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Average User Score: 7.1Oct 12, 2019This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. The trailer to this film is a thing of magic, beautiful colors, a perfect Motown cover, revealing nothing but the bare essentials. If nothing else, it’s worth watching because trailers aren’t made like this very much anymore.
I had a lot of mixed reviews from my family and colleagues about this film. A lot of them saw it the weekend before me and here’s just a taste. Friend said under fortune cookie no-spoilers laconic conditions, “The first third was good. The second third was really good. The last third was just okay.” And Older Brother said, “You‘ll like it.”
It’s been a few weeks since I saw this now, and in the time since I’ve seen it someone at work asked me what I thought and a little bit of the disappointment had evaporated, so I was left with this feeling that I had lost the thread of what my expectations were in the first place.
Some general, mostly spoiler-y feelings are that Bad Times at the El Royale is not quite a misfire, but doesn’t quite capitalize on the snappiness of its trailer. As a coworker described the premise of the film’s inception, “The screenwriter of The Martian was given free rein to write whatever movie he wanted next and he came up with this.” The ensemble cast is pretty star-studded–Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson (she’s also in Suspiria’s remake, which I saw last weekend, and what a difference), Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth–but Coworker explained, “Hemworth hasn’t shown that he’s a bankable star outside of the superhero franchises yet.” I would say ditto that to Jon Hamm (has anyone else seen Beirut?). I’m partial to all of these actors performances and the ones of newer-comers like the bellhop and the Motown singer, and I like ensemble casts as a rule, because they allow for a different kind of storytelling (a lack of “plot armor,” as one of my kids likes to say).
The ensemble tells its story in episodes, but not just flashbacks that explain their sympathetic backstory and how they arrived at the hotel as one might expect. Storylines are for the most part contemporaneous with the action post-arrival of all the guests, and at many points overlap so that we have two different perspectives on the same scene–a bit of Tarantino structuralism.
One of the most memorable lines are from Darlene during her interrogation. She gives a perfect formation of the #MeToo era, something like, “I’ve been hearing men like you talk and talk until they start to think that they believe in something”. I like the messy morality of the ransom film tape with the “dead man” having sex, because it doesn’t have a clean, modern parallel. The good people who see it think it shouldn’t be revealed even though it’s clearly scandalous, which I guess means that they’re taking a stand for individual privacy and dignity, whereas the characters who are behaving greedily want to make the tape public and their reasoning is that the truth ought to come out. The fact that the revelation of celebrity’s sexual misconduct is not nicely aligned with the side of good is a little disorienting. I can’t quite tell if it’s ham-fisted attempt to complicate a modern social issue or if Darlene’s speech as a response to the ransom tape is meant to blend two somewhat disparate problems in the story in an intentionally challenging way.
There’s another intentionally mysterious moment created by spare language of the script: when Billy asks Rose, “Did you tell anyone what she did?” We see Rose in a flashback standing over a body. We see her young child self being carried away by her abusive father. We know that Emily harbors some sisterly guilt about not having protected Rose from everything as children (see future review of Sisters Brothers for this theme as well). In some ways its refreshing to see this nod to Freudian motivations for personality without the need for a fully drawn backstory. The holes in the sisters’ history is as interesting as the parts we know.
The infatuation with symmetry thematically and in imagery is striking. Visuals in Bad Times are in love with liminal space and binaries. The hypocrisy of the cult leader who teaches rejection of binary morality by forcing people to choose to fight is juicy. There’s a roulette pun fairly late into the film when they basically play a version of Russian roulette with a roulette table. I sort of wonder if it’s these kinds of nested egg type scenes that drove some people I know crazy, if the film turned off by being too clever by half.
All in all, I think it was a fresh take on the seven-strangers-in-an-inn genre that doesn’t quite stick the landing. I can’t quite bring myself to recommend it, but now I understand a little better why it left most theaters after only its second or third week of wide release.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.1Oct 12, 2019This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Suspiria is half dancing, half German terror cell story in “six acts and an epilogue” and 90% of it was okay, but the ending burned all the good will that it had built up for the first 100 minutes.
Apparently this is the same director who had worked with Tilda on A Bigger Splash, which for me means that this guy is more often than not pretty good at what he does. I went in knowing that his last project was Call Me By Your Name. In a few ways, I thought this was a good companion film to that one. Call Me By Your Name is almost exclusively a study in the eroticism of the male body and the idyllic Italian countryside. Suspiria deals mainly with the female body and the grim, gloomy streets of winter in Berlin. Where CMBYN was frivolous and leisurely, Suspiria is tense and gruesome. Sex and sexual appetite in Suspiria is dangerous, ominous–a monster lurks beneath the studio floor waiting to consume her prey. Outside of the contrast with previous work, I’m less sure of how to think about the aesthetics of the film.
