Monthly Archives: June 2018

Perfect Sense

Susan is a scientist who knows she shouldn’t smoke but does. Michael is a chef who cleans the fish smell from his hands with lemon and isn’t afraid to bum a smoke once in a while. The two meet, and begin to fall in love as if they’re two characters in a movie compelled to do so (which, come to think of it, they are). The catch: a new epidemic is sweeping through hospitals. After a sudden temper tantrum, often prompted by a wall of grief and loss, the victim loses one of their senses. The first wave loses their sense of smell.

So this is the world in which Susan (Eva Green) and Michael (Ewan McGregor) are struggling to find love. With every new sense lost, countries are increasingly chaotic and governments are just barely holding on. People aren’t really eating in restaurants anymore, so Michael’s work dries up (how do you cook without smell? how do you enjoy eating?) just as Susan’s is put to the test: she’s at the forefront of research into this epidemic, and her voice-overs provide some insight. Don’t worry, though, you don’t need smell to repent. It’s never too late for that.

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You can tell from the turtlenecks this is NOT The Perfect Fashion Sense.

Anyway, an epidemic is not an obvious setting for a love story, and I’ve possibly never been so fully turned off than watching an orgy of gluttony that was remarkably non-discerning. Perfect Sense is no Love in the Time of Cholera. It doesn’t succeed in being any big character study, or any great romance, but it doesn’t quite reach for the bigger picture either, though the pieces are all there. On balance I’d say this is still worth a watch – there are a couple of astonishing scenes, and for me at least it forced a few of those powerful What If questions without which life would be less sweet.

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Woman Walks Ahead

In the 1880s, widow Catherine Weldon travels alone to North Dakota to paint the portrait of Chief Sitting Bull. The Lakota aren’t thrilled by her arrival (at least not until she brings the rain) but it’s the US Army that’s the real problem. Officer Groves and his men are stationed at Standing Rock in order to undermine the Native American’s land claim. Any friend of the Lakota is an enemy of theirs, which basically means that the soldiers will literally spit in her eye.

Catherine (Jessica Chastain) is “just here to paint a painting” but as she befriends the Lakota, and Sitting Bull (Michael Greyeyes) in particular, the government provides a tighter and tighter squeeze. Catherine and Sitting Bull share a common goal in freedom, and independence, but Groves’ (Sam Rockwell) continued menace is a threat to them both.

It’s a fascinating true story that’s perhaps not quite fascinatingly told. It doesn’t tell us nearly enough about the time or the people, so it’s hard to justify its existence. But MV5BNjViOWYyOTctNzhhZS00YjgyLWI5MjctZmM2ZDE3MWM4MTQxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzQ2NzcxOTk@._V1_I really like Jessica Chastain, and she tends to make wise and informed career decisions, so I lean toward giving this the benefit of the doubt. This could easily veer into white saviour territory, and maybe it defaults too much toward politeness, but I think it strives to be a respectful and faithful rendering. I just wish it could be entertaining as well. And I really wish it didn’t take one insignificant white woman to tell the story of an entire people, but if that’s how we have to frame it, then (I guess) this more feminist bent is at least an improvement.

Now let us talk about Jessica Chastain for a moment. Jessica Chastain the actor, but more importantly, Jessica Chastain the principled woman. I don’t know her personally at all, but I see that she is walking the walk, using her privilege and position of power to raise up the talented women with whom she surrounds herself. Not unlike her character in this film, she is fighting battles for equality. Twice Oscar nominated, her talent is raw and smoldering. Undeniably a beautiful woman and a style icon, she’s not afraid to appear in this film without a stitch of makeup and with substantial armpit stains (I’ll credit this bit of realism to her female director, Susanna White, who doesn’t feel compelled to turn a “painter of a certain age” into a sexpot, which is 100% what would have happened under the direction of literally any man). Now what do we have to do to get this story told from the Lakota perspective, with a Native director in the chair?

