Sex is Comedy (2002)
★★★ / ★★★★
Because the lead actors (Grégoire Colin, Roxane Mesquida) of the film cannot stand to be around one another for long, the director, Jeanne (Anne Parillaud), finds it a great struggle to shoot them. It does not help that the most important scene in the picture involves simulated sex; chemistry is required. The unnamed performers must be sensual, vulnerable and, most importantly, convincing. When the two share a passionate kiss, the feelings they invoke reflects that of a person practicing on a CPR dummy—detached, awkward, and cold.
I found “Sex is Comedy,” written and directed by Catherine Breillat, to be very funny even though many people, I imagine, may not necessarily find the humor in it. Although the plot is mostly about working with difficult actors, it also about Jeanne: how she is as a director when the camera is nearby, whether it is on or off, what she thinks is at stake if the project did not turn out as successfully as she had anticipated, her relationship with the cast and crew, and her passion for the job. The material gives us a chance to evaluate her as a director with her back against the wall.
In some ways, it is like hanging out on set. There is no music on the background to guide us what to feel or think. We hear footsteps and equipment being lugged around, we see people chatting on the side, and we feel the exhaustion emanating from just about everyone after a long day. Movies do not make themselves and I enjoyed that the material has enough insight to acknowledge the effort put into creating art.
The movie functions as an anatomy of a scene. The latter half mostly involves a bed, two cardboard walls, a pair of nervous actors, and the crew watching their every move. It is most entertaining when a take does not work because Jeanne is very hands-on. She is not afraid to jump on the bed, wrap her limbs around the leads, explain why certain body angles work better than others, and really push them to work. Actors get paid handsomely to bare not just their bodies when necessary but also—and more often—their souls, or at the very least their characters’ souls.
Viewers who enjoy honing in on faces and expressions, like myself, will find this picture a pleasure to sit through. For instance, a good amount of time is on the male lead’s reluctance, perhaps embarrassment as well, to wear a prosthetic penis during the all-important sex scene. It is decided without the actor’s consent that he will wear one because everybody knows he cannot stand his co-star. To the crew, it is an act of helping him out so that he has one less thing to worry about. It is not necessary that he be informed of their decision—after all, it is their job to save time and money—but it would have been nice so he feels included in the process. On the other hand, his response to the discovery is, in my eyes, unprofessional and childish. He constantly needs to be cajoled by the director to continue to do what he should be motivated to do in the first place.
This and similar scenes are worth thinking about because every character on screen acts like a real person. Sometimes people act difficult on purpose. Other times, they may not even be aware of it. A common thread is that there is always a reason. Since there is a marriage of two major elements, the stresses of the job and the clashing personalities, “Sex is Comedy” is an effective look at show business. Part of the challenge is to find the humor underneath the increasingly miserable characters.
★ / ★★★★
Women are kidnapped and forced to live in an underground prison. The only time they are ever allowed to leave their cells is when they are scheduled to fight another prisoner—to the death. The couple in charge of the tournament, Joseph (Doug Jones) and Elizabeth (Sherilyn Fenn), is armed with two threats. If a prisoner refused to participate, a loved one back home would die. The same would happen to the family of the participant if she died during a match. The winner of the tournament would be released and reintegrated into society. Most importantly, she, according to Joseph, would have been “transformed.”
Directed by Josh C. Waller, “Raze” is an exercise in pointlessness. The first question that comes to mind is: Who is this movie made for? Women fighting each other with their bare hands, getting dirty and bloody, screaming and howling in pain—it must be for men, right? Wrong. I believe this is a movie for people who crave to see extreme violence and nothing else. There is a plot but no story. There is only one fight scene after another—and they aren’t even well-choreographed.
There are a few flashbacks that last some milliseconds long. Credit goes to Robert Beaucage, Kenny Gage, and the director for such a lifeless, boring, astoundingly bad attempt in getting us to care about the characters. Their laziness should be taken as an affront because they actually expected us to buy into the schmaltz.
As expected from a movie with not much ambition, let alone imagination, the fights are edited in such a manic manner that one gets the impression the filmmakers are really showing nothing. Once the two fighters make the initial physical contact, the battle becomes a mishmash of convoluted hullabaloo. As if it weren’t headache-inducing enough, the intercutting with other fights makes the whole thing unbearable.
