VOD Log: Revenge

Revenge is a French I Spit on Your Grave set in the desert.  It’s not as good as that movie by a long shot — among other things, it’s plagued by problems of both logic and execution — but it’s not without it’s positive attributes.

My first reaction upon finishing Revenge was that I was mildly entertained, so a marginal thumbs-up, but I reflected on those numerous, nagging logic gaps, and then on the overall feel of the film.  It was striving for something that it just couldn’t accomplish.  Between the poster and the trailer, I thought I would really dig the look of the film’s desert setting — but that setting, and the movie itself, felt off and flat.

4/10

Comparison Notes: first and foremost, the previously mentioned I Spit on Your Grave; Eden Lake, Straw Dogs, Last House on the Left (these 3 in Riveting Rentals), After Dark, My Sweet

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VOD Log: The Blackcoat’s Daughter

By far the best thing about The Blackcoat’s Daughter, which I heard about during a brief theatrical appearance while I was in Grand Junction in 2017, is the poster above.

Haphazard nonsense mixed together by time shifts and flashbacks do not a good movie make.  The Blackcoat’s Daughter serves as another case in point for the weakness of nonlinear storytelling.  That weakness, more often than not: a very skimpy story at the film’s heart.

A CASE IN POINT FOR THE WEAKNESS OF NONLINEAR STORYTELLING

Lynch talked about the “language of cinema” — but in Lynch’s case, that language still paints a beautiful story.  Lesser filmmakers, with little tale to tell, attempt to rely on that language, broken though it may be, to stand on its own.  To compensate for lack of story.  So I keep beating the drum: without the spine of story, no movie can stand.

Add The Blackcoat’s Daughter to the growing list of A24 films heavy on atmospherics, good acting, and little else.  I admit it did mostly hold my attention; there were stretches of the film that were compelling in that what’s-going-to-happen-next kind of way — again, the formula of many A24 releases.  5/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended, and considerably better): Thelma, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Uninvited, Hereditary, The Shining, I Spit on Your Grave

VOD Log: Three Identical Strangers

Reenactments in documentary film need to be done carefully without looking like a cheesy TV production — or omitted altogether.  Errol Morris set a standard for the former in The Thin Blue Line, and Ken Burns for the latter.  Three Identical Strangers misses the mark and would better have left them out.

Which points to the weakness in the film — I think better documentarians might have presented the material more poignantly.  Still, the content here is powerful and profound.  7/10; sandwich between Crazy Rich Asians and Thoroughbreds on the 2018 List.

Comparison Notes (all recommended and better): The aforementioned Thin Blue Line, Making a Murderer, The Civil War, Searching for Sugar Man

VOD Log: We’re the Millers

The terrific TBS promo for We’re the Millers had a lot to do with my desire to see the film.  This promo does not exist anywhere on the internet, that I can find, other than the fragment pasted below — and that’s a shame.  TBS should be proud of its promos.  I do have a small problem with it — there is no girl playing a saxophone on the beach in the movie.  There’s not even a beach.  The musical backdrop, indeed, has no relation to the film at all — which technically amounts to perjury.  However, I certainly can’t ding a movie based on a television network’s independent ad campaign for it.

We’re the Millers falls in the sub-50% zone on Rotten Tomatoes.  One critic wrote that “The filmmakers lack the courage of their convictions.”  Maybe so — but I know that going in.  Put another way, I judge a movie on what it is, not on what it isn’t.  I’m not expecting high art or tense edginess.  I’m expecting Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston in a fairly mindless comedy.

And it works on that level.  There’s something likable about these characters, and this story — raunchy and banal as it often is.  It comes nowhere close to comparable films Vacation or Due Date, but for what it is, it succeeds — barely.  6/10

Availability: iTunes

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.

VOD Log: 99 Homes

Cross House of Sand and Fog with Wall Street, filter through the lens of Blood and Wine, and you’d get something like 99 Homes.  Maybe a little anyway.  It is a compelling film throughout, if never quite explosive.  And it’s hard to put my finger on it, but it feels not altogether completely fleshed out, i.e. not as well-rounded as it could be.  Still, pretty darn good.  7/10

Availability: iTunes rental

French Highlights: La Cérémonie

La Cérémonie - poster

I lived in LA for three years, from 1995 through 1997, and caught what seems now an inordinate proportion of terrific films, among them a string of great French and Italian productions.  One of them was a compact little bulldog called La Cérémonie (1995), a later offering by French New Wave director Claude Chabrol.

In 2012, Roger Ebert rendered his highest rating, hailing it as a “Great Film”:

The French have a name for the events leading up to a death by guillotine. They call it “the ceremony.” Although Claude Chabrol’s “La Ceremonie” (1995) contains no guillotines, there is a relentless feeling to it, as if the characters are engaged in a performance that can have only one outcome. It comes as a surprise to all of them, and to us. But given these people in this situation, can we really say in hindsight that we’re surprised? …

The film implacably moves toward a horrifying conclusion.

Watch this one if you can find it.  Availability is limited to DVD rental from Netflix or purchase from Amazon, or VOD from British iTunes (purchase only £4.99!), but you’ll need an account for that store — which I am thinking of doing just for La Cérémonie — it’s worth it.