Probably the most disappointing thing about this film for me, which is a spoiler, was the lack of resolution of Tilda Swinton playing a second character without it ever being addressed. The second character took up such a big portion of the film and his arc is fairly minor, almost as minor as Chloe Grace-Moretz’s cameo (whoever put her name on the posters for this movie ought to be sued for misleading advertising). I don’t think I understood the gimmick or the game being played. If it was truly supposed to be a secret, I don’t get how the director and Tilda thought they would get away with it. I’ve been reading about how she’s playing two characters basically as soon as the first theatrical trailer for this film came out.
Anyway, I’d say this is probably only a film for you if you enjoyed the original and want to see a new take on the story, or if you have been really thirsting for an art house flick about hive mind ballet with fifteen minutes of **** crazy slasher movie at the end in the same vein as Mother!.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.3Oct 12, 2019This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. You Were Never Really Here is one of my favorite films of the year. I saw it for the first time in Palo Alto with a friend shortly before I started this project of writing reviews. I liked it so much that I took a pretty big chunk of Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot to talk about the good year in film that Joaquin Phoenix is having. The film is a study in objectivity. The depiction of violence is clinical, sterile. The would-be climax in any other action film is seen at a distance on grainy security cameras in black and white, or in the blindspot of those cameras, to be more accurate.
Much of the first act is more about depicting the act of caring for an aging parent with dementia, even more so than his exploits as a hired gun. The cuts to his troubled home life as a child, hiding with his mother from his drunken father, breathing deeply into a plastic bag, which at first look is disorientingly erotic until it’s clear that the only sex depicted in this world is not sex at all. The erotics of the film are passionless, animated by shame and compulsion, the same forces that drive Joe to wait at the top of the stairs for his bottle of pills.
The camera lingers on Joe as he pulls out the domestic items for his violent job–a roll of duct tape, two cans of soda, a bottle of water, some candy. The slick, twee coolness of the ball peen hammer on display in the hardware store has worn off. Instead of the romance of the gun or blade, we have the simplicity and barbarity of this tool-turned-weapon, a swords-to-ploughshares story in reverse.
The music and sound are excellently done. The static, digitized filters over the first ten minutes are alienating and eerie, and communicate the trauma of Joe’s most recent skip-tracing job, the images of dead girls in the back of a trailer truck flash through his mind.
The title of the movie is itself the lyrics of a song that remain unspoken in the title sequence. They’re meant erotically, but there are so many other applications of the metaphor. The spy trope. His diligence and attachment to secrecy, which prevent him from forming stable relationships.
I love the metatheatrical gestures to cinema, Psycho and scary movies, his reenactment of the stabbing in the morning, and the surreal gentleness he shows to the hired gun on his kitchen floor, as they sing the lyrics to an 80s love ballad.
The fragmented flashbacks to Iraq, and the short story of the candy bar are a genius bit of storytelling. So much detail is spent on the stories that mundane domestic objects can tell that even the sweets in Joe’s employer’s room, the jellybeans, are freighted with foreshadowed significance. What does he do when he finds his favorite green jellybean? He crushes it.
Other arcs of the film are so beautifully original and philosophically provocative: the funeral’s interruption at the vision of the girl. Joe’s apparent change of heart at that moment, with the unloading of rocks. He doesn’t change out of his funeral clothes as he arrives at the mansion. Reality breaks down as surrealist images permeate the visual field. The false bottom ending is a masterful stroke. Joe’s emotional reaction at the discovery makes for such a complex palette of anxiety.
You Were Never Really Here is a must see, a beautiful, tragic character study of violence packaged in a popcorny action movie.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.4Oct 12, 2019This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. he Sisters Brothers accomplishes almost everything it sets out to do: a it’s a fresh adaptation set in the Old West without any of the restrictions of its genre’s tropes. The fecundity of violence, its hydra-headed nature is on full display, and the film balances dark humor and distances violence through a lens of objectivity. Everything below is for your perusal after you’ve experienced the movie.
murdering the father and murdering Mayfield and not murdering the chemist leads to the multiplicative violence. Double story line.
