Monday, April 29, 2019

Movie Review: The Haunting of Sharon Tate

The Haunting of Sharon Tate no stars / *****
Directed by: Daniel Farrands.
Written by: Daniel Farrands.
Starring: Hilary Duff (Sharon Tate), Jonathan Bennett (Jay Sebring), Lydia Hearst (Abigail Folger), Pawel Szajda (Wojciech Frykowski), Ryan Cargill (Steven Parent), Bella Popa (Sadie), Fivel Stewart (Yellow), Tyler Johnson (Tex Watson), Ben Mellish (Charles Manson).
I imagine the reason why The Haunting of Sharon Tate got made was because Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is also coming out this year, which in part is about the Manson murders, which has its 50th Anniversary this year. The film is basically the worst case scenario of what Tarantino’s film may look like if he were to do something similar to what he did in both Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, which is to rewrite horrific times in history as a revenge thriller – an alternate history of how things could have turned out. And yet, I think there is a difference between alternate history, and what Daniel Farrands and company have done with The Haunting of Sharon Tate. While Inglorious Basterds used fictional characters – fictional Jewish families, fictional Nazis, etc. (with a real people thrown in at the sides), Daniel Farrands have used real people, in a real situation. There is a difference between Tarantino’s Shosanna exacting revenge on the Nazis, and what happens here. It would be as if in Tarantino’s film, he had made a film in which Anne Frank and those in the attic become kick ass Nazi killers. One is a legitimate use of alternate history, the other is just gross exploitation. And that is what The Haunting of Sharon Tate is.
The movie uses a supposed quote by Tate, a year before the murders, where she foretold her own murders (the sourcing of that quote is highly dubious to begin with) to essentially make this film’s version Tate (played, in an awful performance, by Hilary Duff) into some kind of psychic, receiving premonitions of the upcoming murders. The first half of the movie sees Tate as a woman who is uncomfortable in her own home – lashing out at the people who were staying there for her as she and her husband (an unseen Roman Polanski) were away. The film doesn’t quite blame victims Abigail Folger and Wojciech Frykowski for the murders, but it doesn’t not blame them either. Tate is haunted by visions of people breaking into her home, upset that a strange man named Charlie keeps stopping by to talk to the former resident of the home. A tape – playing an actual Charles Manson written song – just starts playing one night. Her beloved dog runs off and is later found horrifically murdered. A walk in the Hollywood Hills turns creepy when two young women seemingly stalk Tate and Folger. None of this – as far as I can tell – is based on anything other than that dubious quote a year before the murders from Tate where she had a bad dream.
With about 45 minutes left in the movie, the Manson family members invade the home – and in the audience you prepare yourself for what you think may be an extended bloodbath. But Farrands actually dispatches with the murders – the way we know them – fairly quickly. He then circles back – with Tate waking up in the middle of the night as if it had been a dream. She spends the next day increasingly paranoid about what is going to happen that night – and when the Manson family comes back and attacks them again, this time they are ready. The five victims are able to band together, and fight off the attackers – ending with this version of Tate looking at the dead bodies of herself and the other victims, as if in another dimension.
There are lots of things you could pick apart here. The historical inaccuracies here are a lot – it leaves out the caretaker in the back trailer who survived the attacks altogether, as if he didn’t exist. It does the same thing to the other Manson girl who was along for the ride, and saw everything, but didn’t participate but who became the star witness. Poof, they aren’t there, because, of course, it doesn’t really fit the narrative. Pretty much everything in the first half of the movie is just completely made up. There are more – a lot more – things that don’t match the historical record. And that is the least of the problems with the movie.
The acting is terrible. I don’t know what Duff is trying to do with her accent – she is trying to match Tate’s somewhat strange high class little accent, but doesn’t get it right, and just sounds strange. But at least she seems to be trying to do something. The rest of the cast basically seems bored, and are going through the motions. The dialogue is laughably bad. The direction is horrible – trying to scare the audience with a bunch of cheap jump scares. The whole movie has the look and feel of a cheap made for TV movie.
But my biggest problem with the movie is really what it implies about the victims here. That they brought it on themselves, that if only they had fought back, they could have survived. It’s an offensive reframing of history, treating the Manson murders as a cheap entertainment, and then blaming the victims for their own demise. Turning the whole thing into a kind of supernatural home invasion thriller. Tarantino has been criticized for the way he handled Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained – not unfairly, but not in a way I agree with either. But he didn’t approach things like this. And I do not believe he will do it in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – but we shall see. But no matter what, I don’t believe it is possible for him to make a worse film than The Haunting of Sharon Tate – or anyone else this year for that matter. As for Farrands, I don’t think he’s learned anything. His next film is called The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Classic Movie Review: Sans Soleil (1983)

Sans Soleil (1983)
Directed by: Chris Marker.
Written by: Chris Marker.
Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil has for a longtime been one of my biggest cinematic blind spots. The film always ranks high on surveys of the best documentaries of all time, and is the highest ranked film (at least of those readily available) on the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They annual list of the 1,000 greatest films – based on a lot of surveys combined together – that I had not seen. Marker, in general, is a blind spot for me – I have seen his masterpiece La Jetee from 1962, but nothing else of his. This film has been on to watch list for years – and I’ve always put it off. Now that I have seen it, I think it was right of me to put it off until now. In my younger days, a film like Sans Soleil would have driven me nuts and probably bored me to tears.
That is because Sans Soleil is a strange film. It’s a documentary, but with fictional elements. It’s a montage film and a travelogue and a home movie. There are parts that are a strange tribute to Hitchcock’s Vertigo – which La Jetee was too, really. It is a film in which a fictional female narrator reads the letters of a fictional cameraman describing what they seen and encountered in their travels – a lot in Japan and Africa but also other places – like the stop in San Francisco for the Vertigo tour, or rural Iceland in which children walk together hand-in-hand representing innocence and happiness. It uses stock footage, and footage Marker shot himself. The sound in the movie is never synced with the images. The film is very personal for Marker – he is doing everything here, from the writing, to the music to the editing, etc. – and yet it is also deliberately distancing himself from it. He doesn’t even take a traditional director credit for the film.
A film like Sans Soleil is challenging – but in a way that I can find more frustrating than rewarding. It does, kind of, remind me of the what Godard has been doing for a while now as well – making these indecipherable film montages in which Godard goes off on political tangents and rants, that you either understand or don’t – care about, or don’t care about. Godard can be cranky – and he most often is – but he can also be playful in these films, most notably Goodbye to Language 3-D. Most of the time though, he seems disappointed in us – those in the audience, and people around the world.
Marker’s film is different though. It is a view of a Western thinker, a Marxist, looking outwards at the world he sees. You can say that at times Marker does seem to eroticize the people he seems – “othering” them in ways that only a white Westerner would, and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. But Marker isn’t looking down on anyone in the film, and he finds fascinating connections between the different cultures he surveys – and relates it all to the broader human experience.
More than anything, the film is about memory - how flawed memory can be. We don’t really remember what happened, only what we think happened. It is a film about history – and the flaws there as well. It is a film about modernity – seen through the innovations at the time, including Pac-Man. It is Marker reaching out and trying to find connections – finding some, losing others. And that’s primarily what makes it different than Godard’s films – which are very insular to his own worldview. Godard is confident he is right, in a way I don’t think Marker is.
Or perhaps I’m completely wrong about Sans Soleil and I totally misunderstood it. So be it. As the narrator says in the film “Not understanding obviously adds to the pleasure”.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Classic Movie Review: Smithereens (1982)

