Time Share

RATING: [C+|👎]

A wild and mesmerizing route into an absurd capitalist world of time share extravaganza, where one man is made to feel the intoxicating sensations of being used and abused by corporate avarice. A second-rate film with traces of Wes Anderson and Yorgos Lanthimos, filled with a consummate level of entertainment and frustration. A film about one man’s series of unfortunate events as he’s made to play the song and dance of an opportunistic environment of worldly succession when his only desire is to be left alone and allow his family to heal.

A strange film to say the least, but thoroughly enjoyable.

(there will be flamingos)

RATING: C+

The Other Side of the Wind

RATING: [B|🍅]

Matt Costello: What can I do for you, Ms. Rich?

Julie Rich: You could tell me what’s going on here. Or why.

Matt Costello: I wouldn’t even begin to try.

A chaotic brilliance, a film that divides the cinephiles, the career critics, and the short-span audience members, in its substantive disarray and demand for an attention-span. Although outside traditional expectations, film scholar James Naremore calls the work distinctively Wellesian: “a story told from multiple perspectives, latent/closeted homosexuality, and a smattering of autobiographical elements.” An autobiographical work in once sense, and a social critique in the other: a cross-sectional indictment of the state of filmmaking and its frenetic fandom. 8 1/2 meets Day for Night, with three-fold layering on par with Kaufman’s Adaptation, where the film is filming the filming of the crew and the guests, in a dizzy state of celebration and frustration to view a rough cut of the film destined for Chapter 11. [INSERT SENTENCE]. The sadness of The Last Picture Show displaced no longer with the funeral of Old Hollywood, but the New, and the noise generating machines in the after wake of the Lucas Box Office phenomenon and the offspring that becomes the films of today.

“We are the children of Lucas, not Coppola.” 

The central focus is on the Welles type aging director, Jake Hannaford, who celebrates his last birthday surrounded by incessant lights and sounds of fans and Hollywood moguls. Played by the exceptionally well casted John Huston, who speaks into the substance of the film the crude and crass design of the Hollywood elites, while sharing space with a parallel reel of the art film he’s slowly trying to make, or better yet, create, ex nihilo. For his part, Orson Welles described his final film this way:

“‘The Other Side of the Wind’ is divided into two sections. There is the film, which is made by documentary cameramen, which is the story of the last day of the director’s life. And there is the film, which is made by the director, which has just broken down for lack of funds.”

Huston is no doubt brilliant, weaving through the monotony of youthful appeal and incandescent wisdom of the film industry decline, himself in a state of almost uncanny existential surrender on level with the Mastroianni’s Guido or Servillo’s Jep. His sexual penchant is strangely unclear, seemingly in favor of the inappropriate company of children and alcohol as his life of chauvinism and psychological furniture is dissected by the interrogation of the Pauline Kael-type character. Whatever the cause of his fate at the end, Huston’s seeming self-destructive melancholy and the surrounding probing of others suggests that he would welcome his “corny” undoing.

Knowing what I know about film history, there is enough in Orson’s final film to echo  the sentiments of Bogdanovoch’s Picture Show as the rooted end of an era and the uncertainty that something better will ever come to replace it. Buried and lost is the remains of an art studio artistry with visions independent of the need to mollycoddle the audience’s state of anxiety when the unfolding of events repudiate the instant-generating soma sensations of today’s pop-culture. Certainly, in the words of Eric Kohn (INDIE WIRE), a “[m]essy and meandering, but always in that distinctive Wellesian way that proves his talent was unparalleled even when it fell apart.” To parse through the layering of the film would be the equivalent of dissenting a cat: you can certainly do it but no thing alive will be left in the process. People must see it and experience the quality first hand to fully embrace themselves in collective meditation. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (AV CLUB) is right when he writes that “[w]e’ll be debating it, defending it, reappraising it for a long time to come.”

