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

Film Brief: Uncut Gems

An initial note: all the press accounts of Uncut Gems played up the idea of this as the first serious role for Adam Sandler, which is utter nonsense. Sure he’s known for his goofball roles, but: Punch-Drunk Love, Spanglish, Reign Over Me, and Men, Women & Children.

It’s such a sad state when even the mainstream (TV) press from which so many people get their information is so wrong so much of the time — at least on stuff like this. The whole Oscars So White balderdash they play up too. 12 Years a Slave, anyone?

Onto the movie…

Uncut Gems features a good pace, with a fringe on mania. The Safdie brothers have an idea. Style with no substance carried Good Time to something much less than the title promised; style and a whirlwind, stream-of-consciousness storyride propelled this much-improved follow up. 7/10

Comparison Notes: Aronofsky films (Mother!, e.g.); Hustlers, Joker

The Irishman – Ramble On

My thoughts on The Irishman will ramble like the film itself.

1- I think no intermission speaks to the lack of chapters, to the lack of big story arcs. Does a movie that’s 209 minutes long need an intermission? Even if you don’t need to use the john, that’s a long time to sit. Longer films of yore had intermissions: Lawrence of Arabia, 2001, Patton, and, it was rumored, The Hateful Eight. But those movies all had significant story movements. Chapters, if you will. Like a novel. Or a good epic/saga-like film. Such sweeps don’t exist in The Irishman. The film starts and just goes in a somewhat monotone fashion until it’s done. No intermission is criminal.

2- Yes, monotone. But there’s a lot going on. And it’s not exactly draggy. As long and big as it is, The Irishman is not hard to follow and hold one’s interest, more or less, for the whole length. It’s not boring.

3- I felt that all the star power was not used that well. Pacino, yes, because he plays Jimmy Hoffa, a larger-than-life character. The De Niro and Pesci characters I thought should have been played by younger actors. I didn’t entirely buy their act, though I give some credit for the depiction of aging.

4- One big problem is that it’s hard to become emotionally invested in the Irishman/De Niro’s character.

Think about The Departed. You’re pulling for the good guy, the DiCaprio “good cop.” You’re not pulling for anyone in The Irishman. They’re all pretty much a bunch of weasels, and not even the fun quirky type of weasels you can pull for in any way. So that even more is why it’s a big so-what. Somehow in Raging Bull, even though Jake La Motta was a jerk, you were made to care about him a little. You’re definitely pulling for our hero/anti-hero in Breaking Bad. In The Irishman, I found myself glazed over because I just didn’t care, other than as a point of interest.

It’s a personal odyssey, but it’s not thrilling enough to be a personal thriller. Not round, but flat.

5- The worst sin: I don’t think anyone’s going to come back in 5 or 10 years and say oh what a great movie that was. There’s nothing particularly memorable or novel about it. There’s no a-ha! moment. There’s no classic quotable line or citable scene. It was all rather hum-drum. Well-executed, but humdrum.

6- The Irishman never plunges into a juicy, thrilling story like The Departed. That kind of lock-in setup never happens. The film just plugs along. However, the meditative moments that draw the film to a close combine with the earlier highlights and better sequences to raise the whole into positive territory, if barely.

7- Captions are placed over characters who will meet a usually violent end, even though those characters have little or nothing to do with the story. They’re introduced on screen, with a note on their demise, and proceed to have no import.

8- The film’s only title presented on-screen (prior to end credits) is “I Heard You Paint Houses.” This is code for whacking those who need to be whacked. Again, if Scorsese had any sense of grandness we’d see intro titles. And why “I Heard You Paint Houses”?  Like that’s a big-time title. Of course there’s no intermission. We couldn’t even get titles.

9- On Netflix. Back to point 1. There are big plot points, but the film just isn’t built in a way that lends itself to an intermission. Or maybe it does, if the desire were there. One may wonder if the film was built this way to make the theater-going experience as uncomfortable as possible. So that Netflix could make a point: how much better would this be to watch at home? Locally, in all of San Diego county, the only place showing the film was the Landmark Hillcrest, the local art house. Like a Scorsese film starring De Niro and Pacino is some kind of indie.