Smithereens (1982) 
Directed by: Susan Seidelman.
Written by: Ron Nyswaner & Peter Askin & Susan Seidelman.
Starring: Susan Berman (Wren), Brad Rijn (Paul), Richard Hell (Eric), Nada Despotovich (Cecile).
Susan Seidelman’s indie debut from 1982 is both a snapshot of the era that produced it, and a kind of universal portrait of what it means to be young and deluded enough to think you have something important to say, even if you are objectively not producing anything of importance. You could make a few changes to Smithereens to update it to 2019, and people would call it a damning portrait of Millennial entitlement, even if it was made just as the first millennials were just being born. Every generation thinks the one that comes up after them are uniquely privileged and lazy – they’re not really, but we all like to think of ourselves as special.
Wren (Susan Berman) is the lead in Smithereens, a privileged, white Jersey girl, slumming it in Manhattan in the early 1980s. She works a dead end job in a copy shop, printing off pictures of herself, emblazoned with the phrase “Who is She?” which she then plasters around the city – on subways, etc. She wants to be a part of the punk scene – lying her way into clubs, sidling up to musicians, suggesting that they start a band together even though we have no real evidence that she has any talent whatsoever – we never see her play an instrument or sing, or anything else. She is convinced of her own greatness – even if no one else sees it.
In as much as Smithereens has a plot, it is a kind of exploitive love triangle. Brad Rijn plays Paul – an artist recently arrived in New York from Montana, who lives out of his van in the worst part of town (this, being 1982, means all parts of New York are bad – where he stays is worse). He sees Wren early in the film, and grows infatuated with her – following her around like a lost puppy dog, at first oblivious to the way that she basically uses him, and ignores him when it’s convenient to her. Eric (Richard Hell) is the part of the triangle – a punk musician that Wren sets her sites on, and won’t let go – even if it’s clear to us in the audience that he doesn’t like her very much. She’ll do when there’s no one else around – but if there’s a better offer, he’s going to take it. As pathetic as Paul is – he realizes that Wren is using him far quicker than Wren realizes that Eric is doing the same to her.
Wren is a forerunner to many of the “difficult” female characters that have garnered praise in recent years – like say Charlize Theron in Young Adult, or Greta Gerwig in a couple of Noah Baumbach movies (Frances Ha and Mistress America) – although she falls somewhere in the middle of those two extremes – she isn’t quite as hateful as Theron in Young Adult, nor as lovable, even in her self-delusion, as Gerwig in Frances Ha. She’s a young woman trying to skip a few steps in the maturation process – going straight to success, without quite figuring out who she is, or what she really wants to do. She doesn’t see herself clearly, and that allows her to do the same to everyone around her. She has to know how Paul feels about her – and exploits that for her own benefit – while still acting as if she is oblivious to it whenever he brings it up. At the same time, she isn’t able to see Eric for who he is – even as he all but announces it to her in one scene. Most of the cast here was first time actors, but Hell was already a kind of underground rock star at the time, and he exudes that kind of dangerous energy that you know you should resist but cannot. Rijn on the other hand was green as an actor – and it shows, but in a way that works for the character. He’s so earnest he cannot possibly lie. Both bounce off of Berman – who showed real promise here (why she barely acted again, I don’t know).
Director Susan Seidelman was only 30 when the film came out – and was probably a little before her time, both in terms of being a female filmmaker – still much rarer than it should be – but also in terms of the types of films she wanted to make. You can see a little bit of early Spike Lee or Richard Linklater in Smithereens, and even if the film is undeniably rough around the edges, that works towards it charms. She got sucked into mainstream movies right after – her follow-up was Desperately Seeking Susan with Madonna, and also made She-Devil with Meryl Streep and Roseanne. She has spent the last few decades mainly doing TV work. It saddens me to think of what may have been for Seidelman had she come along just a decade (even half a decade) later – when indie film was really at its height in America. Smithereens is far from a perfect film – but it showed such potential, that sadly, wasn’t really fulfilled.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Remembering the Princess

