Films I Neglected To Review: The Bad News Bara
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 09/27/19 11:13:37
Please enjoy short reviews of "Britt-Marie Was Here," "The Day Shall Come," "A Faithful Man" and "The Mountain."
The new Swedish import "Britt-Marie Was Here" is one of those films that is so eager to please audiences that it practically jumps on their laps and licks their faces in order to gain their approval. The title character (played by Pernilla August) is a frumpy homemaker with a childhood trauma, a predilection for neatness and order and a 40-year-long marriage to a husband (Peter Haber) who sees her only as the supplier of clean laundry and hot meals. After discovering that her husband has been unfaithful, Britt-Marie decides to leave him and, in need of a job, manages to talk her way into serving as the supervisor of a run-down youth center in a remote village and, most importantly, becoming the soccer coach for the kids so that they can participate in an upcoming tournament. Of course, Britt-Marie has never dealt with kids and does not know the first thing about the sport, other than that her husband used to watch it religiously, but as the film progresses--Spoiler Alert--she is not only able to whip her misfit charges into something resembling a team but also manages to work her way out of her own shell, even going so far as to begin a tentative romance with a local policeman (Anders Mossling), in the buildup to the big game.
The film is based on a novel by Fredrik Backman, whose 2012 book "A Man Called Ove" inspired the 2016 Oscar-nominated hit, and it is clearly aiming to appeal to the same audiences that flocked to that one. Now that earlier film was not a classic by any means but the super-cranky central character was distinctive enough to at least hold one's interest throughout. The trouble with "Britt-Marie Was Here" is that there is nothing about it that makes much of a similar impression. The screenplay is basically a fusion of "The Bad News Bears" and "Shirley Valentine" that is nowhere near as strange as it sounds, the direction by Tuva Novotny is competent without ever breathing real life into the material and even the great Pernilla August is unable to find a way of making her character come across as anything other than mildly pleasant at most. The whole film is so devoid of real passion, energy and inspiration that there are times when it feels as if we are watching a less-than-satisfactory remake of a more inspired original work. "Britt-Marie Was Here" is the kind of film that one recommends to people based entirely on what it doesn’t contain--no swearing, no nudity, no one being brutally sacrificed by the members of a pagan cult--rather than based on its own merits. The end result may be nice enough on some fundamental level but the whole thing is just too forgettable
Nearly a decade after the release of his last feature film, the jet-black terrorism comedy "Four Lions," director Chris Morris has returned with the similarly-themed "The Day Shall Come" and demonstrates that the years away from movie screens (a period that included work on the shows "Veep" and "Black Mirror") have not exactly mellowed his mood. After a sting operation to bring down a would-be terrorist goes spectacularly wrong due to basic stupidity on their part, a group of FBI agents based in Miami desperately search for a new target in order to boost their arrest numbers and credibility. One operative, Kendra Glack (Anna Kendrick) hits upon the idea of looking into Moses Al Shabaz (Marchant Davis), a radical black preacher who rails against the "accidental domination of the white race" and leads his followers in chants of "Europeans you will pay." Unfortunately for the agency, it turns out that Moses poses virtually no credible threat at all--his congregation numbers five (and that is if you count his young daughter), he doesn’t believe in using guns of any sort (his armory consists entirely of an air horn that will supposedly rouse dinosaurs held captive by the CIA and a toy crossbow) and he is less concerned at the moment with revolution than he is in somehow scraping together enough money to avoid eviction. It is this desperation that lands him in the middle of an FBI sting operation that eventually spirals out of control and finds him dubbed a national security threat through no fault of his own.
With this film, Morris is clearly trying to give viewers a contemporary version of "Dr. Strangelove," a no-holds-barred satirical look at how the very institutions ostensibly designed to protect people can instead turn on them with horrifying results thanks to a combination of bureaucratic malfeasance and gross incompetence on the parts of those in charge. Unfortunately, the resulting film is more like the modern version of "Wrong is Right"--an ultimately limp work that takes a perfectly decent premise and then displays little idea of what to actually do with it. The jokes are scattershot and while most of them score high in the profanity department, few have any noticeable bite to them. Unlike "Strangelove," which gave us a couple of relatively sane characters as a way to more fully accentuate the insanity around them, virtually everyone here is nutty to one degree or another and it just gets exhausting after a while. The film’s attitude towards Moses is also questionable--towards the end, as the material begins to swing towards the serious, we are clearly meant to feel for him but since the film has largely portrayed him as a goof to that point, the switch simply does not work, especially since a good number of the jokes spring from the fact that the character clearly has some psychological issues and feel like Morris is punching down in order to score some cheap laughs at the expense of his mental illness. "The Day Shall Come" has a few real laughs and a game cast but when all is said and done, it turns out to be not that dissimilar from the alleged nuclear threat at its center--little more than a disappointing dud.
