TULIP FEVER

 

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UK / USA
Director: Justin Chadwick
Runtime: 108 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies’ grading: D

It’s always a warning sign when a movie keeps getting pushed back and back until its distributor has no more options than to release it and hope to recoup some revenue. The atrociously titled Tulip Fever, a movie that makes you think it will be a documentary about the famed Dutch flower, lands with such a mighty thud that it basically cracks the pavement and sends shock-waves. That’s how bad it is, and it’s a shame, because it’s often sumptuous to look at; the production and art direction is a feast for the eyes. It should have been better by miles being that Tom Stoppard (who wrote Shakespeare in Love) wrote it, and Justin Chadwick directed it.

Tulip Fever is the story of a poor Dutch girl named Sophia (Alicia Vikander, rapidly turning into an overrated actress stuck in awful period pictures) who gets sold into a marriage of convenience to a wealthy merchant named Cornelius Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz, cast against type) who truly loves her despite her inability to have children. Wanting to remember their happiness together (and his luck at finding such a beautiful wife) he commissions a young artist named Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan, completely dead in the eyes) to paint their portrait. It’s no shocker that Sophia and Jan will find themselves in a hot and heavy tangle of passions, but then the story decides to branch out to other realms, and gets so complicated you’re taking notes to find out who’s on first, second, and third.

A maid (Holliday Grainger) gets pregnant by her also hot and heavy boyfriend (Jack O’Connell, completely miscast and wasted in about five minutes of screen time). Sophia gets a bright idea to feign a pregnancy in order to give Cornelius a child. Meanwhile, that romance that she was having with Jan takes a hike and for a large chunk of the movie all we see is him getting into the tulip trade in order to score big, and finally whisk Sophia away to The Good Life, somewhere. That plan backfires, and by then, all logic has flown out the window, turned into something Edgar Allan Poe on a happy day would have written in his sleep, and we’re left with nothing but the feeling that somehow, the author of this trashy story is chuckling to herself at having sold gullible readers a pile of rubbish for them to chew up like famished survivors of a downed ship that has been at sea for months.

My issue with this beautiful, overplotted train wreck is more the fact that it never knows what it wants to be: a sex farce, a drama, a romance, or a thriller with slight Gothic overtones. While you have Tom Hollander and Judi Dench providing much needed levity in their small roles as smarmy doctor/lecher and abbess, Zach Galifanakis’ presence gets the WTF performance of the year. Other than that, this is a terrible, misguided botch that will most likely die soon at the box office before the current month is over. If you choose to watch this mess, make sure you’ve drank a good amount of the good stuff. It’s soften the blow, trust me.

IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD

IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD (JUSTE LA FIN DU MONDE)

Canada/France
Director: Xavier Dolan
Runtime: 98 minutes
Language: French

Mostlyindies’ grading: B+

Even though It’s Just the End of the World is based on the Jean-Luc LaGrace play of the same name, this could very well be yet another of director Xavier Dolan’s incursions into his own semi-autobiographical movies which deal with overbearing mothers and overall family dysfunction (and if you haven’t seen them you should; starting with his striking debut film I Killed My Mother and culminating in Mommy, he has amassed an impressive body of work based mainly on variations on a theme.

His seventh movie more or less delves into familiar Dolan territory: Louis (Gaspard Ulliel), a famous writer, has returned home (pretentiously titled “Somewhere…”) to make an announcement. He hasn’t been home in 12 years, so when we see his family — punkish younger sister Suzanne (Lea Seydoux) arguing with her mother Martine (Nathalie Baye), while older brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel, vicious) glowers on and his wife Catherine (Marion Cotillard, cast against type playing a soft spoken bumbler of a woman) anticipates in quiet timidity — we know that something already is not right. The second Louis walks through the door they shower him with affections and praise and the occasional family banter, but it’s a set-up for something darker that makes its way rather quickly.

We never know why, but it seems there is some unspoken tension in the room between Antoine and Louis. Antoine is fast to turn not just mean but downright vicious at the very presence of Louis in the house and take every chance he has to sour the moments of happiness Martine and Suzanne experience. During all this, Louis ponders on his announcement — the right time to make it — while he spends time with his family, mostly in conversations about the past as they inevitably rehash and occasionally reveal some resentment in his success and his return to the house. These conversations invariably turn sour and it’s clear that perhaps returning was perhaps not the best idea, especially where are unhealed wounds that no one will talk about.