Last week, the Princess Cinema in my hometown of Waterloo, Ontario announced that after 34 years of continuous operations their landlord, The Huether Hotel, was evicting them – giving them until the beginning of June to vacate the premises – presumably so that a VR company could move into the space. I’m not going to go into the reasons behind that - it’s not what I want to write about. There is word that perhaps there could be negotiations, so hope that the Princess could survive is not completely lost – and I do hope that something gets worked out. Because losing the Princess would be losing a part of Waterloo history – a cultural landmark for the community and a place I love dearly. But this post is about my memories of the Princess - and why I love it so.
The first movie I saw at the Princess was American History X – that Edward Norton starring, Tony Kaye directed movie about a skinhead who gets released from jail, and wants to leave his racist past behind, but finds it harder than he thought. This must have been either late 1998 or early 1999 – as the film was released late 1998, although it often took a little time before those films got to the Princess. I had heard about the Princess before then – I had been a burgeoning cinephile living in Waterloo since I saw Pulp Fiction in 1995 (when it came to VHS – another movie lovers icon lost to history) – when I was just 15. I didn’t start going to the movies regularly until the fall of 1997 however – in other long lost K-W theaters like King’s College, the Capitol and Fairview. For reasons lost to history however, it took me a year to go to the Princess to see a movie. But once I did, I never stopped.
Between 1999 – my last year at WCI, and 2004 – when I graduated from Conestoga College, I would bet that barely a week went by without me visiting the Princess. There were times when I would have no idea what the movie playing even was, but if the Princess thought it was good enough to play, I trusted them enough to go see it. I saw some of the best movies I have ever seen at the Princess, and was introduced to many of what would become my favorite filmmakers there. It’s where I first watched a Pedro Almodovar movie (All About My Mother) or a Dardennes brothers movie (Rosetta). My first experience with Canadian icon Atom Egoyan on the big screen was there (Felicia’s Journey). It’s where I had my mind blown by Being John Malkovich. It’s where as a cynical 18-year-old who thought he didn’t like musicals, I fell in love with Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy, or related to an old man driving a lawnmower across several states in David Lynch’s The Straight Story. It is where I was energized by Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, disturbed greatly by Tim Roth’s The War Zone, charmed by Patricia Rozema’s Mansfield Park, confused by Alan Rudolph’s Breakfast of Champions, mesmerized by Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey, laughed alongside the dreamers of Chris Smith’s American Movie and saw that Shakespeare could be done in a completely new way in Julie Taymor’s Titus. And those are just the films from 1999 who experience I had at the Princess have seared themselves into my brain. I also saw some of my favorite classics projected there on the big screen for the first time – Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Hitchcock’s Rear Window and the re-release of my all-time favorite film – Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (this was the Redux version).
I could continue to go on (Requiem for a Dream, Dancer in the Dark, The Virgin Suicides, Mulholland Drive, Bowling for Columbine, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Ghost World, Far From Heaven, Talk to Her, Y Tu Mama Tambien, etc, etc, etc)– but you get the point. I was there a lot – and continued to be there a lot until I moved away from Waterloo in 2005. I spent a year in Toronto, and another three in Burlington while I continued to work in Toronto. I didn’t go to the Princess much in that time. I tried to go a few times a year when I went home to visit my mother. When I moved to Brantford in 2009, the Princess became a bigger part of my life again. Sadly, it was the closest art house cinema to me, even if it was nearly an hour each way. Again, I began seeing some of the best films of any given year at the Princess – including my favorite film of last year – Paul Schrader’s First Reformed. The last film I attended at the original was the charming Stan & Ollie. I hope it’s not the last time I get to go – I am anxiously awaiting a calendar for what could be their last weeks in May.

The Princess will go on of course – they have the Twin, which is a charming theater in its own right, and which I have experienced many fine memories – and the recently opened Playhouse in Hamilton is a slightly closer drive for me – so I am grateful for that. But the Original Princess will always remain my favorite place to see a movie. No, it doesn’t have the seating of the multiplexes – and I do remember during my screening of Novitiate during a rain storm that the roof was leaking. And you could sometimes hear music through the walls as you watched a movie. But it has charm – and character. Ascending those stairs to see a movie always fills me with excitement and anticipation.
So, if this is the end of the Original Princess, I guess all I want to say is thank you. I don’t know the owners of the Princess personally – I am a quiet, introverted movie lover who more often than not attended screenings by myself. I kept to myself when I went there. But that place means a lot to me – and my journey to becoming the cinephile I am today. It’s the best place I know to watch a movie – and if this is the end, I will miss it more than I can put into words. So thank you Princess Cinema for all you have done for Waterloo movie fans - and for me personally. I wouldn’t be the same without you.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Movie Review: Under the Silver Lake

Under the Silver Lake **** ½ / *****
Directed by: David Robert Mitchell.
Written by: David Robert Mitchell.
Starring: Andrew Garfield (Sam), Riley Keough (Sarah), Rikki Lindhome (Actress), Callie Hernandez (Millicent Sevence), Topher Grace (Bar Buddy), Zosia Mamet (Troy), Grace Van Patten (Balloon Girl), Jimmi Simpson (Allen), Annabelle Dexter-Jones (Fannie), Laura-Leigh Claire (Mae), Wendy Vanden Heuval (Topless Bird Woman), Deborah Geffner (Mom), Rex Linn (Manager), Luke Baines (Jesus), Allie MacDonald (Meek Bride), Victoria Bruno (Clara Bow Bride), Lola Blanc (Reading Glasses Bride), Patrick Fischler (Comic Man), Bobbi Salvor Menuez (Shooting Star #1), Sydney Sweeney (Shooting Star #2), David Yow (Homeless King), Jeremy Bobb (Songwriter), Don McManus (Final Man).
The hero – and I use that term loosely – of David Robert Mitchell’s Under the Silver Lake stumbles across Los Angeles looking into a mystery that he isn’t qualified to look into, and which few others seem to care about. There is something unique about Los Angeles that gives rise to these types shambling, rambling detective stories – I think of films like Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye or the Coens’ The Big Lebowski or Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice as other examples – detective stories about people who seem out of sync with the time and place they are in, and maybe operating under the influence of something – which seeps into the style of the movie as well as our main character’s psyche. And yet, Under the Silver Lake is its own thing as well – in part because Mitchell is seemingly aware of the time and place that his movie is set in, and doesn’t overlook it. His hero is Sam (Andrew Garfield), a white man in his 20s, who is undeniably bright, but also doesn’t seem to do much of anything, but stumbles his way through life without any real problems. In some ways – many ways, most ways – Under the Silver Lake is a straight faced satire of white privilege, whose main character is, in essence, an asshole. And yet, the questions he asks – and his existential yearning for something more is still real. It is a tricky thing Mitchell is trying to pull off – perhaps that’s why many seem to think he didn’t really pull it off. There is a reason the film was delayed more than once, than dumped into a couple of theaters right before its VOD release nearly a year after its Cannes premiere. That says more about the film industry than it does about this film however. Under the Silver Lake doesn’t fit into a neat little package of any kind – so it isn’t likely to find a huge audience. It will find the audience who deserve it sooner or later however.
Sam seems to basically drifting through his life in L.A. Unlike many people in the city who are un-or-under-employed, Sam doesn’t seem to have ambition to do something else. He’s not, by the looks of things, an aspiring actor, writer, director, musician or much of anything else either. He sits on his apartment balcony – one that reminds you of Marlowe’s apartment complex in The Long Goodbye – watching the topless bird lady across the way, until his sometimes girlfriend (played by Rikki Lindhome) – an actress – comes by with sushi. As they have sex, they discuss the signed Kurt Cobain poster on the wall. Sam’s life is interrupted when he meets Sarah (Riley Keough) – who also lives across the way. They hang out, laugh and flirt one evening – and make plans to hang out the next afternoon, and then she’s just gone. Sam doesn’t want to let this go, and so he starts digging. And digging and digging. Sam is already a conspiracy nut in the first place – and he starts to find more and more angles to his conspiracy as he moves along. There is an emo band whose music may have hidden messages. And that leads him to one thing after another after another. The film becomes about media, meaning, how Hollywood uses and discards young actress and lots of other things.
Do all these threads in the movie come together? I’m not entirely convinced that they do – at least on the first viewing. Is this film a cohesive statement on Hollywood – like David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. – or a mess of ideas that play out in fascinating ways but never cohere – like Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales (another film I like a lot more than most people do, so I guess you can take that as a warning if you want – but I really do think Kelly’s film is a messy, ambitious film that only someone immensely talented could have come up with, making me incredibly sad that he hasn’t made a film in a decade now).
What I do know is that I loved every second of watching Under the Silver Lake. It is the best work yet of Andrew Garfield, who turns has an incredibly tricky role as Sam – as he is both likable, and yet objectively, a complete asshole. You wouldn’t want to get stuck next to him at a party, because he’s talk your ear off about whatever conspiracy theory he has recently read about online. And yet, even if you were trapped with him, you’d end of smiling more than truly angry, because he’s kind of charming. Mitchell – and Garfield – realize that Sam’s way of thinking is poisonous more than anything else – and perhaps ruining America. Under the Silver Lake is hardly an endorsement of this Alex Jones-dystopian world Sam seems to think we are living in – and uncovers in the movie. It is a poisonous way of thinking, and ruins everything. If nothing means what we think it means, and it’s all some cover for something else – does anything mean anything? Even the things that move us are not what we think they are. If we think that way, we end up like Sam in the last shot in this movie.
Under the Silver Lake is not a perfect movie. But as I grow older, I get less and less interested in perfection, and more interested in a film like this that searches for something, that lashes out in many different directions, and comes up with imperfect or no answers at all. This is a film that recalls many films – the ones mentioned among them, and one where every reference has a hidden meaning. I’m not sure that Mitchell fully achieves what he wants to achieve here – and I know that people are going to completely misread the film. This will be one that will have sponsored content at the bottom of every movie article for years advertising that this is what “Under the Silver Lake really means”. Which is exactly the type of thing the movie is satirizing, and finding fault in. This film is being buried a little by A24 – normally a studio who specializing in finding an audience for films that aren’t as easy sell. That should tell you everything you need to know about the film. If it excites you, then this is a film for you.

