Hereditary Encumbrances

You go into Hereditary thinking it’ll be some sort of wonderful all-out creepfest.  There is a definite creepiness factor, but the film morphs into yet another fairly conventional haunted house/haunted spirit flick.  For all of its careful consideration of factors such as visual design, Hereditary pays much less attention to presenting a strong compelling story.

Which is not to say it’s not compelling.  Certainly not boring.  But if you remove the miniatures, I doubt I’d recommend.  An absent starting title for no reason doesn’t help.  At least A24 didn’t revert back to the square frame on this one.

I’ve largely forgotten about this movie already, but in its immediate wake it did get under my skin a bit.  So — a begrudging 7/10.

Comparison Notes: Thelma, Poltergeist, Drag Me to Hell, and others in my Spirit” post, Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, Psycho, The Ring, Cube, Mother!

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Film Brief: First Reformed

First Reformed has been compared to Taxi Driver; I think Big Night is a much better way of thinking of it.  A non-humorous, dark version of Big Night with no cooking, just a lot of drinking.

I’m on the fence a little with this one.  The story was overly simple, and lacked the profound heft that I think was being attempted.  No argument that it was compelling — not boring for a minute — and that the performances were good.  The main problem with First Reformed was that it was too easy to see where the story was heading.  Nonetheless, this is the second-best picture of the year so far, on the high end of 7/10.

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Note: First Reformed features a square frame, which I normally find a unnecessary distraction.  I think A24 has got some vested interest in the square frame — something other studios just don’t use and for good reason.  I must concede that it worked well with this movie.  The only distraction on this one was Landmark’s super-bright EXIT sign right next to the screen.

Comparison Notes (all recommended): the aforementioned Big Night, Inglourious Basterds, Breaking the Waves, The East, Safety Not Guaranteed, The Wrestler, The Machinist, Apocalypse Now

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)

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.