The battle area is too small—so small that it looks as though duels are taking place at the bottom of a well. And why are the fighters not given weapons? Clearly, it is much more interesting to see a character hold and wield a weapon—which is shown during the final fifteen minutes. It would have given the picture variation because someone who might not be good at punching or kicking might be a complete surprise when given a pernach or a glaive.
The second question that comes to mind is why the filmmakers bothered to make the movie when they neither have the ambition nor the skill to at least equal their inspirations. Kinji Fukasaku’s “Batoru rowaiaru” works not solely because of the violence. The characters’ age group in that film gives the material another layer. Francis Lawrence’s “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” works because the characters’ humanity comes first and the violence is secondary, if not tertiary.
“Raze” is a not a film for those wishing to be visually, intellectually, or emotionally stimulated. It exists solely because there is an audience out there expecting slightly more than staring at a blank screen. The other reason is because the filmmakers, for some reason, had gotten financial backing from someone, or a group, that neither knows how to nor cares about genuinely entertaining the audience. This is ninety minutes off our busy lives that we would never get back.
Cult of Chucky (2017)
★ / ★★★★
Casting Alex Vincent again as the original Andy Barclay, the first owner of a Good Guy doll that contains the soul of serial killer Charles Lee Ray, also known as Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif), is the only inspired decision in this mess of a horror film. The story begins with great promise as we learn how Andy’s life has been irrevocably changed following the grim events surrounding his sixth birthday. Although he survived the ordeal, in some ways Chucky had claimed a part of him. It is a nosedive from there, however, as writer-director Don Mancini rehashes the same tired clichés that plague pictures set in a mental institution.
The spotless psychiatric hospital never comes across as a real place, let alone a foreboding one. As expected, the patients are composed of by-the-numbers crazies, stereotypes from top to bottom, from a man with multiple personalities (Adam Hurtig) to a mother who had murdered her baby (Elisabeth Rosen). As the decibel levels increase during therapy sessions led by Dr. Foley (Michael Therriault), our patience with the material decreases at an exponential rate because we realize early on that these scenes only serve to buy time until the killer doll begins to exercise his specialty. Not one of these new characters, including our paraplegic heroine Nica (Fiona Dourif), the survivor from the preceding “Curse of Chucky,” is worthy of our time and attention.
The violence and gore are supposed to be over-the-top, but they are not at all enjoyable. The problem is, they just happen as opposed to the filmmakers actively building tension until they could no longer be contained. Without suspense, or at the very least understanding the importance of suspense in horror pictures, violent occurrences come across as shallow, busy. It is akin to opening up a book and trying to read the text, but realizing that all of the words are jumbled up thereby forming nonsense. It is supposed to be a horror film with comedic elements, but there is no well-written or fully realized content to be explored here. The jokes are recycled from previous installments.
There is one intriguing angle that is never taken beyond an elementary idea. That is, the material introduces the possibility of having more than one Chucky. It is increasingly alarming how many Good Guy dolls end up in the asylum. Yet we are never provided details as to how that might work which is most disappointing because the supernatural elements are already laid out by the 1988 original. This film is so lazy, it doesn’t even bother to expand upon how the voodoo, mumbo jumbo works. Instead, it is busy parading around familiar faces, lines of dialogue, and situations from previous films.
Having seen the genuinely creepy “Child’s Play” when I was about five or six years old, Chucky gave me nightmares. I loved the character, but I feared him. That film became such a part of me that once a year, to this day, I expect and eventually have a dream about the murderous doll stalking me. And so it goes without saying that I want this series to be reinvigorated—the quality being at least on the level of the first two pictures. It is so disappointing that sequel after sequel is one wasted potential after another. Ade due damballa—give us a great modern Chucky movie, we beg of you. The crushing dissatisfaction is getting old.
Atomic Blonde (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★
Some movies exist as an exercise of style over substance and David Leitch’s “Atomic Blonde,” based on the graphic novel “The Coldest City” by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, is clearly an example of such an approach. One way to enjoy this surprisingly visually impressive film is this: tune out during the would-be mysterious verbal exchanges since it is clearly not the material’s forté (which can be concluded about thirty minutes in) and pay close attention during the flinch-inducing action sequences—not just on the violence but how they are executed. They must have taken weeks to plan out, choreograph, and execute. In the middle of all the wonderful chaos, I could not help but wonder how many perfectly good pieces of furniture they destroyed just for the sake of our entertainment.
