Archive | October, 2017

Killing of a Scared Deer

29 Oct
Colin Farrell and Barry Keoghan in "The Killing of a Sacred Deer." (Courtesy Atsushi Nishijima/A24)closemore

Director Yorgos Lanthimos, who rendered a dry, dystopian vision of the near-future with “The Lobster” in 2015, brews up a waking suburban nightmare that’s equally perverse and haunting. There’s rising tension, but the murky dive into the abyss of a guilty soul, desperate for redemption but unwilling to make sacrifices, becomes “The Killing of a Sacred Deer’s” burning core.

We catch up with the Murphys, a well-off family judged by their grand suburban home. The father, Steven (Colin Farrell), is a respected heart surgeon, while his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), is an equally successful eye doctor. Their children Kim (Raffey Cassidy), a precocious teen, and her younger brother, Bob (Sunny Suljic), round out the nuclear perfection. Everything’s hunky-dory despite an eerie — if not disturbing — sedateness that pervades.

Colin Farrell plays Steven in the new Yorgos Lanthimos film. (Courtesy Atsushi Nishijima/A24)
Colin Farrell plays Steven in the new Yorgos Lanthimos film. (Courtesy Atsushi Nishijima/A24)

Weirder yet, Steven has obligatory lunches with a boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan), who’s around Kim’s age. They’re uneasy, mandatory meet-ups. Whether Martin is Steven’s illegitimate son or something more salacious, he’s clearly got his hooks into Steven, who is at a loss as to how to free himself. Steven lazily hides Martin’s existence from Anna until one night, Kim comes home from chorus practice on Martin’s motorcycle. Continue reading

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Suburbicon

29 Oct

 

https://player.vimeo.com/video/227269516

The “Suburbicon” of the title is a 1950s housing development and community in sprawling suburbia that’s practically a closed socioeconomic ecosystem, like the towering apartment complex in Ben Wheatley’s near-futuristic “High Rise” (2015). There, the elite lived at the penthouse level while the servicing class made do in the shabby confines below; here it’s a mass-marketed commercial ideal where all are on an equal plane and essentially have the same humble abode. It’s an endless sea of sameness, a sleepy Ozzie & Harriet existence, until the Meyers, an African-American family, buy a lot. The all-white town meeting that erupts to discuss “what to do” casts uneasy shades of the recent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

Oddly and wastefully (if not irresponsibly, given the issues of race today), the black folk next door become a mere distraction for the plot’s main thread of self-interest, murder and money – and it’s a silly one, at that. Based on a Coen brothers script and directed by George Clooney, who seems to lose more footing as director with each outing, the film angles to be a dark comedy in the vein of “Miller’s Crossing” and “Fargo” but lacks the wit and whimsy of either. What it is, is a beat-up, welded-together jalopy, angry and mean in its quest for recognition, but that’s a hard feat when the only likable characters in your crew are a family under duress for their skin color and a young boy (Noah Jupe), who’s not sure if his aunt and father have inside information on a home invasion that accidentally killed his crippled mother. (Trust me, I’m not giving anything away. There’s little in the film that will surprise you).

For such a stylishly tepid affair (it does look great) Clooney has assembled an impressive cast. Dad, Gardner Lodge, is played by a portly Matt Damon, and mom and her sister are played by the ravishing Julianne Moore, who gets a scene where she gets to sip iced tea with herself. The film even boasts ubiquitous scene stealer Oscar Isaac, who crops up as a fast-talking insurance adjuster. He’s in it so briefly it almost seems criminal, considering he’s the liveliest thing in the film besides a pair of bungling hit men (Glenn Fleshler and Alex Hassell), who seem ripped lazily from an early draft of “Fargo.” Continue reading

The Snowman

24 Oct

 

This much-hyped thriller (“produced by Martin Scorsese”) based on Norwegian author Jo Nesbø’s crime series becomes its own enigmatic entity. “The Snowman” is both a wonderment to behold and an endless aching thud of frenetic plot manipulations that insult the audience’s intelligence – something that’s bound to happen when you build a thriller by proxy (two or more screenwriters). It makes you step back and ponder what might have been. The prospects are endless, as all the pieces are right there; they just don’t fit and flow.

The tale is set in Oslo and the surrounding countryside, captured in gorgeous scenic shots. Everything is gray, drab and snowbound, also a fair assessment of all the characters skulking about a dark whodunit that reaches for the moody grandeur of a David Fincher film (“Se7en” or “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) but winds up closer to “Body of Evidence” (1993), which effectively killed Madonna’s acting career and probably had Willem Dafoe thinking about swapping agents.  Continue reading

Blade Runner 2049

13 Oct
Ryan Gosling (right) brings a subdued performance to a dismal future filled with spectacular visuals

Warner Bros. Pictures

Ryan Gosling (right) brings a subdued performance to a dismal future filled with spectacular visuals.

