REVIEW: The Invitation

25 06 2016

The InvitationKaryn Kusama’s “The Invitation” always feels like a well-executed genre flick, but which genre exactly? That question seems wide open. Over the course of its runtime, the film can resemble a claustrophobic domestic psychodrama, a tense thriller and a dramatic examination of guilt. The whole cult aspect of the plot is practically the most normal thing about it.

“The Invitation” unfolds as secluded couple David and Eden (Michiel Huisman and Tammy Blanchard) formally invite over some friends for a dinner party. The guest list is a multicultural melting pot, though two guests really stand out – Eden’s ex-husband Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and new girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi). The unspoken consequences of a past some would rather forget loom large over the proceedings, as much as they try to pretend no elephant has parked its carcass in the room.

As they raise a glass to new beginnings, it might also be the end for some of the unsuspecting visitors. David and Eden proudly yet quietly herald their new membership in a fledgling religious group. Like many such fringe groups, the leaders seem to have preyed on their vulnerable states to induce loyalty and faithfulness. And now, they proselytize with surprising normalcy.

Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi keep details about the cult scant in their script, instead focusing on the effects it has on the characters who have accepted or scoffed at it. While a jarring tonal shift in the final act somewhat belies the normalcy they so carefully establish, “The Invitation” still provides a chilling, exciting twist on a wide variety of stories. B2halfstars

REVIEW: Miles Ahead

4 04 2016

Miles AheadNew York Film Festival, 2015

Biopics, particularly those chronicling musicians, tend to follow predictable patterns surrounding a rise from obscurity filled with pitfalls and setbacks. With judgments of quality momentarily tabled, Don Cheadle’s “Miles Ahead” deserves some credit for avoiding the traditional structure. The film, which captures the spirit of jazz great Miles Davis, does not resemble the jagged line of the normal genre piece. Instead, it feels like a series of jagged glass shards, presenting themselves for reassembly.

The form matches the subject quite nicely; Davis, in the film’s later timeline, appears wonked out from drugs and chronic pain. The shifting back and forth with little straightforward logic reflects his mental state. But the freeform flow of the film also mirrors Davis’ craft. “Miles Ahead” recalls the riffing and improvisation of jazz – or, as Davis himself was prone to call it, “social music.”

Content-wise, however, Cheadle’s film is not nearly as impressive. Davis says, “Change it up!” Ironically, “Miles Ahead” rarely heeds that advice and shows history repeating itself again and again. Per usual, the cross-cut stories do ultimately manifest their similarities. Yet along the way, the film somehow dabbles in a heist film-cum-buddy comedy as Davis and Rolling Stone reporter Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor) track down a stolen session tape together. The arrangement may not be familiar, but the notes played in the film certainly are. B2halfstars

REVIEW: Middle of Nowhere

10 12 2012

Middle of NowhereThis might feel like a bit of a rerun for those of you that read my review of “Lincoln,” and for that I apologize.  But I do think it is possible to admire certain aspects of a movie and still not fully like it, and I will fight hard to defend that assertion.

In case you haven’t figured it out already, those are precisely my feelings on Ava DuVernay’s “Middle of Nowhere.”  It’s an incredibly graceful, poised, and carefully restrained film.  It tells a story that needs to be told about the African-American community, and for once, it actually comes from someone inside of it instead of a white man.  And it feels all the more authentic and genuine for it.

But the whole felt like distinctly less than the sum of its parts; all the virtuosity didn’t add up to an emotional connection for me.  Perhaps it was the film’s moseying, elegiac tone and pace that just kept me cooly disinterested in the proceedings.  But for whatever reason, I just felt distanced from the characters rather than drawn towards them.

I know it has nothing to do with the acting, though, particularly Emayatzy Corinealdi (a name I happily copied and pasted from IMDb) in an impressive leading turn as Ruby.  I had flashbacks to Michelle Williams’ character in “Take This Waltz” with Ruby, as both struggled with falling out of love with their husband and being tempted by a much more appealing man.

But in the case of Williams’ Margot, her husband was merely emotionally distant; Corinealdi’s Ruby, on the other hand, has a physical distance as well since her husband is spending five years in prison.  She does her best to stay faithful and upright, but the years take their toll on her.  And Corinealdi lets that show in moments of quiet breakdowns that allow us to marvel at her acting on a very technical level of precision.  Perhaps in the next big role she lands as a result of her turn in “Middle of Nowhere,” she can add a layer of emotional resonance.  B- 2stars