Film reviews 87: “Alien: Covenant”, “Snatched”, “Sandy Wexler”, “Rules Don’t Apply”, “The Discovery”, “Mindhorn” and 13 others…

This month: “Alien: Covenant”, “Bed and Board”, “La Ciénaga”, “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid”, “The Discovery” “The Final Girls”, “Ghost”, “Good Kids”, “The Man Without a Past”, “Mindhorn”, “Rules Don’t Apply”, “Russian Dolls”, “Sandy Wexler”, “Snatched”, “Shadow Dancer”, “A Simple Plan”, “Snatched”, “Suzanne”, “Timecrimes” and “The Wrong Move” (pictured above).

I’ve written things elsewhere, but I’m going to highlight two things: my interview with Michaël Dudok de Wit for The Red Turtle and a feature I wrote on the rise of non-traditional standup specials.


Alien: Covenant
(2017) – 4/10

Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: John Logan, Dante Halper, Jack Paglen (story), Michael Green (story)
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir
“I’ve seen the devil…”

The plot of Alien: Covenant hinges upon RoboFassbender misquoting Ozymandias to unveil a mechanical error. This slavish devotion to the past is echoed throughout Scott’s deeply dull Alien prequel, which is, if anything, Prometheus 2 with a snazzier marketing campaign. Despite the promise of Waterston as another Ripley and witnessing Kenny Powers in space, the sci-fi horror mostly plays out as a dull soap opera with the occasional slasher sequence. A broken promise, a broken premise.

The only bright spot is Fassbender as David and Walter, dual androids named after Alien’s original screenwriters in a reference to happier, less stupidly scripted times. When an alien pops out from a crewmember’s back, it feels less like a twist on iconography but Scott misquoting his own film. Lo and behold, it’s an Ozymandias-sized absence of ideas.


Bed and Board
(1970) – 7.5/10

Original title: Domicile Conjugal
Director: Françoius Truffaut
Writers: François Truffaut, Claude de Givray, Bernard Revon
Starring: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claude Jade, Hiroko Berghauer

In Antoine’s odd jobs (“odd” being the key word) there lies a melancholic realisation that life is pointless – or maybe I just happened to be thinking that at the same time. Some flowers won’t change colour; some boats won’t shift by remote control; some marriages won’t work, until they’re broken – and when all defences are resting, both parties are resigned.


La Ciénaga
(2001) – 6/10

English title: The Swamp
Director/Writer: Lucrecia Martel
Starring: Graciela Borges, Mercedes Morán, Martín Adjemián, Daniel Valenzuela
“It rings and rings.”

Two families are stuck together in humid weather, and life just sort of happens. A neat touch is the tortoise which waddles in the background and becomes the most active character.


Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid
(1982) – 6.5/10

Director: Carl Reiner
Writers: George Gipe, Steve Martin, Carl Reiner
Starring: Steve Martin, Rachel Ward, Reni Santoni
“If you need me, just call. You know how to dial, don’t you? You just put your finger in the hole and make tiny circles.”

Beating Zelig to the cinemas (but not in execution), Reiner’s pastiche is a playful mash-up of noir classics and Martin’s Mr Showbiz persona. By incorporating Hitchcock and Wilder footage, Dead Man gradually hammers a semi-amusing joke into the ground; there isn’t much comedic value to dressing Martin up like the back of someone’s head in Notorious.

What does work, of course, is Martin’s surreal deadpan zaniness – a hard-boiled detective who loses his marbles at the phrase “cleaning woman” – coupled with Reiner’s enthusiasm for finding a joke at all corners. Also on hand is Ward to steal scenes with unexpected one-liners like: “Could I be your Reinemachefrau?” It’s the odd case where a film’s obstacle is an overuse of Cary Grant and Veronica Lake.


The Discovery
(2017) – 4/10

Director: Charlie McDowell
Writers: Charlie McDowell, Justin Lader
Starring: Jason Segel, Rooney Mara, Robert Redford, Jesse Plemons, Riley Keough
“I don’t feel emotional about anything.”

The afterlife, we’re told, exists, which causes suicides to skyrocket and bodies to plumb off bridges. So far, so good – a nifty premise with an extraordinary cast. Then it goes downhill. The characters are more storytelling mouthpieces than human beings, and the dreary direction exemplifies why death in this film might seem preferable. Rather than exploring any emotional (or even comic) territory a la Groundhog Day, the film zones in on its own whack science and is underscored by the lack of chemistry between its lifeless leads.