Movie Review: Homecoming

Homecoming: A Film by Beyonce **** / *****
Directed by: Beyonce.
Written by: Beyonce.
Most concert documentaries are made specifically only for fans of the artist in question – and with good reason – if you don’t like the music, why would you want to watch a concert documentary of it being performed. And yet, there are some concert docs that go beyond that. Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, the Maysles Brothers Gimme Shelter are examples – and yet both of those are perhaps because they have relevance outside the music – there is a tremendous air of sadness and finality to The Last Waltz, as if more than a band is coming to an end, and in Gimme Shelter, the murder of a concert goer by the Hell’s Angels – hired by the Rolling Stones as security – give it a different vibe. Perhaps Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense – about the Talking Heads – then is a purer concert doc which is just about the music and the performance that can awe you even if you’re not a Talking Heads fanatic. And now, there is Homecoming – a film by Beyonce about her already legendary twin performances at Coachella in 2018. There is absolutely no doubt that the Bey-hive will love every second of this film – as they love every second of everything Beyonce puts out. But it even works even if you are not a die-hard fan. Much like her brilliant Lemonade (movie? video? TV show? Whatever) Homecoming is a film that we will leave you in awe of the sheer talent on display by Beyonce – and all of her collaborators. Most people when they do a concert just go up there and sing – they play the hits and get off the stage. If Beyonce had done that at Coachella in 2018, no one would have complained. But she did so much more.
Homecoming details that process. The months of rehearsals where every moment is scripted and planed – every dance move choreographed perfectly, every song selection painstakingly chosen. The costumes and sets. Beyonce picked out every dancer individually – and there are a lot of them. And then planning it so it not only works for the audience at Coachella – but also those watching it on livestream at the time (I didn’t) - and for the eventual audience of this documentary. There are scenes where Beyonce talks to the technical people working for her because she feels what they are doing on stage is not be accurately reflected on film – and she needs to make sure that is fixed.
And it must be said that it was fixed. This film is mesmerizing from the opening song to the closer. The film runs over two hours – and while that may be a tad too long, I cannot really think of anything you’d want to cut. You don’t want to miss any of the songs, and you don’t want to miss the behind the scenes stuff that show just how intricate the work was.
If there is any doubt just how minutely planed everything in these dual concerts were, Beyonce – the director (yes, she directed the movie as well) puts that to rest very early when she cuts between the two performances – which you can tell because they have different colored outfits on in each – and it looks like a special effect – as if you just digitally changed everyone’s clothes.
Homecoming is the type of concert film that will leave you in awe of a performer, even if you don’t necessarily love the music. The sheer energy on display here – translated brilliantly for the screen really is infectious. And the music is great to – even if, admittedly, Beyonce is not usually music I put on too often when I’m choosing something to listen to. She chooses her songs wisely here – a selection of hits, and songs I had never heard. She uses guest stars wisely – giving you enough that you’re satisfied, but not too much that there is ever any doubt just who is in charge here. Homecoming is a testament to Beyonce’s gifts – and all the many forms they take. As a movie fan, I want to see what else she can direct – because with Lemonade and now Homecoming, she’s got more chops than most directors whose films I see. I look forward to seeing just how far she can go.

