era of horror, full of nostalgia and accompanied by an effective suspense-driven marketing campaign.
Ghost Stories presents itself as a three-story anthology horror film, strung together with Goodman’s ongoing narrative. It harks back to the 1970s and 80s, when anthology horror movies was more popular than ever, and now the format is making a resurgence. With titles like Trick ‘r Treat, VHS, ABCs of Death and Nightmare Cinema leading the charge, we are at a moment where higher standards apply to the current saturation, and more scrutiny is placed upon new entries to the genre.
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His long awaited follow-up is a Netflix release titled Apostle and tells the story of a former Christian missionary (Dan Stevens, Downton Abbey, The Guest), who travels to an isolated Welsh island in 1905 to save his sister from the clutches of a mysterious cult. Learning of her kidnapping and demand for ransom, Thomas poses as a convert and new arrival to the island paradise, where the regular law of man is abandoned and the self-regulated society worships a goddess of the island, who is said to sustain health and wellbeing. Upon arrival he soon uncovers the island’s sinister secrets, and before having his chance to rescue his sister, he is forced to outsmart the three community founders before they sacrifice him and his sister.
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The eponymous ‘queen’, proud L.A. nightclub owner Mary, towers over the film thanks to a commanding performance from Rosemary Hochschild. Mary appears in almost every scene and is, fittingly, the most compelling character, catalysing the plot through her pursuit of the American Dream. It’s an instantly memorable, lived-in turn; Hochschild slowly but devastatingly breaks down Mary’s pragmatic businesswoman persona into a full gamut of emotions. This is her best showcase yet after decades of credits, and a convincing argument for giving Hollywood’s underappreciated character actors their time to shine. Meanwhile, the supporting cast are capable but mostly relegated to minor roles apart from Ana Mulvoy-Ten as Grace, a newcomer to Mary’s club and our audience surrogate. Indeed, Grace and Mary’s scenes together are when the horrors of this seedy world are most apparent: it may be easy to become desensitised to crime and violence after decades among it, but Mulvoy-Ten highlights how confronting it is to witness them for the first time.
Despite its tone and performances being undeniably engaging, there are basic issues that keep the film from feeling like more than a proof of concept. For instance, the dialogue appears to have been neglected in favour of Oblowitz’s directorial duties, leaving large chunks of the former feeling unpolished. Most notably, virtually every character speaks far too literally, including career criminals openly bragging about or stating their intention to commit crimes. Likewise, Mary often explicitly states her motivations as a monologue while almost looking directly into the camera, which left me unsure as to whether she’s supposed to know she’s a fictional character. Simultaneously, the editing is inconsistent to the point of distraction; some scenes abruptly start before the previous one even has time to finish, while others linger on a black screen for several seconds afterwards. This is particularly glaring given the film presents an obvious solution to the problem: it already uses intertitles to distinguish between acts, although there often seems to be little rhyme nor reason to where these act breaks fall. These are used to maintain chronology, and the notion that the film takes place over a single day, yet the latter is so unbelievable it should’ve been abandoned altogether.
THE QUEEN OF HOLLYWOOD BLVD is littered with moments that come across as deliberately quirky, as if Oblowitz is attempting to reverse engineer what makes a Tarantino film memorable or cool. Thankfully, this is largely worthwhile; even during the most cringeworthy scenes there’s a campiness that holds the viewer’s attention. Although it’s hard to be sure if all the film’s B-movie charm was intended, it’s ultimately the strongest selling point. Viewers will know whether they can handle its sheer oddness within the first few minutes, but those who stick around will be as interested as I am to see what Oblowitz and Hochschild do next.
It sees Wheeler (JCVD) awakens in a black-site submarine, a place where baddies can take prisoners and torture them away from anything resembling law or ethics, he discovers he’s being accused of being in possession of a top-secret dongle containing top-secret information that top-secret guys want. Problem is, Wheeler genuinely doesn’t have the data and now he’s trapped 30,000 leagues under the sea on a submarine fighting for his life.
