zuhause: Hide Your Smiling Faces

C’mon, folks. You’ve got to do more than that. Have a story.

Lush, green, oaky atmosphere (who knew that New Jersey has a corner in Appalachia?), strong performances and a whiff of a plot provide some saving graces, but not nearly enough. 4/10

The next zuhause movie I choose really needs some more oomph. Or any oomph.

Comparison Notes: River’s Edge, Stand by Me, Gus Van Sant films

 

zuhause: The Other Lamb

The Other Lamb features powerful performances and gorgeous, oft-skewed or inverted visuals; it gets lots of style points and certainly has an idea. But I was not buying large chunks of the premise — not so much the premise of a cult, one of my favorite themes, but the premise as laid out in the details.

One thing that Leave No Trace made clear: it’s not so easy or automatic to be a squatter. The details of exactly how you are so easily existing — even with law enforcement on your tail — need to be dealt with. Again, this is not a general rule, but as a filmmaker you cannot both live in a world of realistic detail and float above it — at least not without being much more more adept at the balancing act. 6/10

IT’S NOT SO EASY TO BE A SQUATTER

Comparison Notes: the aforementioned Leave No TraceMelancholia, Antichrist, Midsommar, Martha Marcy May Marlene, We Are What We AreCaptain Fantastic, Swiss Army Man, The Witch, The Lodge, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Hereditary, Electrick Children

zuhause: Light from Light

Light from Light was recommended, if I recollect, by Apple as a “New & Noteworthy” film; intrigued, I added it to my ever-more-monstrously-large Wish List. It’s short, 82 minutes, and has a 93% Tomatometer score, so I gave it whirl.

Those who follow my blog know that I’m not supposed to give a hoot about Tomatometer scores, but, I admit, 93% holds a little sway for a small film like this that I know nothing about. The Tomatometer didn’t exactly break on this one, but I was hardly as gaga as the few critics who recommended it (only seven “top critics”).

I found Light from Light a quiet little film, lovely — to a degree, but hardly earth-shattering. I reckon it fit my mood, even if the story was a bit wanting. Something was kinda sweet about it, even though, in a sense, almost nothing happens. Look at it another way and plenty happens. The little romantic elements in it combine with a sphere of details to form a complete picture, and ultimately a satisfying one.

Back to the Tomatometer — I disagree with the critic who said “it is a gem likely to stay with anyone smart enough to seek it out.” Gem is a strong word here, and I can’t see thinking about this movie in as little as a year from now. Recommended, though, with the standard caveat-pack. 6/10

Comparison Notes: A Ghost Story, Certain Women, Winter’s Bone, To the Wonder

VOD Log: Butt Boy

Credit goes to Jeannette Catsoulis and The New York Times, which I’ve been reading a lot lately, for bringing be finally back into the fold of watching movies at home. Or one movie, at least.

Ms. Catsoulis’ review is titled “‘Butt Boy’ Review: Compulsion as Comic Noir,” with the tagline: “A search for missing children leads to a man with a strange impulse in this wildly polarizing film.”

I’m not sure how wildly polarizing it is, but she starts out:

To endorse a movie titled “Butt Boy” is to commit to its lunacy — and, dare I say, cheek — as fully as its makers. And maybe it’s the hell we’re all living through right now, but Tyler Cornack’s orificial fantasy struck me as a hilariously bawdy, intermittently inspired act of vivacious vulgarity.

As typical with so many critics, that’s overstating it. But I admire her enthusiasm, and her alliteration.

My take: I like it when stuff happens in a movie, and it does in Butt Boy, in a mix of somber and corny, or more aptly Cornholio-y, and of both professionally and amateurishly executed filmmaking. This movie doesn’t wait around like so many A24 dramas.

There are a couple minor logic issues, larger story problems, and significant production weaknesses stemming from a lack of visual / cinematic prowess. A moment here or there where so-so TV drama quality is on display doesn’t help.

But to the Times take, this movie has an idea. It’s a fun story that mostly compels with dramatic buildup. Like those diversions listed in Comparison Notes below, you’re not likely to forget this one soon.

6/10

Comparison Notes: Holy Motors, Fight Club, John Dies at the End, Swiss Army Man, Fargo Season 3, South Park episode “Red Hot Catholic Love,” Teeth, Under the Skin, In Fabric

Who’s the Beast

Beast had me well intrigued for most of the going, but the final third was a muddling disappointment.  Or put another way, I liked this movie until I didn’t.  The concluding scenes are not so clever or original as I think the filmmakers, and most critics, believed them to be.  I will grant that the romance at the center is compelling.  A marginal thumbs-down; 5/10

Comparison Notes: the much to infinitely better: Lady Macbeth, Side Effects, Ex Machina, Under the Skin, Thelma, The Box

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.

7/10

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

Claim You Were Never Really Here. I wish I could.

You Were Never Really Here reminds me of Good Time from last year: a little indie that, with the first scenes and through the intro title, I thought: YES!  This is GOOD… often you know immediately when a movie is going to be good.   But with one punch then another and another, a left hook and a right jab, you realize how bad it’s going to be.

Not showing every last detail and letting the imagination fill in the gaps can be a very effective means of storytelling.  The best examples are Fargo and American Psycho.  But when that’s the whole film — random dead people left and right, real and imagined, it just goes to show how little an idea the filmmaker has.  Of how little a story there is.  Of trying to substitute style for substance.

It all goes back to a theme I keep pounding away at: the power of linear storytelling.  More often than not, when a filmmaker goes highly non-linear, they are compensating for the lack of a good story.   Not that You Were… is all that nonlinear.  It’s just bad.  I blame it on Amazon.  3/10

Comparison Notes: The infinitely better Thelma comes to mind.  When the movie resorts to bodies floating in water for no good reason whatsoever, you realize you’ve hit bottom.

VOD Log: Brigsby Bear

Early parts of Brigsby Bear looked like a badly-executed, very narrow corollary to Room — and I was thinking it headed for contention as worst of the year.  Soon enough, however, Brigsby Bear turns into a sweetly endearing and entertaining film.  There’s still too much suspension of belief required, but the movie doesn’t let you dwell on it — which is the same that could be said about the missing titles.

Brigsby Bear was yet another barely-shown yet marketed film.  In this case, it wasn’t a whole lot to miss — but that’s beside the point.  This will be the last one before my 2017 list; the remaining two are A Cure for Wellness and The Blackcoat’s Daughter.  I’ll let you know if I ever get round to watching those.

A nice surprise-bonus of Brigsby Bear: Mark Hamill is a good actor!  6/10

Comparison Notes: Recommended: The Wolfpack, The Disaster Artist, Short Term 12, Sling Blade, Superbad, Butter; Not Recommended: The Book of Henry, Captain Fantastic, Life is Beautiful

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.

* * *

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

* * *

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)

Get Lucky!

Besides the fact that this guy is really old, there’s not a lot going on here.  But the old guy is Harry Dean Stanton, and I like him.  Seeing some other old timers was nice too.  The script is too full of contrived pontificating, but there is sweetness as well.  6/10

PS The director apparently has no direct familial relation to David Lynch.

Comparison Notes (recommended): Nebraska, The Straight Story, Bagdad Cafe