The familiar plot, inessential if one so chooses, involves an MI6 agent named Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) being assigned to Berlin to acquire a watch that contains invaluable information regarding the identities of secret agents working from both sides of the wall. Before her departure, her superiors warn that she trusts no one during this most sensitive assignment. From the moment she steps outside the airport, KGB agents ambush her. Viewers experienced with the genre will smell a mole hunt from a mile away, but the visual style of the film keeps it fresh.
There is a look of detachment to the picture which is interesting because it wishes to pique our interest in its world of spies and secrecy. Scenes shot outdoors almost always look cold and gray. Bluish shades dominate, pale skins nondescript, emotionless. Appropriately, East Berlin looks depressing, a hole of misery and corruption. It is only slightly better indoors, whether it be inside a hotel room, a club, or a warehouse, there is an aura of impersonality. Even the living space of Lorraine’s contact, David Percival (James McAvoy), despite being filled with books, magazines, and other collectibles, many of them considered illegal in East Berlin, these items do not look to have been touched or read. Except for the alcohol bottles. Percival’s relationship with spirits likens that of fish in water.
But the centerpiece is clearly the well-executed action sequences. Most impressive is perhaps the drawn-out scene involving Lorraine and a bleeding man being stuck in an apartment complex as protests for freedom rage on outside. The seemingly interminable line of thugs entering the facility, the lack of score or soundtrack, the shattering of glass and numerous appliances, crushing of bones, bullets to the face, chokeholds… all build up to an intense and exhausting visual splendor of violence. I enjoyed that it is strives to deliver Class A entertainment but does not sugarcoat the fact that violence is extremely ugly, gory, and painful. Characters simply do not walk away unharmed. I admired that the film is willing to show Lorraine bruised and battered when it would have been far easier to keep Theron physically beautiful and alluring all the time.
“Atomic Blonde” is a kinetic, hyper-physical, muscular action-thriller. It might have been a stronger work overall had screenwriter Kurt Johnstad taken more of a risk either by minimizing or removing altogether the official meeting between agents and superiors and focused on the protagonist navigating her way through her increasingly complex assignment. It is particularly challenging to establish a suffocating air of paranoia when the picture is divided into two timelines: before and after the mission. During these meetings, on occasion, they tell more than show and this is toxic to aspiring adrenaline-fueled action pictures. But because nearly everything else about the film is strong, it manages to rise above such shortcomings.
For Colored Girls (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
Based on “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf,” a play by Ntozake Shange, the film attempts to balance seven interconnecting stories of African-American women, from a talented sixteen-year-old dancer with a good chance of going to college (Tessa Thompson) to a very successful but emotionally cold editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine (Janet Jackson). Despite a wealth of dramatic elements in the script, Tyler Perry, the director and the screenwriter, fails to minimize certain aspects in order for the work to exude a cinematic texture rather than that of of a stage play.
The seven actresses in focus are divine. Kimberly Elise stands out as Crystal, a woman with two young children who chooses to endure physical abuse from her husband. It is a smart decision to give Crystal the most screen time because out of all the subjects, her struggle, in my opinion, is most common. Loretta Devine as Juanita, leading a non-profit organization who educates women about healthy choices when it comes to sex, and Thandie Newton as Tangie, obsessed with bringing home a different man each night, are not far behind in capturing our attention.
Although the performers do what they can and are able to shine at times, the script seems at a loss on how to deal with characters representing extremes. Most painful to watch is Alice (Whoopi Goldberg), an extremely devout woman who is angry and worried that her children fail to match her level of faith. The character is written as if she were a crazy person, always going on about everybody going to hell. Everyone else is so human except for her. On the other side of the spectrum, Gilda (Phylicia Rashad) is written too much like a saint. Everything she does is so tender, her personality is too sweet, and her decisions are always perfect. Whenever Alice and Gilda are in front of the camera, we do not connect with them fully because they do not act or feel like actual people.