The Final Girls
(2015) – 4/10

Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Writers: M.A. Fortin, Joshua John Miller
Starring: Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman, Nina Dobrev, Adam DeVine, Alia Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch
“Stay away from Kirk, and keep your shorts on.”

Another po-mo-boo flick (a postmodern horror) in which a handful of friends enter a fictional world via the cinema screen. Instead of a Purple Rose party, it’s a clichéd slasher movie, which means lots of pointing out tropes and going along with them as part of the plot. Nothing new, nothing interesting.


Ghost
(1990) – 4/10

Director: Jerry Zucker
Writer: Bruce Joel Rubin
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldeberg
“Push a penny under the door”

Truly, madly, deeply…


Good Kids
(2016) – 4.5/10

Director/Writer: Chris McCoy
Starring: Nicholas Braun, Zoey Deutch, Israel Broussard, Mateo Arias
“Malcolm Gladwell? Outliers?”

McCoy’s coming-of-age comedy came to my attention via a news story in Variety about a lawsuit spurred by poor distribution. An investor’s lawyer: “Either [the Voltage CEO] made a terrible movie he couldn’t sell or he doesn’t want to sell it to his clients.”

So, I had to see this alleged abomination that was hidden from cinemas despite a commercial premise. Really, it’s a fairly substandard teen movie – the kind all over Netflix’s recommendations when you watch a John Hughes movie. That Zoey Deutch was also in Everybody Wants Some! truly pinpoints, in comparison, the hollowness of the Good Kids ensemble and their exploits. That’s not what I’m talking about.

Apparently McCoy did an uncredited rewrite on Guardians of the Galaxy, another summer movie about four misfits causing havoc. I can see it. Braun’s main characteristic is his height; Deutch is the token female; Broussard has an easy-go-lucky Pratt thing going on; and Arias is going to be the raccoon to fill out this tired comparison I’m making.


The Man Without a Past
(2002) – 8/10

Original title: Mies vailla menneisyyttä
Director/Writer: Aki Kaurismäki
Starring: Markku Peltola, Kati Outinen, Juhani Niemelä
“Does a bird have wings? Does a wolf cry out of loneliness?”

Sometimes I wonder if there’s anything more valuable than memory. Is there any point doing anything if you know it’s going to be forgotten tomorrow? Kaurismäki explores that phobia with his typical deadpan humour, but finds a romantic angle that offers the chance for a new life.

Peltola is a man with “tired” written all over his face. In a community of homeless strangers, he develops new friendships and finds romance with a woman who sees the humanity underneath someone whose identity is down to the barest of expressions. Also on hand is a wealth of memorable one-liners, including an electrician who foregoes payment: “If you see me lying face down in the gutter, turn me on my back.”


Mindhorn
(2017) – 7/10

Director: Sean Foley
Writers: Julian Barratt, Simon Farnaby
Starring: Julian Barratt, Andrea Riseborough, Simon Farnaby, Essie Davis, Russell Tovey
“You look like you need some help.”
“Too bad – I work alone.”

So much better than the trailer suggests.


Rules Don’t Apply
(2017) – 4/10

Director: Warren Beatty
Writers: Warren Beatty, Bo Goldman (story)
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Lily Collins, Warren Beatty, Matthew Broderick, Annette Bening
“I am NOT trying to steal somebody else’s husband.”

A truly bizarre, erratically edited vanity project that takes a classic love story (Ehrenreich is given one rule: do not get romantically involved with Collins) and morphs it into a leaden showcase for Beatty’s Howard Hughes impression. With Collins throwing herself at Beatty, it’s clear whose passion project this is, and to be fair, the few shots that last more than two seconds (they all involve corridors or a runway) are particularly memorable. So memorable, you’ll be thinking of them for the 10 minutes that follow. As potential guilty pleasures go, it’s no Me and Orson Welles


Russian Dolls
(2005) – 5/10

Original title: Les Poupées russes
Director/Writer: Cédric Klapisch
Starring: Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Cécile de France, Kelly Reilly
“How can I write a love story? I know nothing about love.”

