At the heart of The Art of Self-Defense is an old-hat plot, but the film is done in a mostly original and offbeat way, with just enough of my type of dark humor and quirky, unexpected moments to yield a solid entertainment.
A big plus for this movie is that at times it’s very insightful. It’s central character is well thought out. And it’s told in a smart way — an example of which follows past the spoiler alert. The action that I am disclosing is not a critical plot point, so it’s not really much of a spoiler — but it does happen later in the film, which by itself necessitates a spoiler alert:
In the concluding period of the film, Sensei is shown cleaning the dojo — scrubbing the toilet, wiping down the mat, etc – menial work that should be below him, easily delegated to an underling. This is an intelligent thing to include on its own — many lesser filmmakers would have left it out. But what’s even smarter is that it’s shown toward the end of the picture. Many, again, lesser filmmakers who might include this short sequence would be apt to place it earlier, say in the middle. When you see that sequence, placed as it is in Self-Defense, you understand that this is a storyteller who knows what he’s doing.
[END OF SPOILER]
At other times it’s not so smart, making obvious errors. But that opening scene, in which he’s being mocked in French, establishes this movie above the fray. 7/10
Comparison Notes: Office Space, The Karate Kid, Fight Club, Sorry to Bother You, most superhero films
…not The Favourite. However, the period aspect of it is well done, and it engages from start to finish: its greatest accomplishment. I also very much liked the use of super-wide angle lenses. The story stumbled in the home stretch, and the end left me dissatisfied. In other words, there could have been more, but it wasn’t bad. I suppose you could say that about any movie in the 3 to 8 range.
How’s that for cogent analysis. 7/10
PS To clarify, The Favourite may well be “the” favorite film this year, in the sense that it is sure to rack up many awards including very possibly the big one. It’s just a couple pegs south of my favorite.
Comparison Notes: Dangerous Liaisons / Valmont / Cruel Intentions, Mother, Requiem for a Dream, Ridicule (1996), The Little Hours
The Sisters Brothers features a great, rich, and seemingly accurate visual representation of the burgeoning frontier west, but the language didn’t seem so authentic, oft filled with anachronisms — though I wonder if that was intentional. A character-driven story, the plot could have been beefed up. Still, I was entertained as I followed these rapscallions. 6/10
Comparison Notes: Dead Man, Django Unchained, all westerns
There’s a lot thrown into A Simple Favor, and, surprisingly, it all works. It’s not exactly a juggling act, but lesser filmmakers have been stymied with this much story. The filmmakers never revert to BS pseudocomplexity (yes, I just coined a new word) of garbagepieces (again) like The Girl on the Train, to which it has been compared. Rather, the layers of A Simple Favor elevate it beyond a comparatively mono-dimensional film like Searching.
Not that this is high art. A spirited, fun film, there are splish-splashes of hokeyness, especially at the end with a little hackneyed silliness — but then silliness is always just floating above, or below, the surface. Makes sense given the farcical oeuvre of the director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy). Point being, A Simple Favor did itself a favor by not taking itself so seriously — the death-blow of many films, the most prominent recent example being A Quiet Place.
Beyond all that, Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively are a sheer joy. 8/10
Comparison Notes: Gone Girl, The Gift, Prisoners, the aforementioned Searching, Gone (2012), A Simple Plan, Fargo
Going into Thoroughbreds, I thought it would be little more than an update on Heathers, styled to the tastes of contemporary youth, and set with a bevy of up-and-coming starlets to match. Luckily, there’s a little more to it than that. Whenever you have good strong characters, or at least characters with attitude portrayed well, half the work is done. Characters make up for a lot, in this case a story that is hardly original.
In other words, Thoroughbreds is entertaining but less than great. 7/10
Comparison Notes (all recommended, and better): The Housemaid, La Cérémonie, Heathers, Fletch
Lets play a game, of sorts. A guessing game. Why does Mark have a blog? Roger Ebert.com, in no way speaking as Roger Ebert would have, and, further, very much sallying his name, is generally in agreement with the Rotten Tomatoes consensus:
…a raucously funny film that has a knack for going right up to the edge of nastiness.
WRONG! I was actually enjoying Game Night, if mildly, until the latter third or so when it bounced between implausibility and trite stupidity. Lesser critics describe it as edgy; they haven’t any idea what true edginess is.
So what started off nicely in thumbs-up territory devolved into yet another silly pseudo-crime action flick with overly contrived “plot twists” and inane action sequences involving, for instance, airplanes that never get off the ground when attempting takeoff. The best part of the film by far: Jesse Plemons (Fargo season 2) If there is any reason to see Game Night, it is the hilariously creepy Jesse Plemons. 5/10
Comparison Notes: Recommended: Due Date, Neighbors; no opinion: Date Night
Surprise! Rotten Tomatoes gets it right! The consensus:
Happy Death Day puts a darkly humorous sci-fi spin on slasher conventions, with added edge courtesy of a starmaking performance from Jessica Rothe.
So, yeah… I liked this movie. Fun. I’m on the cusp of a 7, but my main issue was it never really scared me, and achieved dramatic tension only a couple brief moments.
Something that normally irks the heck out of me is no starting credits, but with this it’s understandable… the title is practically a spoiler. And it’s compensated for by two factors: The Universal stuttered roll-out, and fun end credits. On the high side of 6/10.
Comparison Note: Emma Roberts’ TV show Scream Queens