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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Review: The Little Hours (2017)

* * *

Director: Jeff Baena
Starring: Dave Franco, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza

The Little Hours is part Monty Python, part "Nunsploitation" throwback, and just as tonally all over the place as that description implies. Many scenes in The Little Hours are really very funny. A couple of scenes in The Little Hours become really weird and uncomfortable to watch for reasons that I'll get into below. The gentle, actually quite sweet ending is somewhat at odds with the bawdiness that dominates the proceedings up until that point. Nevertheless, because it's such a fun watch overall, the film is never really bogged down these sudden shifts. It helps that The Little Hours feels so fresh in comparison to most of the comedies being put out by Hollywood studios lately, doing its own off-the-wall thing and taking a few chances. It's a silly movie, but it's silly in the best of ways.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Review: mother! (2017)

* * *

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem

If you follow entertainment news sites, you've heard that mother! earned the rare "F" grade from CinemaScore. An F doesn't just mean that an audience disliked a movie, it means that the audience feels betrayed by the movie, like they've been sold a false bill of goods. On one hand, this turn of events is understandable because the marketing for mother! doesn't really give a clear idea of what it's going to be, but it being a major studio release one could be forgiven for assuming that it's going to be a little more... normal. On the other hand, it's a Darren Aronofsky movie. The closest he's ever come to "mainstream" is Black Swan and that's only mainstream insofar as it was a box office and Oscar success. Most of his movies are flat out designed to alienate. Granted, even knowing that going in, watching mother! can still feel like a bit of an endurance test. I don't think there's any way to actually discuss this movie without spoiling it a little (or a lot), so consider this a spoiler warning.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Review: Seven Sisters (2017)

* * 1/2

Director: Tommy Wirkola
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Glenn Close

Seven Sisters, which is also called What Happened to Monday? and might as well have been called "Orphan Black, but less good," is a high-concept science fiction film that takes about an hour to get beyond its concept. The second hour is pretty solidly entertaining as a thriller (albeit one that ends rather softly), but the first can be a bit frustrating, full of unnecessary exposition (the whole film contains unnecessary exposition, but the bulk of it is concentrated in the first half) and overly enamored with the idea of having star Noomi Rapace interact with herself to the power of 7 so that some scenes feel less like they're servicing a story and more like they exist as acting and technical exercises. Sure, it's an impressive feat, but less talk and more action would go a long way.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

21st Century Essentials: 12 Years a Slave (2013)


Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong'o, Michael Fassbender
Country: United Kingdom, United States

Even before its first screening at Telluride’s 2013 festival, 12 Years a Slave had the recognizable markers of a movie that was going to be designated as an “Important Film.” That designation, which burnishes a few films every year sight unseen and in anticipation of Oscar season, can be a blessing to those films that manage to live up to the expectation, but even those films that are successful in that respect tend to lose a bit of that glow as time goes on. What seems like an “Important Film” in the heat of awards season becomes simply a great (or even just very good) film as the cycle resets itself. When it won Best Picture in 2014 it would have been easy to assume that 12 Years a Slave would experience that same kind of fading that accompanies the sudden cessation of the awards season hype, particularly since some Academy voters admitted to not actually having seen it but voting for it out a sense of obligation, but instead 12 Years a Slave has not only maintained but grown in its importance over the years, a result not only of it being a great film borne of the meticulous craft of director Steve McQueen, but also of the fact that its challenges to Hollywood convention are something that the industry and society generally are only just beginning to reckon with.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Friday's Top 5... Stephen King Adaptations

#5: Stand By Me

The first time he saw it, King reportedly declared Stand By Me the best film ever adapted from one of his works. A coming-of-age classic that marked Rob Reiner's first foray as a director from comedy to drama, Stand By Me is one not only one of the best films based on King's work, it's also one of the best films of its type ever made.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Netflix Recommends... Love & Mercy (2014)

* * *

Director: Bill Pohlad
Starring: Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks

The history of rock and roll is full of weird and tragic stories and one of the weirdest, surely, is the story of Brian Wilson. From the genius at the heart of one of the most successful and enduring bands of the '60s, to a recluse rumored to have spent years in bed self-medicating an undiagnosed mental illness, to someone incorrectly diagnosed and placed under the care and control of doctor/svengali eventually leading to a years long conservatorship battle, Wilson's life has so many twists and turns, ups and downs, that it would be difficult to fit it all in any one movie. Bill Pohland's Love & Mercy, written by Michael Alan Lerner and Oren Moverman, doesn't attempt to tell the whole story, choosing to focus instead on the time before and after the hermitage period, each of which is fascinating in its own way even if the two halves of the film don't always work so well together.