The Queen of Versailles (2012) - B+
Lauren Greenfield's documentary functions both as a human portrait of the economic downturn of 2008, and as the story of an opulent family with a materialistic but curiously admirable figurehead. Following Jackie and David Siegel as they come to terms with their billionaire lifestyle going south, the picture is at times damning of gross consumerism run amok (the pair are trying to construct a $100 million mansion), but also praises the female lead for attempting to battle adversity with love and optimism. Very watchable and with some fascinating emotional developments come the final act, "The Queen of Versailles" is a well informed and affecting offering.
Liberal Arts (2012) - A-
After his markedly empty-headed debut "HappyThankYouMorePlease" I had begun to abandon hope for Josh Radnor as a film-maker of skill or substance, but "Liberal Arts" marks a positive pivot in terms of maturation and quality of final product. Surrounding himself with an exceptional cast (Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Zac Efron, Allison Janney but to name a few...) Radnor muses on the importance of ones formative years, imagining his softly spoken picture as not only an ode to arts and literature, but also as a respectful comment on their fundamental limitations. The unconventional dynamic between Radnor and Olsen as soul-mates separated by a frustrating 16 years is engaging (in contrast to the flamboyant nothingness of the relationships in his debut film), Radnor also grappling much more successful with various strands of humour here too (namely via Efron's game hippie turn). Radnor clearly has affection for college life but keenly assesses the damages it can have on more fragile minds, an organic and sympathetically mounted facet of the piece which gets short shrift in the modern cinematic climate. Warm, sustaining and supremely confident film-making from a director who appears to have found his footing. May the affecting earnestness of "Liberal Arts" play a stronger role in his career than the hollow, disjointed pontificating of "HappyThankYouMorePlease".
Reviews by Daniel Kelly, 2013