Mediocre: Late Phases

Late Phases (A.K.A. Night of the Wolf) (2014)
Directed by Adrián García Bogliano
Written by Eric Stolze
Produced by Larry Fessenden, Brent Kunkle, Greg Newman, Zak Zeman, Joel Alonso, Luis Flores, Lex Ortega, Andrea Quiroz, Hamza Ali
Starring Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, Lance Guest, Tom Noonan, Erin Cummings, Rutanya Alda, Tina Louise, Caitlin O’Heaney, Larry Fessenden, Dana Ashbrook, Karen Lynn Gorney, Al Sapienza, Bernardo Cubria, Charles Techman, Haythem Noor, Frances Sherman, Karron Graves, Raina, Kareem Savinon, Pun Bandhu, Ralph Cashen
Should you in the autumn of your years confront lycanthropy, take as many of the beasts with you as you may. That’s the intent of a blind Vietnam vet (Damici) whose first night at a cloistered retirement community leaves his service dog (Raina) and neighbor (Gorney) messily murdered under a full moon. He has a month before the next to reconnoiter his settlement, investigate its inhabitants, and arm himself to the teeth and death. At least as much a drama as a horror, this curiosity is enriched by Bogliano’s thoughtful direction, Aaron Crozier’s meticulous editing and its fantastic, familiar, graying players. From gait to diction, Damici’s studied turn as the tough, sightless, cantankerous soldier makes his truly challenging role seem facile when tossing off Stolze’s wittily brusque rejoinders as naturally as he avouches rigors and regrets to a local priest created reticently by Noonan, who understates (as usual) a boundless sympathy for his flock, though he’s no less striking or suspect than Guest, his most faithful congregant. Embry now resembles an ugly Henry Ford, but his concerned and uncomprehending filial army brat is well-rendered as a solid foil for Damici. Unfortunately, two of the movie’s most compulsive thespians are merely peripheral: warmly wolfish co-producer Fessenden haggles with Damici over the cost of a tombstone as though it’s a used car, and seedy Ashbrook fills his order for silver ammunition with his enduringly boyish bubbliness. During intervening lunar phases, Stolze dispenses exposition with sensible and conversational reserve, painting his protagonist with a humane detail that transcends cliché. Any viewer patient to wait for the showdown between geriatric werewolves and grizzled warrior will be rewarded with its smartly plotted and gorily impressive action. Transformational effects here can’t compare to those of the classics from ’81 that inspired them (The Howling and An American Werewolf in London), but they’re gruesomely realized with an adequate balance of makeup, prosthetics and CG. Damici’s facial makeup ages him realistically, yet few old men have such glabrous and blemishless upper extremities. Softer passages of Wojciech Golczewski’s score contribute to a minatory miasma cleft by sharp strings that are outsize and unharmonious for such a modest production. Hardly a classic, this umptieth filmic treatment of the loup-garou is nevertheless a poignant portrait of familial and mortal affairs put in order.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Bubba Ho-Tep.