What Wife remembers most from the book is that it is narrated from Eli’s perspective, so you have a lot more verbalization of his feelings which makes him the center of sympathy. The film flattens out that subjective lens, which is not to say it’s a bad thing. The inscrutability of the Sisters Brothers’ motives and their future plans is a source of high tension in the film, and the growing divergence between Eli and Charlie naturally splits the audience. Wife mentions by way of the film’s divergence from the scrip that in the novel Eli’s Romance pops up in the middle of Eli’s adventure, rather than prior to the action in the film (“Might have been the prostitute with the scarf”). The way in which John C. Reily plays the scene with the woman in the brothel is masterful tragicomic scene. Wife suggests that one of the central tragic points of the story is Charlie’s responsibility for the death of the two companions. His arrogance and shortsightedness leads to an unfixable mistake. Charlie’s greed is self-destructive, even as the Sisters Brothers prove to be less affected by the formula than their counterparts. She mentioned something about the way in which memory and regret in the film are unidirectional (my coinage) and no one mourns the loss of the formula. I think that idea about the reluctance to dwell on the past, the momentum that drives the brothers forward but also the guilt that plagues them and draws them together are all part of the depiction of violence as well.
One thing that stands out in this movie is the choreography of fighting, such that the drama of the action is not about whether the brothers will survive, but rather “how they will deal with the emotional consequences” (as Wife puts it) of their participation in that violence. The scene where Eli must dispatch the very same people that Charlie has just put forward as possible new partners in the event of Eli’s departure from the headhunting business is deliciously ironic. The skill with which the brothers fight actually takes some of the thrill out of the action sequences, but I think it’s done intentionally. The film is interested in their coping with decisions as it is with the effectiveness of their violent deeds.
The false bottom ending turns upside down the action genre structure. Revenge film tropes are obliterated. Having just rewatched You Were Never Really Here again last night three weeks ago, they have remarkably similar structures. The triumphant, Odyssean return to Ithaka is deflated and challenged, and in lieu of a blaze of glory, bloody reckoning (itself a morally fraught act), the protagonists are forced to grapple with their alternatives.
Check The Sisters Brothers out. It’s one of my favorite of the year.
An update from March of 2019: John C Reilly won a Razzie for his work this past year and he doesn’t deserve it.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.5Oct 12, 2019This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. It is rare to see a movie that so perfectly accomplishes what it sets out to do. McCarthy had spoken previously in interviews about her interest in playing an “unapologetic woman”, the beauty of finding something sympathetic in that deeply private, closed-off person.
It’s what makes the recurring drunk calls to Elaine so compelling. But there are also these gestures to realism that make the film even more compelling, Wife says: the way that Elaine isn’t interested in being her sounding board, hasn’t thought about her or the cat in years, leaves rather than “talk (Lee) off the edge”.
The lack of redemption is refreshing: Lee’s aversion to AA. The metatheatrical references of things that make Lee Israel an unpublishable writer that make Melissa McCarthy an unbankable actor, in the same vein as Lizzie. Lee’s ability to flawlessly quote the Golden Age movie she’s watching contrasts her own unimpressive existence with her dramatic persona and inner life.
Can You Ever‘s light touches sometimes sock you in the stomach as hard as the heavy stuff:The excruciating date Lee goes on is one of the most awkward date scenes I’ve seen all year and I saw Eighth Grade. The way Lee looks so ashamed and confused by the smell of her own apartment and the quick about face by her friend Jack who is at first repulsed and them recognizes that Lee doesn’t understand.
This film has done a tremendous job of sketching out two flawed characters into fully considered, pathetic persons. The story is told well and transcends the limitations of the biopic genre.… Expand
Average User Score: 4.6Oct 12, 2019This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. I was under the impression that The Nutcracker and the Four Realms would be The Nutcracker without dancing, but there’s actually a lot of dancing, including basically a PowerPoint in ballet format to (whatever the opposite of clearly and succinctly is?) explain the way in which the evil clown witch unsuccessfully attempted a coup.
No nuts are cracked in this film whatsoever, nor is there any discernible difference between the Nutcracker and any of the other regular people in the world, except for the fact that he’s just about the only black person in that whole world who doesn’t dance ballet. We’re supposed to believe that the Godfather is living in some racial paradise of Edwardian London where no one from the posh crowd of socialites has any problems being hosted by a black man with an unexplained eye patch. The lack of diversity in both of these settings is part of a long, tired line of questioning about whitewashing and sci-fi fantasy: Lando being the only black man in the universe until Solo, everything about Shyamalan’s Avatar the Last Airbender (which I remember kind of liking, actually).
Aside from the weirdness of those two things, there’s this very uncomfortable strain of parental favoritism that runs throughout the film. Morgan Freeman tells Clara that her mother called her her most prized creation, despite the fact that Clara has an older and younger sibling. For some reason, we learn in a lone flashback that Clara’s dead mom seems like she for sure knows Clara is going to have to go to the Four Realms by herself some day, but it’s not one of those wardrobes that sends all the kids at once, apparently. Little Fritz and Louise can go **** themselves, I guess.