For now, people need to see the film and its accompanying documentary (They’ll Love Me When I’m Gone) as an apt honorarium to Orson Welles in his drive and humanity. A documentary that almost needs to be seen before the film as its sets the sentimentality and the sheer weight of the film’s importance in place. A piece of filmmaking that rarely reaches the depth of one’s love for cinema.

One of this year’s most indelible pictures.

RATING: B

December

Here is what we’re excited to see this month

Last month. Hell of a year.

Not the best in films, but certainly not the worst. 

Our list of best films of 2018 coming soon.

MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS – December 7

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Mary Stuart’s attempt to overthrow her cousin Elizabeth I, Queen of England, finds her condemned to years of imprisonment before facing execution.

Trailer.

BEN IS BACK – December 7

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A drug addicted teenage boy shows up unexpectedly at his family’s home on Christmas Eve. With all the hype around Beautiful Boy, don’t sleep on Ben is Back.

Trailer.

 

VOX LUX – December 7

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An unusual set of circumstances brings unexpected success to a pop star.

Trailer.

 

THE MULE – December 14

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A 90-year-old horticulturist and WWII veteran is caught transporting $3 million worth of cocaine through Michigan for a Mexican drug cartel.

Trailer.

CAPERNAUM – December 17

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While serving a five-year sentence for a violent crime, a 12-year-old boy sues his parents for neglect. Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes.

Trailer.

WELCOME TO MARWEN – December 21

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A victim of a brutal attack finds a unique and beautiful therapeutic outlet to help him through his recovery process.

Trailer.

DESTROYER – December 25

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A police detective reconnects with people from an undercover assignment in her distant past in order to make peace. Karyn Kusama has been an impressive director with The Invitation and Jennifer’s Body, worth taking a chance on.

Trailer.

VICE – December 25

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VICE explores how a bureaucratic Washington insider quietly became the most powerful man in the world as Vice-President to George W. Bush, reshaping the country and the globe in ways still felt today.

Trailer.

 

The House That Jack Built [Director’s Cut]

RATING: [B-|🍅]

“I will tell you this: when a soul betrays as I did,

it falls from flesh, and a demon takes its place,

ruling the body till its time is spent.”

Canto XXXIII

With the controversy surrounding the release of the new one from Lars von Trier, there seems to be an almost enigmatic indifference on the part of the director to overcome his urge to create films as irritants. As one critic reflects in his review of the film: “Lars von Trier is a stupid, arrogant troll and, when the mood strikes him, a reasonably talented filmmaker.” Being a huge fan of his work, I’ve come to understand that with the good, comes the bad; and, those moments shocking in its sheer sexual and violent exhibitionism must be endured for the brilliance of philosophical insight and grand tapestry narrative that sets the scene and carries it, at times quite literally, to completion. Between the run-time of Dogville and Melancholia, true fans of von Trier will build the stomach for patience. Between Antichrist and Nymphomaniac, true fans will develop the palate for displays of uncompromising gratuity that find a way to stimulate the most dormant senses of our cushioned realities. With Breaking the Wavestrue fans will develop the requisite cognitive capacity to absorb the seemingly endless and benign layers of Bergman-esque progression taunted by the episodic intermission from Elton John and Leonard Cohen. Things that seems incomprehensible are opportunity, von Trier knowing fully well that, in allowing the ideas to fester, comes the bloom of renewed introspection. Before his director’s cut, he told the audience that the film requires a few days to digest; and so, in the spirit of deferment, I waited till now to finalize my review.

With The House That Jack Built, we see an anthology of von Trier’s former works, arguably beginning with Breaking the Waveswhen he began to inspect the human material under the microscope of judgment and realism. A film that has the foundational qualities for Melancholia, Nymphomaniac, and Dogville, Matt Dillon plays a brilliant psychological devil and clown of John Wayne Gacy’s dreams and nightmares. A serial killer seemingly driven in part by impulses and opportunity — at times, making strains for normality only to set a better stage for carnage. His carelessness begs for a force outside his will to interfere. With our society lost inside our smartphones and relational incapacity, it makes sense why the film feels forever before someone finally looks up.