Xavier Dolan uses his technique of filling the screen with his characters’ faces to achieve a sense of claustrophobia and it works; I often felt repelled by almost all of the characters — Louis included — at one point of the other. While Louis emerges by far as the most sympathetic, he has no strength, it seems, and does next to nothing to stand up for himself; instead choosing to suffer in pained silence as his family prattles on in staccato rhythms about this or that, occasionally lapsing into spurts of verbal violence that sends them off in different directions, as if too afraid to even sit down together. As a matter of fact, there is a palpable sense of something terrible and unspoken just lingering underneath everyone’s mind, but neither the playwright nor Dolan explore it, leaving the viewer somewhat up in the air with a sense of “well, it’s clear the brothers hate each other, but no one knows why”.

Perhaps Antoine envies the life that Louis has been able to lead. He is the most antagonistic of them all, Martine being basically the mother in Mommy, redux, and Catherine the stuttering teacher in the same film. [The only one who seems to be her own creation is Suzanne.] Antoine, however, is an enigma — is he homophobic, or simply a man full of self-hatred and contempt that perhaps the younger brother made it while he marinated in a low-paying job making tools? We’ll never know; Dolan does not give us answers. In a way, this is closer to Woody Allen’s Interiors, in which that family was also on verge of destruction because of some inner fracture that has divided them all.

What is true is Dolan continues to deliver on his films (despite other critics’ negative reviews). The man knows how to tell a character study of people caught in a hell called home, unable to leave, as the people in Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel.

It’s Just the End of the World is available on Netflix.

IT

IT

USA / Canada
Director: Andy Muschietti
Runtime: 135 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies’ grading:

I’ll have to admit; I did not have much hopes for this adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel of childhood fears because let’s face it, most movies adapted from King’s novels or short stories wind up being complete messes, or at least, much lesser than the sum of their parts. As a matter of fact, out of King’s enormous output of what seems to be about a novel or two a year (and mind you, for his novels keep getting fatter and fatter and more verbose by the second), sometimes one or two make it to above average, or simply good, but would you remember it come tomorrow? Possibly not. Would it scare you as much as his books? Nope.

However, there is always that one movie that comes alive like Pennywise feeding cycles. First it was Carrie, but it had Brian de Palma, a master of suspense in the vein of Hitchcock who tacked on an ending that wasn’t in the original but virtually created the Final Scare that works today just as it did in 1976. Kubrick’s version of The Shining is still considered a controversial good movie due to the fact that nowhere in the movie is the essence of the novel; the bare bones of the story are there, sure, but essentially, this is Kubrick’s imagination of what would have been his own horror movie, and it is one long, trip down a long corridor where . . . well, You know.

And on, and so forth, the 80s brought about one movie based on a Stephen King novel or short story compilation, Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone is horror at its coldest, Creepshow had that cockroach episode that on its own made me want to seal up my place over and over again and drench it with bug repellent. Christine did zero for me; it was a silly movie adapted from an insane novel that along with Tommy-knockers, seem to have been produced on a drug trip. One had to wait until 1990 to see another psychological horror novel come to chilling life in Misery. That movie made Kathy Bates; it won her the Oscar — a feat still unmatched since horror movies (and performances such as hers) don’t glean awards. It’s another example of the movie being better and more compact than the novel, which had a somewhat anticlimactic end, a thing King has a tendency to do now, which is what I think his way of saying, “Sometimes you just don’t get that happy ending.”

For several years I’d been reading the hype leading to the making of It, and I just didn’t think much of it until I began seeing teaser trailers, pictures of the new Pennywise. Reader, I have to say, when I walked into the theater I had less than average expectations. I thought, well, there goes another two hours of my life in a movie that even with today’s technology just can’t quite capture the spirit of such a rich and rewarding coming of age book.

How mistaken I was!

From the second the movie opens, I can’t explain it: it felt like something magical was happening. The death of Georgie Denbrough is captured in its own time capsule, the camera tracking every movement as he runs after his paper boat (that older brother Bill made for him). It is, to say the least, the slow, progressive awakening of the unnamed thing that has been lurking under the city and within its fabric for ages untold. I was perhaps slightly disappointed that, like in King’s novel, the boat didn’t make its reappearance after Georgie had been killed, but what I wasn’t prepared for was that it would, and in a way I could not have imagined.

That, in a nutshell, is the experience I had while watching It: a movie that features no adults, but only kids in a town that seems to move on in a daze even as tragedies as horrific as Georgie’s take place. We get introduced to the seven major characters — extremely well defined and acted — and see what haunts them the most, and how events stemming from their ferocious, relentless bullying bring them together in shared fear for what they know and don’t know, and the friendship that blossoms as if they’d known each other for ages. We also get sight of the bullies, each of them just as horrifying as the monster in the sewers of Derry, always in wait for a chance to exact their own insecurities (enforced by their own hateful parents) on these otherwise non-violent kids.

