VOD Log: A Ghost Story

I’ll start with a side note.  I saw the trailer for A Ghost Story about three times, I think two of which were at an AMC.  And then the local AMCs collectively failed to ever show the film, or if they did it was for no more than a week or a day.  When it was still showing in theaters outside my area, e.g. in LA, I went to one of the main AMCs to watch another film and was surprised to see a super-sized lobby cardboard poster display for the film.  I inquired about it, and was told there were no plans to show the film.

A theater showing trailers and setting large promotional items on display for a movie seems only to make sense if said theater will at some point show the movie.  But that’s indicative of numerous areas of mismanagement on the part of AMC.  I went to a film lately and a couple of the seats had such a strong fecal odor I moved.

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I point out the AMC nonsense above because I felt like A Ghost Story, starring consummate actors Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, was one of the more significant indies of the year, and given short shrift by the cinemas.  Nonetheless, I was determined to watch it to consider among the films of 2017, so I did something that is rare for me these days: saw it at home.

The movie is intriguing, and certainly compelling — but falls short of providing that grand a-ha moment.  In other words, I liked it despite a thin story.  7/10

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Note: This film is presented in a square (1.33:1) frame with rounded corners, for no particularly obvious or excellent reason.  An affectation, perhaps, but in this case it does not distract from the movie — unlike in American Honey.  I like a lot that A24 Films does, but the square frame trend I hope can be put to rest.

Comparison Notes: Recommended: To The Wonder; Not Recommended: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (previous project with Affleck and Mara)

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Film Brief: The Disaster Artist

I was happy to see The Disaster Artist before it left theaters — and there was a nice crowd at the early Saturday evening showing a week or so ago.  It’s a good movie: entertaining and compelling.  8/10

Now Due: The Killing of a Sacred Deer

A24 keeps up its winning streak (2, now, and counting) with The Killing of a Sacred Deer, sort of a (more) psychological thriller version of Cape Fear.  Kubrick-esque smooth panning and gliding shots combine with an off-kilter sense of impending weight à la vintage P.T. Anderson, e.g. Punch-Drunk Love.

Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman’s second collaboration this year is an extraordinary film, masterfully done.  The only flaw is an over-reliance on the Theory of the Rope.  Without this flaw, we’d be talking best picture of the year.  It’s still up there, on par with Get Out.  David Sims, The Atlantic:

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is humane and satirical, horrifying and hilarious, at once a work of realism and fantasy

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter:

…the new film’s grim scenario of a family under dire threat will make it hard for some to watch. But the impressive rigor of its craft, the skillfully subdued intensity of the acting and the startling originality of the story will make the film unmissable for anyone who cares about bold filmmaking.

A note on Nicole Kidman vs. her friend Naomi Watts.  They are both highly accomplished actors — but Kidman sure takes a broad swath of very interesting, compelling, and daring roles.  Of late, Watts not so much.

8/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended): Cape Fear, “It’s a Good Life” (The Twilight Zone), The GiftFear (Mark Whalberg)

Life in The Florida Projects

The Florida Project is a bright star among the cinematic landscape of 2017.  A sort of Beasts of the Southern Wild or American Honey set in Florida’s Disney World central tourist area, Project is refreshingly original and largely a delight.  I think there should be a “The <fill in the state> Project” featuring life on the edge in every state.  Beasts filled that role for the Louisiana bayou; Tangerine for the streets of Hollywood (practically its own state), and Certain Women sketched Montana nicely (although I’d love to see a sequel).

The Florida Project stars a precocious young girl, Moonee, and her mother Halley; an important dynamic of the picture is that they’re both on about the same maturity level.  Which is to say that Halley is far from being wise beyond her years.  She screws up a lot — but this is her survival game.  So Halley is nonetheless endearing — if not nearly so much as her daughter Moonee.

Back to the American Honey comparison: this movie was more real, with no hint of contrivance at all.  Fresh, honest, and, as I said, mostly a delight.  The only downside was a little lag/drag in the second half.  Another comparison: like Beasts, The Florida Project works on you to gain your sympathies.  I was a little on the fence between 7 and 8 until I watched the trailer again, which reminded me how much I loved these characters and the world they live in.  8/10

Comparison Notes: see above.

Not the Good Time you might expect

IF ONLY the filmmakers had been half as creative as the poster artist

Good Time is right up my alley — just the kind of movie I can  really get into.  If only it were any good.  Though it did hold my interest throughout, I don’t think that’s enough on its own to recommend a movie.  In many ways, Good Time seems like a film school senior project that should have been left in film school.

The entire film is rather pointless.  I kept waiting for it to reach some sort of greater level, but it didn’t.  And the flaws!  SPOILER ALERT!!  SPOILERS FOLLOW – SKIP to the next paragraph to avoid.  It’s called a dye pack for a reason.  It doesn’t just rinse off with water.  And handcuffs aren’t so easily foiled.

The many hackneyed sequences, e.g. the search at Adventureland, contribute to the sense of one gaffe after another over-running Good Time.  There was a good idea here, but it was half an idea.  That is, half as much as necessary for a whole movie.  I’m seeing a lot of this with A24 — let’s hope it improves.  5/10

Comparison Notes: recommended: Buffalo ’66; not recommended: Fruitvale Station, Room

It Comes at Night, or does it? And does anybody care?

A24 Films continues in the tradition of The Witch of substituting long-staring camera shots and dramatic dream sequences for actual plot points.

A number of critics have disseminated that the plague or sickness in the film is never identified.  Some great cleverness is afoot, they argue.  I say poppycock: the filmmaker is simply incompetent, or worse, taking the easy way out.  It Comes at Night may have been a fine short film, but there is way too little here for a feature.

One critic — solidly in the minority — gets it:

The movie is far too solemn and high-minded to indulge in anything resembling scares or thrills, instead doubling down on the queasy atmosphere and lots of long, slow-tracking shots in which nothing happens.

Put another way: The Trigger Effect was a good movie.  Toward the end of the picture our heroic father attempts to break into a house to save his young child.  It Comes at Night is just that small part about trying to break into a house.  You have to think a little bigger sometimes people.  You’re making a movie.

One last thing: the non-ending of It Comes at Night fits this non-movie well.  3/10

Comparison Notes (recommended): the much better films 10 Cloverfield Lane and Blindness (2008)