Film Brief: The Old Man & the Gun

The Old Man & the Gun, possibly Robert Redford’s last picture, had some problems along with its requisite charm.  It also had a lively spirit more times than not.  A high 6/10

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If A Star Is Born, I’d like to see it happen

A Star Is Born is more sketches of a movie instead of a movie.  It was like watching actors in acting school: here’s the intro bar scene, here’s the big conflict scene etc.  Each of these scenes works on its own, but one scene to another is pieced together in a forced, inorganic manner.  There is no natural flow to the movie.

Worse, “A Star Is Born” to me is supposed to be about a latent talent finding her voice.  Lady Gaga is clearly a star from scene 1 — which makes the film fail its entire premise.  There is no “birth” to be found.  Indeed, the perfection of her singing is a major part of what is wrong with this picture.  She’s never anything short of a pro.

More bad stuff: she’s got no character flaws.  Even her husband has only one.  It’s not exactly tricky screenwriting to put in a character flaw or two.  Lady Gaga’s character is perfect in all ways — which besides being unrealistic, is a little boring.

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I do marginally recommend A Star Is Born on the strength of Lady Gaga’s absolutely sublime songs and singing, and very good acting.  Her character is completely endearing, and I see an Oscar nod in the offing.  Bradley Cooper’s performance is strong as well, unlike his story development.

So to conclude… A Star Is Born is a borderline disaster with Lady Gaga’s performance as its saving grace.  I would much rather watch 2 hours of Lady Gaga on stage.  I guess there’s a way to do that called going to a concert.  6/10

Comparison Notes: Whiplash, Crazy Heart, Blaze, Love and Mercy, Ray, Walk the Line, Little Voice, Il Postino

Blaze of something less than glory

Telling your audience at the very beginning of the movie that the star of the film is now dead, and how he died, doesn’t help your plot development a whole lot.  That glitch is emblematic of the weight holding down Ethan Hawke’s Blaze.

Which is too bad, because Blaze had an impact on me.  It is richly textured and filled with outstanding performances, especially the central one.  On top of that, I loved the music.  It was a great portrait of a talented and tragically flawed musical soul with whom I identified.  But a movie is not a portrait.  It’s a movie, something Hawke doesn’t seem to fully understand.

How so?  The movie meanders all over the place, perhaps to echo the rambling nature of Blaze Foley.  It doesn’t work.  Focus on the story was badly needed, as some of the most salient aspects of the musician’s life were glossed over or outright omitted, while less impactful episodes were stretched thin.  And a theme of mine — the power of linear storytelling — is blaring in its absence.

Blaze is a very heartfelt and honest film, so I’d love to give it a higher score.  Maybe because of its meandering nature, I didn’t get the emotional connection I might otherwise.  I absolutely recommend it, but can’t get past 6/10.

Comparison Notes: The most direct comparisons are to Crazy Heart, then to Walk the Line, Ray (Jamie Foxx), and other musical biographies, but perhaps the better comparison is a movie like Leave No Trace — the idea of a character who has some strong personality vectors but is fundamentally flawed.

Film Brief: First Reformed

First Reformed has been compared to Taxi Driver; I think Big Night is a much better way of thinking of it.  A non-humorous, dark version of Big Night with no cooking, just a lot of drinking.

I’m on the fence a little with this one.  The story was overly simple, and lacked the profound heft that I think was being attempted.  No argument that it was compelling — not boring for a minute — and that the performances were good.  The main problem with First Reformed was that it was too easy to see where the story was heading.  Nonetheless, this is the second-best picture of the year so far, on the high end of 7/10.

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Note: First Reformed features a square frame, which I normally find a unnecessary distraction.  I think A24 has got some vested interest in the square frame — something other studios just don’t use and for good reason.  I must concede that it worked well with this movie.  The only distraction on this one was Landmark’s super-bright EXIT sign right next to the screen.

Comparison Notes (all recommended): the aforementioned Big Night, Inglourious Basterds, Breaking the Waves, The East, Safety Not Guaranteed, The Wrestler, The Machinist, Apocalypse Now

Who’s the Beast

Beast had me well intrigued for most of the going, but the final third was a muddling disappointment.  Or put another way, I liked this movie until I didn’t.  The concluding scenes are not so clever or original as I think the filmmakers, and most critics, believed them to be.  I will grant that the romance at the center is compelling.  A marginal thumbs-down; 5/10

Comparison Notes: the much to infinitely better: Lady Macbeth, Side Effects, Ex Machina, Under the Skin, Thelma, The Box

Film Brief: Double Lover

At first, I loved Double Lover.  In the early going especially, the storytelling was strong, driven by the leads’ performances.  But the story was uneven, eventually falling into a derivative doppelgänger tale crossed with silly, even absurd, David Cronenberg-esque elements.  David Lynch has proven to be the master of the doppelgänger / film as soufflé .  A key to his success is that he doesn’t belabor the point.  The doppelgänger isn’t the story itself, as it was with Double Lover.  For Lynch, it’s almost incidental to the larger story at hand.

As the doppelgänger elements were mishandled here, a better tack would have been more the approach displayed in Thelma.  That is, the approach of a better movie.  5/10

Comparison Notes: Vertigo, Cronenberg films, Mulholland Drive + other Lynch projects.

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)