Thursday, February 13, 2020

THE PHOTOGRAPH: An Ambling Yet Very Charming Rom-Dram

Opening tonight at a multiplex near us all:

THE PHOTOGRAPH (Dir. Stella Meghie, 2020)

A high quotient of charm and a low percentage of cheese make this a fairly solid romantic drama. Lakeith Stanfield (GET OUT, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU, KNIVES OUT) stars as Micheal Block, a journalist who falls in love with Issa Rae (LITTLE, THE HATE U GIVE) as Mae Morton, a photographer he meets while working on a story about her mother (Chanté Adams).

The narrative bounces both and forth time from present day New York to mid ‘80s New Orleans, in which we see the blooming romance between Adams’ Christine and Isaac (played by Rob Morton in the flashbacks; I’lan Noel in modern times).

Meghie, whose fourth feature this is, has lovingly constructed a film that feels like an adaptation of an involving novel. It ambles from scene to scene at times, but it’s got an easy-going sensibility largely due to these well acted characters being extremely appealing, and worth caring about. 

There are also amusing bits provided by comedian Lil Ray Howery (also a GET OUT veteran), as Michael’s best friend, and Mae’s friend, Rachel (Jasmine Cephas) Jones, hooking up with Michael’s coworker Andy, Kelvin Harrison Jr.

THE PHOTOGRAPH, which is titled after a picture of Mae’s mother that Isaac took back in the day, is an intriguing diversion even if its ending can be seen coming up the Mississippi River Delta.

More later...

DOWNHILL: Not As Profoundly Cringe-worthy As The Original

Opening this evening at a multiplex near us all:

DOWNHILL (Dirs. Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, 2020) 

Although the end credits state that it’s “inspired by” the 2014 Swedish dark comedy FORCE MAJEURE, this new Will Ferrell/Julia Louis-Dreyfus vehicle still largely feels like a remake.

The dominant premise is the same: a family on holiday in the French Alps gets shaken up when an avalanche arrives during their lunch at a mountainside restaurant. The avalanche was controlled, and there was no danger, but the wall of snow smoke it created was scary enough to make Ferrell’s husband/father figure character Pete run frantically from the table, leaving his family behind.

This causes an awkward, chilly rift between Pete and Louis-Dreyfus’ Billie, as she can’t seem to get past her spouse’s cowardly behavior. It all comes out when the couple has drinks with one of Pete’s co-workers, Zach (Zach Woods), and his flaky hashtag-loving girlfriend Rosie (Zoë Chao). Billie describes the scene to their young friend’s astonishment and even gets their kids (Julian Grey and Ammon Jacob Ford) to confirm her story when Pete disagrees with her take on the events.

Co-directors and screenwriting partners Faxon and Rash (THE DESCENDANTS, THE WAY WAY BACK), have faithfully recreated many moments from Ruben Östlund’s original, including entire scenes, but made some detours around the material with such tangents as Billie making out with her ski instructor (Giulio Berruti), and Pete making their kids uncomfortable with his aggressive actions on the slopes.

It’s probably accurate to consider DOWNHILL (not a very strong title) an indirect remake of FORCE MAJEURE. Even its ending, while considerably different, still reworks elements from its vastly superior source material. I was disappointed that Faxon and Rash felt that they had to have Louis-Dreyfus make a speech to sum everything up.

It’s often the case that American remakes feel the need to spell everything out instead of showing, and not telling. The characters’ expressions and actions, and the power of the chosen imagery can do so much more than some resolving address at the end.

FORCE MAJEURE, which was often devastating in its take down of delusional masculinity, is certainly the sharper and darker of the two films, but DOWNHILL has its merits in Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus’s performances. Both former Saturday Night Live veterans (from different eras) put in an invested and, at times, an excruciatingly convincing portrayal of a couple in crisis - I’ve felt the same cringes being around couples who are clashing in real life that I felt watching this.

There’s also worth in the film’s cinematography by Danny Cohen (LES MISÉRABLES, ROOM, FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS) - possibly the one element that’s equal to the 2014 version in which Fredrik Wenzel did the Director of Photography honors.

DOWNHILL skates over the surface that FORCE MAJEURE cracked and took an icy deep dive into. It’s the Americanized family-friendly version of the acclaimed International hit that won many awards and should definitely be credited as more than just the inspiration here.

My advice is to seek out the original, and then decide whether you want to go DOWNHILL from there.

More later...

Monday, February 10, 2020

Oscars 2020: My Best Score Since 2015

I went back and forth as to whether to pick 1917 or PARASITE for Best Picture and Sam Mendes or Bong Joon Ho for Best Director, and I chose wrong, maybe even cynically as I didn't think that the same voting body that went with GREEN BOOK (does anybody every remember that movie now?) over ROMA last year would make the bold edgy choice this time around.

I loved both PARASITE and 1917, but Bong is well more deserving of the big award than Mendes as his film is a brilliant blast of a black comic thriller and it's really satisfying to see it get such high acclaim. I wish I had gone with my gut.

Otherwise, I did pretty good with my predictions scoring 19 out of 24. The last several years I felt like I was slipping as my scores got worse and worse. Last year I got 13 right and that was my all-time low. But I'm back - with only these being the ones I missed:

BEST PICTURE: My prediction: 1917 / What won: PARASITE

BEST DIRECTOR: My prediction: 
Sam Mendes /Who won: Bong Joon Ho

ORIGINAL SCORE: My prediction: 
Thomas Newman (1917) / Who won: Hildur Guðnadóttir (JOKER)

SOUND EDITING: My prediction: 1917 / What won: FORD V. FERRARI

Alright! That's another Oscars done with. Now I need to watch a stupid movie with no stakes to get this prestige shiznit out of my system. Doubt that'll be too difficult to find.

More later...