Travel the Culinary World with Netflix’s “Ugly Delicious”

Travel the Culinary World with Netflix’s “Ugly Delicious”

If there’s one piece of advice I can offer to those about to dive into “Ugly Delicious,” the frustrating but mostly winning new Netflix documentary series from Morgan Neville (“20 Feet From Stardom”), Momofuku chef David Chang, and food writer Peter Meehan, it’s this: don’t watch while hungry. The greatest constant between these eight episodes is that the food is photographed in loving, almost sensual fashion. Dumplings glisten, meat sizzles, and basically every pizza looks like it might just be the best thing to ever touch your lips. That it looks so good is absolutely the point—this is a series that reveres food and the cultures from which they emerge—but it also underlines a bit of a fly in the ointment. It looks delicious, but not particularly ugly, and that’s part of what holds this engaging series back.

Advertisement

The concept is simple enough. Chang, Meehan, and a band of food writers, chefs, and celebrities travel the country and the world, digging into dishes and ingredients that might be considered either visually unappealing (as with the 25-pound lobster tower that arrives at the climax of the show’s penultimate episode) or may be perceived as low-brow (your average home-cooked meal, fried chicken, pizza). Using those meals as a jumping-off point, the series then explores questions of authenticity, appropriation, race, class, and nostalgia. Sometimes they skim the surface; at others, they allow things to get messy. But it always returns to the food, and the people who make it.

It’s a largely successful formula. The ideas and questions are big ones, and the meals are appetizing and interesting enough to continue to tug at the imagination, even as the conversations wander into broader fields. All of that works best when the focus stays on the cuisines explored and those who work in or study them; the frequent celebrity appearances can be range from charming to mostly inoffensive, though the overall effect gets a bit wearing (oh, great, here’s Jimmy Kimmel, and what a delight, here’s Aziz Ansari again.) But two factors insulate the series from any real sense of irritation. The first is that they’re all pretty likable and engaging, and the second is that they’re clearly, to a person, pretty damn thrilled just to be there.

That’s a bit of a double-edged sword, however. As the series goes on and the adventures feel more like romps, the effect is less one of a group of curious, thoughtful experts traveling, learning and asking questions, and more of a globe-trotting boys club. That’s not to say those involved are exclusively male, though the show certainly skews that way. Regardless of the gender makeup, however, there’s a sense that you’re peering into a world of well-heeled scamps, where the citizens dally from time to time with foods below their station and admit, sometimes begrudgingly, that they enjoy and even long for those foods. It plays as sincere and affectionate, but there’s something slightly condescending about it, too.

Advertisement

That’s a sensation heightened by the stylistic approach, which veers between glossy, intimate interviews and conversations and irreverent bits, for lack of a better term, which range from an animated depiction of the many ways to fold a slice of pizza to a moment of heightened grotesquerie in which Chang appears to elegantly lose a thumb before spraying a stark white kitchen with crimson. To say some work better than others is an understatement. When they’re good, they’re great, usually quick and colorful and linked to whatever else is happening in the story. When they’re bad, they’re the documentary equivalent of a bad sketch track on a hip-hop album—too long, distracting, and not as funny as the participants might thing.

Still, there are larger issues than a gloss of celebrity name dropping or the odd overlong joke. Despite the pleasures of “Ugly Delicious”—and there are many—the show has a tendency to skate right up to an interesting, difficult question and then skate away again. There are moments where the series digs deeper, with the sixth episode, “Fried Chicken,” a particular highlight. At their best, Chang, Meehan, and company let the contradictions and complications present in the ways we eat and live swell up and sit there, unanswered, because no easy answers exist. But at other times, the series prefers to arrive at some sort of tidy beat and move on to the next adventure. Think of it as pushing the complexity around the plate, rather than really digging in.

It’s well worth the occasional eye-roll or moment of frustration to spend these eight episodes exploring the landscape of “ugly” American foods with David Chang and Peter Meehan. It’s often fun, and sometimes something much more. To watch a Japanese chef tear up when told that his barbecue chicken is the best in the world, or a Mexican-American chef discover the desire to cook and live in the country her parents once called home is something lovely and rare. The pleasure that they, and nearly all those who appear in this series, take in the making, enjoying, and seeking out great meals is a joy to watch. If the occasional piece of silliness or over-simplicity is the price of admission, it’s a price well worth paying. 

 

Advertisement

Popular Blog Posts

A rare superhero fantasy that’s plugged into the real world, but that still can’t be all things to all viewers.

An article about the wide-ranging efforts to arrange free screenings for students and young people to see the groundb…

Difficult is a gendered term fueled by the Hollywood machine and maintained by the belief that actresses aren’t respo…

On two excellent Criterion releases of classic horror films.


comments powered by

Source: http://ift.tt/2yZbehO

Travel the Culinary World with Netflix’s “Ugly Delicious”

Travel the Culinary World with Netflix’s “Ugly Delicious”

If there’s one piece of advice I can offer to those about to dive into “Ugly Delicious,” the frustrating but mostly winning new Netflix documentary series from Morgan Neville (“20 Feet From Stardom”), Momofuku chef David Chang, and food writer Peter Meehan, it’s this: don’t watch while hungry. The greatest constant between these eight episodes is that the food is photographed in loving, almost sensual fashion. Dumplings glisten, meat sizzles, and basically every pizza looks like it might just be the best thing to ever touch your lips. That it looks so good is absolutely the point—this is a series that reveres food and the cultures from which they emerge—but it also underlines a bit of a fly in the ointment. It looks delicious, but not particularly ugly, and that’s part of what holds this engaging series back.

