Twin Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Part I: The Rider

A couple critics on the RT circuit hailed the “poetry” of The Rider.  I’m not sure how poetic it is.  But it’s good.  The plot development is lacking, but the film’s strength lies in its characters.  The performances, and then the movie as a whole, is as realistic as you will ever see in a non-documentary film.  There is a poetry in that, of a sort — but I don’t think that’s what the critics are talking about.  With characters this engaging, the characters ARE the story.  But still, I need more cowbell.  Or more story.  One of those two.

The scenes of horse training are engaging, even fascinating.  OK, maybe even poetic.

I recommend The Rider, but with all the caveats as if it were a 6.  Watch the trailer, then understand this is not a rosy picture.  If you still think you’d like it, go for it and you shouldn’t be disappointed.


Note: Part II will be Lean on Pete, if I can get a decent showtime, which looks highly unlikely.

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)

Binders full of Certain Women


Lane from Mad Men as an American in Montana — and just as frustrated with life? What’s not to like?  Another bonus: placing Certain Women in Livingston — a town I became quite fond of a couple years back.  Tom Huddleston, Time Out:

The setting is Montana in winter, where the Rocky Mountains roll down into the dry, open plains. …it’s hard to recall a movie with such a precise, immersive sense of place, and the very specific mood that comes with it.

That central Montana setting bound me with instant affection to this film.  Now to the “buts.”  I have an “everyday life” tag — and Certain Women has become the mother of all “everyday life” tags.  There are no sweeping dramatic developments to be found here, yet the film is compelling.  On paper, there’s not much to substantiate my “story matters” mantra.  But this is not paper; it is — as David Lynch would say — the language of cinema.

Another potential problem related to the first is that presenting in this slice-of-life way the three exclusive stories do not allow any of them to build to a crescendo.  Potential, I say, because that’s the point — as much as anything else — of Certain Women.  7/10

VOD Log: Office Space [u]

After seeing snippets here and there many times, and hearing about it in conversation on a number of occasions, I finally watched in its entirety Office Space.  Certainly it’s an iconic film, even borderline essential —  but that doesn’t mean it’s great.  The production values leave something to be desired, and purely as comedy it does not measure up to the best Apatow productions.  Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune characterized it as: “Drably shot, unimaginatively written and shallowly acted.”

Still, I recommend Office Space for its classic if rough-hewn content.  Despite its flaws, it musters up a few good laughs, and it’ll keep you in the know next time it comes up at the water cooler.  6/10

Availability: iTunes.  Comparison Notes: Any episode of The Office featuring Steve Carell (don’t bother with post-Steve Carell episodes) is ten times funnier than Office Space.  And, for a much better Mike Judge production, you may visit my post on Beavis and Butt-Head Do America.

UPDATE: NOW 7/10.  I’ve warmed on this one.

Film Brief: Two Days, One Night

Two Days, One Night - poster smallLincoln failed by being a movie about the petitioning of individual votes, instead of being about, say, the sixteenth President of the United States, or the Civil War, or Slavery.  Two Days, One Night is a better movie, but fails by the same account.  It also builds the case — along with The Blue Room and Blue is the Warmest Color — that critics are amoureux with anything French these days.

For most of the movie monotony ruled and I was saying no; by the end a couple nice scenes turned it to a yes.  But on reflection the no votes win out.  5/10


Love Is Strange; this Movie Not So Much

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A great Rotten Tomatoes score (97%) and the chance to see John Lithgow, one of my favorite actors in — gasp! — a movie! — motivated me to see him in the story of of an aging gay couple, Love Is Strange.  The last — and only — John Lithgow movie I can think of him in was the terrific Terms of Endearment.  I’ve always loved him though, especially in the work most associated with him, 3rd Rock from the Sun, the most exuberant sitcom ever made.  He’s a brilliant actor, and I wish he had done, and will do more movies.Love Is Strange - text block

But alas, this project finds him saddled with a visionless, pedestrian script that makes you appreciate the genius of Woody Allen.  The performances are good enough, though the best job here is by Marisa Tomei, always the consummate pro.  Nothing is exceptional on any level, and the plot, script and overall production are straight out of amateur hour.  3/10

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Comparison Notes: Both highly recommended, much better alternatives: The Visitor, House of Sand and Fog

Meet Your New Neighbors

Film Title: Neighbors

NEIGHBORS IS FUNNY.  But there’s an interesting dynamic at play: a legitimate dramatic storyline, while driving the entire movie, is serious enough that it conflicts with the comedy.  When a young couple-with-baby have neighbors from hell (a frat house) move in next door, a genuine and potent conflict arises — and there are no obvious solutions;  just moving away is an idea promptly shot down.

The comedic yin and dramatic yang of Neighbors give it tension of the type that doesn’t exist in a pure comedy as say, Austin Powers, or even Superbad.  Indeed, you can almost think of this movie as a cross between Neighbors - text blockAnimal House and Lakeview Terrace.  The dramatic edge cuts into the funny face of the movie, and limits the all-out belly laughs.  But it’s quite ingenious in it’s simple way.  Because there’s no doubt this is a comedy, and likely the best of the year.  And though the dramatic side may tousle with the comedic, it also holds the film up and sustains it from start to finish.

But don’t get me wrong: Neighbors is not particularly tense.  This is not a life-and-death crime drama after all.  It’s just a very successful comedy, and surprisingly so.  As The Other Woman demonstrated, comedy is tough.  The only real problem I had with Neighbors was a certain airbag sequence, but it was short-lived.  8/10.