Sunday, July 23, 2017

Groucho was a prophet

"The last man nearly ruined this place. He didn't know what to do with it. If you think this country is bad, wait 'til I get through with it.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Cure for Wellness - Gore Verbinski (2017)

"A Cure for Wellness" is Gore Verbinski's first attempt at a psychological thriller since his mediocre 2002 film, "The Ring", a remake of the Japanese phenomenon, "Ringu." (And by 'Mediocre' I mean terrible. I just didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings who may have like that movie. But if you are one of those people, what the hell is wrong with you?)

Going in, I was curious to see if the filmmaker responsible for the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies was up to the task.

Lockhart, (Dane DeHaan) is presented to us as a dull, disappointing protagonist and a dick. (Think Leonardo DiCaprio having a love baby with Dr. Sheldon Cooper.)

The board of the company he works for has found some in some discrepancies in Lockhart's work that the SEC would find very interesting.

They agree not to turn him in if he will complete one mission. The company's CEO, one Roland Pembroke, (Harry Groener, the snake-mayor from (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) went on a two-week spa vacation in Switzerland and has refused to come back.

Lockhart's task is a simple one: go and fetch Pembroke.

On his way to the isolated retreat, Lockhart learns that the place has a dark history. When his car hits a deer, he is wounded and wakes up inside the retreat three days later.

The first person he encounters is Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs, a.k.a. Lucius Malfoy) who tells him he may not leave, but of course, he is not a prisoner and neither is Pembroke.

But they are at altitude, so Lockhart needs to stay hydrated. He drinks more than his share of water. As Lockhart stalks the grounds, he notices that much of the patients' time is spent in water whether in swimming pools, steam baths or the sensory deprivation tank. Maybe there is something strange about these 'treatments'. He looks high and low and at the beginning of the second act, Lockhart finally finds Pembroke, who agrees to return to New York.

Then, the man vanishes again, into thin air. Again, he is told that Pembroke is not well enough to see him.

Lockhart waits and investigates and it soon becomes obvious that something is wrong with the water. As he waits, the wellness center decides to take Lockhart on as a patient as well. Immediately, it is plain that Lockhart is not taking to the treatments.

What follows is more or less an ordinary cat and mouse game. Or so we are led to believe until "Wellness" pulls the rag right from under us.

The film is wise enough to realize the small things that make you squirm are more visceral than any abstract fears. Like pulling one's teeth out.

This place performs medical experiments, so when he finds himself in a tank or strapped to a bed, listening to all the doctors speaking German, it is unsettling. (At one point, I can guaranteed piss will trickle down your legs. When it happens, you'll know. It is even worse than the elderly zombies.)

And if you think your grandma is being abused in her nursing home, that is nothing compared to what the staff is up to at this sanitarium. There are some nice nightmarish sequence, even if some are ordinary. There are even a few Vertigo-esque shots thrown in to mount the tension. Much of the imagery is heavy handed. Yes, we get that Lockhart has an aversion to water because he watched his father jump off in a bridge, into a river, in a rainstorm.

So it is understandable that he is wary of water treatments.

Once again, just as we're lulled into a nice, typical suspense tale, Verbinski kicks our legs right out from under us again. He keeps surprising us to the end.

Socially, "Wellness" makes a comment on how we can all be taken in so we do not see what is happening around us. We do not even notice when we start to die. The kind of entrapment Lockhart is supposed to feel is reminiscent of Gordon Peele's film "Get Out" from earlier this year in that it focuses on the notion of the victims being supposedly willing.

I was impressed at how I was taken darker and darker and darker...

"Wellness" is not even close to the same level of excellence of "Get Out", but I can confirm that despite its crude, inelegant end, it is Verbinski's most satisfying film yet.

Except maybe "Rango." I like "Rango."

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Personal Shopper - Olivier Assayas (2017)

Maureen (Kristen Stewart) has not done much but grieve since her twin brother, Lewis, who died of heart failure three months ago. She goes to Lewis' isolated house in hope of contacting him from 'the beyond.'

She refuses to leave Paris because she and her twin had made a pact that whichever one of them died first would send the living one some kind of sign.

Maureen refuses to leave Paris without some kind of signal from her dead twin.

Maureen is a medium, as was Lewis. Maureen has always retained a certain amount of skepticism, while her twin had always been what one would call a 'true believer.'

The big question right now is: does this agreement give Maureen hope, or just prolong her grief?

Just how long can one live in mourning?

Finally, after waiting for three months, Maureen gets two signs. Neither are tangible enough to convince her beyond doubt. Is it possible Lewis has signaled Maureen without her noticing?

Then, a third, malevolent, signal roars from out of nowhere. This is definitely not her her brother. Not only can she feel this new presence. She can see it.

