REVIEW: While We’re Young

while-were-young

While We’re Young
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Written by: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried

“Enough about ethics, what about me?”

This line in Noah Baumbach’s latest movie comes toward the end, when the middle-aged documentary filmmaker played by Ben Stiller, reaches the end of an annoyingly grandiose diatribe against every other character in the movie and their perceived moral betrayals. It’s delivered, as much of the rest of the movie is, somewhere between satire and sincerity.  That’s to say, While We’re Young is much more of a return to form for Baumbach than the joyous outburst of his last film, 2013’s Frances Ha.

While We’re Young is Baumbach’s sometimes sharp, sometimes eye-roll-inducing look at generational gaps and overlaps.  Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are in their 40s, have no kids and are very defensive about it.  They’re losing their friends to parenthood, so when Josh meets Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried, a young couple in one of his film classes, they go on a double date and he and his wife quickly latch onto them.

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Our Favorite Movies of 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street movie

1. The Wolf of Wall Street- The funniest film of the year was made by one of the world’s greatest directors, Martin Scorsese, who is now into his 70s and nearing the very end of his career. You wouldn’t know it watching The Wolf of Wall Street, an impossibly energetic riff on the true-life exploits of Wall Street crook Jordan Belfort. The film depicts behavior most would find irrefutably lewd, misogynist, or downright amoral; most of which is played for uproarious laughs. The men in Wolf act out of humanity’s basest impulses; snorting drugs and screwing prostitutes in the office just because they have no one there to tell them “no.” Scorsese, much like the protagonist, never slows down to moralize anything on the screen, keeping the focus on the excessively sexual and drug-fueled life of Belfort and all of his brokers. It is in these outrageous slapstick moments and revolting conversations that the director becomes a sly satirist, allowing us to laugh at and observe this lifestyle from the self-aggrandizing narrator’s point of view. The uniformly great supporting cast, paired with DiCaprio’s career-best performance, carry out exhilarating, even visceral, comedy scenes that keep the film bouncing through its three-hour run-time.  Scorsese’s damning portrait of greed has a well-secured place in the canon of America’s great black comedies.

spring breakers

2. Spring Breakers- The perverse pleasures of cinema were mined and radicalized in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, an apocalyptic beach party and an unforgettable deconstruction of modern America’s excesses and wastelands. Aesthetically, it mirrors the sex-and-drug infused paradise of an MTV spring break, filmed under bright pink skylines and seedy red nightclubs. Malevolence has always been a way of coping with marginality for Korine’s characters, but for Brit, Candy, Faith and Cotty, it is a way to reach the ultimate high; attaining a transcendent euphoria, not through debauched revelries but through dominance and power. Big Arch and the indelible Alien are the walking, boasting incarnations of this ever-lasting Dream, and the girls’ eventual foray into criminal warfare is all an inevitable part of their quest for insatiable pleasure. As a major release in 2013, Spring Breakers is purposefully indefinable, and so nonplussed reactions from Gen-Y are unsurprising (strangely, our drug-obsessed culture doesn’t seem too interested in art inspired by drugs?). But not working directly as an obvious critique of anything is exactly why the film will endure; by evading a definite “purpose,” it is a piece of art that can be observed from a multitude of angles. If anything, the year’s masterpiece will serve as an important corrective: it’s not style over substance, style is the substance.

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REVIEW: Frances Ha

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Frances Ha
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Written by: Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig (screenplay)
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Michael Esper and Adam Driver

Frances Ha may be the most uplifting film that Noah Baumbach has made, but with a filmography mostly defined by feuding families and the psychologically destructive aftermath, that doesn’t seem like a very difficult feat to overcome.  It is, though.  What  makes Frances Ha brilliant is that, despite the relentless, elliptical French New Wave editing and structure, it feels effortlessly modern and also retains a distinct sense of melancholy.

Baumbach’s decision to shoot in black and white (and a detour to France midway through) makes the influence of Godard and Truffaut even more confrontational.  It is still very much a movie of its time, though, with its frank if jittery examinations of female sexuality and friendship and its pleasingly liberated conclusion.

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SPOTLIGHT: Nicole Kidman

Few actresses have matched Nicole Kidman’s hot streak in the early 2000s.  Not that she set the box office on fire, more our imaginations.  People watch this accidental movie star fully embody a variety of characters with not only ease, but technical perfection.  She is a consummate professional when it comes to characterization and the emotional control she displays over her characters.  This perfection draws the audience to her even when she shares the screen with others more famous.  Although now she is a household name, that is only because she snatched it away from those who couldn’t hold onto audiences quite like her.

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