Mediocre: Beyond the Gates

Beyond the Gates (2016)
Directed by Jackson Stewart
Written by Jackson Stewart, Stephen Scarlata
Produced by Barbara Crampton, Jackson Stewart, Stephen Scarlata, Ian Keiser, Jon Kondelik, Amanda Mortimer, Georg Kallert, Rob Schroeder, Chris Delp, Sarah Stewart, Nils van Otterloo, Brad Wright, Donna Kinni, Lynn Kinni, Ted Kinni, Tim Kinni, Mike Murphy, Gabby Revilla Lugo, Cyrus Stewart, James West, Tony Zika
Starring Graham Skipper, Chase Williamson, Brea Grant, Barbara Crampton, Matt Mercer, Jesse Merlin, Justin Welborn, Sara Malakul Lane, Henry LeBlanc
“To each his own nostalgia” seems to be an unspoken precept of genre cinema created by late Xers and early millennials, which is fated to mine every last phenomenon of pop culture from the ’80s. On the seventh proximo following their widowed father’s last of numerous disappearances, two alienated brothers — an uptight cut of office veal (Skipper) and a scruffy layabout (Williamson) — reunite to liquidate his video rental store and sell their childhood home. In the shuttered shop’s office remains a singular video board game hosted by a theatrically threatening blond (Crampton), and played to preternaturally, progressively perilous interactivity — the only means by which they can find what befell their dad since they left home. Commendably novel, and acted with unexpectedly expressive nicety by its leads, this economically budgeted horror/fantasy skimps on neither gore nor gimmickry when it isn’t dwelling on its fraternal protagonists’ rousing retrospection — much of which justly laments the deterioration of the nuclear family. Alas, Stewart and Scarlata spoiled their momentum with a few too many breathers, and their third act is preoccupied with ridiculous roughhousing when its fantastical and locational potential should’ve blossomed. Brendan Wiuff’s design for the game is also of a mixed caliber: its logotype, and box’s, board’s and cards’ artwork fit their epoch, but their hot pink accents and typefaces are less redolent of Kiddie City circa ’86 than Spencer’s or Hot Topic in ’98. An absorbing montage of a VCR’s working innards during the opening credits is enlivened by Vincenzo Salvia’s synthesized Outrun With the Dead, which overshadows Wojciech Golczewski’s flatly hackneyed score. All its shortcomings notwithstanding, this imaginative and entertaining effort deserves a look; younger viewers will accept all those errors they can’t see.

Recommended for a double feature paired with The Gate or Ring.

Execrable: The Chase

The Chase (1966)
Directed by Arthur Penn
Written by Horton Foote, Lillian Hellman
Produced by Sam Spiegel
Starring Marlon Brando, Angie Dickinson, Jane Fonda, James Fox, Richard Bradford, Janice Rule, Robert Redford, E.G. Marshall, Henry Hull, Robert Duvall, Miriam Hopkins, Clifton James, Joel Fluellen, Martha Hyer, Diana Hyland, Nydia Westman, Jocelyn Brando, Steve Ihnat, Katherine Walsh, Marc Seaton, Paul Williams, Malcolm Atterbury, Bruce Cabot, Maurice Manson, Steve Whittaker, Davis Roberts, Pamela Curran, Ken Renard
Natives of only a few regions have been so frequently and grotesquely distorted in Hollywood’s productions as those of the reconstructed south, where a middle-aged, middle-class, terrible Texan trio (Bradford, James, Ihnat) crazed by booze and white privilege run amok in their town by harrying and terrorizing blacks (Fluellen, Roberts), drubbing their sheriff (Brando), and pursuing with intent to kill a jailbroken scapegrace (Redford) involved in a murder. A year before he and Warren Beatty focused the energies of and popularized nascent New Hollywood, Penn helmed this zany, overheated, overpopulated clunker masquerading as social drama, which condignly ravaged Spiegel’s career. Playwright and novelist Foote is reportedly renowned for the naturalism of his dialogue; one can only conjecture that both he and Hellman are responsible for the unbelievable, ostentatious kitsch invested in nearly every line of her script, and marvel that anyone in the cast could recite it plausibly. Among those so outstanding are Brando and Dickinson as the canny lawman and his liege wife, Marshall in the role of the town’s tirelessly enterprising magnate, and especially Bradford, who indues to his almost cartoonishly villainous banker a confounding charisma and conviction. Both are hopelessly miscast, but Duvall’s less inconsonant as a cowardly cuckold than Redford as a good ole boy named Bubber, cluelessly selected by Spiegel for his sex appeal. (Incidentally, Duvall played a cheated husband with threatening vehemence not too many years later in The Conversation under Coppola, who reunited him with Brando in The Godfather — for which Robert Evans also misintended Redford as Michael Corleone.) Approximately half of Foote’s characters behave like unhinged children, the worst of which are the most overpersonated: (ordinarily superb) Rule slithers sillily about as Duvall’s slutty spouse; Hyer hollers Bradford’s blaringly besotted wife into being; Marshall’s sappy, sententious son played by Fox is as disappointing a romantic interest as he is an heir; aged Hull’s a cornball, roaming realtor who chirps unfunny quips and peripherally insinuates himself into his neighborhood’s felonies; as Redford’s hysterically penitent mother, Hopkins irritates almost so persistently as Westman’s obtrusive, bible-banging widow. Like many movies drawn from stage plays, this is a twofold failure — stagily fake in the worst possible manner, but as overblown as its hams for cinematic liberties of gunplay and explosion. Foote’s story is fundamentally, indulgently horrible, its puny plot dwarfed by excess exposition and contrived complications, such as a pointless love triangle between Fox, Fonda and Redford. Armchair riffers will delight in an alcoholic party at the home of Duvall’s nebbish boasting some of the most jerkily wacko dancing ever committed to film. In the service of sinister sensationalism, this escape, advoutry, wassail and vigilantism might’ve been exploited as the unrestrained frolic of an exciting comedy; as a pontifical social drama, it’s a tremendous waste of histrionic talent and another of John Barry’s big, bold, blustering scores.