Advertisement

The concept is simple enough. Chang, Meehan, and a band of food writers, chefs, and celebrities travel the country and the world, digging into dishes and ingredients that might be considered either visually unappealing (as with the 25-pound lobster tower that arrives at the climax of the show’s penultimate episode) or may be perceived as low-brow (your average home-cooked meal, fried chicken, pizza). Using those meals as a jumping-off point, the series then explores questions of authenticity, appropriation, race, class, and nostalgia. Sometimes they skim the surface; at others, they allow things to get messy. But it always returns to the food, and the people who make it.

It’s a largely successful formula. The ideas and questions are big ones, and the meals are appetizing and interesting enough to continue to tug at the imagination, even as the conversations wander into broader fields. All of that works best when the focus stays on the cuisines explored and those who work in or study them; the frequent celebrity appearances can be range from charming to mostly inoffensive, though the overall effect gets a bit wearing (oh, great, here’s Jimmy Kimmel, and what a delight, here’s Aziz Ansari again.) But two factors insulate the series from any real sense of irritation. The first is that they’re all pretty likable and engaging, and the second is that they’re clearly, to a person, pretty damn thrilled just to be there.

That’s a bit of a double-edged sword, however. As the series goes on and the adventures feel more like romps, the effect is less one of a group of curious, thoughtful experts traveling, learning and asking questions, and more of a globe-trotting boys club. That’s not to say those involved are exclusively male, though the show certainly skews that way. Regardless of the gender makeup, however, there’s a sense that you’re peering into a world of well-heeled scamps, where the citizens dally from time to time with foods below their station and admit, sometimes begrudgingly, that they enjoy and even long for those foods. It plays as sincere and affectionate, but there’s something slightly condescending about it, too.

Advertisement

That’s a sensation heightened by the stylistic approach, which veers between glossy, intimate interviews and conversations and irreverent bits, for lack of a better term, which range from an animated depiction of the many ways to fold a slice of pizza to a moment of heightened grotesquerie in which Chang appears to elegantly lose a thumb before spraying a stark white kitchen with crimson. To say some work better than others is an understatement. When they’re good, they’re great, usually quick and colorful and linked to whatever else is happening in the story. When they’re bad, they’re the documentary equivalent of a bad sketch track on a hip-hop album—too long, distracting, and not as funny as the participants might thing.

Still, there are larger issues than a gloss of celebrity name dropping or the odd overlong joke. Despite the pleasures of “Ugly Delicious”—and there are many—the show has a tendency to skate right up to an interesting, difficult question and then skate away again. There are moments where the series digs deeper, with the sixth episode, “Fried Chicken,” a particular highlight. At their best, Chang, Meehan, and company let the contradictions and complications present in the ways we eat and live swell up and sit there, unanswered, because no easy answers exist. But at other times, the series prefers to arrive at some sort of tidy beat and move on to the next adventure. Think of it as pushing the complexity around the plate, rather than really digging in.

It’s well worth the occasional eye-roll or moment of frustration to spend these eight episodes exploring the landscape of “ugly” American foods with David Chang and Peter Meehan. It’s often fun, and sometimes something much more. To watch a Japanese chef tear up when told that his barbecue chicken is the best in the world, or a Mexican-American chef discover the desire to cook and live in the country her parents once called home is something lovely and rare. The pleasure that they, and nearly all those who appear in this series, take in the making, enjoying, and seeking out great meals is a joy to watch. If the occasional piece of silliness or over-simplicity is the price of admission, it’s a price well worth paying. 

 

Advertisement

Popular Blog Posts

A rare superhero fantasy that’s plugged into the real world, but that still can’t be all things to all viewers.

An article about the wide-ranging efforts to arrange free screenings for students and young people to see the groundb…

Difficult is a gendered term fueled by the Hollywood machine and maintained by the belief that actresses aren’t respo…

On two excellent Criterion releases of classic horror films.


comments powered by

Source: http://ift.tt/2yZbehO

Travel the Culinary World with Netflix’s “Ugly Delicious”

Travel the Culinary World with Netflix’s “Ugly Delicious”

If there’s one piece of advice I can offer to those about to dive into “Ugly Delicious,” the frustrating but mostly winning new Netflix documentary series from Morgan Neville (“20 Feet From Stardom”), Momofuku chef David Chang, and food writer Peter Meehan, it’s this: don’t watch while hungry. The greatest constant between these eight episodes is that the food is photographed in loving, almost sensual fashion. Dumplings glisten, meat sizzles, and basically every pizza looks like it might just be the best thing to ever touch your lips. That it looks so good is absolutely the point—this is a series that reveres food and the cultures from which they emerge—but it also underlines a bit of a fly in the ointment. It looks delicious, but not particularly ugly, and that’s part of what holds this engaging series back.

Advertisement

The concept is simple enough. Chang, Meehan, and a band of food writers, chefs, and celebrities travel the country and the world, digging into dishes and ingredients that might be considered either visually unappealing (as with the 25-pound lobster tower that arrives at the climax of the show’s penultimate episode) or may be perceived as low-brow (your average home-cooked meal, fried chicken, pizza). Using those meals as a jumping-off point, the series then explores questions of authenticity, appropriation, race, class, and nostalgia. Sometimes they skim the surface; at others, they allow things to get messy. But it always returns to the food, and the people who make it.