Madame

Bob describes his new French manor home as a “humble pied a terre” while his wife Anne greets their VIP guests with barely contained self-satisfaction. Anne doesn’t know that Bob (Harvey Keitel) is concealing their looming bankruptcy – he has to sell a family heirloom just to keep things running but he still presents his wife new jewels ahead of the dinner party. Anne (Toni Colette) doesn’t bother to conceal that she isn’t pleased when Bob’s son Steven shows up at the last minute, upsetting the symmetry of her place settings. In a crunch, she invites her loyal maid Maria (Rossy de Palma) to dine with them, posing as a Spanish noblewoman, though Maria believes it’s a sin to tell a lie.

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The film itself looks sumptuous but feels rather light, rather flimsy. I don’t need much of an excuse to watch a Toni Collette movie, and even a not great Toni Collette movie is good enough for me. She’s such a joy to watch onscreen, even when she’s plotting and jealous and really kind of heinous. I could watch her nostrils flare with impatience all day long. Rossy De Palma proves a worthy adversary. Since Collette is the bad witch, De Palma is the good, the very good. All eyes on her. The truth is, this movie endeared itself to me the minute I saw Harvey Keitel bicycling in a jaunty scarf.

There’s more to this movie than it even knows itself. Anne and Bob are clearly struggling but don’t have the words for it, and maybe don’t care enough to try. So the thing with Maria is just a convenient escape, and the true reasons for Anne’s obsessive sabotage are many if not always obvious. The cast is talented enough to hint at things that perhaps the script was not strong enough to bring forth. For me this movie was still worth it – I could watch Toni Collette mow  a lawn and be satisfied – and it was perhaps a bit of a stopgap between be knowing I should really be watching Hereditary but not yet having the courage to do it.

 

 

 

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Things that start out seeming like a commune can actually end up more like a cult in the end. The movie starts at that end, with Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) running away from it, and being pursued, which is a good way to know for sure that it wasn’t ever a commune. She’s been gone for years so her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law Ted (Hugh Dancy) are pretty surprised to get her call, but they welcome her into their home though she keeps her past whereabouts on the downlow.

Lucy and Ted have a very nice life and an idyllic home, but Martha can’t really relax. She wonders if she’s far enough away, if she’s safe. She’s haunted by flashbacks of the cult that kept her captive. And Lucy is still a little hurt that her sister was just out MV5BYTZkZmM4ZjYtOGM5Mi00YzllLTk4OTgtNTJlODhmMzIwY2NjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDQzMDYzOQ@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1500,1000_AL_of contact for so long – she might have empathy if only she knew the truth. But the two sisters have only each other for family, and now they’re struggling to readjust to each other. And truthfully, Martha is a little frustrating with the tight lip thing.

John Hawkes plays the charismatic cult leader who rapes the girls but then writes them a lovely ballad the next morning. It’s an interesting role for him. I love John Hawkes, he’s so unassuming but he’s got this massive range. In this he straddles this character, dangling him between ordinary Joe and insidious monster. And of course it’s the monsters who look normal who are the most scary, aren’t they? That’s how they catch you.

Christopher Abbott, Julia Garner, and the wonderful Maria Dizzia round out the cult cast, giving it some flavour, because not everyone gets to be the tyrannical messiah.

Leaving is hard. Staying isn’t easy. Sometimes it seems impossible to do either/or. Director Sean Durkin creates a real psychological quagmire; it goes down relatively smoothly but leaves a drop in your stomach so you remember – yeah, now that was a movie.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter

Enjoying a triumphant festival circuit, critics called this one “slow-building and atmospheric”; I call it long and boring.

Two Catholic schoolgirls (ugh), Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton), get left behind at their boarding school over winter break.  The nuns, rumored to be satanists, and to be naked and hairless (unnecessary details, perhaps?) under their ugly habits, feed them and watch them, but they’re not the ones we’re worried about.

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Then there’s some very slow, deliberate attempts to send chills up your spine, via demonic possession, gory beheadings, and fabulously, a teenage girl calling a nun a cunt. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t meant to be funny, but it’s terrifically funny (though the nun would not agree).

