Category Archives: Movie Review

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Movie Review – Seven

Category : Movie Review

Director: David Fincher

Starring: Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey, Gwyneth Paltrow

Year: 1995

The only Oscar that Seven was nominated for was Best Editing, which is more an insult than not nominating it for anything at all.  How a masterpiece like this could slide by the Academy is as big a mystery as the plot of the film, and as insane.  I guess, in their defense, it was a strong year, and both Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey were nominated for Best Supporting Actor for other movies, with Freeman having just been nominated the previous year for Best Leading Actor for Shawshank Redemption.  1995 really was a wild year: Mr Holland’s Opus, Dead Man Walking, The Usual Suspects, Twelve Monkeys, Braveheart, Apollo 13, Rob Roy, Leaving Las Vegas, Sense and Sensibility, The Bridges of Madison County, Casino, Mighty Aphrodite, Nixon, Crimson Tide, The American President, Pocahontas, Toy Story, Batman Forever, Waterworld, Il Postino, Babe.  But that still doesn’t excuse the snub, Seven is among the most powerful stories ever captured on camera, and it’s due its due respect.

In a dark, violent, unnamed city, two detectives meet like strangers in the night, one on his way toward retirement, one newly arrived on a mission to do good, make a difference, catch the bad guy, same old bullshit.  Somerset has seen what this city can do to a man’s soul, has experienced both its apathy and its rage firsthand, and is tired of the senseless death surrounding him.  Mills is young enough to believe that things can still change, that good can conquer evil, that no crime goes unpunished.  But a recent death will show both men how little they understand of murder and the murderer’s mind.  Because it’s not just one death, it’s seven planned deaths, as a serial killer weaves his sermon to the masses, showing the world with each killing that humanity will be crucified for their sins now, not in the hereafter.  Somerset & Mills will set their wills to solving the puzzle of the crime before it’s complete, before seven innocent people die for the whims of a madman, before they themselves lose their way in the dark.

Seven is the 21st highest rated film on IMDb, with an 8.6 out of 10.0 and over a million votes cast, which still isn’t Oscar noms, but it’s something.  Critics didn’t love it when it came out, perhaps that’s why it didn’t make as big a splash as it should have, but I wonder what they would say today, and how it would be received.  Regardless, Seven has always been one of my favorite films, a thriller to put so many others to shame.  Fincher was the perfect director for this project, his other film leading the way to this one, and his whole filmography impressing when taken as a body of work: Alien 3, Seven, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, Benjamin Button, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl.  He has a morbid vision and it worked for this movie, as the story is nothing if not pitch black.  Freeman is the perfect straight man here, Pitt the hotblooded cop, Spacey the madman, Paltrow the beautiful wife at home.  These roles were cast expertly, the story is twisted, you never see the end coming, and the journey to get there is what really makes the movie, a mind-trap and a think-piece if ever there was one.  It’s been almost 25 years and Seven holds up as if it was released today, maybe even better, maybe it was made for right now, maybe it would have been even more of a success.  That’s how great this film is; it stands alone on an island of time and demands to be watched, which I am happy to oblige.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Venom

Category : Movie Review

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Starring: Tom Hardy, Riz Ahmed, Michelle Williams

Year: 2018

It was hoped that Captain America: Civil War and Mad Max: Fury Road had each shone a spotlight on the correct path for those which would come after to follow, for comic book movies and action films to learn from the mistakes of the past, see how it could be done differently, and to make the necessary changes to stop being so crappy.  Civil War was an amazing superhero movie, the best Marvel had created, and Fury Road was a perfect adventure film, giving fans everything they desperately desired without having to fake a moment.  You’d think it’d be rather simple to choose to follow what newly worked instead of what always hasn’t, but Venom decided on a different track, and that’s why it sucks so hard.  No excuses anymore, filmmakers; audiences now know what’s possible, how it can easily be done better, and we are through watching shit that refuses to change.

