As laid out earlier, occasionally there are films that either have been out too long to need a full review or never deserved a full review in the first place. Stealing from the Hartford Courant’s old approach to movie reviews, I call each of these reviews a Short Take.

This time out, I am offering Short Take reviews for BLACKkKLANSMAN, CHRISTOPHER ROBIN, EIGHTH GRADE, and LEAVE NO TRACE on the well-covered side of things. Meanwhile, ALPHA, EQUALIZER 2, and SLENDER MAN feel like they cannot support full reviews to me. The outlier, MCQUEEN, could probably support more than a Short Take in someone else’s hands, but we’ll discuss that more in-depth later.

Short Take 1: ALPHA
A boy and his soon to be dog in ALPHA. (Courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

Short Take: ALPHA

As noted in other reviews, I feel as though I have been seeing the trailer of ALPHA since sometime during the first Bush Administration until now. I went into this movie ready to be done with it before frame one even danced before my eyes, that was how sick of the whole thing that trailer had made me.

Considering that hill to climb, me labeling ALPHA, “pretty okay,” is, perhaps, a significant victory.

The film is often beautiful with wide sweeping shots of a world before colonization and the problems it brought with it. The movie’s ability to realize that landscape of that time in a way that feels real without it being idealized is impressive. On the other hand, the movie also frequently failed to hold my attention. The story is familiar. Even setting the film in early civilization cannot change that. Even implying this is the first example ever of a domesticated canine cannot change that. Thus, I found myself often disengaged with it.

That’s A Wrap

Gorgeous to behold. Largely emotionally inert.

EIGHTH GRADE Is and Will Be 2018’s Realest and Funniest Film

Short Take 1: BLACKkKLANSMAN
Adam Driver and John David Washington ponder their new membership in a scene from BLACKkKLASMAN. (Courtesy of Focus Features)

Short Take: BLACKkKLANSMAN

I am an unapologetic Spike Lee fan who, simultaneously, can admit that not every Lee Joint is worthy of his talent. BLACKkKLANSMAN, however, is not such a film. This is Lee’s best fictional film since INSIDE MAN — although I will go to bat for the messy but provocative CHI-RAQ — and his smartest on the rot inside the American Dream since 25th HOUR.

I wish I had been able to write about it before now because I have so much to say, but I’ll just focus, spoiler-free, on the ending. I think it encompasses everything that makes the larger movie great in microcosm. In the span of under 15 minutes, Lee provides several possible endings, some upbeat, some silly, some sad. He is able to honor the elements of the movie in the conclusion with each mini-ending.

The portrayal of a fundamentally flawed system, the comedy element, the blacksploitation nods — all receive attention. Then the film tugs the rugs out from under the viewer with real life. It forces us to reckon with how the melodrama of non-documentary filmmaking can give you neat, clean endings, but reality provides no such niceties. History repeats itself, often while escalating. BLACKkKLANSMEN reminds us of that, unblinkingly, in its final moments. You will not leave a quieter theatre this year.

That’s A Wrap

A necessity to see in theatres. Utterly entertaining and heartfelt with a wallop of truth waiting for you at the end. Oh and to give credit beyond the filmmaking, the performances are strong nearly top to bottom. The white supremacists, in particular, led by Topher Grace’s David Duke, are both figures of ridicule who cannot handle the modern world and frighteningly dangerous maladaptive whose ideology threatens the foundation of 70’s America. And today, as we all too well know.

Short Take 1: CHRISTOPHER ROBIN
Piglet (background, voice by Nick Mohammed) and Winnie the Pooh (foreground, voiced by Jim Cummings) ponder nothing or perhaps a red balloon in a scene from CHRISTOPHER ROBIN. (Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Short Take: CHRISTOPHER ROBIN

Going to see this film with my son undoubtedly endeared it to me in a way that I might not have felt if I had gone alone. Something about putting me in a dark room with one of my offspring and a movie that is all about making the most of your time with them will do that to you, I suppose. The film is an uneven affair.

