Film reviews 85: “20th Century Women”, “The Edge of Seventeen”, “Why Him?”, “The Lego Batman Movie”, “Jackie” and 19 others…

8-women-8-femmes-francois-ozon-2002-ludivine-sagnier-virginie-ledoyen-3

This month: “Beginners”, “The Birds”, “Céline and Julie Go Boating”, “Cold Water”, “The Edge of Seventeen”, “8 Women” (pictured above), “Fanny and Alexander”, “Home”, “Inside Man”, “Irma Vep”, “Jackie”, “The Lego Batman Movie”, “Medicine for Melancholy”, “Mo’ Better Blues”, “Night Owls”, “The Promised Land”, “The Second Mother”, “Sing Street”, “Sisters” (1973), “Sisters” (2015), “Something in the Air”, “20th Century Women”, “What Time Is It There?” and “Why Him?”.

I’ve written some other things too because life is short, the internet is vast, and time is a big, fat circle. Personal picks of my recent articles include an interview with Kenneth Lonergan, a feature on Spike Lee’s music, an interview with Maren Ade, something on Medicine for Melancholy, an interview with Barry Jenkins, an interview with Adam Driver, and something unnecessarily snide about La La Land.

Follow @halfacanyon for more of the same, but with less detail or insight.


Beginners
(2010) – 7/10

Director/Writer: Mike Mills
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent
“Why are you at a party if you’re sad?”

beginners-ewan-mcgregor-dog-mike-mills

As incidents of past and present flow into the other, a hopeful mood emerges for the future. I didn’t need a talking dog to learn that.


The Birds
(1963) – 7/10

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writers: Evan Hunter, Daphne du Maurier (novel)
Starring: Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy
“Who are you? What are you? Where did you come from? I think you’re the cause of all this.”

the-birds-hitchcock-tippi-hendren

A bit like Vertigo in how a human can put on a wig and pretend to be thousands of screeching birds, each pecking an onlooker to death, before swooping back atop a bell tower.


Céline and Julie Go Boating
(1974) – 4/10

Original title: Céline et Julie vont en bateau
Director: Jacques Rivette
Writers: Jacques Rivette, Dominique Labourier, Juliet Berto, Eduardo de Gregorio, Bulle Ogier, Marie-France Pisier
Starring: Dominique Labourier, Julier Berto, Marie-France Pisier

celine-and-julie-go-boating-jacques-rivette

In hindsight, it’s probably best I didn’t catch Out 1 at the cinema.


Cold Water
(1994) – 8/10

Original title: L’eau froide
Director/Writer: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Virginie Ledoyen, Cyprien Fouquet, Jackie Berroyer
“I’ll live the way I want. I’m a Scientologist. That’s my business.”

cold-water-1994-leau-froide-olivier-assayas

Wrote about it here.


The Edge of Seventeen
(2016) – 7.5/10

Director/Writer: Kelly Fremon Craig
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Blake Jenner, Kyra Sedgwick, Hayden Szeto
“I’m going to drown myself. Goodbye.”

the-edge-of-seventeen-woody-harrelson-hailee-stansfield-kelly-frampton-clark

Better than Post Grad. Better than actually being 17. Listening to KFC’s interview on a podcast, it’s apparent James L. Brooks, the film’s producer, allowed her to research for months on end. Which sounds unnecessary, sure, but the dialogue rattles with authenticity and sweetness. Thus, it isn’t Juno-fied or an adult imagining the witticism he/she could’ve delivered in a Big fantasy. And, as Woody’s character notes, we should all cut down on run-on sentences.


8 Women
(2002) – 7/10

Original title: 8 femmes
Director: François Ozon
Writers: François Ozon, Marina de Van, Robert Thomas
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Ludivine Sagnier, Virginie Ledoyen, Isabelle Huppert
“One piece of evidence is missing. Everybody stay here. I have to go check something outside. Give me two minutes and I’ll explain this murder.”

8-women-8-femmes-francois-ozon-2002-catherine-deneuve-ludivine-sagnier-virginie-ledoyen

Read ‘em and huit. (Wrote about it here.)


Fanny and Alexander
(1982) – 7.5/10

Director/Writer: Ingmar Bergman
Starring: Pernilla Allwin, Bertil Guve, Börje Ahlstedt, Anna Bergman, Gunn Wållgren
“I think the bishop hates Alexander.”

fanny-and-alexander-ingmar-bergman

Wrote about it here.


Home
(2008) – 8.5/10

Director: Ursula Meier
Writers: Ursula Meier, Antoine Jaccoud
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Olivier Gourmet

home-ursula-meier-isabelle-huppert-olivier-gourmet-1

A film is where the heart is, and Meier’s debut feature is a deranged beauty. Camped by a closed motorway, a family lead a somewhat odd, resilient existence, which they persevere with when the road opens up to constant traffic. What follows is a steady descent into one person’s madness, or perhaps an admirable protest against conformity. Either way, Huppert brings her A-game to a hidden gem of a movie.


