Movie Diary 1/2/2018


Zoey Deutch: Before I Fall

Just a few nominations here for movies that deserved slightly more appreciation than they got during 2017.

Before I Fall. A teen Groundhog Day, directed by Ry Russo-Young from a YA novel. Something terrible happens to the heroine at the end of “Cupid’s Day,” at which point she wakes up and lives the day over again. Not surprisingly, the device is intended to make her a better person. The dank mood of this teen scenario is as legit an approach as the brightness of Lady Bird, and Zoey Deutch (daughter of Lea Thompson and Pretty in Pink director Howard Deutch) gives one of the best performances of the year. This is persuasive gloom. (My review here.)

Heal the Living. I’m not sure I follow quite where this goes; it takes a curious (and literally clinical) approach to the subject of organ donation. But Katell Quillévéré’s film contains a handful of breathtaking sequences, especially an opening that follows a young man as he affectionately leaves his girlfriend’s room before dawn, climbing out through her window and down to the streets below on his way to meet friends to go surfing on the gray waves of morning. A soaring sequence, alive with youth, and made more poignant in retrospect because everything is about to be taken away. I saw this at the Seattle International Film Festival; not sure it ever opened locally.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. I can’t argue that Depp’s Jack Sparrow looks tired and the plot is a half-hearted rehash. There is no reason to keep making these. Nevertheless, almost nobody noted that Kaya Scoledario makes a lively heroine (as I said in my review, she’s more masculine than love interest Brendan Thwaites and almost as feminine as Captain Jack), or that the action sequences have a wildly imaginative Looney Toons Meets Richard Lester’s Three Musketeers bravado about them. There’s one sequence where the ocean divides and the characters run around on the damp seabed, looking at the walls of water; it’s like a kid’s idea of what the ocean floor would be like. (My review here.)

Crown Heights. Critics seemed curiously blah on this Sundance winner, I suspect because it rigorously avoided heartstring-plucking. But director Matt Ruskin’s journalistic approach really has hypnotic power, and in denying a feeling of triumph he’s being true to the story – because why should there be triumph in a real-life case about a man railroaded into the jailhouse for 21 years for a crime he didn’t commit? Some terrific non-showy work from Lakeith Stanfield (indelibly, the man who gets to say, “Get out,” in Get Out), Nnamdi Asomugha. (My review here.)

Gifted. Director Gary Ross did (500) Days in Summer and The Only Living Boy in New York, which is my way of saying I haven’t liked this guy’s films very much. So, yeah, he also made this low-key and very likable kid-genius movie, which definitely moves along according to formula but which also has some convincing scenes of people realistically talking (Chris Evans and Jenny Slate especially) and a surfeit of humid Florida atmosphere. Evans’ presence raises an issue for our movie times: How does an actor play a regular guy when he is encased in huge muscle because he’s between Captain America movies? Nice performance, but he does not look like a normal person. (My review here.)

Afterimage. A very strong and relevant final film by Andrzej Wajda, the Polish master. But how does such a movie not leave a bigger ripple in the conversation around film today? Are we not interested enough in movies by old directors? Is Wajda’s scathing attack on Communist authoritarianism somehow not an urgent issue? ‘Cuz it sure seems to be, even if Stalinists are not exactly the specific threat of today. Anyway, a fine film, with some shivery moments – a good way to leave the stage.