Also, Sugarplum acts shady as **** the entire film. No one comments on the fact that she eats her own air at one point. I was really not ready to have Keira Knightley play a sixteen-year old manic pixie for two hours, so I’m grateful that once her evil plans were revealed, she sort of plays it erotic, throws out a few surprisingly mature lines for a kids show: “a boy with a gun and a uniform sends a shiver down my spine.”
Was it better than I was expecting? That’s a hard thing to say. My expectations were pretty dismal to begin with. I didn’t really feel bored at any moment, but I also wasn’t surprised by anything. Wife says that this was nightmare fuel for her, because of all the mice walking around which no one tries to exterminate. She wishes there had been fewer rodents and much less rodent-friendly propaganda, so take that as you will.… Expand
Average User Score: 6.9Oct 12, 2019This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Overlord is not interested in soaring monologues or patronizing speeches. There’s no peremptory reminders of particular the evils of the Nazis. Overlord is more interested in small moments of heroism and the banality of evil: the calm with which the officers hurl paratroopers out of a burning plane, the frustration of our protagonist during the torture scene, in which he is not successful in convincing the others to behave nobler, the disobeyed order.
When Overlord does moralize, it is through visuals. The monstrosity of human experimentation and the monsters it creates are gruesome visual metaphors for the Nazi’s moral depravity. The only time that there are moral conversations among our motley crew, those conversations remain unresolved at best. Our protagonist’s discomfort with the torture and the way in which the final boss scene requires both sides to use the evil serum does a nice job of showing an uncomfortable kind of equivalence. Our noble sacrifice assures protagonist, “Even our side shouldn’t have this kind of power.”
As an period action film, Overlord does a good job of spreading the wealth among a diverse cast, but as a WW2 film it’s a little thin in the way of settings or historical context. Sometimes that makes it feel like successful magical realism and at other times it feels like a cheap escape room set, all attics and bunkers and dark sewers. I don’t know what could have been done differently, because the spare sets are kind of the point for a film that goes out of its way to peal away the veneer of glory from war, but the overall effect is a film that feels not quite realized.… Expand
Average User Score: 5.7Oct 12, 2019The Fantastic Beasts series may be the best example since Annie Hall of a film with the biggest disconnect between the values of its fans andThe Fantastic Beasts series may be the best example since Annie Hall of a film with the biggest disconnect between the values of its fans and its producers including the (living proof that people do not always improve with prior experience) JK Rowling. It continues a long and confusing annual tradition of the casting of a domestic abuser, found $7 million dollars guilty of beating up his wife, in roles that are a little too on the nose. In case you’re looking for a modicum of bravery and decency in the world, check out Amber Heard’s open letter from after she first filed from divorce from her abuser, which she reread recently at a conference. These are reasons enough to make sure that you do everything you can to avoid paying for this film–stream it illegally, borrow it from your friends, burn yourself a DVD from the library, sneak into the theater after having paid to see Ralph Breaks the Internet (read: my Saturday two weeks ago). With all those caveats, and with the understanding that we will be among the first to dance on that man’s grave when his decisions catch up to him, FB: CoG was kind of a snore, but a dark, brooding snore.
Someone has written about the unfortunate trope of lazy storytelling by way of magical slide presentations (with respect to Ego in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy 2), but after an hour of sleuthing, I can’t find it. So if you find anything that attests to this, send it my way. In the meantime, FB: CoG oftentimes feels novelistic to a fault. Some examples: the way that Leda and her brother argue in the crypt about Credence’s identity is infuriating, because unlike with the convoluted, Shakespearean plot reveals of the HP series, the audience here has not had time to work through the intricacies of the plot reveal ahead of time. The reveal doesn’t have its desired effect of shock and pathos, instead it’s pretty frustrating to listen to these two minor characters quibble over something that happened decades ago, which we don’t have the ability to adjudicate or verify (Roshomon style) to a satisfying end. (Friend brought up the weirdness of how these epic figures from the HP universe are all really invested in nobody C-listers, quoting a reddit post: “Turning Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law and Johnny Depp into side characters for a weird Zoe Kravitz/Ezra Miller family drama was a mistake.”) Ditto the loose end of the murdered house elf scene. Ditto the MacGuffin in the PO Box that basically serves as a magic slide presentation of Leda’s family tree. Ditto Grindelwald snorting an old skull and vomiting WWII. The abundance of magical powerpoints is a real weakness to the momentum of the story.