It is not long before Maureen starts to get texts from an entity. It is not her brother. This spirit is angry and violent.

As the film progresses, it evolves into a kind of existential tale about technology vs. Spirituality. And there is study of the connection between grief and fear.

Pieces of "Shopper" have sparse (or no) dialogue. Assayas helps us understand Maureen even when she keeps her quiet.

Parts of "Personal Shopper" feel Bergman-esque. Some of the sequences feel as though they could have been lifted right out of "Persona" or "Cries and Whispers."

Assayas and Film Editor Marion Monnier let us slowly settle into the story without us having to worried about distracting, premature cuts. They let us see characters reacting instead of focusing on the acting.

Kristen Stewart has built up a great deal of credibility since her "Twilight" days. She has refused to be type-cast. She chooses small, intimate characters in very important films. (Clouds of Sils Maria, Welcome to the Rileys)

"Shopper" is gaining notoriety. It has done well on the Festival circuit. I was expecting a typical art-house film, but at its heart, it's a vivid and convincing ghost story.

I enjoyed it very much, but this film is not important nor is it groundbreaking. I am afraid this is not a movie you should drop everything to see.

If you want a thriller or ghost story, this is a satisfactory way to spend 105 minutes.

In a word...meh.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Colossal - Nacho Vigalondo (2017)

Gloria, played by Anne Hathaway with, (and I have to say this), horrendous bangs, is a loser. She sleeps all day, sometimes deliberately, sometimes accidentally. She has no drive and has not worked in a year. She is also a blackout drunk and her boyfriend has tossed her out on the street.

She has no other choice than to go home, so she moves back into her parents' empty house. She runs into Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), an old friend from back in the day who owns a bar.

Then, twenty minutes into the film, it takes a sharp turn. The day after she gets back in town, she finds out that the city of Seoul has been devastated by a giant monster.

The creature appeared and then vanished out of thin air above the city.

Soon, Gloria starts to obsess about the monster. She makes maps, graphs and pictures and she hangs them on a wall in the empty house. We start to wonder why Gloria is so fascinated by the whole story while other characters seem more blasé about the situation.

Is there some kind of connection between Gloria and the monster? She certainly thinks there is. 

And it soon becomes obvious that she's right. At a specific place in her hometown, at a designated time, it seems Gloria is somehow controlling the creature. It mimics every movement. Each gesture, each step.

Then a giant robot appears with the monster like they are a comedy duo, part of a bit. The robot appears to be controlled by Oscar. Think Optimus Prime meets Godzilla. 

Sadly, before too long, Oscar understandably decides controlling a giant robot can actually be a jolly good time. This transforms him from the warm, compassionate hometown friend into a dangerous scoundrel.

This puts Gloria and Oscar at odds. That is to say Oscar starts being a real dick, alienating Gloria and his friends.

It is worth noting that Sudeikis makes a surprisingly convincing villain.

"Colossal" makes a clear statement about the raw nature of power. It can turn you evil and it will drive you mad. Sometimes to the point of murderous. You need only look at the world, and our country, to understand how vital it is that people understand this truth.

The film has a Joe Dante (Gremlins, Matinee) vibe to it. It is mischievous, sarcastic, darkly funny and violent.

What "Colossal" gives us is 105 minutes of a damn good time. It might not be the best horror film I have seen this year, but it certainly is the most entertaining.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Midnight Special - Jeff Nichols (2016)

I can't think of anything worse than discovering that Heaven is most certainly real and then realizing that it is not for you. Sadly, that is the case for every character in "Midnight Special." Except for Alton Meyer, one miraculous child.

And the search for Paradise, or even just happiness is at the heart of Jeff Nichols' film "Midnight Special."

Nichols takes his time as he lets us know slowly what's going on.

The beginning of the movie feels very experiential and surreal. I knew I was in for a good time when the congregation of a bizarre church/cult started to chant coordinates instead of Holy Scripture. The sequence is so surreal, it gives off a feeling of a hypnotic hallucination.

In the second act, though, the film settles down into a more or less traditional narrative.

It's the story of Alton Meyer who is taken from his church "family" by his father, Roy. You see, something will happen in the next few days and it's important to Roy that his child be as far from the church/cult as possible.

Of course, his church wants Alton to be with them during this supposedly crucial time.

The rest of the film is a pretty standard race-against-time suspense/thriller. The Feds desperately want to find Alton. And, like formulaic thrillers, the film slowly pulls the curtain back as we come to understand what's so damn important about this boy.

The leaders of the church/cult also obsessively pursue Alton. The coordinates they recited as Scripture will show them the way to something like Paradise. These people will not rest until they find him and unlock his secret.

It was a great disappointment watching a film with such a promising first act regress into such a predictable and conventional film.

