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.
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.
Having imitated John Carpenter 80’s horror movies in his breakout hit It Follows, David Robert Mitchell’s highly anticipated, repeatedly delayed, and ultimately failing Under the Silver Lake takes Los Angeles detective stories as its inspiration. The one guy on the hunt for answers can be found in films as varied as Inherent Vice, The Long Goodbye, or Mulholland Dr, all of which are evoked here with sets or scenery or moods. Like It Follows, however, a good start slowly crumbles under a foundation not broad enough to support the weight Mitchell builds atop it. By hinting at so many other movies that are better than itself, Under the Silver Lake can’t help but draw unflattering comparisons. The plots of these kinds of dense private-eye films rarely make sense, but with enough cinematic power or thematic consistency, it doesn’t matter. With as loose and scattered as this film is, it matters.
No Country For Old Men is indicative of both how good its directors are and what a phenomenal year for movies 2007 was. This is a film that has it all: memorable characters, quotable lines, thrilling setpieces, a coherent worldview, the perfect amount of humor to leaven the darkness, and something to say about how we view history and justice and cause and effect. It’s all those things, while also being arguably Joel and Ethan Coen’s sixth or seventh best film and barely cracking my personal top 5 for 2007 releases. That this near-perfect film is relegated to those kinds of finishes makes me want to watch Fargo or Ratatouille again, but we’re here to praise No Country first.
Of the South Korean directors who have entered Western orbits, Lee Chang-dong lacks the genre experimentation of Bong Joon-ho and the over-the-top melodrama of Park Chan-wook, and therefore his unflashy films have probably been seen by the least amount of people. His work is dense and cerebral in a way that Park or Bong often are, but Lee lacks the sexy hooks. The universal praise and Netflix availability of Lee’s Burning will hopefully change that. A far more accessible film than his previous, also excellent film Poetry, Burning is instantly recognizable first as a love triangle and then a thriller, a film tied to its country of origin but not so much that it becomes foreign to a non-Korean viewer. Burning can be taken in on its surface as a compelling tripartite potboiler or one can dig deeper and find a consideration of class, gender, resentment, and entitlement. With so much to offer, it’s a towering work of international cinema and not something to be overlooked.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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