The Landmark features non-reclining seats that if anything are less comfortable than average. So I said if you can’t beat em, join em. I tried to stay with the film best I could, taking no break in the last 2 hours of the film. And, I admit it worked well to watch at home. Unlike Roma, there’s not a ton of long shots with detail that is missed on your home screen.

It would seem that this type of release will become more and more the norm. It’s a little sad. I give A24 grief now and then, but they, along with Fox Searchlight, Blumhouse and a couple other studios, are keeping the theater alive with movies other than Marvel and animated releases.

10- Marvel movies aren’t cinema. In significant vectors, neither is The Irishman. In just as many other vectors it is. There’s a lot of good production value here — would we expect anything less? I hardly loved it, but at least we’re not seeing the downward spiral à la Oliver Stone.

11- A lot of caveats on this, but on balance: 6/10.

Comparison Notes: The Departed, Mystic River, Donnie Brasco, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, JFK, The Drop

Film Brief: The Lighthouse

Underwhelming is the operative word here. Overrated claptrap pops up too. Nowhere in my imagination would I think The Lighthouse would make Robert Eggers’ previous effort The Witch look good by comparison, but it does.

As expected, there’s plenty of atmosphere, and, aye sir — the square frame is fittin’. But I’ve said it a million times — atmospherics aren’t everything. You need a good story. Eggers, once again, is well short of the mark and lacks a clear vision. The conclusion — no spoilers needed here — is downright lame. 4/10

Comparison Notes: Dead Man, Mad Men, Antichrist. The concluding scenes of The Lighthouse brought to mind Antichrist. And it makes you realize what a genius Lars von Trier is. Eggers, by comparison, is a poser, a wannabe hack, one attempting to appear as some great art director, but hollow at the core. Because story is always the core.

The Farewell Fondly Remembered…

…just not by me.

The Farewell is one of those indies that seems to have legs, still showing in first-run theaters for the eleventh week as of this post date.  Legs always get me to see movies that I otherwise would skip — I feel if a movie is going to have staying power, there’s a reason for it. A 100% Tomatometer score among Top Critics and the amiable, energetic charm of Awkwafina sealed the deal.  As a bonus, I got to finally see a film at the local art-film screening/media center known as the Digital Gym.

There’s obviously a lot of heart in The Farewell. Naturally, with the whole death theme, there was some poignancy that ran throughout. This was not missed on me. Sadly, the story is mostly non-existent.  It’s basically Awkwafina moping around for an hour and a half. Her spirited presence in Crazy Rich Asians has been left far behind, forgotten on a distant continent.

The tone is off too. I thought about how much better Woody Allen handled material like this. Even the comic moments mostly played very flat. There’s no spark here.  Shame on those who think the art and hard work of thousands upon thousands of people involved over the decades in Woody Allen projects should be thrown in the toilet.

IT’S BASICALLY AWKWAFINA MOPING AROUND FOR 90 MINUTES

The Farewell is not without a bright moment or two, but this true story is a yawner. A documentary, as hinted at upon the conclusion, would have been more enlightening. More lecturing about the differences between Chinese and American culture, ideas I’ve already heard a million times, does not move me. 4/10

Comparison Notes: The Big Sick, Crazy Rich Asians, Terms of Endearment, the incredibly tragic documentary Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, shown as a Frontline episode.

A Midsommar′s Day Dream

Swedish Tourism must be having fits over Midsommar.  It is absolutely going to increase visitation — but only of those the Swedes would rather stay away.  I wonder if a portion of the normal, sane tourists who might otherwise come may be scared off — or maybe just scared off from traveling north from Stockholm.

One of the strong points of Midsommar is a sense of authenticity:  that these type of festivals do exist, and that to a large extent the events depicted do in fact occur as shown — if not to the same extremes.  The dress, the dance, the food, the architecture and decor, even the tea they drink all feed into the sense that we are observing genuine Swedish custom.

* * *

Midsommar is completely compelling for 2 1/2 hours — which is not easy.  Never boring.  Not exactly edge-of-your-seat-Bound/Dead Calm riveting, but it has good rhythm and flow.  It does not fall into that too-common A24 trap of long, patient, dramatic pauses that drag to eons of nothingness.  Stuff definitely happens.

