Suburbanites suspect their reclusive neighbors of malfeasance.
Directed by Joe Dante
Starring Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, and Carrie Fisher
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
Directing a film is often as simple as maintaining a tone. I can’t remember where I heard that, whether it was on one of the half dozen film podcasts I listen to or if it was in an interview with someone (maybe the Coen brothers), but it’s a sentiment that rings true. Keeping the mood consistent and establishing a world that a film’s events can credibly occur in both fall under the umbrella of tone, and it’s a particular aspect of filmmaking that Joe Dante has never considered. We’ve previously discussed his Explorers, with its jarring third act spent amongst corny aliens. I only recently saw Gremlins for the first time, a film that wants to be a horror comedy but also contains a reaction shot to a fuzzy puppet when a character laments how her dad suffocated in a chimney during an elaborate Christmas prank. Both of those films are on solid ground when it comes to premise, but the tone is out of control. The same is true of The Burbs, a cogent satire with a vast distance between how it’s interpreting its characters and how they’re coming across. This is one more Dante film that has no idea what it wants to be.
We’ve been doing this long enough that anyone who’s paid attention to my reviews should know that I’m in on pretty much any movie about a cult. The Master is an all-timer, but my fascination with cults extends to smaller units than faux Scientology. Dogtooth is also in the top 50, and that’s a film where the cult is one family. Wherever there’s people telling bald-faced lies to fawning followers who unquestionably believe them, I’ll be there. Brigsby Bear immediately gets interest points by fitting in this box, but I can’t slap an A on every film whose premise pushes my buttons. The Master or something like Martha Marcy May Marlene are deeply curious about charismatic leaders, mindless ritual, and the creation of dogmatic rule systems, but Brigsby Bear is barely related to that kind of film. It uses a premise I often love to tell a story about making dreams into reality of the let’s-put-on-a-show variety, a premise I am much less fascinated by.
The Meyerowitz Stories should be a film that hits close to home. I, like Ben Stiller’s Matthew, do not have a close relationship with my family. I moved across the country, putting hundreds of miles between myself and them pretty much only because I could and I wanted to. I don’t go home for holidays. I don’t particularly feel bad about any of that, despite a barely-audible, Danny-like voice in my ear wondering if maybe I should. The part of The Meyerowitz Stories that rhymes with my life, however, is also the one that makes this a frequently irritating film. I was just talking with Blair about how freeing it is to decide to not care what your parents think of you, and to see the characters here make their lives worse in pursuit of their shitty father’s approval is me knowing better than them, and I don’t know anything. Director Noah Baumbach repeatedly returns to films about sons and fathers, usually about the latter being too self-absorbed to care about the former. This is his most intense examination of that theme, but he covered all of it 13 years ago with Squid and the Whale. It’s one thing for teenagers to wake up to their father being human and fallible and a dick. It’s far less appealing when adults do the same.
The Room is a singular work of filmmaking, in that no other person could make it but Tommy Wiseau at this one exact moment in time. As dreadful as it is, The Room does make a person consider what a good film even is. Is it more fun and entertaining to watch The Room than the average mildly entertaining, competent movie? I would say 100%, yes. It binds people together in ritual and shared experience. It’s an original vision powered by sheer will and a jeans fortune, or something, that gives the viewer a significant look into the creator’s head. I’ve read and listened to some overheated praise for The Room, and while its most fervent adherents make some good points about art and the criteria of ‘good,’ what cannot be argued about is how despicably misogynist and nakedly narcissistic the actual movie is. If Wiseau put so much of himself into the film, the picture that comes out of it is one of a delusional man who hates women, who has no talent for self-inspection, who’s so prideful that he can’t ask for help when he’s painfully outmatched. The pleasure I take from The Room is gleeful derision that someone so obviously awful could fail so spectacularly. He is not admirable. James Franco’s The Disaster Artist disagrees, and in a particularly irritating way. It sees the value in Tommy’s effort even if what it was used for is an execrable catastrophe worthy of all the derision it receives, and more.
Exactly no one believed that prolific director Steven Soderbergh’s retirement from filmmaking would stick. Soderbergh took a few years to dabble in television, with exceptional results, and he finally returns to the big screen with Logan Lucky. His latest revisits the grand heists of Ocean’s 11, replacing the gawdy glitz of Las Vegas with the drawls of West Virginia. Soderbergh roars back to life as surely as the NASCAR vehicles featured in a film that retains the charm and humor of his other caper films while adding levels of earned sentimentality that his work has often been too cool to engage with.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.