Thursday, March 30, 2017

Personal Shopper

Tonight I saw Personal Shopper starring Kristen Stewart.

Maureen (Stewart) is a personal shopper for a difficult, high-profile star in Paris. Though Maureen is American, she remains in France because her twin brother died there months ago, and they had a pact for whomever went first to send the other a message from beyond the grave. Did I mention they're both mediums?

She is growing impatient because odd things are happening (ghouls chase her when she's alone in the dark, faucets turn on, etc.) but she doesn't think any of them are her brother. Couple this with the fact that she's getting mysterious text messages from an unknown source (and for some reason, faithfully answering them) and we're left with a lot of unanswered questions.

Though I wanted to know what was driving the mysterious text message-sender, and I desperately wished for Maureen to hear from her suddenly gone brother, I didn't have patience for the pace or the meandering extra storyline and characters that may or may not have had anything to do with those elements.

If a script is going to be as provocative as this one, if the ends aren't going to be tied up, at least a few solid theories should be presented.

Instead of wanting more, I was really wanting it to end. Thankfully it did.


Going in Style

Last night I screened Going in Style, starring Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine.

Willie (Freeman) and Al (Alan Arkin) are roommates. Joe (Caine) is their best friend. They are all former colleagues who spent years in blue collar work only to learn that their pension was being taken away from them.

Desperate to save his home, which is going into foreclosure, Joe suggests the three of them rob a bank. He was recently witness to one, and admired the efficiency and skill of the criminals. At first the other two scoff at the thought, but when things get really tight financially and they consider how many years they may or may not have left, they decide to go for it.

From consulting with someone from the other side of the tracks to choosing clever masks for the heist that align to their generation, there is a lot of silly in the film. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. If you go see this and don't expect it to be light, you're not getting the point.

Of course the men are fabulous actors. Of course the situation they find themselves in has you rooting for them (even if what they're doing is morally wrong). Of course things won't go precisely according to plan.

Where the film could be better: the broad strokes it draws of its various supporting cast. Everyone is a caricature from the surly waitress to the deadbeat son-in-law to the '80s-sitcom-style seductress. If those characters hadn't been so blatantly written, it would have been more believable.

But if you just want a fun romp with more cameos than you can keep track of, you could do worse.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Beauty and the Beast

On Thursday I saw Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson and Luke Evans.

"There must be more than this provincial life," sings Belle (Watson) as she begins another day in her tired little French town. She, like so many, is dissatisfied with her surroundings. The books in which she escapes give her glimpses of places far more more interesting. She longs to be a part of them.

Her dad, Maurice (played by a perfectly cast Kevin Kline) is the town eccentric, and has doted on his daughter since she was born. Now, as an adult, Belle has become a feminist before her time, fending off the advances of the narcissist, Gaston (Evans) and dreaming of new possibilities.

When Maurice is taken prisoner by a ferocious beast (Dan Stevens) in a faraway castle, Belle attempts to rescue him and trades herself in his place. This is where the story truly begins.

What Belle doesn't know is that underneath the fur is a prince—one who behaved so badly a spell was cast upon him. The only way to break it is for him to fall in love and be loved in return. Conspiring to make a match between Belle and the Beast are various household fixtures like Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), who is now a teapot, but once was a normal woman.

It's a "tale as old as time" and one of the most beloved to say the least. As a huge fan of the animated classic, I cringed when I heard they were making this into a live action picture, but once I saw the cast I breathed a little and got over it.

I very much enjoyed this version; there is something in emotion that can't be captured in animation, so the love and romance is more effective here. Where I prefer the original is in the music.

As an actress, Emma Watson is brilliant. She's sincere, she's likable—her intelligence permeates every role she's in and Belle is no exception. But the shortcuts that were taken in her song arrangements left me wanting more. I found myself humming the ending bits that were cut off—in most cases the climactic notes of the songs.

I also felt a bit of the art direction could have been more spectacular. The sequence for "Be Our Guest" was a little too disco and starved for classy grandeur; the library that has Belle gasping at its magnificence we only see a few underwhelming frames of before the two are nose-down in books.

