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IR Film Review: THE GOLDFINCH [Warner Brothers]

Making a novel into a book is about understanding who the perception of the film is based towards. “The Goldfinch” is very clear about this and the hyperfocus of a boy who goes through a tragedy. The story is told with aplomb in many ways. The movie plods along with the essence of a late 70s movie but at times seems to forget what it is serving and, at others, seems laser focused. Director John Crowley, who also directed the rich “Brooklyn” which starred Domnhall Gleeson and Soarise Ronan, does an apt job here with reservations.

“Brooklyn”, like “The Goldfinch” does no feel the need to move to satisfy people’s current tastes. The movie is not so much a thriller or a mystery which some of the trailers might claim it to be. It is a basic character story…maybe one that would have been better served by a limited television series. But movies are meant to be seen in many ways on the big screen since certain actors can shine in ways that are different in other mediums.

This film is truly that of Oakes Fegley who plays the young Theo (played by Angel Elgort in the later scenes). Fegley conveys a sense of dread and lost childhood. His possession of a certain artifact after a tragedy is what connects the movie. While the grief and emotional pull of his acting is not overwhelming, it is palpable especially when he is inside the house of Nicole Kidman or hanging out with his Russian school friend on the edge of society in Las Vegas.

Nicole Kidman takes a small role as his caregiver and surrogate mother at two points in his life. Even though her character doesn’t have a whole ton to do, Kidman is undeniably effective as the mother who is in control and yet not, compassionate and yet poised, happy and yet sad. It reminds me in certain ways of Kidman in “The Hours” or Julianne Moore in “Far From Heaven” though those are still better performances. But she is understated here.

The true waste of the film since she has a role that could been played by anyone is that of Sarah Paulson. As an audience member it is undeniable to know what she is capable of. Maybe she wanted to work with the director but her talent is just barely touched in this as the Las Vegas girlfriend of Theo’s dad (overplayed a bit by Luke Wilson).

The only one who seems to get a more fully formed structure is Geoffrey Wright as a antiques dealer who suffers a loss but also offers an unfettered kindness to the victims. Geoffrey hasn’t had a chance to play such soul in a long while. You can see the emotional hurt pouring through him.

Ansel Elgort as the older Theo takes on a quieter role than he is know for. The acting again is solid but not transcendent and while the movie undeniably has to move to its end with a certain determination, its resolution is simply satisfactory yet still fulfilling. The music adds just the right amount of melodrama without overstating and Robert Richardson’s cinematography is understated and yet luscious at the same time. John Crowley as with “Brooklyn” shows that he is an apt director but is not catering to anybody’s notion of pace. While that may make the movie slow, it does not make it any less of a well made movie. It is just not as greater as maybe it wants to be. It comes off as a effective adaptation of a book, one that is very cognizant of not losing its identity along the way.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: HUSTLERS [STX]


The vision of a movie like “Hustlers” connotates something epic, the essence of bad ass criminals making their time. But there is less glee in “Hustlers” and more pontification. Even in the superior “The Kitchen”, the girls look like they are having fun until they are not. The texture of “Hustlers” is in many ways lacks this because the film feels at times flat and the strippers in many ways are acting more like, well, actors. Jennifer Lopez sells her role as the stripper with an angle to take what she wants but one never gets past the idea that she is a music star playing a stripper. For all her ad-libbing (which is mostly random), Carli B seems much more genuine despite the fact that she doesn’t seem controlled in any way in the one scene she is in.

Constance Wu as Destiny seems to be living and acting in another movie. She is hustling to pay the bills to help support her grandmother, but there is no sense why or how she got to this point. The movie is lacking, along with more than passing degree of style, a backstory for many of the characters. Even the woman (Julia Stiles in a thankless role) who is interviewing Destiny [Lu] doesn’t speak to who she works for. The movie takes place a void in many ways. The story is set during the time of the housing crisis and the movie is based on an article about apparently how the strippers from Scores in NYC started hustling their marks by feeding them drugs and then shanghaiing their credit cards.

The movie could have had a “Boogie Nights” sensibility but didn’t quite get there or really at all. There is only one shot that truly feels cool in the whole movie which is a walking shot on a NY city street with Lopez set to Lorde’s “Royals” because it truly captures the themes and the world in a small way. STX took over releasing “Hustlers” from Annapurna who made the film. Annapurna made the exceptional movies “Booksmart” and “Where’d You Go Bernadette” this year but they must have known they had a critical stinker on their hands because they dropped this movie.

