I’ve been posting review on Rotten Tomatoes for a while, and quite recently. For the more recent films, I’ll dump them into these roundups on occasion for the record. On this roundup: An existentialist Hollywood yarn, an Wall Street movie as obnoxious as its subjects, and a Western as wonderfully strange as it is infuriatingly meandering.
Clouds of Sils Maria (2015)
Clouds of Sils Maria is seemingly packed with themes layered upon themes, and I’d need to see it again to truly dismantle the piece. It’s ostensibly a movie about aging, and while it hits the obvious notes of the treatment women receive with age in the film industry, its not limited to that aspect; this film can be seen as about how people grow and change, not specifically actors. It seems like it was edited with a sledgehammer, and the fiction-within-the-fiction doesn’t justify the in-film praise it receives, but Clouds is an incredibly clever movie which builds exceptional characters for Binoche and Stewart, whose chemistry is so remarkable that it almost works as a buddy film disregarding the big heavy metaphors. While there are certain things whose relevance I haven’t placed yet (notably toward the end), this is a movie of such confidence that I am sure there is more to be revealed on repeat viewings.
Knock Knock (2015)
Knock Knock has an absolutely fantastic first act that only works because we know what’s likely to come next. But even that runs on rails, and once the second act kicks in, it spins its wheels for a full hour, ending up on the wrong side of stupid. Keanu is a bit miscast, but after a certain point, does his all to save it; the fact that its not a complete trainwreck by the end is by the pure virtue of screaming Keanu.
Essentially, its style isn’t as campy as its plot, and that’s bad, but it has a yuk or two.
Slow West (2015)
Slow West is a flawed but interesting neo-Western, with a distinctly modern quirkiness elevating its less-solid characters. Kodi Smit-McPhee’s naif Jay is interesting but infuriating as a lead, where Michael Fassbender’s Silas is enigma who never quite comes into focus (some narration on his part doesn’t help). But even if some of the dialogue is a bit stilted, the film builds to a brutally funny second act. It’s only 85 minutes, and while it doesn’t quite scratch the Western itch, its interesting and entertaining in its own way.
Brooklyn is a solid romance drama whose strengths are not at all apparent from that statement. If viewed entirely as being about a romance or a love triangle, the two males are weirdly perfect creatures who, while charming, don’t feel like real people. That it works at all is a testament to how fantastic Saoirse Ronan is at playing a competent, but flawed and most importantly growing, character, and at how damn charming Emory Cohen really is. But what elevates Brooklyn to something approaching greatness is how well it builds it world of boarding houses and department stores in New York, and grocers and stone homes in Ireland. The love triangle is less important on its own than as a stand-in for the classic decision young people have to make about staying home and growing old with the known or striking out to make your own world, and having such a lived-in and tactile world on the screen brings that point home. It also helps that it avoids stoicism, with fantastically entertaining supporting characters (particularly Julie Walter’s boarding house matron). Fans of romance films will clearly eat this up, and while it plays into the trappings of the genre, it does so earnestly and with style, which maybe is even better than subversion.
The Big Short (2015)
Adam McKay clearly wanted to make a documentary, as his The Big Short ends up feeling much more Michael Moore than Margin Call. The movie pauses many times to helpfully provide exposition on Wall Street mumbo-jumbo, which is entirely necessary for the movie to work simply because there are absolutely no dramatic stakes outside of whether the audience member leaves knowing what a CDO is. By choosing to follow three separate major groups of players, the movie is left without focus, and with the exception of Steve Carrell, none of the cast is able to find any reason to really be on camera. McKay tries to separate the vibe from his Will Ferrell films with annoying and unnecessary freeze frame as well as obnoxious musical cues. At the end of the day, the movie succeeds as a form of education (I think, I’m no expert), but fails as a work of film and as a comedy. For comparison, Margin Call worked without being necessarily understandable; The Big Short focuses so much on being intelligible that it forgets to work at all.