I will always make time for Beauty and the Beast no matter what its format. If you see this one, be sure to take in all of its strengths—Kevin Kline, Luke Evans, the chemistry between Watson and Stevens, and the clever winks amongst the household fixtures.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Sense of An Ending

Tonight I saw The Sense of An Ending, starring Jim Broadbent and Harriet Walter.

Years ago when a friend recommended the book of the same name, by Julian Barnes, I was taken by it immediately. Tonight, when I saw the film, I found it hard to stay interested.

Tony (Broadbent) is divorced from Margaret (Walter). They remain friendly and share a grown daughter, Susie (Michelle Dockery) whom they dote upon in equal measure.

When Tony receives a random inheritance from his college girlfriend's mother, a lifetime of memories come to the surface as he seeks closure he never properly confronted.

Yep, that's it.

And it's drawn out so slowly and with such dramatic exception that the "big reveal" (which I, as a reader, had admittedly forgotten) was quite anti-climactic. In a way you feel bad for the main character, but in a way you can see why everyone in his life seems to be frustrated with him.

All of the acting is fine, the flashbacks are believable, the story at its core is tragic—it was just missing the heart and the complexity of the original story here, which was quite disappointing.


Thursday, March 09, 2017

Kong: Skull Island

Tonight I saw Kong: Skull Island, starring Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson.

Self-proclaimed "crackpot" scholars convince the U.S. military to escort them to an uninhabited island in the South Pacific. They use topography as their excuse, but really at least one of them knows what may be out there.

After a harrowing helicopter ride—which we all feel we participated in—we meet Kong. Gigantic, ferocious, angry as hell, Kong. Perhaps the best beast of all time, and he's going strong.

Of course, you never want to poke the bear, which is what this group has unintentionally done, so they're in big trouble very early on.

The British officer, played by Hiddleston, isn't just all good looks—he's the brains when the team needs to develop a plan ASAP to survive. And he soon befriends an (equally gorgeous) anti-war photographer played by Brie Larson, to back him up.

Silly as it sounds, I enjoyed the heck out of this film.

Though the basic premise is obvious (do no harm; things aren't always as they seem), there are surprises along the way, both human and otherwise, that keep the story moving at a pleasingly fast pace. And the special effects are amazing.

The romance never quite develops between the two pairs that we start to suspect will unite, but my guess is that they're saving that for the sequel(s). Though, this kind of is one?

Regardless, if you want to lose yourself in something mindful, but not dumb, go ahead and make the leap with Kong. His sheer magnificence will impress you.


Friday, March 03, 2017

Get Out

Tonight I saw Get Out, starring Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams.

Rose (Williams) is excited to take her new boyfriend Chris (Kaluuya) home to meet her parents. They live on a lake a few hours from the city. Chris is nervous for their reaction because he's black and Rose is white, but she tells him not to worry—her parents aren't racist; just annoying.

The couple hits a deer on their way to the homestead and a cop comes to their aid. He asks to see Chris's identification, though Rose was driving when the accident happened. She defends Chris and the cop sends them on their way.

When they arrive at Rose's home, her parents are warm and welcoming, if not a little awkward. Chris is trying to stop smoking, so Rose's father (Bradley Whitford) suggests that his wife Missy (Catherine Keener), hypnotize the habit out of him. She's a gifted psychiatrist and has been successful with that in the past. Chris politely declines.

The first night there, Chris has trouble sleeping so he goes outside to get some air. There he has an odd encounter with "the help" (also black) and hurries back inside. Missy invites him to share a cup of tea with her and things get weird.

That's all I can say without spoiling the many twists and turns that follow. And boy, do they follow!

You may think you have the main "gotcha" revelation figured out, but you don't. Trust me, I thought I did too.

All I can say is, I was gripping my seat, my fellow theater-goers were gasping and screaming and I can't wait to go back for a repeat viewing to catch all the clues I missed about the reveal.

A satisfying, fun ride.