Writer/director Ari Aster had the same problem with Midsommar as he did with his first film, last year’s Hereditary: closing.  Luckily, with Midsommar, the closing issue is limited mostly to the conclusion, which I did not think befit the rest of the film — though most would think it quite satisfactory.  Not out-of-the-box enough for me.  With Hereditary, the problematic conclusion crept into the entire final third of the film.

I do give Aster credit for making a follow-up to Hereditary that in no way feels like a follow-up.  Midsommar has a completely different vibe to it than Hereditary, to the point you would never know they were both produced by the same man.  Indeed, Midsommar is full of original elements — a creative fire by Aster that never kindled in Hereditary.

There are a couple other small issues with Midsommar which may leave it short of being a “great film.” I’ve thought a lot about Mother! in relation to Midsommar.  And I think Mother! was, in its own very unique way, a “great film” — yet I only gave it a 7/10.  Any “great film” must be at least an 8.  So I am hereby updating Mother! to 8/10.  Since it was already at the top of 7’s in 2017, its rank on that year’s list is unchanged.

Back to Midsommar: it’s the best movie of the year so far, a sun-washed summer delight.  8/10

Comparison Notes: There’s comparison notes up the wazoo on this one: Ex Machina, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (I assume), Get Out, Dead Calm, Mother!, Annihilation, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Housemaid, La Cérémonie, Antichrist, The Ruins

Film Brief: The Last Black Man in San Francisco

The Last Black Man in San Francisco got to me very mildly on an emotional level — a pretty good accomplishment considering there’s almost no story.  And besides having very little story, it’s not as beautiful as it’s made out to be, and definitely not exultant.  If you’re looking for a movie which continues to surprise and delight you, this is not it.

David Lynch tells budding filmmakers to put down an idea on an index card, then another, then another.  When you have seventy of those, you have a movie.  I think Last Black Man had maybe five tops.  4/10

Comparison Notes: House of Sand and Fog, The Pursuit of Happyness, Fruitvale Station, 99 Homes, Do The Right Thing, Everything Must Go (Will Ferrell), All is Lost

Sci-Fi Gone Awry: High Life

Perhaps I was too harsh with Pet Sematary.  High Life is even more boring, because little story ever existed.  Worse, it is riddled with logic and execution holes — like a leading actor who looks exactly the same from one scene to the next when you later realize he is, in fact, 15 years older.  I’ve seen this before.  Pro tip for directors: people don’t look exactly the same 15 years later, unless agelessness is part of the Sci Fi at play — which it distinctly is not here.  The logic issues go way beyond that, but it’s not worth the effort to delineate them.

High Life is so idiotic, so insipid it makes a movie like Raw look brilliant by comparison.  It’s an embarrassment to good science fiction, a slap in the face to the entire genre. I think there was a small seed of an interesting idea which had nothing to do with space travel, but boy was it muddled to nothingness.  2/10

Comparison Notes (all much better; most recommended): Cube, Snowpiercer, Moon, Passengers, Ex Machina, The Box, Blindness, Under the Skin, The Skin I Live In, Holy Motors

VOD Log: The Blackcoat’s Daughter

By far the best thing about The Blackcoat’s Daughter, which I heard about during a brief theatrical appearance while I was in Grand Junction in 2017, is the poster above.

Haphazard nonsense mixed together by time shifts and flashbacks do not a good movie make.  The Blackcoat’s Daughter serves as another case in point for the weakness of nonlinear storytelling.  That weakness, more often than not: a very skimpy story at the film’s heart.

A CASE IN POINT FOR THE WEAKNESS OF NONLINEAR STORYTELLING

Lynch talked about the “language of cinema” — but in Lynch’s case, that language still paints a beautiful story.  Lesser filmmakers, with little tale to tell, attempt to rely on that language, broken though it may be, to stand on its own.  To compensate for lack of story.  So I keep beating the drum: without the spine of story, no movie can stand.

Add The Blackcoat’s Daughter to the growing list of A24 films heavy on atmospherics, good acting, and little else.  I admit it did mostly hold my attention; there were stretches of the film that were compelling in that what’s-going-to-happen-next kind of way — again, the formula of many A24 releases.  5/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended, and considerably better): Thelma, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Uninvited, Hereditary, The Shining, I Spit on Your Grave