Eddie Brock may have been run out of New York for pushing the boundaries of journalism too far, but he’s found a home in San Francisco and he refuses to back down to corporate bullies and corrupt businessmen.  He runs a show that investigates the greedy and evil, giving the public access to dirty secrets, pulling down the titans of industry who mean us all a great deal of harm.  But he makes a mistake when he goes up against Carlton Drake, a man who cures cancer like it’s nothing but might be using his residual technology to become, basically, a bad guy.  Brock loses his job, his fiance, and almost his life, when one of Drake’s experiments goes very wrong.  A symbiote from outer space attaches itself to Eddie, the two becoming one very powerful being that may want to take over the the Earth, may want to kill Carlton, or may just want to get the girl; it’s a very confusing time for this creature that calls itself Venom.

Venom sticks to the old recipe, and that, fortunately or unfortunately, is its only major flaw.  The rest of its smaller missteps are based on its greater failing, that no one cared enough to elevate the story the way others around it have done, to put in the effort to do a better job than is required to make money.  That might be the saddest part; this film will still turn a profit, but it will be forgotten in a few short years, deservedly, because it refused to be better.  The plot was silly enough, but that’s the comic, the filmmakers didn’t need to double down on the insanity and jump every shark possible, that just wasn’t called for, and the fact that they did it anyway is completely unacceptable.  The opening was rubbish, the action sequences were done at hyperspeed with a superzoom, and each character is one-note to a vomitous point.  It’s not that each individual delivered something awful, it’s that they were never given the chance to rise above the drivel of the plot, mood, and delivery, because no one ever asked them for more than a phone-in.

Tom Hardy was Mad Max; I can’t believe he’ll look back on Venom and be able to compare these characters with a straight face.  Hardy was fine, I liked Brock, I was even entertained by his conversations with the symbiote, but the ceiling was hanging just above his head the entire time, there was never a way for him to reach around it and to grab at something higher.  Same goes for Riz Ahmed, who is one of my favorite actors currently, he brings it each and every time, but his role here was boxed in with nowhere to go, there was never a chance for him to be something more special than a typical villain on a typical path.  I can’t say the same for Michelle Williams though; she’s much more talented than this opportunity but she failed to be anything but vapid and detestable, which is on her, even if her part was written horrible, which is on the filmmakers.  The CGI was only good in spurts, the alien was only cool occasionally, the action only worked once or twice, and the rest was a clinic in what not to do anymore, what we don’t want to spend our money on any longer, now that we know where to find better.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Kindergarten Teacher

Category : Movie Review

Director: Sara Colangelo

Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Parker Sevak

Year: 2018

The trailer for The Kindergarten Teacher completely shocked me, and alerted me to the fact that we had a seriously unique and potentially incredible thriller on our hands, which I absolutely did not see coming.  It’s a common theme told from a different point of view, directed by a talented woman, starring the best under-the-radar actress in the business, and if that isn’t enough to get your blood pumping, you should probably stick to The Girl on the Train.  This film funnels intensity through a different channel, allowing audiences to relate to the main character in a way we don’t want to, a woman who is both a protagonist and an antagonist at the same time, and forcing us to think, instead of only react, not relying on knives in dark kitchens to wake us up, but focusing more on the darkness within, which I for one find much more fascinating.

Lisa Spinelli is a kindergarten teacher in New York who also takes continuing education courses in poetry to keep sharp and to hone a new talent.  She loves her classes, but isn’t considered the best poet, her work coming across as done, dead, and disingenuous.  She longs to become better, to be an artist, to be unique, and at the same time she yearns for her own kids to love her with the intensity that they did when they were small, for her family to be close and dependent and brilliant once more.  Which is perhaps why, when she learns of the gift of one special student in her class, she grabs hold of it as if it was her own, attempts to mentor the child as if he was her son.  But Jimmy Roy is just a 5-year-old boy, not a tool or a cure or a god, and he won’t fix what’s wrong in Mrs. Spinelli’s life, nor fill the empty, deepening hole inside her.

