A Handful of Questionable Merit

May, 2016, Miscellaneous


A Handful of Questionable Merit

A trip to New York City last week offered the opportunity to “pig-out” on 5 films that have garnered recognition from both critics and festivals. Yet absent a few qualifications, none turned out to be must-see experiences. Here’s a brief look at each:

The Meddler-Even the gifted Susan Sarandon can’t turn a one-joke premise into a winning comedy. Despite the able assistance of character actor J.K. Simmons, this supposedly tongue-in-cheek look at the obsessive antics of a widowed mother and her dour screenwriting daughter wastes the considerable talents involved long before the final fadeout.  Writer/director Lorene Scafaria converts Sarandon, the dominating force in such movies as Thelma & Louise, BullDurham and Atlantic City into an obsessive pain in the ass who suffocates her only child. Despite the screenplay’s efforts to balance mom’s obsessive control with good her intentions, Sarandon winds up looking ditsy, making this film persistently annoying.

Sunset Song-Writer/director Terence Davies’ adaptation of Lewis Gibbon’s novel set in pre-WW I rural Scotland is gorgeous to look at and a showcase for Peter Mullan, the celebrated actor director whose career in film and television makes him one of the most highly familiar but least-known artists in contemporary cinema. He plays a domineering paterfamilias whose moral/cultural rigidity destroys his son and smothers his beguiling daughter. She survives his tyrannical upbringing only to win and then lose the love of her life. Stunningly filmed by cinematographer Michael McDonough and presented by a cast that spins Davies’ dialogue into pure gold. But an annoyingly unnecessary plot twist ruins a film that should have been much better.

Love & Friendship- Jane Austen’s acerbic novella “Lady Susan” demonstrates that author’s tart view of the male portion of our species, but the dialogue in director Whit Stillman’s script gets lost in its frenetic delivery; does Stillman confuse speed with wit? Kate Bekinsale scheming, round-heeled adventuress searches for a suitable husband for her daughter, conning men at will with blatant appeals to their vanity. All goes well until her machinations produce an unexpectedly right man for her daughter but saddling Kate’s character with a dullard and a pregnancy to boot. Chloe Sevigny’s impersonation of a wealthy American married to an elderly British stuffed-shirt is one of the worst performances to grace the screen in the past 5 years. Shot on what appears to have been a very tight budget, this movie looks like an attempt to generate box office for fare only a slight cut above made-for- TV fare.

Dheepan-This film by French director Jacques Audiard, previous work includes the exhilarating A Prophet along with Rust and Bone. He begins brilliantly here, exploring the plight of a political refugee from Sri Lanka whose relocation to a crime-ridden Parisian suburb promises a compelling look at the plight of those ripped from their native cultures and dumped into a hostile environment that ranges from complete indifference to outright hostility. Yet after this challenging premise is established, the film veers into unimaginable silliness with a Rambo-style shoot that abruptly and inexplicitly morphs into an ending of domestic bliss dripping with greeting card sentimental discrediting the thrust of what preceded it and producing an unanswerable question; how did this win the Palme d’Or at Cannes!


A Bigger Splash-This painfully dyspeptic movie examines a female rock star, her current lover and her former manager/lover who intrudes into their vacation on a small Mediterranean island in an effort to resume his former place in her life. Tilda Swinton plays the center of this erotic threesome, the exemplary Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust & Bone,The Drop) her self-absorbed, diffident boyfriend and Ralph Fiennes the obsessive-compulsive fly in this hedonistic ointment. Italian director Luca Guadagnino directed Swinton in the thrillingly erotic I Am Love 7 years ago and the actress reprises the intense sensuality she employed in that movie. But Schoenaerts struggles to being much energy to his role as her listless paramour, handing Fiennes the opportunity to deliver a petal-to-the-metal portrayal of grasping, yet self-loathing narcissism. Despite a pair of impressive performances from Swinton and Fiennes, the results aren’t terribly interesting and viewers can be forgiven for concluding that two hours of Fiennes scenery chewing aren’t worth the talent that went into the film’s production.  

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