Monday, June 30, 2014


A couple of indies currently playing at an arthouse near me...


(Dir. Fred Schepisi, 2013)

Fred Schepisi's WORDS AND PICTURES, written by Gerald Di Pego, pulls off a mean feat - it manages to be cloyingly cutesy and numbingly pretentious at the same time.

Taking place at a fictional posh prep school in New England (filmed in Canada), Clive Owen portrays a scruffy, douchey English teacher who's way into words, while Juliette Binoche plays a newly arrived art teacher, who, you guessed it, is all about pictures.

The couple clash, and Owen comes up with some kind of school-wide competition in which words and pictures will fight it out via the students work.Owen's job is on the line because he hasn't produced anything of substance in years, and he has a drinking problem (a "hobby," he calls it).

Binoche suffers from rheumatoid arthritis which limits her ability to paint - she does manage though with the help of crutches, and braces to do some Jackson Pollack-type splatter art.

Owen's character - the former literary sensation going to seed - is one we've seen many times (replace the booze with pot and you've got Michael Douglas in WONDER BOYS), and his pseudo inspirational teaching scenes, are insufferable especially when he tells his students that a haiku is an 
early tweet.

Binoche and Owen, of course, get together which has the film seemingly say that the battle of words against pictures inevitably ends in a tie with sex.

Director Schepisi (ROXANNE, SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION) has made some drecky rom dramedies in his time but this saccharine and preachy exercise is the worst I've seen of his.

The famous quote, oft repeated in this film, A picture is worth a thousand words, may be true, but this motion picture sure isn't worth anywhere close to that. Which is why I'm stopping here.

THE ROVER (Dir. David Michôd, 2014)

Set in Australia “ten years after the collapse,” as an opening title tells us, there’s definitely a MAD MAX vibe going on in this new thriller from ANIMAL KINGDOM writer/director David Michôd.

But don’t go looking for the action, or commentary on modern society, that the soon to be rebooted MAD MAX franchise has as its calling cards, as this is a spare, single-minded narrative, that never really gets going.

The bare bones of the premise posit a grizzled Guy Pearce, only identifying himself as a former farmer, trying to track down his car, which we see getting stolen at the film’s beginning by a roving gang of skuzzy criminals led by Scoot McNairy (KILLING THEM SOFTLY, ARGO, MONSTERS).

Pearce enlists Robert Pattinson (TWILIGHT, COSMOPOLIS), as the brother of one of the thieves, to go on a trek across the infinite Australian desert to find them and retrieve his vehicle. The slowly paced adventure across the outback that Pearce and Pattinson go on mostly involves going to desolate locations, whether they be an abandoned town, an opium den, a seedy motel, or an army base, and shooting creepy characters in them in the head.

I won’t spoil the mystery of why Pearce is so driven to get his car back, but I’ll just say that the film is too dreary and drawn out for the conclusion to have the emotional impact it's trying for.

As intense and invested as Pearce is, his character is impenetrable, much like the rest of the movie, but Pattinson actually contributes some of his finest acting so far in his career. The on the cusp of manhood theme that James Frecheville embodied in ANIMAL KINGDOM bleeds through Pattinson’s edgy acting as the unhinged, possibly brain-damaged youngster caught up in a messy mission.

Apart from Pearce and Pattinson’s on point performances, and a smattering of blinding visuals courtesy of cinematographer Natasha Braier, THE ROVER is a dull slog through tired terrain. I bet it could be cut down into a killer 20 minute short though.

More later…

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