A Double-Splish, A Bigger Splash

Top: “A Bigger Splash” by David Hockney; Bottom: A Bigger Splash, currently in theaters

There will be two “Bigger Splash” movies this year.  One of them is a documentary on David Hockney, the great Los Angeles-based artist.

The movie A Bigger Splash takes on a theme I’ve seen in a few indies lately: that of vacations going south.  Force MajeureThe Two Faces of January, and The Loneliest Planet are examples of this concept in recent years.  Terror flicks like I Spit on Your Grave or Hostel also technically fall under this category, though we’re talking there about a very different type of film, obviously.  It’s a great storytelling tool because it allows ordinary people to be placed out of their element, out of their comfort zone.  Vacations allow ordinary people to face extraordinary circumstances.

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Force Majeure was the best at this, in the psychological drama side of the bucket.  One of the problems with A Bigger Splash is that it is not completely confident of what it is trying to be.  As a psycho-sexual drama, it had me pretty well gripped for about the first three-quarters, at which point it took the inevitable turn as given away in the trailer — and suddenly became a completely different and much more mundane picture.  Because of this, I was going to render a marginal thumbs-up, but the film did stick around in my head just long enough for a 7/10.

Comparison Notes: besides the films mentioned above, Swimming Pool (2003) — one of those movies I’ll have to see again to post on; La Cérémonie (highly recommended)


A Foreign Affliction: Ich Seh Ich Seh

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Ich Seh Ich Seh, marketed in English as Goodnight Mommy, is a captivating little Austrian psychological drama.  Though being marketed as a horror film, it is hardly anything of the sort.  It does a great job of throwing us in this intriguing world, a house set amongst nature.  Makes me want to visit Austria immediately!  And it does a good job building its story of two boys suspicious of their mother and her odd behavior.

But I don’t like it when a movie — in its final three minutes — yells out to the audience: “Ha Ha!  We got you!  We were lying the whole time!”  Oh yea, you got me.  Boy was I a fool to believe the entire movie up to that point.  Silly me.

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And when the entire film is based on that lie, then the entire film collapses upon its revelation.  Something else – another lie, but a tiny white lie compared to the big one at the end: This film’s title is Ich Seh Ich Seh (English: I See I See).  Nowhere in the film is it titled Goodnight Mommy — so if you’re going to sell it like that, then put it in the movie.  Otherwise just translate the title, which is much more relevant to the film’s content.  A marginal thumbs-down because of the cop-out ending; 5/10

Comparison Notes (both recommended, and both much better than Ich Seh Ich Seh): Secret Window, The Uninvited

Indie Log: Compliance

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Amy Biancolli, sfgate.com:

Some films are harder to watch than others – not because they’re bad, which makes for a different sort of painful viewing, but because they touch on areas of such profound moral discomfort that the mere act of watching makes us feel complicit. We feel like gutless witnesses to a crime.

What’s happening here should be transparent to anyone watching almost from the start, but the point is that it’s anything but obvious to the people involved.  You might be struck with an air of incredulity, but the events depicted Compliance - text blockhappened almost exactly as shown.  And though we may know what’s going on here, we don’t have any idea how far it will go.

While watching, the scope of Compliance seems to ride too much a singular note — but that note is persistent, unrelenting, and very creepy.  It’s a small movie, but boy it got under my skin.  If you want to get to some very disturbing places, this movie is for you.   7/10

Availability: Netflix & iTunes.

Ex Machina Non Grata

Ex Machina - posterA24 films continues its leadership among independent film with Ex Machina, a thoroughly engrossing psychological sci-fi drama.  Taking Her and adding a physical dimension to ultra-humanlike AI did not quite reach Her heights, nor does probing Under the Skin attain that lofty plateau.  As good as Ex Machina is, it doesn’t push the envelope of machine-human interaction in the way it might have.

Ex Machina - text blockSo, driving home, I thought “it’s a solid 8.”  That one could consider it the double episode Star Trek always wanted to muster but never quite could.  That it worked as pure psychological drama, like a good Mamet film.  That we are dealing with a robot is almost beside the point, and that nothing fresh was brought to bear on the ever-more-explored theme of AI.

But my mind kept buzzing about Ex Machina into the night, giving me fits when trying to fall asleep.  That kind of resonance is always a good thing.  I still think the same basic story could have been set 1000 years ago — i.e. without the sci-fi elements.  But what’s undeniable is the powerful dramatic story at hand, a beautifully constructed, masterfully played chess game.  9/10

Film Brief: Pi

Pi - poster smallI had wanted to watch Darren Aronofsky’s first feature π (Pi)  (1998) for a while now, and though it is a short film, I was put off by the premonition of a headache-inducing, frenzied stream-of-consciousness piece.  I worried unnecessarily, as the film is much more straightforward than I had imagined.  Gripping from the start as it flashes The Matrix and Eraserhead, Pi ultimately fails on a weak and hackneyed storyline.

Nonetheless, it held my interest.  Aronofsky followed Pi with strong dramas in Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler and The Fighter, and last year’s unique take on Noah.  He definitely has an idea, but Pi falls short of its potential.  5/10



Under the Spell of Martha Marcy May Marlene

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Every once in a while we are blessed with a phenomenally great indie.  Martha Marcy May Marlene is a gripping, brilliant fresh take on one of the most compelling genres when done right: life in a cult.  One cannot help but thinking of the Manson clan while watching.  Peter Travers:

After you see Martha Marcy May Marlene, you’ll know [Elizabeth Olsen] as an actress of uncommon subtlety and feeling. It’s a sensational performance in a gripping psychological thriller, from gifted first-time writer-director Sean Durkin, that reveals its secrets in the silence between words.

…it’s Olsen, as a damaged soul clinging to shifting ground, who makes this spellbinder impossible to shake.

Highly recommended: put this on your short list.  Rental available on iTunes.

Comparison Notes: Recommended: Sound of My Voice, Electrick Children, The East

Foxcatcher Runs Loose

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Two movies in a row with Best Actor and Best Picture Oscar nominees-to-be might ordinarily be unexpected, but we may “consider” it as a sign that awards season has officially arrived.

As I’ve pointed out a number of times, comedy is tough.  It takes a special talent to pull off comedy, and more and more we’ve seen certain, exceptional comic talents demonstrate extraordinary range via the serious role.  Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler and Robin Williams come to mind; now it’s Steve Carell’s turn.

Foxcatcher - text blockFoxcatcher features consummate performances by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, and a creepily transfigured Carell — this is his Man on the Moon.  One immediately senses that everything is a little off-kilter — something’s not aligned correctly in this universe.  Wealth and privilege are the veneer covering a rotten core in a true tale tinged with The Fall of the House of Usher and The Great Gatsby.

I found Foxcatcher to lag in places, and wished for a more deft hand to eliminate some of the self-reflective moments which contribute little in the second half.  I wished for it to be sped up and punched up a bit.  But a couple days after watching it, Foxcatcher had stuck with me — that eerie world left a haunting impression.  Not Elephant haunting, and not Under the Skin haunting, but haunting enough to increase my opinion from 7 to 8/10.

Comparison Notes: The Wrestler, The Master, Psycho, Whiplash