As "A Faithful Man," the latest film from writer-director Louis Garrel, opens, amiable schnook Abel (Garrel) is informed by his long-time girlfriend, Marianne (Laetitia Casta) that she is now pregnant with the child of his best friend Paul and that they are getting married in a few days—oh yeah, Abel will also have to move out of their apartment immediately. Eight years later, Paul unexpectedly dies and after returning to town for the first time for the funeral, Abel and Marianne reunite and resume their romance. This all seems sweet but a couple of minor complications soon develop. For starters, Marianne’s young son, Joseph (Joseph Engle) insists to Abel that his mother actually murdered Paul and it was covered up by the doctor who is also her secret lover. Perhaps even more unsettling, Paul’s younger sister, Eve (Lily-Rose Depp) turns up determined to make her childhood crush on Abel into a reality. This forces Abel into the position of choosing between his potentially murderous true love or a woman whose obsession with him is equally disturbing in its intensity. Although the film flirts with elements of rom-com, noir and those oh-so-French films in which a wan guy is torn between the array of super-gorgeous women who want nothing more in life than to sleep with him, it never quite settles on what it wants to do before finally grinding to a halt. Still, it has a few funny moments here and there (the stuff involving the kid and his various insinuations is especially funny), the cast is certainly easy on the eyes (with Depp doing some of the best work of her career to date) and at 75 minutes, it doesn't last long enough to completely wear out its welcome. "A Faithful Man" is little more than a trifle, but as such things go, it is a reasonably painless one to sit through.
Rick Alverson's "The Mountain" is a film so grim, so claustrophobic and so completely drained of anything remotely resembling life, light and good cheer that even those moviegoers whose tastes tend to lean towards the dark side may find it all to be simply too bleak and grim for their tastes. This, I hasten to add, is not so much a criticism as it is an observation because it is clearly aiming to be a truly discomfiting moviegoing experience and on that level, it certainly succeeds. Set in the Fifties, the film stars Ty Sheridan as Andy, a young man who works at a local hockey rink with his father (Udo Kier) while rueing the absence of his mother, who was sent away to a mental institution years earlier. Before long, Andy’s father dies and soon afterwards, he is visited by Dr. Wallace (Jeff Goldblum), who claims to have known his parents and offers the kid a job as an assistant during his frequent travels. It soon transpires that Dr. Wallace is a lobotomist who travels to various hospitals and institutions to ply his craft on patients who are seemingly without hope--Andy's job is to photograph the patients (pretty much all female) before and after the procedure, more or less to help boost the doctor’s profile now that his particular form of treatment is becoming passed over for safer and less brutal forms of therapy. During one trip, they meet the strange Jack (Denis Levant), who brings them back to his house so that Wallace can "treat" his daughter, Susan (Hannah Gross), an event that proves to have great repercussions for nearly all of them.
Granted, with a premise like that, there was perhaps never a chance that "The Mountain" was ever going to be a walk in the park but Alverson, whose previous works have included the grim "The Comedy" and "Entertainment," has approached the material in such a deliberately off-putting manner that some viewers may find it to be more of an endurance test than anything else. For starters, while the lobotomies are not shown in any clinical detail (though there are a lot of them), they are presented in such a way so that the brief bits that we manage to see and hear, even when presented at a distance, are as nightmarish as can be. Visually, the film is given an extra layer of unease via the deliberately muted color scheme and the cramped aspect ratio in which it has been presented. Perhaps most distressingly for many viewers, Alverson has elected to tell the story in a manner that deliberately elides a number of seemingly key dramatic and emotional moments that seems custom-designed to ensure that audiences are denied even the most basic forms of narrative clarity. And yet, these elements have all been carefully laid in by Alverson so as to achieve a specifically disorienting effect and even those who hate the end result (and they will be legion) will have to admit that in this regard, he certainly succeeded and he also gets strong and interesting performances from most of his cast. (The closest thing to a weak link is Levant, whose character is saddled with an awkwardly expository monologue that that fits uneasily with the otherwise elliptical mood of the piece.) Although I do admire "The Mountain," I have to admit that I cannot easily imagine a circumstance in which I would voluntarily sit through it again at any point in my future moviegoing existence. That said, I have a feeling that I am not going to be forgetting anything about it anytime soon either.