It’s a largely successful formula. The ideas and questions are big ones, and the meals are appetizing and interesting enough to continue to tug at the imagination, even as the conversations wander into broader fields. All of that works best when the focus stays on the cuisines explored and those who work in or study them; the frequent celebrity appearances can be range from charming to mostly inoffensive, though the overall effect gets a bit wearing (oh, great, here’s Jimmy Kimmel, and what a delight, here’s Aziz Ansari again.) But two factors insulate the series from any real sense of irritation. The first is that they’re all pretty likable and engaging, and the second is that they’re clearly, to a person, pretty damn thrilled just to be there.

That’s a bit of a double-edged sword, however. As the series goes on and the adventures feel more like romps, the effect is less one of a group of curious, thoughtful experts traveling, learning and asking questions, and more of a globe-trotting boys club. That’s not to say those involved are exclusively male, though the show certainly skews that way. Regardless of the gender makeup, however, there’s a sense that you’re peering into a world of well-heeled scamps, where the citizens dally from time to time with foods below their station and admit, sometimes begrudgingly, that they enjoy and even long for those foods. It plays as sincere and affectionate, but there’s something slightly condescending about it, too.

Advertisement

That’s a sensation heightened by the stylistic approach, which veers between glossy, intimate interviews and conversations and irreverent bits, for lack of a better term, which range from an animated depiction of the many ways to fold a slice of pizza to a moment of heightened grotesquerie in which Chang appears to elegantly lose a thumb before spraying a stark white kitchen with crimson. To say some work better than others is an understatement. When they’re good, they’re great, usually quick and colorful and linked to whatever else is happening in the story. When they’re bad, they’re the documentary equivalent of a bad sketch track on a hip-hop album—too long, distracting, and not as funny as the participants might thing.

Still, there are larger issues than a gloss of celebrity name dropping or the odd overlong joke. Despite the pleasures of “Ugly Delicious”—and there are many—the show has a tendency to skate right up to an interesting, difficult question and then skate away again. There are moments where the series digs deeper, with the sixth episode, “Fried Chicken,” a particular highlight. At their best, Chang, Meehan, and company let the contradictions and complications present in the ways we eat and live swell up and sit there, unanswered, because no easy answers exist. But at other times, the series prefers to arrive at some sort of tidy beat and move on to the next adventure. Think of it as pushing the complexity around the plate, rather than really digging in.

It’s well worth the occasional eye-roll or moment of frustration to spend these eight episodes exploring the landscape of “ugly” American foods with David Chang and Peter Meehan. It’s often fun, and sometimes something much more. To watch a Japanese chef tear up when told that his barbecue chicken is the best in the world, or a Mexican-American chef discover the desire to cook and live in the country her parents once called home is something lovely and rare. The pleasure that they, and nearly all those who appear in this series, take in the making, enjoying, and seeking out great meals is a joy to watch. If the occasional piece of silliness or over-simplicity is the price of admission, it’s a price well worth paying. 

 

Advertisement

Popular Blog Posts

A rare superhero fantasy that’s plugged into the real world, but that still can’t be all things to all viewers.

An article about the wide-ranging efforts to arrange free screenings for students and young people to see the groundb…

Difficult is a gendered term fueled by the Hollywood machine and maintained by the belief that actresses aren’t respo…

On two excellent Criterion releases of classic horror films.


comments powered by

Source: http://ift.tt/2yZbehO

Travel the Culinary World with Netflix’s “Ugly Delicious”

Travel the Culinary World with Netflix’s “Ugly Delicious”

If there’s one piece of advice I can offer to those about to dive into “Ugly Delicious,” the frustrating but mostly winning new Netflix documentary series from Morgan Neville (“20 Feet From Stardom”), Momofuku chef David Chang, and food writer Peter Meehan, it’s this: don’t watch while hungry. The greatest constant between these eight episodes is that the food is photographed in loving, almost sensual fashion. Dumplings glisten, meat sizzles, and basically every pizza looks like it might just be the best thing to ever touch your lips. That it looks so good is absolutely the point—this is a series that reveres food and the cultures from which they emerge—but it also underlines a bit of a fly in the ointment. It looks delicious, but not particularly ugly, and that’s part of what holds this engaging series back.

Advertisement

The concept is simple enough. Chang, Meehan, and a band of food writers, chefs, and celebrities travel the country and the world, digging into dishes and ingredients that might be considered either visually unappealing (as with the 25-pound lobster tower that arrives at the climax of the show’s penultimate episode) or may be perceived as low-brow (your average home-cooked meal, fried chicken, pizza). Using those meals as a jumping-off point, the series then explores questions of authenticity, appropriation, race, class, and nostalgia. Sometimes they skim the surface; at others, they allow things to get messy. But it always returns to the food, and the people who make it.

It’s a largely successful formula. The ideas and questions are big ones, and the meals are appetizing and interesting enough to continue to tug at the imagination, even as the conversations wander into broader fields. All of that works best when the focus stays on the cuisines explored and those who work in or study them; the frequent celebrity appearances can be range from charming to mostly inoffensive, though the overall effect gets a bit wearing (oh, great, here’s Jimmy Kimmel, and what a delight, here’s Aziz Ansari again.) But two factors insulate the series from any real sense of irritation. The first is that they’re all pretty likable and engaging, and the second is that they’re clearly, to a person, pretty damn thrilled just to be there.