Instead, watch Cool Hand Luke.

Execrable: Tip Top

Tip Top (2013)
Directed by Serge Bozon
Written by James Tucker, Axelle Ropert, Serge Bozon, Odile Barski
Produced by Jesus Gonzalez-Elvira, Philippe Martin, Nicolas Steil. David Thion
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Sandrine Kiberlain, Francois Damiens, Karole Rocher, Saïda Bekkouche, Allain Naron, Aymen Saïdi, Elie Lison, Francois Négret, Samy Naceri, Youssef Tiberkanine, Brahim Waabach, Patrick Pais, Jean-Marc Hermance

  • Who murdered a police department’s informant in a suburb of one among several Villenueves?
  • Why are the fetishistic detectives (Huppert, Kiberlain) assigned by their internal affairs division to investigate his murder so trifling, insecure and verbosely incapable?
  • Why is the inspector (Damiens) to whom the slain snitch reported such a unsightly, equally insufferable jerkoff?
  • Why are his informants noticeable numbskulls?
  • Is sadomasochistic foreplay between Huppert’s busybody and her husband (Naceri) actually intended to amuse or arouse?
  • Might anyone have bothered to previse Bozon’s sister and DP Céline that she wouldn’t be lensing her drab, often blued photography in 2002?
  • Has anyone mentioned to Bozon that his simplistic script and style result in preciously stagy enactments of twee drollery and buffoonery that aren’t remotely laughable?
  • Likewise, how are the only tolerable actors (Rocher, Lison, Naron) of his ostensive comedy foils who’ve nearly nothing of interest to do?
  • Why is this transposition of a British novel so preoccupied with France’s Algerian diaspora and Algeria’s civil unrest when Bozon has nothing funny or perceptive to relate concerning either?
  • Can Huppert salvage but one of his scenes?
  • Why is one of France’s finest actresses periodically lapping up drops of poorly-rendered CG blood running from the bridge to the tip of her nose?
  • Conversely, why is gaunt, gangling, gawky, graceless Kiberlain still a leading lady?
  • Could Bozon possibly decelerate his picture’s plodding pace, so that it resembles Godfrey Reggio’s pompous pap?
  • Does its anticlimax signify anything?
  • Is this what now passes for Gallic humor?

The only truthful answer to these and all other queries pertaining to Bozon’s wantonly unfunny, unsexy, uninteresting, garrulous, cutesy crime comedy is: French cinema is now nearly as dumb, ugly, and self-congratulatory as Hollywood, and witless actors of the Fifth Republic occasionally make valueless movies, too.

Palatable: In the Name of My Daughter

In the Name of My Daughter (2014)
Directed by André Téchiné
Written by Renée Le Roux, Jean-Charles Le Roux, André Téchiné, Cédric Anger
Produced by Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier, Guillaume Canet, Christine De Jekel
Starring Guillaume Canet, Catherine Deneuve, Adèle Haenel, Jean Corso, Judith Chemla, Mauro Conte, Pascal Mercier, Tamara De Leener, Jean-Marie Tiercelin, Laetitia Rosier, Ali Af Shari, Hubert Rollet, Jean Vincentelli, Jean-Paul Sourty, Grégoire Taulère, Tanya Lopert, Paul Mercier

“Certain loyalty comes only through dependency.”