INTERMISSION

Borrowing from Nymphomanic, von Trier was able to use the terminology of the hunt (fly fishing in the other film, done much more effectively) as the process by which mankind becomes the subject of release and capture. Borrowing from Melancholia, there is an existential loss quality in the emptiness of the film’s surrounding population and a rooted nihilism at the core of Dillon’s being. A psychopath with psychological damage being examined like Fincher’s Mindhunter while channeling the language virus of Rust in True Detective. The seeming godlessness in Breaking the Waves with glimmer of hope in the end for the human hardness to become, one day, undone.

Grueling at times, in what can readily be described as the slow driving train through a set of snuff porn. Brilliant at other times, when the poetry of Dante meets the philosophical musings of the decay of mankind in its own sheer indifference and to the sound of Glenn Gould in his own maddening creation of pure art. Not only delving into the banality of evil, but also the escape for evil men to continue straying from their inherent purpose rooted in the imago Dei. A film that invoked a myriad of cultural, architectural, and musical central themes that should be thoroughly discussed by more competent men being paid for their labor of research. A film full of absurd comedic releases and moments of unforgivable violence releasing a strange (at least during my screening) gas of sociopathic inhalation that overcame some audience members when the time for laughing came and went and the time for mourning fell over. The scene where I suspect most audience members left at Cannes was a scene that illustrates this perfectly. While the comic edges were there, it was completely overwhelmed by the evil and sad reality of the family condition in being duped into open fields by an animal that gave the appearance of domesticity.

The film will divide audiences and it should for a simple want of editing. The violence isn’t even that bad aside from the female form being subject to most of the battering. In this regard, we’ve seen this inane critique with Brian de Palma’s Dressed to Kill and Body Double, at this point unworthy to be discussed when the film discusses it already.  Whatever the audience dislikes about the process they have to remember that the journey is the product of mental derangement. The madness of the female form and its physical vulnerability to the depravity of man has not been thoroughly probed. With the recent popularity of Gillian Flynn, I suspect revisiting the psychological depth and trials of von Trier’s female characters will make him the standard for inventing complicated female roles for Hollywood actresses. In the words of Orson Welles, “they’ll love me when I’m dead.”

The film itself could have been much better with simple editing and music: removing the monotony of prolonged pedestrian extensions and the incessant blaring of Hit the Road Jack!. What Bilge Ebiri (VILAGE VOICE) said is partially right:

The most shocking thing .  . . is how tedious it is.

A shame, because The House That Jack Built feels like a genuinely sincere attempt on the filmmaker’s part to wrestle with the legacy of his creation.

The scene with Uma Thurman began this cycle of developing an underwhelming sequence of events that could have used expedition. The scene with Riley Keough was similarly undone by its meandering normalcy. The last “kill shot” likewise was undone by von Trier’s Bottle Rocket meandering that could have been contained in the trappings of more competent writing. (Perhaps, it’s no wonder this editing was a problem since Jacob Secher Schulsinger also failed in this same respect with The Square). What these scenes do have in common is the reoccurring theme in von Trier’s prior works of the escalation of violence in its many forms, when the body becomes infected with an addiction, and the need for release demands more. What A.A. Dowd (AV CLUB) said is true: “it’s more like von Trier is arguing with himself, locking us into a debate between his ego and his self-loathing, his confidence and his self-doubt.” If that being so, we should be mindful to listen. If it’s true that von Trier intended for the film to be a television series, not pursuing this path was his biggest mistake.

In the end, The House That Jack Built is not a film that you can watch lightly and it certainly won’t be a film that one will enjoy at every turn, but it is a film that probes into the richness of the von Trier legacy and the genius of his philosophy that should fill lectures to no end. Eric Kohn (Indie Wire), one of the few top critics who embraced the film, summarizes the film well:

“The House That Jack Built” is an often-horrifying, sadistic dive into a psychotic internal monologue, with intellectual detours about the nature of art in the world today, and puts considerable effort into stimulating discomfort at key moments. If you meet the work on those terms, or at least accept the challenge of wrestling with impeccable filmmaking that dances across moral barriers, it’s also possibly brilliant.

