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2018

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What to make of this film?  It starts off medium cool, with Vince Vaughn playing a rigid, introverted ex-addict and drug dealer trying to stay on the straight-and-arrow.  His temper is volcanic yet weirdly controlled – when he wants to kill his cheating wife (Jennifer Carpenter), he distances himself from her, maintaining an almost chivalric honoring of her being, and then dismantles her car with his bare hands.  He then comes into the house and they have a believably fruitful and mature discussion about where their relationship is headed.

When circumstances force him back into dealing, things go south, and he has to do a stretch in prison, leaving the pregnant Carpenter and their unborn daughter behind.  And then shit gets nuts, as the film shifts from sober prison fare to gonzo 70s grindhouse slaughter-fest.  Vaughn is transferred from a medium security facility, where he meets his mentor and  counselor in what threatens to be a film about his therapeutic journey from there on out, to a maximum security haunted house run by Don Johnson, a cheroot chewing warden straight out of the most lurid of comic books.

The dissonance is jarring, but it doesn’t turn you off.  You stay on the ride, happily, as it gets crazier and crazier.

Vaughn is really quite good, but people forget that before he took on the comic galoot character, he was trotted out as a believable villain (Psycho, Domestic Disturbance).  He has done mainly straight drama of late, from the execrably written Season 2 of True Detective to the stock sergeant in Hacksaw Ridge to the recent Dragged Across Concrete (written and directed by the writer-director of this picture,  S. Craig Zahler).  Here, he’s in total command and damn chilling.

Zahler knows what he’s doing behind the camera, but one wonders – to what end? I hope he rises above his pulpy material before he gets lost in it.

Currently on Amazon.

 

 

 

 

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Writer-director Tamara Jenkins’ (The Savages, Slums of Beverly Hills) story of a driven couple (Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti) struggling to have a child of their own is alternately heartbreaking and frustrating.  We see the two put through the wringer of in-vitro fertilization and surrogate scams, poked and prodded in clinics while investigated as to suitability for placement, and all of it voluntary,  a critical focus of the film, because rather than a “poor us” weeper, we see them as in many ways masochistic.

The couple is often unsympathetic, as their singular desire creates a fair amount of collateral damage.   They also suffer bouts of self-loathing as the fabric of their relationship is torn (a scene where Giamatti broaches whether he even wants a baby is piercing).  But when it gets bad for the two, Jenkins gives us a glimpse of who they were – and perhaps still can be – before their primal quest.

Eventually, the intercession of a sweet and guileless niece (Kayli Carter, who has the same commanding presence as Shailene Woodley in The Descendants and Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone) helps to remind them of the wages of their desperation.

Sometimes a tad talky and quaint, but for the most part, very strong.  On Netflix.

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Chris Weitz’s (About a Boy) largely faithful recreation of the capture of Adolph Eichmann is sober, competent and a little dull.  Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) is the focus of a several member Israeli infiltration team sent to grab Eichmann (Ben Kingsley) from Argentina and covertly spirit him away to Israel for trial.  All well and good, even if the film drags until they actually get to South America.  When on the ground, the film picks up, but there really isn’t much to the operation.  They jump Eichmann at night as he gets off his bus and keep him in a safe house, where his removal is delayed for several days, thus allowing Isaac (whose sister, niece and nephew were killed in the Holocaust, which we see in flashback) to engage the monster in an effort to get his signed consent to extradition.  The best part of the picture is Kingsley, who conveys Eichmann’s urbane precision and amorality in equal parts.  But there isn’t much to the exchange.   Isaac seems too much the professional to be flustered by the engagement, and Weitz is too cautious in the opportunity.

Perhaps sensing the film’s lethargy, Weitz adds a fictional Argo-like race to the airport, but it lacks any real punch.

A perfectly inoffensive picture.  Wait until it’s free and you have little in the way of alternative entertainment options

 

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I had the misfortune of catching half of Cate Blanchett’s fun, sumptuous and engaging Elizabeth recently. The comparison makes this turdfest even more unbearable.

Sairose Ronan is one note – fiery, wild eyed indignance – as Mary Queen of Scots.  Margot Robbie is way out of her depth as Elizabeth. She acts like she’s in a high school production.  But the performances are the least of this picture’s woes.

The script is charmless and dull. Intrigue has no deftness. People just argue briefly, declare and then act.

The lone battle scene is so badly handled, you don’t know what the hell is happening.  It presents like kids playing war in the backyard.

The script is also obsessed with its feminist hot take, particularly with Mary, who is put-upon by a man’s world and way ahead of the curve.  Mary’s ladies in waiting are a regular Fox Force Five!  When she has her first sexual encounter with her soon to be husband, who turns out to be gay and who she later has to rape (very unconvincingly) to have an heir, he performs cunnilingus on her.  John Knox hates Mary, not because she was a Catholic, but because she was a damnable woman who enjoyed sins of the flesh (he calls her “whore of Babylon”, “strumpet” and “harlot” in one speech).  We even get to see Mary menstruate.