After an introduction to the life of Christopher Robin on his last day visiting the Hundred Acre Wood and a montage that shows the ups but mostly downs of his last after that, ROBIN feels on good footing regarding pacing. However, when we enter the heart of the story, it all goes a bit pear-shaped. Too much time is spent on how rough things are for the adult Christopher, at work, and at home, before Pooh returns to his life.

Then, too much time is spent on Christopher and Pooh being together searching for, well, the plot really. For a movie that puts forward the mantra, “Doing nothing often leads to the best something,” I suppose that makes a bit of sense. For the viewer, however, it leads to wondering why it took us so long to reconnect with all the Acre residents. The film comes to life when they return to Robin’s. Alas, that only had to the misshapen movie’s sense of movement.

Still, to be honest, I was a little choked up by the movie’s end.

That’s A Wrap

The movie breaks down when you really think about it, its strengths just too gossamer thin. However, for parents and/or people who grew up reading the “true” Winnie the Pooh stories there is an undeniable emotional pull to the proceedings. I just wish it could have made every bit of the movie as compelling as the moments where our friends Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, and the rest are on-screen.

What EIGHTH GRADE Reveals About Social Media

Short Take 1: EIGHTH GRADE
Elsie Fisher contemplates her digital life in a scene from EIGHTH GRADE. (Courtesy of A24)

Short Take: EIGHTH GRADE

I have long maintained that it is middle school, not high school, where the true psychological damage of growing up occurs. EIGHTH GRADE is yet another exhibit in my mountain of evidence on the topic.

Elsie Fischer authors the lead character of Kayla and make her both uniquely of the moment and yet universal. While her life has a social media platform element that is very much not something I needed to wrestle with as an eighth grader, I can nonetheless remember the feeling of wanting to be seen and ignored at the same time. Of wanting to stick out and being utterly part of the crowd.

There are areas where I wish we got to know more about Kayla. For instance, how the loss of her mom has echoed in her life. But that is not what this movie is interested in. Nor should it have to be. Mirroring its protagonist, the movie is oriented on the here and now with an eye towards the future. Only the relative past matters, even when a shoebox time capsule from three years earlier is unearthed.

Also speaking as a man, the way the movie captures the peculiarities of 13-14-year-old boys is devastatingly on target. It was hard not to cringe and want to go back in time both to apologize to my younger self for what is coming and try to talk him into being just a little… less.

That’s A Wrap

An impressive debut film for writer-director Bo Burnham and a breakthrough for Fischer. Worth seeing despite every cringe moment, every stomach-churning second of awkwardness.

DOG DAYS: At Least They Have Cute Pooches!

Short Take 1: EQUALIZER 2
Denzel Washington wears a disguise and wears it well in a scene from EQUALIZER 2. (Courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

Short Take: EQUALIZER 2

Denzel Washington can make nearly anything watchable and EQUALIZER 2 proves this. Why Washington would want to make this movie to prove that, though, escapes me. His first sequel ever and he chose this vehicle? One that takes the pleasures of the first one and curdles them? One that ups the already weirdly aggressive violence quotient from the previous installment?

There is one great moment of Denzel, however, where he cracks a smile and does finger guns at his enemies as he makes his escape. In a film full of dull threats and deadening violence, it was the one moment that beat with a kind of reckless life. The movie definitely could have used more of the devil may care attitude from Washington’s character and from the script.

That’s A Wrap

A bad sequel to a mediocre previous installment. Who could’ve predicted this?

Short Take 1: LEAVE NO TRACE
Tomasin McKenzie and Ben Foster contemplate the fire in LEAVE NO TRACE. (Courtesy of Bleecker Street Media)

Short Take: LEAVE NO TRACE

Headlined by twin incredible performance from Ben Foster and Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie as a father and daughter living off the grid in a national park, this movie just makes you ache. So beautiful and so heartbreakingly bittersweet at the same time. McKenzie and Foster are incredible. They seem like father and daughter and an isolated duo right down to their microexpressions. Almost all their acting happens from their forehead down to just below their eyes. A widening look, a wrinkled brow, a squint — all of it conveys so much so simply.

