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Films I Neglected to Review: Goo Goo and Gaga
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "The Blackcoat's Daughter," "The Boss Baby" and "Mr. Gaga" and a brief look at the Blu-ray of "Jackie."

”The Blackcoat’s Daughter'' is a moody and extremely atmospheric example of slow burn horror that is just good enough to sort of keep one’s interest throughout without ever successfully pulling its various elements together into a satisfying whole. For most of its running time, it has the feel of an anthology film as it pursues two seemingly disparate narrative tracks united only by the fact that they are set during the dead of winter. In one, set on the campus of a Catholic prep school that has been virtually abandoned due to winter break, two students have been left behind in the hands of a couple of caretakers when their parents fail to show up to pick them up. In the case of Rose (Lucy Boynton, the crush object of “Sing Street”), this failure is easily explained--she deliberately told her parents to come a day later so that she could spend an extra illicit night (apparently not the first, as it turns out) sneaking around with her boyfriend, but the total absence of the parents of the slightly younger and shyer Kat (Kiernan Shipka of”“Mad Men”) is far more disconcerting, especially in conjunction with the mysterious visions she has been having involving them and a wrecked car. Meanwhile, a few towns over, Joan (Emma Roberts) has evidently flown the coop from the hospital in the dead of night and gets a lift from a friendly man (James Remar) and his less-than-friendly wife (Lauren Holly) who just happen to be heading for the town where the school is located for mysterious reasons of their own.

The film, which has been sitting in distribution limbo for a while now, marks the directorial debut of Oz Perkins--yes, the son of genre legend Anthony Perkins--and he shows an undeniable confidence and skill in his work behind the camera. He is far less interested in doling out cheap shocks than he is in creating and maintaining a convincingly chilly atmosphere and a gradually mounting sense of dread throughout. He also gets good and effectively low-key performances from his three central actresses--even Emma Roberts, who has never really done much for me in the past, turns in exemplary work here. The chief problem with the film is that Perkins' screenplay isn’t quite as good as the direction or the performances--there are times when it is almost a little too subdued for its own good and stumbles a couple of times (especially in the scenes where Lauren Holly is required to deliver some awkwardly written exposition) before reaching a climax that just doesn’t quite pay off after all the build up. If the film had come out at another time when reasonably intelligent and ambitious horror films were a rarity, these flaws might have been easier to overlook but arriving in the wake of such instant genre classics as “Get Out” and “Raw” and maybe “Personal Shopper” (depending on whether you consider that to be genre or not) “The Blackcoat’s Daughter” ranks as a near-miss, albeit one with a number of undeniable virtues and by a filmmaker with a lot of promise.

Marla Frazee's popular 2010 children’s book “The Boss Baby” offered up a potent metaphor for younger readers of the tumult that inevitably comes with the arrival of a new baby that seemingly demands all the attention and love from Mom and Dad that they once received--a baby who dresses and speaks like a demanding CEO who is constantly calling “meetings” in which he expects his underlings to wait on him hand and foot. Alas, potent metaphors do not always work for elaborate CGI animation offerings hoping to score big with undemanding family audiences and start a new franchise during the downtime between Disney films and as a result, ”The Boss Baby” has been wildly inflated in its trip to the big screen and it is mostly the poorer for it. The initial setup is promising enough--overly imaginative boy Tim (Miles Bakshi) has his world rocked when his parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow) introduce him to his baby brother but do not seem too concerned that he is wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. He turns out to be Boss Baby (Alec Baldwin), a middle-management type who has been sent from the home offices of BabyCorp to get the details on a secret plan by the head of PuppyCorp (played, perhaps inevitably, by Steve Buscemi) to unleash upon the world a doggie of such jaw-dropping adorability that they will take up all the love normally afforded to babies. Since the Boss Baby’s success means that he will return to BabyCorp with a huge promotion and whatnot, Tim is all to eager to help get rid of the interloper but along the way, the two begin to work together like real brothers instead of antagonists as they are somehow able to run around through airports and fly to Vegas to follow their parents (who are unknowing PuppyCorp dupes) in an effort to save the day.

