Film Brief: Patti Cake$

I wouldn’t call it an “unambiguous joy,” as did the oft-overstated Manohla Dargis, but I did like it.  Jake Coyle, AP:

The Sundance sensation “Patti Cake$” may flow with formulaic beats but it’s got spirit for miles (eight of them, at least) and features one of the best mother-daughter relationships of the year.

I would have liked Patti Cake$ more had the music, in this case the rap, been more effective on me — only one track swayed me.  Call it a minor case of the Inside Llewyn Davis Syndrome.  Still though, on the high side of 6/10.

Comparison Notes (recommended): 8 Mile

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Not the Good Time you might expect

IF ONLY the filmmakers had been half as creative as the poster artist

Good Time is right up my alley — just the kind of movie I can  really get into.  If only it were any good.  Though it did hold my interest throughout, I don’t think that’s enough on its own to recommend a movie.  In many ways, Good Time seems like a film school senior project that should have been left in film school.

The entire film is rather pointless.  I kept waiting for it to reach some sort of greater level, but it didn’t.  And the flaws!  SPOILER ALERT!!  SPOILERS FOLLOW – SKIP to the next paragraph to avoid.  It’s called a dye pack for a reason.  It doesn’t just rinse off with water.  And handcuffs aren’t so easily foiled.

The many hackneyed sequences, e.g. the search at Adventureland, contribute to the sense of one gaffe after another over-running Good Time.  There was a good idea here, but it was half an idea.  That is, half as much as necessary for a whole movie.  I’m seeing a lot of this with A24 — let’s hope it improves.  5/10

Comparison Notes: recommended: Buffalo ’66; not recommended: Fruitvale Station, Room

Lady Macbeth Doth Protest Too Little

Lady Macbeth started and ran strongly for about the first two-thirds, before running into territory that was a bit mishandled, and less than optimal even if handled perfectly.  Still though, very good and fully engrossing — and the biggest reason is the film’s star.  Adam Graham, The Detroit News:

With quiet menace, [Florence] Pugh chews through director William Oldroyd’s handsomely composed period thriller like a rat gnawing through a wall.  She’s a force to be reckoned with, and her nightmare stare lingers longer than any poor sap who dares to get in her way.

Cath Clarke, Time Out London:

This brilliantly feminist British indie film plunges a cold, sharp knife into the back of bonnet dramas.

Indeed.  A lot of (evil) fun to be had here.  Maybe think of as a companion piece to The Little Hours, which is sticking with me enough that I’m considering bumping it up a notch.  Every time I think of it I smile inside.  As for Lady Macbeth: 8/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended): Les Amants Criminels, Lars von Trier films, especially Breaking the Waves; Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett), The Last Seduction, The Housemaid, Marie Antoinette.

It Comes at Night, or does it? And does anybody care?

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)

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

* * *

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.

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

DVD Log: Room

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