Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Fifty Shades Freed / *1/2 (2018)

Perhaps the issue is the constraint of an acceptable running time, or the attitude of a conventional outlook. Some conflicts are not meant to be easily resolved in the span of a two hour film; to do so is to gloss over the intricacies of moral gray areas, even if they may run as shallow as the intentions. Some part of me holds onto this possibility when attempting to deal, in any capacity, with the “Fifty Shades” films, and now I’m confronted with a third venture, in which characters gather to experience life after the fairy tale has ended and find themselves in the embrace of deficient dramatic throes. I guess this idea could possess enough complexity to justify a trilogy of pictures, but is there not a responsibility to anyone involved to make the best use of our commitment? If what exists on screen runs parallel to the written works of E.L. James, then here is a woman who seems incapable of modulating the human rhythm on the tightrope between eroticism and danger. Imagine spending a day in the company of people who raise legitimate doubts about their situations but never come to terms with them, essentially because they have discovered an orgasm that negates their need to contemplate troubling histories.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Killing of a Sacred Deer / **** (2017)

Now comes a rare moment of creative ascension. After the ambitious tests of “Dogtooth” and “The Lobster,” young Yorgos Lanthimos has distanced himself from the mere notion of promising filmmakers and made “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” a movie so strikingly perceptive that it moves him into the company of greater, more assured voices in the medium. And that is a rare feat to reach in this time of artistic saturation, much less limited thematic accessibility. This is a man who, like P.T. Anderson and the Coens before him, hit the ground in a frenetic sprint from the first moment his hands found a movie camera, and at a mere four films has created an anxious anticipation in audiences that have come to see his stories as the groundwork for a deeply resonant critique of the human condition. Would it surprise any of his admirers, then, to discover yet another one of his pictures has used a splendid screenplay to mask a statement about the nature of our flawed operation? Or that his characters move less like human beings and more as tottering platitudes with rather mechanical perceptions? Lanthimos conducts these elements with the precision of a maddened provocateur and finds a great underlying horror, just as the opposing forces of creation and destruction seem to clash in what can be described as a moral minefield.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Predicting the Winners of the 90th Oscars

Heading fretfully into its 90th year, Oscar is set to descend on a bold and foreign new climate when the curtain rises on Hollywood this Sunday. He has never been one to scoff at the wide array of political trends that dominate his parties, to be sure, but even he must be sensing a strange air looming over the 2018 ceremony. It was, after all, the year that sexual abuse dominated the headlines and diminished the glitz of the city’s bright lights. And now in the final hour of those revelations, the notorious #MeToo movement looks poised to flip the script on the industry right down to its most treasured traditions – including the annual practice of handing out those famous gold statues everyone covets.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Post / ***1/2 (2017)

The established tradition of films about the newsroom is that each function within the same handicap: the channel involved – be it a television network or a newspaper – is in a position of professional vulnerability. Hot stories, perhaps, are given an added weight when they fall into the hands of those who may lose everything by running them. Certainly a lauded publication like the New York Times, for example, could be expected to scoop the revelations found in the notorious Pentagon Papers and survive unscathed, but would anyone have expected the same of one that existed on far more fragile ground? Or better yet, one owned by a person who rubbed elbows with sources that would raise dubious questions about their conflicts of interest? You can trace that line of influence all the way back to “Ace in the Hole” and watch as it runs through the veins of nearly every notable endeavor that has followed: “All the President’s Men,” “Network,” “Broadcast News,” “The Paper,” “The Insider,” “Shattered Glass,” “Frost/Nixon” and, more recently, “Spotlight.” Now Steven Spielberg’s newest film, “The Post,” carries that tradition forward in a more pointed way: less bothered with the historical elements, it surrounds the details with a sense of relentless dramatic tension. It is not a film about the misdeeds of a democracy, but about whether it is worth risking everything for the sake of the story.