Dir. Pierre Morel
7 September 2018
I have a strong preference for pieces of art that surprise me in some way. Now, I have had a mad crush on John Gallagher, Jr. since Spring Awakening, so this pains me to say, but Peppermint is the least surprising revenge film possible. Whatever you are expecting? Peppermint is exactly that. Nothing more. Nothing less.
In fact, what frustrates me most is that the film isn’t simply predictable; rather, the dialogue telegraphs every plot point before it happens. In fact, at one point the dialogue actually telegraphs how the film could be better. Hey, yeah! Riley did just disappear for 5 years and return a skilled assassin...and no, people without priors don’t just do that. Huh. I wonder how that happened…? I know! Let’s not answer that question! (insert facepalm here)
Outside of a broadly disappointing script, the rest of the film is serviceable. The fight choreo is solid. The explosions are pretty. I believe and care about Riley in spite of the script, and that can only be due to hard work by actor Jennifer Garner and director Pierre Morel.
I do want to know where she was getting her hair done while off the grid and living in a van on Skid Row with no visible source of income because that cut and color job was exquisite.
It is films like this that are going to make me glad to have joined the AMC A-List because my disappointment and frustration did not cost me $10+. It could have been a much better film if the script had been written with an eye toward what this story would add to the vigilante film genre. It just...wasn’t. The result is expected and wholly usual.
A Simple favor
A Simple Favor
Dir. Paul Feig
14 September 2018
This was quite a fun ride. It is beautifully stylish (I want Blake Lively’s costume design - and personal trainer). There are abundant twists and turns to entertain. The pieces fit together in an interesting, if not wholly unexpected, way.
But what really impressed me were the portrayals of the two leads. The casting was natural, with both Lively and Anna Kendrick playing characters that fit well into their existing repertoire. From that point, however, what a solid script, detailed direction by Paul Feig, and strong work from both actors did was take a typical Kendrick or Lively performance and turn it into something different and special. Kendrick does cute and quirky as well as any other performer out there right now, but A Simple Favor established that character and then let us watch as it became necessary for her character, Stephanie Smothers, to become more. The trailers left me worried that Stephanie’s arc would become nothing more than one of adopting the abandoned life of Lively’s Emily Nelson, but - fortunately - there was much more to the story, and its complexity elevated Kendrick’s game. Lively’s performance is similarly complicated by her character’s imperfections, and the result is fresh and specific and a delight to watch.
I can’t say that the storyline was all that terribly surprising, but the film was so well executed that I really didn’t care. I thoroughly enjoyed every subtle stroke of the artists’ hands that made A Simple Favor anything but simplistic.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls
Dir. Eli Roth
21 September 2018
I think I was really engaged in and excited by The House with a Clock in Its Walls because 1st grade me would have been enamored with the film. I fear that what many adults will miss is that they are not the target audience here. Kids are. And that target is hit, reanimated-dead-on.
I was a . . . precocious child. Many peers and I read ahead of schedule and were left fighting for adults to trust us. The teachers wanted to police our reading to protect us, and this left us plotting ways to get our hands on books. Once the adults finally relented, we devoured books that those taller and wiser were sure were, in one way or another, too much for us.
That is the main thing that The House with a Clock in Its Walls gets right. It trusts kids. It is scary enough to give the desired jumps, but not realistic enough to cause real-life disruption. It is funny enough to give a needed break, but not enough to become cheesy and negate the scariness. It is smart and well-paced and fun to look at, but those are truths on a child’s scale. It may not cause a seasoned horror buff to jump. The computerized graphics may not be enough to wow a film connoisseur. The plot may slow down too much at points for an adult.
It isn’t for adults. It is an on-ramp into horror for kids. That’s why it is rated PG. It is a balance that is pedagogically fitting for a kid’s first scary movie. It scares and allows for decompression because that is how kids need to process it.
I will admit that I honestly thought it might be too scary at points. Then I walked out behind a 7-ish year-old boy, grinning widely as he regaled his mother with a long list of “Did you see when”s and “It was SO scary when”s. He was on an adrenaline high because the filmmakers trusted him and he beat the film. He survived it. He experienced fear and he came out safely on the other side.
No, I can’t guarantee that he won’t end up in mom’s bed tonight, but he knows he can be brave because he already was.
Kids will learn those adult traits when we give them a chance.
When we trust them.
Plus, who doesn’t love some clockwork Victorian house spectacle?
Educator. Reader. Writer. Lover of dogs, spreadsheets, dark red wine, and art.