Along the way he befriends fellow prisoner, Marco (Dolph Lundgren) a mysterious German man-mountain who steals the show as well as new-fish CIA agent Cass (Jasmine Waltz) and her pal Ellis (Aaron O’Connell) who contribute to the plot next to nothing squared. Cue 105-unimaginative-mins of close-quarters gun-fire in the, surprisingly and inexplicably spacious, submarine.
Penned by DTV-action stalwart Chad Law (6 Bullets, Jarhead 3, Drive Hard), BLACK WATER takes its fair share of cues from Mikael Hafstrom’s 2013 80s throwback actioneer ESCAPE PLAN. Cashing in on the fading star of the Regan-era action films, BLACK WATER’s script isn’t self-aware enough to make the viewer giddy with nostalgia nor imaginative enough to tread new ground. Instead it has a couple of decent exposition-as-ammunition exchanges and one or two moments of genuinely interesting character moments but it’s hard to shake that sinking feeling.
Serial box-jawed Lundgren is sorely under-utilized and doesn’t pull his weight nor grace us with his presence (or justify his second bill on the credits) until the third act which leaves Van Dammage to carry the lions share which he does by making the curious decision of playing the whole film looking confused and thirsty.
Jasmine Waltz sticks around and let’s her unconvincing wardrobe (do Special Ops always rock around in skivvies?) and fake-eyelashes do the acting for her.
Cinematographer-turned-Director Pasha Patriki’s debut, while capable at telling a coherent story (albeit, one devoid of anything resembling originality or irony) is sorely lacking the confident hand needed in guiding the film’s pace and visual flair. As a result BLACK WATER is a sluggish B-movie that overstays it’s welcome BUT 15-minutes or so all the while never delivering a single spark of wit.
While not as tragic as some of its stars previous efforts (*cough*AGENT RED*cough*THE ORDER*cough*) it certainly doesn’t scale to the heights of entries like UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING or THE EXPENDABLES 2.
The cast will justify the viewing by action junkies but they’ll likely be left disappointed.
Since then, Greengrass has found himself comfortable amongst the Hollywood elite, having directed three Bourne films (Supremacy, Ultimatum, Jason Bourne) as well as Green Zone. And yet, remaining loyal to his calling, he has maintained his commitment to polarising true stories with films like United 93 and Captain Phillips, and now he continues his trademark style with Netflix-released film 22 July, an account of the 2011 Norway attacks by mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik.
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Lucas Hedges stars as Jared Eamons, a gay teenager whose fundamental Christian parents force him to undergo aggressive gay conversion therapy at the hands of a ruthless “therapist”. It's a secretive, lock-in program whereby patients are put through brutal and dehumanising conditioning practices to beat the “gay” out of them. Needless to say it is a harrowing and emotionally charged film that is as confronting as it is enlightening.
Based on auto-biography of popular writer and LGBTI advocate Gerrard Conley, the film and its message feel timely, and perhaps more importantly than shedding light on such practices, it serves as a criticism of fundamental religiousness in general. Edgerton's script adheres to a conventional structure, telling Jared's story with candour and earnestness, navigating the trauma of living as a gay teenager amongst a god fearing community. Having not read the book itself I can only guess that the film mearly scratches the surface, but in doing so I am sure that the events depicted on screen collectively reflect the important bookmarks of the text. Having said that, I find it odd that Edgerton changed Conley's name to Jared Eamons when the book itself was entirely biographical, not to mention the fact that the film features the real life counterpart in the “where are they now” section of the end credits.
Edgerton's body of work as a writer and director is impressive, with his previous directorial effort, The Gift, being a masterclass in suspense, and his written work such as The Square and Felony highlighting his talent. BOY ERASED feels like a natural progression, with his style becoming more sensitive and subtle. He presents all of his characters (even the horrible ones) with humanity and context. And while some of these people are undeniably heinous, the film's thematic tone suggests a level of empathy, and serves more as a criticism of Christianity than it does the individuals.
