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

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.


Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)

Where the magic happens

Scientology has long been the whipping boy of the mainline religious establishment and certain sectors of show business.  But for all the jokes and accusations hurled at Scientology, it persists as a financial and cultural powerhouse.  Two-time Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney looks into the history of Scientology, the life of L. Ron Hubbard, and the lingering effects its establishment and practices leave on those who have "gone clear".

Where the magic happensAlex Gibney makes films with the kind of ferocious intensity I wish I could debate with.  Every time I've watched one of his projects, from 2005's Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room to 2013's We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, I'm struck by the clarity of his vision and wonder just how angry he is gathering footage.  There's a certain tension to a Gibney film which threatens to blow up in rabid accusation but he tempers into focused examinations of his subject.  No matter how the subject may make him feel, he presents information in a way that must convince an audience who may be unfamiliar or hostile to his viewpoint.

To that end, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief provides an expected target in a slightly unexpected light.  The expectation is Gibney is going to rip into the church which exploits the gullible rich with the same focus he did to the Enron bastards who killed people in their quest to make as much money as possible.  The twist is how Gibney zeroes in on Scientology through the eyes of its former practitioners, which gives the unfolding expose an odd sense of compassion toward the subject.


Citizenfour (2014)

Here I am

In June 2013, stories began to leak regarding NSA surveillance leading to allegations of illegal monitoring of American citizens.  As more information was released, Edward Snowden outed himself as the leak.  He was not alone in releasing this information, and he contacted director Laura Poitras to share what he knows.  Citizenfour is directed by Poitras and won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

Here I amI am not a fan of the administration of Barack Obama.  He had been a disappointment in several areas of economic and social justice by keeping far too restrained while his opponents have carefully torn down pieces of his signature achievements.  But I am a supporter of the Obama administration, and can temper my intense disappointment with profound relief at the advancements he made in health care and cautious domestic progress.  Edward Snowden, by virtue of standing up to the Obama administration in a very public and daring way, accomplished what many of Obama's opponents could not and Snowden's name has now become enshrined in the legacy of NSA spying that Obama continued after George Bush.

These feelings are important because I am not a glowing fan of either man, and Citizenfour, for all its whispered tension and nearly unbearable moments of silence, still presents a conflicted outlook on the tension between the Obama administration and the actions of Snowden.  It is not a tension revealed exclusively in the lengthy exchanges of information between director Laura Poitras, journalist Glenn Greenwald, and Snowden, but it is in the way Poitras presents their story.  She, correctly, realizes Citizenfour is treading into murky moral territory and no one will escape being labeled a bad guy.