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

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Binders full of Certain Women

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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

Café Society: A Modern Shakespearean Rom-Com

Cafe Society - poster

I had a number of observations watching Café Society, a few of which apply to a wide swath of the latter-era Woody Allen oeuvre:

1)  Mapping as a Woody Allen thought experiment.  You can think of any WA movie as any other WA movie mapped onto a [fill in the blank] setting.  That is to say, it’s as if WA is thinking, “I want to make a movie with this setting, and that thematic element, how do I do it?  Is this new movie going to be with cyborgs?  CIA spies?  No.  This is going to be a Woody Allen picture, just set differently.”

As with Irrational Man, in the early going especially it can seem contrived.   But then — quickly — it all begins to gel.  I look forward to WA’s annual offering because of that special feeling you get with his films, but more broadly, it doesn’t matter if his latest film seems like a bit of a re-tread, a mapping of some other of his movies onto this year’s dinner table.  With a WA film, you’re automatically guaranteed to be transported to a whole different ballpark, one that so many lesser filmmakers can only dream of entering.  And that’s why he always attracts the biggest A-list stars.

2) Café Society, and so many of his films, are modern Shakespeare comedy.  Were Shakespeare around today, I don’t think he would find a WA picture alien in the least.  To my admittedly limited knowledge, Shakespeare did not engage in plots any more complicated than those of Woody Allen.  And it’s a delight when things are kept just complicated enough.  There’s no beating around the bush in Shakespeare, nor WA.

3) Jesse Eisenberg’s role seems like WA was writing a more confident version of himself.  Eisenberg has got the WA mannerisms and way of speaking down pat.

4) I guessed that Harvey Keitel was the narrator — boy was I wrong.  It’s Woody Allen himself!  His voice was much deeper than I usually think of it.

I am often annoyed by narration in film, as with WA’s Vicky Christina Barcelona.  But it works here.

5) There may be glitches here and there in WA’s mapping.  For instance, “Thanks for the heads up” I believe to be an anachronism.  Also, WA’s Jewish jokes seem a little out of place to me, which luckily doesn’t make them any less funny or effective.  Just classic WA humor, no matter where it’s mapped.

6) Amazon Studios.  An idea was posited that if Apple really wants to get serious about content creation, she should buy Netflix.  I’m not sure about that idea, nor about the idea of Apple creating content.  The Pixar lineage is there, though.  Any case, I have mixed feelings.  I suppose content creation is important, so if it makes sense, then as a stockholder I say go for it.

7) It all works.  In the end, Woody Allen is quite brilliant, and that shines through even his lesser offerings.  Café Society is fun and engaging, despite any glitches.  7/10