Elizabeth gets in on the act as well, hectoring her male advisors with “we could do well worse” than Mary as queen and bemoaning Mary’s fate with “How cruel men are.”

Girl power, apparently, trumps Power power. Indeed, when they eventually meet, there is no enmity. Just a couple of gals dishing on inequity, the glass ceiling and the unfairness of it all. Until Mary gets wild-eyed and entitled and the girl power card loses its oomph.

Then, bitches get stitches and Mary is locked away, eventually to be beheaded.

The writer secures revenge in the post-script, however, lording Mary’s fertility over Elizabeth’s mere 44 year reign.

Modernity infects this dog in many other ways. When Mary’s gay attendant stops just short of breaking into a show tune, and pulls himself up short, the modern and reformed Catholic soothes him with a “be whoever you wish to be with us” (when he sleeps with her husband, kneels before her and begs for forgiveness, she soothes him again – “you have not betrayed your nature”).  Before battle, she assures one of her Protestant soldiers that should they die, they will all see the same God.

Best line. “I will not become a lady Henry VIII dispensing husbands as he did wives.“

A massive bag of crap. And no fun!

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This is a confounding but worthwhile picture.  It tries to be many things.   A heist caper.  A feminist tract.  A racial observance.  A cynical statement on corruption.  A twist flick.  It fails to be complete in any of these pursuits, but that doesn’t make it unenjoyable, just vexing.

Steve McQueen (Shame, Twelve Years of Slave) brings his meditative touch to Chicago, where the widows of a group of professional criminals (think the gang in Heat; in fact, the widows pick up a driver on the fly just like in that flick) must pick up where their flawed husbands have left off.  Their pursuit is intertwined with romantic, political, and familial entanglements.

There’s a lot here, but eventually, the film falters because it takes on way too much.  This is a mini-series sized saga, and given how well McQueen does with various scenes, you’re eventually frustrated at the truncated resolutions.  Still, the performances are stellar.  In particular, Viola Davis, even saddled with an ever-present and ridiculous West Highland White Terrier, is penetrating, and as villains go, Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) is a top ten.

In post-WWII Poland, a pianist and an ingénue he has selected for the national cultural ensemble fall in love.  He escapes through Berlin on a concert tour, but she is hesitant, and they are separated.  They see each other every few years, and eventually, they are reunited in Paris, free.  But they cannot make a go of it, she retreats back to Poland, and in what is supposed to be a grand gesture of everlasting devotion, he admits his sin against the state, returns to his native country and does 15 years hard labor, which, coupled with torture, destroys his fingers.

I suppose this was supposed to connect as a moody, timeless, passionate yet doomed romance.  But the two leads, who alternately smolder and pout, are so childish and impetuous, it’s hard to gin up much sympathy.  Indeed, when she makes it to Paris, they bicker like children, she constantly kvetching about his prior lover and Western ambition, he inexplicably distant (in fact, he often looks as if he knows he made a very big mistake in working so hard to be with her but can’t bring himself to admit it).

Neither character acts in a manner showing any deference to their good fortune.  These aren’t lovers separated by culture or prior marriages or obligation, but rather, an iron curtain where, to be on the wrong side of it, you lose your freedom and you can get your delicate pianist fingers mangled by 15 years of forced labor and torture.  And they surmount that curtain!  So, when they chuck it for seemingly pedestrian reasons, and he insists on his grotesque punishment, you don’t care.  Well, maybe you will.  The movie is very well regarded.  But I didn’t.

On the plus side, the movie is beautifully shot and blessedly short at under an hour-and-a-half.

Nominated for Best Director, Best Foreign Film and Best Cinematography and available on Amazon.

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A filmmaker who can communicate his vision entirely is a rare thing, even if the vision is too reliant on cruelty.  Yorgos Lamthinos’s The Lobster was as original as it gets, but also sterile, unfeeling and kind of unpleasant.

The Favourite is more traditional than the futuristic The Lobster, a period piece of court intrigue, but it shares its iciness. Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone vie for the attentions and favor of Queen Anne. Weisz wants power, Stone security. Their war has its moments, particularly, a biting sense of humor that reveals itself now and again.  They also share a weary, dim view of their male dominated world; the men are for the most part fops, suck-ups, and/or brutes, and it is amusing to watch Weisz and Stone endure them.  Yet, their single-minded pursuit of the upper hand is solely rooted in the base instincts of survival, so it’s hard to gin up any empathy. You’re detached from their fates, and the accompanying pain.  They flash as human, but they don’t really seem it.

The performances are stellar.  Olivia Coleman’s performance as the mercurial and insecure queen, for which she won the Oscar, is a masterful blend of the sympathetic and comic. She is the ultimate tormentor, but ironically, she’s the only one you feel bad for.

It’s a technically adept yet cold and un-involving picture.  Lamthinos (who reminds me of Darren Aronofsky in his penchant for brutalization) also has a morbid fascination with bodily functions, which doesn’t help.