So, come for the delightful and enchanting first act and stay just because you end up curious about what happens to the little kid. Either resign yourself to an hour or so of relative boredom or stay away from "Midnight Special" altogether. I'd recommend the former. The first act really is worth the price of admission.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Raw - Julia Ducurnau (2017)

 "'Help me, help me! '"the rabbit said. "'Or the hunter will shoot me dead.'"

Out of all the horror films made in recent memory, Julia Ducurnau's "Raw" is the closest thing we've had to an old-school mind-bang since the late 70's, early 80's.

Its a rare film that's both physiologically disturbing and physically disgusting.

Justine is a naive young woman and strict vegetarian off to school for the first time. Veterinary school to be precise.

Some unconventional hazing starts an alarming series of changes in the veterinarian. And by unconventional, I mean carnivorous. It may just be the worst kind of torture one could come think of for Justine.

And anything forced upon someone has the potential to become habitual.

After being forced to eat raw rabbit kidneys, Justine's body starts to revolt. First, her skin starts to peel off slowly. Think "Cabin Fever" meets Cronenberg.

Then, she develops a lust for meat.

Raw meat. 

And her body starts to turn on her more. Think more Cronenberg. 

As you can imagine, the worse shape Justine is in, the more difficult the film is to watch.

And that's when it starts to get fun.

When the carnivore turns cannibal, there is just a giddy joy rushes through you.

And in that moment, "Raw" doesn't flinch. It does not cut away. We're stuck right there with Justine as she chews and slurps the meat right off the bone.

Now hazing is the least of her worries.

"Raw" is more than a shock movie.

It's no coincidence that this story takes place at a school or that our heroine is demure and virginal when she arrives.

Along with the nasty business with the flesh-eating and what not, we're getting a look inside of Justine's mind as she develops her sexual proclivities.

But the good times can't just go on unchecked. This cannibalism ends up going too far. It's all fun and laughs until someone loses a finger.

Normally, I have a tendency to stay away from films that mix violence and sex together. I love violence and I love sex, but as far from each other as the east is from the west.

But that doesn't apply here. "Raw" isn't just a movie that throws sex and violence together to keep its audience paying attentions. This movie is about sex and violence and how one psychologically interact inside of a developing mind.

Tarantino on the Manson Murders

I don't think I would have ever thought that a film about the Manson murders could ever be tasteful.

But according to the Hollywood Reporter, Quentin Tarantino is already casting for an upcoming film about the infamous killings.

I'm truly intrigued.

After Django and Bastards, Tarantino has shown he can pull off violence without exploiting it.

Can not effing wait.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Spider-man: Homecoming - Jon Watts (2017)

If you're familiar will this blog, you will have noticed by now that most of the films I discuss are films I like. If I dislike a movie, I take no pleasure in deconstructing it.

Likewise, if I see a wildly entertaining blockbuster that essentially has no real substance, there's nothing to write about.

For instance, I've adored some
of the action films from earlier this summer, like "Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2" or "Wonder Woman." But I just don't have anything to say about this.

But I do have to speak about this. "Spider-man: Homecoming" was just a complete effing mess.

After watching it with Joia, you know her as Mrs. Spice, I just stood up and said, "Honey, I have to say something. That sucked asssssss!"

She agreed and said she wished she had brought her Kindle so she could read during this horribly paced, seemingly endless disaster.

To be fair, there was one sequence that was about five minutes long during a confrontation between Peter and the villain. It was terse and made my heart sink into my bowels.

So, out of a 2h 14m cluster-eff, there's about five good minutes buried within.

I'm not going to go on about it. Just don't say I didn't warn you.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Hounds of Love - Ben Young (2017)

Have you ever noticed that fine-art horror movies are much more vicious than what you'll find on the mainstream track?

Filmmaker Ben Young's feature debut, "Hounds of Love" is either a brilliant, terrifying film, clearly influenced by movies like John McNaughton's 1986 masterpiece, "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" or it's a complete, unnecessary mess.

I haven't quite decided yet which it is, but I'm leaning toward the former. 

Like "Henry," "Hounds" can be a very hard film to watch. It's certainly not for the squeamish.

If you're itching for a standard horror or serial killer flick, you'd better as hell look somewhere else because "Hounds" does not fit any kind of mold you're used to.

The story follows John and Evelyn White, a couple who passes their time abducting, torturing and killing teenage girls.

Evie looks like the lovechild of the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Aunt Lydia from The Handmaid's Tale. That's not really a crucial detail, but I felt the need to point it out, nonetheless. 
Our protagonist is Vicki Maloney, a young lady, pissed off at her mother for not letting her go to a party. Naturally, just like any teenager would, she sneaks out of the house.

As she walks to the party, a car pulls up, offering weed and a ride. Unfortunately, even though the weed seems up to par, the couple in the car are John and Evelyn, the killer duo.

