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)

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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)

Film Brief: 20th Century Women

There’s a form of contrivance in film which may be termed amalgamation.  The idea that a perfectly good movie can be made by an assembly process, putting a bunch of different elements together in a box.  It’s not a good thing.  Much better is to let your film develop organically.

Nonetheless, I liked the performances and bit of fun in 20th Century Women, so a marginal thumbs-up; 6/10, and one step behind The Accountant on the 2016 List.

Comparison Notes (recommended): The Diary of a Teenage Girl

 

Film Brief: Moonlight

moonlight-poster-smallI had no desire to see Moonlight, but it has proven to have legs and is likely to garner Oscar nominations including the big one.  Plus, I was in the mood for something that might make me think a little.  And so my review:

Act “i”: Great; Act ii: Great; Act iii: Complete and utter collapse.  Also not happy about omission of an opening title.  8/10 if you lop off Act iii, but since the producers did not, thumbs-down; 5/10.

 

Does American Honey Stick?

american-honey-poster

In my last post, I noted that good movies were either character-driven or story-driven. What I left off was that the best ones are both — which is where I hoped American Honey was headed.  There’s a lot of promise here early on, and I admit I was fairly well stuck on American Honey.

My criticism of Beasts of the Southern Wild was “these folks live in squalor, but they relish it.”  The same holds true here.  Where American Honey succeeds, in contrast, is in continuously putting our young heroine in risky situations.  But the movie fails by the same count — it doesn’t know where to take those storylines.  It skirts obvious but bold developments in favor of mundane relationship issues among this very loose group of young adults.

american-honey-text-blockStill though, like Beasts, we have a glimpse into a world of impoverished youth which I found mostly fascinating.  There’s a vivid intimacy and fresh honesty here.  But this is an overlong movie — nearly 3 hours — and it begins to repeat itself.  As always, story matters.  At the end of American Honey, you’ll likely be left asking, ‘so what?’ — and worse ‘what could have been?’

A couple more notes: I didn’t pick up on the square frame from seeing the trailer multiple times, but it sure was obvious on my screen: a completely unnecessary, distracting gimmick.  Regarding the film’s star, Sasha Lane: expect to see more of her.  Hopefully continuing with interesting roles, but don’t be surprised to see her in superhero costume. 6/10

Comparison Notes: Beasts of the Southern Wild, Short Term 12, Tangerine, The Master, Electrick Children, River’s Edge, My Own Private Idaho