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It has been the main art form of our time, though its boundaries are eroding and it’s running into similar distribution problems as music and literature… so it’s hard to say how much longer the movies will be with us in the format we recognize. — JHK

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (Dir: Martin McDonagh, with Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell). They were hyping the heck out of this movie around Thanksgiving, and I had high hopes, but it turned out to be a pretty ghastly affair. McDormand plays the mother of a teen rape / murder victim, who goes kind of sociopathic when the lazy-ass local police fail to find the perp and then give up on the case. All the characters are complex to a fault, doing things that un-suspend your disbelief. Woody has done this tragic-noble turn a half-dozen times already. Sam Rockwell is very interesting without being plausible. McDormand seems intended to represent 100,000 years of pent-up female Homo sapiens rage — a popular Prog fashion-statement these days that does a disservice to the reality of male-female relations. Director-writer McDonagh has the characters saying “fuck” every other word, which he apparently thinks provides dramatic velocity, but really just gets tiresome as it quickly loses effect. I left wanting to take a shower.

Blade Runner 2049  (Dir: Denis Villeneuve, with Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas). Yet another exercise in techno-narcissistic sci fi. The most obvious annoyance is the depiction a future society in which everybody goes about in flying cars. America can’t help projecting its car-craziness eternally into the future. Where does the energy come from to run all the snazzy high tech in the background of the acid-rain-drenched slum that LA has become? And what do all those insect-like denizens and street people do to support their ramen habit? The movie has no internal logic and the pace is sludgy. It’s not redeemed by Gosling’s hang-dog charisma. I walked out at the two hour mark.

Wind River (Dir: Taylor Sheriden. with Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Graham Greene). Thoughtful and gritty look at Indian reservation life in Wyoming these days, but with dramatic logic problems toward the end — too many guns and too many bodies. Jeremy Renner is a very reassuring presence as a wildlife warden with family problems who manages his manners and behavior admirably. Olsen’s role has moments of unreality in some of the action sequences. Not her fault, but the tiresome need for Hollywood to demonstrate that women can do everything men can do. The mood is impressively grim throughout.

Manchester by the Sea (Dir:Kenneth Lonergan, with Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, and Lucas Hedges). A deeply moving portrait of New England working class family disintegration on the brink of Trumptopia. Casey Affleck won the Oscar for his leading role as the explosive hangdog Lee Chandler, whose life fell apart in the aftermath of a tragic house fire that killed his children. Some years later now, his brother has suddenly died and Lee is obliged to look after his teenage nephew Patrick, played very capably by Lucas Hedges, a good, smart kid with the usual teenage interests in sex and rock music. Affleck’s Lee Chandler is a walking emotional time bomb, but he’s smart too, and self-aware, and his journey through his family troubles is a great story for our time.

Elle (Dir: Paul Verhoeven, with Isabel Hubbert. English subtitles). Is it the astonishing beauty of everyday life in France that drives people batshit crazy? This movie fascinated me for reasons beyond its taut and compelling high-velocity story-telling, namely the grace on view in that country, the handsome social presentation of people, and the formality of their manners, the elegant streets — such a contrast to the tawdry slobbery of America in all those particulars. So, the movie is a little bit like a visit to another planet. Isabel Hubbert plays one Michele LeBlanc, a stylish and beautiful woman of a certain age who runs a company that produces the most extraordinary violent and vulgar video games (the scenes depicted of these monsters will remind you of everyday life in the USA). Michele also has a dark past: her papa was a mass murderer in a Paris suburb back in 1976. The story begins with a horrifying home invasion rape and from there we meet the well-drawn tribe of friends and relations in Michele’s world on our way to discovering the identity of said rapist. In the end, you are reminded of Sartre’s bon mot: “Hell is other people….”  Highly recommended.

American Honey (Dir: Andrea Arnold, with Shia LeBeouf, Sasha Lane, Riley Keough). A fascinating and raw trip into the dark underbelly of post-prosperity America. Sasha Lane plays a questing teen from the parking lot wastelands of Muskogee, Oklahoma, who hooks up with a band of young grifters led by a 25-ish alcoholic reprobate woman (Keough) who transports the kids from town-to-town around the Midwest and houses them in cheap motels to run a door-to-door magazine-selling scam. Shia LeBeouf is her sometime lover and enforcer, and the kids in the van are uniformly lost and psychologically deformed by the awful tensions in a socially broke-down land. The story comports with the sad reality of what can easily be observed in Flyover America. Excellent performances.

Silence (Dir: Martin Scorcese, with Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson)
Quite a stately slog through the hardships of the Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in 16th Century Japan. For me, the society of that time and place holds deep fascination with its richly aestheticized culture — even in its methods of torture and execution. That said, the brutality of the story is taxing, and it’s a little hard for a non-religious person (yours truly) to wrap his head around the strange exigencies of Roman Catholic practice. Beautifully photographed (or cinematogged), with sturdy performance by all concerned, especially the chap who plays the frisky old Japanese grand inquisitor.

La La Land  (Dir: Damien Chazelle, with Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend.)
A genuinely charming and smart contemporary love story with a really good score by young Justin Hurwitz. Critics have compared it to Singing in the Rain, which it resembles only slightly. I actually had a look on disk at Francis Coppola’s 1982 musical One From the Heart (music by Tom Waits), which La La Land resembles more. Both are pastel-colored pastiches of movie musical conventions, set in the palm-treed urban west (LA and Las  Vegas). But the earlier movie was a spectacular flop and brought down Coppola’s fledgling Zoetrope Studios. The difference is largely better casting. In La La Land, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone both radiate intelligence, tipping off the audience that, whatever else happens, they will not end up as losers. Chazelle says it took six years to get it made. Surprising to me  that it got made at all, actually.

