Film Brief: Beyond the Lights

Beyond the Lights - posterThere was a lot I liked about Beyond the Lights, and a lot I wasn’t crazy about.  Really on the fence with this one, but in the end it was too shallow and too soft.  If more had been done with the music I’d say yes, but as it is a marginal non-recommendation; 5/10


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Film Brief: The Book of Life

The Book of Life - poster smallReally not that bad, with lots of cool Día de Muertos illustrations (I say illustrations, because the animation itself was nothing very spectacular), but after all it’s a kids movie.  The Book of Life has a good heart, but I was bored and this is not  4/10







A Force Majeure To Be Reckoned With

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Force Majeure may be considered as a cross between what Escape from Tomorrow might have imagined being, had it imagined being a good movie, and The Loneliest Planet [prior post].  Peter Travers, Rolling Stone:

[The Writer-Director Ruben] Östlund shifts gears from humor to psychological thriller, redefining courage and family in the process. Force Majeure is a jolt. You won’t know what hit you.

“Thriller” is a bit much, but psychological drama, yes.   And I’ll dip down to the Daily News for the first time, as critic Jordan Hoffman nails it:

It’s a sly tease, superbly written and performed. There’s even odd humor. It’s all set against gorgeously shot natural vistas.

Force Majeure - text blockDefinitely an intriguing little movie hinged on one’s reaction when you and your loved ones are in peril.  One more movie comes to mind: Claude Chabrol’s small masterpiece La Cérémonie, though nothing quite so drastic happens here.  Definitely worth a look for the refreshing cinematic vision alone; the trailer will tell you immediately whether or not this one’s for you.  Shot in the French alps; in Swedish and English.  8/10

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Interstellar: Up and Down

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Interstellar has been compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey, so let’s get one thing out of the way: I know 2001.  I love 2001.  And Interstellar is no 2001, any more than Dan Quayle is Jack Kennedy.  Nor even is it Gravity, and reaching under the sea nor is it The Abyss.

Interstellar - text block 1I mostly agree with the Rotten Tomatoes consensus, except for the part about expectations from Nolan, which I’ll get to in a moment:

Interstellar represents more of the thrilling, thought-provoking, and visually resplendent filmmaking moviegoers have come to expect from writer-director Christopher Nolan, even if its intellectual reach somewhat exceeds its grasp.

Critics are sharply divided over this movie.  Some are calling it a must-see masterpiece, which it certainly is not, while others have panned it.  Joe Morgenstern for the WSJ:

Christopher Nolan’s 168-minute odyssey through the space-time continuum is stuffed with stuff of bewildering wrongness.

That had me laughing!  I’m in the middle.  Lots of holes share space with entertaining, well acted sequences and moments of true wonder to fill this overlong movie.  But there’s a lack of clear, penetrating vision here, and we can blame only one person.

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Christopher Nolan does not have the ability to construct a cohesive narrative.  I thought Memento completely implausible; Insomnia let the raw power of its concept and acting talent slip from its grasp; I remember little about Inception other than not liking it.  And when it comes to Batman, although I appreciate the darker, more authentic shading of the Dark Knight tales, I’ll take Tim Burton over Christopher Nolan any day of the week.

After all that you might think I’m saying thumbs down to Interstellar.  But the good parts outweigh the bad, if barely; so I give it a marginal recommendation.  To all the normal caveats add a theater with a very good sound system, good enough to shake the walls and your seat during those extra-loud moments.  6/10

ALTERNATIVES: If you’re in the mood for some truly outstanding science fiction, check out my post Sci-Fi Do or Die.

Citizenfour Compromises Its Position

I went into Citizenfour with an understanding that Edward Snowden was not absolutely correct about the government’s supposedly universal ability to hack anything it sets it sights on.  Proof to the contrary: the Justice Department’s annoyance with the impenetrability of iMessage.  And specific to Citizenfour - posterSnowden’s charges that a number of internet companies provide the government a “back door,” Apple has denied that it does.  And Apple has demonstrated time and again that it prioritizes the privacy of its users.  Google and Facebook, that’s another matter.

Since I know that not everything Snowden stated was correct, it puts into question the veracity of his entire testimony.  Listening to him a bit, you certainly get the sense that he’s not making this stuff up.  But Citizenfour sadly fails to address any viewpoint other than Snowden’s.  That might be forgiven if the movie had offered a fascinating exploration into the world of national security.  But it did not.  In fact, there was not a whole lot that Citizenfour revealed that has not already been well publicized.

So we’re left with some good one-on-one time with Edward Snowden as one of the few strengths of this documentary.  But even that gets a little draggy.  There have been related episodes of the outstanding PBS series Frontline (“The United States of Secrets”, for example) which are far more compelling than this movie.  Chalk up another strong disagreement with the Tomatometer.  3/10