Thursday, March 17, 2016

Creative Control, City of Gold, Hello My Name is Doris, Eye in the Sky, Marguerite, 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Brothers Grimsby

Creative Control
City of Gold

Hello, My Name is Doris
Eye in the Sky

10 Cloverfield Lane

The Brothers Grimsby

Notes on 2016's first great week in film:

Benjamin Dickinson's "Creative Control" is what I call a calling card movie: a young director's first significant feature, evincing his talent and establishing his signature style. There's a beauty to the rigorous formality of the first half of this futuristic, mostly black-and-white picture about high-tech ad designer David (Dickinson), his for-now girlfriend Juliette (Nora Zehetner), his fashion-photographer best friend Wim (Dan Gill, a strong presence), and Wim's hot girlfriend Sophie (Alexia Rasmussen). As often happens, the script Dickinson co-wrote with Micah Bloomberg veers over the top in the second half (particularly in the plainly awful footage Reggie Watts shoots for a campaign for new virtual reality glasses called Augmenta), and the handheld camerawork becomes noticeably unsteady. Still, enough fresh ideas and filmmaking promise manifest in "Creative Control" to serve its purpose.

The first word is as important as the third in the title of Laura Gabbert's documentary "City of Gold," about Pulitzer-winning L.A. Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold. This is, as much as anything, a love poem to Los Angeles, the greatest and most diverse food city in the world. There are no negative reviews on display in "City of Gold," as Gold rarely devotes space to them, preferring to shine a light on a first wave Korean food truck or an Ethiopian single mom's joint on Fairfax or that super spicy Thai spot on Sunset. Gold, who famously ate his way from one end of Pico to the other during a yearlong project, makes delightful company, his love for L.A. shining through. Unless your tastes run to the exotic, though, "City of Gold" offers little in the way of food porn.

Hello, My Name is Doris” follows in the path of last year’s lovely “I’ll See You in My Dreams.” Here’s another wise, perceptive and thoroughly winning film about a woman of a certain age, elevated by a nomination-worthy performance from a beloved actress who gives all of herself to the role. Sally Field stars as Doris Miller, who works in the accounting department of a Brooklyn design firm among much younger colleagues who – with no malice – mostly leave her alone. Doris spent many years caring for her mother, who has just passed away as the movie opens, and still can’t let go of the personal effects that clutter her Staten Island apartment. When she shares an elevator with the firm’s new art director, John (Max Greenfield), on his first day, Doris finds herself instantly infatuated despite their thirty-year age gap. A stalker as well as a hoarder, Doris creates after-work opportunities to bump into John “accidentally” – even if it means taking the last ferry home. 

They become friends, and soon Doris’ offbeat fashion style and newfound taste for John’s favorite electronic musician makes her the toast of Hipsterville (she even poses for an album cover). Field and director Michael Showalter pull off a number of balancing acts here: keeping us rooting for Doris to find joy (even if none of her hilarious daydreams comes to pass) while making us acknowledge the creepiness of which we’re all capable in the heat of a crush; making Doris sympathetic but not pitiful, eccentric but not daft; and having John and the others behave toward Doris in believable ways. Greenfield, who works regularly in television, lights up the silver screen with a megawatt smile; he’s utterly adorable. As Doris’ best friend Roz, Tyne Daly – another welcome sight – is a force to be reckoned with. And, like Blythe Danner in “Dreams,” Field reminds us why we do and always have liked her, with a daring and vulnerable turn that pays off richly.

Even better is Gavin Hood's engrossing "Eye in the Sky," from a brilliantly conceived and structured screenplay by Guy Hibbert. Here's the premise: a British colonel (Helen Mirren) has been tracking Kenyan terrorists for five years. They've congregated at a compound in Nairobi to carry out a suicide bombing presently. Believing this development shifts her operation from capturing to killing the terrorists, Mirren instructs an American drone pilot (Aaron Paul) to drop his payload. Just as he's about to do so, a nine-year-old local girl enters the periphery of the compound, selling the bread her mother has baked to passersby. What Mirren had envisioned as a no-muss-no-fuss targeted attack will now require the approval of two countries' attorneys-general, foreign secretaries, and military officers - each of whom seems all too eager to "refer up" to a higher rung in the chain of command. 

It's a genius premise, and Hibbert ratchets up the tension to the point of exquisite exasperation, giving each participant the opportunity to make his or her case, encompassing considerations from malleable collateral damage estimates to the relative political fallout from killing the young girl or allowing the bomber to leave the compound and possibly kill dozens of innocents. He also juggles an enormous cast of players, from Alan Rickman (in his last performance) as a lieutenant general who wants to take care of business and get back to his daughter to Barkhad Abdi as an intelligence operative who uses a remote camera in the shape of a large beetle to obtain video from inside the compound. I looked around the audience and saw men and especially women leaning in, completely immersed in the dilemma. With the clock continuing to tick and a decision coming to a head, you could hear groans of frustration as this or that official passed the buck. Here is one - with "A War" - of the two best films so far this year.

Quick capsules on the rest: As the French baroness Marguerite Dumont in "Marguerite" - a lover of serious music who fancies herself a singer despite a lamentable lack of talent - Catherine Frot gives a performance best described as resolute - deliciously so, never giving away whether Marguerite might be in on the joke. And I like that director/co-writer Xavier Giannoli resists the path of schadenfreude; there are laughs, but they don't come from a place of darkness. Unfortunately, he doesn't find anywhere particularly compelling to take the story, which repeats itself and ultimately saw me check out… Until the end, "10 Cloverfield Lane" executes its concept extremely effectively. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (so nice to see her in a major part) leaves her boyfriend and drives for home when another car crashes into her while trying to pass. She wakes up not in a hospital but shackled to a makeshift bed in an underground shelter, where a prepper of unknown sanity (John Goodman) tells her there's been an alien attack, the air outside has been contaminated, and settle in for the next two years. John Gallagher, Jr. (of "Short Term 12") entered the bunker by choice after Goodman told him what was coming. The first-rate cast keeps the mystery going for 90 minutes: is Goodman full of shit, or what? (He shows a malevolent streak here for maybe the first time since "Sea of Love," and terrifies, but in the next moment dances ass-out while his jukebox plays, and delights.) The ending, though, is one of the worst in the history of film. I can't recall another instance where the writers so clearly threw their hands up and said, "We have absolutely no idea how to end this movie."… Sacha Baron Cohen mines a few big laughs from the depravity of "The Brothers Grimsby" - as often as not the throwaway lines - but the thrilling comic audacity of "Borat" has by now given way to a schoolboy's undeveloped and anally fixated humor. More than once I turned away from the screen, the taste of embarrassment backing up in my mouth.

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