As usual, playing catch up. I’ve recently moved to Prague, so I have some great Czech films to write about. In the meantime, here are some brief thoughts on a lot of others I’ve seen over the 8-10 months but haven’t had the chance to write about.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (Ficarra, Riqua, 2016)
A friend asked me recently if I think most “big” directors, regardless of whether I like them or not, are good directors. I think in some way they are. My main reason: if you can bring a large group of people together towards the same vision – whether I personally like that vision or not – then you’re doing something impressive. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is, I think, an example of a film where not everyone comes together. It feels like so many different films at once. Those aren’t the only problems with it. Information is telegraphed: every time we cut away from Tina Fey something bad happens; and the ridiculous accents from Christopher Abbot and Alfred Molina – both amazing actors – which feel like they should be satire, but end up kind of offensive. Also: rough love interest subplot.
23 Paces to Baker Street (Hathaway, 1956)
A very obviously post-Rear Window film that suffers from how close it ends up to that Hitchcock movie. It was fun watching it on a plane and guessing what year it was made (clues included color, CinemaScope, a few natural-looking exteriors, Vera Miles, a violent knife scene): I guessed 1957.
Paterson (Jarmusch, 2016)
A solid entry for Jarmusch, though not my favorite. Things I love: an odd use of fades to black that feel both monotonous and pleasant at once; the weird twins thing that doesn’t particularly add to the plot but adds to the tone; a general feeling of unease, particularly at night; a lover’s quarrel at a bar that’s both realistic and hyperbolic at once. Things I didn’t love: a female lead who feels kind of tacked in and a bit flimsy. Sure, she’s the muse, but she’s a flighty, boring one.
It Comes at Night (Shults, 2017)
Man, I really wanted to love this film. It’s got great camera work (a second straight time for Shults), awesome central performances, a totally chilling dog scene, and a solid mood. But in the end it just didn’t land for me all the way. It felt rehashed, overly reliant on dream sequences, and not quite as suffused with dread as it (maybe) could have been. Still, this guy is a director.
Okja (Bong, 2017)
Another that I really wanted to love, from a director whose work I truly love. The good about Okja: wacky performances that somehow work (man I love Jake Gyllenhaal in this); a really crushing scene towards the end; a meaningful message played as absurdist satire that still hits its point; amazingly staged action scenes. The not so good about Okja: the satire gets tiresome; the plot gets predictable (though, admittedly, still affecting); the style gets too cartoonish. I wonder if this was influenced by Brazil.
Dear White People (Simien, 2014)
Staying on the satire train: a pretty funny and frighteningly accurate portrayal of modern college life. This is when satire really works. The style fluidly oscillates between over the top and realistic, and the ending has legs enough to warrant (justifiably so) a TV series.
Colossal (Vigalondo , 2017)
Another one that I wanted to love. Some small SPOILERS here. I really, really love Vigalondo’s first two films. But this one just completely missed for me. The clever nastiness of those first two is gone. Where to begin? Really boring or unbelievable characters. Terrible acting from one and another that I completely don’t buy. Even Oscar’s (Jason Sudeikis) psychotic-ness doesn’t totally jibe. Why does Anne Hathaway’s character have two realizations in a row?. And the end is illogical. I’m forgiving of logic in some sci-fi; or at least of no explanation. But she can’t hear him at the end, yet she still throws him. I get that she might not need to hear him, but the beat indicates that his line calling her a bitch is what ultimately incites her throw…doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t know. Maybe I missed something with that ending, but I was too pulled out of it long before that beat.
The Nice Guys (Black, 2016)
Feels like someone did a poor parody of a Shane Black film.
The Overnight (Brice, 2015)
Pretty fun, sometimes ridiculous, but ultimately oddly touching film about parenting and relationships. Laugh out loud moments are rare in film and count for a lot. This one has a few.
Train to Busan (Yeon, 2016)
Unbelievably fun zombie film that somehow keeps the stakes rising and the tension going. It’s shot so cleanly – not a knock, more awe.
Lions Love (…and Lies) (Varda, 1969)
Just post-French New Wave from the great Agnès Varda. This one is a dizzying collection of film-within-a-film. It’s a commentary on the state of film, of Hollywood, and of the end of the free love ’60s. I liked it quite a bit, but in spite of all that, it drags a bit towards the middle and feels long for its 110 minutes.
The Nobodies (Mesa, 2016)
Really well shot film that seems to be after some kind of punk realism, but sort of falls between the two and never hits as hard as it wants to. The film feels a bit limited in character and scope. Maybe that’s the budget. There’s a great scene between mother and adopted daughter that’s the highlight of the film.
Museum (Ohtomo, 2016)
A thriller that starts pretty standard and Se7en-like, and reaches beyond that in its second act and becomes something more. Fun and violent, apparently based on a Manga; its ending feels rushed.
The White World According to Daliborek (Klusák, 2017)
An interesting premise that ends up feeling totally unfilled and a bit self-righteous. If a white supremacist is your main character then don’t use silly shock cuts (hard cut to chopping wood with your hand!); don’t stage things obviously (a shot of the main character’s feet in the tub really bothered me for this reason); and don’t make the only comeuppance too little, too late, and from the mouth of the director.
Logan (Mangold, 2017)
A pretty gentle, yet still violent Wolverine film. Really well made. Well acted. Great first act. Strong second act. Pretty boring – but I understand, totally necessary – third act. Worth the watch.
Eyewitness (Yates, 1981)
Peter Yates, what have you done!? I wanted to make this its own blog post. This movie is so absurd and for so many reasons. Some unbelievably 80s/bad lines: “I’ll tell you right now it’s gonna be wonderful.” The whole “subtext” thing about buffing floors is so awkward and ridiculous. And played the way William Hurt plays it it’s even more ludicrous: a soft, nice guy…kind of. Maybe creepy. Also, some great lines: “I think when he was a kid Aldo must’ve wanted to be a suspect when he grew up.” A bad script, well blocked. A pretty unbelievable romance. The ending with her hand on his cheek is almost as bad as him cleaning off her knee. Unnecessarily convoluted plot, too
Theeb (Nowar, 2014)
A really nice road/adventure/reverse western film. There’s a great musical moment just pre-shoot out. The staging of how Theeb falls in the well is really well executed.
Cabaret Balkan (Paskaljevic, 1998)
A lot going on here. The lawlessness of wartime. Chaos and anarchy of ordinary citizens. The police barely have a role here. Kind of like a more violent, dystopic Night on Earth. I love the radio broadcasts of the war. One is of the US condemning the Bosnians!