VOD Log: The Blackcoat’s Daughter

By far the best thing about The Blackcoat’s Daughter, which I heard about during a brief theatrical appearance while I was in Grand Junction in 2017, is the poster above.

Haphazard nonsense mixed together by time shifts and flashbacks do not a good movie make.  The Blackcoat’s Daughter serves as another case in point for the weakness of nonlinear storytelling.  That weakness, more often than not: a very skimpy story at the film’s heart.

A CASE IN POINT FOR THE WEAKNESS OF NONLINEAR STORYTELLING

Lynch talked about the “language of cinema” — but in Lynch’s case, that language still paints a beautiful story.  Lesser filmmakers, with little tale to tell, attempt to rely on that language, broken though it may be, to stand on its own.  To compensate for lack of story.  So I keep beating the drum: without the spine of story, no movie can stand.

Add The Blackcoat’s Daughter to the growing list of A24 films heavy on atmospherics, good acting, and little else.  I admit it did mostly hold my attention; there were stretches of the film that were compelling in that what’s-going-to-happen-next kind of way — again, the formula of many A24 releases.  5/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended, and considerably better): Thelma, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Uninvited, Hereditary, The Shining, I Spit on Your Grave

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VOD Log: Three Identical Strangers

Reenactments in documentary film need to be done carefully without looking like a cheesy TV production — or omitted altogether.  Errol Morris set a standard for the former in The Thin Blue Line, and Ken Burns for the latter.  Three Identical Strangers misses the mark and would better have left them out.

Which points to the weakness in the film — I think better documentarians might have presented the material more poignantly.  Still, the content here is powerful and profound.  7/10; sandwich between Crazy Rich Asians and Thoroughbreds on the 2018 List.

Comparison Notes (all recommended and better): The aforementioned Thin Blue Line, Making a Murderer, The Civil War, Searching for Sugar Man

VOD Log: Roma

Netflix does Roma a tremendous disservice by releasing it simultaneously to its own streaming service and theaters.  Yes, I see that it officially was released in a highly “limited” way to theaters beforehand, but that does no good for people who live in such far-flung locations as San Diego.  By releasing in that way, it very well assures that the only way realistically to watch it is at home.

Which is a shame, because of all the films of 2018, Roma is the one that perhaps most of all needs to be seen on a big screen.  There are many sweeping long shots with lots of small detail that are absolutely miniaturized on even a 4K 55″ set as mine is.

A MOVIE SHORT-CHANGED BY NETFLIX

Roma′s visual depth is one of its strongest features, despite being in black and white — this is a very cinematic film.  But I can only go by my viewing experience, which was handicapped.  That, and trailer perjury — there is no Pink Floyd in the movie — knocks Roma, as seen at home, down to as many as two pegs from where it might otherwise have been.  One thing it does is reaffirm why I go to the movies.

Having said all that, the movie did hold my interest, and I liked a number of the scenes.  Roma had a good, almost Iñárritu-like flow to it, and even on my small screen the visuals were conveyed, though tamped down like so much pipe tobacco.  7/10

Comparison Notes: La Dolce Vita, Wings of Desire, Bicycle Thieves, La Cérémonie, The Housemaid

VOD Log: Brigsby Bear

Early parts of Brigsby Bear looked like a badly-executed, very narrow corollary to Room — and I was thinking it headed for contention as worst of the year.  Soon enough, however, Brigsby Bear turns into a sweetly endearing and entertaining film.  There’s still too much suspension of belief required, but the movie doesn’t let you dwell on it — which is the same that could be said about the missing titles.

Brigsby Bear was yet another barely-shown yet marketed film.  In this case, it wasn’t a whole lot to miss — but that’s beside the point.  This will be the last one before my 2017 list; the remaining two are A Cure for Wellness and The Blackcoat’s Daughter.  I’ll let you know if I ever get round to watching those.

A nice surprise-bonus of Brigsby Bear: Mark Hamill is a good actor!  6/10

Comparison Notes: Recommended: The Wolfpack, The Disaster Artist, Short Term 12, Sling Blade, Superbad, Butter; Not Recommended: The Book of Henry, Captain Fantastic, Life is Beautiful

VOD Log: We’re the Millers

The terrific TBS promo for We’re the Millers had a lot to do with my desire to see the film.  This promo does not exist anywhere on the internet, that I can find, other than the fragment pasted below — and that’s a shame.  TBS should be proud of its promos.  I do have a small problem with it — there is no girl playing a saxophone on the beach in the movie.  There’s not even a beach.  The musical backdrop, indeed, has no relation to the film at all — which technically amounts to perjury.  However, I certainly can’t ding a movie based on a television network’s independent ad campaign for it.

We’re the Millers falls in the sub-50% zone on Rotten Tomatoes.  One critic wrote that “The filmmakers lack the courage of their convictions.”  Maybe so — but I know that going in.  Put another way, I judge a movie on what it is, not on what it isn’t.  I’m not expecting high art or tense edginess.  I’m expecting Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston in a fairly mindless comedy.

And it works on that level.  There’s something likable about these characters, and this story — raunchy and banal as it often is.  It comes nowhere close to comparable films Vacation or Due Date, but for what it is, it succeeds — barely.  6/10

Availability: iTunes

VOD Log: Office Space

After seeing snippets here and there many times, and hearing about it in conversation on a number of occasions, I finally watched in its entirety Office Space.  Certainly it’s an iconic film, even borderline essential —  but that doesn’t mean it’s great.  The production values leave something to be desired, and purely as comedy it does not measure up to the best Apatow productions.  Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune characterized it as: “Drably shot, unimaginatively written and shallowly acted.”

Still, I recommend Office Space for its classic if rough-hewn content.  Despite its flaws, it musters up a few good laughs, and it’ll keep you in the know next time it comes up at the water cooler.  6/10

Availability: iTunes.  Comparison Notes: Any episode of The Office featuring Steve Carell (don’t bother with post-Steve Carell episodes) is ten times funnier than Office Space.  And, for a much better Mike Judge production, you may visit my post on Beavis and Butt-Head Do America.

VOD Log: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

The Three Burials - poster

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estradadirected by and starring Tommy Lee Jones, is a story of redemption, which itself was redeemed by the end.  Which is to say most of it is not terribly robust.  A mild recommendation, with all the normal caveats in place.  6/10

Availability: iTunes rental

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A Note on Home Viewing

I think that this movie would have had a greater impact on me had I seen it in the theater, perhaps even enough for a higher rating, which brings up a point I wanted to make about seeing movies in the theater versus at home.  Certain critics out there have a rating system which goes something like “Very Good, see in the theater”; “Good, but not great — wait and see it at home”, and “Don’t bother.”  A nice, simple, direct rating scale.  But a film will  have more impact in the theater than at home.  Even under the most ideal circumstances, there will likely be an interruption or two while watching at home — something that doesn’t happen in the theater.  In this case, I admit there were several interruptions, which served to weaken the impression Three Burials made on me.  So if anything, it should be “Good, but not great — make sure to see in theater because if you don’t there’s no point in bothering later.”  The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada — and many, many other borderline films fall in this category.

Point being, to say “This movie is good, but not good enough to see in the theater” is contrary to logic in my experience.  I understand this is said as a recommendation for someone not to spend as much money to watch a film of lesser quality, but in light of the quantity and higher-than-ever quality of original TV programming and selections available via VOD, this type of recommendation doesn’t hold water.  A movie that isn’t worth seeing in the theater isn’t worth seeing period.