For those who have a taste for the man’s mind and artistry will be rewarded by his uncompromising resolve. Either way, leave the mothers out of it.

RATING: B-

Birds of Passage

RATING: [B-|🍅]

“If a man kill a man thus circumstanced, if he have no relatives, let half be paid to the king, half to his guild-brethren.”

A look of realism into the perils of the drug trade entangled within a ritualistic society in the Guajira Desert of Colombia. A family faced with the prospect of marriage finds itself in league with a quick rise to prosperity and the corresponding fall from grace as they navigate the sordid humanity of criminals and the authenticity of their family history.

Birds of Passage is broken apart in five “cantos” spanning two decades during a period known as “la Bonanza Marimbera” when narco trafficking thrived in the region. A story of Rapayet and his indigenous family that moves from the raptures of courtship to the promise of prosperity unto war. As Justin Chang (LA TIMES) notes: “[i]n favoring an indigenous perspective, grounding its crime-thriller tropes in the rich soil of native tradition, the movie achieves a lyrical power and moral clarity all its own.” Relevant to the modern milieu, the struggle to retain a semblance of  religious authenticity becomes an ever-increasing challenge when violence and family honor become unbridgeable centers of division without the prospect of peace in sight. Helpfully explained by Peter DeBruge (VARIETY):

Over the course of four features together, [directors] Guerra and Gallego have gone a long way to represent native experiences otherwise undocumented on film, but “Birds of Passage” marks the first time they have shared directing credit — perfectly fitting for a film where the female characters hold real power over the men.

From courtship to decline, the film is an unyielding prose in pace and symmetry with the corresponding tension of business and heritage serving as the proverbial rough rope to a short drop. A film rich with the tradition notions of pütchipü’ü whereby the tribal customs of the Wayúu seeks reconciliation through compensation reminiscent of the Anglo-Saxon honor culture predating Charlemagne. As Jordan Mintzer (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER) rightly points out:

[T]here’s a spiritual side to Birds of Passage that helps it rise above all the gun-slinging violence, with proverbs, dreams and songs commenting the plot as it unfolds, underscoring how much Raphayet and his tribe were doomed the moment they entered the drug trade.

As one article explains (also the source for the photographs):

Like many indigenous tribes, the Wayuu are polytheistic. Most of their gods or spirits come from nature. The Dream World is an important part of their spirituality and there is a thin line between reality and dreams for the Wayuu. This means that their gatherings, celebrations and holy days possess a degree of pageantry that is quite unique and colorful.

A film without gimmicks or (too much) poetic license, rich with symbolic significance, and appropriately rooted in an authentic depiction of real life events. A film about the Wayúu people who become embroiled in the production of drugs and avarice. A film in slow decay as it boils to eruption in its systematic and poised traces of family, spirituality, and the corrupt worldly humanity that becomes a plague on the region. As Justin Chang writes, again, “a fascinatingly layered study in dueling tribal codes, the ways in which the rules of organized crime clash and intersect with Wayuu rituals and beliefs.”

Fans of films like Vazante and Zama, in their cultural inundation and pace, will need to see this film. Those easily bored should probably return instead to the fields of Narcos or American Made.

RATING: B-

Netflix Originals — Drama

Sunday’s Illness, The Kindergarten Teacher, Private Life

Another Netflix Trilogy bundle, this one focusing on favorably reviewed dramas: [1] Sunday’s Illness ( 94% | Avg. 7/10| 16 reviews ), [2] The Kindergarten Teacher ( 88% | Avg. 7.2/10 | 50 reviews ), [3] Private Life ( 95% | Avg. 7.7/10 | 78 reviews ).

The order above reflects the order from best to worst.


