Following the spat of Sundance films that were being written about, this week has some notably bigger movies arriving in the form of Jackass Forever and Moonfall. That said, there’s still room for some other interesting films as well. This set of reviews includes a terrific romantic comedy-drama, the latest from Woody Allen, a murder cult-themed horror film, and a socially relevant anime. The following features reviews for The Worst Person in the World, Rifkin’s Festival, The Long Night, and Belle.
The Setup: The chronicles of four years in the life of Julie (Renate Reinsve), a young woman in Oslo, navigating the troubled waters of her love life and struggles to find her career path, leading her to take a realistic (and sometimes fantastical) look at who she really is.
Review: As much praise as I’ve had for The Worst Person in the World, with one of its key sequences even making it onto my “Favorite Movie Moments of 2021” list, I haven’t actually had a chance to write much it. Revisiting it again, it’s easy to see why this dark romantic comedy has earned such high praise over the past year. Director Joachim Trier has gotten a lot out of his contemporary comedies and dramas in his previous films, Reprise and Oslo, 31 August. This is an appropriate next step.
Relying on the efforts of Renate Reinsve to portray this flighty female lead, The Worst Person in the World manages to deliver on being funny, observant about modern culture, and a capable way of supplying bursts of style in a grounded feature. Reinsve is key to all of this, playing well with her character traits and finding the right chemistry from the two central men in her life (Anders Danielsen Lie and Herbert Nordrum).
With twelve chapters, a prologue, and an epilogue, the film overreaches a bit. Still, it matters little, given how this film subverts various tropes. This story finds interesting ways to take on societal expectations of the past and today and keeps finding ways to impress from a filmmaking standpoint. That’s more than enough to keep this far from being the worst movie in the world. In fact, it was still one of 2021’s bests.
Where To Watch: Available in select theaters starting February 4, 2022.
The Setup: A married American couple (Wallace Shawn and Gina Gershon) go to the San Sebastian Festival and get caught up in the magic of the event, the charm of the city, and the fantasy of movies.
Review: As the 49th film from writer/director Woody Allen, one could wonder what else he has left to explore as a filmmaker. There are possibly new angles to dig into at his age by reflecting on one’s legacy. Rifkin’s Festival somewhat engages in this line of thinking. Still, it’s really centered more on what sore of amusing situations Allen can create as an excuse to let Vittorio Storaro’s vivid cinematography capture the beauty of San Sebastian.
Honestly, while the film could have benefited from a stronger cast to ring more out of the familiar screenplay (it’s another story of deteriorating relationships matched with potentially new ones), there’s something to be said for seeing Wallace Shawn, of all people, captured in a way far more majestic than he’s ever been seen on screen. That’s what Storaro, the man behind Apocalypse Now and The Last Emperor, can do as a D.P.
Aiding in all of this are cute recreations of classic films such as Breathless, Jules and Jim, Persona, and, naturally, The Seventh Seal. While I wouldn’t necessarily say this film is Allen’s true swan song (difficulties in certain areas surrounding his public perception aside, there’s bound to be a chance for him to make another film), there is an attempt to encapsulate a lot of his interests into one easily digestible feature. I wish the movie was funnier or had more to lean on, but as a simple lark that happens to look great, it’ll do.
Where To Watch: Now playing in select theaters and available on VOD.
The Setup: A devoted couple’s quiet weekend takes a bizarre turn when a nightmarish cult and their maniacal leader come to fulfill an apocalyptic prophecy.
Review: This was a neat bit of horror fun. Scout Taylor-Compton has committed to being a modern-day “final girl” plenty of times since Rob Zombie’s Halloween, and she is joined here by Nolan Gerard Funk in a film that feels like a cross between Race with the Devil and The Strangers. Throw in a little Jeff Fahey (which always goes a long way), and there’s a solid 90-minute horror flick that does what it needs to for our entertainment.
One of the best moves the movie makes is to introduce the idea of a plan to meet some parents during a weekend trip and then cut to what happened after that whole ordeal. Director Rich Ragsdale does plenty to keep the tension high, but being economical with the runtime really does make a difference in how this film plays out.
Once a group of masked cult members make their presence clear to the hapless would-be victims stuck inside a house out in the middle of nowhere, I was happy to see the film find different ways to make the situation seem hopeless yet keep me guessing just enough as far as what would happen next. Relying on just enough style and some fun, if familiar, choices to make for a good enough climax, The Long Night got a decent rise out of me.
Where To Watch: Available in select theaters and on digital starting February 4, 2022.
The Setup: Suzu is a shy, everyday high school student living in a rural village. But when she enters “U,” a massive virtual world, she escapes into her online persona as Belle, a globally-beloved singer. One day, her concert is interrupted by a monstrous creature chased by vigilantes. As their hunt escalates, Suzu embarks on an emotional and epic quest to uncover the identity of this mysterious “Beast” and to discover her true self in a world where you can be anyone.
Review: That plot summary is doing a lot of work, as Belle is a wonderfully animated film with plenty on its mind. Honestly, there’s too much going on. Were writer/director Mamoru Hosoda better at sticking with just a couple of these plot lines, the film would have been better for it. I mean, how interesting is it to see the idea of a modern age, internet-based Beauty and the Beast story taking place?
I indeed found a lot to consider as far as how that would work. The sort of reality we are in where that actually makes a lot of sense sounds frighteningly plausible. As a social media service, U would be scary, even with the chance to hear live performances of these pretty terrific tracks supplied by Bell.
Of course, by not only having a “Beast” character but also various storylines involving toxic personalities, abuse, crushes, high school drama, and more, I had a tough time dealing with the pacing of all of this. Not helping was a climactic musical moment that made so much sense to be a near-end point for this feature, only for it to go on for another twenty minutes. However, one can’t deny the quality of animation on display and the big moments in this film working as needed. This new version has some struggles, but Belle‘s tale is as old as time, and I still enjoyed it.
Where To Watch: Now playing in select theaters in subtitled and dubbed formats (Subs > Dubs).