‘The Power of the Dog’ is Not for the Dogs

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The Power of the Dog (CREDIT: Kirsty Griffin/Netflix)

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jesse Plemons, Thomasin McKenzie

Director: Jane Campion

Running Time: 126 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: November 17, 2021 (Theaters)/December 1, 2021 (Netflix)

I’m pretty sure there weren’t any dogs in The Power of the Dog. Actually, now that I think about it, there may have been a few mutts running around the ranch. But none of them had any speaking parts! (Or barking parts, for that matter.) Yes, I know the title is a metaphor from the Bible, so I wasn’t genuinely expecting any unforgettable canine thespian turns. But still! At least Kirsten Dunst is also around, though she spends most of her time drunk and in bed. What up with that?! Anyway, I didn’t think Benedict Cumberbatch’s character was too bad. Certainly not the friendliest, but I could deal with him.

Grade: I Do Not Want to Live in 1925 Montana

‘Last Night in Soho’ and ‘Antlers’ Double Review: What Tricks and Treats Await Under the Surface?

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CREDIT: Kimberley French/20th Century Studios; Parisa Taghizadeh/Focus Features

Last Night in Soho

Starring: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, Michael Ajao, Diana Rigg, Rita Tushingham, Synnøve Karlsen

Director: Edgar Wright

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Rating: R for Some Bloody Knife Violence and a Few Moments of Sex and Drugs

Release Date: October 29, 2021 (Theaters)

Antlers

Starring: Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Rory Cochrane, Amy Madigan, Sawyer Jones

Director: Scott Cooper

Running Time: 99 Minutes

Rating: R for Unflinching, Bloody Gruesomeness

Release Date: October 29, 2021 (Theaters)

Last Night in Soho and Antlers are both arriving in theaters on Halloween 2021 Weekend, and I happened to see both on the same day, so I figured I might as well go ahead and review them together. Neither one is your traditional franchise fright flick, though they do share a well-considered approach to presenting their scares, so they’re worth giving a spin at the old multiplex if you happen to be in the right mood.

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Who Better to Make Us Feel ‘Old’ Than M. Night Shyamalan?

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Old (CREDIT: Universal Pictures)

Starring: Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Thomasin McKenzie, Alex Wolff, Abbey Lee, Eliza Scanlen, Ken Leung, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Aaron Pierre, Kathleen Chalfant, Emun Elliott, Embeth Davidtz

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Intense, Strange Violence and a Bare Buttcrack Running Into the Ocean

Release Date: July 23, 2021 (Theaters)

After delivering one of the most iconic twist endings of all time in The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan became straitjacketed by his reputation for the last-second reveal. But now that he’s a little bit older (wink, wink) and wiser, he’s quietly and consistently embraced that reputation. And why not? He truly is one of the all-time masters of the technique, and Old might just be his greatest trick since The Sixth Sense. But Old doesn’t rely on the twist for the entire movie to be effective (which was also the case with his breakthrough film). If the conclusion hadn’t told us what was really happening on this beach that ages people at a rate of about 2 years per hour, I would’ve been disappointed. But I also probably would’ve quickly gotten over that by appreciating everything else there is to offer in this meditation on the passage of time.

Each of the vacationers who find themselves on Old‘s private beach are in situations that are ripe for prompting considerations of mortality. Prisca (Vicky Krieps) has a tumor in her stomach, which is contributing to the troubles with her husband Guy (Gael García Bernal). Charles (Rufus Sewell) is beset by mental illness while attempting to keep both his much younger wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee) and elderly mother Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant) happy. Jarin (Ken Leung) and Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird) are trying to enjoy themselves without worrying too much about Patricia’s frequent seizures. Big deal rapper Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre) is decompressing from the pressures of fame while also dealing with a blood clotting condition. And on top of all that, we’ve got Prisca and Guy’s two kids and Charles and Chrystal’s daughter running around, which is the perfect formula to make any parent get a little verklempt about how the days are just whizzing by.

