This Week's Film Reviews (Sep 13, 2019)

12 Sep 2019

Quiet week with HUSTLERS, FREAKS and THE GOLDFINCH opening.


FREAKS (USA 2018) ***

Directed by Adam Stein and Zach Lipovsky

FREAKS, which premiered last year at the Toronto International Film Festival features an impressive low budget dystopian apocalyptic scenario that though runs into familiar territory.  Still, it has a unique feel to it.  The film looks good in its production values.  Writer/directors Adam Stein and Zach Lipovsky craft a creepy tale that keeps the audience guessing what is happening especially in the first half.

Everyone loves a good thriller, especially when one knows literally nothing about the plot.  FREAKS is that thriller provided you have not read anything about it.

The film opens on the insides of a dilapidated house where a man (Emile Hirsch) and a daughter (Lexy Kolker) reside away from anyone else.  This immediately brings the recent dystopian father and daughter drama LIGHT OF MY LIFE which Casey Affleck starred and directed where the father and daughter live on their own away from strangers after some plaque has destroyed most of the females in the world.  But nothing is initially stated at the starting of FREAKS except of what one hears from the father.

Chloe's father (Hirsch) prevents her from leaving their dilapidated house or from even looking outside their board-up windows. It is not clear if there are actual dangers outside, as "Dad" believes, or if there is something psychologically wrong with him.  This is where the film works really well.  There is an image on the television with the words: “Drone targets house in Seattle”.  What does this all mean and why is dad warning Chloe of evil men outside.

It is right after the father returns from getting supplies that he gets wounded and passes out.  Chloe escapes through the front door to meet a strange Mr. Snowcone (Bruce Dern) who entices her with a chocolate ice-cream cone.

When the elderly Mr. Snowcone takes Chloe to the park, he scare hers by pushing her too high on the swing.  When a cop arrives, it turns out that she can make the cop go away by her sheer will.  Nothing is what it seems and the film takes a brilliantly chilling turn.

At this point, one can hope that the film gets better as the script also written by the two directors have put in many odd set pieces in the first 30 minutes that need to be explained.  For one, Chloe is locked up in the closet where she meets her apparent sister.  The people outside the house seem to know Chloe’s name and Chloe’s mother, though the audience have no knowledge  where or who Chloe mother is.  The neighbour appears to resemble the mother too.

It is right at the half way mark that everything is explained.  The film turns into action mode and this is where the film turns less interesting once the mystery is revealed. 

To the directors’ credit, they still keep a few surprises of the story for the second half, which though not as absorbing as the first half still makes not a bad sci-fi thriller.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Qdr8sbhz30



Directed by John Crowley

Based on the Pulitzer Price Winning book by Donna Tartte, one wishes the film would contain a more solid and credible story, but what transpires onscreen is mired by two glaring flaws (two incidents that are totally inconceivable that they destroy the entire film.

John Crowley directs with the same care and over-caution as he did in his last BROOKLYN but goes off with the pacing.  For a crime caper, the film moves more like his BROOKLYN romance drama.

Decker (Ansel Elgort) was only 13 when his mother died in a museum bombing, sending him on an odyssey of grief and guilt, reinvention and redemption. Through it all, he holds on to one tangible piece of hope from that terrible day: a priceless painting of a bird chained to its perch, The Goldfinch - that he had kept from the bombing.

The film is a coming-of-age tale with criminal plots, personal secrets, and the transformative power of art thrown into the story.

The film opens with the mysterious and introverted Theodore Decker (Elgort) holed up in an Amsterdam hotel, desperate and facing a lethal threat.  His story since childhood then unfolds in layers of rash decisions and sudden betrayals.  Young Theo (Oakes Fegley) saw his privileged life with his mother shattered one day on a visit to an art museum.   In the aftermath of an attack among the masterpieces, one priceless 17th-century oil painting goes missing. What happened to the The Goldfinch? And how will its disappearance follow Theo across America throughout his whole youth and on to his Dutch hideout?  Clues are provided to the audience and it does not take a genius to put two and two together that Decker has the painting.

The two coincidental plot flaws are:

  • the coincidental re-meeting of Theo and Boris as adults in a bar out of the blue in NYC.  Just how many bars are there in NYC and how big is the city?  And the timing?
  • the over tidy Hollywood-Style happy ending where all comes too neatly in place to bring the film to a conclusion

Elgort is perfect in the role, showing both the charm and darker shadows that have marked his best work. Kidman is as compelling as ever in every frame. And a stellar cast of actors — Finn Wolfhard, Jeffrey Wright, Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson — turn up as characters who further complicate Theo's jagged path.

The big plus of the film is that Goldfinch was shot by the legendary, Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins, who gives it a polish appropriate to its high-stakes, high-crime story. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcG06hZooHM

(no press screening)

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