The cast is top notch with Lucas Hedges chalking up another stellar performance. Following Manchester By The Sea, Ladybird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, his resume is impressive and seasoned for an actors of just 21 years of age. This guy's future is bright and whatever he has lined up next is bound to impress. With a little luck he will navigate the industry carefully, sticking to credible performance driven roles.
The rest of the cast includes Edgerton as the merciless conversion therapist, Nicole Kidman as his devoted mother and Russell Crowe as his ultra conservative pastor father. Kidman and Crowe give weighty performances, both sharing an equal amount of depth. Each of their stories take alternative trajectories and observing how they manoeuvre their emotional range is impressive to watch. Adding to the Aussie domination of BOY ERASED is popular pop singer Troy Sivan as an unassuming therapy patient whose strategy of survival provides an important turning point in the narrative. He is very good and has a natural onscreen charisma.
The unfortunate reality of BOY ERASED is that only those aligned with its point of view are likely to see it. The actual viewers the film sets out to challenge are highly unlikely to give it the time of day, and won't want a bar of it. And so short of tricking them into the cinema and locking the doors, the film will reassure supporters of the LGBT plight while doing little to capture the attention of those who don't. Here's hoping that, at the very least, SOME of the cinephiles amongst the conservative demographic will stay the course and come away better educated on the issue.
I have to confess that I am not precious about Argento's film (the first in his 'Three Mothers Trilogy') and I do think that it's considerably overrated. I adore its atmosphere and cannot deny its incredible artistry, however I can't say the same for its story (or lack thereof) or for any of its acting. It holds a place in the horror pantheon, absolutely, but I don't hold it in such esteem that a remake would upset me.
And so here it is. SUSPIRIA '18, an epic 152-minute odyssey into the nightmarish recesses of a Berlin ballet school. Set in 1977 Dakota Johnson stars as Susie, an American ballerina who travels to West Germany to study at a renowned dance academy under the guidance of the famed Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). Before long it becomes obvious that something's amiss and that the school fosters a sinister secret. The academy, it turns out, is a facade for a coven of witches (no spoiler in that), and their students are purely for sacrificial purposes as they attempt to raise the great Mother Suspiriorum.
The overall plotting is basically the same as Argento's film, however more time and attention has been invested in joining the dots. There is little room for confusion as the narrative trots along lineally, and where the original film concerned itself with surrealism and dreamscape imagery, this new adaptation is all about story. Its notable set-pieces are certainly striking, and the horror is wincingly macabre, however Guadagnino takes a literal approach to his visceral storytelling.
Dakota Johnson makes for an unassuming lead, presenting a modest beauty free of glamour. She is eloquent, softly spoken and outrageously flexible and graces the screen with a performance that is as unsettling as it is gracious. Swinton is expectedly morose as the stern practitioner whose expectations and methods are notorious, and she commands a sinister screen presence. The remaining cast are adequate, giving good support, although their characters are not integral enough to focus any substantial attention on, aside from their ensembled scenes of witchcraft.
The weakest link, however, is Swinton (say what?). Ah-huh... the rumours were true and the jig is up. Swinton also played an aging therapist character by the name of Dr Jozef Klemperer. With a face-hugging prosthetic makeup and other less-than-subtle aging techniques, her identity was never in doubt. If an old guy looks like Tilda Swinton and sounds like Tilda Swinton, then it's Tilda Swinton. Klemperer is at first a great character with an important role in exposing the academy's secret, however casting Swinton in the role instead of an actual male actor feels disingenuous to the audience. Adding further insult is the silly and unnecessary subplot given to the character. Through a series of flashbacks we are given his backstory, telling a tale of love-divided as the formation of East and West Germanys separated him and his wife. None of this hogwash is integral to the greater narrative and had Guadagnino removed it the film would have come in as a more respectable running time with more impact.
