Film Brief: Embrace of the Serpent

I was reluctant to see Embrace of the Serpent because it didn’t make sense to me that a lush jungle setting would be depicted entirely in black & white.  But it turns out that’s not the problem — monochrome allows one to focus on the textures, and only adds to the film’s richness.  Too bad the story doesn’t.  For most of the film the plot is compelling, but, like so many movies, it doesn’t know how to close the deal.  5/10

Comparison Notes: Apocalypto, Dead Man, Apocalypse Now, The Emerald Forest, 2001, The Mission


VOD Log: Bridesmaids

I caught the dress shop scene in Bridesmaids a couple times on TV, and laughed enough to add the movie to my queue.  I had been led to believe — by that scene and all the film’s marketing — that this was going to be an ensemble comedy, but it’s not.  It’s the Kristen Wiig story.  And it’s not very funny, as it attempts to balance its humor with a more serious romantic story in the vein of Enough Said, Trainwreck, or The 40-Year-Old Virgin.  Ms. Wiig also co-wrote the movie, which is part of the problem.    When it comes to comedy writing — at least of the feature-length variety, Kristen Wigg is no Judd Apatow, and she’s not even half-way to Amy Schumer.

As far as Ms. Wiig’s performance: I like her in supporting roles — her tiny stint in Knocked Up was hilarious.  But she can’t carry a film by herself.  More ensemble work on screen was desperately needed here.  A little more Melissa McCarthy and a lot more Rebel Wilson would have improved the end product immensely.

As we learned from The Other Woman, comedy is tough.  I didn’t hate Bridesmaids, but it is a broken film.  My initial reaction was a marginal thumbs-down, but after a few days my thoughts have soured.  4/10

Cinematic Greats: Breaking the Waves

Breaking the Waves - poster

Breaking the Waves (1996) is one of the greatest films ever made, and the magnum opus of Lars von Trier.  Martin Scorsese and Roger Ebert each hailed it as one of the 10 Best films of its decade, with Ebert writing:

“Breaking the Waves” is emotionally and spiritually challenging, hammering at conventional morality with the belief that God not only sees all, but understands a great deal more than we give Him credit for.

…  Not many movies like this get made, because not many filmmakers are so bold, angry and defiant. Like many truly spiritual films, it will offend the Pharisees. Here we have a story that forces us to take sides, to ask what really is right and wrong in a universe that seems harsh and indifferent. Is religious belief only a consolation for our inescapable destination in the grave? Or can faith give the power to triumph over death and evil? Bess knows.

Breaking the Waves - Index Card

I wrote in 2008:

I’ll leave you for today to just mention one last movie, standing in great contrast to the movies I’ve written about above.  I won’t say too much about it, but that Breaking the Waves (1996, Emily Watson) I saw in the movie theater and became physically drained from the experience.  Not so much an entertainment as an exercise, but like a good work out, this one pays off.  It is for the most part a quite bleak film, with these very colorful mini-intermissions – about six – spread Breaking the Waves - text blockthrough as sort of chapter markers.  The film is a unique vision of the making of a saint, and through the bleakness emerges finally at the end great joy.  It is, as I now think about it, and I’ve thought about it many times – one will never forget this one – an alternate (and I’ll say a very alternate, without elaborating how at this time) telling of the story of Christ.  No more about this now, except perhaps to understand the mood of it a little, the theme music (only in the end credits) is Bach, Siciliano from Sonata for Flute & Harpsichord in E flat major, BWV 1031 – a melancholy rendering of that performance, that is, as compared to a more flamboyant or whimsical version as some I just sampled on iTunes.  [2016 Note: for trumpet and organ, not available on iTunes] If you ever do watch it, to get the full experience try to do it in one sitting with no more than one pause or so, which should be done at a mini-intermission.  As I said, an exercise to watch it, 159 minutes.

* * *


Availability: iTunes rental & purchase

Film Brief: Deadpool

Deadpool - poster smallI was even more set against seeing Deadpool than I was Hail, Caesar!, but, as with the Coens’ picture, something switched.  Deadpool has legs, and I thought how bad could all the male crotch/ass shots be?  As it turns out, bad, but also not frequent or disturbing enough to ruin the picture.  So we’re left with a fairly original, somewhat fun, somewhat boring, plotless film.  I am really on the fence with this one, but the lack of a compelling story was causing my mind to drift, so a marginal thumbs-down.  5/10

Comparison Notes (Recommended): Guardians of the Galaxy, Natural Born Killers, Fido, John Dies at the End


Film Brief: 10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane - poster

My central issue with 10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t popping up in a cursory review of reviews: the implausibility of a couple smallish but important plot points.  And as good as it was, it could have done with a little added zest.  But I quibble: this film is engaging, fun, tense: a success.  A solid recommendation.  7/10

Comparison Notes: Recommended: The Mist, Misery, Room, Oldboy, Take Shelter, Breakdown (1997); Not recommended: Skyline

Expose Where to Invade Next [u]

Where to Invade Next starts like a firecracker (by documentary standards) and rolls briskly for a good hour before hitting something of a brick wall.  Up to that point it competes among the best, most fast-paced comedies.  Though down-shifting in the second half, Moore remains on task.

Where to Invade Next - text block

Now I’ve known about some of the differences between Europe and the U.S. for eons now, but even so Where to Invade Next is perhaps the most eye-opening film I’ve ever experienced, and a must-see for all Americans.  We can all feel the burn.  9/10

UPDATE: True value: 8/10