There is a lack of steady rhythm as the film jumps from one strand to another. For example, just as a grim scene is about to reach its climax, it cuts to another story that is sweet, and then onto another that is somewhat amusing. Finally, when it returns to one that feels most urgent, it is no longer as exciting or as interesting. It feels like a chore when we are forced to orient ourselves in a zone of gloom.
The picture is sabotaged by long, poetic speeches. While it might have worked in the play because the experience is first-hand, they do not translate well on screen. The poetic words strung together offer a wealth of wisdom but I was not convinced that the realizations, when expressed through speeches, ring true. It comes off trying too hard. It falls completely flat when an actress tries to push the words to create a semblance of strength when laying back or speaking softly might have been a better choice to match the message being delivered.
“For Colored Girls” might have been a stronger work if it were helmed by someone who has a more focused vision when it comes to which elements from a play should make it on screen as they are and which should be modified in order to preserve the essence of the material’s integrity. I am sure that the intention is not to make certain characters appear cartoonish or ridiculous, but that is exactly what happens when someone does not stop and ask whether something would work through a specific medium.
Z for Zachariah (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★
After a nuclear war, the majority of the planet became uninhabitable. One of the exceptions is the valley that Ann (Margot Robbie) resides in which was somehow protected by the nuclear fallout and quite possibly has its own weather system. Although Ann has lived with family, it has been a year since the rest of them attempted to find survivors outside of the valley. To her surprise, while doing her usual chores and rounds, Ann crosses paths with a man named John (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a research engineer wearing a suit designed to protect from radioactivity. Soon enough, despite their initial but important differences, they decide to live together.
“Z for Zachariah,” directed by Craig Zobel, is a contemplative piece that works as a chamber drama and barebones science fiction. Credit to the casting directors for choosing actors that are comfortable portraying many different emotions very often in one scene. This is because, aside from the main plot involving faith and science, the film is also about the images the characters paint in the viewer’s mind as they recollect traumatic memories.
Scenes that stand out involve characters simply sharing a meal or standing in a room and talking to one another. Particularly moving is when Ann opens up about her extremely isolated existence in the farm, what she had to go through before meeting John. We get a taste of her lifestyle during the first ten minutes as she trudges forward during her usual routine, a dog being her sole companion. Although the word “suicide” is never uttered, the subject is brought up with an elegance and a sadness. One cannot blame her for considering such an action and yet one ought to commend her strength for ultimately continuing to live, to keep fighting.
The pacing is slow and deliberate which is most appropriate in a story like this. Thus, the material is successful is building a lot of sexual tension between John and Ann. It is critical that we believe they are eventually drawn to each other, despite their differences especially when it comes to believing in God, because their feelings for one another—whatever it is exactly—is challenged later, upon the arrival of Caleb (Chris Pine), who claims that he is on his way south due to news that there is a colony of survivors there.
On some level, the picture works as a thriller in the final third as we begin to question how far a character, or characters, is willing to go in order to defend or upend the status quo. The ambiguous ending is wonderfully executed because clues are laid out for further dissection. It is up to us to decide which avenue to believe. In the wrong hands, it could have been simplistic, too fixed, altogether too clear, offering no sense of mystery or questioning. More importantly, the ending shoves us into the mindset of its characters.
Loosely based on the novel by Robert C. O’Brien, “Z for Zachariah” is a piece of work that is polished, certainly shot beautifully, but has enough roughness around the edges—its ability to take risks to be exact—to keep it fascinating. It is made for a more contemplative, empathetic audience.
Every Day (2018)
★ / ★★★★
I am all for movies that aim to deliver messages of love and being open to it regardless of its source, but “Every Day,” based on the novel by David Levithan and adapted to the screen by Jesse Andrews, is repetitive, boring, and tonally flat. For a plot involving a consciousness waking up in a different person’s body each morning and eventually coming across a romantic interest who is a seemingly perfect fit, there is a lack of magic and urgency in the material. I felt so tormented by the ordinariness of it all that at some point I wondered what would happen if the body of the person that houses the consciousness of interest got into a terrible accident and died. Would the movie have been over then?
