Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

PIRANHA (1978)
For some reason, I'd just never seen this Roger Corman-produced horror flick before. Joe Dante is one of my favorite directors, and here he and screenwriter John Sayles craft a Jaws rip-off that has a lot of goofy charm in large part because it's not trying to do anything more than just be a by-the-numbers horror flick. It feels more like a movie some people made on the weekends with friends, just enjoying the silliness of the whole thing and then casting greats like Kevin McCarthy, Barbara Steele, Keenan Wynn, and my beloved Dick Miller. It doesn't feel like a cheap rip-off--even though it basically is--because it feels like the people making it are just enthusiastic about making movies. I don't feel that in a lot of movies these days. And hey, Phil Tippet and Rob Bottin worked on it, too. This is my generation of filmmakers. ***1/2

VERY GOOD GIRLS (2014)
Two friends want to lose their virginity in the summer between high school and college. It's pretty to look at, but boring and empty. Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen are the girls, and they are completely miscast. They've obviously been cast because they were never in typical teen movies, and writer-director Naomi Foner wants this to be a more profound, measured movie. But there's a timing issue here; Fanning and Olsen are 20 and 25, and I just saw Elizabeth Olsen playing a mother in Godzilla two months ago, so they both seem beyond their roles. They've played wise-beyond-their-years so many times that it's very hard to buy them as awkward teenagers navigating a summer romance; though Olsen makes her character a little more believable (she's clearly the better actress here, and she's underused), they mainly come across like aliens who don't understand this human world around them, and have decided to cope with it mainly by staring off into the distance (though their faces do look lovely on camera). The guy who is their object of their affections, Boyd Holbrook, is believable as a crush object. Unfortunately, the movie makes him a romantic lead, and he's not capable of it; he's like if they sucked the personality out of Ryan Gosling and now we're just left with a pile of shrugs and mumbles and condescending, dead-eyed looks. So Dakota likes him and starts sleeping with him, but doesn't tell Elizabeth, who likes him and wants to sleep with him, and then there's stuff with their miscast parents and it just sort of sits there. It's weird how every story beat seems calculated for maximum effect, and yet the girls are just steady and boring the whole way through, completely disaffected in a very, very dull movie. **

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