Wow, just wow, and I’m not sure what else there is to say.  I’d leave it at that, at “please watch this movie”, but that wouldn’t prepare you much, and I feel that it could be dangerous to go in without any foreknowledge, because the content of this film might not be for every viewer.  First, it is a bit of a thriller, if a very muted one, and there are uncomfortable elements involving adults and children that may not sit well with everyone, especially since the “villain” isn’t portrayed entirely in that way.  Second, sex is a common theme, though never involving children, it simply exists all around, creates a statement with its existence, and intentionally shadows the action.  You’ll see when you watch it, how sex is a constant component but not a central event; how the director does that is one of the brilliant aspects of this movie.  Colangelo followed up the excellent Little Accidents with the superb Kindergarten Teacher, and she cast the perfect lead as well, Gyllenhaal being one of the best actresses of our generation, just without the glitter and recognition.  Colangelo weaved the story well, Gyllenhaal played the part wonderfully, the plot was quick, precise, and to the point, and the genre was shown the way to a better path by a movie that simultaneously fit the style and took it in a new direction.  This Netflix original is being underserved and underseen, and will fail to be remembered come awards season, a fate that it definitely does not deserve.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – The Devil’s Advocate

Category : Movie Review

Director: Taylor Hackford

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Al Pacino, Charlize Theron

Year: 1997

Had it not been for the casting of Keanu Reeves, The Devil’s Advocate might have been the best movie ever made.  I exaggerate of course, but only a little, I really think this film is that special, and I really think Reeves is that debilitating.  He’s done better recently, I think he finally grew up, but he’s been awful countless times, and I’ve never been a fan.  Now, you have to remember how big a deal he used to be, how huge a star he was, despite his lack of talent, with movies like Point Break, Dracula, Speed, Johnny Mnemonic, and Chain Reaction all coming out in the 90s before this film.  But watching back, I don’t see how anyone can claim otherwise, would even try to make a case that he was a tremendous actor who elevated the features he was in.  If it had not been for his overacting, I honestly think that Devil’s Advocate would be remembered as being near-perfect, a scintillating drama that has it all.

Young and suspiciously perfect lawyer Kevin Lomax has yet to lose a case, either prosecuting or defending, and Gainesville, Florida is becoming too small for his big ego.  He knows juries so well, almost magically well, can tell which way they’re leaning by the shoes they wear and they way they hold their heads, and that has helped him become the best damn trail lawyer in the country.  New York City even gets wind of his success, and one firm, run by the vivacious John Milton, asks for Kevin’s services with check in hand and perks to spare.  So he and his beautiful wife Mary Anne move to the Big Apple to become hot shots, and everything seems to be looking up.  But how can Milton possibly be so rich and powerful, how can Lomax continuously win, and why does the competition keep dropping like flies?  It’s almost as if the hand of God is touching events, or perhaps the hand of someone much less heavenly.

I know it sounds dramatic, but I really do think that Devil’s Advocate is almost perfect, that it could have gone down as a phenomenal film in the annals of cinematic history, had it been for one major casting change.  I get why Reeves is the lead, he was a big new name, he was hunky in a very fresh way, it makes perfect sense.  But he’s definitely the weakest link, maybe the only weak link, and looking back on the film 20 years later, that fact seems rather obvious.  Even he has a couple nice scenes, but the rest is pathetic; his accent, his melodrama, his fake swagger.  It’s really too bad, because everything else is flawless.  It’s an awesome story, laden with philosophy, and you’ll find yourself taking the side of the devil on your shoulder more than once.  And the other actors, holy cow, they are incredible; Pacino in a role he was born to play, Theron in an early part that already showed her amazing ability, Jeffrey Jones (Ed Rooney), Connie Nielsen, Craig T. Nelson.  They all worked, the plot works, the mood is intense, the dialogue is excellent (apart from the way that Reeves delivers it), it’s sexy, it’s wrong, it’s weird; I wish I could love it 100%.  But I’ll take it as it is, which is still strong enough for a rotational re-watch and a place on my shelf.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Private Life

Category : Movie Review

Director: Tamara Jenkins

Starring: Kathryn Hahn, Paul Giamatti, Kayli Carter

Year: 2018

Every time I think that Netflix is crashing and burning they redeem themselves with something spectacular, this time with Private Life, one of the best dramas I’ve seen this year and a film that I know will stick with me long past Oscar season.  These Netflix originals need to be taken seriously, at least when they are this good, and we need to start thinking of them as true cinematic and artistic pieces, not as some made-for-TV special or web-based indie flick.  Private Life is a true gem and a surprisingly excellent movie, regardless of which platform it appears on, and it needs to be treated with the respect it deserves.  I might not have thought the same coming in and sitting down, but the trailer does not do this feature justice; it is a brilliant bit of filmmaking that is easily one this year’s absolute best.