I’m not sure if I was watching a different movie from anyone else, but this just didn’t make one tiny speck of sense to me. Plus the characters were so thinly drawn it took me a while to figure out there was a third, and then I was like: where did SHE come from (and not in a scary, haunting way, just a super confused but not really caring all that much way) (also, this movie so under-lit that it’s really not my fault and I bet not that uncommon). Now, the exorcisms and the buckets of blood demand that this film be classified as a horror and I don’t dispute it. I just didn’t find it scary. Like at all. And I’m a big, bawking chicken. Bawk, bawk, bawk. But I breezed right through this, not even a flinch.

It was filmed in Canada, sometimes pretty close to my own home, and for that I will apologize to Ms. Roberts. We were having the coldest winter on record when she was filming outdoor scenes. The foggy breath clouds are well earned. Which is why I felt compelled to watch a movie I would never normally sit through, but you know what? I’d rather take another 5 months of winter than snooze my way through this thing ever again, and I’m not just saying that because I’m currently sipping a daiquiri from the inflatable unicorn in my pool. Well, mostly not.

 

Savages

I spent most of the movie trying to decipher Blake Lively’s pronunciation of a lead character’s name: was it Sean, or John? And I grew annoyed with director Oliver Stone who was clearly too enamoured with Lively to give her any direction. No, Blake, not every line of the narration should be delivered with life-or-death huskiness. Too much, Blake. Still, in the end, I must admit that the Sean-John conundrum’s fault does not lay with Lively but with either the script writer or the casting director. The character’s name is actually Chon, but he’s played by the very white and very ordinary Taylor Kitsch. Does that make sense to me? It does not. But this movie’s about to get way, way more problematic.

Chon (Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are two halves of a very successful weed business in Laguna, California. Ben is sweet and idealistic and travels the world to impoverished communities where he can spend his profits on the people who need it. Chon is the messed up vet returned from his tours of duty to provide the business with backbone and an intimidation factor. O (Blake Lively) fucks them both – though it’s more of a love circle than a love triangle, if you know what I mean.

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Their business grows just large enough to pique the interest of a real cartel, run by Elena (Salma Hayek). She makes them a business proposition which they are stupid enough to believe they can turn down, and when they do, Benicio Del Toro shows up to kidnap the one thing they both love (well, after weed). Technically I should say Benicio’s character shows up, and yet I think we’ve all seen him play the creepy, threatening bad guy so many times that I’m starting to wonder if perhaps Del Toro really is running a drug empire and acting is just a clever way to launder money and divert suspicion.

Anyway, then it’s a mess of torture porn and “interesting directing choices” to prove that Stone is still the master of mindless violence. Which is a nice way of saying the first half is sloppy as hell and the second half has no heft. The movie believes itself to be slick and subversive and goes to great lengths to convince you of it too, but stops just short of actually being good. Overwritten and under-acted, this is indeed a return to Oliver Stone’s past, but probably not in the way he intended. Savages came out in 2012 mind you, and the only other film Stone’s done in the ensuing years is Snowden so I think it’s more fair to say he’s “done” than “back”.

Brain On Fire

Susannah is working her dream job at a newspaper in New York City, but just as it seems as though the 21 year old has it all together – a cute apartment, a musician boyfriend, and a hot assignment from her boss things start to go wonky.

A super caring (read: sarcasm) doctor diagnoses her with “partying too hard” based on the one glass of wine she cops to drinking occasionally but something’s definitely up and whatever it is, it ain’t that. She’s not acting like herself. She zones out. She convulses with seizures. What the heck is happening with Susannah?

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I read the book on which this movie is based and it didn’t really light my fire either. Not to make light of her disease, but I sort of think a brain on fire is preferable to what this movie did to mine, ie, turned it into pea soup. Now I’m going to have to stand on one foot and hop up and down trying to mushify those peas and get them draining out the various holes in my face. You know, best case scenario.

Anyway, I’m sure there’s some weird network on television that airs diseases of the week, and that’ll be no worse than this, but your expectations should be more realistically aligned. This movie is just a no for me. I would have rather spent the time in the waiting room of my local ER – at least as long as there are KitKats in the vending machine.