That’s a bit of a double-edged sword, however. As the series goes on and the adventures feel more like romps, the effect is less one of a group of curious, thoughtful experts traveling, learning and asking questions, and more of a globe-trotting boys club. That’s not to say those involved are exclusively male, though the show certainly skews that way. Regardless of the gender makeup, however, there’s a sense that you’re peering into a world of well-heeled scamps, where the citizens dally from time to time with foods below their station and admit, sometimes begrudgingly, that they enjoy and even long for those foods. It plays as sincere and affectionate, but there’s something slightly condescending about it, too.

Advertisement

That’s a sensation heightened by the stylistic approach, which veers between glossy, intimate interviews and conversations and irreverent bits, for lack of a better term, which range from an animated depiction of the many ways to fold a slice of pizza to a moment of heightened grotesquerie in which Chang appears to elegantly lose a thumb before spraying a stark white kitchen with crimson. To say some work better than others is an understatement. When they’re good, they’re great, usually quick and colorful and linked to whatever else is happening in the story. When they’re bad, they’re the documentary equivalent of a bad sketch track on a hip-hop album—too long, distracting, and not as funny as the participants might thing.

Still, there are larger issues than a gloss of celebrity name dropping or the odd overlong joke. Despite the pleasures of “Ugly Delicious”—and there are many—the show has a tendency to skate right up to an interesting, difficult question and then skate away again. There are moments where the series digs deeper, with the sixth episode, “Fried Chicken,” a particular highlight. At their best, Chang, Meehan, and company let the contradictions and complications present in the ways we eat and live swell up and sit there, unanswered, because no easy answers exist. But at other times, the series prefers to arrive at some sort of tidy beat and move on to the next adventure. Think of it as pushing the complexity around the plate, rather than really digging in.

It’s well worth the occasional eye-roll or moment of frustration to spend these eight episodes exploring the landscape of “ugly” American foods with David Chang and Peter Meehan. It’s often fun, and sometimes something much more. To watch a Japanese chef tear up when told that his barbecue chicken is the best in the world, or a Mexican-American chef discover the desire to cook and live in the country her parents once called home is something lovely and rare. The pleasure that they, and nearly all those who appear in this series, take in the making, enjoying, and seeking out great meals is a joy to watch. If the occasional piece of silliness or over-simplicity is the price of admission, it’s a price well worth paying. 

 

Advertisement

Popular Blog Posts

A rare superhero fantasy that’s plugged into the real world, but that still can’t be all things to all viewers.

An article about the wide-ranging efforts to arrange free screenings for students and young people to see the groundb…

Difficult is a gendered term fueled by the Hollywood machine and maintained by the belief that actresses aren’t respo…

On two excellent Criterion releases of classic horror films.


comments powered by

Source: http://ift.tt/2yZbehO

Annihilation

Alex Garland’s visionary, unsettling “Annihilation” doesn’t fall into the same neat categories as so many recent films in what has been a sci-fi genre boom of late. Whether it’s the big films like “Blade Runner 2049” or the Netflix ones like “Mute” and “The Cloverfield Paradox,” sci-fi is everywhere in the late ‘10s, with most of it owing a great deal to some combination of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001,” Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” and the Wachowskis’ “The Matrix.” Even within this resurgence, rarely do you see a film that’s more of a predecessor of Tarkovsky films like “Solaris” or “Stalker,” movies that used sci-fi in a discomfiting, emotional register because, well, that kind of filmmaking is incredibly difficult to pull off. It’s so difficult in fact that Paramount had no idea what to do when they saw “Annihilation,” barely promoting it, holding it from press until a few days before release, and selling it to Netflix for international markets. Maybe they’re still burned by the failure of “mother!,” but they’re burying a genre gem here, an ambitious, challenging piece of work that people will be dissecting for years. Don’t miss it.

Advertisement

What looks like a meteor hits a lighthouse in the opening shots of “Annihilation.” Flash forward, we presume, to a woman being interrogated by a man in a hazmat suit. People watch the interrogation through glass and wear protective masks even though they’re not in the same room with her. Who is this woman? Why is everyone treating her like a biohazard?

Flash back, again we presume, to a time before Lena (Natalie Portman) was possibly radioactive. A successful biologist, Lena seems just about ready to get over the grief of her missing husband—who has been gone on a covert mission for a year and presumed KIA—when he walks up the stairs and into her bedroom. Kane (Oscar Isaac) may be home, but there’s a sense immediately that something is wrong. In a quick flashback, Garland shows us a playful, smiling Kane, so we the viewers can sense along with Lena that something is not right with the dead-eyed man in front of her. Garland is brilliant in the way he parcels out information with a quick scene, line, flashback, etc.—giving us just what we need to process and analyze the action in front of us while also staying one step ahead of us, making us eager to catch up. Then Kane starts spitting up blood.

Before long, Lena is brought to a place called the Southern Reach, a research facility a few miles from that lighthouse in the opening shot. On the horizon, near a tree line, she sees what can best be described as a rainbow wall. Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) informs her that it’s called ‘The Shimmer,’ and that they have been investigating it for three years now. Past The Shimmer, no radio signals have returned, and no manned missions have produced a survivor … until her husband. The assumption is that something in there kills people or people go crazy and kill each other. Lena, Dr. Ventress, and three others—tough-talking Anya (Gina Rodriguez), shy Josie (Tessa Thompson), and sweet Cass (Tuva Novotny)—will venture into The Shimmer, get to the lighthouse, and return. Maybe.

