Film Journal: August 2018

Movies seen in August: a few less than in past months, but still a mostly solid ten. As always, re-watched titles are starred.

Con Air
Graded generously for Nic Cage at his Genius Dumb best, even if it’s Jerry Bruckheimer at his over-the-top worst (best?).

“I’m going to show you God does exist.” B

Nice to know Spike Lee can pull it together to make a great movie again after years of ehh. Almost deserves to be 2018’s GET OUT, and not only because Peele is a co-producer. Consistently entertaining and focused, with excellent period production design. As noted in my recent review of DO THE RIGHT THING, when Lee’s good he can be tremendous, and the Charlottesville footage at the end is brutally effective but essential. A-

The Godfather*
Better than I remembered (and I had forgotten a lot in the eight years since my last viewing.) I guess you could call it critic-proof at this point, but that shouldn’t detract from its many attributes (Pacino showing restraint! Gordon Willis’ lithe but unshowy camerawork!) or its compulsive watchability. A

The Miseducation of Cameron Post
APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR is one of the better directorial feature debuts of this decade; for her follow-up, Desiree Akhavan eschews the earlier film’s explicit biographical feel (she also starred in it) for an adaptation of Emily Danforth’s novel about a gay-conversion therapy camp for teens in 1993. As the title character, Chloe Grace Moretz superbly carries the film, but with the help of a solid ensemble, particularly Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck as the likeminded fellow attendees she bonds most closely with, and also Emily Skeggs (best known from WHEN WE RISE) as her sympathetically deluded roommate.

Akhavan handles the sensitive material well and not without nuance, but some stretches are almost a slog to sit through—you feel as if you’re in this purgatorial state along with teens, which I know is the intent, but it somewhat quells momentum. Fortunately, when Moretz finally articulates, out loud, what you’ve been waiting the whole film for her to say, it has the desired effect even if it comes out more somberly than you’d expect. I’d like to see the engaging Akhavan back in front the camera again, as well as behind it, but this is still a thoughtful, quietly unnerving film. B+

Girls Trip
Uneven and overlong, but man, Tiffany Haddish is to this film what Melissa McCarthy was to BRIDESMAIDS; thanks to her, in a few years time, I bet it will be as ubiquitously quoted/referenced too. B-

Written On The Wind*
What do I love more about this most Sirkian of Sirk films: The child on the hobby horse, rocking with glee as if *laughing* at Robert Stack after he’s found out he’s shooting blanks, or Dorothy Malone’s egregiously wide hat in the courtroom scene? A

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
More-than-adequate Period Brit Comfort Food, even if it nearly turns into a Hallmark Channel movie by the end. Lily James is almost as charming as Emily Blunt, but not Emily Mortimer. B-

Crazy Rich Asians
Enjoyable, well-crafted fluff whose derivative rom-com tropes barely matter when they support such stunning locales and likable performances. Do I need to see OCEAN’S EIGHT now, because the heretofore-unknown-to-me Awkwafina is Everything? B

BPM (Beats Per Minute)
The documentary HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE is still the essential AIDS film, but this could be a close second. What’s most effective and ultimately devastating about it is how gradually and expertly it narrows its scope: beginning with a wide overview of the Paris chapter of ACT UP at the early ’90s height of the epidemic, it throws well over a dozen characters at us (much like THE CLASS (co-written by this film’s director, Robin Campillo), only without an obvious lead), giving us a thousand-foot view of the proceedings. Naturally and almost casually, a central couple slowly comes together and emerges as the film’s heart. If their trajectory is predictable, it’s no less affecting, perhaps because their growing intimacy in the face of inevitable destruction is raw and painfully real. A-

Juliet, Naked
This was my favorite Hornby novel since HIGH FIDELITY (he’s at his best writing about music), but as film adaptations go, it’s no HIGH FIDELITY. It doesn’t fall flat, exactly—how it could it with such ideal casting as Ethan Hawke (as a washed-up musician) and Chris O’Dowd (as his biggest, possibly most annoying fanboy)? Perhaps it could’ve had Melanie Lynskey or Rebecca Hall in the lead instead of Rose Byrne, who’s a bit too beautiful/likable for the part. This is affable and thoughtful enough, but maybe a little too restrained. Still, between this and his radically different performance in FIRST REFORMED, Hawke is on quite the roll. B-