A road trip to meet a significant other's parents fractures the relationship and time itself.
Directed by Charlie Kaufman
Starring Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons
Review by Jon Kissel
Charlie Kaufman seems like exactly the person that streaming services and their no-strings-attached bonanza of cash were made for. If I’m a studio executive and I need movies to gross deep into nine-figure territory, the first things that get cut are idiosyncratic representations of this or that decaying mental state. A more depressed, less funny, less creepy version of Woody Allen, Kaufman’s neuroticism has infected half a dozen movies over a couple decades, most very good to great. The greatest Kaufman films, namely the first three that he only wrote for, are the unquestioned best in comparison to the three that he directed. The latest of these latter three, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, is the epitome of a filmmaker left completely to his own creative devices. For most, Kaufman’s new film is going to be an indulgent and impenetrable exercise, but he’s been too good for too long to just dismiss this outright. The equivalent of a difficult crossword puzzle, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is probably worth it for those who really want to do the work and decipher it: I just don’t think I’m in that group.
Rian Johnson, having dipped into noir, heist, and sci-fi, tries his hand at chamber mysteries in Knives Out and continues his unbroken streak of inventive takes on established genres. In his films, Johnson can be counted on to distill his tightly-crafted plots into one big takeaway, wherein the journey is plenty compelling but the residue sticks around long after the end credits. In Looper, he used the cliched questions of time travel to great effect, and in The Last Jedi, he somehow was allowed to subvert the entire Star Wars franchise, at least until the follow-up entry undid all his work. With Knives Out, an airtight mystery plot tramples upon the pretensions of second-generation wealth and leaves the viewer with a perfect final image and more to think about than merely whodunit.
Many years ago, I went to the local second-run theater with a large group of college friends for Pint Night i.e. bring a pint of liquor to a movie. The movie: David Dobkin’s frat pack romp Wedding Crashers. The liquor: probably Smirnoff. As was my wont in college, I knocked out my pint too fast and had to leave the theater sometime around Will Ferrell’s cameo to spend some time in the restroom. I remember thinking, as I sat on the floor by a toilet, how much time could possibly be left in this movie? In the intervening fifteen years, I no longer drink til I throw up but Dobkin is still making overstuffed and underedited comedies that exhaust all their energy long before the end credits. Combined with Netflix’s impulse to encourage filmmakers to make longer movies, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is suffocated by drawn out improv, false plot developments, and sloppy characterization.
For time-loop movies, all live in the shadow of obvious gold standard, Groundhog Day. Howard Ramis’ Bill Murray vehicle is beloved by pretty much everyone, up to and including religious scholars who teach it in universities. Its descendant, Palm Springs, likely won’t be showing up on any syllabi, but it stays true to Groundhog Day’s melding of humor with emotion, slapstick with philosophy. On the other hand, if Ned Ryerson can live in perpetuity, I don’t see why Cristin Milioti fluffing a biker’s mullet can’t also join the pantheon.
An American Pickle has several ways it could go. In Brandon Trost’s directorial debut, a dual starring role for Seth Rogen as a Jewish immigrant put in pickle brine stasis for a century and reunited with his great-grandson, there’s the natural path of fish out of water comedy that morphs into something more heartfelt once the modern-day eccentricity jokes wear out their welcome. To the film’s credit, this obvious path is eschewed in favor of a comedy of rivals, where both Rogen characters attempt to sabotage each other. Not making easy choices, however, doesn’t make the end result anything worth praising when it’s this clunky. What good is it to go off the beaten path when this new path is filled with lazy observational humor, contrived scenarios, and tired millennial gags?
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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