Mini Reviews (March 2018)
Submission, Curvature, Foxtrot, Thoroughbreds, Killing Ground, Killing Gunther, Tragedy Girls
Submission (March 7/18)
Submission casts Stanley Tucci as Ted Swenson, a tenured professor of writing who takes a keen interest in a promising student named Angela (Addison Timlin) - with the movie, in addition to its focus on the various folks in Ted's life, subsequently exploring the progressively strained dynamics of their relationship. Filmmaker Richard Levine, working from his own screenplay, delivers an opening stretch that admittedly doesn't hold much potential, as the writer/director places an excessive emphasis on narration from both Tucci and Timlin's respective characters - with the seemingly ceaseless voiceover making it initially impossible to work up any interest in the characters and their exploits (ie neither Ted nor Angela are developed beyond their most obvious attributes). The hands-off atmosphere is perpetuated by an increasingly familiar storyline that's riddled with less-than-engrossing elements (eg Ted's encounters with his pretentious colleagues), and it's clear, too, that Levine's meandering modus operandi remains problematic even through the movie's comparatively stellar second half - which effectively diminishes the impact of the movie's few standout sequences (eg Ted's frustrated speech to a faculty review board, etc). Tucci and Timlin's impressively strong work here, which is matched by a solid supporting cast, ensures that Submission ultimately succeeds only as an actor's showcase, and it does seem obvious, finally, that the movie would probably work better in the context of a brisk stage play.
Curvature (March 8/18)
It's ultimately a little remarkable just how little there is within Curvature that works, as the movie, though saddled with a needlessly deliberate pace, does open with a fair amount of promise thanks to its high-concept setup - which follows Lyndsy Fonseca's Helen as she finds herself, days after her husband's (Noah Bean's Wells) suicide, embroiled in a conspiracy involving a secretive government operation. The movie's opening stretch, concerned primarily with Helen's grief, isn't exactly enthralling and yet the movie does benefit from its mysterious atmosphere, with the ongoing inclusion of intriguing elements (eg why is this person breaking into Helen's home, who is this individual on the phone warning her, etc, etc) undoubtedly perpetuating the auspicious vibe. There reaches a point, however, at which director Diego Hallivis meandering modus operandi becomes impossible to stomach, as the filmmaker, working from a screenplay by Brian DeLeeuw, delivers a narrative that's heavy on science-oriented dialogue but light on context or coherence - with Hallivis' ongoing efforts at livening things up with random chase sequences generally falling completely and hopelessly flat (ie because the viewer has nothing invested in the central character's plight, such moments just aren't exciting in the slightest). By the time the deeply unsatisfying conclusion rolls around, Curvature has certainly confirmed its place as a fairly misbegotten misfire that might've worked as a short but feels rather endless as a feature.
Foxtrot (March 12/18)
Written and directed by Samuel Maoz, Foxtrot details the turmoil that ensues after a married couple (Lior Ashkenazi's Michael and Sarah Adler's Daphna) learn that their soldier son (Yonaton Shiray's Jonathan) has been killed in action - with the tedious narrative detailing the actions of several characters as they react to this terrible news. It's a decent premise that's employed to consistently uninvolving effect by Maoz, as the filmmaker, for the most part, suffuses the proceedings with ill-conceived elements that effectively (and ultimately) cancel out its more overtly positive attributes. (One's efforts at sympathizing with Ashkenazi's character, for example, are swiftly obliterated by his needlessly cruel treatment of the family dog.) It's clear, too, that Foxtrot's progressively underwhelming atmosphere is compounded by Maoz's questionable directorial choices, as the movie is riddled with distracting stylistic choices that just don't work and, worse yet, destroy the tenuous momentum on an ongoing basis. Maoz's periodically surreal sensibilities perpetuate the film's hands-off vibe and ensure that large swaths of the picture fall flat, and there's little doubt, as well, that the director's heavy-handed approach to the material grows tiresome almost immediately (ie the message here is about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face). The sporadic inclusion of compelling sequences - eg a shocking incident is covered up by an inexplicably corrupt Israeli military - admittedly manages to buoy one's almost non-existent interest from time to time, yet this is ultimately hardly enough to compensate for a misguided production that is, for the most part, devoid of agreeable elements.