Lopez is the most edgy she has been in a while but sometimes she is acting and sometimes she is simply playing the bling of it without context. Even “Shades Of Blue” on NBC, her character had a heavy degree of context but I guess it also has to do with sparring partners. In “The Kitchen”, the girls were all different but there was a sense of belonging even in morally questionable situations. Here it seems, even though they shot the film in 29 days, that they spent too much time on some things and not on others. Also, not that it needs to be there, but the deliberate keeping of all the actress from stripping at least to a certain point gives the movie a lack of authenticity. Again Cardi B is the only one who gets close save for JLo’s opening dance number which is suitably impressive and shows her control of her presence but that is not enough to sustain the movie.

Lili Reinhart, who plays Betty on “Riverdale” on the CW, looks like a deer lost in headlights and grossly miscast. Her handlers might have told her it would be a good career move but it backfired because without a better script and a more nuanced director, the film just flails and never feels either truly cool or tragic. Her character is supposed to be a lost puppy who gets pulled in but she does not fill the role at all (despite how good she can be on “Riverdale”). The use of music overall also doesn’t stand out, except for the aforementioned Lorde song, which seemed out of place in the movie but truly belonged. Even some of the JLo’s older songs would have least added a degree of meta to it. All in, “Hustlers” is a misfire that had a great premise but not the follow through needed on the cylinders provided.

D

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: IT CHAPTER 2 [Warner Brothers]

The undeniably draw of the story of IT is the narrative of the community prevailing over the tyranny. The first chapter had a dexterous draw to the children of the 80s. The archetypal structures that had made “Stranger Things” a success were fully embodied by Stephen King many years before albeit in a different time. When the miniseries was made in the 90s, it used a different reference. But, as with this film, it used the innocence and naïveté of youth to propel the story. Now with the introduction of Chapter 2, it progresses the idea to modern times…and while it does not portray an essence of exactly today, it nonetheless feels now which sometimes can interrelate too closely for a sense of closure in a narrative. Pennywise in the first film was that aspect of the unknown, that personification of fear that cannot be contained. Bill Skarsgard’s portrayal in that film was a new way to see this permutation of fear that preys upon children’s misunderstanding of the unknown. While the adult actors reflect their characters well, it is not as key to the journey.

The first movie was a quest in a way, while the second film is more about placing the puzzle pieces together. The inherent structure of the book worked more in jumping in tandem between young psychology and mature thinking. That dynamic was not possible at first as it was not guaranteed the first film would be a hit. Its connection is what drew bigger actors like Jessica Chastain, who had worked with director Andy Muschetti on her early film “Mama” as well as her longtime friend and collaborator James McAvoy. Most of the rest of the kids save for Bill Hader as Richy are unknowns per se which allows the audience to buy into the belief of them returning more fully. The most effective element here is the transition in location between the young and old versions in key sequences. These are the segments of the film that truly work without seeming that it is rushing to tie up loose ends. Sequences like those in a funhouse which should illicit more dread don’t seem as powerful as they should be. Skarsgard as Pennywise, doesn’t have as much as a presence as in the first one, and is missed in many ways as the story, in adhering to King’s narrative, uses his continual use of Native American lore more as a central context. This idiom, which at times is overused in King’s narratives, is used perhaps to plug a narrative hole in comparison to perhaps “Pet Sematary” where it was more essential to the story. And at other times, like in “Dreamcatcher”, it can work quite well. Here however it is not explained enough to make full sense to the casual viewer, or even one familiar with the world.

The aspect of the subconscious especially involving the memory of the Losers, is adequately played but not as fulfilling as it should be. The best example of all cylinders working without the filmmakers worrying too overtly about the plot is when the gang comes back together at a Chinese restaurant in Derry (this was also the scene that was teased in the recent theater re-release of the first film). This scene paints the dread of Pennywise still apparent from the first film but also perfectly encapsulates the details of the grown characters as adults. Balancing these two worlds however is tricky while also keeping to audience expectations. “It Chapter 2” tries in many ways to live up to the original but it is a different construct. It is about how people understand aspects when they are older versus perceptions when they are young. While it does an admirable job of placing those story points in play, its delivery simply does not live up to the first film, through no fault of the actors or story but simply because of the trajectory placed against it.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

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