That being said, CoG does move the ball further down the field. It’s a film that seems to have kept up with the age of its fanbase and is likely flying over the heads of a lot of its younger viewers: infanticide, rape, holocaust abound. We are looking at a (blinkered but) fuller picture of the Wizarding World outside of school and the effete world of Quidditch, Gringotts, and the Ministry. One of my favorite aspects of storytelling is the lack of logical coherence of Grindelwald’s philosophy. Grindelwald is not just an earlier Voldemort. He’s not the Morgoth before Sauron. He’s not rhetorically opposed to mixed marriages of wizards and non-magic peoples. He’s nominally opposed to police brutality and the horrors of war. His laissez-faire attitude toward most of the hot button social issues of the HP series makes him a lot more insidious a villain, because it’s not entirely clear what his Evil Plan actually is.
Whereas the last movie was about stunted desire, CoG takes on more taboo subjects and makes the investigation and the struggle to understand those taboos central to the story, which maybe isn’t the same thing as making an exciting movie necessarily.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.0Oct 12, 2019Widows is a reminder that new stories and excellent storytelling are waiting in the periphery of the male gaze, that the expansion ofWidows is a reminder that new stories and excellent storytelling are waiting in the periphery of the male gaze, that the expansion of interesting storytelling comes from widening the types of characters that can tell their stories. It’s hard to imagine anything less from the likes of Steve McQueen (of 12 Years a Slave) and screenwriter Gillian Flynn (of Sharp Objects and Gone Girl, one of my favorite crime thrillers of all time, funny and pulpy and completely mind-bending), but this movie found its place in the gaps between other heist films. It tells its story through the exquisite beauty of adaptation and underestimation, the negation of action hero archetypes, and (as Slate reviewer Dana Stevens notes) thoughtful commentary about tribal politics and gun laws.
Some of the most striking shots are simple ideas like the long, single take shot of the young politician played by Colin Farrell and his aide blowing off steam after a small event, a camera afixed to the hood of the car captures the stark contrast between the neighborhood where he’s campaigning and the one where his campaign quarters are, all the while his monologue about the transactional, futile nature of local politics accentuates the visuals. Farrell’s perennial visits to his political rival’s HQ in a cramped church building punctuate story with beautiful conversational set pieces, like the choral odes of a Greek tragedy.
The actual heist is a bit of an anticlimax, as seems the case with all of the great films of the year (the Sisters Brothers and You Were Never Really Here both employ anticlimax effectively). It’s nice to see the way in which nearly all of the legwork is accomplished by the loan, tall, waifish white woman who makes more money than anyone else going on lavish dinner dates with men she meets online. There’s quite a bit of self-awareness in this script that the racial politics of this film use for comic effect.
David Kaluuya is an excellent villain: the scene in the gym is stunning in its construction and trajectory; his scene work while staking the women; listening to pointed but subtly presented news clips and learning Spanish on tape; the bowling alley. The Twists this movie has in store are pretty impressive. There’s something here for everyone, especially dog-lovers. That white dog better be nominated for an Oscar.… Expand
Average User Score: 6.6Oct 12, 2019I did not know that a thing could both be a garbage fire and soggy bag of dogfood in a winter downpour, but Ralph Breaks the Internet, asideI did not know that a thing could both be a garbage fire and soggy bag of dogfood in a winter downpour, but Ralph Breaks the Internet, aside from being an exercise in lowered expectations, accomplishes that stereoscopic feat. This film should be required watching for every schoolchild, if only so that they can have that stomach-churning feeling that comes from watching something you love spoil and rot like a melon on a stoop two weeks past Halloween.
In the lead up to the mistake of seeing this film, I had read some high-minded headlines about Ralph and Toxic Masculinity, but much like the film itself, the review was a bit of a catfish, in that it fails to mention that any semblance of self-awareness is lost in the pondering morass of product placement and too-old internet memes. The Disney princesses are by far the most interesting commentary on the past limitations of storytelling in the Disney franchises and it lasts for approximately two minutes, without much more to add than the trailers. Gal Godot is perfect for her role, serves as a positive female role model for a younger generation and injects into the story a subplot about the power of female relationships and finding your tribe. RBI is one of those comedies, like indie-darling, Eighth Grade, and the more mainstream Blocked, where woke platitudes are omnipresent from the very beginning of the film and the true tension at the heart of the film is the struggle to live up to those new progressive principles when challenged by our darker, less generous selves. Unfortunately, RBI is a sequel, so it’s more concerned with selling merchandise than it is with storytelling.
The best that can be said about RBI is that you can buy a ticket for this movie and sneak into Fantastic Beasts in order to avoid giving money to Johnny Depp.… Expand