Thursday, March 29, 2018

On Blu-ray/DVD: THE LAST MOVIE STAR (2018) and I REMEMBER YOU (2017)

(US - 2018)

He's 82 and shockingly frail, but living legend Burt Reynolds shows he's still got it in THE LAST MOVIE STAR, which is getting an unusual rollout from A24: it premiered on DirecTV a month ago and is being released on Blu-ray three days before its limited theatrical run. In his first significant big-screen role in at least a decade, Reynolds is aging movie legend Vic Edwards, but let there be no misunderstanding: he's playing Burt Reynolds. Edwards was the biggest movie star in the world for six straight years starting in the late '70s, but his fortunes have waned as time and age have shown no mercy. He's been divorced five times. He still lives in a nice L.A. mansion that looks like a Vic Edwards museum, but he hasn't acted in years, he walks hunched over with a cane, is in constant physical pain, and from the opening scene where he's at the vet's office and makes the difficult decision to put down Squanto, his terminally-ill, 15-year-old dog, it's clear that Vic Edwards is ready to say goodbye. He gets invited to the International Nashville Film Festival to accept a lifetime achievement award that he's been told has previously been bestowed upon the likes of Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, and Clint Eastwood, and though he's hesitant and thinks it's bullshit, he decides to attend after being prodded by his buddy Sonny (Chevy Chase). Vic arrives in Nashville (after his first class tickets turn out to be coach) only to find that he's been put up in a cheap motel, the festival--which he confused with the Nashville International Film Festival--is being held in the backroom of a bar by local movie nerds Doug (Clark Duke) and Shane (BOYHOOD's Ellar Coltrane), and his promised assistant is Doug's loud, obnoxious, can't even, #whatever sister Lil (MODERN FAMILY's Ariel Winter). She's an aspiring artist whose work veers toward the disturbingly dark (Clive Barker, of all people, provided Lil's artwork), has no idea who Vic is and is too preoccupied with her cheating, douchebag boyfriend Bjorn (Juston Street) to care. Feeling he's been conned, Vic spends the first night of the festival getting drunk and insulting the attendees in Shatner/"Get a Life!" fashion (calling them "losers watching movies in your basement"). When Lil picks him up at the motel the next morning, he makes her drive him three hours away to Knoxville so he can visit his childhood home and try to find closure and meaning to his life and reconnect with the person he was once upon a time as these two unlikely travelers form an unexpected friendship on their impromptu road trip.

Burt is the whole show here, and it's a shame writer/director Adam Rifkin (THE DARK BACKWARD, THE CHASE, DETROIT ROCK CITY), a Reynolds superfan who wrote this specifically for his hero, didn't give him something more consistently substantive. Burt is terrific when Rifkin keeps the focus on him and lets the camera just take in his aged, craggy, cosmetically altered face and the sadness in his eyes. Reynolds is a guy who's burned a lot of bridges in Hollywood over his career. Movies that meant something to him were dismissed by critics and he ultimately stopped caring. He's been smeared by tabloids over his marriage to Loni Anderson and his mismanaged finances and bankruptcies, and was the subject of nasty AIDS rumors in the '80s after shattering his jaw in an on-set accident making 1984's CITY HEAT. He was shunned by industry insiders he thought were his friends, and it all left him with a seething bitterness that's affected his life and career to this day. Sometimes he's been his own worst enemy and just can't help himself, as when Paul Thomas Anderson gave him arguably the best role of his career (leading to his only Oscar nomination) in BOOGIE NIGHTS and Reynolds responded by shit-talking the movie before it was even released. Reynolds has fucked up a lot and he knows it, and he channels that anger and regret into Vic Edwards. Why then, does Rifkin spend so much time on a going-nowhere subplot about Lil being pissed at Bjorn for cheating on her? This is Burt Reynolds baring his soul--no offense to Ariel Winter, but no one cares about Lil. And no one cares about Doug's hurt feelings or Shane's unrequited love for Lil and how she doesn't even know he exists.

