Film Brief: Thelma

Not to be confused with Thelma and Louise.  It’s just Thelma here.

Knowing filmmaking locked onto a tight character-driven story kept me enrapt.

Note: Two Norwegian films within a month of one-another: what’s going on?  Is Norway the new France for film?

SPOILER ALERT:  I suggest watching only HALF of the trailer below.  It gives away too much.

8/10

Comparison Notes: Recommended: Donnie Darko, Sleeping Beauty, The Craft; Not recommended: Ich Seh Ich SehThe Square, Raw.  A number of similarities exist between Raw and Thelma.  Thelma is the right way to do it.

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One to Watch: Ingrid Goes West

I first saw Aubrey Plaza in the delightful Safety Not Guaranteed and have relished her appearances ever since.  Ingrid Goes West pairs her with another fave of mine, Elizabeth Olsen (from among other things, the magnificent Martha Marcy May Marlene).  It can be thought of as a modern/social media take on Purple Noon/The Talented Mr. Ripley, which is to say there’s a lot of completely original material here.

Emily Yoshida, Vulture:

a hypercurrent satire of Instagram celebrity and the kinds of lifestyle aesthetics that flourish there, is such a vivid and minute portrait of our boho-chic, mid-century modern, reclaimed wood, custom typography, shrub-swilling, microgreens-on-heirloom-quinoa moment

And Peter Travers, Rolling Stone calls Ingrid Goes West a “bonbon spiked with arsenic, wit and malice.”

Ingrid Goes West will frequently make you feel uncomfortable.  But that’s a lot better than not making you feel at all.  8/10

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

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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.

Get the F– Out!

Get Out is thoroughly entertaining and just plain good — a nice surprise.  I think it likely to hold up in the Top 10, even with the assumption that this year will fare much better than last.  Is it on the level of another ‘get out’ story, Ex Machina from a couple years ago?  Not quite.  But it’s a fun, frightening feature for folks (quintuple-‘F’!!).

Now compare to that last effort by M. Night Shyamalan.  No comparison, and M. Night’s been doing this for decades.  It makes it all the more remarkable what Jordan Peele (yes, of Key & Peele) has accomplished.  Let’s see, he wrote and starred in Keanu.  The cat movie.  Well-regarded, but a silly cat movie.  Very next movie, Get Out.  Whoa, what a turn.  Much respect.  Quite the way to break out of slapstick.

There are a few silly moments in Get Out, which serve nicely as comic relief.  You might call them ‘audience pleasers.’  They weren’t bad at all, but hardly integrated into the larger story as deftly as the Coens or Vince Gilligan would pull off.  So a little incongruity there.  But no matter: I urge you to Get Out and see this movie.  8/10

Comparison Notes (all highly recommended): Being John Malkovich, Invasion films, Sound of My Voice, Martha Marcy May Marlene

A Primer on Mamet: Edmond

Edmond - poster large

David Mamet is a behind-the-lens creative force I’ve wanted to talk about for a while.  Certain filmmakers are readily identifiable by their work — you know a Woody Allen film as soon as it pops on the screen; the same could be said about Wes Anderson, or P.T. Anderson (excepting Inherent Vice), or Stanley Kubrick, or David Mamet.  The difference is that a “Mamet movie” is defined by its screenplay.  All Mamet movies were written by him; he directed about half of them.

The most famous Mamet movie is Glengarry Glen Ross [prior post], which because of its dynamite veteran ensemble established itself within the canon of film.  If you’ve seen it, you’ll remember a certain way the dialogue is presented, Glengarry Glen Ross Poster horizoften in logical, forceful statements by characters who are on the brink.  You could describe it as “play-like” — a term normally used to express a detrimental aspect of a movie — but not with Mamet.  Partially because Mamet movies aren’t strictly play-like, and partially because even to the extent they are, they just work.

The play-like nature of Mamet movies comes as no accident.  Nine years before Glengarry Glen Ross was a movie, it was a play.  Point being, the play’s not the thing that will bring down a Mamet movie.

Which brings me to Edmond (2005), a much lesser-known Mamet movie, but one better than Glengarry Glen Ross.  Edmond stars one of Mamet’s most apt stars, William H. Macy.  The movie received a lot of negative reviews, which you know from my last post means not a whit to me.  Stephen Holden of the Times (SPOILER ALERT alert on the link; Holden gives away too much]:

The play, with its incendiary language and its merciless portrait of a 47-year-old nebbish who embraces his own worst nightmares of racial and sexual subjugation, is really a surreal spiritual fable that riffs on a notion voiced by Edmond that every fear hides a wish. Mr. Mamet shows no interest in offering a tidy psychological explanation for Edmond’s behavior. Hurled at you like a knife, the movie is as reasonable as a panic attack.

Holden ends his review with one of the best recommendations you can give a film:

You may love “Edmond” or hate it, but you will never forget it.

Edmond - text blockFull disclosure: I missed the first 20 minutes or so of Edmond.  But what I saw I loved — a thrilling personal journey through a gritty urban landscape.  Highly recommended, and a good test to see if you like the Mamet style.

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A couple more notes on David Mamet.   He wrote The Verdict (1982, Paul Newman) and The Untouchables (1987, Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Robert De Niro).  I mention it because these films are at least as well known as Glengarry Glen Ross, but they should not at all be thought of as Mamet movies.  Their style is completely different; even the dialogue is unrecognizable as Mamet.  This is likely due in large part to the fact that Mamet based these screenplays on prior material.

At some point I’ll highlight other Mamet favorites of mine — quintessentially Mamet movies as Oleanna, The Spanish Prisoner, and House of Games.  But before I get to those, expect a post on the Mamet movie that isn’t.

Gone Girl, Gone for Good

Gone Girl - poster

For a while I was thinking Gone Girl was like Presumed Innocent turned 360°.  By the end I was thinking The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Desperate HousewivesBasic Instinct, The Last SeductionSleeping with the Enemy and last year’s Side Effects and Prisoners (all recommended) could be mixed in too.  But really, Gone Girl is its own movie, a personal thriller with just enough believable twists to make the whole thing click.

There are a couple moments when the Theory of the Rope is overstretched; as an example that won’t give anything away: very early in the movie, the father of the central character Nick Dunne shows up at the same police station where Nick is being questioned regarding his wife’s disappearance.  His father, at the exact once-in-a-lifetime moment that Nick’s wife disappears, himself goes wandering from the old folk’s home where he lives.  There is no precursor for this occurrence, and neither do we ever see Nick’s father again.  I wasn’t believing it at all, and there was no need for it in the first place.  It served as an unnecessary distraction.  So why put this little tidbit in?  Exactly my point.Gone Girl - text block

There are one or two other moments of incredulity that detract from an otherwise strong film.  And gentle but overloud music in the beginning of the film made it difficult to hear what the wife was saying — another ploy meant to fill a perceived vacuum.  I only mention the misses because if they had been handled better, we would be looking at a truly great film and one of the best of the year.  Another way to put it, this is not a movie that five years from now I’ll be telling someone, “Ooooh!  Remember that Gone Girl movie!??”  No, it won’t win any awards, but it’s a good time at the movies.  8/10

Oldboy: A Postmodern Superhero

Oldboy - poster largeI NEVER SAW the original, highly regarded Korean Oldboy of 2003.  It was on my list, but I did not get around to it by the time I saw the current American release.  So my viewing was not encumbered by its predecessor, but those of most critics was.  The Tomatoemeter is currently at 43%, a score which generally would serve as an avoidance warning.  But it seems every critic entering

The Original (2003)

The Original (2003)

their score is comparing the remake to the original, which I suppose is fair but completely irrelevant to the majority of moviegoers (including myself) who never saw the original.  I will not impugn this as a remake any more than I did The Last House on the Left.  I will judge it based entirely on its own merits.

Now that I have that preamble and disclaimer out of the way, I thought that Oldboy (2013) was a fantastic, fun, exciting and original tale.  It also marks in my mind more activity by the director Spike Lee, though there is nothing old style Spike Lee-ish about this production.  It is reported (see Wikipedia article) that Lee was upset with “heavy editing” of the film which chopped 36 minutes.  That may explain a sense I had of minor incongruities here and there, or of the film being a bit rushed — but maybe the edits weren’t such a bad thing: this movie moves.  Its fast pace, transitioning from one exciting and eclectic plot element to another, helps make this a highly entertaining picture.

To understand what Oldboy is about, I’ll cite Richard Brody of The New Yorker, his entire review:

Hollywood’s wildest cinematic freakout since “Shutter Island” is a remake of—and an improvement on—the Korean original, from 2003. Josh Brolin stars as a swaggering corporate buck and a hard-drinking, philandering divorcé who awakens from a one-night stand to find himself in a motel room that turns out to be a solitary-confinement cell in a private prison. There, he learns from a TV report that he has been framed for the rape and murder of his ex-wife. When he finally gets out, twenty years later, he tries to find his captors, clear his name, and get revenge, but his captors have their own plans for him. The director, Spike Lee, and the screenwriter, Mark Protosevich, have kept the story’s Grand Guignol violence but trimmed its random excrescences and focussed its themes to fit the movie, subtly but decisively, into Lee’s canon. The extreme yet horrific artifice of the setup pulls backstory to the fore and reveals, as if in a sociological X-ray, several lifetimes’ worth of privilege abused, opportunities squandered, and energy (and resources) misspent, and places blame squarely on enablers who blindly encourage destructive behavior and disablers who, with an emblematic lack of compassion, punitively compound and perpetuate the destruction. With Elizabeth Olsen, as a recovering addict now devoted to good works. (In wide release.)

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I just about loved this movie.  To me, I recognize it as a postmodern superhero story, an alternate to the boring Avengers and Supermen and walking dead vampires that are so prevalent and popular these days.  There are both deadly realistic and comic-booky elements (the fight scenes, for example), but the different styles mesh with the corresponding part of the story being depicted to create, again, a wonderfully eclectic and entertaining adventure.

Scott_Tenorman_Must_Die__Season_5__Episode_1__-_Full_Episode_Player_-_South_Park_StudiosCertainly I won’t give away the end, but let’s say that Oldboy is a twisted, wicked story of vengeance sought and served on the order of Seven or the “Scott Tenorman Must Die” episode of South Park.  I’m wavering between an 8 or 9 on this one; for now I’ll give it a high 8/10.

Oldboy_-_Movie_Trailers_-_iTunes 2

Trailer