Mini Reviews (February 2018)
The Cloverfield Paradox, Entanglement, Poop Talk, Winchester
The Cloverfield Paradox (February 5/18)
The third installment of the Cloverfield saga, The Cloverfield Paradox follows a group of scientists and astronauts as they attempt to solve Earth's energy crisis by kickstarting an experimental device. Filmmaker Julius Onah delivers a striking opening stretch that's as inventive as it is engrossing - the opening credits alone are incredibly well done - and The Cloverfield Paradox progresses into a compelling first half rife with memorable, stand-out moments. It's clear, as well, that the movie benefits substantially from the efforts of a uniformly top-notch cast, with stellar performers like Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Aksel Hennie, and Elizabeth Debicki infusing their respective characters with perhaps more depth than the screenplay affords them. (And it's worth noting, too, that Chris O'Dowd steals every one of his scenes as a somewhat off-the-wall engineer.) And while the film remains quite watchable from start to finish, The Cloverfield Paradox segues into a fairly hit-and-miss midsection that seems to invent a new problem for the crew to fix every 15 minutes or so (ie there's not much momentum here or the feeling that it's all building towards something). The erratic atmosphere is compounded by a third act that's not quite as satisfying as one might've hoped (ie this isn't a story crying out for a slasher-like villain), and yet The Cloverfield Paradox, bolstered by a willingness to answer questions raised by the first two movies, ultimately establishes itself as a decent sequel that seems to promise further adventures in this universe (which would not be unwelcome, certainly).
Entanglement (February 8/18)
Entanglement casts Thomas Middleditch as Ben Layton, a depressive figure still reeling from a recent breakup and coping from a few failed suicide attempts when he meets and falls for a quirky woman named Hanna (Jess Weixler) - with the movie detailing the rocky trajectory of their inevitable relationship. There's little doubt that Entanglement gets off to an almost unreasonably underwhelming start, as director Jason James, working from Jason Filiatrault's script, delivers an excessively off-the-wall opening stretch that's rife with eye-rollingly idiosyncratic elements (eg a montage of Ben's unsuccessful efforts at killing himself). The introduction of Weixler's oddball character only perpetuates the movie's off-puttingly wacky atmosphere, as Hanna comes off as a prototypical example of the dreaded Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope and, as such, it becomes virtually impossible to work up any real interest in or enthusiasm for Ben and Hanna's ensuing relationship. It's clear, then, that Entanglement benefits substantially from the stellar work of its two stars, as both Middleditch and Weixler deliver impressively strong work that's often far more considered and nuanced than the material seems to deserve. And although the actors' chemistry together ultimately translates into a somewhat watchable vibe, Entanglement's third-act twist, which attempts to bring context to the otherwise silly narrative, isn't able to pack the punch that James is obviously striving for and it's finally impossible to label the film as anything more than a lamentably forgettable misfire.
Poop Talk (February 14/18)
An almost astonishingly one-note documentary, Poop Talk boasts an assortment of familiar (and not-so-familiar) comedians talking about and relating stories of excrement in all its forms - with the film featuring appearances by, among others, Pete Holmes, Rob Corddry, Nikki Glaser, and Eric Stonestreet. It's clear almost immediately that director Aaron N. Feldman is going for a vibe similar to that of 2005's The Aristocrats, as Poop Talk relentlessly jumps from sound bite to sound bite from its various subjects, all of whom have been filmed in bland, nondescript locations. It's clear, then, that the movie, also like The Aristocrats, suffers from a hit-and-miss feel that only grows more predominant as time progresses, although, to be fair, the movie does feature a small handful of admittedly compelling, laugh-out-loud funny anecdotes (including Kumail Nanjiani's story of his youthful belief that he'll stop pooping if he eats just the right amount of food). Feldman's ongoing efforts at padding-out Poop Talk's 68 minute running time ensures that the movie is rife with unfunny, uninteresting segues, to be sure, and there's little doubt that certain subjects simply have nothing of value to contribute to the conversation. (This is especially true of virtually all of Nick Swardson's comments.) By the time Feldman begins eliciting his participants' thoughts on toilets, Poop Talk's place as a passable short that's been clumsily expanded to feature length has been confirmed - with the film best suited and destined to a life as clips on YouTube. (It would actually benefit from such a truncated presentation, undoubtedly.)
Winchester (February 19/18)
Inspired by true events, Winchester follows turn-of-the-century doctor Eric Price (Jason Clarke) as he agrees to travel to a sprawling California mansion and analyze the mental health of the grieving widow (Helen Mirren's Sarah Winchester) residing there - with spookiness ensuing as Eric becomes more and more convinced that the estate is also home to a seriously disgruntled ghost. It's clear immediately that filmmakers Michael and Peter Spierig aren't looking to deviate too far from the haunted-house formula, as Winchester contains virtually every touchstone and cliche with which the genre is associated - including unreasonably deliberate pacing, a proliferation of eye-rolling jump scares, and a mid-movie emphasis on the central character's investigation into the spirit's past. The latter inevitably establishes itself as the movie's most aggressively underwhelming and flat-out needless element, as there's never a point at which the viewer is able to work up even an ounce of interest in Clarke's character's exploits - which is surprising, certainly, given the actor's decidedly above-average work here (and this is to say nothing of Mirren's typically commanding turn). And although the narrative's been peppered with a few decent sequences - there is, for example, a pretty compelling interlude involving a possession - Winchester ultimately comes off as an especially lackluster entry within a crowded and mostly disposable horror sub-category.