Film Brief: The Square

The Square is interesting, perhaps, but more so self-important.  Pretentious even.  It is ultimately a small movie, and I’m not talking budget.  I didn’t hate it, but there’s too much nonsense and weak elements masquerading as something bigger — a veil I saw right through.  4/10

 

 

 

PS: The fact that so many critics thought The Square better than director Ruben Östlund’s previous work Force Majeure lays bare why I write a movie blog.  A lesser critic called The Square “Smart, Sharp.”  I got news for you: I’m smarter than you, and I say The Square was not smart.  The ape-man finale that you thought was so clever was ridiculously untenable.

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Film Brief: Last Flag Flying

I liked these very good veteran actors, especially Steve Carell.  But the story was way too thin, without enough of anything else to make up the difference.  Good intentions only go so far.

Titles MIA for no good reason drag on the first 30 minutes of a movie that needs all the help it can get.  For this I blame Amazon.  So… Another fail by Linklater, but the endearing performances keep Last Flag Flying afloat at 5/10.

Now Due: The Killing of a Sacred Deer

A24 keeps up its winning streak (2, now, and counting) with The Killing of a Sacred Deer, sort of a (more) psychological thriller version of Cape Fear.  Kubrick-esque smooth panning and gliding shots combine with an off-kilter sense of impending weight à la vintage P.T. Anderson, e.g. Punch-Drunk Love.

Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman’s second collaboration this year is an extraordinary film, masterfully done.  The only flaw is an over-reliance on the Theory of the Rope.  Without this flaw, we’d be talking best picture of the year.  It’s still up there, on par with Get Out.  David Sims, The Atlantic:

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is humane and satirical, horrifying and hilarious, at once a work of realism and fantasy

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter:

…the new film’s grim scenario of a family under dire threat will make it hard for some to watch. But the impressive rigor of its craft, the skillfully subdued intensity of the acting and the startling originality of the story will make the film unmissable for anyone who cares about bold filmmaking.

A note on Nicole Kidman vs. her friend Naomi Watts.  They are both highly accomplished actors — but Kidman sure takes a broad swath of very interesting, compelling, and daring roles.  Of late, Watts not so much.

8/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended): Cape Fear, “It’s a Good Life” (The Twilight Zone), The GiftFear (Mark Whalberg)

Life in The Florida Projects

The Florida Project is a bright star among the cinematic landscape of 2017.  A sort of Beasts of the Southern Wild or American Honey set in Florida’s Disney World central tourist area, Project is refreshingly original and largely a delight.  I think there should be a “The <fill in the state> Project” featuring life on the edge in every state.  Beasts filled that role for the Louisiana bayou; Tangerine for the streets of Hollywood (practically its own state), and Certain Women sketched Montana nicely (although I’d love to see a sequel).

The Florida Project stars a precocious young girl, Moonee, and her mother Halley; an important dynamic of the picture is that they’re both on about the same maturity level.  Which is to say that Halley is far from being wise beyond her years.  She screws up a lot — but this is her survival game.  So Halley is nonetheless endearing — if not nearly so much as her daughter Moonee.

Back to the American Honey comparison: this movie was more real, with no hint of contrivance at all.  Fresh, honest, and, as I said, mostly a delight.  The only downside was a little lag/drag in the second half.  Another comparison: like Beasts, The Florida Project works on you to gain your sympathies.  I was a little on the fence between 7 and 8 until I watched the trailer again, which reminded me how much I loved these characters and the world they live in.  8/10

Comparison Notes: see above.

Happy Groundhog Death Day

Surprise!  Rotten Tomatoes gets it right!  The consensus:

Happy Death Day puts a darkly humorous sci-fi spin on slasher conventions, with added edge courtesy of a starmaking performance from Jessica Rothe.

So, yeah… I liked this movie.  Fun.  I’m on the cusp of a 7, but my main issue was it never really scared me, and achieved dramatic tension only a couple brief moments.

Something that normally irks the heck out of me is no starting credits, but with this it’s understandable… the title is practically a spoiler.  And it’s compensated for by two factors: The Universal stuttered roll-out, and fun end credits.  On the high side of 6/10.

Comparison Note: Emma Roberts’ TV show Scream Queens

Blade Runner Revival: Big on Atmosphere, Short on Story

I never would guess that a sequel to Blade Runner starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford would make the original look like some kind of masterpiece by comparison.  The deeply flawed original, at least, had some compelling narrative elements and methods, and a unique design sense.  The sequel has a lot of great visuals and impressive loud bassy sounds (at least in my Dolby 7.1 theater), and even a few entertaining scenes.

But mostly, it’s a lot of conversations that amount to nothing — much like P.T. Anderson’s Inherent Vice.  Like the Anderson flop, almost nothing happens in 2049.

Without those visuals and dynamic audio — the ambience of the film, and a little fun dramatic wrangling, we’re talking 2/10 and at nearly 3 hours, a colossal bore.  As-is: 4/10.  Still boring, but not as bad as nails on a chalkboard.

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A couple more comments about this movie.  First, it’s another one critics swung and missed at.  Same incompetence which would lead to panning Oldboy or the English version The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I reckon.

Now the whole thing about Replicants being some evil force, without ever depicting, and indeed barely explaining, why they’re such trouble.  With The Terminator, you know the cyborgs are bad.  In Alien, the robot is out for corporate interests at the expense of the crew.  In The Matrix, humans have been enslaved by the machines.  But Replicants don’t seem like much of a threat.  That is the utter failure of both Blade Runner and its sequel.

One more thing:  I appreciate slowness.  A movie taking its time.  David Lynch can just hold the frame whilst holding the audience in his grip.  Kubrick, with his slow scrolls and pans, kept you enrapt.  2049‘s director Denis Villeneuve is no David Lynch, and no Kubrick.  You see, that only works if you are already in the midst of compelling tale.  And if you are a competent director.  I liked Prisoners, but boy Villeneuve is in a slide.  To the abysmal Sicario, and lame Arrival, add 2049 to the growing pile of overrated claptrap by Villeneuve.

Comparison Notes: Recommended: Her, Ex Machina, The Fifth Element; Not Recommended: Inherent Vice