It’s that time of year again, when you can watch five films in one weekend and have family only be mildly concerned that you’re depressed. Accordingly, I’ve collected some brief reviews of films currently streaming on Netflix, for those minus-30-dark-at-4-kind-of days.
What Maisie Knew
Family dramas are not my normal cup of tea, but I saw this poster for months outside of the Angelika theater so I’d thought I would give it a whirl. This movie is about a young girl suffering through her two self-absorbed wealthy Manhattanite parents’ divorce. Her parents are the type that I see in TriBeCa coffee houses on the weekends, forcing their only-child to eat cashew butter and green juice–the type that I really hope are not the awful people that this film makes them out to be. Moore and Coogan play truly despicable parents who ignore Maisie to pursue either trans-Atlantic business pursuits (Coogan) or nostalgic rock re-unions (Moore), the latter being one of the more far-fetched and ridiculous parts of the film. Both also marry young, fairly innocent hipsters for the sole purpose of having someone to babysit their daughter. Despite being a middle-class bartender and nanny, these hipsters are (surprise!) better parents than Maisie’s real sad-sack biological parents.
I liked this film because it depicted how a childhood could be both drenched in material goods and completely devoid of stability and love, something that is probably quite common in America’s ruling class. It also offered some interesting generational commentary. Despite lacking careers, in this film Gen Yers are decent human beings and parents, while Gen Xers are materialistic, confused people who follow in the footsteps of the worst of the boomers. One of the several unrealistic parts that bothered me was that Maisie, although adorable, was not realistic in her ultra-mature, zen-like approach to her parents awfulness. Most kids would be well on their way to being little monsters.
Only God Forgives
Staying on the topic of bad parents, we have this beautiful and gruesome crime flick, Only God Forgives. Kristin Scott Thomas has an epic performance, playing a sadistic and quasi-incestuous crime-family matriarch, Crystal. Crystal manipulates with her son (Gosling) with some deep dark Freudian stuff. All poor Gosling wants is to not kill innocent people and children, and to have a prostitute like him. Both are hunted by a demi-god Thai police chief who routinely murders and chops off limbs to impose his ethics.
This film looks amazing. It could have been Panos Cosmatos’ next film. It could have also been a misfire by David Lynch, since it is filled with dark corridors, red lighting, and hands moving through veils. It would have been a misfire, though, because despite the visuals, excellent soundtrack by Cliff Martinez, and Thomas’ performance, the plot and the acting are not that good.
I’m a fan of strange experimental films, and this was probably the strangest film I’ve seen all year. Not just because the plot is totally surreal, but it’s real-deal surreal, meaning French. And sometimes French things are so weird it’s like they’re from another planet.
Denis Lavant gets to “meta-act” in this film, playing a mysterious man who is driven around Paris in a limo, to his various “appointments,” acting as a homeless beggar, a futuristic gaming green-screen sex actor à la The Lawnmower Man, and a flower-eating, sewer-dwelling, Eva Mendes breast-revealing dwarf, to name a few. The latter was so bizarre and so seemingly packed with literary and historic reference that my brain couldn’t really process it.
All that aside, I didn’t actually finish the film, since it was near 3am and suddenly Kylie Minogue appeared and it became a musical. Nevertheless, this is some crazy adventurous stuff along the lines of Enter the Void, and it’s definitely worth seeing.
The plot of Electrick Children is wistful. A Mormon teenager listens to Blondie and becomes pregnant with the Child of God, then takes off to the big city to find the rock star father. It would be a mediocre or bad film if it was only the plot that was wistful. But it’s a good film because the mood is nostalgic as well.
It was hard to put my finger on exactly what I liked about this film, but whatever it was definitely had a residue of nostalgia. It clearly dealt with the repression of Mormonism, or any religious orthodoxy, for that matter. More importantly, however, it managed to portray teenage love in messy way, complete with a final escape to the ultimate symbol of freedom, the California coast. It kind of reminded of a Paris, Texas for the 2010s. Expansive, austere landscapes, missing fathers, urban decay (Las Vegas, Houston), and contrasting suburbia.
Después de Lucía
A good friend, knowing that I am a fan of dark cinema, suggested that I check this one out, as it might challenge my tastes. And it did. This was one of the only films in recent memory that I initially regretted watching because it was so disturbing.
I say initially because I think Después de Lucía is a unique and important film. It deals with themes of grief and the terrifying notion that terrible things happen to decent people who have just experienced terrible things, for no apparent reason. At the expense of sounding like a misinformed white man, I feel that there is something particularly Mexican about this kind of nihilism, or at least that it is born in a place where people live amongst barbaric drug-trade murders and thousands of women disappear without a trace.
What’s interesting about this film, though, is that its terror does not reside in the slums of Ciudad Juárez but in the wealthy enclaves of Mexico City. The terrorists are not drug cartels, but rich teenagers with iPhones. Yet the same themes creep in; in particular, violence against women and inadequate law enforcement. Lucía’s father ends of up taking on the role of the enforcer, or judge, jury, and executioner. In the films unforgettable final scene, his cold-steel and mechanical murder of Lucía’s schoolmate/tormentor summarizes something terrible about the world that is best unearthed only once. So yes, the movie is not something I would watch repeatedly, but definitely worth watching.