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Cedric The Entertainer (#110 of 2)

Toronto Film Review Paul Schrader’s First Reformed

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Toronto Film Review: Paul Schrader’s First Reformed

TIFF

Toronto Film Review: Paul Schrader’s First Reformed

Everything Paul Schrader has done throughout his career has led him to First Reformed, potentially the finest entry in what my friend and former Slant contributor Jeremiah Kipp refers to as the writer-director’s “men in rooms” films. These include 1980’s American Gigolo, 1992’s Light Sleeper, and 2007’s The Walker, all woozy character studies of not-quite-alpha males drifting through impeccably maintained, utterly empty lives that are summarily upended. The spaces these men inhabit seem an extension of their preplanned existences. Look at the way, for example, Richard Gere’s high-end sex worker, Julian Kaye, in American Gigolo organizes his California apartment as if it were a sun-dappled monk’s cell, with Armani suits as his chaplain’s wardrobe and a luxury-linened bed as his altar.

A Humble Radiance: Charlotte’s Web

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A Humble Radiance: <em>Charlotte’s Web</em>
A Humble Radiance: <em>Charlotte’s Web</em>

To say that the new film version of Charlotte’s Web doesn’t dishonor its source sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it’s actually the highest praise. E.B. White’s novel has survived not just because of its charming premise, cleanly-drawn characters and hints of allegory, but because it’s a perfect book. Every paragraph, sentence and word pulls its weight. Like the title object, it’s a functional work of art. So is Gary Winick’s film version, which casts Dakota Fanning as Fern, the precocious farm girl who assumes responsibility for a doomed runt pig (voiced by Dominic Scott Kay), then watches in astonishment as the pig becomes a curiosity, a celebrity and then an object of quasi-worship, thanks to the selfless devotion of Charlotte the word-embroidering spider. Like the book, Winick’s movie is as solid and cleanly rendered as a Greek sculpture. It doesn’t advance the art of cinema, nor does it mean to, but it does something just as rare: it stands up for true classicism. It’s not a subversive/self-aware quote-mark-enclosed film school homage to prewar Hollywood; it’s a 21st century movie so economical yet satisfying that it seems to have been ghost-directed by William Wyler or Walt Disney in about 1939.