Inside Man
(2006) – 7/10

Director: Spike Lee
Writer: Russell Gewirtz
Starring: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe, Chiwetel Ejiofor
“Thank you, bank robber. Thank you. I’m learning so much.”

inside-man-spike-lee-denzel-washington-chiwetel-ejiofor

Halfway through Inside Man, Denzel’s detective quips to Clive’s bank robber about Dog Day Afternoon, which in itself addresses the elephant in the barricaded room: why retread what’s already been done to near-perfection? Mostly, Lee’s film excels when the heist’s mechanics are put on hold, and rather, the intentions are placed under the microscope.

Like everything in life, it disappoints by the end, but the conversational snippets between all involved are popcorn fun and play the crime like an oboe – I’m selling one, incidentally; email me for prices.


Irma Vep
(1996) – 8.5/10

Director/Writer: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Maggie Cheung, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Nathalie Richard

irma-vep-olivier-assayas-maggie-cheung

Watched it again. Maybe everyone should do the same every few years too? Also wrote about it here.


Jackie
(2017) – 4/10

Director: Pablo Larraín
Writer: Noah Oppenheim
Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig
“Only crass, self-indulgent people kill themselves.”

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The performances, Mica Levi’s incredible score and Larraín’s visual boldness all excel in their odd ways, but none of it is cohesive – except for a terrible script with lines like: “I never wanted faith; I just became a Kennedy.”


The Lego Batman Movie
(2017) – 5/10

Director: Chris McKay
Writers: Seth Graheme-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, John Whittington
Starring: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Zach Galifianakis, Rosario Dawson
“Is everything OK? You’ve barely touched your lobster thermidor.”

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For a while (say, 15 minutes), it’s sporadically amusing, particularly with Will Arnett’s voice lending BoJack depression to the caped crusader. But, like the actual Batman films, it gets clogged up in its own tired mythology, and the stuttering, deeply ugly animation makes want to vomit.


Medicine for Melancholy
(2008) – 8/10

Director/Writer: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Wyatt Cenan, Tracey Heggins
“Everything about being indie is all tied to not being black. Friends who are indie – white. Bands who are indie – OK, you’ve got TV on the Radio, but the rest of them are white.”

medicine-for-melancholy-barry-jenkins-2008-wyatt-cenan-tracey-heggins

Hey, I wrote about it.


Mo’ Better Blues
(1990) – 7.5/10

Director/Writer: Spike Lee
Starring: Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Wesley Snipes, Giancarlo Esposito, Joie Lee, Cynda Williams

mo-better-blues-spike-lee-denzel-washington-trumpet

(Sort of) wrote about it here.


Night Owls
(2015) – 5.5/10

Director: Charles Hood
Writers: Seth Goldsmith, Charles Hood
Starring: Adam Pally, Rosa Salazar, Rob Huebel
“We have to talk about something.”

night-owls-adam-pally-rosa-salazar-charles-hood

A two-hander with more chemistry than mystery, Night Owls traps Kevin (Pally) and Madeline (Salazar) in a one-night stand that’s also a one-act play. After a night of drunken sex, Kevin discovers he was lured to the fancy house of his boss, a football coach, and she’s a mistress sleeping with a colleague for revenge. As dumb as it sounds (and it really is), the drama tunes into its two loners, both enthralled with the same off-screen jerk, for a night of conversations about L-I-F-E.

But that’s it. As warm as the chemistry may be, the actors are limited by the average material and less-than-average premise. Not that I’ve got anything better to do. Life is short and I’m wasting it.


The Promised Land
(2012) – 6/10

Director: Gus Van Sant
Writers: Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Dave Eggers (story)
Starring: Matt Damon, Frances McDormand, John Krasinski, Rosemarie DeWitt
“One of these days you’re gonna lose. I just hope I’m there to see it.”

promised-land-matt-damon-frances-mcdormand-gus-van-sant

There’s a poster that reads “HOW FRACKING CAN EFFECT YOU”. What happens when there’s no subeditor on the production team? Or an in-character typo foreshadowing a third act blunder? It works in a film that, on surface value, is flat and simple – not helped by the monotone Krasinski vs Damon faceoff – but, with the benefit of the doubt, it’s something more, possibly even relevant and topical. Or maybe not. Either way, the DeWitt stuff is fun.


The Second Mother
(2015) – 7/10

Original title: Que Horas Ela Volta?
Director/Writer: Anna Muylaert
Starring: Regina Casé, Michel Joelsas, Camila Márdila
“I’m calling from the pool.”

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This smart Sao Paolo dramedy of manners is onto a winner with its fine premise and nimble cast. A live-in maid accepts, even shows gratitude, for her role in a wealthy family’s house, in which she’s treated as a second-class citizen responsible for all the chores – including the mothering. When her daughter visits, chaos ensues in an entertaining manner, particularly with Casé’s reaction shots at the crumbling of her unwritten rules.

