Films I Neglected To Review: "Close, Noomi. Close."
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 01/18/19 10:29:16
Please enjoy short reviews of "All These Small Moments," "Close," "Dragon Ball Super: Broly" and "The Standoff at Sparrow Creek."
I have no specific way of proving this, of course, but I have a sneaky suspicion that when Melissa Miller Costanzo first saw Noah Baumbach's grotesquely overrated ''The Squid and the Whale,'' it was roughly akin to the moment when Truffaut first saw ''Citizen Kane.'' How else to explain ''All These Small Moments,'' her deeply enervating feature debut as a writer-director that finds her borrowing wholesale from that film—when she isn't trying to lift stuff from ''Rushmore'' at the same time, that is? Bredan Meyer stars as Howie, a New York City teenager struggling with the perils of adolescence and failing miserably. While trying to ignore his parents (Molly Ringwald and Brian d’Arcy James), whose marriage appears to be swirling down the toilet, his annoying younger brother (Sam McCarthy) and the classmate (Harley Quinn Smith) who unaccountably has a not-so-secret crush on him as well as a dark secret of her own, he becomes infatuated with Odessa (Jemima Kirke), a woman roughly twice his age who rides the same bus as he does and who becomes the object of his obsession. Instead of being creeped out by the stalker-like behavior of this twerps kid, Odessa finds it all kind of charming and a way of distracting her from her own impending divorce. Driven along by a wispy folk guitar soundtrack that will have most viewers begging for relief, the film moves along in its own plodding manner through one scene after another that is meant to be profound and moving in a low-key way without ever once betraying a glimmer of recognizable human behavior. (It is the kind of movie where the younger brother starts talking enthusiastically about the movie that he and his brother recently watched and it turns out to be ''Quills'' because why wouldn't it be?) There are good actors here like Ringwald, James and Kirke who certain give it their all but are unable to make anything interesting out of the material that they are working with. Essentially a movie that seems to have been made exclusively to one day appear in one of the less attractive screening slots at the Tribeca Film Festival before vanishing from view, ''All These Small Moments'' is a work that seems to last approximately as long as the typical adolescence but is nowhere near as interesting.
As you have probably heard, Netflix has just raised their subscription rates, justifying the jump by citing the cost of all the high-quality original product that they have been generating as of late. That may be true but if they continue to churn out stuff like their latest effort, ''Close,'' they should probably steel themselves for an avalanche of refund demands. In this utterly anonymous action thriller--for lack of a better term--Noomi Rapace plays Sam, a tough-as-nails counter-terrorism expert (with the requisite troubled past) who is hired to work as a bodyguard for spoiled young mining heiress Zoe (Sophie Nelisse). Any hopes of this being a cushy low-impact job fly out the window when a kidnapping attempt leaves Sophie accused of murdering a policeman and when her cold-hearted stepmother (Indira Varma) refusing to lend any assistance for fear of jeopardizing an important merger deal, it is up to Sam to try to get Zoe to safety while eluding attackers from all sides on the streets of Morocco. What it basically boils down to is a series of perfunctory action sequences that are competent without ever being exciting linked together with scenes involving characters explaining the plot to each other in excruciatingly uninteresting detail. Rapace is, of course, an enormously charismatic actress and while she is the best thing about the film, not even she can do much to make ''Close'' (a meaningless title for an ultimately meaningless enterprise) into anything more than a generic action thriller whose lasting impact on viewers will depend to a large extent on how tolerant they are of scenes involving women getting smacked around repeatedly before eventually getting the better of their attackers.
I must confess that when I sat down to watch ''Dragon Ball Super: Broly,'' the big-screen offshoot of the long-running anime property, it was as someone who has had no exposure to any aspect of the franchise outside of a live-action version from 2009 of which I retain absolutely no memory other than the fact that it co-starred Chow Yun-Fat and Emmy Rossum and still managed to remain forgettable. This might seem to put me at a disadvantage but I occasionally like to watch films based on hugely popular things that I have no working knowledge of in order to see how well it plays for someone who doesn't known all of the various ins and outs of the narrative. Sometimes the results have been interesting but in this particular case, I confess to spending every single one of the film’s 100 minutes in a state of total confusion as to what was going on. This is not to say that the film doesn't try to explain things--in fact, I would say roughly the first two-thirds of the film consists of flashbacks and backstories trying and failing to explain the histories of the key characters before turning the rest of the film over to an extended fight scene that is a riot of noise and color that is as incomprehensible as it is frenetic and boy, is it frenetic. Clearly this is not a film made for newcomers to the franchise, I suppose, but it is hard to see how appealing it could possibly be for the hardcore fan base what with all of the extended explanations taking up a good chunk of the running time gumming things up before the big fight that is presumably the film's selling point. ''Dragon Ball Super: Broly'' is a film that is probably best appreciated as a midnight attraction--at least that way, you can assume that you drifted off from time to time and missed all the stuff that would allow it to make even a modicum of sense.
As ''The Standoff at Sparrow Creek'' opens, Gannon (James Badge Dale), a disgruntled former cop who has joined a militia, is out hunting when he hears news that a cop funeral in a nearby town was attacked by a heavily armed man who inflicted multiple casualties. When word gets out that the attacker is suspected of being in a militia, he and the other members of his group--Beckmann (Patrick Fischler), Morris (Happy Anderson), Hubbel (Gene Jones), Keating (Robert Aramayo), Noah (Brian Geraghty) and leader Ford (Chris Mulkey)--meet up at the remote abandoned warehouse that they have made their base of operations and discover that one of the assault rifles from their arsenal is missing--the very same kind used in the attack. Ford orders Gannon to utilize his interrogation skills in order to find out which one of them perpetrated the attack--or at least the one who could be plausibly accused of it--so that they can be dealt with and take the heat off of the rest of the group. While Gannon does his work, much suspicion falls on Noah (he was the last one to show up and gave a shaky excuse for his tardiness) but Gannon knows a couple of things about him that the others don’t--not only is Noah his real-life brother but he is also an undercover cop charged with infiltrating the group. As tension mounts, Gannon has to figure out who did it while keeping his brother safe and protecting his secrets, even as the short-wave radio reports news of similar attacks throughout the county.
At its core, ''The Standoff at Sparrow Creek'' will no doubt remind many viewers of Quentin Tarantino's ''Reservoir Dogs'' in terms of structure, setting and plot developments. However, unlike the vast majority of Tarantino ripoffs that have emerged over the years, writer-director Henry Dunham manages to put his own spin on the material so that it doesn't seem like just another by-the-numbers carbon copy. The dialogue may not be as sharp or memorable as one might hope but he does a very good job of setting the mood, gradually ratcheting up the tension without resorting to cheap tricks or gimmicks to move things along and creating reasonably complex characters who are interesting enough to be stuck with for 90-odd minutes without ever glossing over the essential monstrousness of their beliefs--it goes out of its way to try to understand what would twist people around to such degrees but never comes close to letting them off the hook. Along these lines, the performances are also quite good all around as all the actors do effective jobs of delving into the mindsets of their characters in convincing ways. The only real hiccup comes towards the end as the story wraps up in a way that is not nearly as clever or audacious as it wants to believe it is but even that isn't enough to dilute the impact of what has come before it. Because it is primarily a VOD release, there is a good chance that ''The Standoff at Sparrow Creek'' will get lost amidst the shuffle of titles but this is one that is definitely worth seeking out.