Films I Neglected To Review: The Buck Stops Here (At Last)
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 12/10/16 01:46:55
Please enjoy short reviews of "Kate Plays Christine," "Miss Sloane" and "The Possession Experiment" as well as a few recommendations for holiday gift-giving of the Blu-ray persuasion.
Following on the heels of the recent ''Christine,'' ''Kate Plays Christine'' is the second film of 2016 to be inspired by the life and (more significantly) shocking death of Christine Chubbuck, a news reporter for a local station in Florida who committed suicide on the air during a live broadcast in 1974. While ''Christine'' tackled the subject in a straightforward docudrama manner (with the end result being a mediocre film that contained a magnificent central performance by Rebecca Hall as Chubbuck), this one takes a much different approach by following around actress Kate Lyn Sheil around as she prepares to play the role of Chubbuck in a film. As she goes around Sarasota trying to glean as much information about Chubbuck as she can in order to get as firm a grip on the role as possible, she faces the conundrum of trying to get to truly know a person who, as her final act demonstrated, was apparently unknowable even to those closest to her. Likewise, she and director Robert Greene find themselves trying to negotiate between making a film about Chubbuck that honors her life in a non-exploitative manner and the inescapable fact that the only reason that most people would want to see a movie about her in the first place would be because of the circumstances her death. There are times when they are unable to find that balance and it is in those moments that the film veers queasily into hypocrisy but there are other points when its insights about art and life and how the two bounce off of each other are intriguing and those interested in the acting process will no doubt find it a far more fascinating work than those who are only in it because of the morbid subject manner.
In the politically-oriented drama ''Miss Sloane,'' Jessica Chastain plays Madeline Elizabeth Stone, a high-powered and hugely influential lobbyist who uses her gift for bending the rules of the political game to get her clients what they want in exchange for a hefty fee. As it turns out, however, there are some professional lines that she will not cross and when she is asked to come up with a campaign for a pro-gun lobby hoping to attract female voters, she, along with a few colleagues, quits and joins up with a smaller and scrappier firm that is putting all of its meager resources behind getting a bill requiring comprehensive background checks passed. Her former partners (led by Sam Waterston, who appears to be channeling Yosemite Sam throughout) do what they can to try to kill the bill but Sloane proves to be one step ahead of them at every step of the game--even going so far as to exploit a co-worker (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and her secret connection to a past gun-related tragedy in order to score a few extra points--so they begin going after her in ways that eventually land her before a Senate subcommittee, where her shaky professional ethics and questionable personal life could end up destroying both the bill and her career.
On paper, ''Miss Sloane'' sounds tantalizing enough but it only takes a few minutes to realize that instead of the smart drama revealing the ins and outs of how things really get done in Washington today, it feels more like an entire lesser season of ''The West Wing'' crammed into two increasingly absurd hours. The screenplay by first-timer Jonathan Perera contains absolutely no insights into the lobbying process that couldn't have been found 30 years ago in Sidney Lumet's long-forgotten ''Power'' and is nowhere near as smart or clever as it clearly believes itself to be. To make matters worse, Perera, apparently worried about having a political story that contained too much in the way of politics, throws in a number of increasingly dopey plot twists to keep up interest, ranging from a would-be assassin to a finale that requires the deployment of both technologically enhanced cockroaches and an amiable man-whore (Jake Lacy) to bring the story to a conclusion. Chastain does what she can with her part and while her performance is the best thing about ''Miss Sloane,'' not even she can save it from its descent into terminal silliness.
Being a hardcore pessimist, I naturally assumed that I would eventually see a demonic possession thriller that was even shoddier and more dramatically inept than ''Incarnate''--that said, I didn't expect that the wait for such a thing would last for a mere week. And yet, such a thing has arrived in the form of ''The Possession Experiment,'' a bit of Satanic silliness that is so devoid of entertainment value that Old Scratch himself might have been tempted to take on an alias in order to disavow any connection with it. In it, dopey college student Brandon (Chris Minor) decides that for his final project for his Religion 101 class, he is going to look into demonic possession with a focus on a botched exorcism that happened locally two decades earlier. With his doper project partner (Jake Brinn), he hits upon the theoretically brilliant idea of undergoing a ceremony that will hopefully lead to him being possessed as well so that he can report on the experience first-hand--all of this to be streamed on the Internet for anyone who wants to see it for a mere $10. In a shocking and unexpected twist, things do not quite go according to plan.
To be fair, the opening scene, depicting the original failed exorcism attempt in all its bloody glory, is not entirely awful--it doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel but it is staged with a certain degree of grisly energy and style. Unfortunately, it seems as if director/co-writer Scott B. Hansen shot his entire wad--both artistically and financially--on that opening sequence and was forced to spend the rest of the film running on the weakest fumes imaginable. The narrative is a one-joke affair without enough story to adequately fill a slot in a substandard anthology film, the amount of contrivances that Hansen and co-writer Mary J. Dixon jam into the story would insult the intelligence of infants, both the production values and the acting rarely rise to the level one normally associates with porno films (the performances by Minor and Brinn are the closest that the film comes to being horrific) and there is not one legitimate scare to be had in the whole thing. More laughable than anything else, ''The Possession Experiment'' is a monumental failure across the board and an utter embarrassment, both to the people who made it and anyone dumb enough to spend their money to watch it.
