By Andrew Buckner
Paul Verhoeven’s Elle (2016) is terrific. It is a slyly crafted, endlessly enigmatic, Hitchcockian thriller that operates just as well as a character-oriented drama. Yet, Verhoeven’s tale works so luminously because it is smart enough to hand the audience the pieces while allowing them the breathing room to put the puzzle together themselves. Such makes for an increasingly engrossing narrative. It is one that casually twists and turns throughout its one hundred and thirty-one minute runtime. This is without ever betraying the life projecting mirror it is holding up to bystanders. It also never once compromises itself to the expectations of either of its primary genres. This is as much a compliment of Verhoeven’s brilliant, nuanced direction and David Birke’s masterfully constructed screenplay as it is Isabelle Huppert’s triumphant, and Oscar nominated, turn as our lead, Michele LeBlanc. The ability of the picture to defy standards of structure at nearly every turn is just as admirable as the pitch perfect note it ends on. In turn, Verhoeven has given us one of 2016’s many highlights. ****1/2 out of *****.
Get Out (2017) more than satisfies as both social commentary and as a slow burn horror film. The first two acts are terrifically mounted. Moreover, they sport terrific performances. The same can be said of the writing and directing from Jordan Peele. But, the problem is the comparatively unfocused third act. Here Peele finds himself utilizing far more of the familiar genre elements he largely avoided beforehand. The flat finale, as well as the constant comic relief we find in the character of Rod Williams (Lil Rel Howery), further hinders matters. Because of this, the last thirty-five minutes become an intermingling of sequences that are hit and miss; a roadblock that steers Peele’s production to a solid overall sensation. Such is somewhat disappointing given the path to greatness that the effort seemed destined to reach in its earlier stretches. Get Out doesn’t quite live up to the hype. Still, for most of its one hundred and four minute length, it is engaging, enigmatic, well-made and certainly worthy of our time. **** out of *****.
Intimate, in-depth, engaging and massively inspiring, the PBS documentary Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise (2016) is an all around exceptional portrait of an American icon. 113 minutes. ***** out of *****.
Passengers (2016) works remarkably well as romantic science-fiction in the first hour. With its constant character focus, leisurely and unforced pace and overall likability, the affair almost appears as if it beats with the heart of a quiet, intimate indie film. Than disappointment kicks in during the second half. This is as the picture largely abandons these carefully constructed elements for more of the expected big-budget genre schtick. From herein, the effects, Morten Tyldum’s direction and Jon Spaihts’ writing are clunky and ill-conceived at best. The same can be said for its hackneyed stabs at tension building. Even the sheer charisma of the movie’s leads (Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence) sharply diminishes in this later stage. But, it isn’t a complete bust.There are a few interesting ideas sprinkled throughout this faultering section. Yet, this is hard to fully embrace as Tyldum’s exertion steamrolls to its pre-conceived and predictable conclusion. The result is familiar, but fair enough, entertainment. 116 minutes. *** out of *****.