Thursday, May 19, 2016

Money Monster, Love & Friendship, The Lobster, High-Rise, Dheepan, How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town, Serial Killer 1 (L'Affaire SK1)

Love & Friendship

How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town

Money Monster
The Lobster

Serial Killer 1 ("L'Affaire SK1")

I have time only for the quickest of capsule reviews this week:

The clear pick – the only pick – is Whit Stillman’s Jane Austen adaptation “Love & Friendship,” in which the “Metropolitan” director rediscovers the comic form that had eluded him at least since “Barcelona.” (2012’s campus satire “Damsels in Distress” was damn near unwatchable.) As the conniving and mendacious Lady Susan, Kate Beckinsale announces she’s a real, cast-able actress, not just a pretty face. She scores most of the big laughs in the breezy 94-minute runtime, but Chloë Sevigny steals some as the wife of an American who can’t die soon enough and who threatens her with a fate worse than death: exile to Connecticut. (“You’d be scalped,” Lady Susan commiserates.) Only in the character of dimwitted Sir James Martin does Stillman regress. Tom Bennett brings an amusing physicality to the part, but a grown man who doesn’t know of peas or believes there are twelve Commandments recalls the student in “Damsels” who thought the name Xavier started with a “Z.”

Low marks for English director Ben Wheatley’s two hour torture-thon “High-Rise,” a variant on Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 “Snowpiercer.” There, your compartment on a train perpetually circumnavigating a frozen Earth denoted your economic status; here, it’s your floor in the titular condominium, designed by architect Jeremy Irons, who has the penthouse, and inhabited by his mistress (Sienna Miller), a young doctor (Tom Hiddleston), a new mother-to-be (Elizabeth Moss), and her documentarian husband (Luke Evans). This one’s a mess almost from the start, gruesomely violent and satirically tone-deaf, its incoherent social comment devoid of thrust.

An odd choice for the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year, Jacques Audiard’s “Dheepan” bears a fertile premise: an unrelated Tamil man, woman and child find each other haphazardly at a Sri Lankan refugee camp and pose as a family in order to escape to France. Upon their arrival, how long can (or should) their makeshift household stay together? Audiard has proved his brilliance with such gems as 2010’s “A Prophet” and 2012’s “Rust and Bone,” but somehow this one never zings. The possible combinations and interpersonal dynamics give way to a gang turf war and an avenging angel climax that belongs in the multiplex, not the arthouse.

One does well to eschew comedies with long, cutesy titles. Case in point: Jeremy Lalonde’s “How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town,” 100 minutes of false starts that somehow manages to be (and it’s quite the trifecta) completely unfunny, completely unbelievable, and completely unsexy.

My friend Adrienne bought me the perfect gift: Jim Colucci’s new book Golden Girls Forever, a treasure trove of inside information on one of my two favorite sitcoms. On an episode during the second season, George Clooney plays a young detective who gets shot during a sting. Director Terry Hughes: “[W]hen I’d be involved in casting a pilot, I remember people running through all the actors who were available, and then closing the door and saying, ‘Well, worse comes to worst, there is always George Clooney.’ That’s where his career was at the time.” Producer Barry Fanaro: “We got a call from his agent, who said, ‘You guys know George, right?’ At the time, he’d been kicking around sitcoms, but hadn’t worked in a while. So the agent asked us, ‘Would you guys consider putting George Clooney in an episode, so he can maintain his medical insurance?’ I’d never worked with George before, and he couldn’t have been nicer.”

You may have noticed I’m attempting to avoid the subject of “Money Monster,” with Clooney as a Jim Cramer type, Julia Roberts as his long-suffering producer (the Rosalind Russell role), and Jack O’Connell essaying a New Yawk accent as a working stiff who lost his life savings on one of Clooney’s stock tips and sneaks past studio security to take Clooney hostage in a bomb-outfitted jacket while he holds his thumb on the detonator. It’s dumb. Really dumb. Laugh out loud dumb. Keep laughing out loud dumb. Nobody behaves the way any human being would in the situation, and the anti-capitalism is so dunderheaded and pablum-puking even Pocahontas – er, Elizabeth Warren – might blanch. File this one under “L” for Likable Liberal Loonies. Jodie Foster directs, ineptly.

The trailer for Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Lobster” looked crazy – but a good crazy. The film posits a future society in which a single person – regardless of how he or she comes to be such – must repair to a country inn to find a mate within 45 days, after which time, if unsuccessful, he or she is transmogrified into the animal of his or her choice. You’ve got to give Lanthimos credit for the internal logic and formalism of his kooky conception, but, boy, does this one stop being fun quickly. The first half-hour (from which the trailer was primarily compiled) portends a witty social satire about forced intimacy, and there’s a brilliance to new arrival Colin Farrell’s eventual escape right into the hands of the Loners, underground rebels who prohibit any form of flirting or sexual contact. But the laughs back up in your throat during two hours of shots held at ponderous length and brutal, graphic violence to animals. I also frequently felt a step ahead of “The Lobster,” a bad sign for a movie much of whose impact depends on shock value.

Finally, a marginal thumbs down for France’s “Serial Killer 1” (“L’Affaire SK1”), with Raphaël Personnaz as a detective investigating a series of seemingly connected rapes and murders involving eleven victims and Nathalie Baye as the lead attorney for the man (played by soccer star Adama Niane) charged with the spree. The veteran leads do their best to elevate the standard material, but at two hours it’s just too repetitious and too blandly watchable. It plays like a double episode of “Law & Order.”

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