Angourie Rice plays Rhiannon, the high school student that the consciousness, called A, falls for—and she with him or her. She is perhaps the only saving grace in the film because her face is expressive yet look closely and realize there is almost always something going on underneath the more obvious emotions being played in a scene. This is particularly noticeable when Rhiannon must engage in challenging conversations with her parents (Maria Bello, Michael Cram) due to the increasing tension in the household. She must be respectful while imploring them that they need to get it together for the sake of their family. The subplot of the parents not seeing eye-to-eye is more interesting than the fantasy, or gimmick, on the forefront. Perhaps it is because the conflict is more rooted in something real. The father is prone to manic episodes.
The presentation involving the different bodies and faces of A (Jacob Batalon, Nicole Law, Colin Ford, Lucas Jade Zumann, Owen Teague are five standouts) feels like a silly parade. It rests on the question of how A might look like the next day rather than being involved in the emotional journey of its main players. Obviously, due to the nature of the story, one of the challenges of the screenplay is to find a way so that the viewers are able to connect with A despite the fact that he or she does not own one appearance. It is clear that the writer fails to overcome or circumvent this hurdle when every other scene is an exposition rather than a progression of a high-concept plot. Close your eyes and listen to the dialogue. It sounds like a watered down made-for-TV movie.
And for a movie about teenagers with specific sexual needs, the material is afraid to go down this route and explore. It is not courageous enough to risk offense or generate intense conversations. How can we treat the subject with interest and sincerity when the screenplay is afraid to tackle subjects that are relevant or important to the lives of its subjects? As a result, a veil of charade and a whiff of dishonesty linger—deadly to romantic dramas. High-concept pictures do not thrive in safe play.
Directed by Michael Sucsy, “Every Day” offers an experience to be endured. The premise promises imagination, but I hope that teenagers who decide to watch the picture would be brave enough to leave in middle of it and continue to live their lives. Because real life is certain to offer more insight than this painfully generic, shallow waste of opportunity.
★★★ / ★★★★
Alex Garland’s “Annihilation,” based upon the novel by Jeff VanderMeer, offers a handful of images so bizarre, so intriguing, so horrifying that they stun the viewers into silence with mouth agape. This is the picture at its most powerful because it dares the viewer to look at the images closely; to examine their layers, colors, and textures; to imagine how they work on cellular and molecular levels; and to be terrorized by them. It is rare when sci-fi and horror collide to form a near-perfect fit. However, it falls just short of its maximum potential.
Debris from outer space hits a lighthouse. A strange translucent veil forms around the beacon and proceeds to expand its borders. There is fear that soon it will envelop nearby towns and cities. Scientists refer to this phenomenon as The Shimmer and it is their goal to understand its cause and nature. Military personnel sent inside its growing borders to gather information have never returned… with the exception of Kane (Oscar Isaac), the partner of Johns Hopkins cellular biologist Lena (Natalie Portman). Hoping to find answers regarding her partner’s disappearance for over a year, Lena, a former soldier, volunteers to go inside The Shimmer with a psychologist (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a paramedic (Gina Rodriguez), an anthropologist (Tuva Novotny), and a physicist (Tessa Thompson). They are not prepared for what they are about to discover.
Garland has a way of commanding the story in such a way that we are immediately placed in the middle of it. It is admirable how he is confident enough as writer-director to allow the audience to orient themselves and ask many questions. For some reason, many filmmakers within as well as outside the sci-fi genre are afraid to make the viewers feel uncomfortable or frustrated early on and so exposition—a whole lot of it to the point where at times the story never gets a chance to take off—is often utilized as bridge between introduction and action. Here, however, it is assumed that the people watching are intelligent, patient, and curious. The film is efficient with its time.
I admired the material most when the journey through The Shimmer screeches to a halt in order for us to have a chance to take a closer look at an organism. An alligator is not just an alligator, nor a bear just a bear. We note of the plants and flowers, where they are growing, and how, what is strange about them. We even get to appreciate molds growing on surfaces nearby carcasses. Human body parts are also fair game. And abandoned cameras almost always contain a horrifying recording. You learn to prepare yourself eventually. You take a deep breath and look. But then just as quickly you realize one cannot be prepared for these kind of nightmarish images. I was tickled by how disturbed I felt.
