Quickfire Reviews – 2017 Catch-Up Part One

Quickfire2017

Back for the first time all year, it’s Quickfire Reviews! In this installment, 6 reviews-in-one: Personal Shopper, Jackie, Loving, I Am Not Your Negro, The Great Wall and Sing.

Note: Big Picture Reviews is UK-based, and works with UK release dates. All of the following films are 2017 films in the UK.

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PERSONAL SHOPPER

One of folk tradition’s more general and malleable of creatures, may we yet never tire of telling ghost stories. The lingering effects the dead leave on reality, and the concept of that effect creeping into a physical manifestation, is one too good to pass up; thankfully director-writer Olivier Assayas doesn’t miss the opportunity to give us a thought-provoking new twist on the classic tales for us to sink our teeth into.

Part introspective character piece, part stalker-mystery, Personal Shopper sees Kristen Stewart slip seamlessly into the role of a figurative ghost as she masquerades in plain sight buying the outfits for a celebrity. Meanwhile, the recent passing of her spiritualist brother opens the story up to some exciting paranormal intrusions which, in less competent hands, could merely have relegated the story to a series of red herrings and sly observations of celebrity couture.

Instead, we have a multi-faceted narrative which continually gives the viewer reason to reanalyse what they’re being fed. More than a series of questions regarding the existence of ghosts, we are asked rather to contemplate the personal challenges this character, and indeed ourselves, would face in the shadow of another’s accomplishments, or even in the wake of another’s personality. Add onto this a commentary on the detachment of modern society and we have a world in which we are firmly aware of the existence of ghosts in our lives, we just haven’t adapted emotionally for the ramifications of such.

There is a grief element and an arthouse element; some visualisations and metaphor taking the place of the literal, and for the most part it makes for a riveting watch if the mood-set catches you as it should. Its pace is solemn and purposeful, giving us plenty of time and space to examine Stewart’s Maureen and her state of mind, and it thankfully reads like a screenplay where every little detail has been taken into account.

Only a few slights at the end of the film betray the overall work; one being the mystery element, which will either surprise you with a yawn or utterly underwhelm you, presenting more in its potential than could ever be matched with its resolution. The final reveal regarding ghosts and Maureen is fairly predictable from the offset, and the length of the runtime does overburden the narrative with expectation that tables will be turned far harder than they are. While firmly specific throughout, it’s hard to imagine shorthand couldn’t have been used to keep the end feeling a bit punchier. Or better yet, forget about punchiness and reveals and have a story just peter out with consistent effect – no spookier a ghost story than the one that barely happened at all.

Still, more than worth a glance for those interested in interesting takes on the traditional, and for those who like their spooks with a firm heaping of characterisation and ponderous questions. Maybe Stewart and Assayas can team up to take on werewolves next, add to Kristen’s growing portfolio of reinterpreted monsters.

A-

LOVING

Everything about this pitch screams late-night court case television: kind people being screwed around by a bad system held up to a threatening degree by racists and the like; it’s not even close to original programming. And in the hands of a less patient director, it’s hard to imagine this not being dramatized to the point of no returns.

But Nichols strikes again, keeping the focus on the Lovings as they endure quietly through the years once their home is taken from them, and never letting us lose sight of what this is about: the people themselves. Instead of a fast-moving sobfest in which the characters rush to court to fight for what’s right, we get tension and dread each and every time we see the characters in a field or at peace or minding their own business because we are shown that that’s the world they live in and we are given enough time to fully revel in it ourselves.

All of which could make for an exhausting watch, but the pace is broken down to show more of the couple just peacefully looking after one another; true role models on celluloid are hard to come by, but it’s hard to imagine ones more real and tangible than Richard and Mildred Loving. Not that they aren’t flawed, Richard’s stubbornness and Mildred’s soft-spoken nature often set the two up as their own worst enemies, but their values are inherently good and it’s a marvel to see that so well explored on screen.

The film only slips on one real occasion, and it’s an understandable one but something of a concession: their move back from the city is prompted less by a slow, burning unease with their lives and move of an uneven push, and it’s hard to levy it with the patience of the rest of the film. But that’s a digression that will upset very few, just a compromise in timing.

