as a local alpha male realizes too late his swinging dick doesn't please everyone.  Amirpour constructs her narrative in episodes as the unnamed girl works her way through the town and touches on the lives of its residents in different ways.  There is a larger narrative, but that pales in comparison to the rich collecting of images which deal with Amirpour's feelings on gender, religion, industrialization, and that unique touch of Western civilization which brings doom.