At over two hours, Villeneuve paces the film effectively, smartly holding back and ever ratcheting it up — a feat the director didn’t quite master in his last sci-fi outing Arrival (2016). As you should expect, the action takes place in 2049. Los Angeles is a lot more crowded but still a dark, rain-slicked Gotham with shocks of neon blooming above the drab cityscape. Opening info tells us the Earth’s been beset by overcrowding and famine. There’s nothing green anywhere anymore, so protein farms where mealworm larvae are harvested to feed the masses Soylent Green-esque pap in ramen bowls have popped up. Not to mention there’s the great “Blackout of 2022” where scads of data files and historical records were lost. Gone the way of Lehman Brothers is the old Tyrell Corporation. The manufacturer of “replicants” (biorobotic androids for those unfamiliar with the earlier film or the Phillip K. Dick novel it was based on), are made by Wallace Industries who make the new line “skin jobs” more obedient, yet still physiologically superior to humans, and all imbedded with memories, even though they are self aware they are implants — which seems somewhat illogical and superfluous given the implant process is an arduous one. Continue reading

The Florida Project

13 Oct

 

Two years ago, wunderkind Sean Baker blew away audiences with “Tangerine,” a film that cut into deep new territory – not so much in that it featured transgendered heroines on a quest to bust one of their men for fooling around with another, as the narrative succeeded loftily on many levels, but because it was shot on an iPhone, making it both a throwback and cutting edge. Filmed on the passively seedy streets of Los Angeles and drenched in orange and yellow, it was a scrumptious feast to drink in, not to mention being deftly humorous, moving and a bellwether for aspiring filmmakers.

It was also a promise of what might come next, and that’s here: “The Florida Project.” Something of a minor miracle and, so far, one of the best films of 2017 (joining “Get Out” on that short list), this is a beacon of hope for the future of independent film as Harvey Weinstein sinks into an abyss of shame and disgrace. Baker trades one sunshine locale (California) for another (Orlando, Fla.) while still hanging out with affable strugglers on the low who can’t get out of their own way. The film begins with two 6-year-olds spitting on a woman’s car from the balcony of a purple motel. When confronted, the pair offer four-letter retorts and buzz off, laughing gleefully. “Where is their moral compass?” You might ask. Have they escaped the cellular confines of “The 400 Blows” or “Salaam Bombay”? Continue reading

Battle of the Sexes

4 Oct

Emma Stone and Steve Carrell square off in Battle of the Sexes

Courtesy Fox Searchlight

 

Battle of the Sexes is more than just an empowerment victory lap for women and others seeking equality. It’s also a heartfelt tale of two intimate love stories — with the least surprising of the two registering the more surprising result. Oh yeah, it’s also a fantastic time capsule resurrecting the early ’70s with aplomb and a sad reminder of just how deeply chauvinistic mainstream culture used to be (and still is). Take the venerated sportscaster Howard Cossell commenting in the preamble of the titular event (an ABC prime-time broadcast that was almost as big as the Super Bowl) that if tennis pro Billy Jean King (Emma Stone) lost her wire-rimmed glasses and bland bob, she might shock the world with movie star good looks. Did Jimmy Connors or John McEnroe ever get brought up for their appearance?

King by all rights was a trailblazer, the first female professional athlete to earn over $100K in a year and a reluctant feminist icon who sought more equal pay for female players who were paid “eight times” less than their male counterparts. Resolute and unwavering to pro tennis tour honcho Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) and his claim that men were the bigger draw, King quickly retorts that the women sell just as many tickets at the same price. Solid logic that gets brushed aside.

That’s when King and tennis promoter Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) decide to create their own tennis circuit (what becomes the Virginia Slims Circuit). Kramer initially can’t believe the bluff and goes on the offensive in the media saying the idea will fail when it begins to take root. Not onscreen much, Kramer becomes the film’s de facto villain, more so than Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell), the other half of the “battle,” who at age 55, an anointed tennis legend (Grand Slam winner, former No. 1 player, and tennis hall-of-famer) bored with life and addicted to gambling, reinvents himself by calling out King after her fiscal milestone. He’s a lover of the limelight and needs more than the bare-knuckle tennis matches he and his scotch-sipping cronies stage — with a handicap of course. In one deftly comical scene, Riggs has to hold a pair of Afghan dogs on leash while dodging a series of folding chair obstacles placed on his side of the court. For his troubles, he wins a Rolls Royce. Continue reading