September 25, 2018

COLETTE

Colette (1)Try though it does to tell the tale of French fin de siècle novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette’s troubled marital journey, Wash Westmoreland’s brief biopic suffers from a clunky narrative form that never allows its characters to exist beyond two-dimensional qualities. In life, Colette was a novelist, actress, journalist and bi-sexual woman; in this film she is reduced to playing martyr/victim of a greedy man.

A by-committee screenplay (by three writers) is to blame. Two screenwriters can work exquisitely together because they each have to stand up for their beliefs, but must also be able to compromise responsibly. With three writers, two are always going to gang up on one; it’s not a healthy environment for creativity.

Colette2

It is frustrating to watch Kiera Knightley struggle with a role to which she seems so well-suited. More irritating is Dominic West’s weakly overbearing portrayal of Colette’s roustabout author husband Willy. West gets caught “acting” on more than one occasion, perhaps because his character’s motivations are so muddy. It would be a tall order for any actor to elevate such dramatically flat source material.

Dominic-west-keira-knightley

“Colette” fails even as a generic period drama because it doesn’t dare show what truly drives its characters’ carnal passions. Willy is a selfish horndog, Colette is a gifted author with lesbian leanings. Colette’s would-be girlfriend has the charisma of a piece of wood. There you have it, a movie that was doomed before the first day of filming began. Tragic.

Rated R. 111 minutes. (C) Two Stars

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September 11, 2018

FREE SOLO

Free_soloTerrifying, invigorating, and heart-pounding describe this unforgettable documentary about free climber Alex Honnold and his efforts to climb Yosemite’s daunting 3,200 foot El Capitan Wall.

Co-directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (“Meru”) delve into Alex’s guarded personality as he prepares for the treacherous climb that will define his life, whether or not he lives or dies attempting it.

We get a sense of the childhood elements that contributed to Alex’s obsession with free climbing even as he enters into a romantic relationship that threatens to derail the strict focus and discipline essential for him to accomplish his goals. Every millimeter of Honnold's mind and body must be diamond-sharp to execute the climb.

Alex-honnold-freerider

Significant is the filmmakers’ willingness to delve into Alex’s meticulous rehearsal process using ropes and the help of master climber Tommy Caldwell to prepare for the solo climb. As Caldwell puts it, “Imagine an Olympic gold medal-level achievement where if you don’t get that gold medal, you’re going to die.”

Placing cameras along various places on Alex’s path up the behemoth mountain allow him to climb without being distracted by buzzing drones or cameramen.

Alex Honnold

With his large dilated brown eyes and wiry frame, Honnold resembles a young Iggy Pop at the height of his powers circa the Bowie-produced “Lust for Life” era. Honnold’s easy charisma masks onion layers of emotional armor that his doting girlfriend Sanni McCandless pokes and prods at to varying levels of guarded verbal responses from our brave protagonist.

El Capitan

Alex Honnold carries the spirit if a samurai warrior with him. Hearing him describe the grips, holds, and complex maneuvers necessary to climb El Capitan’s sheer face, convince the viewer of his amazing climbing abilities that most of humanity hasn’t the first clue about. Here is a man who knows his limitations and how to push them right to the edge of existence.

To watch “Free Solo” is to take a journey into an incredibly dangerous if joyful world of free physical expression. Go on the adventure of a lifetime. The rewards are enormous.

Not rated. 97 mins. (A+) 

Five Stars

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THE PREDATOR (RE-BOOT)

PredatorOh how the mighty have fallen. Shane Black, the screenwriter for such instant classics as “Lethal Weapon” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” has written a script that never should have gotten a green light. Nevermind that John McTiernan’s 1987 Schwarzenegger war action fiesta is hardly a movie in need of a remake, or “reboot,” or whatever lame term Hollywood is using to mask its desperation for the next blockbuster multiplex thingy. Insult to injury, Black also takes on directing duties for this cinematic atrocity.

Riddled with dogeared post-modern cynicism, this franchise reboot falls into Hollywood’s sustained attempts at normalizing brutal, mindless violence involving children as witnesses if not active participants.

Jacob Tremblay (“Room”) plays 12-year-old Rory McKenna, the son of a U.S. war hero (played by Boyd Holbrook). Rory is on the autism spectrum, as are the band of war criminals that Holbrook’s Quinn McKenna character teams up with to battle an alien predator (or two) on a mission to extract human DNA for some MacGuffin reason relating to Global Warming. "The Man Who Fell to Earth" this film is not. This predator has lost its freaky deaky militarized armor, and wants it back. Naturally, Rory is in possession of said armor.  

The result is an orgy of violent blood-and-guts-spewing spectacle for our young would-be protagonist Rory to witness at close-up and personal range. Shane Black’s irreverent sense of ribald, if not openly misogynist humor, comes out of left field with unfunny lines about “eating pussy” and “growing a dick.” Yawn. And yes that is the unrecognizable Thomas Jane (see "The Mist" from 2007) as the turrets syndrome-suffering soldier Baxley. Sad. 

The-Predator-Olivia-Munn

Olivia Munn gets caught “acting” in every other scene as Casey Bracket, a scientist trying to play nice with a rowdy bunch of testosterone-boiling soldiers looking for somewhere to stick their muscle and their frat bro mentalities.

There isn’t single reason I can think of to see “The Predator” other than to be reminded of how low Hollywood and American sensibilities have sunk.  

Rated R. 107 min. (F) (Zero stars — out of five / no halves)

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