For those of you who are looking for Blu-rays to purchase for loved ones for the holidays (or for yourself), the last couple of weeks have seen the release of a few interesting titles that should prove to be satisfactory for certain people on your gift-giving list. For the younger set, you can't do much better than ''Pete's Dragon'' (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $39.99), in which a lame and largely forgotten effort from Disney Studios' fallow period in the Seventies about the friendship between a young orphan boy and the dragon he befriends is transformed by director/co-writer David Lowrey from innocuous junk into a lovely fantasy that was exciting, charming, funny and even surprisingly soulful to boot.
The romantics on your list will love the Blu-ray debut of ''Punch-Drunk Love'' (The Criterion Collection. $39.95), Paul Thomas Anderson's utterly beguiling tale of the love story between a lonely neurotic (Adam Sandler in the best performance of his career) dealing with anger issues, his seven overbearing sisters and a predatory phone-sex operation and the mysterious woman (Emily Watson) who unexpectedly comes into his life. Though usually dismissed as a minor curiosity when compared to such ambitious PTA epics as ''Magnolia,'' ''There Will Be Blood'' and ''Inherent Vice,'' it is nevertheless a total delight and arguably the most sheerly entertaining film that he has done to date.
Those with a taste for the bizarre will go nuts for a pair of films from the legendary David Cronenberg that are making their Blu-ray debuts in feature-packed special editions. ''Rabid'' (Shout! Factory. $34.93) was his grisly 1976 riff on the vampire film in which a motorcycle crash victim (adult film icon Marilyn Chambers in her first starring role in a mainstream film) receives emergency experimental surgery that saves her life but which also gives her an insatiable taste for blood that infects her victims with a disease that makes them violent, insane and thirsty for blood themselves. A far more serious (if no less creepy) work, his 1988 masterpiece ''Dead Ringers'' (Shout! Factory. $34.93) featured an electrifying dual performance from Jeremy Irons as twin gynecologists who share everything from a thriving practice to unsuspecting women to a rapidly disintegrating mental state.
For any acquaintances who prefer art house offerings to the usual multiplex fare, Criterion has just brought out wonderful special editions of two of the quirkiest movies imaginable. Arguably the last great major work by one of the world's greatest filmmakers, ''Akira Kurosawa's Dreams'' (The Criterion Collection. $39.95) is a collection of eight visually spectacular vignettes inspired by his own dreams with subjects ranging from the innocence of childhood to fears of nuclear apocalypse to an idyll with Vincent van Gogh (played by none other than Martin Scorsese) to boot.
On the other hand, legendary actor Marlon Brando only directed one movie during his career (after having fired no less of a figure than Stanley Kubrick) but that film, the one-of-a-kind 1961 Western ''One-Eyed Jacks'' (The Criterion Collection. $39.95) turned out to be a doozy. The basic premise--Brando plays a bank robber obsessed with getting revenge on the former partner (Karl Malden) who betrayed him five years earlier and who went on to become a respectable citizen while he was rotting in prison for their crimes--may be familiar enough but it has been overlaid here with enough Freudian overtones to transform it into something utterly unique in the annals of the genre, especially for the period in which it was released. A notorious flop in its day, this film has only gotten better and better with each passing year (in many ways, it was the ''Heaven's Gate'' of its era and yes, I do mean that as a compliment) and it makes one wonder what Brando might have gone on to do behind the camera if he had been able to direct again.
Finally, although I think we can all pretty much agree that 2016 was overall one of the shittiest years in recent, why not finish off your list with a release commemorating perhaps the one unquestionably great thing to occur within the last 12 months--the long-awaited triumph of the Chicago Cubs in this year's World Series? Happily, there are two new titles that allow you to do just that. ''2016 World Series Champions: The Chicago Cubs'' (Shout! Factory. $34.99) is the official World Series film produced by Major League Baseball that compacts all of the thrills, spills, reversals, nail-biting moments and key rain delays into 110 minutes of key moments and new interviews featuring narration by actor and longtime Cubs fan Vince Vaughn. The more dedicated fans--is there any other kind?--no doubt will want to go with ''Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Collector's Edition'' (Shout! Factory. $79.97), an 8-disc set that brings together every single moment of all seven games, the complete NLCS Game 6 against the L.A. Dodgers that secured their championship berth and, best of all, multiple audio options (including the local radio broadcasts from Chicago and Cleveland as well as a Spanish feed) that ensure that you can finally watch the games without having to ever again listen to that jackass Joe Buck--in other words, a genuine holiday miracle that everyone can get behind. [br]