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Monthly Archives: June 2020

The Vast of Night (2019) - IMDb
This debut film by Andrew Patterson blew me away, reminding me of Blood Simple (Coen Brothers), It Follows (David Robert Mitchell), Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier) and The Babdoook (Jennifer Kent).  The trajectories of the careers of these first or near-first time writer-directors varies, but the skill and care taken in their early work is astounding.   I can’t speak much about Patterson’s film, which centers on a New Mexico disc jockey and phone operator who stumble on a strange frequency over their wires in the 1950’s, because it is a “whodunit/whatisit” to its very core.  But Patterson’s assured manner heightens tension and drives a narrative in an almost Hitchcockian style, and his attention to detail is impressive.  Hair-raising, creepy, but never overt, you feel as if you’re another denizen of the town, with Patterson letting you in on the mystery.

The film has its flaws (tracking shots that at times feel gratuitous, a lead who speaks rat-a-tat tat with a cigarette in his mouth which at one point almost made me turn on English subtitles, an ending that almost feels stubborn in it anticlimactic lack of convention), but now is the time to buy stock in Patterson.  Currently on Amazon Prime.

The Way Back (2020 film) - Wikipedia

Look.  I’m not complaining.  I knew what I was getting into when I saw the previews.  Ben Affleck, down and out, drinking beers in the shower, stumbling home from the bar, and then, redemption by way of the call from the old school, “Hey, man, we need a hoops coach.”  All the signs of schmaltz-fest, for which I was totally down.  Also, this movie received an 84% on Rottentomatoes.

While it penetrated the outer-lining of the heart once or twice (though that may have been indigestion), for the most part, this is a bad movie.  Let me count the ways.

*Affleck takes a 1-9 woefully undersized team with no apparent talent and makes them a playoff contender on 1) the pre-existing “motion” offense (he just screams “move” and “set picks”); 2) profanity/appeals to their manhood; 3) a full game, full court press. Come on.

*He has dark secrets that have brought him to rock bottom. We learn about them later, but nowhere near enough.  He just seems like his quiet character in The Town, but he’s not planning a heist.

*His wife, who shares his tragedy, is played by someone who must have said, “Okay, Ben is playing this low-key. I will not be out low-keyed.   I will trump his low-key simmer by being catatonic.”  She succeeds.  Their scenes together are master classes in boredom and diffidence.

*The film is ostensibly about relationships, but not one is established. You have no idea how Affleck ended up with his dead-eyed ex-wife.  The actor who plays his sister could not have been more unlike him.  He establishes one relationship with a player, to whom he says “lead” and ”shoot” and then inexplicably, visits the player’s father, who, straight out of the cliché jar, hates basketball because when he was a star, it did not work out for him.   That scene takes 41 seconds, whereupon Affleck shrugs.

*Affleck does connect a little bit with his algebra teaching assistant coach, who ends up being the worst kind of rat fink, and in the process, reveals the school as heartless and joyless.

*Is the filmic sign of being really down and out drinking beer in the shower? Affleck drinks loads of beer in the shower.  While I’m at it, is beer really the choice of bottom-of-the barrel alcoholics?  It seems like a lot of work.

*The piano music in this picture is as intrusive as a tornado warning. Plink, plink . . . be moved! Be moved!

*His players don’t seem modern. Affleck makes a reference to The White Shadow, which is funny, but it is telling.  These players act as if they came to the court straight from The Disney Channel.

Lastly, and critically, Affleck plays a former high school hoops star yet he in no way, shape or form looks like he ever played hoops, much less was an All-American.  I’m 56 in October and until the pandemic, was still playing hoops every week.  I know what older men in all shapes and sizes who play hoops look like, even if they are not playing basketball but rather, just moving a little and dribbling.  When Affleck gets on the court, he just kind of walks around.  He holds the ball like a cantaloupe.  I do not believe.

 

Emma (2020 film) - Wikipedia

I have seen several Emmas.  I believe this is my favorite, primarily, because this Emma (Anya Taylor-Joy) is the perfect blend of headstrong, spoiled, meddlesome and smart.  Better, when she finally gives in to her desire for Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn, who was totally different as the lovelorn, quiet good guy in Amazon’s excellent Vanity Fair), the timing is spot on, and she and Flynn play very well together.  Best, when they argue, they stand their ground and then in charming fashion, fix a détente that all but they see as love.