One of the most iconic attributes to Argento's '77 film is the all-encompassing soundtrack by Italian prog-rockers Goblin. It was a benchmark for music in horror and recreating its impact was never an option for any remake, and so the best port of call was to attach a respected musician with an infinity for the strange and intricate. Cue Thom Yorke (Radiohead), whose approach to SUSIRIA is eclectic, haunting and alarming. His music is phenomenon and the film is full of fantastic moments where music and imagery soar to majestic heights. BUT.... there's an overall disconnection as a whole. His score feels too contemporary and modern for a period piece set in the 1970s. With an adequate level of suspended disbelief it's a factor that's easily overlooked, however given the needless subplot of the psychologist and the hidden-Swinton factor, such a discrepancy between the music and the era detracts from the film's overall impact.
SUSPIRIA '18 is a very good film that should have been great. It is a long haul with substantial payoffs strewn throughout. It never detracts from the original film and it aught to quench the thirst of most respectable horror fiends.
Co-written, directed by and starring Bradley Cooper the film adapts the story for a modern audience, placing itself in the world of rock n roll. Cooper plays a world renowned rock star who stumbles across a cabaret singer in a drunken state of desperation. In need of booze he wanders into a drag-bar and is immediately mesmerised by a young performer (Lady GaGa), whose star quality is undeniable. He sweeps her off her feet and before long they're in love and performing together. As her fame rises so too does his alcoholism and drug abuse, and as jealousy and addition threaten their relationship their love is tested to its absolute breaking point. To reveal more would be to deny you the pleasure of enjoying the film with awe, and in my opinion you need to experience its impact in a cinema with an audience.
From the moment we are introduced to Cooper's character, Jackson Maine, rocking out on stage in front of thousands of fans, we are transported to another world. Energy pulsates off the screen as the camera dances around him, and the roar of his audience combined with his music is instantly infectious. Needless to say Cooper's direction is impeccable and he sets the film's tone within seconds. How on Earth can a directorial debut be this ambitious and this good?
Cooper's onscreen presence is electric and I can honestly say that I have not experienced a character as charismatic and captivating as his in a long time. Clearly using Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) as a point of reference, Cooper adopts a rugged, dishevelled and handsome rock persona as he delivers his lines with a deep, gruff southern accent. Lady GaGa shares the screen as Ally, giving an equally commanding delivery, making their partnership one to remember. As their relationship blossoms and evolves, their characters navigate a multitude of highs and lows. Both Cooper and GaGa reach deep to conjure a level of depth and earnestness that's totally unexpected from either of them. He gives the performance of his career and she silences her critics with an award worthy turn.
Their supporting cast includes Andrew Dice Clay, who is wonderful as the doting father of Ally. Leaving his crass, confrontational schtick behind, he gives am unexpectedly heartfelt performance that provides a safe landing pad for Ally's character to rely on. Sam Elliot is wonderful as the aging tour manager whose devotion to Jackson is deeply seeded. He shares some incredible and touching moments on screen that should also earn him an award nom or two. Dave Chappelle, Anthony Ramos and Rafi Gavron add to the stellar line-up and grant the film further depth.
And if Cooper and GaGa are the equal headliners of A STAR IS BORN, then the soundtrack is without question the second lead. Produced by Lukas Nelson (son of Willie) with an assortment of writers including Nelson, Mark Ronson, Cooper and GaGa, it is an outstanding collection of songs and compositions. With dynamic cinematography by Matthew Libatique (Darren Aronofsky's long serving DOP) the music and images combine to make a beautiful marriage, leaping off the screen to create a full sensory experience. Watch this soundtrack win awards too, guaranteed!
I previously mentioned that I couldn't declare it to be a perfect film, and this comes down to the overall pacing of the narrative. The first and final acts are superb, moving as a breakneck pace without feeling rushed or gratuitous, however the middle act fumbles and loses momentum. As particular dramatic developments unfold, the charisma and gloss of the film wane significantly. It is an intentionally disarming directorial choice to facilitate the ongoing drama, and yet it makes for a brief disconnection from the audience. Thankfully the story gathers speed and rejuvenates itself for an beautiful and engrossing finale.
