Review of reviews: Film
Directed by Olivier Assayas (R)
An American in Paris communes with ghosts.
“Nothing in the plot description could have prepared me for Personal Shopper,” said Richard Lawson in VanityFair.com. Kirsten Stewart, in her second feature with French director Olivier Assayas, stars as a young celebrity’s personal assistant, and when she’s not browsing haute couture dresses, she’s seeking to commune with the ghost of her twin brother, who recently died from a heart defect. Given the movie’s “disorienting veers in plot and style,” some viewers will bail early. But as a portrayal of the horrors of grief, the film proves “as cathartic as it is terrifying.” Stewart plays many scenes alone, yet “she could text the phone book and it would still be fascinating,” said Nico Lang in ConsequenceOfSound.net. Unfortunately, the movie shifts so wildly in tone that it’s often unintentionally funny. To me, said Guy Lodge in Time Out London, those tonal shifts feel intentional, and firmly controlled by a director who’s found his perfect muse. Stewart is on screen almost nonstop, and she shows us a young woman “on the verge of voluntary evaporation,” rendered fragile and fractured by loss. Amid all the hazy ambiguities of Assayas’ “bewitching” ghost story, “this much can be said with certainty: Kirsten Stewart has become one hell of an actress.”
Kong: Skull Island
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (PG-13)
Back to the jungle with Hollywood’s favorite ape
“A King Kong movie should, first and foremost, be a fairy tale of primeval wonder, and this one is,” said Owen Gleiberman in Variety. Hollywood’s third and most effective reboot of the landmark 1933 original returns the oversize ape to his home turf, a remote Pacific island where all the action transpires. It’s 1973 in this tale, and Kong is about to be besieged by a crew of Westerners led by John Goodman as a wealthy conspiracy theorist and Samuel L. Jackson as a retired Vietnamhardened general still thirsting for action. John C. Reilly soon pops up as a World War II pilot who’s survived on the island since his plane was shot down, and he’s “easily the best thing in the film,” said Chris Nashawaty in Entertainment Weekly. But forget the humans: “We came for the damn dirty ape,” and this Kong is “a CGI showstopper” whose gravest problem is that the story around him feels rote. Even so, Skull Island is well engineered to rake in money, said Alonso Duralde in TheWrap.com. “This is a movie that presses the buttons it’s supposed to, even if it winds up being the kind of rousing entertainment you’ve forgotten about within 24 hours.”
Directed by Kris Avedisian (R)
A childhood bond becomes one man’s trap.
Watching Kris Avedisian’s new cringe comedy, “you long to flee, but it’s so good that you can’t avert your gaze,” said Stephen Holden in The New York Times. The first-time director consistently squeezes “squirm-inducing” humor from a story about the forced reunion of two former childhood friends, and he “barely misses a note” with the screenplay and performance that anchor the picture. Avedisian’s co-star, Jesse Wakeman, plays a Wall Street banker who has no intention of reconnecting with old classmates until he finds himself stranded in his hometown and compelled to ask for help from still-needy, still-nerdy Donald Treebeck.
Though the socially inept manchild has become a comedy staple, “few recent examples can match the hilariously unsettling presence of Donald,” said Eric Kohn in IndieWire.com. He’s part clinging goofball, part budding psychopath, and Avedisian gives the character such a relentless energy that the movie “never maintains quite the same appeal when he’s off the screen.” The film deserves credit, though, for aiming to make Donald more than a figure worthy only of ridicule or fear, said Mike D’Angelo in AVClub.com. The emotions unleashed late in the story feel raw and real enough that “one wishes the movie as a whole were less cartoonish.”
Carole Bethuel/IFC Films, Warner Bros. Pictures, Kyle Espeleta ■