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

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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)

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