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Non-Review Review: The Land of Steady Habits

“You’re mean,” observes a potential romantic partner of Anders Hill, around the halfway point of The Land of Steady Habits.

It would be reductive to suggest that this is the most bracing or cutting piece of character work in The Land of Steady Habits, but it is not entirely unfair. The Land of Steady Habits is very much a story of upper-class social anxiety, of wealthy characters without any real problems in their lives who instead fixate on the kinds of problems that less well-off people probably wish that they had. Anders Hill is a prime example. A solemn and depressive figure who has become alienated from his previously idyllic existence, Anders is a character who is entirely responsible for his current predicament.

Going steady.

In some ways, this is very typical of the work of writer and director Nicole Holofcener, who has adapted The Land of Steady Habits from a novel by Ted Thompson. The film’s status as an adaptation accounts for some of the details that distinguish the film from Holofcener’s other work, most notably the focus on a male (rather than a female) protagonist, but The Land of Steady Habits is very much of a piece with Holofcener’s other work. It is a wry and acerbic study of people who have everything except what they actually need, and who stumble around causing emotional carnage while looking for that something.

With that in mind, Holofcener’s films live and die based on the charm of the leading characters – on how much the audience is drawn into the hollow void at the centre of their existence. By that measure, The Land of Steady Habits is a mixed bag at best. Ben Mendelsohn is great as the pathetic and contemptible Anders Hill, an impotent affluent man-child who seems capable of mustering charm for only a few scarce minutes at a time. However, Anders himself is not anybody that it seems particularly interesting or exciting to spend ninety-eight minutes with.

Sofa, so good.

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Non-Review Review: Mississippi Grind

Mississippi Grind is an intimate and thoughtful character study, featuring two superb central performances from Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds. Written and directed by the team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, Mississippi Grind finds two gamblers winding their way down the eponymous river in the hopes of winning big at a poker game in New Orleans. “Like Huck Finn,” compulsive gambler Gerry insists when the idea first comes to him. It seems an appropriate comparison, given the themes of the film.

Never pushing its meditations on the American Dream too hard, and never labouring its points too heavily, Mississippi Grind achieves an honesty that borders on the profound. More than that, it captures both the romance and the desperation of that one last bet – the inability to settle for “enough” and the insistence that there is always everything to be won, even if it means that everything can be lost.

Meet me in St. Louis...

Meet me in St. Louis…

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Non-Review Review: Slow West

There is a reason that the western has fallen from popularity after its cinematic heyday.

For decades, it seemed like Hollywood punctuated its release of western films with sampling for other genre, returning time and again to the story of the men who shaped America from the ground up. Over the years, the familiar tropes have been deconstructed and reconstructed and deconstructed again. They have been mashed up and knocked down and spun around. They have been torn apart and thrown back together with reckless abandon. With all of that going on, it often seems like anything that the genre has to say has been said and repeated time and again.

Life is peaceful there...

Life is peaceful there…

There are probably still things to be said about the myth of the Old West, even if the genre seems as explored and catalogued as the American continent itself. There are little hidden pockets and eccentric spaces that might hold a surprise or several. Slow West doesn’t necessarily have anything new or revelatory to say about the western. It seems unlikely to shatter any illusions or break any preconceptions. A lot of the ground covered by Jay Cavendish and Silas Selleck on their trek westward will be familiar to anybody with a passing knowledge of the genre.

At the same time, there is a lyrical beauty to Slow West. The film is a haunting and evocative trip through a landscape that most viewers know better than their own locality. Slow West might not say anything particularly earth-shattering, but it does articulate itself clearly and elegantly. It is a meticulously crafted film, finely constructed and sumptuously filmed. It might be a tourist trip over well-travelled group, but it takes the most scenic route imaginable.

Saddle up!

Saddle up!

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