Film Brief: Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace may be thought of as an antidote to Captain Fantastic.  There are some powerful elements to the film, but it’s not without its own issues and left me wanting for more.  Still, there’s a lot I did like about it, like walking across the bridge.  A marginal 7/10

Comparison Notes: American Honey, Into the Wild, 127 Hours, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Wolfpack, A Quiet Place, Swiss Army Man

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Hereditary Encumbrances

You go into Hereditary thinking it’ll be some sort of wonderful all-out creepfest.  There is a definite creepiness factor, but the film morphs into yet another fairly conventional haunted house/haunted spirit flick.  For all of its careful consideration of factors such as visual design, Hereditary pays much less attention to presenting a strong compelling story.

Which is not to say it’s not compelling.  Certainly not boring.  But if you remove the miniatures, I doubt I’d recommend.  An absent starting title for no reason doesn’t help.  At least A24 didn’t revert back to the square frame on this one.

I’ve largely forgotten about this movie already, but in its immediate wake it did get under my skin a bit.  So — a begrudging 7/10.

Comparison Notes: Thelma, Poltergeist, Drag Me to Hell, and others in my Spirit” post, Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, Psycho, The Ring, Cube, Mother!

Upgrade Your Movie-Going Experience

I wasn’t expecting much with Upgrade, thinking it would be just another bionic man / Limitless re-take.  In a way, it is — but plenty of original material including a refreshing sci-fi vision and design sense combine with a brisk plot to move Upgrade beyond the ordinary. This is a fun movie.

Something else completely unique about Upgrade: the first ever SPOKEN entry titles (that I’ve ever seen/heard).  At one point there was just a bit of lag, but I liked the end.  Those involved with putting out Blade Runner could learn a thing or two from the Blum-House Boys.  8/10

Comparison Notes (recommendations mixed): the aforementioned LimitlessLucy, Blade Runner I & II, The Matrix, The Terminator, John Wick, Ex Machina

Film Brief: American Animals

American Animals mixes actors and the real-life characters they portray in a sometimes very effective and other times distracting suboptimal way.  On top of that, the movie dragged out too much.  There’s no reason for it not to have been 30 minutes more compact.  But the performances were good and compelling, and the movie redeemed itself at the end.  The climax and immediate aftermath swung American Animals back into positive territory.  6/10

Comparison Notes: every heist film ever, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Bernie, Donnie Darko

Film Brief: First Reformed

First Reformed has been compared to Taxi Driver; I think Big Night is a much better way of thinking of it.  A non-humorous, dark version of Big Night with no cooking, just a lot of drinking.

I’m on the fence a little with this one.  The story was overly simple, and lacked the profound heft that I think was being attempted.  No argument that it was compelling — not boring for a minute — and that the performances were good.  The main problem with First Reformed was that it was too easy to see where the story was heading.  Nonetheless, this is the second-best picture of the year so far, on the high end of 7/10.

* * *

Note: First Reformed features a square frame, which I normally find a unnecessary distraction.  I think A24 has got some vested interest in the square frame — something other studios just don’t use and for good reason.  I must concede that it worked well with this movie.  The only distraction on this one was Landmark’s super-bright EXIT sign right next to the screen.

Comparison Notes (all recommended): the aforementioned Big Night, Inglourious Basterds, Breaking the Waves, The East, Safety Not Guaranteed, The Wrestler, The Machinist, Apocalypse Now

Who’s the Beast

Beast had me well intrigued for most of the going, but the final third was a muddling disappointment.  Or put another way, I liked this movie until I didn’t.  The concluding scenes are not so clever or original as I think the filmmakers, and most critics, believed them to be.  I will grant that the romance at the center is compelling.  A marginal thumbs-down; 5/10

Comparison Notes: the much to infinitely better: Lady Macbeth, Side Effects, Ex Machina, Under the Skin, Thelma, The Box

Film Brief: Disobedience

Disobedience is an unpleasant film, and not the good kind of unpleasant.  Strong performances flesh out the world of orthodox Jewish life in modern London, but there is not nearly enough here story-wise.  Nearly a non-movie.  4/10

Comparison Notes: recommended: Carol, Crazy/Beautiful, House of Sand and Fog; not recommended: the Iranian films The Salesman and About Elly bear a number of similarities