Just short of being a masterpiece, A STAR IS BORN is one of the highlights of the year for me. I foresee repeat viewings and a high rotation of the soundtrack. Cooper's arrival as a director is exciting news in deed, and I cannot wait to see how he flexes his creative muscle next.
A Star is Born is available on 4K, BD and DVD through Roadshow Entertainment.
When the most likely hero of the lot - the muscle-bound Jeff (Jason Tobias) - ends up with an exit wound the size of a grapefruit in the back of his head the group quickly realise they are the victims of a sniper who has nested somewhere out in the arid, barren landscape. Very quickly they must get their collective shit together and work out how to escape.
Reminiscent of Doug Liman’s similarly themed 2017 thriller THE WALL, DOWNRANGE falls into the same minimalist thriller sub-genre as James Wan’s SAW and Rodrigo Cortez’s BURIED in that it takes the most bare-bones elements required to make a thriller and winds them as tight as possible .
Also serving as co-writer, Director Kitamura has conjured a scenario ripe for the exploiting of tension; take 6 strangers, trap them in the open air on a hot summers day, seperate them physically by mere meters and pin them in place under threat of death. Seven actors and a busted car, that’s it.
The film’s biggest flaw, unfortunately, is the element its minimalist set-up requires most in order to succeed and that is the performances which are uniformly awful.
There’s an awkwardness to just about every actor in DOWNRANGE. The desperation and frustration of some or the tough-gal personas are all so staggeringly self-aware that they are, at times, hard to watch. Rod Hernandez as Todd, in particular, can’t convince as nice-guy, new-husband or desperate victim. Stephanie Pearson goes from sweet twenty-somethinger to battle-leader and, while she looks like she’s going for Michelle-Rodriguez-toughness she looks, instead, like prom-queen who has seen one of the Fast And The Furious films once and thinks that’s how it’s done.
Regardless of its flaws in casting and performance, credit must go to Kitamura who makes the most of a genuinely impressive set-up. For a film that hinges on eliminating its characters ability to move a mere three feet DOWNRANGE moves at an impressive pace. The films first half, while exploring potential scenarios and eliminating others is surprisingly well measured and the latter half, once plans are set in motion and an understanding of the threat is realised, is a gore-filled treat for those that are looking for it.
Kitamura handles his own material well and there really is nothing wrong with his scenario or his execution (a few characters would have gone down nicely, mind you, instead of the simple cannon-fodder we got) but a couple more casting sessions to find a actors capable of doing justice to the script would have been nice.
Not likely to scale the same heights as MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN or NO ONE LIVES in terms of cult-value, DOWNRANGE isn’t a complete disaster but more of a near-miss.
Sam (Madison Horcher) is a pre-teen girl who witnessed her mother die in a car accident. Three years after the tragedy she is faced with the reality of her father remarrying and she is troubled by thoughts of a new person replacing her mum. To compound matters she is persistently tormented by a school bully. Things change when she discovers a clip-out advertisement on the back of a comic book and sends away for a mail-order monster. The delivery finally arrives in a big create and is revealed to be a life-sized robot, which comes to life and assumes a protective role.
And so the story goes... part E.T., part Iron Giant, MAIL ORDER MONSTER adheres to a tried and true formula and presents an inspiring fantasy for impressionable kids. The film's aesthetic is often uneven, with strong cinematography often at odds with a lack-lustre production design. There are moments which boast a strong theatrical appeal, which are – unfortunately – countered by a distinct made-for-DVD texture. These factors will more than likely elude the movie's target demographic and what remains is an effective coming of age story, cut from a familiar cloth.
