I wanted to like The Quiet Girl. I expected to like The Quiet Girl. And now that I've seen it, I don't have any real complaints. Yet somehow, I was disappointed
Disappointed might not even be the right word, because that implies a committed reaction, whereas I'm more at the point of "that was OK, now what?" First-time director Colm Bairéad shows a good command of the medium. Young Catherine Clinch, who plays the title character, is excellent. The title is appropriate ... she is indeed a quiet girl, and Bairéad gives us a largely quiet movie. I don't know what I would do differently. But the subtleties didn't connect for me. I wasn't bored, but I wasn't affected enough by the quiet plight of the girl.
Perhaps the problem is with me, and The Quiet Girl is just another Not for Steven movie. Certainly it was a success with critics, and it picked up an Oscar nomination. Maybe I'll watch it again sometime and finally see what I'm missing. I wouldn't be surprised if Bairéad makes some good movies in the future, and it's easy to imagine Clinch becoming one of our finer actors. But it mostly left me empty.
Up to now, I've run hot and cold on the films of writer/director Martin McDonagh. I've seen them all ... there must be something that appeals to me ... but in only one case did I think I was seeing something special (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri). The Banshees of Inisherin lies somewhere in the middle ... it's not great, but it has many strong features.
The acting of the featured characters (played by Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, and Barry Keoghan) is top notch. There is a sensitivity to Farrell and Keoghan's characters in particular ... they are not the sharpest tools in the box, but McDonagh manages to get that across without turning either character into stereotypes. The scenery and cinematography are beautiful (Ben Davis is the cinematographer ... he's done all sorts of things, Marvel movies, Kick-Ass, and a couple of other McDonagh films). And the film's take on male friendship is honest, revealing, and different from the usual bromance.
So why am I hesitant to bestow nothing but praise on The Banshees of Inisherin? I'm not sure I trust McDonagh. He's clever, he comes up with interesting scenarios. But he inserts himself into odd places. Here, it's the whole self-mutilation angle. It's kinda cool, to be honest, when Gleeson threatens to remove his fingers, one by one. When he starts doing it, though, my only question was, why is he cutting off his fingers? And the only answer I could come up with was, McDonagh thought it was kinda cool. (He said in an interview that "I thought it was interesting that an artist would threaten the thing that allows him to make art". Interesting, kinda cool, whatever.)
So The Banshees of Inisherin is another quirky film from Martin McDonagh, and I'm sure his fans will love it. It's getting lots of Oscar talk. And I liked it OK. But I remain unconvinced that McDonagh is one of the great film makers.
The Nest is Sean Durkin's second feature, after Martha Marcy May Marlene. That movie came out in 2011. Nine years is a long time between movies. His earlier film had a lot to recommend it, especially the acting of Elizabeth Olsen and the rest of the cast. Now, with The Nest, Durkin establishes himself as an excellent director of actors, because the leads here, Jude Law and Carrie Coon, carry the film. It's not a bad film without them, but it's very good with them, and for all their talents, Durkin deserves credit for getting their best out of them.
I don't know which of the two is better. I've been a fan of Coon since The Leftovers, and she's wonderful as a wife, Allison, whose marriage isn't all it seems. Durkin pulls off an interesting trick in The Nest, in that it plays like a horror film but isn't a horror film at all. (In a mixed review, Oliver Jones wrote, "It looks like a horror movie, swims like a horror movie, and quacks like a horror movie, but it isn’t a horror movie. So then what the hell is it?") Coon has shown that she can take any role and find its core, and she wins our sympathy for her situation. This leads to that horror-movie feel ... you wait for something to happen to her, and Durkin, who also wrote the screenplay, plays on our expectations of the genre. This makes us think of Jude Law's husband Rory as the Bad Guy, and yes, Rory has his problems and they are essentially why Allison has problems. But we wait for Rory to turn evil, and this never happens, because the horror trappings are there mainly to distract us from what is ultimately a movie about a marriage and a family.