Nichols does it again, despite all odds. Absolutely recommended viewing.

A

The Great Wall

It’s a hard open: a film that immediately hits you with the worst it has to offer. Poor continuity of shots, scatterbrain action, meaningless banter-talk and a vague series of threats that from the offset look just ridiculous.

You meet the Chinese-led Nameless Order, with their stupid catapult warriors, their multi-coloured Power Ranger leaders and their conniving Willem Dafoe. You get dropped into the bear pit with these cartoon monster dogs and suddenly something clicks in your mind. You know what this is now: a made-for-TV movie.

The crappy dialogue, the scenarios that write themselves, the overall good intentions but poor execution – suddenly it’s the Xena days all over again. And there you’ll know where you lie: how often do you sit down and enjoy a TV Movie? If often, you’ll probably really like The Great Wall, because it’s a big version of those. If not really, probably not your cup of tea then.

It has some nice visuals, some creative looking things, definitely a budget, but you’ll need to check back again and again to make use of it because this one is not going to find rest in your brain without a fight.

Watch John Carter or Warcraft instead; get some real mileage for your TV Movie buck.

C+

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO

Pure unfiltered rage distilled. James Baldwin’s words spin history as if we’re still in it, because we are, and that’s the point. A perfect counterpart to last year’s excellent 13TH; both perfectly moulding the African-American anger and loss in the wake of recent and more-recent atrocities committed against them into a bitesize chunk for wide consumption.

Punchy, well-directed, bitterly sad, seamlessly narrated, passionately written; even if you think you’re aware of the US civil rights movement and all there is to know, a refresher won’t hurt you. Teach it in schools, just like 13TH; amends are a long way off but best get started.

na

Big Picture Reviews do not score documentaries. Read about it here.

JACKIE

Stream of consciousness storytelling that at times fancies greatness, presenting a true-to-form ambiguous reading of the First Lady’s method/madness, though perhaps too often leaning on the latter and never quite grasping that ambiguity works best when you go in whole hog: no need for a lengthy sub-story about the actual political difficulties in planning a funeral.

Too often we fumble with red herrings and knowing nods, and all the necessary questions are raised and very, very few are answered and it’s a nice idea and all, but if we’re playing “that’s just who the lady was”, then we could’ve set it at any other time in her fair career and life. Instead we keep the drama-bait assassination that asks too many of the boring questions like “was she a little nuts after or was she always nuts?” Who cares?

All said, the story carries itself well and let’s not readily dismiss that short runtime. Good cinematography to delve into, especially the walls and window stuff, cute little mythos-enhancing music cues and, of course, an incredible and necessary lead performance. A well-presented, if perhaps unsatisfying, curiosity.

B

SING

The kind of film that brings up an ethical debate: if a movie just abridges every standard story ever written with not a hint of the original in sight, but does so to a reasonable degree, does it deserve modest praise for efficiency? Can we reasonably give every superhero/action/gross-out comedy a pass for doing its job well then hate on the equivalent for children? Surely if a film is entertaining, and its job is to be entertaining, that’s enough?

The debates usually roar for an age, no one side ever truly triumphing over the other for any real length of time. Sing however carries the pretence of being relatively harmless, when in fact it showcases some of the worst lazy standards kids could grow to expect.

The father who doesn’t understand you then loving you for who you are once he sees your talent win people over, and he’s a criminal who knows to serve his time fairly? The mother of a significant number of kids who can leave them all behind at a moment’s notice and only struggle with whether her husband notices her? The shy girl with all the talents? The sleazy guy who gets the girl? Story-redacted porcupine, liar revealed Koala, the rich sheep guy who was there and did things probably uncouth; it’s also hard to remember the details immediately after watching.

Look, its fine for switch-off comedies to exist, but let’s not pretend that all switch-off comedies are created equal. At least the pageantry of real-life singing contest sob stories that this film is born of have the benefit of featuring real people (at least ostensibly) – why animals? Was it really that interesting visually? Did we benefit from that choice in any real way? Why even animation?

And so the debates rage on. Unless you draw a line in the sand, of course, and say ‘you must contain at least *this* must effort to be considered worthy of defense’. Sadly, Sing doesn’t make the cut.

C

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