Madison Horcher offers a reliable performance in the movie's lead role, and her ability to tap into a variety of emotions help to elevate the move beyond its restrictive DTV status. The robot character is well conceived, baring a striking resemblance to the Iron Giant, and its presence and characteristics are more akin to the robot from the rebooted Lost In Space series. In fact the relationship between robot and child is almost identical.
With a welcome running time of approximately 80-minutes, and a delightful musical score helping to overcome the movie's shortcomings, MAIL ORDER MONSTER makes for an overall satisfying and nostalgic dramatic adventure. In today's home-entertainment climate being bombarded with content, movies like this tend to get lost in the fold. Fewer people are turning to DVD, which forces this stuff onto streaming services. And with such a cluster of choices, movies like this are easily hidden amongst it all. With a little luck its poster-art will catch the attention of kids, and hopefully those who review it can hang their adult receptors at the door and watch it with a child's mind.
With familiar expectations to those preceding Christopher Nolan's Interstallar, the lead up to FIRST MAN was energised and exciting. Audiences love realistic science-based adventure and with cinema-technology being bigger and better than ever we were salivating at the thought of a new big screen space odyssey. And the question on everyone's lips is whether or not the movie delivers? The answer is... sort of.
There is no denying the size and the scope of FIRST MAN, and its realistic depiction of space is awe-inspiring. The time we spend with the astronauts inside 'The Eagle' and the numerous test modules is cramped and claustrophobic. This is, perhaps, the first time we are given an inkling into the true discomfort those men endured, and just how miraculous their journey was. Their story has been told before, however Chazelle's film is as personal as we should feel inclined to get with these people.
In contrast to the confined quarters of the spacecraft is the enormous scope of space itself, and of the Moon's surface. Such wonderfully reenacted sights remind us of the value of cinema, and why we need to hold tight to the big-screen experience. And yet with the journey from Earth to the moon being the whole crux of the story, very little time is actually spent on its depiction. Instead, over three-quarters of its absurdly long 141-minute running time is dedicated to Armstrong's personal life, observing his supposed social inadequacies. More time is invested in his tumultuous relationship with his wife, and the loss of their daughter, than is given to the entire NASA program that should be the foundation of the story.
Of course I do understand that this is a biographical account of one man's story, and that his personal circumstances play an integral role in his journey, however with that being said, the title of the film suggests a much bigger legacy. FIRST MAN implies a story of one of mankind's greatest achievements and might have served itself well to remember that.
Also adding unnecessary conflict to the fray is Chazelle's clunky approach to the cinematography. Choosing to be as realistic and interpersonal as possible he presents disjointed and conflicting styles when capturing the drama and action respectively. Considering the majority of time spent on his personal life, most of the film is shot in extreme close up. Forget about two-shots because whenever he or his wife are talking, the camera choses to focus on just one. And then cut to the other for their response, and back again and so forth. To make it even more cumbersome the camera is hand-held and shaky... not exactly appealing on a gigantic cinema screen. Contrasting this is the massive scope of the space stuff. When we're in space with Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins it is a sight to behold. The majesty of their endeavour is breathtaking and there has rarely been such a wonderful use of the screen. And there lies a major problem with FIRST MAN. What does it want to be? A relationship drama better suited to home entertainment, or an ambitious spectacle made for a wide theatrical release? These are two styles which do not compliment each other at all.
In terms of performances there isn't much to fault. Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy give adequate turns as the misaligned couple and make the best out of the script as possible. It must be said that Gosling appears to be miscast, baring zero resemblance to the actual Neil Armstrong, and I can't help but think that a variety of alternative A-list actors could have sold the character more convincingly. But with a suspension of disbelief this is easy overlooked.
The remaining cast makes for the type of ensemble you might find in a Robert Altman film, with some very familiar faces taking very little part in the proceedings. Of the immediate supporting cast, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler and Corey Daniel Stoll lend a lot of appeal and offer strong support. Other blink-and-you'll-miss-them faces include Patrick Fugit, Shea Whigham, Ethan Embry and Ciaran Hinds. All familiar faces. All deserving of more than a basic cameo. And most astonishing to me is the underutilisation of actor Lucas Haas who plays Michael Collins, the third astronaut inside the Eagle upon its historical mission.