Jackie (Dir: Pablo Larrain, with Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, and Billy Crudup.)
Surprisingly deft and moving portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy in the four days following the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, focusing on the events around the funeral arrangements. The movie is remarkably devoid of sentimentality and projects the viewer forcefully back into the very different world of the 1960s.  Portman is outstanding in the title role.

Nocturnal Animals (Dir: Tom Ford, with Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson.)
An interesting, complex, well-paced thriller for grown-ups. A story-within-a-story about lost soul LA art gallery owner (Amy Adams) reconnecting with the college love she spurned (Jake Gyllenhaal). Ford knows all the practical details about life in the .01 percent demographic and the pathetic status-signaling it entails. Will make you kind of glad you don’t live that way. Former fashion-designer Ford understands human emotion and orchestrates the drama confidently.


About James Howard Kunstler

View all posts by James Howard Kunstler
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency and the four-book series of World Made By Hand novels, set in a post economic crash American future. His most recent book is Living in the Long Emergency; Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adapters Who Are Showing Us the Way Forward. Jim lives on a homestead in Washington County, New. York, where he tends his garden and communes with his chickens.

62 Responses to “Kunstler’s Capsule Movie Reviews” Subscribe

  1. Ann Thomsen February 4, 2017 at 1:06 pm #

    Hollywood is dying on the vine, for reasons besides Lime Torrents. I haven’t paid for a movie in 15 years, til I popped for La La Land at the Mayan Theater in Denver. That was a twofer.

    My philosophy has always been, if you want to be paid for your music, SING. If you want to be paid royalties for what you did on film, you’re outta luck.

    Now that TPP is dead, the Chinese are full steam ahead to purchase the factories that bring us American Effluent.

    Why would I take my family, or even venture out alone to be tutored in tales from the underbelly of France, or Oklahoma?

    The French fascination with debauchery is akin to the adventures of the snowflake generation, bored with the ‘confines’ of their Philadelphia Story upbringing.

    The banality of a lost generation post Norman Rockwell’s Americana is wholly the fault of our “artistic” community.

    Americans are scolded for ignoring Trump’s ham handed boast of easy “pussy”… which could have been lifted from a Telemundo Soap.

    Yet these same tutors pass the wings as Beyonce bumps and grinds during half time for the greatest show on earth.

    And send sales of 50 Shades of Gray into the stratosphere… for women who enjoy sado masochistic fantasies…

    And don’t forget to run out and experience first hand, the trials and triumph of a trans gender African.

    Denzel Washington – sweetheart that he is – brings us yet another dirge to the lackluster advance Africans in the land of possibility.

    Now that Alibaba’s Ma [or is it Wa?] is investing in this enterprise,, perhaps we’ll see some temperance. With any luck, President Trump will use the full force and fury of his office to proffer a DO NOT EMPLOY list that will make McCarthy rise from the dead.

    and that’s just the writers….

    • doggersize March 2, 2017 at 5:06 pm #

      The Chinese have been full steam ahead to buy factories and whatnot for decades. TPP is minor quibbling. The goal of nearly every wall street guy or big entrepreneur for the past few decades has been to outsource production to spend more on advertising.
      if they do it right, use leveraged buyouts for mergers and acquisitions, then do the laying off and outsourcing, then see the stock go up as the company accumulates debt.

      The Chinese don’t cheat. Americans have cheated themselves. Most working class and even middle class voters don’t really pay attention to tax policy, economic policy, or economic history.

      • elysianfield March 10, 2017 at 10:56 am #

        “The Chinese don’t cheat.”

        That statement is ridiculous on many levels….

    • Rheed April 6, 2020 at 1:10 pm #

      Impressive commentary, Ann! Talking of TPP, I know several companies have been affected by Trump’s withdrawal of TPP: the , and lot more…

  2. PeteAtomic February 6, 2017 at 10:38 am #

    Did Shia Lebeouf in American Honey act as bizarre on the Big Screen as apparently he does in real life? 🙂

  3. routersurfer February 11, 2017 at 10:49 am #

    Thanks. Will keep an eye out for some of these. Anything that paints a true picture of ” THE CHURCH” makes my list.

  4. QQQBall June 10, 2017 at 2:19 pm #

    Gone Baby Gone was a much better part for Casey Affleck and a better movie. Manchester by the Sea was disappointing. Going to the cinema, however, feels like a ripoff b/f considering $8 popcorn & $5 candy bar. Its just easier to wait a bit for the $1.60 REDBOX, AMZN Prime or Netflix release, and I don’t have to sit in the glow of someone using their phone. Appreciate the reviews – thanks. Hollywood makes too many garbage flix and I won’t pay $18 to watch a retread 2hr cartoon.

  5. My Point of View August 4, 2017 at 8:55 pm #

    LaLaLand is the only movie since Patton that I’ve gone back to see a second time. I also bought the CD and the DVD and watched it again.

    I saw pieces of many old flicks in this movie, not just singing in the rain.

    My hope is for a sequel in a few years where Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have gotten together ten years later and formed a powerhouse music and movie business.

    Jackie gave insight to life at the top and how she didn’t succumb to over protective Secret Service types.

    I don’t need to see American History as were visited every year by the itinerant door-to-door magazine-selling scammers as part of their “leadership” training program for minorities. They’re scammers, don’t deal with them.

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    Probably 5 of these movies are in Top 10 movies of the year and they still are.

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    Great movie reviews! I’ll watch those I have missed though all I’ve watched already are worth seeing again.
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