Here is a not very good “Badly done” scene, mainly because Johnny Lee Miller just snaps and Romola Garai looks like she hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about.

Here is a terrible “Badly done” scene.  Jeremy Northam is very good, but Gwyneth Paltrow starts at weepy and then just folds.

 

In this film, when Knightly upbraids Emma (I cannot find the scene), she does not crumple in the revelation of her awful behavior.  She’s still pissed and fighting.  Only later, after some time, does she make amends and then, not in a simpering fashion.

Moreover, this a master class in wordless chemistry.

Finally, you cannot do much better than Bill Nighy’s fussy, movingly emotional Mr. Woodhouse, plagued by drafts and daughters who abandon him, and Josh O’Connor (Prince Charles in The Crown) who chews scenery by the fistfuls as Mr. Elton.

Relevant.

On Amazon Prime.

Is it possible to have a Pete Davidson marathon?  Why, yes.  Yes it is.  I watched two Pete Davidson flicks in a week and enjoyed them both, with varying levels of enthusiasm.  In Big Time Adolescence, Davidson plays Zeke, a man-child who bonds with the little brother of a high school girlfriend.  When they break up, Zeke keeps hanging with the kid (Griffin Gluck).  When we settle down with them, Zeke is a stoner townie in his mid-twenties with a gaggle of amusing stoner pals and as much drive and ambition as Cheech.  He’s offbeat, almost impenetrable, and when you do get in that addled head, the most you find is ennui and poor judgment with a little bit of decency.  As coming of age films go, this one is adept, often very funny, and refreshingly short (91 minutes).  It also features nice support from Jon Cryer, Gluck’s frustrated father, who has to confront Davidson’s cluelessness not only as a danger to his high school age son but as a rival for his affections.

Sunday night, it was time to shell out the $20 to watch Davidson’s semi-autobiographical movie, The King of Staten Island (Davidson co-wrote the picture with the King of Bro-Comedy, Judd Apatow).  Here, Davidson plays a 24 year old man-child, stoner townie with a gaggle of amusing stoner pals and as much drive and ambition as Chong.  He’s offbeat, almost impenetrable, and when you do get in that addled head, the most you find is ennui and poor judgment but a little bit of decency.  It also features nice support from Marisa Tomei, Davidson’s frustrated mother, and Bill Burr, a neighbor who becomes her suitor.  Burr has to confront Davidson’s cluelessness as a danger to his own son, and, lo and behold, Davidson bonds with the kid.

The King of Staten Island (@TheKingofSI) | TwitterApatow’s flick, however, is a bumpier ride for several reasons.  First, Davidson leads here, and he’s just not an empty-headed nice guy, but he’s also suffering from depression, suicidal ideation and unresolved sorrow over the death of his father when he was 7 years old.  I’m not going to say Davidson was bad, because he has his moments.  But it was much tougher duty, and his performance is spotty.  Sometimes he nails it, sometimes you can almost see the terror in his eyes that he’s not cutting it.  Worse, at 136 minutes, the picture is way long, and it drags (Apatow’s daughter plays Davidson’s sister and it almost appears as if her role was beefed up by Daddy).

Finally, Davidson’s character in In Big Time Adolescence was understandable because, no matter his actions, you perceived him to be a dummy.  A sweet kid, but, also an airhead.  [SPOILERS BELOW] So, when he advises his young charge to sell drugs in order to enhance his cred, it seems reasonable.  Stupid, but in the context of his character, entirely in line.   In Apatow’s picture, Davidson is not a dummy, but rather, a dick, and way too old to be the kind of dick he portrays.  So his unattractive excesses are difficult to endure.  A lazy stoner entranced by SpongeBob while his mom and sister pack up her car for college?  It sets your teeth on edge, but as my kids would derisively retort, “Okay Boomer.”  But giving a 9 year old kid a tattoo? Or whining like a little bitch because his mother deigns to date?  It’s too much, and Davidson does not have the chops to communicate the inner haunting that can get you and him over.  It’s an amusing film, and has a few solid gut-busters, but if you had to choose one, save yourself the 46 minutes and the $20 and go with the former (which is free on Amazon Prime).