“The Boss Baby” is a perfect example of a sweet little idea for a short story that has been unnecessarily inflated and expanded for feature film purposes. In its laborious efforts to appeal to all possible groups, it winds up doing no favors to any of them. Little kids will probably like the jokes involving various bodily functions and slapstick silliness but will probably sit blankly during the jokes aimed at their parents, such as the inevitable “Glengarry Glen Ross” reference and be more than a little unnerved over the conceit that there is only a finite amount of love in the world and that babies and puppies are now fighting over it. Adults, on the other hand, will probably be amused by Baldwin’s silky-smooth line readings--at this point, he has such supreme self-confidence as a performer that he can be handed the lamest script imaginable (and in this case, he isn’t that far off) and almost make it work--but be put off by the gross-out gags and grow increasingly disenchanted by its plunge into noisy and increasingly obnoxious mayhem. People looking to entertain their wee ones should probably just pick up a copy of the original book and read it to them (especially if they can do a passable Baldwin impression) and give the film version a pass.

Not a film about the name I one day hope to be known as to the public, ”Mr. Gaga” is a documentary about one of the leading names in the world of modern dance, Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. Using a combination of interviews with the man and some of his dancers, behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage and archival materials shot from throughout his career, the film follows Naharin from the beginning of his love of dance, which occurred while serving in an entertainment unit of the Israeli Army during the Yom Kippur War, through his unhappy experiences with the companies led by Martha Graham and Maurice Bejart to taking over a company in Tel Aviv that allowed him to pursue a more personal and distinctive approach to dance, one that did not find initial favor with more conservative audiences (At one point, he is pressured by the government to change the costuming of a military-themed routine for a celebration of Israel’s 50th anniversary when religious groups protest the display of bare limbs by the dancers and scraps the whole thing rather than compromise.) Some of the performance footage here is undeniably striking but director Tomer Heymann makes the mistake of assuming that everyone watching the film is intimately familiar with the nuances of the contemporary modern dance scene (which I suppose will probably be true) and therefore fails to offer much detail or explanation as to what makes Naharin and his approach, especially regarding his self-devised vocabulary of movement that gives the film its name, that would adequately explain to non-dancers exactly what it is about his craft that makes it so unique and distinctive. (Heymann does, however, find time for a brief testimonial from actress and Gaga practitioner Natalie Portman that is not especially illuminating.) Those interested in dance will no doubt find “Mr. Gaga” to be fascinating but, unlike a truly accessible and fascinating dance-oriented documentary like “Pina,” others are likely to feel a bit left out.

Speaking of Portman, under normal circumstances, her startling performance as Jacqueline Kennedy in Pablo Larrain’s docudrama “Jackie” would have made her a mortal lock to win what would have been her second Best Actress Oscar. Unfortunately, last year was a rare one in that there was a glut of top-notch performances by actresses and she wound up as an also-ran in what became a tight competition between Isabelle Huppert and eventual winner Emma Stone. Now that ”Jackie” (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98) is available on Blu-Ray, the extraordinary nature of her performance can finally be experienced by a larger audience. Although one of the most famous and visible women in the world from the time she stepped into the White House until her death, she somehow managed to cultivate and maintain a certain aura of privacy and dignity that was never more tested than in the period covered in the film, the days immediately following the assassination of JFK. Portman has her look down pat and does a fairly uncanny impression of her voice but what is more impressive is the way that she allows us to truly get inside of Jackie Kennedy and see one of the most infamous events of our nation’s history through her eyes. Likewise, the film as a whole, while not a traditional biopic by any means, is fascinating throughout (though I question the need for a long, lingering closeup of JFK in the back of the limo speeding to the hospital with his brains nearly blown out) and does a more effective job of getting to know the real Jacqueline Kennedy than the countless biographies, magazine articles and television specials that have appeared over the last half-century or so.

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originally posted: 04/01/17 02:51:58
last updated: 04/01/17 02:58:41
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