Films I Neglected To Review: Capital IdeasBy Peter Sobczynski
Posted 04/30/20 20:42:56
Please enjoy short reviews of "Bull," "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," "Dangerous Lies" and "The Wretched."
Chicago's Music Box Theatre and the Gene Siskel Film Center are continuing their partnerships with independent film distributors to bring the movies that they normally would have been screening into homes via streaming arrangements that will give them a portion of the proceeds as a way of helping to keep them in business during these trying times. At the Music Box, you can now see "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," a documentary about the current economic climate that has been adapted from the best-selling book by Thomas Piketty. (See below.) At the Siskel Center, the new offerings are led by "Deerskin," the wild new effort from Quentin Dupieux ("Rubber"). In it, Jean Dujardin plays a man in the throes of a midlife crisis who uses nearly all of his remaining money to buy a deerskin jacket that immediately becomes the focus of his life. Alas, the jacket proves to be the Christine of outerwear and it leads him to increasingly bizarre and homicidal acts that eventually involve an aspiring film editor (Adele Haenel) who is convinced he is actually a filmmaker working on a top-secret project. "Pahokee" is a documentary observing the daily life of a small town in the Florida Everglades in the face of a shaky future. "Straight Up" is a contemporary rom-com charting the relationship between a gay man who is convinced that he is actually straight and a neurotic struggling actress. Cesar Diazís "Our Mothers" is a drama in which a young man charged with identifying the missing in the aftermath of the civil war in Guatemala who discover evidence that might point to his own missing father. "An Engineer Imagines" is a documentary that looks at the life and career of Peter Rice, the architectural engineer who designed such remarkable projects as the Sydney Opera House and the Pompidou Centre before his death in 1992.
Watching "Bull" is an occasionally disconcerting experience because while it is clear that director/co-writer Annie Silverstein is trying to present her story in a naturalistic and almost documentary-like manner (from what I understand, virtually all the actors aside from Morgan are non-professionals), nearly every scene will remind most viewers of some previous film--at various times, there are echoes of "The Rider," "The Florida Project," "Winter's Bone," the various film adaptations of the books of groundbreaking YA author S.E. Hinton and any number films involving aging-but-troubled mentors and their talented-but-troubled proteges. Although the details may get darker than expected at certain points, the screenplay that she and Johnny McAllister have created hits pretty much all the expected points at all the expected times and when it does elect to do something different--specifically the point at which it ends--it winds up doing it in a way that almost seems designed to frustrate viewers who have invested in it up to that point. The performances by the two leads are good--Morgan is especially impressive as Abe--but they alone are not quite enough to sell the film. "Bull" has clearly been made with good intentions and there are moments, especially the ones set at the rodeo, where it almost seems ready to break free of its narrative shackles and become something unique. Ultimately, those moments prove to be few and far between in a film more intent on presenting viewers with a grim, if ultimately unsatisfying, variation on an exceedingly standard theme.
The problem with "Dangerous Lies" is not that it is bad--though it is pretty far from rising to the level of mediocre--as much as that it is so resoundingly generic. Director Michael Scott and screenwriter David Golden, both of whom seem to have a lot of Hallmark-style Christmas movies on their respective filmographies, clearly know the cliches of the genre but have no evident idea of how to either transcend them or simply bring them to life with a certain amount of wit or cleverness. I think that they were working under the assumption that they were being clever but the screenplay is little more than a collection of crashingly obvious red herrings, paper-thin characters and plot twists that can be anticipated from a mile away. As a "Riverdale" fan of reasonably long standing, I am all for seeing Camilla Mendes front and center in a film and her brief scenes in the opening with Gould are effective but after a while, watching her consistently making one dumbass decision after another, only because the script requires it to move along to the next plot point, eventually becomes a bummer. In the end, "Dangerous Lies" (even the name reeks of quiet desperation) does indeed tell you whodunnit and why but by that point, it is very unlikely that you are going to care at all when that revelation is made.
For the most part, "The Wretched" is a calling-card movie--the kind of thing that a first-timer makes in order to call attention to themselves in the hopes of getting to do bigger and better things. By those standards, it more or less works--the Pierces tell their story in a slick and efficient manner that doesn't run out of steam before it ends, get good performances from their cast and even manage to conjure up a couple of reasonably gripping scare sequences to boot. The problem with the film is that while it does a good job evoking memories of any number of past genre favorites and their narrative tropes, it doesn't really break any new ground in how it presents them. This is especially frustrating because there are a couple of potentially provocative developments along the way that are quickly introduced and then just as rapidly tossed away--while watching the film, you always get the sense that the Pierces are maybe just one rewrite away from having something memorable. "The Wretched" is slickly made and eminently forgettable but just interesting enough to make you want to see what the Pierces have to offer the next time around.
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