It's fitting that Eden, the new feature from Mia Hansen-Løve, focuses on the French Touch variety of Garage EDM; the film's rhythms are gentle and lyrical, beating along steadily and graciously with hi-hats of joy and broodingly layered, Moroder-esque drone of ennui – essentially, the film plays like one of our DJ protagonist Paul's (Felix de Givry) live sets, entertaining and aesthetic but above all enjoyably palatable. A smart, subtle tale of growing up that moves at the pace of life without ever feeling slow, Eden is a fresh, savvy piece of filmmaking.
The bildungsroman is one of the most unwieldy genres in all literature; much finesse is needed to expose the confused exuberance of youth, and even more intelligence is needed to accurately portray the growth into a member of adult society, for that is to define what such a membership means. This is the case two recent nationwide releases of Sundance teen hits: Rick Fumayiwa's Dope, about the adventure Inglewood teen Malcolm (Shameik Moore) undertakes in pursuit of college acceptance, and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, about a young filmmaker's (Thomas Mann) relationship with a terminally ill friend (Olivia Cooke) as she struggles with cancer. While circumstance and certain common plot elements (ie. college acceptance, central trios of friends) places these films on the same shelf in my mind, though they both take their difficult drama in drastically different directions, showing just how divergent the genre is.
An interesting subject can help a documentary stand out. Take 2013's 20 Feet From Stardom, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary, standing out not at all for its rather standard, boring filmmaking, but for its interesting narrative surrounding the untold stories of session backup singers. Sometimes, and unfortunately, in the case of recent Sundance hit The Wolfpack, not even one of the most interesting stories ever happened upon by a documentarian can save some terrible filmmaking. Orderless, frustratingly achronological, and messy to the point of suggesting journalistic fraud, Crystal Moselle's doc is a case of a fascinating subject translated horribly to the screen.
Last year, I called Jennifer Kent's fantastic horror debut The Babadook the scariest film I'd ever seen, and it was. Kent masterfully spun a remarkably suspenseful film, with an imaginative monster and solid, well-earned scares, and it payed off on a number of levels. Now, half a year later, we have The Nightmare, Rodney Ascher's Room 237 follow-up, a bona fide horror documentary on sleep paralysis that scares just as effectively, and due to its real-life implications, it carries a sort of horror that transcends cinema.
After wildly financially successful collaborations in studio comedy over the last four years, with Bridesmaids and The Heat, writer-director Paul Feig and comedienne Melissa McCarthy would seemingly be out of steam, especially after the bland, unfunniness of The Heat. Here, though, even without the mild genius of Kristin Wiig backing them, the duo brings out the best in each other, procuring what's easily the best performance of McCarthy's career and some of the finest filmmaking of Feig's. Spy is never a great film, but in terms of delivering laughs, it really kills.
There's a reason that twenty-two years ago, Jurassic Park became the highest-grossing film of all time – in fact, it's the same reason that it's enjoyed a fairly constant television presence, spawned three sequels, and maintained a healthy stake in the pop culture subconscious over the past score: Jurassic Park is a remarkably likable film. With a host of strong performances realizing full characters, masterful direction from the king of blockbusters at his peak, and some pithy commentary to boot. All of this considered, it makes sense, then, that director Colin Trevorrow and the rest of the creative team between the new Jurassic World have essentially produced a carbon copy of sorts of the original film here. While structure, plot, and sensibility are practically identical, though, there is a profound, fatal gap in the production values of the two films. Unfortunately, the actively disappointing result is simultaneously derivative of the film it so hopes to emulate and so far below it in quality that it's difficult to believe Spielberg was even an executive producer.
Results is not necessarily a bad film. Many films this year have done much worse. Tomorrowland featured one of the worst lead performances I've ever seen. Jupiter Ascending featured dialogue that must have been written in invisible ink to get past any sort of table read. Ex Machina, which I actually liked rather well, had hero and villain explain their plans to each other like they were in a comic book that was about to overrun its page limit. Mumblecore pioneer Andrew Bujalski's latest, Results, does nothing that bad. Unfortunately, it doesn't do anything remarkably good either: Results can be ably characterized as overwhelmingly dull, and above all, forgettable in its inability to actively make anything of itself.
I'll begin this review with a necessary disclaimer: as a big fan of Entourage's lengthy run on television and thusly a constant champion of and apologist for the series, I viewed the film through rose-colored glasses so silted with love that the lenses may as well have been rubies. As a wildly entertaining satire of the film industry and (while most never dig this deeply) an honestly undulating portrait of identity set across that backdrop, Entourage is more than just the hedonistic avalanche of brotastrophes®¹ as which it appears to many, and that is evident as ever in the film. While the series doesn't translate particularly well to the big screen, the film still operates fairly well for what it is, and is a real treat for fans of the show.
Some films are boring, some films are dull, and some films are both. Such is the case of Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson's new absurdist comedy A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (original title: En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron); while his jab at the ridiculous banality and nonsensical ephemera of modern life is perfectly well-intentioned and operates on some fairly interesting visual ideas, it eventually succumbs to the very boredom it satirizes, proving to be one of the most glacially boring films of the last few years.
Heaven Knows What, Ben and Joshua Safdie's harrowing new drama about heroin addiction, is a difficult film to pin down. Based on the real life of addict-cum-writer-cum-actress Arielle Holmes, who stars as Harley in this picture, Heaven Knows What is a unique combination of documentary, reenactment, and drama, and one of the most affecting, dignified films of its kind in recent memory.
Carzis on Film
Film criticism and year-round awards commentary by film critic and year-round awards watcher Peter Carzis. All content is written by myself unless otherwise stated.