Galveston County Daily News film critic Dustin Chase reviews a wide range of films on Day 4, including “The Starling,” “Lakewood,” “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” and “The Humans.”
Jessica Chastain and Benedict Cumberbatch, each with two films in the festival, received their tribute awards Saturday evening. Sunday began a new slate of films that were more obviously a result of the pandemic times.
Saturday evening’s “The Guilty” was a remake of a film that used isolation as a gimmick before there was a pandemic. The first two films on Sunday’s slate, however, seem more obviously socially distanced and reduced cinematically because of the restrictions filmmakers had to work around last year.
First up, a quasi-serious film for comedian Melissa McCarthy and her “Bridesmaids” co-star Chris O’Dowd. “The Starling” is Netflix’s version of a decent Lifetime movie.
They’re in the business of providing content for everyone after all. The film about the loss of a child, depression and moving on begins with great songs, a montage and keeps using toe-tapping music to more montages.
“The Starling” is a bit of a twist on the depression trope, with the husband (O’Dowd) the one checking out of the marriage to cope with the loss of his daughter. McCarthy is Lilly Maynard, a grocery store clerk, gardener and wife. She's coping differently than her husband but continuing on with life, which lately includes wearing a football helmet while gardening thanks to an aggressive bird.
Director Theodore Melfi who collaborated with McCarthy on “St. Vincent,” leans heavier on the comedic elements than are necessary. McCarthy works in her usual pratfalls between scenes where she’s actually giving a good performance, until she’s on the ground reminding us of why it’s hard to take her serious.
Noticeable segregation in the film appears to be pandemic related, offering an excessive amount of McCarthy and her own devices.
“The Starling” debuts on Netflix on Friday, Sept. 24.
HIKING WITH NAOMI WATTS
“Lakewood,” is a thriller mirrored entirely out of “The Guilty” mold. The latest from Phillip Noyce (“The Bone Collector,” “Salt”) materializes as a product of the pandemic. Naomi Watts is on screen for 80 minutes, making various calls on her mobile, while on foot in the woods, trying to reach her daughter in an active shooter situation at the school.
Not only has the school shooter trope been done to death in the last decade, (“Beautiful Boy,” “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” “Elephant,” etc.) but “Lakewood” adds little to the conversation. The one-actor-on-screen concept also has been over played and comes across as desperate in this specific instance.
Thirdly, Watts’ concerned mother stereotype has her typecast in a way that’s all but drowned her strengths. Her role as Amy Carr becomes increasingly annoying throughout the film to the point our empathy for her situation turns to frustration. The specific situation she finds herself in is too contrived.
“Lakewood” is written around the restraints of filming, instead of the other way around. Some of the drone shots above North Bay, Ontario, Canada, where the film is shot, are beautiful but don’t always sync with scenes of Watts on the ground.
“Lakewood” doesn’t have a distributor yet, so the film doesn’t have a release date.
A movie that doesn’t feel infected by the pandemic is Cumberbatch’s second festival film “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain.”
The off-kilter celebration of the unusual artist from the early 1900s who’s credited with normalizing cats as pets and described as a man who creates ridiculous chaos, director Will Sharpe carries that flair into his directing style. The narrative storybook style resembles “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” with laugh-out-loud narration by Olivia Colman.
In a performance that couldn’t be more opposite than his dark turn in “The Power of the Dog,” Cumberbatch continues to exercise his range. The script it witty, eccentric, always marching to its own creativity. The set and costumes design are quite remarkable.
Claire Foy, who plays the eventual Mrs. Wain, is wonderful, and the pair’s chemistry appears effortless. The film covers much ground, from 1881 to the 1930s, perhaps being a bit more ambitious with how much of his life to cover than it should.
The weirdness that makes this film so engaging in the onset ends up being one of its detractors later on. Cat lovers will rejoice that finally a film celebrates cats without portraying them as human or with a song. As an indication to Wain’s eventual mental state, the cats do get subtitles in a few scenes.
“The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” scratches its way onto Amazon Prime on Friday, Nov. 5.
HORROR HAS NEVER BEEN SO FUNNY
“The Humans,” flick No. 14, isn’t your traditional horror film. A24 certainly knows a good scary movie when they see one, but “The Humans” and its all-star cast could be seen as a drama, comedy or horror depending on the viewer.
The Tony Award-winning play has been turned into a claustrophobic film about a family celebrating Thanksgiving in one of their daughter’s new, rundown New York apartment.
It’s an ensemble cast of Oscar nominees — Richard Jenkins, Steven Yeun and June Squibb. Also featuring comedians Amy Schumer, who has never been better, and Beanie Feldstein. It’s Jayne Houdyshell (who won the Tony for her performance on Broadway), however, that steals the film.
The crass dialogue is hilarious, especially in the quiet moments where characters do subtle things for the audience’s amusement.
It’s the building itself that delivers the horror aspects. “The Humans” is a rare film that uses the jump scare troupe as an artistic choice. The constant family discussion, bickering and conversations will drive some mad as it's similar to films like “Pieces of April,” “Carnage” or “August: Osage County.”
Never a dull moment in the film, as every single character gets a moment or two. It might be the most inventive horror satire of the year.
A24 hasn’t set a release date yet.