A24 Films continues in the tradition of The Witch of substituting long-staring camera shots and dramatic dream sequences for actual plot points.
A number of critics have disseminated that the plague or sickness in the film is never identified. Some great cleverness is afoot, they argue. I say poppycock: the filmmaker is simply incompetent, or worse, taking the easy way out. It Comes at Night may have been a fine short film, but there is way too little here for a feature.
One critic — solidly in the minority — gets it:
The movie is far too solemn and high-minded to indulge in anything resembling scares or thrills, instead doubling down on the queasy atmosphere and lots of long, slow-tracking shots in which nothing happens.
Put another way: The Trigger Effect was a good movie. Toward the end of the picture our heroic father attempts to break into a house to save his young child. It Comes at Night is just that small part about trying to break into a house. You have to think a little bigger sometimes people. You’re making a movie.
One last thing: the non-ending of It Comes at Night fits this non-movie well. 3/10
Comparison Notes (recommended): the much better films 10 Cloverfield Lane and Blindness (2008)
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
* * *
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.
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
Once upon a time, IFC and Sundance channels aired good indie films, and uncut. One of them was Room (2005, Cyndi Williams), and I was struck with a chunk of it strongly enough to purchase the DVD, as this was in the period prior to being able to choose what I could rent or stream. Some ten years on, I finally got round to watching it.
Anyhoo, not sure what I was thinking as this is an amateurish effort and mostly a waste of time. Too bad because there’s a seed of a good but unrealized idea. Pi — with perhaps some familiar thematic elements — looks like some kind of masterpiece by comparison. Do not confuse with the very good Room of last year. 2/10
In my last post, I noted that good movies were either character-driven or story-driven. What I left off was that the best ones are both — which is where I hoped American Honey was headed. There’s a lot of promise here early on, and I admit I was fairly well stuck on American Honey.
My criticism of Beasts of the Southern Wild was “these folks live in squalor, but they relish it.” The same holds true here. Where American Honey succeeds, in contrast, is in continuously putting our young heroine in risky situations. But the movie fails by the same count — it doesn’t know where to take those storylines. It skirts obvious but bold developments in favor of mundane relationship issues among this very loose group of young adults.
Still though, like Beasts, we have a glimpse into a world of impoverished youth which I found mostly fascinating. There’s a vivid intimacy and fresh honesty here. But this is an overlong movie — nearly 3 hours — and it begins to repeat itself. As always, story matters. At the end of American Honey, you’ll likely be left asking, ‘so what?’ — and worse ‘what could have been?’
A couple more notes: I didn’t pick up on the square frame from seeing the trailer multiple times, but it sure was obvious on my screen: a completely unnecessary, distracting gimmick. Regarding the film’s star, Sasha Lane: expect to see more of her. Hopefully continuing with interesting roles, but don’t be surprised to see her in superhero costume. 6/10
Comparison Notes: Beasts of the Southern Wild, Short Term 12, Tangerine, The Master, Electrick Children, River’s Edge, My Own Private Idaho
Hunt for the Wilderpeople reminded me a skosh of Moonrise Kingdom. It didn’t have the Wes Anderson flair, or anything close to it per se, but it had its own flair, and a spirit one could recognize in an Anderson adventure.
Normally a 100% Tomatoes score + a trailer that did nothing for me + no legs = I’ll skip it. But the complete dearth of films out there forced the issue, and I was pleasantly surprised. Nothing groundbreaking here, but a couple non-pat choices help out this entertaining diversion. Note that the trailer I am including below is not the version I referred to prior. 7/10
Top: “A Bigger Splash” by David Hockney; Bottom: A Bigger Splash, currently in theaters
There will be two “Bigger Splash” movies this year. One of them is a documentary on David Hockney, the great Los Angeles-based artist.
The movie A Bigger Splash takes on a theme I’ve seen in a few indies lately: that of vacations going south. Force Majeure, The Two Faces of January, and The Loneliest Planet are examples of this concept in recent years. Terror flicks like I Spit on Your Grave or Hostel also technically fall under this category, though we’re talking there about a very different type of film, obviously. It’s a great storytelling tool because it allows ordinary people to be placed out of their element, out of their comfort zone. Vacations allow ordinary people to face extraordinary circumstances.
Force Majeure was the best at this, in the psychological drama side of the bucket. One of the problems with A Bigger Splash is that it is not completely confident of what it is trying to be. As a psycho-sexual drama, it had me pretty well gripped for about the first three-quarters, at which point it took the inevitable turn as given away in the trailer — and suddenly became a completely different and much more mundane picture. Because of this, I was going to render a marginal thumbs-up, but the film did stick around in my head just long enough for a 7/10.
Comparison Notes: besides the films mentioned above, Swimming Pool (2003) — one of those movies I’ll have to see again to post on; La Cérémonie (highly recommended)