Tag Archives: Kristen Stewart

“Personal Shopper”

LOUISA: 4.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Personal Shopper” is an unnerving thriller, a troubling mystery, and a very disturbing haunted tale that nearly defies classification. This is a dark film that explores human solitude and the unspoken, deep desires that simmer inside us and create a tormented inner turmoil. It’s a strange yet effective twist on the classic ghost story, a genuinely creepy and impressive film that’s guaranteed to be unforgettable.

Maureen (Kristen Stewart) spends her days doing a job she hates: picking out expensive designer outfits and extravagant jewelry for her famous supermodel boss Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten). She is trapped in the superficial, shallow world of fame and fashion yet longs for spirituality inside herself — and from the beyond. Her twin brother Lewis was a medium and before his death, the two made a pact to come back as a ghost and attempt to make contact from the afterlife. For three months Maureen has been trying to seek out signs from her brother but has yet to receive any clear signal. Desperate for closure, she refuses to leave Paris until she communicates with him. Maureen is much like a ghost herself, trapped in a life limbo and obsessed with her steadfast commitment to communicating with her dead twin.

Eventually Maureen starts to experience some strange things, from mysterious running water in her brother’s abandoned house to flickering lights and slamming doors. Things turn even more sinister and increasingly aggressive when she starts to find scratches on the walls and progressively threatening text messages from an unknown person. Is this simply Maureen’s grief taking its toll by playing tricks with her mind? Is it a cruel hoax from a malicious acquaintance? Is Lewis really trying to contact her from the other side? (Or even worse, has she mistakenly stirred up an evil spirit that’s not her brother)? The film leaves you guessing the answers to the creepy mystery in a way that’s extraordinarily ominous and intensely suspenseful. This movie scared the bejeezus out of me, especially when Maureen’s own natural curiosity eventually turns to sheer terror.

This film marks another truly incredible turn from Stewart, who gives a performance full of deep sadness and furious intensity. She keeps up her track record as one of the greatest actors working today. This is her second collaboration with French director Olivier Assayas (the first being “Clouds of Sils Maria” in 2014), and they are proving to be a wonderful pair.

Assayas’ direction is purposefully gradual and deliberate, with a slowly unfolding setup that lends a chilling atmospheric creepiness. He manages to turn simple things like a flashing light, a text message, and an empty elevator into the most suspenseful, terror-filled things ever.

The film can be jarring in both its shifting tone and unconventional style, a strange mix of several genres that’s packed with some truly bizarre directorial choices. For instance: there are awkward fadeouts which at first annoyed me but then I could clearly see they were the perfect visual effect for the detached story.

The ending is a whopper and is one that you’ll absolutely want to discuss with anyone who has seen the film. It’s open to interpretation in a way that gives great meaning to the story, no matter what you make of it. This is a memorable work of art that’s genuinely scary, boldly original, daring, and smart. I really loved it, and it’s not a movie I’ll forget (or shake) anytime soon.

“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”

LOUISA: 1.5 STARSMATT: 2 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

The shockingly weak screenplay is one of the many elements that completely ruin “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” a disappointingly lousy movie from Oscar winning director Ang Lee (“Life of Pi,” “Brokeback Mountain”). The film gave me the overwhelming feeling that Lee and the majority of his cast were emotionally detached from the subject matter in a way that radiates through to the audience. Something is definitely amiss. Nothing hits home here, and it’s a real shame that I felt a close to zero emotional connection to the story or the characters.

The film (based on the novel by Ben Fountain) is told from the point of view of Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), a 19 year old Private who suddenly finds himself a decorated military hero. After displaying an incredible act of courage on the battlefield in Iraq, Billy and his entire Bravo Squad are flown home to Texas to be paraded around as American heroes, culminating in an appearance at a halftime show during a big Thanksgiving day football game (the ballgame provides the majority of the film’s setting).

In an attempt to take a “seen it all before” war story and make it unique, you have to do more than simply change the setting. This is only one of the areas where the script fails this project’s ambition. Part of the story is told through Billy’s personal flashbacks to the war zone (as viewers would expect, everyday objects and situations remind him of the horrors he’s seen and experienced firsthand). I understand and can appreciate what Lee was trying to do with his juxtaposition of present-day events to connect with battlefield memories, but it’s visually done in a way here that is so obnoxious that it loses all meaning and effectiveness. Plus, it’s been done much, much better in other movies (“Brothers,” “The Hurt Locker”). There’s nothing visionary about this movie, and that’s a real shame.

The acting across the board is rough, including a wholly distracting performance from the miscast Chris Tucker as a Hollywood publicist and the worst Southern accent you’ve ever heard from Steve Martin as a the owner of a football team. Alwyn and Kristen Stewart (as Billy’s sister Kat) are the obvious standouts, but that isn’t saying much because neither are particularly memorable. Shame on any movie that wastes Stewart’s talent.

