Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Beguiled, Moka, The House, The Little Hours, Baby Driver, My Journey Through French Cinema, Raising Bertie, Night School, Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press, The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography

The Beguiled


The House

The Little Hours

Baby Driver

My Journey Through French Cinema

Raising Bertie

Night School

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press

The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography

Films #91-100 of 2017:

A mild thumbs-up for Sofia Coppola’s steamy, pulpy Southern Gothic “The Beguiled,” with Colin Farrell as an injured Yankee soldier taken in and, ahem, administered to by the women of Miss Martha’s finishing school, where Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning give unrestrained performances that aim squarely for the campy side of the material. Film theorists may yammer about Coppola’s study of behavior within an enclosed system (she showed with “Somewhere” she’s a major directorial talent), but everyone here is playing for laughs and titters, of which there are just enough to entertain… Thumbs down for the French import “Moka,” about Diane, a Swiss mother (Emmanuelle Devos) obsessed with tracking down the hit-and-run driver who killed her son. She’s convinced she’s found her in Evian in the form of Marlène (Nathalie Baye), a cosmetician whose coffee-colored Mercedes matches the description in Diane’s PI’s dossier. The movie is 90 minutes of stalking and oblique conversations until the big reveal, which should be obvious as soon as a particular secondary character comes onscreen… The disposable, throw-it-all-against-the-wall Will Ferrell / Amy Poehler vehicle “The House” doesn’t take comedy anywhere new, and it’s probably not a good movie objectively, but I was in the mood to laugh and I did, thanks mostly to Poehler and to Jason Mantzoukas as their creepy friend Frank, who sets the silly underground-casino plot in motion… Jeff Baena follows up “Joshy” (my #1 film of 2016) with the curiosity “The Little Hours,” a profane comedy set in a European nunnery in the mid-14th century. Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza and Kate Micucci spend their days bickering until John C. Reilly, the father in charge, brings in hot-AF (and supposedly deaf-mute) runaway slave Dave Franco, at which point they turn all of their attentions to bedding him. Molly Shannon also amuses as the mother superior, who’s DTF Reilly. It’s a weird little movie but one I’ll probably end up seeing again… The pick of the litter is Edgar Wright’s kinetic “Baby Driver,” with Ansel Elgort in a star-making lead performance that calls to mind a young (and more baby-faced) Tom Cruise. Baby is the tinnitus-suffering, iPod-blasting personal getaway driver to baddie Kevin Spacey. He’s nursing a big ol’ crush on diner waitress Debora (Lily James), but has one last heist to pull off (with sadistic teammates Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm and sexy-sweet Eiza Gonzalez) before they can ride off into the sunset. The car chases are less far-flung than those in the “Fast/Furious” franchise, but equally entertaining. Add a great, almost nonstop soundtrack and some crackerjack dialogue and you have the makings of a summer hit that feels throughout like the next big thing.

The remaining five titles in this entry are documentaries, and it’s a genre that I’m enjoying less and less at the movies these days. Four of the five fall into repeating categories that help to explain why. First, there’s the everything-I-always-wanted-to-tell-you-and-you-never-wanted-to-know documentary: “My Journey Through French Cinema,” in which Bernard Tavernier leads an occasionally enlightening, frequently pompous seminar on French films, of which apparently none of any worth have been made in the last half-century, because after three-plus hours (in which he cites to his personal favorites dozens of times) the film stops abruptly at around 1965… Second, there’s the plop-you-down-with-three-poor-people documentary, which we saw in 2014’s “Rich Hill” (no relation to the Dodger pitcher) and revisit now with the North Carolina-set “Raising Bertie” and the Indianapolis-set “Night School.” I’m recommending the latter film only because its subjects pursue self-betterment through adult education and the final payoff is powerful, but all the films in this category would benefit from more information and greater context… Third, there’s the sanctimonious, preaching-to-the-choir documentary (on either side of the political spectrum), vividly exemplified this week by the Netflix POS “Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press,” which spends two-thirds of its running time on Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker, then turns to Silicon Valley entrepreneur Peter Thiel’s (perfectly legal and uncommon only in scale) bankrolling of Hogan’s legal fees (you do the same thing every time you contribute to an organization that goes to court), then tries (and totally fails) to make the case that Thiel, a Trump supporter, and Trump represent a threat to the American press or to dissent in general. The filmmakers must be living under a rock, because dissent has never been expressed more freely or less bravely than today. Americans’ contempt for the press didn’t start with Donald Trump, and by failing to call out the laziness, inaccuracy and manifest bias that gave rise to that contempt, they lose their argument before they even make it. This is the closest I’ve come to a half-star rating all year… Finally, there’s the hang-out-with-someone-remotely-famous documentary, typified by Errol Morris’ “The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography,” a sad comedown for the director of the all-time great film “The Thin Blue Line.” This movie – only an insulting 76 minutes long, yet boring as hell – never justifies its own existence.

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