If you’re wondering how much has been spoiled at this point in the review, the answer is almost nothing. “Annihilation” really becomes itself once the team crosses that threshold into the woods, a fascinating setting for a sci-fi flick that reveals itself slowly. This is not an alien planet, and yet there’s a sense of danger and some sort of biological aberration within these woods. Garland reveals just enough at every turn to keep us confused but also in the moment with Lena and the crew. It’s a film that balances disorientation with the grounded performances of its cast, who keep us engaged in each interaction, believing the danger as it unfolds. “Annihilation” could have easily become campy or silly. If I described some of its scarier scenes, you might laugh, but Garland finds a way to make the insanity work, and watching that balancing act can be invigorating.

Advertisement

“Annihilation” is an exercise in maintaining tone and keeping the action of the piece relatable enough so that it doesn’t spin off into something easily dismissible. Cinematographer Rob Hardy, who also shot “Ex Machina,” works with Garland to use the natural world as effectively as the pair used those sleek lines and reflections of the lab in their previous film. And the sound design, especially in the climax, is spectacular, keeping us disoriented and frightened with atonal noises that almost sound like they’re turning in on themselves. Most of all, the artistic success of “Annihilation” comes down to the way Garland metes out information visually. He’ll often show us one thing and then subvert it with the next image, which is an ambitious but perfect way to tell a story about duality and corruption. There’s also a centerpiece scene involving an attack at night that’s straight-up one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever seen in terms of design and direction. It reminded me of the first time it’s clear that everyone is probably going to die in John Carpenter’s “The Thing.”

There are times when the structure of “Annihilation” frustrated me just a little bit (although I’m eager to see it again to see if that complaint fades away)—flashbacks within flashbacks often do that—and I’m not sure Garland’s final act works as well as it could have. There’s an inherent problem with mission films like “Annihilation” in that the journey is almost always more engaging and interesting than the destination. Questions make for better art than answers. However, Garland leaves enough open for discussion that he saves it artistically. And he produces some of his most striking visuals in those closing scenes.

“Annihilation” is not an easy film to discuss. It’s a movie that will have a different meaning to different viewers who are willing to engage with it. It’s about self-destruction, evolution, biology, co-dependence, and that which scares us the most—that we can no longer trust our own bodies. It’s meant to linger in your mind and haunt your dreams. In this recent wave of sci-fi films, it’s one of the best.

Source: http://ift.tt/2yZbehO

Every Day

Maybe it all makes sense on the page.

Maybe in David Levithan’s Young Adult bestseller “Every Day,” the premise is better explained, the twists and turns don’t seem so outlandish, the melodramatic adolescent soliloquies resonate as they’re intended.

On the screen, though, “Every Day” has an intriguing concept that’s hampered by problematic execution. And it raises several questions it never answers in satisfying fashion, leading to a conclusion that will elicit not just head-scratching but unintentional hilarity.

Advertisement

But director Michael Sucsy’s film does benefit greatly from the likability of its star, Angourie Rice, who was so magnetic a few years back as Ryan Gosling’s wise-beyond-her-years daughter in “The Nice Guys.” (Rice’s naturalism, presence and even her voice are reminiscent of a young Amy Adams.) Here, she plays a much simpler type: a sweet, cute Maryland high school student named Rhiannon. She’s decent and kind—you want her to find happiness at the end of this wild romantic adventure. And she has to be the solid figure at the center as the cast of characters is constantly shifting around her, which is tougher than it looks.

Because you see, Rhiannon has fallen in love with someone—a soul, a spirit, something—that changes bodies every day. He—or is it she?—goes by the initial ‘A’. A wakes up every day inside a different teenager—always around the same age, always around the same area—and spends 24 hours there, sort of existing side-by-side with that person but mainly taking over without causing too many changes. The person wakes up the next day with only hazy memories of what he or she did the previous day. And then A is on to the next one.

Why? Who knows. That’s just the way it is.

Rhiannon first meets A when A takes over the body of her boyfriend, the handsome but cocky Justin (Justice Smith). On ordinary days, Justin is definitely not deserving of someone as lovely as Rhiannon. But on this day, Justin is magical: attentive and inquisitive, doting and caring. Rhiannon falls in love all over again—and it seems she’s stirred something in A, too, to the extent that every day from then on, A seeks out Rhiannon to spend more time with her. It’s the first significant emotional connection A has ever felt, prompting A to question whether there’s a way to stop this whole body-hopping thing and settle down for good.

Advertisement

It sounds crazy—like a speed-dating version of “Freaky Friday.” But based on a screenplay by Jesse Andrews, who also wrote the novel and script for “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” it sorta works for a while. The mystery of who A will be each day, and how he/she will find Rhiannon and explain to her what’s really going on here, gives the film some forward momentum. Among the memorable suitors are a mild-mannered, heavyset kid named James (Jacob Batalon, Peter Parker’s scene-stealing best friend in last year’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming”); a trans student named Vic (Ian Alexander); a black homeschooler named George (Sean Jones) who sneaks out to meet Rhiannon at a library; and a troubled Asian girl named Kelsea (Nicole Law), who challenges A’s long-held notions about staying out of the personal lives of the people he inhabits. Beneath the narrative gimmick, there is a worthwhile, fundamental message about the importance of getting to know people for who they truly are inside, regardless of the expectations you might have about them based on their appearance, race, gender or sexual orientation. It’s a nice idea within nutty packaging.

