The Book of Henry is certainly not a good film, but calling it a bad one doesn’t seem to fit; it falls short of the mark, but not in the way a truly bad film does. Rather, it fails to answer two vital questions—who is it for, and what is it about?—and it’s hard to imagine anyone being satisfied with the end result.
I’d known about Poil de Carotte for many years, my father having spoken very highly of it, but despite his regard (and the general regard of the critics), the film has drifted into moderate obscurity in recent years, possibly in part due to the decline in writer-director Julien Duvivier’s reputation.
However, it’s now available through Criterion’s Eclipse series (in a set with other Duvivier films of the era), and I was finally able to see it…and I’m damned glad I did.
Not many films have been made in the corner of America I grew up in. But one very talented man, Gordon Parks, was born and raised not half an hour from my hometown, and 40-some years later returned to make a film there. My mother, in her capacity as a news reporter, covered a couple of events at the Gordon Parks Museum, and was even able to meet him. On at least one of these trips, my father went along, and spoke to Parks; reputedly, he said that, although he liked Shaft, he preferred The Learning Tree.
That makes sense, since The Learning Tree was based on his novel, which in turn was based on his youth in southeast Kansas. I had known about both for some years–in fact, on one of my mother’s trips to the museum, I went along, and saw Kyle Johnson–the star of the film, playing Parks’ surrogate–talk about his memories of the film. (Unfortunately, I don’t recall any specifics.) We also saw a clip of the film, covering the opening scenes where the teenage protagonist, caught in a storm, finds himself taking shelter with Big Mabel (Carol Lamond). I was informed that she seduces Newt in this scene; I think, because the clip was pan-and-scan (the original film being shot in ‘Scope), it was hard to tell what was happening…and the gauzy, stylized approach to the sequence didn’t help.
Anyway, a decade or so later, I finally sat down to see the whole thing.
Dear God. I have never been this far behind. This is just like college.
Basically, I had an assload of reviews that I was way overdue on. I saw five movies this past weekend (it would’ve been six, but I decided Laggies could wait), and that when I had five other reviews waiting in the wings. It’s absurd. I don’t know how it’s gotten to this point. I’d assume being swamped with awards-season shit is a big part of it, but…
Way back in July, I posted my first article about starting to get burned out and needing to take some time off. I’ve never totally bounced back from that point. For every high point like my Interstellar review, there’ve been many times when I find myself not wanting to write or not really having enough to say. And the truth is, I could scrap the whole thing and the only fallout would be disappointment. But I don’t want to do that.
I’m going to have to work on a few things going forward. A greater sense of self-discipline (which has never been my strong suit), and, I think, a judicious application of the “work smarter, not harder” principle. Saving the long essays for the films that merit them. And when a film doesn’t inspire lengthy commentary, keep it concise. But keep it truthful. I feel I owe you that much for your time.
(UPDATE 12/25: All reviews marked with an asterisk are complete. Other reviews will be added one by one.)
The Skeleton Twins is the kind of film which suffers because I cannot totally judge it in a vacuum. On its own, it would still be a flawed film, but in the greater context of modern cinema, it stands as yet another indie comedy-drama about dysfunctional middle-class characters, played by hitherto largely comedic actors, who go through their quotidian crises before something like a happy ending. Here, though, the dysfunctions are poorly explored, the crises seem contrived, and the sort-of-happy ending leaves more than a few story threads dangling. The acting (and, to my surprise, the direction) is good enough to make it a *** film, but the script lets it down.
I hadn’t expected to see Space Station 76 for some time; it appeared to be bypassing a theatrical release in favor of VOD and, presumably, Netflix. But then, whilst browsing my local listings, I found that I was quite near one of the three theaters in the country showing it. I saw it the next day.
And I’m glad I did. Space Station 76 is an odd beast of a film, a mixture of broad comedy, retro camp, and rather intense character drama–with the occasional detour into the surreal. Some have found the film a shapeless mess, and there’s a case to be made for that. But it has charm to burn, a committed cast, and enough strength in its individual scenes to end up a most enjoyable diversion for those who give it a chance.