It is the busiest time of year for the film world. With awards season on the horizon, studios are juicing voter ballots with For Your Consideration screeners. As I was recently granted membership into the Online Film Critics Society, this the first year where I myself have been given the honor of receiving these promotional screeners.
Unfortunately, this is also the busiest I have ever been outside of film criticism. For the past few months, I have been working on grad school applications. I’m finished with them and ready to return to a more regular posting schedule on CineFiles. But I am woefully behind, and with screeners piling up I don’t have time to write full reviews for every film.
So I’m taking the easy approach. This article will be a series of short, capsule reviews of films I have watched in the past few weeks. Hopefully doing it in this format will allow me to catch up in time to put out my end-of-year lists.
Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation is one of my fave slow-burn thrillers of the past few years. It is endlessly tense and worthy of a rewatch. It is quite good, the final shot notwithstanding.
Destroyer yields a similar slow-burn, but the implications of the tension do not amplify in the same manner as The Invitation. Nicole Kidman’s performance is the centerpiece of the film, and it is quite strong. But the character she is portraying is not given a story that is adequately compelling.
The ensemble of characters surrounding Kidman are cliched and largely uninteresting. Supporting cast members Tatiana Maslany and Bradley Whitford make good use out of the cliches, but the sum of the parts does not amount to much.
The Sisters Brothers
Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers is a sensitive film about heartless men. Until these cold-blooded killers and hucksters grow an emotional conscience, that is. Joaquin Pheonix and John C. Reilly portray assassins in a beautifully-captured American west. They are on the trail of a chemist looking to change the prospecting game (Riz Ahmed), but they might have more trouble with the man who hired them.
The radical shifts in the characters’ ethics can be explained, for the most part, but their arcs are jarring nonetheless. All the same, there is something compelling about the quiet moments near the end. Unlikely bonds of friendship are formed. Gunshots become less frequent and more stirring. In these scenes, the film becomes the character piece that it wanted to be from the start. It just doesn’t hone in on that character work soon enough, with the exception of Reilly’s Eli Sisters.
The Tale is told in the most intriguing manner. Laura Dern’s Jennifer is working to uncover the truth of a story, her story, despite the complicated trauma involved. As she meets with figures from her past, their past selves and current selves collide. This creates a rift between memory and truth, challenging Jennifer’s recollection.
Dern’s performance is extraordinary, as she effortlessly carries the weight of her situation and the grit and determination to decipher her past. Too bad The Tale didn’t have a limited theatrical run before premiering on HBO, or she would have a formidable Oscar campaign in front of her.
Dern’s performance and the way by which Fox’s semi-autobiographical account does not skirt the issue makes for a gut-punch of a film. With immense nuance, The Tale explores the multi-faceted and intimately complicated nature of abuse.
Note: There are explicit depictions of abuse in this film which are extremely hard to watch, so keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to watch.
Burning is an experience. The journey may be more fulfilling than the destination, but it is a journey that never feels taxing or superfluous. We follow a very interior character in Jong-su (Ah-in Yoo), whose life is forever changed by a series of external forces. This push-pull between the interior and exterior is handled exquisitely by director Lee Chang-dong, who is loosely adapting Haruki Murakami.
For a lengthy film that is never bashful about taking its time, Burning is an intriguing puzzle throughout most of its runtime. From the questionable existence of a cat to the enigmatic motivations of Steven Yeun’s Ben, the film keeps you guessing even when you swear you have the answers.
As always, thanks for reading!
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)