Sleightly Nerve-Racking

I love independent, fun little dramas that give you a sense of not knowing where they are heading.  Sleight does that, and well.  There are some scientific and medical non-possibilities which weaken the final third of this brief film, but I love the whole street performer-with-multiple irons in the fire-angle.  7/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended): Nightcrawler, Dope, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Gran Torino, Drive, Tangerine

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UPDATE: I caught some the beginning parts of Nerve on TV, and was reminded of what a fun and fresh film it is, at least through the first half.  So an upgrade: 7/10.  Just don’t expect it to hold up all the way to the end.

A Colossal Mistake?

Colossal starts slowly, and I felt completely neutral through the first half.   In other words, it lacked zest.  Some audience members were laughing at what I guess were attempts at light humor which for me fell flat.  In this chunky manner it rolls along, until it turns in unexpected, even daring directions.  The film doesn’t gel into the compact punch it might, but it ends nicely.  6/10

Comparison Notes (recommended): Fido, John Dies at the End

 

T2 Trainspotting: Why or Why Not?

There was a profound opportunity to tell the story how heroin addicts who barely survived their respective early struggles were faring 20 years later.  That’s the story I believe Danny Boyle was trying to tell.  In my book, he failed miserably — that rocket sailed sky-high over his head.  T2 Trainspotting should by all rights have been a deep and powerful film that stood firmly on its own.  Instead, he made a picture utterly pointless without the original.

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I’ve always paired Trainspotting and Pulp Fiction as the two great, seminal, earth-shattering films of the nineties.  The movies that were so utterly transformative.  Quentin Tarantino never tried to remake or produce a sequel to Pulp Fiction, and I hope he stays true in this regard.  Danny Boyle, a vastly inferior filmmaker, didn’t have the same self-restraint.

So it sounds like I’m bashing the heck out of Boyle’s follow-up.  But I liked it just enough for a thumbs-up.  Why?  I love the original so much, and T2, for all its many shortcomings, works well as a vibrant homage to the groundbreaking original.  Kind of like when a rich kid goes off to run the business his father built from the ground up, and is able to at least keep it afloat a few more years.  Put another way, dumb down “massively entertaining” and see what you get: something not nearly as entertaining, but still not a bad trifle.

Marginally recommended, with a heavy dose of all the standard caveats, plus add: an adoration of Trainspotting, and that you see it on a big screen with big sound.  Both trailers included below not by accident.  6/10

Personal Shopper in a Double-Medium

Kristen Stewart as a personal shopper, yes.  A lackadaisical, blasé medium, no.

I’m not saying Stewart is a bad actress, but in no way shape or form did I buy her as any sort of psychic.  And I suppose I am saying it: she was just playing herself in Personal Shopper, down to her unmasked and incongruous tattoos.  It wasn’t pretty.  Kristen Stewart, I am certain, has zero psychic abilities, and her thinly veiled character didn’t either.

 

 

 

It’s nothing against Stewart, not personally or anything.  I liked her in last year’s Café Society and Certain Women.  She’s good when she’s playing herself.

Beyond all that, Personal Shopper was hurt by an incompetent filmmaking approach.  Not only did I not believe Kristen Stewart, I didn’t buy the vomited ectoplasm.  I mean really, if you’re trying to blend reality with the spiritual world take a cue from David Lynch.  Or at the very least Alejandro Iñárritu.  4/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended): the Patricia Arquette series Medium was a vastly superior portrayal, and a convincing one, of the everyday working psychic.  Everyday, yet not blasé about it.  In movies we have: Sleeping Beauty, Drive, Safety Not Guaranteed, Antichrist, Twin Peaks FWWM, Wild at Heart, Vertigo, Belle de Jour

Raw, Local, Organic

I love good edgy indies foreign and domestic; Raw is not one of them.  I wasn’t buying most of it, and there wasn’t enough style or substance to overcome its many issues, for example I never felt like I was watching students at a veterinary school, but maybe some sort of weird cult.  More problems:

SPOILER ALERT!  SPOILERS ALERT!  This girl is a devout vegetarian one moment, and the next, for no good reason, is scarfing meat down with abandon.  Vet students are animal haters?  And she grew up never seeing her father with his shirt off?  These and many other issues toss Raw down to B-movie territory, except there’s not enough fun to elicit that B-movie charm.  Forced, inorganic storytelling exacerbates these weaknesses.

Still, there was a certain raw, explosive power to the movie that kept it engaging.  But even in this regard, when the director was holding a straight flush she folds.

On top of everything else, Raw just wasn’t as original as it’s been made out to be; see Comparison Notes.  Entering the local arthouse, I was told that someone had fainted during a previous showing.  Barf bags and warning signs were hastily dispatched.  I so wished that Raw lived up to all the hype.  5/10

PS Raw is categorized as a horror film, but it’s a joke as a horror film.  Hardly horrifying.

Comparison Notes (all recommended): for infinitely better French ‘fare’ about consumption of human flesh — which they have a knack for, check out the greats Delicatessen and Les Amants Criminels; Teeth, every vampire movie ever (Only Lovers Left Alive looks like a masterpiece by comparison), Antichrist, The Neon Demon

Get the F– Out!

Get Out is thoroughly entertaining and just plain good — a nice surprise.  I think it likely to hold up in the Top 10, even with the assumption that this year will fare much better than last.  Is it on the level of another ‘get out’ story, Ex Machina from a couple years ago?  Not quite.  But it’s a fun, frightening feature for folks (quintuple-‘F’!!).

Now compare to that last effort by M. Night Shyamalan.  No comparison, and M. Night’s been doing this for decades.  It makes it all the more remarkable what Jordan Peele (yes, of Key & Peele) has accomplished.  Let’s see, he wrote and starred in Keanu.  The cat movie.  Well-regarded, but a silly cat movie.  Very next movie, Get Out.  Whoa, what a turn.  Much respect.  Quite the way to break out of slapstick.

There are a few silly moments in Get Out, which serve nicely as comic relief.  You might call them ‘audience pleasers.’  They weren’t bad at all, but hardly integrated into the larger story as deftly as the Coens or Vince Gilligan would pull off.  So a little incongruity there.  But no matter: I urge you to Get Out and see this movie.  8/10

Comparison Notes (all highly recommended): Being John Malkovich, Invasion films, Sound of My Voice, Martha Marcy May Marlene

From Iran: The Salesman

If you cross House of Sand and Fog with Prisoners and watching paint dry in Tehran, you might end up with something like The Salesman.  This movie won the best foreign film Oscar, which completes the Academy’s trifecta of totally blowing it for the 2016 season.

Critics adored this film and the director’s last U.S. release, About Elly.  The Salesman was marginally more interesting than About Elly, but both offer more proof of critical praise based on political correctness.  And movies from Iran, I suppose, are still such a novelty that anything must be good in the critics’ eyes.

If one took this exact same movie, set in Chicago or Tallahassee and in English, critics would be screaming about how bad it is.  An oddity I noticed on this one: careless errors in the subtitling.  Amazon Studios really phoned it in on that.

The Tomatometer is so wide of the mark on foreign films generally, and especially thosethe-salesman-text-block of this director, that I’m done with these type of recommendations, at least until such time that a trailer really grabs the hell out of me.  I found The Salesman to be gutless and uninspired.  Beyond that, obvious implausibilities weigh on the story.  A bit of effective drama toward the end raises it to 4/10.