Richard and Rachel are trying to have a baby.  Well, they’ve been trying to have a baby for a very long time now, unsuccessfully, and as they have heard countless times during the process, they aren’t getting any younger.  Richard has only one testicle and some blockage issues, Rachel’s eggs are old and few, it’s very unlikely that they will ever have children naturally.  So they try IVF but that doesn’t work, and they consider adoption but that falls through, their options becoming more & more limited with each passing failure.  Their last hope might be a donor egg, but that choice comes with complications, such as finding someone to donate and conceptualizing a future with a child who only shares biology with one parent.  But a relative coming to stay with them might be the hope Richard and Rachel needed to cling to, as suddenly there’s one last chance that they could finally become parents.

If you saw The Meyerowitz Stories last year, you know how great these Netflix, New York, adulting-is-hard dramodies can be, and how they can hold their place among the best despite their under-the-radar status.  Private Life is just as strong, just as special, an emotional wreck of a tale that should resonate with slightly older audiences because they have been there, done that.  I’m a parent who happens to have had an easy time having children, but I could empathize with these characters so easily, sitting alongside them in the waiting room, listening to their fights fueled by misplaced anger.  Hahn and Giamatti were unbelievably perfect for this film, and they were unrecognizable in their roles, they immersed themselves so completely within them.  They were hilarious, distraught, paid respect to the weight of this strange process, and always felt alive within the story, never letting it overwhelm them.  And the side actors supported the action impeccably: Kayli Carter, Molly Shannon, John Carroll Lynch, Denis O’Hare.  The mood was heavy and airy in turns, the comedy hit me just right, and we need more from Tamara Jenkins, three movies aren’t enough (Slums of Beverly Hills, The Savages, Private Life).  Netflix hit one out of the park this time, and I hope we don’t forget it.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – First Man

Category : Movie Review

Director: Damien Chazelle

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy

Year: 2018

Damien Chazelle shocked us all out of our seats with Whiplash, and followed it up by winning an Oscar for La La Land, so although his filmography is limited we have learned to trust him in the director’s chair, to listen to his storytelling and his music with equal and fervent focus.  Taking on the true story of Neil Armstrong’s first steps toward mankind’s first steps on the moon is a different beast though, a biopic with less room for artistry and fantasy, a boxed-in challenge that forced Chazelle to mold his mindset to historic events.  That seemed to be the biggest hurdle; could such a vibrant director take on such a straightforward project, or could he somehow force it to fit his style, even though that seemed, on the surface, to be nearly impossible.  The good news is that Chazelle is smart and talented enough to find a way.  The bad news is that the ceiling was only so high; or, to use a more appropriate metaphor, the film could only be blasted so far before it would inevitably fall back down to Earth.

Overcoming great odds, near death experiences, and a family tragedy, Neil Armstrong would become the first human to ever set foot on land outside our planet, making history not only with his accomplishments but with his perseverance, showing the world what determination, teamwork, and tenacity can accomplish.  Neil was an engineer and a pilot, testing planes before auditioning for a role in NASA’s new space program, in their race with Russia to be the first in as many new categories as possible.  Mission after mission failed, taking lives every step of the way, but ultimately dragging the team closer and closer to their ultimate goal; to reach the Moon and to return safely.  Leaving a family behind to mourn his likely death, Armstrong become a pioneer and a scout, going somewhere so far away, on a journey so dangerous, that an entire global community would tune in to watch, knowing that the future was happening right before their eyes, and that this man was its herald.

Chazelle could direct the phone book and make it compelling, he’s that talented of a director, the youngest in history to win an Oscar for helming a feature film, a statistic that’s meaningless since so is age, but still a firm clue to the level at which he is currently doing his job.  Chazelle was able to take a true story, one we know very well and that mirrors others we have seen on screen before, and make it fascinating, give it life, force it to be personal, and still somehow add his own flavor to it, especially in the ways of camerawork and music.  Although very different from his other films, you can still sense his touch and hear his voice, from the song choice to the intensity of emotion.  Giving credit where credit it do, I think he was aided greatly be Ryan Gosling, who is an absolute star and an incredible boon to any filmmaker.  His performance was very moving, with a strong sense of determination overlaying deep sadness, making this man something more than the mission, something more relatable than I had expected going in.