FIRST MAN is an ambitious but uneven spectacle, which should have been better. I guess we can expect another musical from Damien Cazelle moving forward. There's nothing wrong with being a one-trick-pony if you do it well, and when it comes to musically-minded movies he is a qualified pro.... but when it comes to high concept, big budget block busters... FIRST MAN suggest otherwise. I recommend watching Steven Speilberg and Tom Hanks' fantastic mini-series From Earth To The Moon instead.
Writer/director Kurt Voelker instead focuses on the grieving process, which is cast as an inevitability to be accepted rather than an obstacle to evaded. The characters’ visceral reactions to this sentiment are simply compelling, and I imagine any viewer who has suffered a loss will be moved by the honesty and relatability on display throughout.
Although Simmons is the biggest name among the cast, each of the four top-billed actors deserve credit for THE BACHELORS’ deft emotional balance. For instance, Voelker’s script thankfully resists casting Carine (Julie Delpy) and Lacy (Odeya Rush) as one-dimensional love interests for Bill and Wes respectively, gradually revealing more of each woman’s personality so that their budding friendship feels genuine. Delpy is particularly riveting in their scenes together; her fierce monologue during an intimate dinner party is easy to forget among the light-hearted banter but renders the parallels between her younger self and Lacy unambiguous. In fact, despite both characters being introduced by way of the Palets’ story, it seemed to me that Carine had the most profound impact on Lacy by the film’s end. Each pairing of the leads certainly offers its own engaging dynamic (Higgins and Rush are awkward high-schoolers; Simmons and Delpy are thoughtful colleagues), yet the hope that Carine and Lacy’s connection instils is a welcome moment of levity from THE BACHELORS’ more serious moments.
Voelker’s script also impresses with how evenly its attention is divided between the characters overall, even though Bill stood out to me as the most fascinating. After all, his desperation to regain a feeling of control over his life is crucial to THE BACHELORS’ central examination of grief, and Simmons’ ability to convey inner and outer anguish simultaneously becomes the film’s secret weapon. Voelker smartly shifts Bill’s attempts at treatment into the forefront during the third act, and, in a stunning sequence I won’t spoil, relishes the opportunity to draw out the emotional tension as Simmons simply empties a garage.
Unfortunately, even the cast are unable to prevent THE BACHELORS from feeling aimless at times, with the events of the first and second acts frequently lacking any more than a loose connection. The characters and themes are interesting but become forgettable without an underlying plot, which once again leads scenes depicting Bill in therapy to shine by comparison. Meanwhile, Voelker also appears to have a problem with wanting subtext to be obvious; for instance, I mentioned above that the film suggests pain needs to be acknowledged before it can be overcome, and that Lacy clearly reminds Carine of her younger self. These interpretations are explicitly confirmed almost verbatim by characters during the film, removing any nuance and immediately disengaging me from the scene.
THE BACHELORS can feel slow at times, with its character-driven focus often leading to the sacrifice of narrative propulsion. Yet ultimately, this film provides even more proof of why J.K. Simmons and Julie Delpy have been on cinema buffs’ radars for so long, and I recommend it to anyone open to a quiet, thoughtful drama.
Based on a Russian play from the late 1800s, the film is set in the Russian countryside and chronicles one summer in the life of a famous actress and her eccentric family. Their story is told in English, with actors of various nationalities making no attempt to adopt any Russian characteristics whatsoever. It is therefore the audience’s responsibility to suspend disbelief, ignore the conflicting accents and pretend that it doesn’t matter. Perhaps this would be possible with the aid of a good story, or perhaps some engaging characters, or even a total omission of its setting, but instead it is an insipid period drama that plays out as though Robert Altman were adapting The Bold and the Beautiful.