Sunday’s Illness

With the opening sequence reminiscent of On Body & Soul and Loveless, this new installment from Ramón Salazar plays well to a trilogy of familial disrepair in the woes of life and overcoming. Sunday’s Illness is a beautifully shot film buried inside the mystery of a family reunion that feels like the forming of the stage for a predetermined separation. Bergman in pace and visual, the film finds itself in perfect balance between the undoing and the creation. Minimalistic in dialogue, the film leaves its essence vocal in the inaudible moments of togetherness. Moments of tedium and seeming optimism with the solace of the setting mountainside and the isolated confines of the home where the sensation of loss is sickening.

Eric Kohn (Indie Wire) describes it best: 

In its disquieting, deliberate pace and otherworldly imagery, it takes on a ghostly quality even though no actual spirits materialize. As the past haunts both women, they’re drawn together by a mutual need to exorcise their feelings. Sometimes, the scariest possibility comes from the most authentic place.

While much remains remiss regarding the dialogue and philosophy at its core, Sunday’s Illness has a haunting appeal that makes it worth the patience. With the well received Élite currently available on Netflix, Salazar seems poised to become the bedfellow of directors with eyes for haunting visual poetry. 

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RATING: C+

The Kindergarten Teacher

A pensive and relevant look into a teacher’s quest to facilitate a gift of a young boy until that quest becomes an obsession and ultimately a criminal mental break-down where she tries to steal the light and keep it hidden. Reminiscent of The Man Who Knew Infinity, Maggie Gyllenhaal delivers an exceptional and immensely uncomfortable performance behind a timely script from director Sara Colangelo, with profound ideas surrounding our distraction-based culture where parents are nowhere to be found and authenticity is stolen away by cell phones and socializing.

“Talent is so fragile and so rare. And our culture does everything to crush it.”

Rich themes, but not a complete work that could have been better developed if the film didn’t feel rushed. Like The Tale, this is one of those worthwhile Netflix Originals from young directors showing promise. The two films have much in common in their relation to the promise of youth and the haunting adult realization of what could have been. Fact the posters look identical is uncanny.

RATING: C+

Private Life

The fundamental problem with the Private Life is ironically the basis for the films overarching narrative: adults (understandably) seek to the rescue of science and modern medicine after a lifetime of seemingly rejecting the familial vocation in favor of occupation. Finding the moment too late, they find themselves forced to exploit youth opportunism to no avail. Taking nothing away from the difficult themes (and important one’s at that), but the mantra of feminist tropes and undetectable literary references inundating the scenes become pedantic and distracting.

The drop-out writer experience from Kayli Carter was genuine and the ending was excellent. I applaud Tamara Jenkins for resisting the urge to leave the audiences with closure — painting the reality of life with a brush of existential reality. Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn deliver a forceful performances, with grit and hopeless optimism, they move the story along with excellent tempo and dialogue. But Jenkins doesn’t have the wit or emotional stamina of Woody Allen (older works), Olivier Assayas, Alexander Payne, or Noah Baumbach’s Meyerowitz Stories to engage these topics holistically, so she turns to gratuitous crotch shots and essentially the New York Times op-eds to do her writing for her — which is exactly why the critics loved it more than the other two.

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RATING: C+

The Laugh Track

Crazy Rich Asians & Sorry to Bother You.

CRAZY RICH ASIANS

With speculation about the non-acceptance of asian students by Harvard for want of discernible personality comes the reactionary celebration of an all-asian cast romcom, with no discernable personality. Typical in form and outcome, this stereotypical film about the Asian matriarch and her families gold from historical origins is little better than the other romcom on Netflix (“To All the Boy I Loved Before“) being celebrated for similar reasons despite its obvious deficiencies and tryptophan writing.

The two central characters have the background for depth and yet did serve as nothing more than the cliché anecdotal small talkers that romcom characters have become. One, an economics professor at NYU (Constance Wu), is wasted on an entry-level poker gimmick to explain the psychology of risk and reward and an end game exhibition of bland gamesmanship using mah-jongg that has the effect of magically winning over the approval of a headstrong mother.