But although the combination of Chazelle and Gosling is a force to be reckoned with and hopefully will be again in the future, many other pieces of this project failed to reach the same level, and so left the movie closer to the ground than we though it might have the power to go.  For one, it was often boring, simply unexciting, and while not every moment needs to be slapping audiences in the collective face, you can’t stretch a story further than it can naturally go.  Thirty minutes could have been chopped off the final reel and the impact would have been felt just as keenly, if not more so thanks to the lack of extra, unnecessary additions.  Focus on fewer characters perhaps, after all we met every astronaut to ever enter a spacecraft, and although the cast was solid on paper, not many in it had the chance to really shine.  Pablo Schreiber, Christopher Abbott, Ethan Embry, Ciaran Hinds, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stall, Patrick Fugit; all were fine, Clarke stands out as the best, but few were written with anything more to do than show up.  Unfortunately, Gosling’s only challenger for screen time was Foy, and she was incapable of producing the desired results.  She was one-note, her accent was awful, and her character was the only one that was too large, skulking through too many scenes without a real purpose.  First Man is ultimately not much more than a combination of Apollo 13 and Interstellar, with a sprinkle of Chazelle for good measure, but without the needed originality and unidentifiable “it” to take it as far as we had hoped it could go.  Gosling is great, the music is too, but Foy is constantly uncomfortable, and the content meanders on for far too long, with the action only breaking the monotony sporadically.  I wouldn’t be shocked if this film was still in the Oscar conversation in a few months, but perhaps in a few specific categories; I don’t think it packs the punch to win Best Picture.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – A Star Is Born

Category : Movie Review

Director: Bradley Cooper

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott

Year: 2018

Considering that this story has been done three times before, that Cooper has never directed before, and that Gaga has only ever done cameos, it’s one hell of a shocker that A Star Is Born is both the front runner for Best Picture this year and just might deserve it.  Something magical must have been sprinkled on this picture, because on paper it really shouldn’t work this time around, and even the trailer was a bit of a red flag, with Brad directing himself, Lady trying to act, and everyone trying to top Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, which is not advisable.  But while the 1937 original was nominated for eight Oscars, the 1954 for six, and the 1976 for four, I wouldn’t bet on the downward trend continuing; the 2018 version might be the best yet and might take home the most hardware in a few months at the Academy Awards.

Jackson Maine is a singer from Arizona whose best days are behind him and whose future is invisible behind a fog of alcohol and a cloud of smoke.  His hearing is going, his drug use is a problem, he drinks until he falls asleep, but Jack doesn’t think he’s in trouble since he can still rock the electric guitar, can still stand up before a sold out crowd and tell his story through music.  But the crowds are starting to thin as the years roll on, and this one-time superstar is losing the glow of the spotlight.  One night, at a random bar in just another city on the tour, Jack sees Ally perform, and he knows that he’s found something special.  Not just a musician who can become something great, she’s the woman who he’s been looking for, that missing piece that’s been hiding all this time.  Her arrow is pointing straight up, sky high, and the pair begin that journey together, but his road will ultimately and inevitably turn the other direction, and if Ally isn’t careful she’ll crash before she’s even started to fly.

With films such as this one, those that make the boldest statements, it seems that two camps immediately form; greatest movie ever or complete trash.  Those who loved it have chosen their hill to die on, those who didn’t hunt for every flaw, and meanwhile the essence of the story is lost somewhere in between.  I’ve always prided myself on being half critic, half audience member, someone who can pick apart and enjoy at the same time, and that’s exactly how I viewed A Star Is Born.  It’s a daring adventure, taking on this story with this director and this leading lady, no one can say that anyone played it safe, and that alone is worth something, that risks were taken without fear by artists who have a lot to lose.  Cooper’s directorial debut could have flopped, Gaga’s first starring role could have been her last, the entire project could have been a complete failure.  And yet they tried, they mostly succeeded, they imperfectly won, and I was sitting there for it all, for which I consider myself lucky.

