(On Cable TV, February 2015) For years, rumours abounded about David O Russell’s famously abandoned film Nailed: Despite featuring known actors (Jake Gyllenhaal, Jessica Biel), an amusing premise and a decent budget, complex issues during the production of the film made it unravel before principal photography was completed. The almost-finished film languished for years, the director publicly disowning it while investors and producers tried to find a way to complete it. Many, including the director and its stars, had given up hope of seeing it (it’s even featured in the book The Greatest Movies You’ll Never See). But then, something happened and something like Nailed made it into the wild. But that something is not a successful film. Despite a few comic set pieces (a dinner opening sequence, Kirstie Alley as a living-room surgeon, an abrupt tryst that mangles presidential portraits, the Girls Scouts revealed as an incredibly powerful lobbying organization), Nailed! (or Accidental Love, as it’s known in the US) has the feel of, well, an unfinished film. Crucial narrative tissue seems missing or botched (witness the pivotal “nailing accident” scene, crudely stitched together from what looks like other bits and pieces of the film), the script never being able to tie up its loose ends. In other words, it feels exactly like a film that had to be released without the luxury of reshoots and fine-tuning. It’s certainly worth a look for fans of the main actors—Jake Gyllenhaal looks really young as a somewhat naïve congressman wearing too-big suits, while Jessica Biel is often too charming for words as a small-town waitress with a debilitating neurological problem. As a curiosity, it should satisfy film pundits who heard about the film for years without quite knowing if they’d ever see it. But Nailed is not a film that stands up on its own without the attraction of its back-story. I have a feeling that, some day, someone is going to write a tell-all article or put together a revealing documentary about the making, unmaking and remaking of this botched film, and it’s going to be far more interesting than the movie itself.
(Video on Demand, November 2015) With a few modifications, Southpaw would have made a splendid Rocky II: It begins with a boxer in the prime of his life, winning fights, enjoying his money, loving his wife and doting on his daughter. But it doesn’t take much for all of it to be taken away, and much of the film is spent going through this riches-to-rags story and then looking on as the protagonist digs himself out of the hole he’s fallen into. It’s a relatively familiar story (although the triggering incident twenty minutes in the film will surprise many who haven’t seen the trailer), but it’s generally well-executed enough. What really shines here is Jake Gyllenhall, physically pumped-up and ripped to a degree that may shock fans who aren’t used to seeing him in such peak condition: beyond the physique, he brings his usual intensity to a role far more aggressive than most of his previous performances and the result is often mesmerizing. (Compare him in Prisoners, Enemy and Nightcrawler for an astonishing slice of filmography spanning just three years) Forest Whitaker and Rachel McAdams don’t exactly stretch themselves in supporting roles, but they each bring what they do best. Curtis “50 Cents” Jackson and Naomi Harris have all-too-brief minor roles, while Oona Laurence is remarkable in a tough child performance. Director Antoine Fuqua thankfully leaves some familiar tics behind in delivering Southpaw (it’s not quite a gratuitously violent nor as obsessed with police elements as many of his previous films, or instance) and he’s able to direct familiar boxing scenes with a good amount of power. It’s not quite a feel-good film (despite the triumphant ending, viewers will have to crawl along a lot of mud alongside its protagonist to get to the good parts) but it’s satisfying enough. Southpaw’s not meant to be subtle, but it lands its punches.
(On Cable TV, December 2014) In some ways, it’s fitting that Enemy should be the last film I’ve seen in 2014, given how my reaction to it is in many ways a reflection of where I am in my cinephile’s journey. Because Enemy is one of those movies where an enigmatic plot ends up being a metaphor for a deeper meaning that may not be fully apparent from a superficial viewing. Here, a mild-mannered college professor discovers that he has a doppelganger, an extrovert actor. When the two men meet, issues of fatherhood, relationships and intimacy all come up, in an enigmatic mixture of mystery, fantasy and allegory. Anyone watching the film for plot will be frustrated, especially if they expect stated answers by the end of the film. There is a lot to decode in the film, starting with the issue of whether there is a doppelganger and whose doppelganger it is. Now, as it happens, I’m at that stage in my movie-watching life when I can recognize the deeper levels of interpretation –but can’t be bothered to care. Purposefully-enigmatic films that revel in ambiguity (all the way to the director remaining coy about what it all meant in press interviews) are more annoying than anything else, and my ultimate reaction is to opt out: I refuse to put the puzzle together. So what’s left in Enemy for us refusniks? Fortunately, a well-crafted film. French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve does really well in this second (chronologically first) collaboration with Jake Gyllenhall, leading a carefully designed film bathed in the kind of gold light that makes Toronto looks either cool or creepy. Gyllenhall himself gets a plum pair of roles as a split personality playing off himself. The film may be quiet, but the second-to-last shot is a pure shocker, fit to send even forewarned viewers climbing the drapes while shouting HOLYCATS, WHATWASTHAT?!?!! Too bad that the film wants to be so maddeningly mysterious. It asks a lot of its audience, so it shouldn’t be surprised if many won’t play along.