So just how would people really react if their lifespans suddenly became overwhelmingly compressed? As Old sees it, their first instinct would be to escape, which is probably why Shyamalan decided to make it nearly impossible for them to do so. As they attempt to make peace – or not – with their doom, their reactions are filled with violence and terror. And of course that’s the case; this is a panicky and desperate crisis, a fabulous escape room of mammoth proportions. But there are also moments of  reflection and tenderness, as the families attempt to make the best of the time they have left with each other.

From the first frame to the last, Old is richly satisfying as both metaphor and thought experiment. The questions it raises are plenty of fun to puzzle out as the characters do so on screen. If our biological ages suddenly become so much older, would we become correspondingly more emotionally and mentally mature? Just what is it that makes us mature when time passes at its normal rate anyway? Life experiences, for sure. And well, there’s a lot of life experience packed into each grain of sand on this beach. And the same is also true of the richest cinema in the world. You’ll probably feel a little older after watching Old, and I bet you’ll be thankful about that.

Old is Recommended If You Like: Feeling both scared and enriched by the passage of time

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Hours

‘Jojo Rabbit’ Never Met Any Tonal Disparity It Wouldn’t Embrace

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CREDIT: Fox Searchlight

Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Archie Yates, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant

Director: Taika Waititi

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Children Getting in the Line of Fire and Witnessing Victims of Public Hanging

Release Date: October 18, 2019 (Limited)

If a ten-year-old boy declared that his best friend is Adolf Hitler, would his story be embraced by the masses? Apparently so, apparently especially if he hangs out with an imaginary version of the Fuhrer played by Taika Waititi, seeing as Jojo Rabbit won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. When I first heard the premise of Jojo, I thought, “Wow, really? Okay.” Now, that initial bit of shock is by no means a dismissal. I encourage all filmmakers (and indeed, all people in any profession) to embrace a challenge, and this is certainly A CHALLENGE. The potential pitfalls go beyond the difficulty of trying to make a mockery out of the Nazis. That really isn’t a problem, as there have been numerous memorable spoofs of Hitler over the decades, from Charlie Chaplin to Mel Brooks, and comedy can be one of our most potent weapons against hate. Ultimately, the possibility for trouble comes in the form of the whimsical tone, which does not promise to mix so easily with the deadliness of the wartime setting.

My verdict is that Jojo Rabbit does not fully overcome its inherent tonal disparity, though I appreciate its audacity. There is something to be said for the value of presenting a violent world through a child’s perspective. However, it’s a little harder to justify constantly placing preteen characters in the path of gunfire and explosions (while insisting on drawing out consistent guffaws), which Jojo Rabbit does a distressing number of times. And on top of that, the adult actors are so uniformly goofy. Their performances indicate that this is a straight-up parody, while the effects work counter that no, this is actually supposed to be harrowing and realistic.

I’m almost willing to forgive, or at least overlook, that tonal whiplash, because the inner conflicts at the heart of this film are actually rather affecting despite the tightrope they must walk. Young Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) fully embraces Nazism, though he does not really grasp what that means. He buys into the nastiest stereotypes of Jews, believing that they are horned, scaly creatures who hang upside-down like bats. But it turns out that while his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) has enthusiastically been sending him to a Hitler Youth camp, that’s all a ruse, as she’s secretly been working against the Nazis, even hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in her house. Jojo discovers her and naturally develops a crush, as he gradually realizes that his anti-Semitism is not sincere but rather based on some fanciful lies that were attractive to a kid with an active imagination. If Jojo Rabbit is trying to teach us that hate can be cured if the disease is detected early enough, and especially if the antidote is love, well, that’s true, but no great revelation. But if it’s trying to remind us that a childlike perspective of the world is chaotic, but also somehow fun, and weirdly revelatory, well, that’s a useful reminder. Although, maybe sometimes movies should be less messy than real life.

Jojo Rabbit is Recommended If You Like: Life is Beautiful, Monty Python crossed with Schindler’s List

Grade: 3 out of 5 Grenade Explosions

This Is a Movie Review: Leave No Trace

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CREDIT: Bleecker Street

I give Leave No Trace 3.5 out of 5 Trails: https://uinterview.com/reviews/movies/leave-no-trace-movie-review-director-of-winters-bone-returns-with-another-story-of-life-on-the-edge/