Anti-“Office” Assistant

Wanting to go to a movie Sunday night, my choices came down to Fantasy Island and The Assistant. Fantasy Island is as close to a sub-zero rating as possible on the Tomatometer, but the Tomatometer is usually broken. Fantasy Island looked kinda fun, and it’s a Blumhouse production after all. But reviewing the zero percent Tomato reviews among top critics convinced me otherwise.

The Assistant, on the other hand, looked like a drag. I didn’t even watch a preview, but the ratings were high. The one factor that drove me to see it: the film’s star, Julia Garner. I hadn’t seen her since Electrick Children, where I said “expect to see more of her.” Finally, lo these years later, I did, and I was happy.

Boy it’s a smart movie. I like movies where stuff happens, and it does here — but not the kind of stuff you think. And it’s a movie-movie. I mean I’m sitting for an hour straight riveted. And I can’t quite explain why — it’s just following her around the office.

Toward the end there’s a falter. A little on the fence on this one, but for now: a high 7/10

Comparison Notes: Secretary (James Spader, 2002), Swimming with Sharks (Kevin Spacey, 1994), Sleeping Beauty, Wall Street

Nowhere to go but Downhill

I oft disagree with the New York Times, and specifically A.O. Scott, but I was amused at the headline “‘Downhill’ Review: A Small Disaster in the Snow,” with the caption “Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus star in this timid remake of a dark Swedish vacation comedy.” From his write-up:

“Downhill” is a vacation-gone-wrong comedy that lives up to its ill-advised title.

“Downhill,” directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (whose previous vacation comedy was “The Way, Way Back”), is a remake of “Force Majeure,” a 2014 Swedish filmdirected by Ruben Ostlund. Comparing the two is a dispiriting exercise. Ostlund’s version is a sharp, relentless satire of masculine insecurity and middle-class complacency, threading genuine discomfort among improbable laughs. The humor in “Downhill” is broader, which is fine in itself, but the movie is also sloppy, timid and unsure of its tone. It isn’t disturbing, just annoying.

I didn’t know that there was a crossover into The Way, Way Back, a small comedy from a few years ago I was quite fond of. Nonetheless, I was immediately irked when I started seeing snippets of Downhill, which even with a very quick glance was an obvious and unnecessary remake of Force Majeur. This is one of those times when I will not be giving the English-language remake the benefit of the doubt. Nope. I don’t need to watch Downhill to be annoyed by it.

My advice: check out the original — one of the better films of that stellar movie year, 2014.

The Best and Worst of 2019

Just in time for the Oscars, which snuck up on me this year. * = Seen via streaming. Worst to first:

High Life — 2/10 and Honours for Worst Movie of the Year

Aniara — 2/10

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark — 2/10

Fighting with My Family — 3/10

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love — 3/10

Pet Sematary — 3/10

Rocketman — 4/10

The Farewell — 4/10

Honey Boy — 4/10

The Last Black Man in San Francisco — 4/10

The Lighthouse — 4/10

Ad Astra — 5/10

Pain and Glory — 5/10

In Fabric* — 5/10

Hustlers — 5/10

The Irishman*– 6/10

Knives Out — 6/10

Booksmart — 6/10

Ma — 6/10

It Chapter Two — 6/10

Queen & Slim — 6/10

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood — 7/10

Us — 7/10

Uncut Gems — 7/10

Parasite — 7/10

== TOP FIVE ==

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5. The Art of Self-Defense — 7/10

4. Joker — 8/10

3. Honeyland — 8/10

2. Midsommar — 8/10

1.  1917 — 9/10 and Clearly the Best Movie of the Year.  Oddly enough, the Academy will agree.

End Note: An abbreviated list this year. I think there just weren’t as many movies that I felt compelled to see. A small year for movies.

== 1917 ==

1 February 2020: The date I had to wait until to see the best film of 2019, 1917.

The filmmakers of Dunkirk, headed by Christopher Nolan, could learn a couple million lessons from 1917 on how to make a war film. 1917 also easily surpasses Saving Private Ryan. 

I didn’t absolutely LOVE 1917, but in a way I did. I know I’m being wishy-washy, so let me clarify: 1917 is the best and greatest movie of this dismal movie year. On an emotional level it didn’t get to me tremendously, but the sheer cinematic brilliance will keep you rapt. It’s a little dreamlike, and starkly realistic at the same time. The language of cinema, to quote Lynch. And impeccable execution. To all these points: utterly engrossing for 2 straight hours — that’s tough to do. A narrow 9/10.

Comparison Notes: Goodfellas/Swingers (follow/tracking shot), The Revenant, Paths of GloryBirdman, the aforementioned Dunkirk and Saving Private Ryan, Captain Phillips, Elephant

VOD Log: In Fabric

So there is definitely something different going on with this one. Very highly stylized with retro 70’s cheese. Is it horror? Not exactly. Definitely channels those old Vincent Price movies.

I was very much liking In Fabric, even fascinated by it, but then — SPOILER ALERT!!

SPOILER AHEAD!!

Then the central character dies halfway through the movie, and in a most unsatisfactory way. Just when I was really getting to know her and become invested in the story. That completely broke the movie.

END OF SPOILER

I certainly appreciate the novel concept here, but the event spoiled above, plus a general ineptitude in conveying a cohesive story arc, puts me in the minority among critics as not being able to recommend In Fabric.  5/10

PS — This was another film previewed in cinemas (in 2019) but then never shown in any theater. And this time I’m not exaggerating — according to Box Office Mojo, there still hasn’t been an American release, and now that it’s streaming you can bet there never will be. I wish theaters would not waste people’s time with trailers of films that will never be shown in them.

This speaks to the ever-growing dominance of streaming services, but I think it also speaks to this just not being a great film, despite the Tomatometer chorus of cheers; critics tripping over themselves to praise an overall lame film.

Comparison Notes: The Ring, The Red Violin (object permanence, these two), Brazil, The Twilight Zone (original series), Eraserhead, Cronenberg films, Phantom Thread, Raw, A Clockwork Orange, Holy Motors, Christine, Rubber, The Neon Demon, The Double, Teeth