UNFILTERED THOUGHTS: Assayas proves, once again, personally emotionally elusive with ‘Personal Shopper,’ but is worth the time anyway because Kristen Stewart is the jam.

Quickly, now, because honestly all I want to do right now (at 12:27 AM on Friday night/Saturday morning) is have a beer (or two), eat some Lay’s BBQ chips, watch Real Time with Bill Maher, and see if the two antacids I just swallowed do anything to alleviate the flatulence I’ve been dealing with for the past 48 hours.

I saw Personal Shopper. It was interesting. It was good. It demands a second viewing, but in a way that makes me feel like I might be a bit disappointed in that second viewing, not that I won’t be thoroughly entertained, but that I won’t get the answers that I seek. But isn’t that kind of the point of this movie? Kristen Stewart plays Maureen, a medium/personal shopper hunting for some sign that her brother’s spirit lives on even after his death. And (well, I guess, I can’t really talk about it too much because if I do I might be giving something away to the few people who read this blog and have yet to see the movie [which is probably, like, everyone who’s reading this because I don’t think it was  Hot Button film to see on the Friday it came out, and also, it’s not in wide release, yet, I think])… But basically the ending isn’t one of those cut and dry Hollywood things, but you knew that going in if you knew who directed this — and if you didn’t I’ll tell you: Olivier Assayas, the man behind Clouds of Sils Maria (also starring Kristen Stewart, as well as Juliette Binoche) and Other Films I Haven’t seen (starring, most notably, Something In The Air [2012], Carlos [2010], and Summer Hours [2008]) but I do want to see.

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Somewhat bizarrely, Stewart smokes like a chimney in Personal Shopper but has a health condition that kind of feels like she shouldn’t smoke that much.

As was the case with Clouds, I throughly appreciated the artistry of Assayas’ Personal Shopper, but something just didn’t quite connect for me on an emotional level. There isn’t a moment of either of these two films where I find myself not invested, or disinterested, but when the credits finally roll, I kind of find myself missing the main emotional crux of it all (as is the case with Clouds) or not quite having the life experience to truly feel it (as is the case with Personal Shopper). See, I’ve never really Lost somebody. The only person I’ve been close to who has died was my grandfather, who passed away from lung cancer when I was about 14. I saw him sparingly during the time of my life when I could make memories (I lived in NY as a toddler, and he lived in NJ, so I saw him frequently then, but otherwise maybe twice a year?) and when I did see him he was wholly consumed by the carcinoma, which I regret to inform I did not fully comprehend the magnitude of at the time. (I could go into a whole she-bang about how, now, I cite him as my first artistic muse, but that’s for another, not-so-late-on-a-Friday-after-another-demoralizing-work-week time.) But anyway, the weight of his death didn’t hit me, probably, until I was in college or so, far past the time that I could even consider him as a spirit (and also I’m far too cynical of a human being to believe in spirits [although I avoid horror movies like the plague because they make me believe in such unbelievable things and then I get terrified at night]). So while I can certainly sympathize with Maureen losing her brother, I had a tough time empathizing, and the difference there, to me, has always been the key when it comes to art truly connecting with someone.

That isn’t to say though that I don’t dislike watching Stewart struggle with these emotions. I remember the days when I used to ceaselessly mock her (oh, High School) for being Bella in all those Twilight movies (man, being someone on the flip side of that when you were a teen was a pain in the goddamn ass). But then she had her whole reversal of, “Oh, wait, I’m actually this stupidly talented actress, and now that everyone knows me as an actress I’m just literally going to do whatever the fuck I want and it’s going to be awesome.” And she is awesome, and she is the best female performance of the year so far (and probably a close second behind Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out who does SO much in his role with so much less [but also more? ah.. too much for now] with which to work). She was enticing in the otherwise remarkably bland Café Society. She was great in Still Alice, too, though obviously shadowed by Julianne Moore’s unbelievable performance. She was my second favorite Actress in a (True) Supporting Role last year for Certain Women (only behind Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea because cumong, man, that’s just not fair). I even almost saw Equals and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk because of her. And she’s definitely found something with Assayas here, where they can explore a character’s resolute reticence for hours and make it enjoyable nonetheless, and I hope this allows her to branch out and work with some other auteurs. God, I’d love to see her in like… I dunno, I mean, obviously a PTA (Paul Thomas Anderson) movie, but also maybe in a good David O. Russell film, like an actually good one? Or I’d love to see her work with Alex Garland? (Ex Machina, the upcoming [which will be really good] Annihilation.)

