The Life of a scary space octopus

FRAUDULENT TRAILERS ANNOY the heck out of me.  And it’s very clear what I mean by a fraudulent trailer: one that includes content which is completely devoid the film.  That was one of the problems with the insipid Silver Linings Playbook.  In the Life trailer, audio of JFK’s speech about the USA’s moonshot is featured prominently, as if to give a greater context to the film.  Why then the speech, and its full implications, go AWOL come movie-time can be explained by only one reason: incompetence.

And so what you’re left with is a scary space octopus version of Alien.  Like Alien, the nascent forms of the alien life-form are quite intriguing.  Unlike Alien, that’s the best Life gets.  Life quickly devolves into a very second-rate monster-chase film.

I did like the sequel-ready ending of Life, but overall there’s too much mindlessness.  Having to introduce a new tag “trailer perjury” doesn’t help.  5/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended): The Ruins, Alien, Moon, Passengers, The Mist, Splice

Raw, Local, Organic

I love good edgy indies foreign and domestic; Raw is not one of them.  I wasn’t buying most of it, and there wasn’t enough style or substance to overcome its many issues, for example I never felt like I was watching students at a veterinary school, but maybe some sort of weird cult.  More problems:

SPOILER ALERT!  SPOILERS ALERT!  This girl is a devout vegetarian one moment, and the next, for no good reason, is scarfing meat down with abandon.  Vet students are animal haters?  And she grew up never seeing her father with his shirt off?  These and many other issues toss Raw down to B-movie territory, except there’s not enough fun to elicit that B-movie charm.  Forced, inorganic storytelling exacerbates these weaknesses.

Still, there was a certain raw, explosive power to the movie that kept it engaging.  But even in this regard, when the director was holding a straight flush she folds.

On top of everything else, Raw just wasn’t as original as it’s been made out to be; see Comparison Notes.  Entering the local arthouse, I was told that someone had fainted during a previous showing.  Barf bags and warning signs were hastily dispatched.  I so wished that Raw lived up to all the hype.  5/10

PS Raw is categorized as a horror film, but it’s a joke as a horror film.  Hardly horrifying.

Comparison Notes (all recommended): for infinitely better French ‘fare’ about consumption of human flesh — which they have a knack for, check out the greats Delicatessen and Les Amants Criminels; Teeth, every vampire movie ever (Only Lovers Left Alive looks like a masterpiece by comparison), Antichrist, The Neon Demon

Logan’s Run, Run, Run

Pursuit – run-in, pursuit – run-in, pursuit – really big run-in, end of movie.  This basic, worn out, unengaging and paper-thin plot structure is the bane of many superhero and “action” films, and to some degree explains the disparity between the Tomatometer and my score on a movie like Logan.  Almost makes you wonder if all these other critics are so dim as to not recognize the formula, or somehow think it novel.

I liked the feisty girl, and the performances in general were OK.  I’m a bit of Hugh Jackman fan — from Les Miz at least.  Add in a little fun to get yield 4/10.

Comparison Notes: the much better Mad Max film from a couple years back

Alt Art of The Neon Demon [u]

Some movies inspire numerous alternate posters and art, often unofficial or fan art.  Donnie Darko is the prime example of this phenomenon.  Donnie Darko is also a truly magnificent film, in a class by itself — something The Neon Demon could only dream of.  But credit must be given to the cool visuals within The Neon Demon, and the imaginations ignited by it.  As with Donnie Darko, I think my favorite poster is the original (above), but I love to see what people have created; a mere sampling:

Get the F– Out!

Get Out is thoroughly entertaining and just plain good — a nice surprise.  I think it likely to hold up in the Top 10, even with the assumption that this year will fare much better than last.  Is it on the level of another ‘get out’ story, Ex Machina from a couple years ago?  Not quite.  But it’s a fun, frightening feature for folks (quintuple-‘F’!!).

Now compare to that last effort by M. Night Shyamalan.  No comparison, and M. Night’s been doing this for decades.  It makes it all the more remarkable what Jordan Peele (yes, of Key & Peele) has accomplished.  Let’s see, he wrote and starred in Keanu.  The cat movie.  Well-regarded, but a silly cat movie.  Very next movie, Get Out.  Whoa, what a turn.  Much respect.  Quite the way to break out of slapstick.

There are a few silly moments in Get Out, which serve nicely as comic relief.  You might call them ‘audience pleasers.’  They weren’t bad at all, but hardly integrated into the larger story as deftly as the Coens or Vince Gilligan would pull off.  So a little incongruity there.  But no matter: I urge you to Get Out and see this movie.  8/10

Comparison Notes (all highly recommended): Being John Malkovich, Invasion films, Sound of My Voice, Martha Marcy May Marlene

From Iran: The Salesman

If you cross House of Sand and Fog with Prisoners and watching paint dry in Tehran, you might end up with something like The Salesman.  This movie won the best foreign film Oscar, which completes the Academy’s trifecta of totally blowing it for the 2016 season.

Critics adored this film and the director’s last U.S. release, About Elly.  The Salesman was marginally more interesting than About Elly, but both offer more proof of critical praise based on political correctness.  And movies from Iran, I suppose, are still such a novelty that anything must be good in the critics’ eyes.

If one took this exact same movie, set in Chicago or Tallahassee and in English, critics would be screaming about how bad it is.  An oddity I noticed on this one: careless errors in the subtitling.  Amazon Studios really phoned it in on that.

The Tomatometer is so wide of the mark on foreign films generally, and especially thosethe-salesman-text-block of this director, that I’m done with these type of recommendations, at least until such time that a trailer really grabs the hell out of me.  I found The Salesman to be gutless and uninspired.  Beyond that, obvious implausibilities weigh on the story.  A bit of effective drama toward the end raises it to 4/10.

M. Night Shyam-A-Lam-A-Split-Bam

M. Night Shyamalan burst onto the film scene in 1999 with The Sixth Sense; his results since then have been, to put it nicely, mixed.  I did like last year’s The Visit, a campy minor romp.  But it’s clear he’s no creative genius, no Quentin Tarantino or P.T. Anderson — nor anything close.  As evidence we have Split, a movie more ambitious than Shyamalan’s ken.  A lot of elements he grasps at sour into hackneyed nonsense.

split-text-blockOn top of that, Split wasn’t nearly as dramatic as it had every right to be.  Given the premise, there were a million more interesting ways it could have gone.  But instead, it went the I-am-out-of-my-depth-with-storywriting way.  There are obvious comparisons to 10 Cloverfield Lane.  We weren’t dealing with multiple personalities there, but the psychosis was much more effective.  Split delivered a little transient entertainment value — James McAvoy turns in a fun game with the lead.  But the effort is squandered by Shyamalan, and I cannot recommend.  5/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended): Don’t Breathe, Saw, The Human Centipede, The Silence of the Lambs, Dead Calm, Riveting Rentals