FAHRENHEIT 11/9: Maybe it's just because it’s so up-to-the-moment contemporary but I think this is Michel Moore’s best film yet. It’s full of passion, anger, impish humor and finally, a call to action. All that makes me forgive that it’s also sprawling and jumps around through many topics without making a solid case that they actually belong together. But many do and it’s kind of thrilling to watch him spout out his vision of what’s gone wrong in American politics. For sure, the main focus here is the rise of Trump, including a new revelation on what made him go for the presidency in the first place, but also a parallel story that takes Moore back to his home town of Flint, Michigan.
He spends a great deal of his film on the outrageous water crisis there and argues an almost exact comparison between the governor he blames for it (and his business cronies) to Trump and his backers. It also sets up one of his trademark stunts.
Elsewhere he compares Trump to Hitler, not unheard-of these days, but pretty extreme here, although a short sequence that puts Adolf’s voice over a Donald speech is very funny. Moore, as analyst, does have a track record. He was one of only a few commentators (certainly on the left) who predicted Trump would win the presidency. He said he knew how ordinary people were thinking and hurting. He goes on to blast the electoral college that made it final and TV news executives for letting it happen and takes swipes at Clinton, Obama and the Democratic Party too. Then a big dose of optimism. His hopes for the future are with a new populist movement he sees rising, typified by the Parkland students and their anti-gun campaign. The real America is stirring, he thinks. 4 out of 5
THE WIFE: Here’s a must see for anyone into intelligent drama and superb acting. Glenn Close deserves an Oscar for her portrayal of the amenable wife of a famous writer and the spectacular turnabout she experiences. That happens when he (Jonathan Pryce) wins a Nobel Prize, they both go to Sweden to accept it and old difficulties re-appear. He’s a philanderer; she’s been putting up with it for years but when he flirts with a photographer and some old gossip is slyly mentioned by an aspiring biographer (Christian Slater, very unctuous), she breaks out angry, then furious.
There’s a far deeper resentment behind it though. His cheating she knew about. When she first got together with him he was a married man and she was his student. Close’s own daughter, Annie Starke, plays her younger self in the flashbacks. The real sore point that finally takes her over is his blithe inability to give her credit for contributing to his writing. Just proofreading, he says it was. We eventually learn it was more than that, although she never demanded recognition because, as she says, the ideas were all his. The early scenes reflect perfectly the details of a long-standing marriage. Then the fierce arguments come on and they are scary and venomous. There’s an unnecessary subplot about a son’s own ambitions to be a writer but the rest of the film is formidable. It was filmed in Scotland and Sweden, where the director, Björn Runge is from. 4 ½ out of 5
LIFE ITSELF: This movie doesn’t work, but it sure is worth seeing. It manipulates your emotions, piles on tragedy and redemption, and believes it’s saying something profound. It keeps throwing surprises your way and uses a toolbox full of screenwriter gimmicks which are fascinating to follow, never mind the quality of the overall result. It brings on a good cry for some.
The plot is almost impossible to summarize in brief. It has three or four story lines, multiple characters on two continents and in shaky timelines. It seems to be related by a man in therapy. No wait it’s by a writing theorist discussing “unreliable narrators” of which life itself, she claims, is the least credible. So what’s going on? It’s like a seminar discussion grown into a movie, as written and directed by Dan Fogelman, creator of the very popular TV series “This Is Us.”
On his way to the final realization that “at any moment life will surprise me,” he offers a twisting narrative. A bus accident links the strands. A woman (Olivia Wilde) dies; her husband (Oscar Isaac) grieves; her at-the-time unborn daughter becomes a punk singer; a boy who witnessed the accident is traumatized but returns to Spain where his father (Antonio Banderas) discusses honor and self-respect with a worker on his farm. We get flashbacks, people recalling them while standing within them, scenes that aren’t real, just dreams or worries, and other distractions. All this to repeated and varied use of a Bob Dylan song (Make You Feel My Love) and much talk about his career. Technique reigns. Our feeling for these characters? Not so much. 3 out of 5
THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS: That clock is completely hidden but heard incessantly ticking down towards some sort of Armageddon which is not well explained but dreaded anyway. And that pretty well represents the two sides to this film. It starts well, draws you in with its whimsical atmosphere and loses your attention somewhere along the way. That was my reaction anyway. The story is from a 1973 young adult novel; the ambience is post-Harry Potter but with less effect. It might be for children, but gets too scary later on and is too un-scary for teens.
A young boy (Owen Vaccaro), who has just lost is parents, is sent to live with his eccentric uncle (Jack Black) who claims he’s a warlock and seems to be in a relationship with a witch (Cate Blanchett). There’s a locked cabinet never to be opened, which, of course, is opened, revealing a book on necromancy which the boy uses to raise the dead man (Kyle McLachlan) who used to own the house. All that is involving enough but somewhere along the way, as the clock counts down, dolls and figures come alive, pumpkins spew out glop and a topiary animal farts, the interest falters. A battle towards the end doesn’t really get it back. We’ve seen so much of this before and it’s not made any more original by the smart comic acting by Blanchett and Black and the well-modulated directing by Eli Roth, the horror-movie specialist working in a restrained mode here. 2 ½ out of 5
ASSASSINATION NATION: Burnaby’s Bron Studios helped finance this one but the film has nothing at all to do with Canada. It’s a rant about modern teenagers who when they’re not talking about details of the sex they’re having are planting personal details on their cell phones. And, we eventually find out, are fed up with always being told what to do and how to do it. Somehow that erupts into a Purge like film with mobs in the street and four teen girls strutting like armed commandos and shooting bad guys as a statement of empowerment. In other words, it’s pretty mixed up.
The trouble starts when somebody posts many of those stashed secrets on line, exposing nasty details about the mayor (of this town called Salem), the high school principal and many of the teens, boys and girls. Lily, our 18-year old narrator played with spunk by Odessa Young, is blamed. She becomes the target of masked vigilantes, a nasty neighbor and eventually a whole town gone mad. Why such a virulent reaction? No reason. What starts as a screed about “your righteousness and your hypocrisy” devolves into bloody retribution by Lily and her three friends. That’s an easy way out. The film earlier seemed to be more thoughtful and truthful about teenage life these days. It’s directed with energy and style though by Sam Levinson, Barry’s son. 2 ½ out of 5