Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Quiet Place / ***1/2 (2018)

In many respects “A Quiet Place” is pitched as a silent film, without verbal cues or explanations underscoring the plot’s core function. Immediately that prospect will conjure up a befuddling uncertainty in the audience: how are they to establish a setting, who the players may be and what’s occurring to them? What is the context? Are mere physical observations enough? Any number of sensationalist outings would freely risk continuity without a well-modulated visual device, but to see it done here is to discover a filmmaker who has studied, mastered and executed the great doctrines of Hitchcock and Kubrick, whose own stories were usually incidental to the orchestration of a mood. What he accomplishes here, in a horror film set somewhere in the modern world, is astounding: a survival study that says little but observes, impeccably, as a family braves the unknown in a place that has been (apparently) wiped out by bloodthirsty monsters. And when two verbal exchanges do occur on screen, the words have no importance; they are gestures to supply the characters with a reminder of their hard push for endurance, and why they refuse to surrender to a fate that has isolated them in the cold clutch of despair.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Witches of Eastwick / *** (1987)

The solution to enduring the absurdity that is “The Witches of Eastwick” involves distancing yourself from any measure of logic. Here is a movie that invites an explosion of disbelief, assembled from pieces of a reality that looks as if it might have been plausible in the early stages. But to gaze at the screen any longer than a moment’s notice is to find the New England locales, the happy faces and the passive daily routines to be the cloak surrounding a supernatural fantasy – and a ludicrous one at that. In a way, George Miller depends on our trust in his ability to shed a light of purpose; after “Mad Max” made him a cool commodity in the eyes of nerd culture, it became obvious that he could make a long and successful career out of playing against convention. And somehow he manages to sustain that prospect even here, in a film that audaciously asks us to believe characters played by Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer can not only dream up the same ideal love interest, but that each of them would be ok sharing him at a mansion just outside of town with little sense of jealousy or insecurity.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

My Friend Dahmer / ***1/2 (2017)

I was a prepubescent teenage boy when the media first sounded the alarm against Jeffrey Dahmer, the mysterious serial killer from Milwaukee that stalked his community with almost silent precision. Ingrained by news headlines and evening bulletins as the Midwest cannibal, here was a shy, young and handsome man keeping horrendous secrets: over the course of his life he had murdered 17 young men – most of them gay – and then decimated their remains like an overzealous butcher. Many of those victims were never found, while others were discovered in mere pieces: a carved-out torso, several skulls and various other parts decorated the interiors of his apartment, where they served the purpose of feeding or arousing him. The concept of mass murder had hardly been a new commodity to contemplate in the public eye, but rarely had one’s methods so deeply penetrated the membrane of the mainstream, or done so with such austere consequences. Just as local towns in the Midwest heralded the aftermath with newfound caution, so was the gay community confronted by the great demon of negative stereotypes; it was as if Dahmer risked becoming a symbol against the lifestyle, a microcosm for disparaging perceptions running deeply through the moral majority.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Geostorm / 1/2* (2017)

An imaginary yarn about an angry mother nature seeking vengeance against filmmakers who exploit her dangers frequently enters my head. The story would center on the likes of Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich, two of the most consistent offenders, who see the big budgets of the Hollywood machine as the means to destroy Earth in increasingly violent ways. The elements, sensing this viscous cycle of the blockbuster scene, would take revenge against the industry by unleashing a plethora of deadly disasters on their hills – tidal waves, tornados, flash floods, perhaps even earthquakes. The possibility of irony would be lost on them, no doubt, because directors of these pictures are rarely self-aware. But oh what a pointed irony it would inspire, to see audiences rally against this boring formula and find, underneath the muck and wreckage of an elaborately demolished landscape, a mirror to be held up to their dimwitted deeds. Added relevance would come because of a narrowing capacity of brain cells needed to get through each new venture. At one time it was possible to be amused – however superficially – by a “Dante’s Peak” or “Deep Impact”; now, thanks to the avid energies of visual effects artists paired with the comatose intentions of newer filmmakers, it’s ok to simply show up half-conscious.