The other main character (Henry Golding) is described well in the film as the asian bachelor and serves as little more than a sweet guy with family wealth with no discernable qualities or goals aside from being a “nice guy.” The plot is based on the confluence of wealth and tradition: with the Uber-rich family of Golding pressuring him to take on a more traditional wife to build the family dynasty and bullying Wu to bow out as some sort of American commoner with overrated qualities of intellect. The glamorized look of the superficial bachelorettes littered throughout the film is made worse by its main effect of drowning out the social commentary.

To be fair, alongside the fairy-tale romance, there is a social struggle here between the American pursuit of individual happiness and the Chinese ideal of sacrifice for family. Most of this is mentioned in passing without the requisite competence of writing to probe richly into the backbone of material. Relying instead more firmly on its  stereotypical comic relief (Awkwafina) and the “jack of all trades” token gay guy (Nico Santos) who mopes around in eager anticipation for the next errand to fulfill.  With the exception of a beautifully done wedding, there is nothing here to separate it from other shallow romcom installment for consuming wine coolers.

The fact that this film got comparable scores with Bridesmaid is further indication that today’s critics don’t have the requisite discernment to distinguish able comedy with Netflix Original quality work (made abundantly clear from our previous post). And something that viewers should remember when considering relying on Rotten Tomatoes scores. We can all thank the two top critics who at least got this right. A word from them.

Kate Taylor (The Globe & Mail):

Clearly, some Asian audiences may experience this film (produced by a largely Asian and Asian-American creative team) differently. A white viewer such as myself witnessing this overblown display may find themselves in that awkward territory where somebody else’s ethnic comedy leaves them feeling complicit in racial prejudice.

Alana Mohamed (Village Voice)

The most interesting moments in the film are also its most coy. Astrid suffers silently through her husband’s affair with another woman, ignited because her wealth makes him insecure. At the film’s close, she leaves him, donning the earrings she once hid. It speaks to the dismal state of Asian representation that this display is meant to be a moment of triumph and not ridicule.

The critics who liked it collectively tripped over themselves to find another way to repeat what we all instinctively know about romcoms: they are fun vacuums for sucking up time without adding to human capital.

Crazy Rich Asians is no different.

asians

RATING: D+

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU

With momentary competence in filming — stage and music design especially  Boots Riley fails to offer a genuine look past the stereotypical low hanging fruit of attacking the white population for its “racism” and unscrupulous allowance for human rights atrocities for capital gain. Critics who overlook this staggering tapestry throughout the film do so in hopes of distracting the audience while offering a window into their own inability to see the rooted social commentary in action.

The film depends much on a variation of toilet humor, female empowerment through coarse dress iconography, and tasteless performance art. It’s the type of film that makes you appreciate Blindspotting all the more for creating an honest script without gimmicks or mainstream pop-mantras (even if both films end poorly).

Sorry to Bother You does have some genuine moments of laughter and decent social commentary about the exploitation of human labor and the value of protest in overcoming actual (instead of perceived) injustice and wage inequality. What it doesn’t talk about is the price each worker has to pay for unions to exist (monetarily and on their free expression), the process of forcing a business to increase its wages without the workers deserving such promotions and then not being able to retain the full roster of employees; whereby, the union makes it impossible to get rid of anyone thus forcing incompetent employees to stay on board for more money or bankrupting the less affluent companies. These are all complicated ideas that would add to the depth of narrative, but that’s not how our politically divided culture works and we will never trust Hollywood to produce many films rich with nuance and research.

Knowing critics largely embrace anything that the democrats promote, a film about the value of unionism versus ethically strained capitalism is sure to receive high-praise. One day, someone will be able to entangle the nuance of both sides in creating a truly groundbreaking modern comedy that divides critics for its sheer unapologetic social commentary by taking no prisoners and refusing to mollycoddle to industry fanboys. Until that time, we have to watch the collective bargaining of the Hollywood community collectively sing the praise of less worthy employers who sing the right tunes of political orthodoxy.

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RATING: C