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Honestly, though, Stewart gets like 97% of the screen time and that’s great.

But I dunno. Something just didn’t connect here. I’m running out of things to say now, which is fine. This is a very pretty movie. There’s this great Kubrickian shot that comes at the climax that is altogether fascinating but puzzling. The camera is always moving, in some way, whether that’s in a pan, or tracking in. There are several montages of Stewart on her Peugeot scooter, which is cool, and this super elegant shot of her naked as well. She also wears a bunch of thrift-store, baggy sweatshirts, which is kind of interesting but also stylish for a personal shopper.

I like this movie. But it still kind of feels like a puzzle. But maybe it’s a puzzle where I opened the box and did everything I could with the pieces available and now I just have to look at this, like, 90% finished puzzle and appreciate it for what it is and stop asking for more.

(FWIW: I’m hoping to write a real review of this over at PopMatters, but we’ll see what I do this weekend.)

Writing for PopMatters

To Anyone Who Reads This Blog:

While I plan to continue writing on this, my personal blog, I was recently brought on to the PopMatters staff to write film reviews and features. My first article for them, a review of Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice (2016), was published this morning. You can check it out here if interested.

Thanks for reading!!

–Kyle

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You– yes, you! You should go check out PopMatters.com

BOARDING THE TRAIN: Marvel releases ‘Thor’ mockumentary

Earlier today, Marvel Studios released a mockumentary that explains what Thor (Chris Hemsworth) was up to during Captain America: Civil War. The Norse God, along with The Incredible Hulk (also known as Bruce Banner, and played by Mark Ruffalo) were noticeably absent from the film.

This is not an important release because it made me realize I have to buy a Civil War DVD (in fact, I do not and I will not, as I was mixed on that film) but it does show that Marvel’s newest indie director Taika Waititi—a director I rather like, thanks to What We Do In The Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople—has a firm grasp on the comedic elements that make Thor so palatable. It also proves that Hemsworth’s comedic chops will work just fine here; he played a similar dimwit in Ghostbusters, and was one of the film’s few worthwhile bits.

It is because of this video (look below) that I am firmly on board the hype train for Thor: Ragnarok. Taika, you have my heart completely. Don’t break it.

REVIEW: ‘Don’t Think Twice’ (2016)

Mike Birbiglia’s second effort finds the comedian exploring existential crises and selfishness, with results that may not always be pleasing, but are throughly stimulating throughout.

Attending a college in the middle of Bumblef***, Ohio proved problematic when I became a film major. The closest town’s theater was difficult to access without a personal vehicle, but I managed to convince my parents to let me keep the family mini-van on campus sophomore year. When the nearby cinema, which only screened the most widely released projects, didn’t suffice, my friends and I looked elsewhere––one of them happened to be obsessed with stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia when his debut film, Sleepwalk With Me, was released. We stuffed into my Honda Odyssey, and made the more than 50-mile drive to Columbus. Though a memorable night, I returned six hours later with mixed feelings about the movie––as a 19-year-old, it was difficult to relate to Birbiglia’s middle-aged crises, but I respected the authenticity and relished his dark humor.

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Nearly four years later, I consequently approached my screening of his sophomore effort, Don’t Think Twice, with mild anxiety. The film follows six improv artists in New York City, known together as The Commune, who desire to perform on the late-night show Weekend Live (a continuous jab at Saturday Night Live). When one is finally cast, each member suffers through a character-driven crisis, causing the group to fracture and threatening its existence altogether. The film stars Birbiglia himself, as well as Keegan-Michael Key (Keanu, Key and Peele) and Gillian Jacobs (Community, Girls). Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci and Tami Sagher round out the ensemble.

