A survivor of a family massacre revisits the case as an adult.
Directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Starring Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, and Christina Hendricks
Review by Jon Kissel
For the cast of Dark Places, 2015 was a high water mark for several of their careers. Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult co-starred in perhaps the greatest action film ever made in Mad Max: Fury Road. Christina Hendricks was ending her run as Joan in the final season of Mad Men. Sean Bridgers, best known as Johnny Burns from Deadwood, co-starred in the best film on his resume in Room, though he memorably played an unconscionable dirtbag in it. Add in acclaimed young actors like Tye Sheridan and Chloe Moretz, plus the source material from Gillian Flynn one year after Gone Girl’s film adaptation and the pedigree of indie darling studio A24, and Dark Places should have been an easy layup for all involved. Instead, the leaden direction and writing from Gilles Paquet-Brenner takes these ingredients and turns them into one of those gray blobs from the Breath of the Wild game. One should never mix the prime steak of this cast with the assorted bag of monster parts that is Paquet-Brenner.
A movie even tangentially related to Carl Sagan is going to work a little bit on me. In Troop Zero, Amazon’s first direct-to-streaming major release, the plot revolves around the Voyager Golden Record, a project of interplanetary communication headed by Sagan and memorialized in one of my favorite Drunk History segments. The Golden Record immediately endears me to this film by directors Bert and Bertie (whatever), and if it enters the rotation of acceptable parent-teacher conference movies a la The Sandlot or Rookie of the Year, so be it. That’s been an underserved market for years and it’s time for a resurgence.
Grief as a motivating theme in horror movies has been a dominant trend, especially amongst the arthouse horror genre of which Midsommar is a part. Directed by Ari Aster, Midsommar is the follow-up to Hereditary, his debut film that opens with a funeral and features a few more before the end credits. Before Aster broke out, he was preceded by The Babadook, Goodnight Mommy, and The Witch, all of which background some unspeakable loss in their characters’ lives and then either compound that trauma or personify it in some terrifying visage. It’s not like this is a new development, as you can’t tell a ghost story without a dead body, but the last several years have accentuated emotional rawness and heightened feelings of dread over horror’s usual jump scares, both tactics that make what’s viewed as a B-genre more meaningful. There’s plenty of meaning to be found on the walls and in the background of Midsommar, a film that combines its thinking on grief with a cult, something that always sparks my interest. Aster doesn’t quite top himself after the intensity of Hereditary, but he’s two-for-two thus far, and just as able to create tension in broad daylight as he was in Hereditary’s pitch black.
While romantic comedies are in the midst of a comeback thanks to Netflix’s finely tuned algorithm, Long Shot aims its genre attempt at the world of politics at a time when no script can match the absurdity of the real world. The film not only asks the viewer to imagine something like a return to governmental normalcy, but it also proposes Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen as a credible couple. These are big requests, one of which the film pretends doesn’t exist and the other it constantly interrogates. Jonathan Levine, a deft director who knows his way around the line between drama and comedy, accomplishes some of what he needed to with Long Shot, a film that entertains but doesn’t elevate.
Americans get worked up over strange things. Back before the days when the president demanded every ounce of attention and the media was happy to give it to him, we’ve lost our collective shit over Harambe and Cecil, Casey Anthony and Jon-Benet Ramsey. David Fincher remembers being a kid during a period of war and social unrest that makes today look quaint, and his California community choosing to go a little bit nuts over an early serial killer who attempted to kill seven people and was tragically successful for five of them. The Zodiac killer sucks up some amount of air during his active period, but for most, it fades and becomes a thing that happens, fodder for an opening paragraph in an amateur movie review and not much more. For others, this becomes a defining event in their lives for reasons they can’t explain and those meticulous, obsessive individuals, not unlike Fincher himself, are the people he chooses to follow in Zodiac, an epic-length investigation of a mostly meaningless event that’s only grown more relevant with the explosion of true-crime material in the 13 years since its release.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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