Tag: Chloë Sevigny

Queen & Slim

QUEEN & SLIMVerdict: A well-meaning and beautiful looking disappointment.

As far as first dates go, this one’s a bit of a fizzer. No, I’m not talking about the titular Queen and Slim’s Tinder date from hell, to which this film explores. Rather, I’m referring to my first outing with promising first-time feature directing and writing duo Melina Matsoukas and Lena Waithe, whose woke sensibilities and vibrantly kinetic film-making style held so much promise. Add to the mix, two “it” actors—the eye-catching Jodie Turner-Smith and Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya—and you have a film that by all measures should be overflowing with style, sass and smarts.

The story follows the duo’s aforementioned first date which goes pear-shaped after they are pulled over by a racist white cop. Following some racial injustice, rash responses and a flurry of gunshots, Queen and Slim suddenly find themselves high-tailing it for the border. The film proceeds to make some fairly pointed comments on authoritarian prejudice as the couple’s panicked flight from the authorities garner a Bonnie and Clyde style posse of unsolicited support that usher them towards freedom.

There is plenty to like about Queen & Slim. For one, it’s beautiful to look at, drenched in silky imagery that dovetails nicely into Pete Beaudreau (A Cure for Wellness, Margin Call) well-considered editing patterns. I simply can’t emphasise enough how good this film looks, and for some, this alone will be worth the price of admission. Secondly, Daniel Kaluuya’s screen presence—anyone who’s seen him in Get Out and then Widows will know his significant range.

Unfortunately, all this is put to waste by Waithe’s patchy screenplay that ebbs and flows from moments of sublime enlightenment to cliched dashboard-thumping expletives and woefully signposted character motivations. I could hear the clunky gears turning.

It’s a classic case of style over substance. Shame, because Queen & Slim film does have a noble message, but it gets overexposed by Waithe’s overwrought dialogue. What’s more, Matsoukas shows her lack of feature-length experience, one that hasn’t yet captured the focussed subtlety of contemporaries such as Barry Jenkins (Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk). As for a future second date with Matsoukas’ next flick? Weeell … for now, I’ll just be polite and say “it’s not you, it’s me”.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

The Dead Don’t Die

tdddIt’s hardly surprising that Jim Jarmusch has finally made a zombie flick. It is a sub-genre that many filmmakers have dabbled in and Jarmusch is certainly not shy of turning his pensively paced films into genre movies (eg. Dead Man as a Western). Certainly, this isn’t his first film about the undead. Notably, he sent two love-struck vampires, Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, into a poetic haze in Only Lovers Left Alive. But where that film wallowed in its dreamy melancholic fervour, The Dead Don’t Die is a different beast, opting to reside in the comical and schlocky spirit of yesteryear’s zombie flicks. It’s kooky, mildly amusing … and unfortunately, a complete misfire.

Hosting a zombie hoard of Jarmusch regulars, this film’s rotting belly is bursting with talent. Police officers Bill Murray, Adam Driver, and Chloë Sevigny are the mainstays at the sleepy town of Centerville, while Tilda Swinton, Tom Waits, Steve Buscemi and others (too many to name) fill out the bit parts. It appears that Jarmusch gathered his regulars and asked them what their most typecast role might be—and boom, that’s your role. Swinton, for example, occupies the etherial witch-like samurai-sword wielding mortician (Doctor Strange, Suspiria, etc.), while Buscemi is yet another cap-wearing wise-cracking redneck (Fargo, Lean on Pete, etc.). So purposeful are the archetypes, it leaves little left to be interested in. I guess that might be Jarmusch’s point, as he painstakingly paints each character with a one-dimensional brush to highlight our insatiable appetite for cookie-cutter characterisation.

But because of this, I found myself caring less and less about the fate of anyone in the small town of Centerville. The fourth wall breaking and events that “go off script” smacked of desperation to solicit my attention. At times it did feel like a deeper subtext might’ve been at play beyond riffing on the usual zombies-equal-consumerism metaphor. When Adam Driver says “This isn’t gonna end well”, I think I know what he meant.

I love Jarmusch’s films, and I will be first in line at his next one. But this zom-com represents Jarmusch’s first genuine dud. The Dead Don’t Die is life Jim, but not as we know it.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

Lean on Pete

lopAcclaimed British writer/director Andrew Haigh has shifted focus from English domestic life in his much-lauded film 45 Years, to America’s north-west. His portrait of a rural America languishing in deep-seated economic woes isn’t a particularly flattering one, but it is a beautifully shot and incredibly powerful one.

Adapted from Willy Vlautin’s book of the same name, Lean on Pete centres on a soft natured but emotionally resilient teen named Charley (Charlie Plummer). While his dad is holed up in hospital, he meets by chance a race-horse trainer (Steve Buscemi) who runs the lower-level race circuits in Oregon. Bonding with a flagging racehorse who seems destined for the glue factory, Charlie decides to steal the horse across state. But far from the sentimental boy-and-his-horse tale you might expect, this road-journey (of sorts) is a desperately human tale that is more concerned with a boy’s need for belonging.

The film’s haunting score and fawning cinematography swoon over the American landscape, providing Haigh’s screenplay ample space and time to soak in Charley’s milieu. This is a masterclass of contemplative cinema; a slow-burn that encourages a strong sense of connection with Charley’s plight. It is sublimely moving, occasionally heartbreaking, and always engaging.

Haigh appears to have an eye for acting talent and his gamble to hang the whole film on Charlie Plummer’s performance has paid off.  Plummer (All the Money in the World) is an immense talent and repays Haigh’s trust by delivering the film its heart and soul. If you were mesmerised by New Zealand’s own Thomasin McKenzie’s nuanced and introspective performance in Leave No Trace, then you will find Plummer’s performance a perfect companion piece.

Working from his own screenplay, Haigh avoids cheap sentimentality and credits his audience with enough patience to dig beneath its gentle nature and root out meaning.  And dig you should, because beneath the surface is a film that will pack an emotional gut punch.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.