The rest of the supporting performances range from competent yet boring (Garrett Hedlund, Vin Diesel, Arturo Castro) to hokey, dinner theater caricatures (Makenzie Leigh, Tim Blake Nelson). The film feels much like a stage play with a stagnant pacing that is near agonizing to sit through. If you played a drinking game and took a shot whenever there was an extreme close-up of an actor’s face delivering a single tear soliloquy, you’d be drunk far before the film’s halfway point.

The film never finds its true voice and loses its footing early on. If there was a point to this dull exercise, then it was completely lost on me. Is this meant as a dramatic form of satire? A criticism of capitalism, our love for violence, and the American war machine? A rallying cry to enlist? A sentimental family melodrama? A celebration of brotherly love? A patriotic propaganda piece? You’d have to answer “yes” to all of the above.

I appreciate the film’s lofty goals and this negative review is in no way meant as a knock on our military or America’s brave servicemen and servicewomen. I’ve never served in the military but I’ve heard countless stories of how difficult (and at times impossible) it is to acclimate back to life as a civilian after being in combat, and I just wish this important idea for a story had been told in a more effective and worthy manner.

MATT SAYS:

“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” is a film entirely lacking in both originality and vision. It’s not terrible, but director Ang Lee‘s first movie since “Life of Pi” is surprisingly uninspired. I’ve come to expect more from Lee and, given the level of talent in the cast, it’s quite surprising in its mediocrity.

Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) is an Army Specialist who has just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. Billy gained national fame for a heroic rescue of his Sergeant (Vin Diesel) that was captured on camera, and is back at home in the states for the first time since the conflict. He and his unit Bravo Squad are taken on a publicity tour by manager Albert (Chris Tucker), which culminates in his squad’s taking the field during a halftime performance at Cowboy stadium during a football game.

“Billy Lynn” has nothing new or interesting to say about war and the men and women who fight for this country; what little the film does have to explore has been done before elsewhere. Much of the movie is devoted to the difficulties that some in our military have re-adjusting to civilian life when they are back at home. Throughout his time stateside, he is haunted by flashbacks of some of his more traumatic experiences in Iraq, which can be triggered on a moment’s notice by a noise, or crowds, or scenery. The problem for “Billy Lynn” is that other movies have explored these issues and have done it better. Films like “The Hurt Locker” and “American Sniper” portrayed the struggle battle-worn servicemen have had in returning to a country at peace. “Band of Brothers,” “Fury,” and “Saving Private Ryan” (among others) did a more effective job of showing the bond between soldiers and how important they are to one another. This same “it’s been done elsewhere better” problem plagues every facet of the film.

Even the acting here is uneven. While the veteran actors like Garrett Hedlund and Vin Diesel shine at times, in other moments their performances ring false, wooden, or histrionic. While the ever-dependable Kristen Stewart turns in a solid performance, it’s not one of her best roles. And as much fun as it is to see Steve Martin back on the big screen, he’s wasted in this movie.

To say “Billy Lynn” was disappointing would be an understatement. Skip it.

“Equals”

LOUISA: 1.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Equals” effectively squanders a true indie film pedigree with a bland, unexciting sci-fi romance / thriller. There’s director Drake Doremus (“Like Crazy,” Breathe In”), at the helm as well as talented actors Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult, but the film is nothing more than one gigantic yawn.

The plot is basically a retelling of the classic “Romeo and Juliet” narrative, centering around two lovers who are living in a futuristic world where emotions are nonexistent. When a disease that makes these dystopian humans feel again begins to spread, it means serious trouble for the universe in which they live. There are plenty of thought-provoking ideas at play yet none are effectively explored. It’s not a bad idea for a movie, but an epic vision just isn’t fully realized here.

Doremus has a very rigid directorial style (which works with the material), but even a great aesthetic can’t make up for the slow, draggy story. The lethargic pacing makes for quite the uninteresting and stale experience. This film will put you to sleep, guaranteed.

“Equals” is well acted and well directed, but I simply didn’t care. This one is not worth your time.


Matt was unavailable for review.

“Anesthesia”

LOUISA: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Anesthesia” is another ensemble film of intersecting storylines that strains just a little too hard to connect all of the tales together. It’s obvious that writer / director / actor Tim Blake Nelson has a strong personal attachment to the material and a grand vision paired with noble intentions, but none of this is fully realized in this “Crash” and “Babel” rip-off. The film plays like a thesis project on the meaning of life.

Set in modern day New York City, this pompous, self-important film focuses on six core stories that intersect over the mugging of Columbia University professor Walter (Sam Waterston). Walter’s wife Marcia (Glenn Close) and son Adam (Nelson) are at the top of the character pyramid, with secondary stories about drug addiction and homelessness (Rob Morgan, K. Todd Freeman and Michael Kenneth Williams), a cancer scare for Adam’s family (Jessica Hecht, Hannah Marks, and Ben Konigsberg) and a marriage in crisis (Gretchen Mol and Corey Stoll). There’s some compelling stuff here but in the end, the film strains a little too hard to connect all of the stories together, and Nelson’s lofty goals ultimately fall short.