Thoroughbreds (March 14/18)
A rather unremarkable debut, Thoroughbreds follows upper-class teenagers Amanda (Olivia Cooke) and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) as they conspire to pull off a murder that'll seemingly solve all their problems. Filmmaker Cory Finley, working from his own screenplay, delivers an opening stretch that admittedly holds a fair amount of promise, as the writer/director does an effective job of establishing the characters and the palatial estate at which the bulk of the narrative transpires - with the stylish visuals certainly perpetuating the movie's watchable feel. There's little doubt, though, that Finley slowly-but-surely loses his grip on the viewer as the picture progresses, with Thoroughbreds' meandering midsection essentially highlighting the various deficiencies within Finley's padded-out screenplay (ie one can't help but wish the director would just get on with it, already). It's clear, as well, that the somewhat chilly work by the movie's leads compounds the less-than-engrossing vibe, as both Cooke and Taylor-Joy infuse their respective characters with a one-note, almost emotionless vibe that grows increasingly tedious - which does, naturally, make it awfully difficult to work up any interest in or sympathy for their continuing exploits. Finley's less-than-propulsive sensibilities pave the way for a comparatively eventful yet entirely uninvolving third act, and there is, as a result, little within the movie's final stretch that wholeheartedly works or justifies all that precedes it - which ultimately confirms Thoroughbreds' place as a misconceived, misguided thriller devoid of actual thrills.
Killing Ground (March 19/18)
Killing Ground follows a couple (Ian Meadows' Ian and Harriet Dyer's Sam) as they arrive at a remote campsite and immediately discover that another family, led by Julian Garner's Rob and Maya Stange's Margaret, have already staked their claim there, with this minor inconvenience eventually rendered moot by the appearance of a couple of violent, loose-cannon locals (Aaron Pedersen's German and Aaron Glenane's Chook). Filmmaker Damien Power delivers a slow-burn opening stretch that certainly holds plenty of potential, as the writer/director does an effective job of establishing the various characters - with the promising vibe heightened by his somewhat innovative decision to spend time with the assailants before things go awry (ie the bad guys, particularly in movies of this ilk, are rarely developed beyond their most superficial attributes). It's clear, as well, that Killing Ground benefits substantially from Power's time-shifting approach to the material, with the decidedly off-kilter structure lending the early part of the proceedings a puzzle-like vibe that proves difficult to resist. There's little doubt, then, that the movie's downward trajectory is triggered by a repetitive, one-note second half, as Power delivers a midsection dominated by acts of cruelty with little variation in terms of execution (ie it's all just so relentlessly grim and mean-spirited). The inclusion of a few nifty twists within the final stretch does help alleviate the static atmosphere, although such elements are ultimately unable to compensate for the ineffectiveness of the preceding half hour's content - which ultimately does confirm Killing Ground's place as a periodically entertaining misfire.
Killing Gunther (March 24/18)
An astonishingly terrible debut, Killing Gunther follows several assassins, led by Taran Killam's Blake, as they come together to take down a fearsome and mysterious hitman called Gunther (Arnold Schwarzenegger) - with the film detailing the oddball crew's ongoing efforts at finding and killing Schwarzenegger's slippery character. It's clear immediately that there's just something a little off about Killing Gunther, as filmmaker Killam proves unable to even partially capture the viewer's interest right from the get-go - with the writer/director's choice to employ a mockumentary format exacerbating the movie's arms-length feel (ie the fake documentary structure virtually demands a far more competent approach). There's almost nothing contained in Killing Gunther that wholeheartedly works (eg the special effects here are laughably bad), and it's clear, too, that the picture's padded-out midsection, which is rife with subplots that just don't work, contributes heavily to the egregiously uninvolving midsection. Schwarzenegger, whose first appearance doesn't come until more than an hour in, admittedly does provide the film with a few chuckle-worthy moments, yet such antics are hardly enough to compensate for what's otherwise a fairly interminable experience - which is a shame, certainly, given the potential afforded by the decent premise and impressive cast of comedy all-stars.
Tragedy Girls (March 29/18)
A sporadically clever but mostly tedious spin on the slasher genre, Tragedy Girls follows sociopathic teenagers Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) as they attempt to boost their social-media status by embarking on a brutal killing spree and documenting the local reaction. Filmmaker Tyler MacIntyre, working from a script written with Chris Lee Hill, delivers an admittedly spellbinding pre-credits sequence that's as creative as it is entertaining, and yet it's not long before the movie segues into a surprisingly tedious midsection rife with almost eye-rollingly conventional elements - with, ultimately, the most obvious example of this the two leads' relentlessly sarcastic, sardonic demeanor (ie both Sadie and McKayla come off as one-note, one-dimensional figures with few, if any, distinctive attributes). And although one's complete boredom is staved off by a smattering of appreciatively brutal kills, Tragedy Girls' meandering, repetitive midsection ensures that there's exceedingly little here to which the viewer is able to connect - with the decidedly arms-length atmosphere compounded by a recurring emphasis on misguided, aggressively over-the-top bits of comedy. MacIntyre's third-act efforts at transforming Hildebrand's character into a sympathetic figure fall hopelessly flat, to be sure, and it is, as a result, difficult to wholeheartedly buy the spectacularly cruel twist that closes the proceedings - with the end result a palpable misfire that admittedly might've worked as a 10 minute short.