Most of Klapisch’s two-hour sequel to L’Auberge Espagnole is spent failing to justify itself. Xavier (Duris) runs into his old pals and the occasional foe, mostly separately, while he struggles in his writing career and love life. Namely, he’s too prolific in both, never quite nailing a semblance of satisfaction with his endeavours. Neither dilemma makes for meaningful drama. Still, catching up with familiar faces has its pleasures, particularly with Reilly’s character retaining the most depth of them all.


Sandy Wexler
(2017) – 5/10

Director: Steven Brill
Writers: Dan Bulla, Paul Sado, Adam Sandler
Starring: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Hudson, Terry Crews, Colin Quinn
“And the puppets get their own dressing rooms.”

Brill’s bruising comedy (aka Broadway Danny Sandler) marks Sandler return to the subject matter of Funny People, and this too is an overlong, inside-y take on showbiz. Still, look hard enough – or stick your face to the laptop screen – to spot morsels of genuine charm when the cameos – Mike Judge, Conan O’Brien, Lorne Michaels etc – seem to have a genuine blast.


Shadow Dancer
(2012) – 6/10

Director: James Marsh
Writer: Tom Bradby
Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Clive Owen, Domhnall Gleeson, Aidan Gillen, Gillian Anderson
“Everyone’s got to fight for their guy. I don’t think mine has got long left.”

A woman on a wire. Never gets better than its opening 15 minutes, a mostly wordless introduction to Riseborough’s life as a terrorist, and never gets worse than when she and Owen inevitably kiss.


A Simple Plan
(1998) – 5/10

Director: Sam Raimi
Writer: Scott B. Smith
Starring: Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Bridget Fonda

A fairly unremarkable crime-caper that’s still remembered now because of its cast and connections to Fargo. One is cold, the other is not; follow the path to where there is no heart.


Snatched
(2017) – 3/10

Director: Jonathan Levine
Writer: Katie Dippold
Starring: Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Ike Barinholtz
“You are a very talented murderer.”

A sure-fire way to ruin Mother’s Day (not that it lit up the US box office on opening weekend), Schumer’s unpleasant comedy caper is an unfunny mess. On a purely joke-for-joke basic, only Ike delivers anything close to a mildly amusing gag, and as a thriller the tension is absent within a tossed-off plot. Though it’s advertised as a daughter/bonding exercise, it often feels like an exploitation horror movie in the vein of Saw except with added fat jokes and racist humour.

The first script was supposedly typed up by Dippold and then rewritten by Schumer and her sister. It shows: much of the dialogue feels very un-Dippold-y and more what Apatow would deem unsuitable for Trainwreck.


Suzanne
(2013) – 7/10

Director: Katell Quillévéré
Writers: Mariette Désert, Katell Quillévéré
Starring: Sara Forestier, François Damiens, Adèle Haenel, Paul Hamy

I saw it ahead of my interview with Katell Quillévéré for Heal the Living, which can be read here.


Timecrimes
(2007) – 3/10

Director/Writer: Nacho Vigalondo
Starring: Karra Elejalde, Nacho Vigalondo, Candela Fernández, Bárbara Goenaga
“I’m from the future. Your machine works.”

I’m fine with the lack of explanation for the time machine (its watery design also predates Hot Tub Time Machine) but, Nacho Vigalondo, if you’re reading this, tell me this: how did the time loop happen in the first space? While Timecrimes isn’t the kind of film you watch for the logic (I’m assuming, since there’s such a gaping plot hole), it’s maddening when the very first obstacle weighed on my mind throughout. And when there’s no thematic, philosophical or emotional payoff, it’s truly a… [says title of film, winking at camera, hoping no one realises it’s a plural].


The Wrong Move
(1975) – 7.5/10

Original title: Falsche Bewegung
Director: Wim Wenders
Writer: Peter Handke
Starring: Rüdiger Vogler, Hanna Schygulla, Marianne Hoppe, Nastassja Kinski
“I haven’t spoken in two days. Yet, I’m talking in my sleep, according to mother. I want to be a writer. Is it possible to be a writer if you don’t like people?”

One of my favourite gags of Mistress America is when Gerwig turns up at her rival’s house with a carful of teens. “We’re all coming?” she says. “OK, we’ll look crazy. Maybe that’s a good thing.” That odd combination is the driving force of Wender’s absurd road trip, a cine-poem of a frustrated writer picking up oddballs on his travels. There aren’t any real characters, per se; just a purveying mood of sadness, of regret, of a longing for a life that wasn’t lived.

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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