Sucsy’s previous feature was the similarly twisty and ambitious “The Vow” from 2012, in which Rachel McAdams comes out of a coma after a car accident with no memory of her life—including the fact that she’s married to Channing Tatum, who must fight to win her back. (I think I’d remember being married to Channing Tatum, but that’s just me.) “Every Day” has a similar guilelessness about its insanely romantic premise. Either you’re going to go with it, or you’re not.

But even if you have gone with it, you may have trouble (as I did) with the off-the-rails climax. It begins with a flash-forward to what life might be like if A stayed in the body of one of Rhiannon’s final suitors, a sensitive classmate named Alexander (Owen Teague), accompanied by a tortured monologue. But the film’s ultimate, final moments, which are meant to be momentous, are more likely to result in a missing persons case.

Source: http://ift.tt/2yZbehO

The Cured

For his debut feature film, writer/director David Freyne has come up with the best kind of premise, the sort of thing that’s so irresistible in its simplicity that people who didn’t think of it get annoyed that they didn’t think of it. (That’s the thing about such irresistibly simple ideas—they’re actually not easy to come up with.) While scads of prior horror movies have merely inundated viewers with horrific stories about our friends and loved ones turning into flesh-eating undead monsters, “The Cured” imagines a world in which the thing that created such horrors is indeed a virus, and one for which a cure has been found. The world is ours, and the country is Ireland.

Advertisement

The movie begins with a bloody sneaker, and a young man breathing heavily, ever more heavily, as a bloodthirsty expression takes hold of his face. This is Senan, played terrifically by Sam Keeley. The quick visions of his former self come to him in flashbacks and nightmares. Now, after an injection and hospital stay, he’s normal again. There’s a circle of blood in the lower white of his eye that’s a mark of his former state. He and other cured are released into the general populace under the supervision of a none-too-pleased military man. Protestors distrust them. The cured, at least the most conscientious of them, don’t trust themselves. Because they can remember what they did. And what Senan did what especially terrible.

Still, Senan has a home: that of his sister-in-law Abbie (Ellen Page), an American journalist and the widow of Senan’s brother. Abbie and her little boy welcome Senan, but most of the cured are not so fortunate. There’s Conor, for instance, who seems frail and gentle upon release; he has a bond with Senan that articulates itself in great physical closeness. Conor was once a prominent lawyer, now he’s something like a sanitation worker, rejected by family. As Conor tries to draw Senan into an insurrectionist group, and also ingratiate himself into Abbie’s life, he becomes more and more forceful. The performance here by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor is particularly vivid.

Meanwhile, in a medical facility cum prison, a group of what are called “the resistant,” virus victims for whom the cure doesn’t take, are about to be wiped out by the government. The developer of the cure races against time to synthesize a new version of the medicine, in part to save her own lover from death. Senan is enlisted as a medical assistant there. He’s useful because the currently infected never attack one of their own, and they still recognize the cured as that. This glitch leads to all sorts of interesting plot complications and loopholes. Freyne’s scheme also makes potent use of ideas developed in George A. Romero’s “Dead” series, particularly those about undead intelligence evolution put forward in “Day of the Dead.”

Advertisement

The result is a very creepy, suspenseful story that’s also a better-than-average character study. And as you may have inferred upon my saying the film was set in Ireland, the premise has a great deal of potential for allegory and metaphor. Freyne’s hand here is assured; his world-creation (the cities are postered with PDAs about handling the crisis of what’s called “The Maze Virus”) doesn’t lay things on too thick, but the points concerning trust, distrust and the weight of history and personal conscience are all hit with a satisfying directness. Eventually, the tension between the characters and their individual situations has to break, and this is the point at which the movie becomes its most conventional, with riots and chases and near-misses in the bit-by-one-of-the-infected department. For its familiarity, it’s still engaging, and the final shots have a nice sting in the tail. Freyne is a filmmaker to watch, to be sure, and “The Cured” is going to be a genre film to beat in 2018.

Source: http://ift.tt/2yZbehO

Mute

When Duncan Jones was doing press for his excellent “Moon,” he told me that he already knew what his follow-up would be, a passion project called “Mute,” which he said would be to his first film as “Blade Runner” was to “Alien.” He also mentioned that the film would take place in the same universe as “Moon,” and that he hoped to make it soon. As often happens in Hollywood, hope is deferred, and Jones would make the great “Source Code” and the misfire “Warcraft” before returning to the ambitious project with a silent leading man. “Mute” premieres on Netflix today and it’s an interesting chapter in the company’s onslaught of sci-fi entertainment in recent months, including “Bright,” “The Cloverfield Paradox,” and “Altered Carbon.” Sadly, Jones’ passion has not made it to the screen in a way that’s likely to make viewers feel the same excitement he had about the project so many years ago.

Advertisement

“Mute” opens with an accident. An Amish child is horribly injured, and his parents refuse the surgery that could have saved his ability to speak. Cut forward a few decades to an almost cyberpunk future that looks like a blend of anime inspirations, “Blade Runner,” and the kind of thing Jones likely doodled in a notebook when he was bored in school. The whole aesthetic of “Mute” has a “teen fantasy” vibe to it from the tech gadgets that populate this version of Berlin to the weird sex robots and fetishes occasionally highlighted. This vision of the future is more colorful than Ridley Scott’s but it was clearly built on the template of his landmark film.