(hit the JUMP for some thoughts on film itself…) Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘Don’t Think Twice’ (2016)”

REVIEW: ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ (2016)

Though it is certainly the most impressive stop-motion animation achievement ever, Laika Entertainment’s latest release fails to reach its full potential because of piecemeal storytelling and a hazy emotional core.

I love animated films. They offer a boundless potential to bring to life foreign worlds that are immediately recognizable and relatable once on screen. They permit filmmakers to showcase emotionally turbulent childhoods without the challenge of navigating a human child’s psychology to procure a believable performance. They attract otherwise unimaginable casts thanks to their ease on the actors’ schedules. They can be works of staggering visual wonder.

The above are a few of the many reasons why the poster for Kubo and the Two Strings was enough to make me groundlessly excited for this film. It appeared that Studio Ghibli greatly influenced this effort from Laika Entertainment, based on the evident Japanese culture. The stop-motion animators drew heavily from the Pixar well for their previous films (Coraline, Paranorman, and The Boxtrolls­­)––I am not opposed to this in the slightest, but do believe Ghibli produces better work more consistently.

The poster also made me aware of the film’s voice cast, which includes some of my favorite working performers, such as Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara and Matthew McConaughey––the white washing here is evident, but the assembly of that group of actors is a tour de force in itself. If that cast were in a live-action film, it would be the early favorite to win Best Picture and the Palme d’Or.

And to top it all off, the protagonist wears an eye patch without any indication why! Tantalizing!

I believe I have made the point that my enthusiasm was uncontrollable, and perhaps premature, so I’ll move on to a review that seeps with disappointment. Don’t mistake me, though: Kubo‘s a good movie. But at the end of the day, it is just Laika taking a step sideways rather than a step forward. Allow me to explain.

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Kubo finds two unconventional friends in a samurai beetle and kung fu monkey

(hit the JUMP to get that explanation I promised) Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ (2016)”

REVIEW: ‘The Little Prince’ (2016)

Despite some troublesome storytelling, the most recent filmic adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novella manages to maintain altitude on the strength of its heart.

Please allow me to begin with a brief, personal anecdote, because if it were not for Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novella, The Little Prince, I am not certain I would have the best friend I do today. Thus, my thoughts on the film are colored by my affections and memories of him.

Despite lacking any previous acting experience, I auditioned for a main stage theater production as a college sophomore. Though I did not obtain a part, I received a callback, which was enough to inspire me to audition for a smaller, student-run production. It was then that I met Tim.

Though words can describe anyone, they always fail to properly detail the joy I experience when I’m in Tim’s presence; I have yet to meet someone who lives life more fully than him. His numerable emotions are intense and infinite, but his passion for what he loves remains his most definitive quality. The Little Prince is his favorite book––he loves it so dearly he tattooed the iconic image of the boa constrictor digesting an elephant whole to his breast––and when he came across a theatrical adaptation of the story, he decided to helm his own production.

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“If you please, draw me a sheep.” — The Little Prince

(hit the JUMP to find out how that went) Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘The Little Prince’ (2016)”

REVIEW: ‘Ghostbusters’ (2016)

After months of unfounded online resentment, the most disappointing part of Paul Feig’s reboot is that it’s not nearly good enough to definitively silence the premature and misogynistic haters.

About 15 minutes into the Ghostbusters reboot, Leslie Jones leads Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKinnon through a subway station in order to show them where she discovered a ghost the other day. They come across a graffiti artist, who Jones, an employee at the station, tries to shoo away, but this altercation’s occurred often enough that the tagger can “pretend” not to hear her as he finishes what is eventually revealed to be the iconic Ghostbusters logo. Wiig, McCarthy and McKinnon marvel at it for a moment, but Jones isn’t having it: “That ain’t art!” she exclaims. “Y’all just reinforcing him!” Unfortunately, this line of dialogue perfectly summarized my feelings towards a film that was polarizing before its release, and promises to continue to be so after.

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The ladies aren’t the problem. The man who writes and directs them is.

Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘Ghostbusters’ (2016)”