Movie Review: ‘Her Smell’ Puts Elisabeth Moss Through Hell as She Fights Her Way Back to Punk Rock Redemption

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CREDIT: Gunpowder & Sky

Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Agyness Deyn, Gayle Rankin, Dan Stevens, Eric Stoltz, Cara Delevingne, Ashley Benson, Dylan Gelula, Amber Heard, Virginia Madsen, Eka Darville, Lindsay Burdge, Keith Poulson, Alexis Krauss, Craig Butta, Hannah Gross, Daisy Pugh-Weiss

Director: Alex Ross Perry

Running Time: 135 Minutes

Rating: R for The Rock ‘n’ Roll Lifestyle at Its Most Rock-Bottom

Release Date: April 12, 2019 (New York)/April 19, 2019 (Los Angeles)

Her Smell is not about riot grrrl punk rock so much as it just takes place in the riot grrrl milieu. Although I suppose it would be fair to say that a person like Becky Something, lead singer of Something She, would be most likely to have the breakdown that she has in this particular setting. Hers is a story as old as show business: she grew up with a profound inner sense of emptiness and sought to fill it with the stage, but she also turned to drinking, drugs, and suspect shamanism. Elisabeth Moss is fully, almost painfully committed to a performance of Becky as a shell of a person who cannot cover up the destructive whirlwind she has become. This is The Elisabeth Moss Show, with Becky’s bandmates, ex, daughter, manager, and mom left to simply react in horror.

Writer/director Alex Ross Perry conveys Becky’s unraveling and possible redemption over the course of a couple of long nights and one afternoon, favoring long takes that will not allow us to escape the bowels of hell. The camera tracks around backstage hallways without ever finding the exits, keeping us stuck in a claustrophobic nightmare. The music is surprising, but effective. While Something She plays the expected Sleater-Kinney-style bangers, the score resembles that of a mystical sci-fi flick set in rural England. It contributes to the sense of how otherworldly this whole situation feels. Punk rock, and indeed all rock music, has long had a reputation of being the devil’s music. Her Smell does not believe that at all, and in fact all of Becky’s loved ones are fully supportive of her rocking endeavors. But if demonic possession is something that exists, she appears to be suffering from it, and this film makes absolutely clear which vices are  really the ones causing that destruction.

Her Smell is Recommended If You Like: A rock star biopic infused with a horror vibe

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Spin Magazine Covers

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Nostalgia’ Makes Some Obvious, Occasionally Affecting Points About Nostalgia

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CREDIT: Bleecker Street

This review was originally posted on News Cult in February 2018.

Starring: Jon Hamm, Catherine Keener, John Ortiz, Ellen Burstyn, Bruce Dern, James LeGros, Nick Offerman, Amber Tamblyn, Patton Oswalt, Annalise Basso, Mikey Madison

Director: Mark Pellington

Running Time: 114 Minutes

Rating: R for Language Apparently, But It Should Otherwise Be Rated PG

Release Date: February 16, 2018 (Limited)

Nostalgia, the 2018 film directed by Mark Pellington, would like you to know that nostalgia, the sentimality for the past, is a feeling that exists and that people experience. It does not treat this as some big revelation, as this is a common human emotion and the film does not pretend otherwise. But it is so simplistic and obvious, but also matter-of-factly profound, in its explication of the definition that there is this weird mix of pretension and lack of ambition. Mostly, Nostalgia glides along in a quiet, unfussy groove that is occasionally enlivened by tragedy and committed performances.

This is one of those anthology-style, “we’re all connected” movies with multiple discrete-but-actually-closely-connected(-at-least-thematically) storylines. Instead of cross-cutting between each vignette and having them dance around each other, they take their turns and then hand the ball (one time quite literally) off to the next one, with at least one shared character per section. At first it looks like Nostalgia will follow the travails of an insurance agent (John Ortiz) and the people he encounters. That’s a justifiable enough premise, but the execution is strikingly mundane.

The film eventually shakes out instead to more broadly be a series of sketches of people dealing with loss and holding on to and/or letting go of sentimental objects, which is even more nondescript than the insurance agent setup, but there are some dynamic moments. In particular, there is the scene with Ellen Burstyn as a widow selling her late husband’s autographed baseball to a professional collector (Jon Hamm). His appraisal delivers exactly the sort of human touch you want when parting with an item with such high monetary and emotional value. Hamm’s entire section, in which he and his sister (Catherine Keener) are hit with a great loss in the midst of cleaning out their father’s old stuff, is filled with understated power. Its setup is just as lightweight as the other storylines, but it delivers enough poignancy to make Nostalgia just worthwhile enough.

Nostalgia is Recommended If You Like: Jon Hamm swooping in to save the day, Emotional gut punches

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Verified Ted Williams Signatures