Movie Reviews: The Lovers, War On Everyone, A Dark Song, Song to Song, Once Upon a Time in Venice

By | October 9, 2017

Love, war, and two very different movies with “song” in the title…

The Lovers…This “best of the bunch” film involves a long-married couple (Debra Winger, in a comeback role, and Homeland’s Tracy Letts, more known for being a great playwright) who are also having long-running affairs (with Magnolia’s Melora Waters and Aidan Gillen, cornering the market on schemers) with people pressuring them to leave the marriage. As their respective lovers each get more annoying, Winger and Letts re-develope an unexpected connection. “The Lovers” is the type of “European”-esque dramedy actual contemporary European cinema has grown a bit too self-serious to produce. The surprising final scene is perfect, as is the delightfully anachronistic score (when was the last time you even noticed an indie film’s score?). Although their son is sensitive and hyper-emotional to the point of tedium, you might find yourself surprised at how much you’re rooting for the main leads to find their way back to each other. Grade: A-

War On Everyone…A movie that conflicts me since I would love to give a positive review to the rare Hollywood movie that positively portrays an interracial couple (in the case, the aesthetically gifted pairing of Alexander Skarsgard and Tessa Thompson), but the rest of the movie is so bad it makes that almost impossible. If you’ve ever wondered what a Whit Stillman remake of “Lethal Weapon 2” might look like, this is pretty close, as it’s too dry and “clever” to have any visceral impact, but too juvenile to be half as intellectual as it would like to be. Although an ace supporting cast includes Stephanie Sigman, and a (for once) not bland Theo James as an aristocratic L.A. gangster. Grade: C-

Song to Song…Terrence Malick’s latest erosion of his legacy lands in about the same place “Knight of Cups” and “To the Wonder” did: nowhere. He keeps mixing the ponderous and the preposterous to a point that you wonder if any executive or producer has the guts to tell him how ridiculous it all looks: heavy handed, faux-poetic voiceovers trying to be profound while his characters walk through life like overgrown children in a bounce house–there are dozens of loosely constructed “scenes” (Malick more accurately stages gifs) of Michael Fassbender or Ryan Gosling doing goofy, “playful” takes on basic things. It’s the kind-of movie where a grown man could be laughing and tickling attractive women, making peekaboo faces behind a napkin, doing an exaggerated “Bigfoot walk,” etc. while the voiceover says “Why do I hate? Mother, father, moon, sun, stars, what does it mean?” Malick can pull off a big canvas brilliantly (the pilgrims coming to America in “The New World” or the history of nature vs. nurture in the excellent “Tree of Life”), but his latest movies are really more intimate character pieces that don’t benefit from his style at all. “Song to Song” is supposed to be a film about Austin, Texas’s indie rock scene, and you might constantly think about how much more you actually would like to see a film about that, especially with a cast that includes Gosling, Fassbender, Natalie Portman, Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, among others. Grade: D+

A Dark Song…”Song to Song”‘s polar opposite in all but title is an intimate two-character piece where a grieving mother has an occult expert perform a dark ritual to summon supernatural powers. She says she wants to deliver a message to her murdered son, but the ambiguous expert is skeptical, and that tension of “what does she really want?” powers a good chunk of the movie, as it builds in eerie force. Towards the end of this claustrophobic (they can’t leave the secluded British mansion they perform the months-long ritual in once it starts) chiller, I felt I was watching a new horror classic, a genuinely unnerving thriller that slowly immerses you in its own hell. However, the ending is a cop-out, and will probably leave a lot of the converted feeling more than a little ripped-off. But there’s no denying the extreme skill and slow-building dread behind the first 98% of this movie. Grade: B+

Once Upon a Time in Venice…An inexplicably good cast including Bruce Willis, John Goodman, Jason Momoa, Thomas Middleditch, Stephanie Sigman, Jessica Gomez, and more decided to make a silly detective farce that trades in the normal Noir-setting of mean streets for surf shops and beach-front properties. The movie has a shaggy-dog charm that just might win you over, and Willis and Goodman have an undeniable buddy-movie chemistry, but it’s just too insubstantial (and not fast-paced or fun enough) to really be the good time you’re looking for. Grade: C

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