In this city of hustlers, we meet Leo Beiler (Alexander Skarsgard), the adult version of the Amish kid from the opening scene. He works at an adult entertainment club with a waitress named Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh), whom Leo is dating. Jones takes his time establishing their relationship as a loving, sweet one—Skarsgard can convey a great deal of affection through only his eyes—but it’s also clear that Naadirah has a secret. Meanwhile, we meet a couple of American surgeons named “Cactus” Bill (Paul Rudd, sporting a soon-to-be legendary mustache) and Duck (Justin Theroux). They perform surgeries for criminal enterprises and Bill sulks his way around Berlin. He too clearly has a secret. Maybe it’s related to Naadirah’s? And then Leo’s girlfriend disappears, and our mute hero does whatever it takes to find her.

Jones seems to embrace the noir roots of “Mute”—there’s a poster for “The Blue Angel” in one of the rooms and “the missing girl” is a classic noir set-up—but his piece doesn’t have nearly the atmosphere it needed to make the genre connection work. The production design is shockingly hollow, without a sense of world-building. It’s almost as if Jones and his team were too hesitant to just lean into their influences and so worked too hard to set their design apart, but that makes for inconsistencies and unengaging visuals. It’s perfectly fine to lean into a classic aesthetic like “Blade Runner”—“Altered Carbon” does so effectively—but don’t go halfway.

Advertisement

Viewers likely won’t complain too much about the film’s look (although its design failures will register subconsciously), but they will notice that there’s almost no real sense of danger in this world, and so the stakes don’t seem high enough to care about what happens to anyone. The biggest problem comes down to pacing. The movie takes too long to go anywhere, and so it’s the kind of movie that you get an hour into before you realize that you don’t care about what’s happening. It doesn’t help that Rudd/Theroux and Skarsgard feel like they are in different movies tonally, and the former is more interesting. Skarsgard isn’t bad but Jones never quite broke how to convey his story without dialogue and so he seems more comfortable in the other one. And Rudd, as he often is, is the best thing about the film, finding a sleazy register he doesn’t often use as an actor, which makes the movie unbalanced and causes it to sag a little when it goes back to Leo’s quest.

Ultimately, “Mute” is a mishmash of ideas in search of a movie. Jones is clearly an ambitious and interesting filmmaker. He’ll get over this misfire and possibly even complete what was once proposed as a loosely-connected trilogy. I hope it doesn’t take as long for that one to get to viewers as it did with “Mute” because it doesn’t seem like the delay did this project any favors.

 

Source: http://ift.tt/2yZbehO

Mute

When Duncan Jones was doing press for his excellent “Moon,” he told me that he already knew what his follow-up would be, a passion project called “Mute,” which he said would be to his first film as “Blade Runner” was to “Alien.” He also mentioned that the film would take place in the same universe as “Moon,” and that he hoped to make it soon. As often happens in Hollywood, hope is deferred, and Jones would make the great “Source Code” and the misfire “Warcraft” before returning to the ambitious project with a silent leading man. “Mute” premieres on Netflix today and it’s an interesting chapter in the company’s onslaught of sci-fi entertainment in recent months, including “Bright,” “The Cloverfield Paradox,” and “Altered Carbon.” Sadly, Jones’ passion has not made it to the screen in a way that’s likely to make viewers feel the same excitement he had about the project so many years ago.

Advertisement

“Mute” opens with an accident. An Amish child is horribly injured, and his parents refuse the surgery that could have saved his ability to speak. Cut forward a few decades to an almost cyberpunk future that looks like a blend of anime inspirations, “Blade Runner,” and the kind of thing Jones likely doodled in a notebook when he was bored in school. The whole aesthetic of “Mute” has a “teen fantasy” vibe to it from the tech gadgets that populate this version of Berlin to the weird sex robots and fetishes occasionally highlighted. This vision of the future is more colorful than Ridley Scott’s but it was clearly built on the template of his landmark film.

In this city of hustlers, we meet Leo Beiler (Alexander Skarsgard), the adult version of the Amish kid from the opening scene. He works at an adult entertainment club with a waitress named Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh), whom Leo is dating. Jones takes his time establishing their relationship as a loving, sweet one—Skarsgard can convey a great deal of affection through only his eyes—but it’s also clear that Naadirah has a secret. Meanwhile, we meet a couple of American surgeons named “Cactus” Bill (Paul Rudd, sporting a soon-to-be legendary mustache) and Duck (Justin Theroux). They perform surgeries for criminal enterprises and Bill sulks his way around Berlin. He too clearly has a secret. Maybe it’s related to Naadirah’s? And then Leo’s girlfriend disappears, and our mute hero does whatever it takes to find her.

Jones seems to embrace the noir roots of “Mute”—there’s a poster for “The Blue Angel” in one of the rooms and “the missing girl” is a classic noir set-up—but his piece doesn’t have nearly the atmosphere it needed to make the genre connection work. The production design is shockingly hollow, without a sense of world-building. It’s almost as if Jones and his team were too hesitant to just lean into their influences and so worked too hard to set their design apart, but that makes for inconsistencies and unengaging visuals. It’s perfectly fine to lean into a classic aesthetic like “Blade Runner”—“Altered Carbon” does so effectively—but don’t go halfway.