Movie Review: A Dark Place

A Dark Place ** / *****
Directed by: Simon Fellows.
Written by: Brendan Higgins.
Starring: Andrew Scott (Donald Devlin), Bronagh Waugh (Donna Reutzel), Denise Gough (Linda Connolly), Catherine Dyer (Mrs. Pomorski), J.D. Evermore (Cal Worbley), Jason Davis (Jerry Zeigler), Jared Bankens (George Atzerodt), Sandra Ellis Lafferty (Betty Devlin), Griff Furst (Max Himmler), Christian Finlayson (Justin Zeigler), Christa Beth Campbell (Wendy Connelly), Michael Rose (Sheriff Mooney), Cory Scott Allen (Randy), Eric Mendenhall (Bill Frankel), Andrew Masset (Dr. Joel Pomorowski), Kevin Patrick Murphy (Charlie), Nolan Cook (Tyler Zeigler), Kate Forbes (Patty Zeigler).
A Dark Place is a murder mystery film that would have been better with no murder mystery at all. As a portrait of small town life, in a dying part of the country, A Dark Place (which was originally called Steel Country – a better name) can be quite interesting. And its “hero” – Donald Devlin – a garbage man, somewhere on the autism spectrum – is an interesting way into this community. For the most part, people in town ignore him – they snicker behind his back when he leaves, but for the most part, they don’t even bother to think about him at all. He has a daughter who loves him – from a very brief relationship the girl’s mother would let to forget –who he sees once a week, and he takes care of his ailing mother – confined to a wheelchair, with early signs of dementia creeping in. This film can be interesting when it looks at the drudgery of life in this part of the country, and the difficulty specific to Donald in that small-town. Unfortunately, most of the film is consumed by a murder mystery which isn’t all that interesting – and it requires Donald to do things that really should have landed him in jail – perhaps for years – before the finale – which may end up with there anyway. But then again, given everything else we see him do, apparently with no consequence, probably not.
The mystery at the heart of A Dark Place is the death of a little boy name Tyler – who disappeared, and was found a few days later drowned in the local creak. Donald knows the kid from his garbage route – apparently, he would wave at him whenever he drove by. On his route, after the body is found, he gets out and offers his sympathy to Tyler’s mother – who cryptically tells Donald that Tyler never would have wandered off to explore the forest as the official story says. He was too scared to go anywhere. From this detail, Donald tries to unravel what really happened. He is warned off by some, encouraged by others – and is able to get a surprising amount of information out of people who really have no reason to talk to him. Everyone in this small town seems to know everyone else – unless its convenient to the plot to have them not know who Donald is, and then they have no idea.
Donald is played by Andrew Scott – best known (by me anyway) for what I thought was a god awful performance as Moriarty is the BBC series Sherlock. That was a bizarrely over-the-top performance, and one of those ones where I couldn’t even figure out what Scott was going for most of the time. He is much better here – although again, he does tend towards over-the-top theatrics a little more often than he probably should. Still, it’s a good performance by Scott, and does anchor the movie – he is in nearly every frame. The rest of the cast is fine, I guess, but they never really do much to distinguish themselves. Part of this is because the movie has little time for anyone who isn’t there to advance the plot at some point – so we are introduced to people seemingly at random, so they can come back into the plot at some point to give Donald the information he needs to take the next step.
I liked the look and feel of A Dark Place, and think that the film could well have been a fascinating portrait of small town American life – a portrait of the type of town that is dying when an industry moves away. Their version of the big city here is Pittsburgh – and the characters talk about sometimes as if it’s some unattainable dream. That rings true – as does other, small details in the film. But the overall movie is too caught up with a mystery that doesn’t really matter – and too many bizarre plot twists to seem as unbelievable as the place they happen in.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Thoughts on the Cannes Lineup

So today, we got the official lineup for the Cannes Film Festival – 19 films in the Official lineup. They could add others – they have done it before, and 19-21 films is usually the lineup – before the festival, but for now here is what is going to compete. So below, are my thoughts on what is a lineup full of old talent and new faces. And at the bottom are my 100% reliable predictions on who will win (last year I did nail by Director and Screenplay predictions – or at least half of the latter since two films split it).
In Competition
Pain and Glory -  Pedro Almodovar – Spanish auteur Almodovar is back in competition again (it’s the sixth time), and even if in general his career hasn’t been as great in recent years as in the past, there is always a chance at a comeback. This one stars Almodovar favorites Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz, and is the story of a film director – so perhaps it’s navel gazing, or perhaps it will be the next 8 ½, who knows? If it is a comeback, Almodovar could easily be in play for awards – he has won Best Director and Best Screenplay at the festival, but nothing more.
The Traitor -  Marco Bellocchio – Italian auteur Bellocchio is back in competition for the 7th time – the first all the way back in 1980. He turns 80 later this year, and has quite a fine track record dating back to his brilliant debut Fists in the Pocket back in 1965. This is a mob story set in 1980s Sicily starring Pierfrancesco Favino. Again, since Bellocchio has been in Cannes so many times, but never won anything, if this is a comeback film for him, he could be a player for awards.