–Richard Nixon, Leaders

If an account of criminal and juridical history constitutes spoilers, so be it. In mid-’70s Nice, widowed gaming proprietress Renée Le Roux (Deneuve) sustained fraud and silent threats by Calabrian mafiosi backing her covetous competitor, Jean-Dominique Fratoni (Corso). After refusing to appoint her underhanded lawyer Maurice Agnelet (Canet) as her gambling den’s manager, he conspired with her criminal rival to unseat her by seducing her grasping, gaumless daughter Agnès (Haenel) before manipulating her to vote against her mother’s reappointment as the casino’s president. During the gaming house’s liquidation, Agnelet either iced the junior Le Roux or lured her to her assassination, then assumed the 3M francs of their joint accounts that Fratoni paid her for her filial recreance. Despite the absence of her corpse, Agnelet was eventually convicted of her murder after three trials nearly thirty years later.
Technical excellence, unsurprisingly superlative enactments and a virtuous restraint elevate Téchiné’s dramatization of this shameful affair above most of its kind. Like his womanizing, sleazily smarmy subject, Canet isn’t at all obvious in his interchange of allurement and quiet menace. Brainless, bitchy, bovine Haenel (French cinema’s face of Americanized, fourth-wave feminism) is usually awful in lubricious roles, but apt for the acquisitive, confiding, lovelorn, ultimately unsympathetic victim opposite Deneuve, who once again meets expectations as Téchiné’s (and everyone else’s) favorite leading lady with a perfectly poised, then mournful personation of her maternal crusader. Téchiné’s style is more commonly cinematic here than in his early work, in which his floating and sweeping pans, and occasional zooms would’ve been unimaginable; they’re as slick as Hervé de Luze’s painstaking editing, which is essential to no few of the director’s conceits. Floral hues pop brilliantly against verdancy and richly textured wood and stone before Julien Hirsch’s lenses, which capture both the rural beauty of numerous landscapes and Lucullan interior detail of casino and courthouse alike. As credible as the cast, Olivier Radot’s production design reflects an intricate but sensibly limited attention to period detail, manifest best in Pascaline Chavanne’s crack costumery. Only two errors mar this otherwise premium production. Most of Benjamin Biolay’s charming score (especially its peppy, neoclassical main theme) couldn’t be more tonally incongruous. Téchiné was wise only to portray the major events of this case that were publicly confirmed, but his ruth for the faithless, frivolous heiress is unjust. Most contemporary French aren’t prepared to accept that some victims earn their fate.

Palatable: Valley of Love

Valley of Love (2015)
Written and directed by Guillaume Nicloux
Produced by Catalina Restrepo, Sylvie Pialat, Benoit Quainon, Cyril Colbeau-Justin, Jean-Baptiste Dupont, Genevieve Lemal, Patrick Batteux
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Gérard Depardieu, Dan Warner, Aurélia Thiérrée
Is it truly a revenant’s invitation, or a posthumous ruse to reunion? Two aging cinematic stars (Huppert, Depardieu) meet in Death Valley for a week to visit landmarks selectively scheduled for them in letters by their alienated son, posted proximal to his suicide eight months prior, which beseech their visitation for the promise of his own. Ailing under the western territory’s oppressive ardor, they reminisce and wrangle through grievous stages with themselves, each other, her belief, his incredulity, and auspices that they can’t easily interpret. Chilly Huppert and lumbering Depardieu perfectly play themselves as well as any characters, without a false note or needless motion in Nicloux’s affecting and oracular fiction. No mere vehicle for its weathered leads, it delivers their fish out of continental waters to a transcendental confrontation that validates the endurance of filial love. Charles Ives’s classic The Unanswered Question emphasizes its plural portentous profundities.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Loulou.