There’s a lot of overly complicated smarty pants dialogue that will surely lose most average viewers while simultaneously managing to alienate the more thoughtful ones. It’s this condescending faux profoundness that’s such a turn-off. This film is nowhere near as clever, smart or intelligent as it thinks it is or aspires to be.

While Nelson might not quite be a master of screenwriting, an area where he truly excels is directing his actors. In something that you rarely see in ensemble films, the performances are strong throughout. The depth and sincerity of the actors are exceptionally effective, from the smallest background extras to the leads. The standout performance shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone: it’s the grossly underappreciated Kristen Stewart in a small role as a self-destructive student who just longs to feel something in her life.

“Anesthesia” is self indulgent, contrived, and at times a bit too messily overblown, but at least it’s provocative and interesting. Worth watching for the award-worthy performances from the entire cast, especially Stewart and Waterston.


Matt was unavailable for review.

“Café Society”

LOUISA:  2.5 STARS MATT: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

As with many of the films in Woody Allen’s recent portfolio, “Café Society” is simply another predictable and forgettable notch on the director’s belt. The prolific filmmaker is still writing, directing and creating at 80 years old, but most of his work of late just isn’t original, fresh, nor strong enough to stand alone — it all tends to run together in a big jumble of monotony.

This sweet little romance story is set in Hollywood in the 1930s, where we meet the big time, name dropping studio honcho Phil Stern (Steve Carell) and his New York nephew, Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg). Bobby has decided to flee the Bronx for la la land to get a job in the industry. He is suddenly smitten by his uncle’s secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), and a love affair blossoms against the backdrop of braggy well-heeled socialites, alluring movie stars, and charismatic yet unscrupulous gangsters.

A good portion of the movie is dully spent placing the audience as observers at fancy-schmancy Hollywood parties where we are forced to listen to vapid conversations from the wealthy elite (thankfully Parker Posey enjoyably chews the scenery as one of them). I’m not sure if we are supposed to like these people but I sure didn’t. I found not one character to be sympathetic, but maybe that’s the point. The film’s big surprise twist will also quickly be obvious to most viewers.

Allen has a true gift for eliciting understated yet satisfying performances from his talented actors and he keeps up his winning streak here. Stewart is the standout of course (although Blake Lively is radiant as Bobby’s wife), but I was very much surprised at how exceptional Corey Stoll is as Ben, Bobby’s gangster brother.

Anyone who is familiar with Allen’s filmography knows it goes without saying that the movie’s music is on point, the period costumes are lovely, and the production design is gorgeously (and I mean gorgeously) detailed. The film is well made yet it’s still mediocre.

Allen is mellowing out in his old age and is becoming more and more rambling and repetitive, and it’s reflected in his work. His originality wanes in this film. During the screening I kept having Woody déjà vu, internally asking myself ‘haven’t I seen this many, many times before?’ The answer is ‘yes,’ meaning that you could skip this film and not ever once fear that you’ve missed anything that’s truly worth watching.

MATT SAYS:

Star-crossed lovers Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) and Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) meet in 1930s Hollywood and fall in love. But Vonnie has a secret that may just tear them apart.

Director Woody Allen’s latest movie is a semi love-letter to the Golden Age of Hollywood, when agents were power brokers, the acting talent little more than set dressing, and studio chiefs like Louis B. Mayer ruled the roost. In this world, the Stern-Dorfman family is ruled by mega-agent and Phil Stern (Steve Carrell, in another strong effort that will be forgotten come awards season) and gangster Ben Dorfman (Corey Stoll). Bobby is the youngest of the lot and makes his way west from Brooklyn with dreams of landing a big, important job in Los Angeles. When he goes to work with his Uncle Phil, he meets Vonnie and the two hit it off. But will their newfound friendship and budding romance last?

Eisenberg is solid as Bobby, but other than Carrell, it is Stewart and Stoll that really shine. Listen to me, people: if you still think of Kristen Stewart as the mopey, one-note teen from the “Twilight” movies, then you’re missing out. She has done some fantastic work in recent years and, while “Café Society” may not be her best turn of those films, her performance is reliably good, as I’ve come to expect.

Over the past decade and a half, Woody Allen has been a bit hit-and-miss as a director, but lately he’s been doing a little bit better. The amazing “Blue Jasmine” and the very good “Irrational Man” have been tempered with disappointing efforts “Midnight in Paris” and “To Rome with Love.” “Café Society” is somewhere between the two: it’s better than the latter two but not as good as the former. It’s enjoyable enough, however, and at a characteristically short running time, it leaves you wanting for more. The story moves at the right pace, the dialogue is realistic, and the characters memorable.

Woody Allen fans will be pleased, as will anyone else seeking a respite from the mostly dull slate of current cinematic offerings.

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