The Wild Goose Lake -  Diao Yinan – The Chinese director behind the fairly good crime drama Black Coal, Thin Ice makes his first trip to the Official competition at Cannes, with what is purportedly another crime drama – although details are thin. Ash is Purest White breakout Fan Liao is apparently the lead. My guess is that unless this is shockingly brilliant, it’s not a prize contender – but does the fact that he’s a newcomer to the lineup mean this could be that good?
Parasite -  Bong Joon-ho – Bigtime Korean Auteur Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Mother, Snowpierecer) returns to the official lineup for the second time in a row following Okja in 2017. Bong is one of the great genre filmmaker – hell, one of the great filmmaker’s period – working right now, so this makes this one of my most anticipated films of the festival, even if I’m still not sure what it’s about – other than it’s about an unemployed family, and parks.
Young Ahmed -  Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne – The Dardennes are among the only filmmakers to win multiple Palmes (for Rosetta and L’Enfant), and they’ve been here seven times before this. This time, they may be courting controversy a little – with the story of a Muslim teenager who hatches a plot to kill his teacher after embracing extremism. The Dardennes are perhaps looking to comeback a little from the “disappointing” The Unknown Girl (which is still very good – just not great) – so we shall see. 
Oh Mercy! -  Arnaud Desplechin –  Another returning oft-auteur – this is French director Arnaud Desplechin’s sixth time in competition. This is a more of a genre film than we are used to seeing from him – it is a movie about a cop investigating the murder of an old woman. Among the cast is the great Lea Seydoux. As someone who loved Kings & Queens and A Christmas Tale – but has either been underwhelmed (Jimmy P.) or not been given a real chance to see (My Golden Days, Ismael’s Ghosts) his work since, I want to see this one.
Atlantique -  Mati Diop – Actress/writer/director Mati Diop has been building an interesting career for a while, and her feature debut is coming in straight into competition. Perhaps it’s because she is French, and they always like a number of French films, perhaps it’s because they wanted to expand the number of female directed films in competition (they have 4 this year – okay, but not great) – or perhaps it’s because she made a great film (given the interesting work she has done, I really hope for that). I know nothing of this one other than that, but I’m looking forward to see what she’s done
Matthias and Maxime -  Xavier Dolan – The bloom is off the rose for Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan – whose last two films were not well received (even if It’s Only the End of the World still ending up winning the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes a few years back) – his latest, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan – hasn’t even opened yet, but the reviews out of TIFF last fall were brutal. Still, he is a multiple Cannes Prize winner in his young career, so we’ll see if this is a return to form for Dolan – who is starring again, but also the great Anne Dorval, so there’s that
Little Joe -  Jessica Hausner – Three of Jessica Hausner’s other films all made the Un Certain Regard Lineup, and finally hits the big time with Little Joe – which is a sci-fi film, that kind of sounds like a Body Snatchers type story. She also has a large cast, the biggest name being Ben Whishaw – but also includes Emily Beecham, Leanne Best and Lindsay Duncan among other. This sounds interesting.
The Dead Don’t Die -  Jim Jarmusch – American indie legend Jarmusch is back in competition for the eighth time since the 1980s, with his zombie comedy with undeniably the biggest cast of the festival. As someone who thinks Jarmusch is doing perhaps the best work of his career of late (Only Lovers Left Alive and Paterson are two of my absolute favorites of his) – this certainly looks like a change of pace, and hugely entertaining. It also seems odd for Cannes, but who cares.
Sorry We Missed You -  Ken Loach – Another two-time Palme winner (The Wind That Shakes the Barely, I, Daniel Blake), Loach is back in competition for the 13th (!) time (I don’t know if that’s a record, but it has to be at least close). Of course, it’s written by Paul Laverty, and is a social justice film about a struggling British working class family. That may sound dismissive – and it is (a little) – but Loach, now over 80, keeps churning out at least good films, so sure.
Les Miserables -  Ladj Ly – Another first time French filmmaker in the lineup – Ladj Ly turns his 2017 prize winner short film of the same name into a feature – about policing in the Paris suburbs. As with Diop, there’s no way of knowing why Ly’s film was selected – whether because it’s French, or perhaps because it’s great – but this certainly a wildcard.
A Hidden Life -  Terrence Malick – Malick is back in competition for the first time since he won the Palme for The Tree of Life in 2011 (and third time overall) – and apparently A Hidden Life is a return to some kind of narrative filmmaking – something he has increasingly moved away from in his last four films. This film is a WWII film about a conscientious objector who won’t fight for the Nazis. He’ll be played by August Diehl – and the supporting cast includes Matthias Schoenarts, Michael Nyqvist, Jurgen Prochnow, the late Bruno Ganz and Franz Rogowski. As interest as I am in many of the films in competition, this is the one I want to see the most.
Bacurau -  Kleber Mendonça Filho & Juliano Dornelles – Brazillian director Kleber Mendonça Filho – of the wonderful Neighboring Sounds and Aquarius, teams up with Juliano Dornelles – for this film – which is apparently a Mystery/Sci-Fi/Western film starring the wonderful Sonia Braga and the wonderfully weird Udo Kier. It may not be my most anticipated, but it’s one of the ones I’m most curious about.
The Whistlers -  Corneliu Porumboiu – Romanian director Porumboiu makes his (surprising) Main Competition debut with The Whistlers – which is apparently a comedy, which is surprising given that its stars Vlad Ivanov, who is usually so evil. His best film is still probably Police, Adjective – so he’s always worth a look.
Frankie -  Ira Sachs – Ira Sachs always makes interesting films – Little Men, Love is Strange, Keep the Lights On, Forty Shades of Blue among them. Here, he has a great cast – Marisa Tomei, Brandon Gleason, Isabelle Huppert, Greg Kinnear, Jeremie Renier- a multigenerational drama set in Portugal. I am very interested in this one.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire -  Céline Sciamma – French filmmaker Sciamma finally gets upgraded to the main competition following films like Water Lilies, Tomboy and Girlhood. This is an historical drama about a female painter on an isolated island painting a wedding portrait of a younger woman, Starring Valeria Golino and Adele Haenel. I am interested in this one.
It Must Be Heaven -  Elia Suleiman – Palestinian filmmaker Suleiman is back in competition for the third time, this time as he travels to different cities to draw parallels to his home country. I never know what to make of Suleiman, so it could be interesting.
Sibyl -  Justine Triet – Another young French filmmaker entering the lineup – with this film about a psychotherapist who tries to become a writer. It stars Adele Exarchopolous (who I have wanted to see more often), Sandra Huller, Virginie Efira and Gaspard Ulliel. It’s hard to know what to expect – but I like that cast.
And now, my patented predictions of who is going to win, sight unseen. I am always spot on with these predictions, so take it to the bank, that these will be your winners from the Alejandro Gonzaelez Innaritu headed jury.
Palme d'Or: Bacurau -  Kleber Mendonça Filho & Juliano Dornelles – It would be too easy to pick one of the giants to win the top prize this year, so I’ll go with this film, which sounds really interested, from a filmmaker I love, with an interesting cast. Mark it down, this is your winner.
Grand Prize of the Jury: A Hidden Life – Terrence Malick – It’s always hard to pick prior Palme winners to win something other than the Palme again – it can feel like a step down – and yet I also think that Malick going epic again, and in competition, will warrant something – so here it is.
Jury Prize: Little Joe – Jessica Hausner – Call this one a feeling more than anything else, this one often goes to someone who perhaps hasn’t been in the lineup before, making a film they quite like.
Best Director: Joon-ho Bong for Parasite – Again, I just think he’s due for some recognition at the festival, and so here it is.
Best Actor: Pierfrancesco Favino for The Traitor – Favino has been around for a long time now, in both Italian and international films – so why not?
Best Actress: Valeria Golino, Portrait of a Lady on Fire – I wouldn’t be shocked if this turns out to be a two-hander if the leads split this – but if not, go with Golino.
Best Screenplay: Frankie – Ira Sachs & Mauricio Zacharias – Sachs films are almost always well-written, and with this cast, it could make it sound even better.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Movie Review: Her Smell