When THE LAST MOVIE STAR is about Vic, it's very good, and Reynolds rises to the occasion. For fans who have followed him for several decades, it's difficult seeing the Bandit taking slow baby steps and grunting with nearly every physical action, watching him mourn the loss of his dog and going grocery shopping alone, buying prune juice and Hungry Man TV dinners. There's a devastating scene late in the film where Vic visits his long-estranged, pre-fame first wife Claudia (Kathleen Nolan), who's in a Knoxville nursing home in the late stages of Alzheimer's. THE LAST MOVIE STAR needs more of these moments, or at least visually clever ones like Vic disappearing into his memories as present-day Reynolds is CGI'd into scenes from his old movies and converses with the Bandit during a SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT car chase or lounges in a canoe marveling at himself from DELIVERANCE ("Damn, you're good lookin'!" Vic tells his much-younger self). Since Burt is basically playing Burt, maybe a better film could've been made by dropping the film festival angle altogether and doing more things like that, like putting Burt into scenes from his old movies and reminiscing about them or what was going on in his life at that point, like a sort-of visual journey through Burt Reynolds' memories, guided by the man himself. THE LAST MOVIE STAR is filled with touching, heartfelt moments, but in the narrative constructed by Rifkin, the story is predictable and the dialogue too often trite, as when Burt is forced to say "I look in the mirror now, and I have no idea who that person is staring back at me." THE LAST MOVIE STAR is a real mixed-bag: there's enough good stuff here that Burt fans need to see it, but they'll probably walk away from it wishing it was something else. (R, 103 mins)

(Iceland/Norway/Denmark - 2017)

There's some great chilly atmosphere in this very slow-burning Icelandic thriller based on a novel by Yrsa Sigurdardottir. The story, at least in director/co-writer Oskar Por Axelsson's adaptation, tries to juggle a few too many elements to reach a wholly satisfying conclusion, but the big twist is such that you'll be wanting to go back and take another look at seemingly minor details in the early scenes that end up having a major impact later on. Having said that, viewers well-versed in twisty mysteries and thrillers of this sort are almost certainly going to figure out one late-film reveal long before psychiatrist Freyr (Johannes Haukur Johannesson, best known to American audiences for his brief stint as Lem Lemoncloak on GAME OF THRONES) and his detective friend Dagny (Sara Dogg Asgeirdottir) overtly spell it out for them. Freyr is still grieving the loss of his son Benni, presumed dead after he went missing three years earlier, last seen in footage from a security camera outside a nearby gas station. Every lead and tip led to nothing and Benni's case has gone cold, with Freyr and his ex-wife Sara's (Elma Stefania Agustsdottir) marriage imploding in the traumatic aftermath. Dagny calls Freyr for a medical opinion on a suicide case where an elderly woman named Halla hanged herself in a room with crosses and the word "Ohreinn" ("filthy" in English) drawn on the walls, and crosses--both fresh and several years old--carved into her flesh. The crosses and the handwriting match the vandalizing of a church 60 years ago, where the child culprit--a persistently bullied boy named Bernodus--disappeared immediately after, never to be seen again. Why Dagny has called Freyr is that Halla is the seventh elderly person found dead in an inexplicable fashion, with a photo from 1956 showing that the seven were all classmates of Bernodus and all of their faces have been scratched out. One such classmate happens to be a schizophrenic and virtually catatonic patient of Freyr's who tells him, out of the blue, "Benni is at the bottom! Everything is green!"

Meanwhile, in a parallel storyline (yes, this is one of those where it's a waiting game to see how two completely unrelated plots converge), Gardar (Porvaldur David Kristjansson) and Katrin (Anna Gunndis Gudmundsdottir) are a married couple still picking up the pieces after their son was stillborn a year earlier. They and their third wheel friend Lif (Agusta Eva Erlendsdottir) have traveled to a seaside ghost town to renovate an abandoned house that's been empty for 60 years. It isn't long before a love triangle rears its ugly head, and erratic Katrin starts seeing spectral flashes of a little boy, followed by the discovery of a long-mummified corpse in the cellar, its fingers clutching an old black & white photograph. There's a lot of plot for I REMEMBER YOU to cover, and the clunky shift from procedural to the supernatural comes off as a little forced. Things head in a direction that's equal parts Shyamalan and THE ORPHANAGE and while it isn't an in-your-face, jump-scare chiller, its foreboding mood and relentlessly downbeat tone make it a flawed but generally effective mystery for fans of Scandinavian gloom. (Unrated, 105 mins)

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