Archive | Reviews

‘Live by Night,’ Dead on Arrival

Once again awards season is rolling around, and a person named Affleck is reaping accolades. But this is 2016, the topsy-turviest year on recent record, so the Affleck who’ll likely score an Academy Award nod is not Ben Affleck but younger brother Casey. (Sexual harassment accusations notwithstanding, he is unreasonably good in “Manchester-by-the-Sea.”) The irony, of course, is that the older Affleck is also releasing a film this season: “Live by Night,” an adaptation of the 2012 eponymous Dennis Lehane novel. That Big Ben’s first directorial effort since 2012’s Oscar-winning “Argo” is receiving very little publicity is surprising – at least, unless you’ve seen it.

To be fair, this Prohibition-era drama is not exactly bad. Set in a crime underbelly of Massachusetts, it’s tried-and-true territory for the native Bostonian, who in 2007 adapted Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone and has set two other films in the region. But the whole endeavor feels disappointingly by the numbers, perhaps because Ben (Casey is not associated with the film) seems intent on creating an instant classic, a period picture with “Scarface” grit and golden Hollywood glamour, complete with speakeasies, flappers, and Tommy guns. The result feels more like a facsimile of a facsimile – blurry and haplessly un-emphatic. Continue Reading →

Top Ten Everything

Today’s kind of an intersticial day, so I’m revving up by sharing all the commentating and writing I did during the 2016 holidaze.

I reviewed Fences, Denzel Washington’s adaptation of the August Wilson play; Julieta, Pedro Almodóvar’s adaptation of three Alice Munro stories; Neruda, Pablo Larraín’s film about the Chilean poet and dissident; 20th Century Women, Mike Mill’s homage to his mum; All We Had, Katie Holmes’ adaptation of Annie Weatherwax’s novel; and Silence, Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s novel. As well, I named my top ten films and top ten adaptations, and the most creative adaptations, and spoke with Jack Rico and Mike Sargent about 2016 film on Rico’s Highly Relevant podcast, and reviewed the end of the year’s best on Talking Pictures, the NY1 show on which I appear weekly. Perhaps the piece I’m most proud of (and was the least read) is Who’s Reading Who, about the hazards of racial identification in literature —especially YA novels.

Thank you as ever for coming along on this ride, Sirenaders. Happy happy new non-Jew year!

The Ten Best Adaptations of 2016

Some years it seems every critically touted film is a literary adaptation. This year has not been one of them. So many year-end top-ten lists boast original screenplays that it seems Hollywood is finally trusting its writers. What we’ve lacked in volume, however, we’ve made up for in creativity, playing witness to a host of hidden gems, sly winks, unlikely translations, and flat-out jaw-droppers. It’s also been an especially women-focused year – both behind and in front of the lens. All in all, while assembling her annual list of the year’s best adaptations, this lady critic has realized she’s got zero complaints.

10) “Denial”
The Holocaust is hardly a new topic in cinema, but Holocaust denial had never been tackled before Mick Jackson’s able adaptation about Holocaust denier David Irving’s 1990s libel lawsuit against American academic Deborah Lipstadt, played by Rachel Weisz in an orange perm, pantsuit, and braying New York Jewish accent. (Irving is played with feral glee by the great Timothy Spall.) Channeling a lively fortitude that challenges legal and moral relativism, this is an eminently satisfying procedural thriller about that rare moment when the system actually worked for David rather than Goliath. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy