Now Due: The Killing of a Sacred Deer

A24 keeps up its winning streak (2, now, and counting) with The Killing of a Sacred Deer, sort of a (more) psychological thriller version of Cape Fear.  Kubrick-esque smooth panning and gliding shots combine with an off-kilter sense of impending weight à la vintage P.T. Anderson, e.g. Punch-Drunk Love.

Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman’s second collaboration this year is an extraordinary film, masterfully done.  The only flaw is an over-reliance on the Theory of the Rope.  Without this flaw, we’d be talking best picture of the year.  It’s still up there, on par with Get Out.  David Sims, The Atlantic:

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is humane and satirical, horrifying and hilarious, at once a work of realism and fantasy

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter:

…the new film’s grim scenario of a family under dire threat will make it hard for some to watch. But the impressive rigor of its craft, the skillfully subdued intensity of the acting and the startling originality of the story will make the film unmissable for anyone who cares about bold filmmaking.

A note on Nicole Kidman vs. her friend Naomi Watts.  They are both highly accomplished actors — but Kidman sure takes a broad swath of very interesting, compelling, and daring roles.  Of late, Watts not so much.


Comparison Notes (all recommended): Cape Fear, “It’s a Good Life” (The Twilight Zone), The GiftFear (Mark Whalberg)


Will we be among The Beguiled?

Lots of pros in The Beguiled.  I dug the lush homestead and the tight story.

Cons: Colin Farrell is a fine actor, and did a fine job here.  But there could be a more enigmatic, a more beguiling, if you will, character there.  His character was easy to read early on, which made the direction of the plot, i.e. its gradient, too easily discernible at any moment.

I look forward to Sofia Coppola’s films.  She may not always knock it out of the park, but she has an idea what she’s doing, and her films have a unique feel to them — if this one less than others.

* * *

A small movie like this must open up more dimensions, unless the one it chooses forges an exceptionally strong vector.  Still, compelling and entertaining.  7/10

Comparison Notes: the considerably more potent films Dead Calm and Misery

Lion Does Not Roar

My opinion of Lion is colored by the 60 Minutes report on the story.  The CBS treatment was much tighter, obviously — filling in a 14-minute segment length.  The overly drawn-out film suffers in comparison to the concise and dynamic presentation by CBS.

A question that comes to mind about the evaluation of a film based on a true story that I am more or less familiar with ahead of time is “How can I fairly criticize this movie when the dramatic punch, especially as the film reaches towards its climax, has necessarily been diminished by my knowledge of the events herein?”  All I can answer is that I do my best to wash out preconceived ideas, and go with the flow of the film the best I can.  Knowing the outcome did not diminish my feelings toward the great Bernie (one day I’ll post on that one), Sully, Captain Phillips, The Theory of Everything, or last year’s best movie, The Walk.  You can click on my “true story” tag and look at other examples for yourself.

Back to Lion.  I enjoyed the first part, when our subject Saroo Brierley was a boy lost in India.  But the longer adult stage lost me — it’s the much less interesting part of the story, yet the film spends an inordinate amount of time on it.  Still, the performances and production values were good — I especially enjoyed Rooney Mara and the consummate Nicole Kidman.  So I offer a marginal recommendation, with a more vigorous advocacy instead for the 60 Minutes segment.  Unfortunately, there appears to be a subscription requirement for that.  6/10

Film Brief: Stoker

Stoker, with Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode, smolders and smolders, but never quite catches a full fire.  With good and mysterious performances by all and a well-stylized production, this movie entertains.  I am glad I saw it, but it has plot problems — not enough meat on its bones.  6/10.

This movie made me think about Lars von Trier’s great movie Antichrist, and the movies I really love.  I want a movie to stick in my brain, otherwise what’s the point?  Though I liked Stoker, I hardly think I’ll remember it a few years from now.  More on Antichrist later.  Now there’s a movie no one can forget.

Matthew Goode and Mia Wasikowska in Stoker

Matthew Goode and Mia Wasikowska in Stoker


Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

One of the great classic cinematic storylines is that of  Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).  Especially in light of all the recent invading-alien movies (wasteful Battleship and Skyline come to mind), and the related spate of superhero movies (the recent Avengers for example was a yawner), the body snatcher concept shines as a refreshing novelty.  The aliens here are much more clever — they don’t want to blow up the White House or generally kill all human beings; rather, they see fit to exploit our resources by taking over each person one by one.

As it turns out, and contrary to the Hollywood tradition, there are three tellings of this story which I have seen, and all three are excellent.  And watching one in no way should preclude watching the other two.  Each of the three are strong and unique enough to hold up on their own and be undiminished by a  prior viewing of the others.

A while back I had the pleasure of seeing the original 1956 black & white film.  This is such a strong thriller of its era that it could be mistaken for a Hitchcock production.  If you haven’t seen it, do so.  It’s not just the original take, but a great, even masterful film.  We would be so lucky if the average big-budget movie of our current era could hold a candle to this exciting classic.

Nicole Kidman starred in a remake called The Invasion (2007, also with Daniel Craig).  This telling of the story features something of a variant in that Nicole Kidman is the central character, as opposed to the duo-on-the run of 1956.  As such, she takes on a more heroic position than the woman in the original: she is a psychiatrist with a doctor friend (Craig) who together can use scientific methods to track down the invading species, all while dodging alien-invaded humanoids and protecting her young son.

There’s a certain something about Nicole Kidman in her movies of the past decade that can be off-putting.  I’m not sure why, because I love her earlier performances in Dead Calm and Eyes Wide Shut.  I think sometimes I sense an artifice about her.  Probably I’m just remembering the debacle Australia (2008), as she is a very good actress when called upon to be so.  In any case she’s great in this Invasion, a very good and sophisticated personal thriller.

The third take on this story is The Faculty (1998), where the invasion is centered at a high school.  In this case, a group of young and temperamental students including super-hot Jordana Brewster discover things are amiss with certain people around them, especially their teachers.  A highly entertaining take on the Invasion theme, with the added dynamic of growing distrust among the protaganist-group’s members, akin to The Mist (previous post).  Boosted by deliciously evil “faculty” and staff performances by Piper Laurie (Twin Peaks), Salma Hayek (who I like here, for a change), Jon Stewart (from the Daily Show and another ensemble piece of 1998, Playing By Heart), and Bebe Neuwirth (Cheers/Frasier) as the principal.  A lot of fun.

* * *

When I think of movies, I think of other movies.  That’s how my mind works and I can’t help it.  So what comes to mind now?  The Matrix, of course.  Just a brief plug here.  I think I’ll have a future post on the highlights of 1999, and a terrible atrocity called the 72nd Academy Awards.

If you haven’t seen The Matrix, I am a little surprised.  It’s constantly being shown on TV, but it deserves to be watched start-to-finish uninterrupted.  It is a great sci-fi tale and completely essential viewing for movies of the last 15 years.  More later on this one.  If you haven’t seen it, make sure you watch the original 1999 version.  I don’t know that the 2 sequels were poor; in fact they might be quite good.  But they cannot match the original ground-breaking Matrix.

And finally, some whimsy.

The farce Mars Attacks! (1996) by Tim Burton is an absolute delight.  Besides poking good fun at the alien-invasion concept (this time an overt invasion, not the subtle type of the Body Snatcher movies), this movie also succeeds on a dramatic level à la Men In Black I & II, that is, enough of a plot to keep it interesting without getting in the way of the comedy.  With a great, all-star cast headlined by Jack Nicholson playing the U.S. President.

Movies that’ll get ya

from email 3 Feb 2008

Recapping and adding to what we discussed yesterday, that is what I mentioned as far as movies to watch when you’re in the mood for something gripping, taut, exciting, when you are more interested in a thriller than Forrest Gump or The Sound of Music, though of course those are great films:

The Ring, 2002, Naomi Watts.  A thriller/horror movie, though horror is not really the right word – this is nothing to do with Halloween or Friday the 13th, etc. enterprises.  This movie genuinely scared me.  I won’t be giving too much away to say that the premise is that there is a videotape with a short black and white film on it, that when watched, will lead to death of the viewer in one week.  I was rather shaken by this movie, enough so that after I watched it I was just a little hesitant to watch the death sentence video – not shown in its entirety within the film itself – which is included as a separate feature on the DVD.  I actually reasoned that it was a DVD, and that only a VHS tape could get me.  The movie gets a little bogged down toward the end, but finished on a high note.  A good, legitimately scary film.
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