Her Smell **** ½ / *****
Directed by: Alex Ross Perry.
Written by: Alex Ross Perry.
Starring: Elisbeth Moss (Becky Something), Cara Delevigne (Crassie Cassie), Dan Stevens (Danny), Agyness Deyn (Marielle Hell), Gayle Rankin (Ali van der Wolff), Ashley Benson (Roxie Rotten), Dylan Gelula (Dottie O.Z.), Eka Darville (Ya-ema), Lindsay Burdge (Lauren), Hannah Gross (Tiffany), Virginia Madsen (Ania Adamcyzk), Eric Stoltz (Howard Goodman), Amber Heard (Zelda E. Zekiel), Keith Poulson (Keith the Engineer).
The cinema of Alex Ross Perry has always been somewhat punishing – he traps you with characters who are often insufferable – artists who are obsessed with their own perceived greatness, at the price of pushing everyone else away. His breakthrough – The Color Wheel – was about a pair of navel gazing siblings on a long car ride, and for about 70 of its 83-minute runtime, I found the film suffocating and awful – and then he comes up with an absolutely brilliant ending, which I don’t think saves the movie, but certainly makes it interesting. His Listen Up, Philip, starred Jason Schwartzman in what could be described as the darkest timeline of what his Rushmore character may wind up being – an insufferable author who styles himself after his idol – clearly modeled at Philip Roth – and maybe becoming even worse. Queen of Earth was a brilliant two-hander about two women, who were once good friends, who are stuck together at a Lake House, and pushing each other closer to the edge. Last year’s Golden Exits was my least favorite of his films – the most Woody Allen-esque of his films, about white privilege and naval gazing among middle-aged Brooklyn-ites. And yet as deliberating punishing and alienating as all of those films have been to some degree, he takes it up another level in the brilliant Her Smell – a film about a Courtney Love-like rock star, who over the course of five segments, over a 10-year span, pushes everyone away, and then starts to take steps back towards becoming a person. The lead performance by Perry regular Elisabeth Moss – goes from absolute broke in the role of Becky Something – not even attempting to be likable or sympathetic for the first three segments of the film. You will almost undoubtedly grow to find her as insufferable as everyone else in the film. Which is what makes the final two segments as touching as they can be.
The film opens with one of the only full length musical performances we see from Becky and her bandmates – Something She. They are clearly a Grrl band in the 1990s vein, and the opening song is actually quite good. It’s when the band gets off stage when all hell breaks loose. This is the last date on the tour, and everyone is frazzled. During this long opening segment – which Alex Ross Perry, cinematographer Sean Price Williams and editor Robert Greene – brilliantly stage to make it look like it’s taking place in real time. Everything revolves around Becky – which is exactly the way she likes it. She has various “spiritual advisers” around her, which further isolates her. Through the segment, she’ll lash out at her long suffering bandmates – bassist Marielle Hell (Agyness Deyn) – who like Becky is on drugs, but isn’t as out of control and drummer Ali van der Wolff (Gayle Rankin) – who seemingly tries to keep everything together. There’s also Becky’s ex (Dan Stevens) – there with their infant daughter, and his new girlfriend, and long suffering record exec Howard (Eric Stoltz). There’s also a young musician who Becky helped to kick start her career, Zelda (Amber Heard) – who is now more successful. Things are absolutely chaotic – as Becky spirals out of control. The next two segments – one in a recording studio, where the band cannot record anything because of Becky, and Howard is trying to kick start a younger band – influenced by Becky – and things get worse, and the second before another gig – in which Becky hits rock bottom, and her mother (Virginia Madsen) shows up to make matters even worse. Basically, the first 90 minutes of Her Smell is daring high wire act in which Moss goes off the walls crazy, and spirals further and further down, driving every single person who cares about her further and further away.
The last two segments are certainly less chaotic, less angry and alienating. The fourth segment is Becky at her lowest – she has lost pretty much everything and everyone she cares about, but she is sober for the first time in years, and looking to make amends with others – and figure out who she is. The films most inspired musical moment is in this segment – as Becky sings a cheesy 1980s pop ballad to her daughter – in its entirety, in one shot, in a way that I don’t think her daughter full grasps, but we in the audience surely do. And, in an odd twist for Perry, the film almost has a happy ending – or happy for him at least. Whereas the typical Perry hero(ine) has driven everyone else away, and is left alone with their own “genius”. By the end, Becky has at least realized that she needs others around her – something most of the Perry leads never quite figure out.
Elisabeth Moss, who has become one of the best working actresses today, delivers her best performance so far as Becky. It’s not often that women get a role like this – that of the difficult genius, and that is definitely Beck in this film. Through three segments, Moss makes Becky increasingly frazzled and off-putting. People put up with her because they have to – they make money off of her, and as long as that money is flowing, they will stick around. And yet, there is also genuine affection there as well – before each segment, we see a brief snippet of home movies from happier times for the band, and that affection is real. They want her to get healthy, but eventually she will push them all away. Even at the end of the film, Becky’s recovery is teetering on the edge. Maybe she’ll be able to build everything up again – and on more solid footing this time.
To get there though, Perry and Moss and their collaborators really do put the audience through the ringer. This is not an easy sit – and some will likely run screaming from the theatrical, the feeling of oppressive captivity all encompassing. You are trapped in those rooms with Becky bouncing off the walls. It’s a difficult movie to sit through, But it a brilliant examination of this type of artist. If Perry has always worried about becoming one of his characters – alone and isolated – at least in Her Smell, he sees a way out. And it comes at the end of this daring high wire act of a film.