Advertisement

Viewers likely won’t complain too much about the film’s look (although its design failures will register subconsciously), but they will notice that there’s almost no real sense of danger in this world, and so the stakes don’t seem high enough to care about what happens to anyone. The biggest problem comes down to pacing. The movie takes too long to go anywhere, and so it’s the kind of movie that you get an hour into before you realize that you don’t care about what’s happening. It doesn’t help that Rudd/Theroux and Skarsgard feel like they are in different movies tonally, and the former is more interesting. Skarsgard isn’t bad but Jones never quite broke how to convey his story without dialogue and so he seems more comfortable in the other one. And Rudd, as he often is, is the best thing about the film, finding a sleazy register he doesn’t often use as an actor, which makes the movie unbalanced and causes it to sag a little when it goes back to Leo’s quest.

Ultimately, “Mute” is a mishmash of ideas in search of a movie. Jones is clearly an ambitious and interesting filmmaker. He’ll get over this misfire and possibly even complete what was once proposed as a loosely-connected trilogy. I hope it doesn’t take as long for that one to get to viewers as it did with “Mute” because it doesn’t seem like the delay did this project any favors.

 

Source: http://ift.tt/2yZbehO

The Lodgers

Thumb lodgers 2018 2

At its best, the ho-hum Irish gothic chiller "The Lodgers" made me wish we lived in a world where this type of film wasn’t so rare that its very existence wasn’t a source of novelty. Imagine a world where "Crimson Peak" was a hit (and a little better), one where the recently revived Hammer Studios cranked out a lot more where "The Woman in Black" and its surprisingly strong sequel came from. In this imaginary context, you can see how a film like "The Lodgers" needs to be better than a great mood in need of a decent story and stronger characters. 

The one thing that the makers of "The Lodgers" do deliver is a unique setting. Welcome to Ireland in the early 1920s, presumably 1920 or 1921. Soldiers are returning home from the Irish War of Independence, and the seeds for the impending Irish Civil War are starting to blossom. Good-natured Irish vet Sean (Eugene Simon) bears the brunt of this unbalanced allegory since he returns home to find that he’s no longer welcome. The British and the Irish now have a wary truce, and local bully Dessie (Moe Dunford) doesn’t like that. In fact, Dessie speaks for his home-town when he calls Sean a "traitor."

Unfortunately, "The Lodgers" isn’t Sean’s story. His very presence upsets the emotional balance between creepy shut-in siblings Edward (Bill Milner) and Rachel (Charlotte Vega). Edward and Rachel are, unfortunately, rather boring. A family curse forces them to spend (most of) their time inside their moldering family estate. He mostly wrings his hands, and acts out fearfully since he doesn’t want to offend the ghosts that keep him trapped in his own home. After all, this haunted house has generic rules (ex: no visitors!), and while she has gotten sick of them, he’s pretty much resigned to his fate. This is an archetypal plot, one that could have easily worked with greater finesse, ambiance, or general attention to detail.

Alas, "The Lodgers" just sits there. Each successive plot point feels so passion-less, and paint-by-numbers. Sean’s presence soon leads to a halting romance with Rachel. Which in turn leads her to become emboldened. So Edward gets mad at her. And she has to assert herself even further by fighting him, and the traumatic family memories that plague her. There’s a struggle. And a little trapdoor, from which blackish-blue water bubbles forth menacingly. A dead body here. Some dark shadows there. A few intimations of incest and domestic violence. And voila, you’ve got a gothic romance rendered with all the panache and soulful-ness of a Bob Ross painting, complete with an unhappy little pond, and some unhappy little period costumes.

"The Lodgers" disappoints on a number of levels, many of which have more to do with the limitations of its creators’ imagination than the apparently minuscule budget. The performances are uniformly undistinguished, save for Vega, who does a lot with a few pregnant pauses, and over-the-shoulder glances. The cinematography is mostly uninvolving, as is the natural lighting and cheap-looking sets. And the scenario gracelessly stumbles from one plot point to the next without ever spending enough time to get you to believe that these fairy tale archetypes are real enough to be worth caring about. 

I really wanted "The Lodgers" to be as good as its best isolated moments. I love so many tropes that define the film’s world, from the town’s civil, but scowl-y general store manager to Rachel’s favorite willow-tree-lined pond. I like Dessie, even if Dunford doesn’t do anything more taxing than strut around with his hands in his pockets, and lurk menacingly around country roads and public squares. I even liked aspects of Edward, a character whose insecurities are only interesting once he’s nervous enough to be an Edgar Allan Poe character (what’s that infernal sound coming from underneath the trapdoor?).

But the movie in my head never matched the one on screen. I imagined a film where Sean and Rachel’s budding attraction was more centrally grounded. One where his resentment at coming home to an ungrateful motherland wasn’t simply one detail on a checklist of character traits. Where her attachment and interest in him didn’t feel like a rote extension of her need to get as far away from her brother as possible. I also fantasized about a story where the house’s ghosts had personality beyond a single plot twist that should, though the gift of hindsight, shed a much stronger light on Edward and Rachel’s relationship. 

"The Lodgers" just sits there. And it doesn’t improve the more you think about it. I wish it did, because little horror films need love most of all. The best thing I can say about this film is that it might interest you if you’re already invested in this type of story. But beyond that? I wish "The Lodgers" were better.

Source: http://ift.tt/2yZbehO