The film also wrestles with an ambivalence about charity. Subtly or definitively, it shows the audience people that help but make demands in return. The first person to step up to help them, a farmer and rancher, welcomes them with open arms. However, he also immediately puts the uncomfortable with loud noises and other people Foster to work on the Christmas tree farm.

There hiding amongst the still uncut evergreens for a moment’s respite is all the father can do to endure it. Then, the farmer insists father and daughter attend his church despite neither parent nor child expressing an interest in spirituality. However, a later group of people the duo encounter at first are hesitant to engage them. They worry what kind of issues the father and daughter might be dealing with.

These people help, they give of themselves, and what they have, and they offer the disconnected vagabonds a community of nonjudgmental love. Writer-director Debra Granik, helming her first feature since WINTER’S BONE, has created another indelible story of living on America’s margins.

That’s A Wrap

Anyone only interested in a faithful adaptation of the novel that inspired it, “My Abandonment,” would probably do well to skip it. For everyone else, this is a small film that demands attention.

CRAZY RICH ASIANS Is THE Rom-Com Of The Summer!

Short Take 1: MCQUEEN
An image from the MCQUEEN ad campaign. (Courtesy of Bleecker Street Media)

Short Take: MCQUEEN

A documentary about the fashion designer Lee Alexander McQueen follows him from his start as a tailor until his death. In his too short and compelling life, McQueen challenged and upended many assumptions within the fashion industry about who could be a designer. Moreover his fashions often stunned and unsettled.

Unfortunately, I am not a fashion expert so while I found the film fascinating I’m not sure I got as much out of it as someone who was already familiar with McQueen’s fashion or bio might have.

Moreover, upon doing further research, I found that the movie left out his mother and a very close friend, both of whom’s stories are incredibly tragic and presented a different side of McQueen. While the film does not feel like a hagiography by any stretch, it leaves the informed viewer wondering why that aspect of McQueen did not make the final cut.

That’s A Wrap

An intriguing story of one fashion designer for anyone, for sure. Still, people with more familiarity with fashion or McQueen himself will likely get more out of it. The omission of some seemingly key tales of his life also leaves one wondering if the final product might be a bit of a whitewash.

Short Take 1: SLENDER MAN
I am fairly certain this is a scene from SLENDER MAN. There a lot of Slender Man related imagery out there folks. (Courtesy of Screen Gems)

Short Take: SLENDER MAN

Two years ago, the documentary BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN proved one could tell a terrifying story involving the horror figure born of memes and so-called creepypasta stories. SLENDER MAN proves that one can also tell a rote slasher film with the same figure.

Slender Man is such a compelling image: blank face, extended limbs, odd locomotion. His lore, as built up by those stories and memes, is also intriguing. A sort of Pied Piper figure, his otherworldliness makes him frightening. We “know” children are drawn to him, we know he takes them away, but we know nothing else. Is he a murderer? Is he abducting them to slave them? Does he take them to a better place? It remains entirely unclear. Imagine a horror movie with that disquieting notion at its center.

Instead, this release makes the Man a kind of low rent Freddy Krueger. He dominates dreams and thoughts of his future victims but he is utterly lacking in the madcap zeal Robert Englund brought to the dream slayer Krueger. Even in bad NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET films, there was something undeniably about Englund’s energy and charisma. The Slender Man has no such energy. Nor should that be asked of this sort of character.

That’s A Wrap

It’s odd to describe an unclassifiable terrifying monster as deserving better, but that’s the only way to put it. Slender Man could inspire a truly interesting scary horror film. This one is nowhere near it.

One Comment

  1. […] Dickey scores her second strong dramatic performance this year — after her work in LEAVE NO TRACE. Her work as the neighbor has this oddly ethereal quality that makes her both comforting and […]

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