But I did say that I was watching while wearing two hats, so let’s get in to the good and the bad.  For the bad news first, Gaga is no thespian.  Perhaps she was better than I had imagined she would be, but there were definitely moments when her inexperience shone through, and while she made the entire film seem organic simply by being herself, there were moments when she was called on to be someone else, to trick us into believing that she was someone else, and she really couldn’t do it.  Also, Cooper was a bit heavy handed, Elliott was unnecessary, and not every plot choice was one I agreed with, so I can’t call this movie a masterpiece.  What I can call it is a success, because it worked more completely than I thought that it could, and it sucked me into a story that I ended up adoring.  Ally’s family was great, we got a glimpse of a complicated lifestyle that we simply glamorize and forget, and there’s a message in the ending that shouldn’t be ignored.  Above all, the music will be something that stays with us, and was hands down the best part of the film.  Copper and Gaga did much of the music themselves, writing, performing, everything, and what they were able to accomplish is beyond impressive.  I wanted to stand up and applaud many times, like I was at their concert, and that’s pretty cool, that’s not an every-time-you-go-to-the-movies thing.  That’s why I think A Star Is Born has Oscar potential; not because it’s a work of art but because it lures audiences in with music, kicks us in the shins with emotion, and then shows us what’s written in the dirt while we’re doubled over.  It has power, inarguable power, and maybe a touch of magic, which combine to overcome its imperfections in a way that deserves our attention.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Endless

Category : Movie Review

Director: Justin BensonAaron Moorhead

Starring: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead

Year: 2017

I respect teams who put together these low budget sci-fi flicks, often writing and directing and filming as well; basically creating their own, entire worlds without the help of big studios, which should always be applauded.  The result isn’t always amazing, but most of those movies are hardly noticed, they fly so far under the radar.  Every once is a while we hear of one, and that’s a good sign that something worked, despite the odds, that something special flashed by in that tiny window created by people who simply love the art of the cinema, who have a story to tell regardless of what’s stacked against them.  The Endless is that type of project, a labor of love and an odd genre nugget that works despite how it shouldn’t.

Justin and Aaron are brothers who, a decade ago, escaped a cult in the desert, and were momentary celebrities as they revealed their stories.  But that was years ago, now they’re just two guys who clean house and can’t get dates, their pasts hanging over their heads like a shroud.  Justin wants to forget what happened, but Aaron needs to confront what happened, and so the pair drive out into the country in order to visit the old camp after receiving a message from the group, just so that they can have some closure.  Things in the commune are a little wacky, but it almost seems nice, and at first the brothers aren’t sure that it’s as crazy as they remember.  They will soon realize, however, that there is more going on around the borders of the community than meets the eye, and that once in, it’s no easy thing getting out.

There’s a social element here and a sci-fi element as well, which combines very strongly to create a multifaceted story that begs to be dissected.  It’s that type of film, with a plot that’s full of turns and oddities, one which audiences will turn off but won’t be able to forget.  And this had become a pretty standard format, these weird, horror, indie, twisty dramas, which is not a bad thing, because as least you know what to expect.  Coherence, The Invitation, The Honeymoon, Primer; these are a few films that come immediately to mind, and if you’ve seen them you’ll know what you’re in for from this film.  Perhaps the acting isn’t quite up to par with some of the others, perhaps the plot is a bit muddled, but there are reasons to watch, among them the desire to figure out what the hell is going on, and to watch for signs along the way.  Benson & Moorhead make a good team, taking the entire project on their backs, which is the most impressive aspect of the film.  What they were able to accomplish is a solid piece of work, a nice addition to the genre, if not something that will blow you away.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Hold the Dark

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Starring: Jeffrey Wright, Riley Keough, Alexander Skarsgard

Year: 2018

Saulnier’s three other films (Murder Party, Blue Ruin, Green Room) are based on blood and barbarism, in varied form, and Hold the Dark is no different.  You might think it is, by the trailer, which seems more organic and natural with a horror edge than simply murderous, but the plot quickly goes in that direction, and we’re abruptly left with a crime scene.  That was a bit of a disappointment for me, since I was looking for Wind River rather than Sheitan, but perhaps that’s on me for misjudging the style and forgetting who the director was; “be prepared” is good advice even if you aren’t a Boy Scout.  But now I’ve seen the movie, tried to judge it standing alone, and still found it mostly lacking, whether that’s on account of expectations or quality or both.