Although the film is not about characters but about generating visceral reactions, I felt as though a camaraderie amongst the explorers is nearly nonexistent. The characters do not need to be friends, but the performers do need to share strong chemistry. Note how the actors come across somewhat detached from one another and so the dialogue shared among them, especially when they are supposed to be connecting when personal histories are broached, lack a special punch. However, an argument can be made that the volunteers are so terrified that perhaps the sense of detachment is purposeful, that it is required they focus on their own selves and their own survival.
But without excuse is a weak final five minutes. Especially problematic for me is the would-be daring final shot that is supposed to incite questions. I could not and did not buy into it because such an approach is generic, so common in pedestrian sci-fi films. While it is not required that we get precise answers, and I prefer that we don’t, it is essential that we walk out of the story not feeling cheated. I felt cheated because the final image, despite the wealth of images the material has presented up to this point, is entirely unoriginal.
Game Night (2018)
★★ / ★★★★
As the superficially amusing pseudo dark comedy “Game Night” unfolds, one learns quickly of its tricks and wacky rhythms. Soon enough the material begins to suffer from a case of diminishing returns. A cheeky line here and a cameo there simply aren’t enough to keep the plot consistently interesting which becomes rather convoluted especially for a mainstream comedy. Particularly disappointing is its handful of detours toward the action-comedy route. And, indeed, as expected from generic comedies that run out of ideas toward the end, the final act involves hero and villain scrambling for the gun. Actual game nights with friends prove to be more fun (and more unpredictable).
It is most unfortunate that the picture does not live up to its full potential because the cast share solid chemistry. Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman play a convincing married couple, Annie and Max, whose lives revolve around competition and, more importantly, winning. But the game of life tends to throw curveballs and we learn that they are having trouble conceiving a child. While this is a good template from which to take off from, I grew annoyed by the screenplay’s lack of intelligence, grace, and imagination whenever real emotions inch toward the forefront. Having trouble getting pregnant is utilized as the one and only tool to procure pity from the audience and we see right through it. Despite Adams’ and Bateman’s comic chops, their talent fails to elevate thin dramatic material.
The supporting cast are strong, from Kyle Chandler as the successful elder brother whom Max envies to Jesse Plemons as the incredibly creepy, single expression neighbor who no longer gets invited to game night—even though he makes it clear that he is desperate to become a part of the group again. But it is Billy Magnussen who steals the show as the dumb blonde. It is so difficult to make play an imbecile in a smart way. As Magnussen shows here, it can be done via excellent comic timing with precise facial expressions coupled with manic energy. To top it off, the performer has found a way for us to like him, kind of like a pet, even though the character does not get a glimmer of a backstory.
But the overarching game itself is not intriguing, specifically the kidnapping/“kidnapping” plot point. We are pushed through the familiar offering of supposedly being unable to tell between reality and role play, but those who have seen more than several handfuls of the most generic suspense-thrillers are likely capable of seeing through the charade. Considering that this device is utilized as the picture’s main weapon to entertain, I found large portions of the film to be a drag, uninspired, at times all over the place tonally. The very best dark comedies do not take prisoners. In this film, we get an impression that not one character is in any real danger.
At its best, however, the film evinces joyous creativity. For example, it is able to take a retro game like Pac-Man and somehow make it relevant as a chase scene that is key to the main story. Notice how this sequence is shot in a claustrophobic way—exactly like the game it is inspired by. Had screenwriter Mark Perez been able to tap into more video games, board games, and tabletop games and then written them into the plot in such a manner that makes perfect sense, “Game Night,” directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, could have been a different beast entirely.
Jalousie, La (2013)
★ / ★★★★
Louis (Louis Garrel) tells Clothilde (Rebecca Convenant) that he will be leaving her for Claudia (Anna Mouglalis), a stage actress with a lot of talent. Clothilde is devastated by the announcement especially since the two of them have a little girl. Meanwhile, Claudia becomes increasingly unhappy because she cannot seem to snag a role despite her best efforts. This puts a strain on her relationship with Louis, the man who used to give her so much joy and excitement.
