Thursday, October 30, 2014

Citizenfour, Laggies, White Bird in a Blizzard, 1,000 Times Good Night, John Wick, Dear White People


White Bird in a Blizzard
1,000 Times Good Night

John Wick
Dear White People

Quick capsules on the week’s new films:

The raison d’être of Laura Poitras’ Edward Snowden documentary “Citizenfour” is its insider access to the man himself as he holed up in a Hong Kong hotel room with Poitras and Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald to effect the disclosure of the programs by which the NSA, CIA and shadow agencies spy on law-abiding American citizens. Its defining image is of Snowden swallowing the lump in his throat as he disclaims fear of the personal consequences he knew were sure to follow from his heroic act. … A mild recommendation for the meandering “Laggies,” which falls far below the level of director Lynn Shelton’s 2012 “Your Sister’s Sister” but well above that of her 2013 misstep “Touchy Feely.” Keira Knightley stars as Megan, a smart young woman with a MFT degree (which makes much of what happens less credible) but no ambition or direction, who finds herself twirling signs outside her father’s accounting office. When boyfriend Anthony (Mark Webber of this year’s best-so-far “Happy Christmas”) proposes, Megan hides out for a week at the home of Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz), a high school girl for whom she bought beer outside a supermarket, and conducts an all-around awkward fling with Annika’s dad Craig (Sam Rockwell). “Laggies” provides just enough laughs – many courtesy of Ellie Kemper as one of the circle of girlfriends who can’t believe and totally disapprove of Megan’s digression - to pass muster. Knightley makes a likable lead, though Moretz remains a wet blanket with no screen presence whatever. … Gregg Araki, whose 90’s-era “The Living End” was a touchstone for gay kids of my generation, again fails to deliver on his early promise with the dreadful new “White Bird in a Blizzard,” a lowlight to be surgically resected from star Shailene Woodley’s video reel. She’s Kat, a high school senior fully over the years-ago disappearance of her creepy and bitchy mom (Eva Green in an embarrassingly stilted performance) and at loggerheads with her sad-sack father (Christopher Meloni) and going-nowhere BF (Shiloh Fernandez). She meets the cop who conducted the long-dormant investigation (Thomas Jane) – at his place, for totally inappropriate sexual assignations. Meanwhile, her best friends (Gabourey Sidibe and a flaming Mark Indelicato) urge her to get all the dick she can. The movie’s a mystery with only one possible solution, dimly and depressingly lit, with an insulting “American Beauty” twist out of left field. … Some scenes in Erik Poppe’s “1,000 Times Good Night” smack of amateurism, but it ultimately won me over on the strength of yet another feeling performance by Juliette Binoche. She’s Rebecca, an ace photojournalist who, as the picture opens, shoots a young jihadi as she is fitted with a suicide bomb and driven into the center of Kabul. The movie’s about the wear and tear Rebecca’s career takes on her Irish family (hubby Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, worlds away from “The Other Woman,” and daughters Lauryn Canny and Chloë Annett), and whether she will (or can) give up the thrill and noble purpose of her work for a more stable home life. A sequence in which Rebecca and her older daughter, Steph, travel to a Kenyan refugee camp at which gunfire suddenly breaks out lacks coherence and credibility. Still, the quieter moments in Ireland make “1,000 Times Good Night” a worthy addition to the Binoche oeuvre. … At age 50, Keanu Reeves is still churning out performances wooden enough to repopulate a rainforest, the latest in the stylish but standard “John Wick,” yet another Hollywood product in which human lives are taken with the callous indifference of a video game and, at times, the glee of a psychopath. The movie’s not fifteen minutes old before director Chad Stahelski has violated my prohibition on killing dogs, in this case by having some Russian mobsters do in the pooch Wick’s wife left for him as she lay dying of cancer. Keanu goes from sad to mad – for him, a major metamorphosis – and exacts revenge corpse by anonymous corpse. I did like one scene set in, and to the pulsing trance soundtrack of, a multi-level Russian bar and club, and Stahelski has captured some luminous shots of New York City, but you walk out of “John Wick” feeling worse about your fellow man than you did coming in. … Finally, a generous 1.5 stars for the didactic, overwritten and mark-missing satire “Dear White People,” set at the “fictional Ivy” (?) Winchester University and inhabited by a collection of movie characters: an impossibly meek gay boy with a ginormous 'fro who gets bullied out of every dorm on campus (Tyler James Williams); a sassy girl looking to foment controversy to land a part on a collegiate reality TV show (Teyonah Parris); a preppy assimilationist (Brandon Bell) whose dad (Dennis Haysbert) is the school's image-conscious dean; and the strident separatist (Tessa Thompson) with a white BF (and a white father) whose radio show gives the flick its title. The script must run to a thousand pages, because nobody ever stops talking, their utterances a series of pop culture references strewn over pop psychology. They advert to concepts I examined rigorously while completing a concentration in Africana Studies at Haverford, but their analysis is strictly surface-deep. More to the point, it ain't funny. This is a movie in which "Don't worry; the negro at the door isn't here to rape you" passes for a laugh line.

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