In Alaska, the land and its animal inhabitants can be an unforgiving team, making it crystal clear to those who choose to live there that they are not welcome.  For the Slones, and for multiple families in the area surrounding a small, mostly native village, this message comes in the form of savage wolves who steal children who venture too far from their homes, and don’t leave bodies to bury.  Medora Slone, whose husband is fighting in Iraq, has lost her only son to a pack, and to close the hole in her heart she writes to Russell Core.  An author, a hunter, and a naturalist, Core knows wolves better than anyone, and is uncommonly affected by Mrs. Slone’s request to find the animals that killed her boy.  But humans can be far more brutal than the rest of the animal kingdom, and they have a capacity for deceit and evil that is both unmatched and unnatural.

I didn’t get what I wanted from this film, which is partially my fault for having certain expectations, and partially the filmmaker’s fault for refusing to move outside his violent comfort zone.  Or else, if he did try, the result wasn’t something that you would predict from a successful filmmaker who needs to be improving with each project.  Instead, Hold the Dark is a step back.  It adds in elements other than simple, human, violent tendencies, it sprinkled in a little mysticism to move the plot along, but audiences will soon find out that this tease is just a sham, that Saulnier never intended for this movie to be anything but his typical style, despite the trailer and the buildup.  Even with solid actors, he can’t make something more deep from what starts well and intrigues the viewer, and perhaps it’s time to say that he’s just not able.  Wright and Keough, specifically, are great, and their scenes at the beginning are enrapturing.  But then shit hits the fan, the plot plummets downhill, and there isn’t time to recover, resulting in a film that only has its blood to bolster it, when it needs far, far more.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Hot Summer Nights

Category : Movie Review

Director: Elijah Bynum

Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Alex Roe, Maika Monroe

Year: 2017

Hot Summer Nights is not nearly as good as it should have been.  With Timothee Chalamet as the hottest ticket in town, any movie he chooses to star in should be a guaranteed success.  But as good as he is, I guess it doesn’t exactly work that way, that scenario is too simple, and more than one young actor is needed to create a high-quality film.  Maika Monroe is an It Girl as well right now, a cinema darling to counterbalance a popular cutie but, again, that’s not quite enough.  Writer/director Elijah Bynum makes his first attempt here, and it shows; he simply wasn’t ready to be the field general of this picture.  He had a good idea, found a nice cast, but couldn’t combine all the pieces into something special, which, in his defense, is definitely a rarity.

As the late 80s turned into the early 90s, the baby boomers’ kids needed something to do; hey, why not drugs.  Daniel, who was sent to live with his aunt on Cape Cod for the summer, finds himself amidst the budding recreational drug scene.  The locals all smoke pot, the tourists all do coke, everyone parties hardy, and then they all go home for the fall like nothing ever happened.  Daniel is swept into the scene when he falls for the sexy McKayla Strawberry and becomes friends with her cool brother Hunter.  But when he dives too deep into the drug world, he finds that he’s more alone than he thought.  No one can hold onto friends when he’s built a business on lying, and when the police and rival drug dealers start closing in.

There’s much more to this story that I summarized, almost too much, as the plot spins out of control quicker than Daniel’s summer.  There’s narration, young love, carnivals, and a hurricane; that’s an action-packed couple months.  Bynum had too many good ideas and refused to cut any of them out, so we get a coming-of-age tale but also much more than we would normally ask from that genre.  Chalamet is a natural, and this role was made for him, but that doesn’t mean he can carry the whole thing on his own.  Nice performances from Monroe, Roe, Thomas Jane, Emory Cohen, and William Fichtner help, but even a solid cast can’t make magic when the story is written so sloppily.  With too many directions at once, the point of the film is ultimately lost, despite many positives that make Hot Summer Nights a fine dramody, but nothing incredible.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