Directed by Philippe Garrel, “La jalousie” is tonally flat, shot in black-and-white, and has an unconventional, at times inaccessible, story arc. What results is a boring, soporific movie that feels more than two hours long despite the fact that it is barely an hour and fifteen minutes. For the most part, the picture comes across unripe and underwritten, its dramatic occurrences more histrionic and vapid than genuine or truly worthy of our time to try and understand what makes each person tick.
The screenplay by Marc Cholodenko and Caroline Deruas-Garrel fails to discern between the two women in Louis’ life. Since we do not completely understand why Louis decided to leave Clothilde or why Claudia is special to Louis outside of her talent as a performer, the women function more like coat hangers rather than real people with real thoughts and feelings, to be displayed only whenever the camera needs to fill up space. I guess credit should be given for not taking the most obvious route: making one highly detestable and the other completely lovable.
The adult characters are moody, hollow shells. The material only truly comes alive whenever Louis and Clotilde’s daughter is on screen. She is lively, the tone of her voice changes, there is a certain presence in her eyes. Claudia, Clothilde, and Louis come across whiny, privileged people with no big problem that is worthy of their feelings of depression. I was amused when, at one point, Claudia considers taking on a job outside of theater. She and Louis act as though this decision is tantamount to facing the end of the world. A side job? How gauche!
“Jealousy” lacks soul which is problematic because we are supposed to empathize with its characters even though we may not necessarily agree with their actions. The malaise is laid pretty thick and it is most disappointing that the writing fails to mold such emotion into something that is complex and constantly evolving. Drama is rooted in highs and lows. This picture offers only lows and so we wonder why we should care what is eventually going to happen.
Cloverfield Paradox, The (2018)
★★ / ★★★★
Although entertaining on the surface, one realizes that halfway through “The Cloverfield Paradox,” based on the screenplay by Oren Uziel, the picture is merely composed of pieces from great sci-fi horror projects that came before, from its look to major plot points. This is an issue because without an identity of its own, the problems of the messy latter half are all the more amplified. It is easier to overlook shortcomings of an ambitious work with some original elements because at least we are given something new to digest, to think about. As a result, the project is a mild disappointment despite early high points.
With several nations being on the edge of worldwide war due to a severe energy crisis, pressure is on seven researchers, each from a different country, aboard a space station to modify the settings of a particle accelerator and create a source for an infinite amount of energy for everyone on the planet to use. After two years of crushing failure, their most triumphant day also turns out to be their worst: the correct setting has been achieved but it comes with the cost of unleashing unimaginable horrors on the planet as well as within the space station.
The cast is composed of solid actors not strangers to character-driven work. Because the likes of Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, and Daniel Brühl are capable of delivering subtleties behind every emotion and course of action, individually and as a unit, they have a way of grounding increasingly impossible situations into something digestible, relatable. For instance, Mbatha-Raw provides dramatic gravity to a grieving mother whose children perished in a fire. During her character’s more intimate moments, particularly when she is by herself in a room wrestling with regret and painful memories, she is careful not to rely on melodramatic techniques in order to establish a connection with the audience. Couple these performers’ strengths with an intriguing, mystery-filled first half, the picture promises an experience that will continue to fascinate and surprise.
A barrage of space station problems is one of writers’ techniques to increase tension. This approach works for a while since these scenes are propelled with high energy and urgency. However, when the film reaches quiet moments between action, it is significantly less involving. Tension flatlines rather than maintaining small peak-to-peak amplitudes that can soar at a drop of a hat. There are ways to maintain tension divorced from action, high decibels, and visual effects. This is where the screenplay comes in.
Attempts are made by introducing suspicions and strange characters with questionable motivations, but the third act is so poorly executed, so filled with clichés, that there is ultimately a lack of payoff. Yes, the final act involves scrambling for a gun. And, yes, there is a last-second would-be twist that relies on the bellowing of the score rather than thought-provoking silence. The last fifteen to twenty minutes, I think, personifies what is wrong with numerous sci-fi action pictures of today: they are strangers to elegant and subtle denouement. Must everything be so grandiose, ostentatious?
Directed by Julius Onah, “The Cloverfield Paradox” might have benefited greatly from an audience test screening or two because the bits of poor writing can be recognized easily and therefore fixed in some way, perhaps by providing twists within or from certain clichés. While the work does not aspire to become a new classic, it must be modern, relevant, and clever for its time throughout its entire duration.