There are usually two types of critiques of a Paul Thomas Anderson film: The film is either a masterpiece, or it is a masterpiece that you just do not understand.
I tend to be told the latter half by those that swoon over everything P.T. Anderson touches. You see, P.T. Anderson films are inherently great because he made them. got it? And if you don't like one, well, you just MISSED its greatness, because it's all in there.
In other words, if you don't like a P.T. Anderson movie, it's not his fault...you're the problem.
"The Power of the Dog" is a slow-burn balancing act, that admittedly, felt like a lot to chew on upon first viewing. But wow does its flavor linger.
A beautifully composed, intimate story of a man, a boy and a couple in the open ranges of Montana set the mid 1920s, "The Power of the Dog" is one of the most stellar achievements in story-telling you'll ever witness, a film that is challenging and compelling all the same, that wraps itself around the viewers, twisting our perceptions, and almost assuredly forces deep, intellectual post-viewing discussions.
"The French Dispatch" is a Wes Anderson film.
While that sounds obvious and direct, it actually says a lot about whether or not you are going to enjoy it or not. Fans of the eccentric filmmaker will experience pure bliss, as this film - frame-for-frame - is everything you might hope for. But unlike his last few films ("Isle of Dogs," "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "Moonrise Kingdom") "The French Dispatch" feels superficial, and is purposely a narrative mess as it tries to honor the spirit of journalism. Instead, it's more of a glossy and colorful magazine you might casually browse through in a doctor's waiting room, devoid of any real substance.
Surprisingly, the key to understanding the ambitious rock opera, "Annette," might be found in a documentary that came out earlier this year. That doc, "The Sparks Brothers," was about the 80s rock band Sparks, made up of brothers Russell and Ron Mael, whose quirky lyrics, music videos and rhythms led them to becoming one of the most influential bands of that decade, despite having never existed in the mainstream.
To call them and their music "eccentric" doesn't quite describe it. But their documentary is a good primer to trying to understand "Annette" - music and script by the Mael brothers - which is a film that by-and-large will not connect with most common movie-goers, and is even so bonkers and "out there" that it hasn't even been a sure-thing with critics either (as of this writing, it's clinging to a "Fresh" score of 70% on RottenTomatoes).
If you've seen "The Sparks Brothers," it may help get you close to the wavelength in which "Annette" exists, but even then, it's an over-long, showy and mostly hollow musical, kept interesting in spite of the Maels, not because of them. That's because one of the finest actors of his generation, Adam Driver, delivers one of the most boldly dedicated performances of his career, giving us an anchor of emotion in a sea of lunacy.
The soapy, melodramatic romance, "The Last Letter from Your Lover" has it all when it comes to what one might expect from such a film: Forlorn lovers, forbidden affairs, characters with amnesia, car wrecks, handwritten letters complete with voice-over, lavish costume designs and sets, chance encounters, and a love that spans decades.
It's a bit predictable and unapologetically cheesy at times, but it's also reminiscent of a different era of film...they just don't make movies like this one anymore, so it feels oddly invigorating to see that this sort of classic romance is still alive and well, at least on the big-screen.
The new, subversive romantic-comedy, "Good on Paper" is a showcase for stand-up comedian Iliza Shlesinger. She stars as a version of herself and also wrote the screenplay, based on her real-life dating experiences.
There are some funny moments and truths realized in her story about how a relationship can go from seemingly perfect to downright scary, but as a whole it isn't executed well and much of her comedy seems, well, better on the page than it does in real-life situations.
The pandemic wasn't just rough on the box office and the existing slate of films that had been scheduled for release, but also the few films that did manage to get made in 2020 have left a lot to be desired as well. Enter "Malcolm & Marie" a wordy, tiresome examination of a couple who are as caught up in themselves as writer/director Sam Levinson seemingly is of his own work.
Simple, touching and powerful, "Supernova" explores the harsh realities of finality, loyalty, love and the explosiveness of human connectivity.
There is a timeless quality to "Martin Eden," a film shot and produced in modern times but with a look and feel as if it might have been made several decades ago. The young actor at its center, Luca Marinelli, gives an amazing, lived-in performance that deserves all the praise it's been getting...its no wonder that Marinelli won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival, and that his name might be one that Americans will need to learn come Oscar season.
Earning the acclaim of being the very first movies shot in LA during the pandemic, "Songbird" already feels like a fossil of a film. This muddled, mess of a horror-thriller seems to be cashing in on COVID-19, as surely its big draw is its apparent "relevance" to the moment.
There may not be a more irrelevant film this year.
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