In fact, there’s so much to chew on, it’s uncertain why Muylaert adds distracting subplots – the WTF marriage proposal, for instance – instead of developing the more human relationships. Can’t wait to see her new one, which is out soon, I believe.


Sing Street
(2016) – 6/10

Director: John Carney
Writers: John Carney, Simon Carmody (story)
Starring: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton

sing-street

Take it from someone who hates Once and Begin Again: Sing Street is… OK.


Sisters
(2015) – 4/10

Director: Jason Moore
Writer: Paula Pell
Starring: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler
“Why do they always have to give them American names?”

sisters-amy-poehler-and-person-who-isnt-tina-fey

For the record, I’m pro-Amy and anti-Tina, which inevitable has some effect on this half-hearted comedy originally released in December as counterprogramming against Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yet Moore and Pell did concoct another film about adults reliving their childhood. Fair enough; Sisters is a feelgood romp about a homecoming (with a Facebook montage to explain how reunite with school chums and foes). But Fey and Poehler can’t save the weak material, and the obvious adlibs should have been orphaned.


Sisters
(1973) – 7/10

Director: Brian De Palma
Writers: Brian De Palma, Louisa Rose
Starring: Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, William Finley, Charles Durning
“Did you know that germs can come through the wires?”

sisters-brian-de-palma-margot-kidder-splitscreen

The split-screen brilliance, the fake-out opening, the racial satire, the “you’ve gotta be Kidder?” roles, the Hitchcockian nods; Sisters has excellence in abundance. Still, like the central conceit, it’s also an incoherent mess that’s tedious when not hitting its stride. But when it has style, it really has style.


Something in the Air
(2012) – 7/10

Original title: Après mai
Director/Writer: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Lola Créton, Clément Métayer, Felix Armand
“Special brigades against the new world!”

something-in-the-air-olivier-assayas-lola-creton

Wrote about it here.


20th Century Women
(2017) – 8/10

Director/Writer: Mike Mills
Starring: Lucas Jade Zumann, Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup
“You get to see him out in the world as a person; I never will.”

20th-century-women-annette-bening-greta-gerwig-mike-mills-elle-fanning

With more time-spanning voiceovers and Koyaanisqatsi-flavoured inserts, Mills’ third film is clearly a companion piece to Beginners. Whereas that 2012 drama is remembered for the father coming out, the feminist mother arc felt underwritten and rushed. So with 20th Century Women, Mills more than compensates: here are several rich, feminine, intertwining stories, each given the space to live and breathe, and ultimately bringing to mind 80s-era Woody Allen.

14-year-old Jamie (Zumann) is ostensibly at the centre but ends up in the background. Without a father in the house, his mother Dorothea (Bening) asks the two women in Jamie’s life, BFF Julie (Fanning) and punk-y housemate Abigail (Gerwig), to offer advice. In other words, it’s a mother recognising – and grieving – the emotional hurdle between the pair, and looking onwards with jealousy that she’ll never see him out in the world as a real person. (It’s spelled out a bit, but that’s OK – the cast are fantastic enough to pull it off.)

That world, though, is 1979 in Santa Barbara. Thus there’s Talking Heads and Black Flag aplenty, but also the irony of Dorothea growing up in the wrong era. There’s no conflict in the typical screenplay sense. Instead, it’s a film about making connections, perhaps even learning something new – whether it’s the definition an “art fag”, or the contents of a book on feminism. Each character could have a full-length feature of their own, and I’d gladly watch it. It’s clearly a personal film, rewritten over several years, with minor details that are surely snagged from childhood. No one else but Mills could have made it.


What Time Is It There?
(2001) – 7/10

Director: Tsai Ming-liang
Writer: Tsai Ming-liang, Yang Pi-ying
Starring: Lee Kang-sheng, Chen Shiang,chyi, Lu Yi-Ching

what-time-is-it-tsai-ming-ling

Wrote about it here.


Why Him?
(2016) – 5.5/10

Director: John Hamburg
Writers: John Hamburg, Ian Helfer, Jonah Hill (story, apparently)
Starring: James Franco, Zoey Deutch, Bryan Cranson, Megan Mullally

why-him-james-franco-zoey-deutch-bryan-cranston

A spot-on cast raise a questionable, outdated premise to surprisingly watchable levels, with Franco’s Silicon Valley nous allowing for absurd set-pieces. The opening skit is so poor, it (accidentally?) lowers expectations, resulting in a guilty pleasure not worth recommending to anyone.

Follow @halfacanyon for more.  Unfollow @halfacanyon for less.

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About Nick Chen

26-year-old journalist who's written for places like Total Film, Sight & Sound, Little White Lies, Complex, SFX Magazine, Dazed and Confused, Grolsch Film Works, London Calling, Vice, and a bunch of other places. Why pencils have razors. Based on a book. Screenwriter. Buzz word. London. Twitter: @halfacanyon. Feeling pullovered apart by clothes horses. Lesser known Olsen brother. Multiple instances of words misused contemporaneously.
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