Much of the film takes place in a huge estate that is far too large for the family of four. Its empty rooms and long hallways add to the gothic feel, once again leading us to anticipate horror. And horror underlies most scenes in The Nest, especially as the film progresses, but it isn't there to provide a base for scares, but instead to place the otherwise straightforward narrative in an unsettling context.
The ending is suitably open. I thought it implied a possible reconciliation for the family, while my wife thought Rory would never change. Nonetheless, I found it charmingly on target that when the kids make breakfast (after many scenes where Rory made it), they make sure to put Pepsi on the table.
Steven Soderbergh seems to be a Geezer mainstay lately ... this is his third movie to be featured in Geezer Cinema, after Contagion and Logan Lucky (all picked by my wife, which is interesting because she doesn't usually pick a movie based on the director). It's the first one starring Gina Carano, and that makes a big difference, because Haywire is as entertaining as those other movies, and Carano is a big reason why that is true.
Soderbergh interests me because he combines two things I find to be rare: he knows what he is doing, and he can please an audience. Some great filmmakers out there know what they are doing, and how to get their vision on the screen, but I don't usually like their movies. And there are crowd-pleasing directors who are workmanlike at best. Soderbergh can do the art film thing as well as anyone, but he's never been afraid of genre pieces, and you would never say he was workmanlike. So films like Logan Lucky and Haywire work on many levels. Haywire admittedly isn't trying for profundity, but you appreciate pretty much everything he does here.
I often write about my pet peeve with modern action films, that they don't bother orienting the viewing. Soderbergh doesn't make that mistake ... all the action scenes are clear (the plot is not so clear, but really, does it matter?). He also plays to the value in his star ... there isn't much gun play, not a lot of car chases, just Carano kicking a lot of ass. Her background (she was once called "the face of women's mixed-martial arts") makes her fight scenes a lot more believable than when, say, little Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy steps aside and lets her stunt person do the fighting. Her co-stars (of which more in a minute) all testify to her ability to kick their asses in real life. I haven't seen her in anything else, but she has worked steadily since Haywire. Reading some of her fans, it would appear that some of her later directors didn't understand her appeal ... there's no reason to give her a gun, that's a waste, like giving Jackie Chan a magic tuxedo. Carano is also easy on the eyes, and her acting is good enough (apparently some of her dialogue was dubbed by Laura San Giacomo).
Another plus when Steven Soderbergh is involved is that actors seem to climb over themselves to be in his movies. Despite Haywire being a genre piece with a budget of only $23 million, the cast is amazing: Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Bill Paxton. A good portion of those stars get their asses kicked by Carano in the movie.
You go into Haywire expecting an OK trifle, and yeah, it is a trifle, but it's more than OK, and a welcome surprise.
Wow, people really hate this movie. It set some kind of record for worst opening weekend box office for a film playing in 3000+ theaters. The critical consensus at Rotten Tomatoes is 30% approval. Its Metacritic rating is 44/100.
Well, I realize it's damning with faint praise, but The Rhythm Section doesn't suck. Blake Lively is excellent (and in fairness, many of the critics who hated the film praised her performance). There's nothing special going on ... it's not the kind of movie you are dying to see, nor is it the kind of movie you'll want to push on your friends. But it's OK, certainly worth a look on cable on a Saturday afternoon.
Some people were disappointed, which accounts for at least part of the problem. If you had no positive thoughts beforehand, you wouldn't care if it stunk. But people like Blake Lively, and Reed Morano, who began as a cinematographer and who has an Emmy for her work directing The Handmaid's Tale, has a mild buzz about her. Yet The Rhythm Section doesn't quite succeed ... it's got too much character development to work as an action picture, but that development isn't all that interesting. There are a couple of good action scenes, both involving Lively, one fighting Jude Law and one with her driving in a car chase. It falls far short of greatness ... honestly, it falls short of goodness. But there are worse movies in the world, and I remain puzzled why The Rhythm Section is taking such abuse.