We also get to see who, or what, is doing the haunting and oh, my God, does Skarsgaard not disappoint. I know that Tim Curry was as freaky and frightening as they come in the made-for-TV miniseries, and you would think that the movie would perhaps shy away from showing Pennywise in his clown form and remain only focused on what form of fear It appears to the kids. I’ve never seen a clown this completely disorienting, terrifying, and plain paralyzing, as this one. There is not a second when it’s not clear that everything about Pennywise suggest something so completely evil it’s almost unmentionable. That It only appears to the kids (and uses its powers to influence the bullies and the adults in town) makes for a greater adversary, and we move from scene after scene of terrible things happening to kids to more terrible things happening to kids with relentless speed. It is a deadly foe to even mess with, as the children learn in a scene involving a projector camera or going into the infamous house on Neibolt Street, but the seven children at the center of the movie have made a decision to, understanding what it is or not, to destroy it, and hopefully emerge unscathed.

Horror has always been a way to explore themes that otherwise would make for a dull or violent drama. All of the fears that these kids have is as credible as reality. Because the timeline of It has now moved to 1989, the fears are less drive in theater and more grounded in the mind and the heart. In Beverly Marsh’s case, her fear is centered on her awful dysfunctional father and her twisted relationship with him. In a way, clown aside, this is the story of kids. Good or bad, perhaps with the exception of the minor but well defined monstrous character of Patrick Hockstetter, all of the kids are victims of some form of neglect from their home and the world around them. All of them have witnessed horrific sights aside from what lack they experience at home. Somehow, horror has made them come together to face their own fears and move on into the next phase of their lives and the movie soars with wonderful moments of great beauty and earthy humor before sinking into that otherworldly place that is underground Derry, where It lives.

Reader, if you can believe this, I walked out of the theater in tears. Never has a horror movie left me in a state of near bliss and hopefulness. If this is what Chapter one can bring, I can only imagine what Chapter two will do two years from now. From what I read, it will get very, very dark.  And I can’t wait.

INGRID GOES WEST

INGRID GOES WEST

USA
Director: Matt Spicer
Runtime: 95 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies’ grading: B+

Everything  you need to know about Ingrid Thornburg, the anti-heroine of Matt Soler’s movie, gets summed up in that excellent opening montage of social media screenshots of an impossibly happy woman going through life while we slowly see Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), wide-eyed, staring at her phone for what seems hours and hours, clicking on every picture, liking everything she sees whether she really grasps its meaning or not, and then paying the girl a surprise visit. It doesn’t end very well, needless to say, and her slow recovery to a semblance of normalcy leads her away from the object of her unrequited friendship to another one, the sunny Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), who sells merch on Instagram.

You probably know where this is heading.

And despite that the story does move in a predictable manner in template only, bringing Ingrid across the country and into plastic LA where everyone is a social media star, you keep expecting for the moment that Ingrid and Taylor will cross paths, because now that we’ve been given a preamble, we have to now see the whole train wreck in slow motion. Soler does not disappoint, bringing these complete polar opposites closer until Ingrid’s quick thinking lands her basically at Taylor’s home for dinner. Just like that, she’s basically hanging with her new friend, sharing secrets while pilfering through her place and reading everything about her in order to emulate her new fixation, not knowing that eventually, the high must reach a ceiling, the mirror will start to show its cracks, and things will be bound to get ugly.

Now, as for the ugly part, I do wish Soler had decided to take his tale into Fatal Attraction/Single White Female territory. Let me explain: it’s not that it doesn’t go there — just when you thought Ingrid couldn’t cross That One Line, she goes and crosses yet another (if she even sees a line, which I believe her character’s disorder doesn’t), the movie goes soft. It’s as if the movie, already at the edge of insanity, would prefer to keep it light and sunny. In turn, Ingrid’s crucial scene involving a phone comes off almost mawkish. Also a bit insincere was the attempt to somewhat bring Taylor down a couple of notches: while her character from the word go is as flighty and insecure as they come — who can live up to the pressure of so much popularity and sunshine without feeling that unless they are what they convey, they’re actually meaningles — she’s not even remotely operating on the same cylinders as Ingrid.

Whatever you make of it, Ingrid Goes West is solid entertainment and a showcase for Aubrey Plaza who has the difficult task of making a hideous psychopath likeable. Also pleasing on the eyes, a small performance by Billy Magnussen who shows off quite a bit and operates as the audience’s surrogate.