Films I Neglected To Review: !!!!!By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 02/26/21 07:58:16
Please enjoy short reviews of "Billie Eilish: The World's A Little Blurry," "Crisis," "Pinocchio" and "The Vigil."
While making a film of this length about a singer with exactly one full album to their credit might seem like a supreme act of hubris under normal circumstances, I suppose it can be forgiven in this case on the basis that it takes the place of her pandemic-scuttled world tour that would have normally served as the final word and victory lap for this particular era. Needless to say, the film proves to be such a deep dive into all things Eilish that those who are not already hardcore fans going in are likely to find it to be rough going after a while. That said, even fans may find it to be just a bit too much of a good thing as it goes into granular detail regarding a career trajectory that just unfolded in public a short time ago. That said, Eilish is an engaging presence--the film might have been virtually intolerable otherwise--the behind-the-scenes footage of her creating her music is interesting and the clips of her performing are suitably mesmerizing. While "Billie Eilish: The World's A Little Blurry" may not quite hit the heights of such fascinating recent music documentaries as "Zappa" or "Miss Americana," but it is still a intriguing look at the development of a modern music powerhouse and it should help tide fans over until the next chapter of her career arrives.
Because it deals with the topic of the drug problem in America and because it uses multiple narratives to look at the problem of combating it from different perspectives, most people will look at "Crisis" as a contemporary version of Steven Soderbergh's award-winning "Traffic." While some aspects of that earlier film have not exactly stood the test of time (the color-coding of the various plotlines now plays like hand-holding overkill), it was largely an ambitious and serious-minded exploration of a problem that affected people regardless of race, gender or economic status that was smart enough to recognize that there were no easy solutions to be had. The trouble with "Crisis" is that while Jarecki presumably went in with the best intentions, the results just do not work. The stories are mostly boilerplate melodramas and the one that initially seems like it could be the most promising and valuable--the one involving the professor-turned-whistleblower confronting both the problem he is trying to expose and his own past culpability--quickly fritters it away to nothing. To make matters more irritating, Jarecki seems to be illustrating the impossibility for any one person to truly make a difference in the face of such a massive problem but then gives each of his stories a pat final moment in which the main characters are able to do just that. The best thing about it is probably the Oldman performance but even that doesn't quite justify everything else since not even his pronounced talents are enough to overcome the hackneyed writing that he is working with throughout. "Crisis" is well-meaning and clearly wants to be taking as a serious cinematic examination of a national problem but in the end, it proves to be a bit of a pill itself.
As it turns out, "Pinocchio" (which arrived in some theaters last Christmas and is just now hitting home video) is no joke and it is, in fact, a pretty effective movie. That said, I should state right up front that while the story is more or less the same--I assume that I do not have the relate the particulars here--but Garrone takes a darker and weirder approach to the material that is definitely closer in tone to the original book but which may prove to be too much for younger viewers to bear. (The scene in which Pinocchio (Federico Ielapi) and a fellow bad boy are transformed into donkeys is almost painful to watch.) Adding to the surreal tone of the piece is the inspired decision employ practical makeup effects to bring Pinocchio and the other characters, many of whom combine human and animal features, to life in ways that suggest the illustrations found in an old book brought to life. Make no mistake, the definitive version of "Pinocchio" is still the 1940 version--which may have diverted from the original text but which is nevertheless remains one of Disney's greatest works--and it is definitely not for the younger kids but so much of it works (even Benigni is relatively tolerable) that it is definitely worth a look.
While I presume that "The Vigil" will have a deeper and more profound meaning for members of the Hasidic faith, even the most clueless goyim will still be able to appreciate this debut feature from writer-director Keith Thomas for what it is--a stylishly-made and undeniably effective horror film that may be low-fi and relatively gore-free (it even comes with a PG-13 rating) but does not let its relative restraint get in the way of quietly creeping out those watching it. Although relatively spare in terms of setup--outside of the opening segment and a couple of flashbacks explaining Yakov's decision to leave his faith, the film is set almost entirely within the confines of the dead man's apartment and the only characters with substantial screen time are him, the widow and the rabbi--the screenplay does an effective job of establishing the premise and then running with it, though, as is often the case, the setup proves to be more intriguing than the resolution. I admit that the screenplay may lean a little too heavily on jump scares (backed by an overly insistent score that is perhaps the film's one significant flaw) that usually tend to grate after a while but Thomas delivers them with such skill that I didn't mind them. He also gets a strong performance from Davis in what is essentially a one-man show for long stretches of time and an equally effective supporting turn from Cohen as the widow who may or may not know more than she is letting on. It is a shame that current circumstances will mean that most people will wind up seeing "The Vigil" at home instead of in a theater, where I can imagine it playing like gangbusters for a properly primed crowd, but it says a lot about the considerable strengths of the film that it should prove to be just as effective for viewers sitting in their own darkened living rooms, perhaps wondering about that strange noise they thought that they heard behind them.
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