An intense two hours of close-ups of a bewildered Jennifer Lawrence’s face, as she copes with a haunted house and situations beyond her control. It’s not a movie that makes much sense, but neither does a Hieronymous Bosch altarpiece. Javier Bardem is only slightly nicer than he was in No Country for Old Men, but in a Gaslight sort of way. For unrelenting dread, devoid of musical background, this was a well-made movie. I grade it so low only because I wouldn’t want anyone to go see it on my account.
Although this film takes place in Baltimore, it might as well be another country, so foreign to my personal experience is the world it shows, starting with sport? competition? of “step,” which is sort of like synchronized swimmng on land. This is one of those heartwarming documentaries that gets lucky, as we follow a group of high-school steppers from the start of their senior year all the way to their first-ever win at the year-end regional contest. And the individuals singled out for attention get into colleges of their choice. My only reservation was that the “star” of the team and film, a beautiful Michael Jackson lookalike, knew she was pretty and showed it a bit much. The story of underprivileged underdogs overcoming obstacles and winning was totally formulaic, but hey, it’s a good formula.
If you think the West Texas of Hell or High Water was bleak, wait until you see Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation in Taylor Sheridan’s follow-up film. Not only is it bleak topographically, economically and psychologically, we see it in the depth of winter, with snow blanketing all signs of life. But bleak can be beautiful, and here the photography creates a mood that is the takeaway, if not the point, of the movie. Jeremy Renner’s Marlboro Man and Elisabeth Olsen’s in-over-her-head FBI agent populate the landscape, along with sullen, disaffected Native Americans: I don’t think there is a smile in the entire 107 minutes. While the story is told almost exclusively through the eyes of Renner and Olsen’s characters, the scene that explains the mystery is somehow shown us through the perspective of the two corpses.
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