The saga continues over the next few days as John and Evelyn torture, terrorize and sexually assault this poor girl.

I'm not going to tell you whether Vicki lives or dies. I'm just going to say that at first, the ending feels psychologically implausible. 

But Young sells it nevertheless.

In the end, what we're left with an empty pit in our stomach and an uneasy feeling that very much is wrong in the world.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Beatriz at Dinner - Miguel Arteta (2017)

"Beatriz at Dinner" is easily the most important film to come out since Jordan Peele's "Get Out" from earlier this year.

It tells the story about one rare evening where a member of the working class is put in a position where she has to socialize with the bourgeoisie.
Beatriz, played with beautiful subtlety by Salma Hayek, is a masseuse who finds herself stranded at a wealthy clients' house. 

The mistress of the house, Cathy, invites her to stay for a dinner party starting very soon and involving some very "important" people. 

It's important throughout the film to remember that at the start, Cathy really is a likable person.

The most crucial of the guests Beatriz will be spending the evening with is Doug Strutt, a pig of a real estate mogul, played masterfully by John Lithgow. The strength of Lithgow's performance lies in his refusal to simply paint this man as a villain. He never lets us forget the wickedness in his heart for a second, nevertheless showing us glimpses of humanity in his eyes. 

He even betrays a slight, peculiar fondness for bizarre but intriguing woman, Beatriz.

The bulk of the film shows Beatriz arguing with these characters, especially Strutt, about all manner of moral issues while handling condescension and racial slurs through the night.

Narcissism is the best word to sum up the nature of these ladies and gentlemen.

One telling sequence involves lighting up "wish lanterns" and letting them go over the canyon. One of them jokes that they'll be put in jail if he set fire to the area. Another says their lawyer friend will just get them off. That's goes right to the center of who these people are. Whether or not a fire is set and people are endangered is really of no consequence. It's only about the possible penalties for them.

Courage is really Beatriz' most prominent character quality. You can tell she would be more comfortable letting some of these heinous comments and attitudes slide, but she won't. She is meek by nature, but willing to be bold when she needs to be.

I kept waiting for that moment when these characters would realize how appalling they were behaving and that Beatriz was right more often than not through the evening.

If the ending feels unsatisfying, it's meant to be. The film refuses to tie everything with a trite, happy ending, instead of leaving us with a solid, bleak picture of the shameful way things really are right now in this country.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Dinner - Oren Moverman (2017)

For the first act of "The Dinner," you will have absolutely no idea what the hell is going on.

 At the start of "The Dinner," Paul, (Steve Coogan) his wife, Claire, (Laura Linney) are getting ready to have dinner with Paul's brother and U.S. Congressman, Stan (Richard Gere) and his wife, Katelyn (Rebecca Hall.)

Coogan gives the most memorable performance of the film. He plays Paul as a neurotic, like a subdued Woody Allen.

Paul stubbornly insists on staying home and skipping the dinner. There's history aside from this crisis and Paul clearly wants to avoid it.

The get-together is the stage for a confrontation. This is urgent business that pulls Stan away from the demands of his office and forces to focus, just for one evening, on his family.

Filmmaker Oren Moverman takes us back and forth between our quaint table of four and to sequences of events past.

Paul and Claire's son, Michael, as well as his cousin Rick, Stan and Katelyn's son, are in trouble. There is a recording of the boys viciously attacking a homeless women who was trying to sleep in an ATM vestibule.

Not only is there surveillance footage, but the boys recorded the event on their phones. 

Now, the depraved recording may be released and the boys will be exposed.

The third act, when the cards slowly lay themselves down on the table, is as intense as any suspense film.

As we learn more about the perverse attack, expect your sympathies to switch from one character to another. 

One thing Moverman does masterfully is surprise us through the film, changing our perspectives of the different characters.
The one member of the quartet who seems like a rational adult, the one who keeps the family at peace at first, is revealed as a cold monster in one scene toward the end.

"The Dinner" wears many hats. It's a mystery and a thriller. It's about inter-family antagonism and racial hostility. It's about thriving and failing marriages. It's a rare look inside the head of a mentally ill man. And it's a story of unshakable, if misplaced, love.

The character, who comes off as busy, stand-offish and shallow in the first act, turns out to be the one in the group who has a conscience.

The imagery of the film is heavy-handed to say the least. The brothers' conflict is illustrated through Paul's obsession with the Civil War. And there's a shot of Paul's reflection in a broken mirror, and overused and obvious picture of mental illness.

But these are minor complaints.

"The Dinner" has been marketed as a drama, but it's as unsettling as most horror film I've seen and more suspenseful than most thrillers.

Prepare yourself to be ashamed to be a human being. then, for the love of God, watch this film.