Movie Review: Missing Link

Missing Link *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Chris Butler.
Written by: Chris Butler.
Starring: Hugh Jackman (Sir Lionel Frost), Zach Galifianakis (Mr. Link), Zoe Saldana (Adelina Fortnight), Timothy Olyphant (Willard Stenk), Emma Thompson (The Elder), Stephen Fry (Lord Piggot-Dunceby), Amrita Acharia (Ama Lhamu), Ching Valdes-Aran (Gamu), Matt Lucas (Mr. Collick), David Walliams (Mr. Lemuel Lint).
Through five films now, Laika Animation has carved out a niche for itself in the usually uniform world of Hollywood animation. They are less interested in the kind of colorful, chaotic energy that move so fast from joke to joke, to chase sequence to action sequence, and back again at breakneck pace – as if kids will get bored if you aren’t constantly jolting them with action and jokes. Laika’s film – Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, Kubo and the Two Strings and now Missing Link – all take their time, are more concerned with the look and feel of the environments they take place in, and the relationships between the characters than anything else. Sadly, while Laika’s films are often far superior to most of what Hollywood produces, they have yet to really land a big box office success. Parents – not the children, who don’t get to decide these things – seem to be avoiding Laika films for some reason. I can speak from experience, that kids love these films – which are often sweet and lovable, while still being inventive.
Their latest film centers of Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman), an 19th Century English adventurer who isn’t respected by the upper crust of English society adventurers. He is a lone wolf sort – he cannot keep an assistant, and has driven away those around him with his obsession with finding mythical monsters (the opening sequence is a wonderful confrontation with the Loch Ness monster). He receives a letter from the New World – telling him the location of the famed Bigfoot. When he arrives, he discovers Mister Link aka Susan (Zach Galifinakis) – who wrote the letter himself. He is the last of his kind, and needs help making his way across the world to Shangri-La – land of his cousins, the Yeti. They will eventually be joined by Lionel’s ex Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana) and pursued by Willard Stenk (Timothy Olyphant) – hired by those evil upper crust English adventurers to prevent Lionel from achieving his goal.
The film is just of 90 minutes long, and yet it still moves at what could be called a leisurely pace. Director Chris Butler (one of the directors of ParaNoman) relishes the various locations that he and has team have created – from the foggy Loch in the opening sequence, to the stuffy club of those adventures, to the forest where Mister Link is hiding, to the Western town they stop off at, to the Shangri-La at the end. These environments have been lovingly created by the animators, and Butler makes the most of them. The movie has a laid back quality to its relationship between Lionel and Mister Link as well. You know where it is going – something that starts as transactional, grows into a real friendship – but it never feels rushed here, it feels genuine. The humor in the film is clever and smart, without becoming overly jokey. The action sequences are imaginably staged and fun, without going over the top.
I do think that Missing Link is probably a step below Laika’s best work. It looks gorgeous to be sure – but it’s not quite as eye-popping as Kubo and the Two Strings or Coraline, and it’s not quite as original or bold as some of their best work. And yet, compared to most of what is marketed to kids, Missing Link is wonderful and big hearted and funny – and yes, beautiful. It treats its child viewers with respect. And it deserves to find a wider audience than it has found so far. Trust me parents, when you end up putting this on Netflix in a year, you will have wished you watched it in a theater.

Movie Review: Hellboy

Hellboy ** / *****
Directed by: Neil Marshall.
Written by: Andrew Cosby based on the Dark Horse Comic Book by Mike Mignola.
Starring: David Harbour (Hellboy), Ian McShane (Professor Bruttenholm), Milla Jovovich (Nimue the Blood Queen), Sasha Lane (Alice Monaghan), Daniel Dae Kim (Ben Daimio), Penelope Mitchell (Ganeida), Thomas Haden Church (Lobster Johnson), Sophie Okonedo (Lady Hatton), Brian Gleeson (Merlin), Alistair Petrie (Lord Adam Glaren), Kristina Klebe (Leni Riefenstahl).
I cannot say how much the studio behind Hellboy saved by jettisoning Guillermo Del Toro, who wanted to make a third film in his Hellboy series starring Ron Perlman since the second film came out back in 2008. But no matter how much money it was, it really wasn’t worth it – as this 2019 Hellboy, which replaces Del Toro with Neil Marshall and Perlman with David Harbour – is a pale imitation of what Del Toro accomplished with the first two films. Harbour is actually not bad in the role – he’s not Perlman, but he’s pretty good – and Marshall really isn’t the problem either – even if really only the final scene in the movie has real energy to it. The whole thing just kind of feels like the bargain basement knock-off of something really good – and the screenplay doesn’t really give us any reason to care to about anyone in the film. It’s hard to think of a film with less reason to exist other than cash in on a name brand than this film – and Hellboy isn’t even that much of a name (considering the opening weekend box office that is).
The one decision that the filmmakers make which is correct is to not give us another origin story of Hellboy. The film kicks off with Hellboy already with the BFRD working for his “father” (Ian McShane) fighting off paranormal baddies of all kinds. The film opens with him going to Mexico to try and bring back his friend, who hasn’t been seen in weeks after being sent there to investigate a coven of vampires. He finds him – but not in the shape he wants to. But the main thrust of the plot takes place in London, and has to do with a Nimue, the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich), a witch once killed by King Arthur himself, who is now being re-assembled by Bebop from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or at least, that’s how I thought of him throughout the movie – or to be really honest, I thought of him as Rock Steady, since I always forget which one is which) to come back and usher in a new world order of monsters. Hellboy, of course, doesn’t want that – although he may be the key in one way or another to what comes next. He has a team of sorts – Alice (Sasha Lane, from American Honey – who hopefully at least got paid for her big budget debut), who has powers she doesn’t understand, and Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim) –who keeps injecting himself with something to prevent him from turning into a monster – which of course means, he will turn into said monster at some point.
What the film really lacks in energy. Strangely enough, the final scene of the movie is exhilarating and fun, and contains the type of high flying, fun action that the rest of the film just didn’t have. I wanted to watch the movie that followed that scene, not the movie that ends with it. As it stands, for much of the movie Harbour is seemingly abandoned with not a very good screenplay – which is bad, because one of the reason to watch a Hellboy movie is his quips, which lack something here as they are poorly written. Harbour tries his best to keep the energy level up, but no one quite seems to want to try. Ian McShane is doing the type of thing he now does on autopilot – the doomed mentor, who is slightly off kilter (he wouldn’t make a good mentor to Batman, but for darker people he’s fine). The talented Sasha Lane is given nothing to do. Milla Jovovich, like Harbour, seems to have the right attitude here – she has anchored more than her share of bargain basement blockbusters, she knows what to do here – but again, doesn’t have the material to work with.
The film was directed by Neil Marshall – who made what may just be the scariest film I have ever seen in a movie theater (The Descent in 2005) – and hasn’t gotten to direct anything nearly as good since then. He clearly has some horror movie roots – he doesn’t shy away from the blood and guts here. People are ripped limb to limb, or in half, and are flayed and splayed a lot in the final act. There are also some inventive monsters – including what looks like a floating vagina with arms – in that finale sequence – but it’s clear the budget didn’t allow them too much of those monsters, as they disappear almost as soon as they arrive.
Perhaps much of my boredom with the film may just be superhero fatigue – and even if Hellboy is a different breed of superhero, he’s still trying to save the world for destruction on a large scale, and to be honest, it’s all a little boring now. And Hellboy brings nothing new to the table – either as a Hellboy movie or a superhero movie.