Mediocre: Vernon, Florida

Vernon, Florida (1981)
Directed by Errol Morris
Produced by Errol Morris, David R. Loxton
Starring Albert Bitterling, Roscoe Collins, George Harris, Joe Payne, Howard Pettis, Claude Register, Snake Reynolds, Henry Shipes
During the ’50s and ’60s, residents of the tiny northern Floridian city (pop. approx. 800) submitted a superfluity of insurance claims professing accidental dismemberments, which amounted to two-thirds of all such requests filed nationally. This deviant distinction prompted speculation that many applicants amputated their own limbs for quick cash, and coinage of a grisly byname. Nub City was also to be the title of a documentary wherein Morris probed these bruits, but local oppugnancy deterred his enquiry. Instead, this mild, genial presentation of Vernon’s eccentric provincials is couched in the town’s ambience and anecdotes, of hunting turkeys, farming worms, a dead mule, one mysterious gunshot, encroaching sands, a casual suicide, lexical research informing a quirky sermon. Don’t expect the uncoordinated humor or poignance of Gates of Heaven; produced between two of Morris’s early classics, his second feature is sometimes discursively dull, but as straight as its subjects.

Execrable: Misunderstood

Misunderstood (2014)
Directed by Asia Argento
Written by Asia Argento, Barbara Alberti
Produced by Mario Gianani, Eric Heumann, Maurice Kantor, Lorenzo Mieli, Scott Derrickson, Guido De Laurentiis
Starring Giulia Salerno, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Gabriel Garko, Alice Pea, Carolina Poccioni, Anna Lou Castoldi, Justin Pearson, Andrea Pittorino, Sofia Patron, Riccardo Russo, Gianmarco Tognazzi, Max Gazzè
Of all the celebrities who annunciated #MeToo, Argento was among the most suspect; who sustains a sexual assault, then repeatedly returns to her lumpily misshapen rapist for a lustrum to improve her professional prospects? Evidently, one who lies as reflexively as ineffectively. This second pseudo-autobiographical flick by Italy’s most catastrophic fortunate daughter is less trashy but just as untruthful as her preceding features. In the putative mid-’80s, a prepubescent Roman (Salerno) suffers her classmates’ scorn and neglect of her squabbling parents — a neurotically liverish leading man (Garko) and an abusive concert pianist (Gainsbourg) fond of countercultural affectations and scummy boyfriends (Gazzè, Tognazzi, Pearson) — who both favor her senior half-sisters (Poccioni, Castoldi). As their divorce looms, the maladroit miss consorts with degenerates, plays pranks with her best friend (Pea), crushes on a prickish skateboarder (Pittorino) topped by an anachronistically stupid haircut, and does nothing to remediate her situation until a few relatively marginal embarrassments spur her first suicide attempt. Argento and Alberti can’t tell a story, so they’ve taken wild liberties while unregenerately stringing together a series of incidents that dramatize Argento’s childhood, and gawkily express the frivolous frolic, daft drama, dinky destruction, and piddling contretemps in which she pretends to languish but actually delights. Her cast do justice to their rankling roles; as grotesque caricatures of Daria Nicolodi and Dario Argento, Gainsbourg’s and Garko’s truculent spunk actualizes the fever dream heretofore confined to their daughter’s addled skull. Nicoletta Ercole’s clownishly loud costume design is every millennial’s misapprehension of day-glo garb in the ’80s; only a few cars and consumer electronics even hint at the period. Even worse, atrocious music by Argento, Pearson and collaborators, Brian Molko, The Penelopes and others maculates the soundtrack, excepting Rachmaninov’s sonata in B flat minor and Mozart’s requiem in D minor — selections as clichéd as the protagonist’s escapades. Many (if not most) Xers born to well-off families were no strangers to the parental overindulgence, negligence and occasional abuse that molded our generation’s complexion, but only from Asia’s self-absorption did these 100+ minutes of total tedium arise. Forget how her relationships (public and otherwise) have been foredone by her promiscuity, she’s publicized herself by flooding media with tirades bemoaning her dysfunction for decades, she traduced the woman whose direction realized the best role of her career, or that any objective account of her mythomania is to her a violation of “her truth,” and pity the poor, punic, pampered, privileged prostitute! She does.

Palatable: Omar

Omar (2013)
Written and directed by Hany Abu-Assad
Produced by Hany Abu-Assad, David Gerson, