VOD Log: A Ghost Story

I’ll start with a side note.  I saw the trailer for A Ghost Story about three times, I think two of which were at an AMC.  And then the local AMCs collectively failed to ever show the film, or if they did it was for no more than a week or a day.  When it was still showing in theaters outside my area, e.g. in LA, I went to one of the main AMCs to watch another film and was surprised to see a super-sized lobby cardboard poster display for the film.  I inquired about it, and was told there were no plans to show the film.

A theater showing trailers and setting large promotional items on display for a movie seems only to make sense if said theater will at some point show the movie.  But that’s indicative of numerous areas of mismanagement on the part of AMC.  I went to a film lately and a couple of the seats had such a strong fecal odor I moved.

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I point out the AMC nonsense above because I felt like A Ghost Story, starring consummate actors Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, was one of the more significant indies of the year, and given short shrift by the cinemas.  Nonetheless, I was determined to watch it to consider among the films of 2017, so I did something that is rare for me these days: saw it at home.

The movie is intriguing, and certainly compelling — but falls short of providing that grand a-ha moment.  In other words, I liked it despite a thin story.  7/10

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Note: This film is presented in a square (1.33:1) frame with rounded corners, for no particularly obvious or excellent reason.  An affectation, perhaps, but in this case it does not distract from the movie — unlike in American Honey.  I like a lot that A24 Films does, but the square frame trend I hope can be put to rest.

Comparison Notes: Recommended: To The Wonder; Not Recommended: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (previous project with Affleck and Mara)

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Wound Around a Phantom Thread

I still don’t know what Paul Thomas Anderson was thinking with Inherent Vice.  As I wrote at the time, that film was so out of character for PT Anderson as to be unrecognizable.  Phantom Thread represents, at least relatively speaking, a return to form.  I say relatively speaking, because unlike his past projects, I doubt that this film will stick with me over the years so strongly — but only time will tell I suppose.  The edginess of his earlier cinematic style seems missing, or at least transformed.

Still, Phantom Thread is a strong and lovely picture.  The RT consensus:

Phantom Thread‘s finely woven narrative is filled out nicely by humor, intoxicating romantic tension, and yet another impressively committed performance from Daniel Day-Lewis.

Day-Lewis’s foil, his co-star, was fantastic as well.  Katie Walsh:

Paul Thomas Anderson’s enigmatic romance “Phantom Thread” is a mystery. Not of the murder kind, but of the heart, posing questions of love, power and submission. The mystery? Who’s in control?

If you go in expecting a Daniel Day-Lewis movie, you’ll walk away with a Vicky Krieps movie, and we’re all the better for it. The Luxembourgian actress will sweep you off your feet.

Peter Travers:

It’s endlessly fascinating to watch the actor and artist behind the camera (sharers in the same creative obsession) negotiate a hard truce between art and life. Anderson is deliberate and cunning about revealing the secrets he’s sewn into the fabric of his spellbinder of a film. Taking full measure of Phantom Thread may require more than one viewing – a challenge any genuine movie lover will be eager to accept. Our advice for now: just sit back and behold.

Looking over all these reviews makes me think the film may stick with me more so than I am now thinking.  Certainly, the performances are absolutely riveting — perhaps more so than any picture of the last year.  For now, considered among the films of 2017: about on par with Lady Macbeth.  8/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended): Mother!, Punch-Drunk Love, Rebecca

Film Brief: The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water is too laggy and too pat to knock anything out of the park.  Still, it’s poetic and beautiful, often, especially in the early going, with the look and feel of a classic French film.  The City of Lost Children comes to mind.  And Sally Hawkins is great.

What we have here is a failure to communicate… no, that’s not the failure.  The failure is unfulfilled promise — so much is here except an original-enough story.  7/10

Comparison Notes: E.T., Splash

Film Brief: Patti Cake$

I wouldn’t call it an “unambiguous joy,” as did the oft-overstated Manohla Dargis, but I did like it.  Jake Coyle, AP:

The Sundance sensation “Patti Cake$” may flow with formulaic beats but it’s got spirit for miles (eight of them, at least) and features one of the best mother-daughter relationships of the year.

I would have liked Patti Cake$ more had the music, in this case the rap, been more effective on me — only one track swayed me.  Call it a minor case of the Inside Llewyn Davis Syndrome.  Still though, on the high side of 6/10.

Comparison Notes (recommended): 8 Mile

Arrival of Passengers

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CHRIS PRATT WAS PERFECTLY CAST in Guardians of the Galaxy.  Which is why he’s hard to take seriously in Passengers. Jennifer Lawrence, too, I have a hard time taking seriously these days.  Before she was the queen of A-List celebrity, I saw her in Winter’s Bone.  So I know she’s got acting chops.  But all the silly roles in silly blockbusters (stupid Hunger Games) and greatly overrated films like Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle have taken their toll, as far as I’m concerned.

passengers-text-blockThose ratings.  Passengers was something of a test of Rotten Tomatoes.  Too often films with a high Tomatometer score, such as the other big Sci-Fi film this year, Arrival, I find phenomenally disappointing.  And too often I disregard films with low scores. And by disregard, I mean miss. Passengers — with a lowly 17% score among “Top Critics” — would have been one of those I missed, but I stuck to my gut instinct and was happily surprised.

Which, just like the non-failure of the AE-35 unit in 2001, just about does it for Rotten Tomatoes.  I’ll still refer to it, but that percent score by itself will neither compel me to, or dissuade me from, watching any given picture.

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Back to Chris Pratt.  His tongue-in-cheek countenance weighs a little on Passengers in the beginning, because after all he is in a quite dire, life-or-death situation.  But the film plays off that lightheartedness, and marries with it.  This is a tack the film takes which weakens it; a heavier tone could have turned this good film into a great one.

In other words, a little hokum runs as an undercurrent through the first half of Passengers, and Pratt fits that stream well.  The bits of corniness may be viewed as pandering to the lowest common denominator of audiences, and as I said a sterner approach would have produced better results.  Luckily though, this occasional dearth of depth is the film’s worst problem, and as such hardly ruins it.  I even liked Jennifer Lawrence.

I was sorely disappointed by Arrival, and the big “sci-fi” film of last year, The Martian.  Both highly regarded by critics, as reflected on the Tomatometer, and both really sucky movies.  The good news?  I reckon it’ll keep me writing these posts.  If I could find a source of criticism that I could rely on to only watch good movies, God knows I’d go with it.  But if it exists, I haven’t found it.

I very much liked Passengers, and it stuck with me through the night.  Overall very entertaining, and never boring.  The little glitches hold it to a solid recommendation at the top side of 7/10.

Comparison Notes: (Recommended): Moon

Tripping the Light Fantastic in La La Land

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I liked La La Land very much, but I can’t say it made my heart sing.  Which is to say I didn’t love it.  Not gaga here.  On the other hand, KCRW had songs from the film playing in rotation the week immediately after I saw it, and I admit they’ve grown on me.  That’s good, because my initial reaction was that the music was a little unoriginal and unmemorable.  Less than ideal for a film that has been hyped to heck for six months and hailed as the savior of Hollywood musicals.

Which is a silly thing to say anyway.  Les Miz and Rock of Ages, from just a couple years ago, were impressive musicals.  Chicago, from 2002, won Best Picture.  And there is no signature tune in La La Land that will be hummed in 30 years.  No “Singin’ in the Rain,” no “Spoonful of Sugar” from Mary Poppins; no “Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound of Music.  Nothing so iconic here.  Nor a single musical performance as jaw-dropping as Anne Hathaway’s in Les Miz.

Which is why, in part, nothing shot out at me from La La Land screaming “THIS IS PURE MAGIC,” despite its labors to that effect.  Another reason is the musical scenes don’t feel as organic as they should.  Still, the music is good.  It doesn’t fall into the trap of Inside Llewyn Davis, a musical which features forgettable, even irrelevant music.  Which leads to the assets of this film: astounding performances and magic on film.  Magical individual scenes, that is — not magic as a whole.  But there is one great scene after another — great singing and dancing, and a terrific representation of the eternally mystical, and magical, City of Angels.

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Now back to the negatives.  The underlying story is, fundamentally, a repackaged cliché (Flashdance, anyone?  Or better yet, Good Will Hunting) which might have been overcome with more interesting, perhaps conflicted characters.  The two stars don’t really have any faults — they are essentially perfect — and as such are rather 2-dimensional.  This is why Whiplash is a cut above, even without the spectacular flair.

I point out all the flaws of La La Land because this is where my criticism diverges from anyone else’s — which is always the point of this blog.  The picture’s adulation is readily available and practically ubiquitous.  My summary: La La Land ranks just behind Hail, Caesar! as the top film of the year.  And in this exceptionally weak year for movies, La La Land is a freight-train to Oscarland.

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la-la-land-text-blockEvery time I watch a snippet or hear a song, La La Land keeps growing on me, despite my reservations.  Initially I thought I would not need to see it again any time soon, but now — two weeks later — I’m looking forward to some day paying another visit.  It must be more catchy than I first reckoned.  Maybe I am gaga.  8/10

Comparison Notes: Besides the films already mentioned above: Everyone Says I Love You (I have not seen); Recommended: Café Society, Mulholland Dr., L.A. Story, The Player

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UPDATE: Since we’re upon the time for my year-end list, I need to officially downgrade Where to Invade Next.  That was never really a 9/10 film, but I was so impressed with the material that I inflated the rating.  Its true value: 8/10, which I think will still counts for top five of the year.  And by the way, we have got to give credit for Michael Moore for predicting the Trump win.  That adds even more credence to Where to Invade Next, and indeed his entire oeuvre.