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Films I Neglected To Review: Drugs, Bugs And A Hairy Krisha
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Born to Be Bliue," "Krisha" and "Pandemic"

Although most people will no doubt describe "Born to be Blue" as a biopic of famed jazz musician Chet Baker, to define it as such is not quite accurate. It does deal with Baker (Ethan Hawke) and some of the issues in his life - chiefly his struggles with drugs, his need to literally relearn how to play the trumpet following a beating that costs him his front teeth and his unspoken rivalry with fellow musician Miles Davis - but writer-director Robert Budreau mixes them up with fictional elements (such as Carmen Ejogo as a composite of several of Baker's girlfriends) into a film that constantly reminds viewers that it is taking the standard biopic template as using it as a basis for any number of narrative riffs. It sounds interesting in theory (and it certainly makes more sense than the attempts by the current "Miles Ahead" to transform a fallow period in the career of Miles Davis into some kind of bizarre fantasy taken straight from "The Mack) but the experiment never really works - the biographical elements are scattered enough to frustrate jazz enthusiasts and people wanting to learn about Baker's life and the weirdo riffs just kind of lay there like an improv session that never quite jells.It is kind of a bummer because Ethan Hawke is actually really good as Baker - he captures the essence of an artist struggling to contain his demons without devolving into histrionics - and I do admire the film's willingness to try something new. Baker may have recorded some of the best and most inventive jazz music of his time but this movie, alas, is 100% pure Muzak.

Already a leading contender for the title of Most Depressing Film of 2016 - yes, even more so than "Batman Vs. Superman," the indie drama "Krisha" focuses on a middle-aged woman (Krisha Fairchild, the real-life aunt of debuting writer-director Trey Edward Shults) attending Thanksgiving dinner with the family that she has been estranged from for over a decade and doing her best to fit in with them despite their palpable discomfort at her presence over her past misbehavior. For a while, she tries mightily to keep it all together but eventually succumbs to the temptation of the booze and pills socked away in her luggage and things eventually go painfully sideways. Watching the film, I found myself of two wildly divergent minds. On the one hand, the central performance fro Fairchild is undeniably compelling and heartbreaking - she enters the film as little more than a bunch of exposed nerves and goes even further as things progress - and Shults demonstrates an undeniable stylistic flair behind the camera that one would not ordinarily expect from a first-timer working on a presumably shoestring budget. On the other hand, the screenplay lacks a certain authenticity - all of the plot developments and dramatic outbursts feel as though they are borne strictly out of the needs of the screenplay than from a plausible emotional place - and the film as a whole is so grim and depressing that even the most indulgent viewers may find themselves wondering at times if they want to continue subjecting themselves to it. Personally, I cannot quite bring myself to recommend it for the reasons cited above but if what I have described sounds like it might be of interest to you, there is a chance that you may respond to it better than I did.

In the not-too-distant future posited by the new horror thriller "Pandemic," a mysterious disease has overtaken much of the population that causes victims to go from crazed violence to a near-comatose state before finally going full zombie. At one of the last bastions of humanity remaining, a group of four uninfected people (Rachel Nichols, Alfie Allen, Missi Pyle and Mekhi Pfeiffer) are sent out to go through the zombie-infested ruins of Los Angeles to look for a group of survivors supposedly holing up in an abandoned school - as it turns out, one is not quite who they claim to be and is actually intent on steering the mission in a new and potentially dangerous direction. This no doubt sounds like any number of cheap zombie movies and video games that have emerged in the last few years so in order to stick out from the crowd, the film is mostly seen through the prospective of cameras mounted to the helmets the characters wear, giving it a first-person perspective not unlike the video games that it hopes to emulate.

Although the people behind this film and next week's action epic "Hardcore Harry" seem to think that telling their stories in first person is some kind of grand breakthrough, even though it was done as far back as the cult noir film "The Lady in the Lake" way back in 1946. It didn't work then - the convolutions needed to keep the gimmick going wound up dominating the film as a whole - and it doesn't work now because the conceit gets really old really fast (the film itself occasionally abandons it as well from time to time) and it doesn't add anything of value to the final product. As for the rest of the film, it is the standard zombie twaddle in which wholesale slaughter is the name of the game and there are absolutely no traces of the sharp with or political commentary that George Romero gave audience for his zombie movies to chew on during the non-attack scenes. Throw in a bunch of unlikeable characters, lazily staged action and a cynically conceived downer of an ending and you have a zombie movie that bites, but not in the good way.

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originally posted: 04/01/16 11:35:53
last updated: 04/01/16 23:34:12
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