Personal Shopper

March 22, 2017 at 3:48 pm | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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As a rule (in my experience), Olivier Assayas can be a challenging director for an American audience. His work is dense and resists a traditional narrative arc. Sometimes that works, as I think it mostly did in “Clouds of Sils Maria.” This time, it did not. Assayas appears to have found a muse in Kristen Stewart. He seems to understand her wounded toughness in a way few other directors do and he can draw strong performances from her. Here she plays Maureen, the personal shopper for a French celebrity. At the beginning of the film, she is asked to stay in a now abandoned country home because it may be haunted and she has some sort of psychic ability. There is a brief side story about people apparently wanting to buy the house if the apparition can be dispelled but it never goes beyond one scene. Also, Maureen’s twin brother has died and he may/may not be part of this haunting. The film looks like it’s going to be a ghost story and does a good job in those early scenes of creating a creepy vibe. But, very quickly, it abandons that story line. Maureen moves to an apartment in Paris and begins getting creepy texts from an unknown person. Who is it? Could it be a ghost? The film plays with this for a while and appears to be evolving into an interesting thriller, especially when a murder occurs. But, then that is resolved very quickly. After that, return to the ghost theme and the film ends in a very nebulous way in Marrakesh. Along the way, there are some genuinely creepy, well constructed scenes and there are a lot of boring scenes of Maureen shopping and living vicariously in her boss’s clothing. The film won Best Director at Cannes, so it has clearly resonated with a lot of people. I just never found myself drawn in. The continuous shifting of the story line didn’t allow momentum to build, which seems to me to be a critical error in a thriller. Also, because the story was so muddy, the ending lacked punch for me. I think I get what Assayas was trying to say. If so, it’s an evocative idea. I just wish he had built up to it more effectively. As it was, I found the film too confusing when it was trying to be creepy and too boring when it was trying to be insightful. Not a good combination.

Kong: Skull Island

March 12, 2017 at 11:25 am | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ½

In order for this film to work, you must concede from the start that it’s a comedy. Not a standard set-up & punch line comedy, but a comedy none-the-less. If you can allow for that, I think you’ll enjoy the hell out of this film, as I did. It was such goofy, over-the-top fun from start to finish and it was just so clever on so many levels. This is the first blockbuster film from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (“The Kings of Summer”) but he is the right director for this type of film. He’s a very visual filmmaker and has a great eye for finding the humor in the melodramatic: the slo-mo choreography of the choppers, images reflected in aviator sunglasses, perfect 70s vest jackets, the Nixon bobblehead, the list goes on. He had me laughing continually over small, clever details. But he also has an eye for the grand, as well. The visuals of the island and its various creatures were just stunning. This was the most beautiful, fully realized version of Skull Island to have appeared in any King Kong film. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, this film pays homage to multiple other films, but none more humorously than “Apocalypse Now.” Over and over again, it references the film: the boat going down the river, the music blaring from the helicopters, the compound and tribe where they find the “gone native” soldier. The film even names two characters Marlowe ( Martin Sheen’s character in “Apocalypse Now.”) and Conrad (Joseph Conrad was the author of “Heart of Darkness,” upon which the film was based). The theme of descent into the jungle (and therefore madness) is straight out of that film. Even the soundtrack was a clear nod to the heavy 70s soundtrack that was part of what defined “Apocalypse Now.” There were other nice nods to earlier films, particularly other monster movies, like when John Goodman’s character referred to Kong as a “massive unidentified terrestrial organism.” This was a reference to the exact same term used in the 2014 Godzilla movie; it was given as a name (MUTO) for the creature Godzilla fought. Speaking of that film, my chief complaint there was that it went only half-in on the campiness: the monster was full camp but the acting and dialogue were so self-serious. That is not the problem here. Everyone is having fun with the silliness of it all. Nobody behaves in any way remotely realistically and I could care less. That was the main problem with Peter Jackson’s 2005 “King Kong;” it was such a sentimental and loving homage to the original that it lacked any real spark of it’s own. A monster film should not take itself seriously and this one certainly does not. It is ridiculous from start to finish but it should be and I enjoyed every single scene of that ridiculous ride.

Logan

March 6, 2017 at 7:00 pm | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊

I said in my last review that “Get Out” was actually a comedy/parody disguised as a horror film. Well, “Logan” is a horror film disguised as a superhero movie. In particular, it belongs among the goriest of slasher flicks. This dark tale must be based on a story from the comics, though it is not one I was familiar with. That was probably best. I have only been disappointed by the truly terrible adaptations that have been made of classic X-Men stories (“Days of Future Past” and the brilliant Wolverine miniseries, just to name two). In general, the entire X-Men series of films has been one boring misstep after another. This was the first one to have any depth of character, any real sense of peril and that required any actual acting. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart were terrific as the two aged and broken heroes. Their banter, bickering and pain were such a nice relief from the typical superhero fare. This is 2029 and its a grim world where both men have lost faith in themselves, each other and everything else. Grittier and far far more violent than any other X-Men film, I found myself drawn into the story, even while I was occasionally distracted by the violence. Somber from start to finish, this was unlike anything I might have expected and I was delighted. I hope we see more filmmakers willing to take this genre into the world of adult emotions and complexity. There are so many heroes that I think could flourish under that treatment.

Get Out

March 6, 2017 at 6:20 pm | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ½

Admittedly, it seems a bit odd to be getting a horror film written and directed by comedian Jordan Peele, from Key & Peele fame. But, don’t worry, this isn’t really a horror movie. Or, rather, this isn’t a standard, “Halloween”-type, slasher film. Instead, it’s more of what I might call social-horror; a razor sharp social commentary disguised as horror. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things to make you jump and squirm and wince a bit. But that is not what is really going on here. What should really make movie-goers wince is how deeply Peele cuts into the bone of American liberalism. This is really a film about racism, but not the racism of Trump’s American, in all of its blatant, ugly glory. This is a film about the racism of Obama’s America, hidden just below the surface of liberal white paternalism. It is not about people who overtly hate people of color but, rather, people who fetishize them. This is fairly dark material and, despite its humor, the film is pretty dark. What makes it work is the largely strong performances. In particular, British actor Daniel Kaluuya (“Sicario,” “Black Mirror”) is fantastic as the lead, playing shy, incredulous, jaded and terrified with equal ease. Betty Gabriel was the other scene stealer as the clearly not-quite-right maid. They were both great fun to watch and, in fact, this whole film was great fun. It was also all the things you would expect from a decent thriller and managed to keep you on the edge of your seat most of time, even if you were also laughing.

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