Our recommendation for this week comes with a disclaimer, and while we’re keen advocates of Brady Corbet’s sophomore feature film Vox Lux, it’s certainly been met with something of a divisive critical response. Though we do insist you take our word for it, naturally.
Following on from Childhood of a Leader, again Corbet is testing the limitations of conventional storytelling tropes and subverting them successfully, with a continuing theme coming by way of the exploration of how our formative years impact on our adult ones. In this case we’re dealing with a pop star called Celeste, portrayed in the first half of the movie by starlet Raffey Cassidy, in a role taken over for the latter half by the irrepressible Natalie Portman, catching up with the superstar as drink and drugs have caught up with her and she struggles to make sense of celebrity status.
When surveying the narrative for this title it appears as your traditional biopic structure, albeit fictionalised, though that’s turned on its head – something we’ve learned to expect of Corbet’s narrative style – with the film’s opening scene being that of a mass school shooting Celeste witnesses. What transpires is a barbed take on American culture, as the film, which spans two decades, is enriched by its socio-political climate, taking in moments such as 9/11 and studying how it impacted culture and the landscape in which this film is set. The acting is on point, the character study mesmerising, and the music? Yeah, we thought that was pretty damn good too.
Another recommendation this weeks comes by way of Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron’s Long Shot; a romantic comedy that tells the story of a Presidential candidate (Theron) who falls in love with a hapless journalist (Rogen) in spite of her advisors doing their utmost to keep them apart, in order not to harm her reputation.
The film survives via the affability of its two leads and their natural chemistry they share together on screen, in what is an unlikely coming together. Though the film does feel like it’s something of a teenage fantasy, of a flawed man pulling one helluva woman, it remains engaging and enjoyable nonetheless, mostly thanks to a very easy tone, affectionately predictable, in a way that feels comforting, particularly within its genre. That said, it doesn’t take many risks, and while Rogen’s comedic style has always been very accessible, this does feel like a walk in the park for him, rarely thinking outside the box or taking any true risks.
Next up is the J.R.R Tolkien (pronounced Tol-Keen – who knew?) biopic, helmed by Finnish filmmaker Dome Karukoski, starring Nicholas Hoult in the eponymous lead role. It’s an interesting, understated piece that very much focuses on the great author’s formative years, looking at his childhood, his experiences at school, and his time on the front line in the First World War – studying how all of his life experiences fed into famed work – and done so with minimum contrivance.
Ultimately it’s a film about the friendship of Tolkien and his three closest friends, and of love: his relationship with Edith Bratt, played by Lily Collins. It’s got some moving scenes and the acting is commendable, though the film does fall at one rather significant hurdle: it’s just a bit boring, emblematic of a film that just plays it all a little safe. Tol-Keen would not be impressed – for at the very least the one thing this man would’ve demanded is a sense of adventure.
Collins is back on girlfriend duty again, though this time in a rather different environment, for she plays the unfortunate other half of serial killer Ted Bundy, in Joe Berlinger’s annoyingly titled Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. Zac Efron plays the man himself, in a film that, similarly to Tolkien, takes a sideways approach into an otherwise famed set of events, as this film very much spends its time in the courtroom, analysing the social influence and demented popularity of Bundy, as opposed to the actual killings he committed. This is a better angle to come into proceedings for it means we avoid walking over familiar ground. Other than that, however, there’s not a lot of originality on show here. If you’ve already watched the Netflix series about this deranged and violent killer, then you’ve probably seen enough.
At the complete other end of the spectrum, literally, is family film A Dog’s Journey, the sequel to the mawkish A Dog’s Purpose that was released two years ago. Again we are dealing with Bailey, voiced by Josh Gad, so prepare yourselves for a whole myriad of funny little gags concerning eating shoes and sniffing butts. It’s very easy viewing and dog lovers will no doubt find things they enjoy, particularly just watching the various dogs on show, who are all adorable. But that’s really all the film has going for it, and when it starts to delve into the notion of reincarnation, with horrendously sentimental shots of dogs literally running off into doggy heaven (honestly), it’s at this point you realise this isn’t the film for anyone with a cynical eye – dog lover or not.
And yet despite the film’s shortcomings, it’s still not the worse release this week. No, that title goes to horror flick The Curse of La Llorona, by Michael Chaves. It’s not a badly made film, it’s just taken such a tired concept and done absolutely nothing new with it whatsoever. The horror genre has so much scope for creativity and it’s such a shame when films of this nature do the rounds; so predictable, with scares we’ve seen so many times we can see them a mile off. It’s another tale of a family being tormented by a supernatural force. We’re bored even writing about it. Just avoid.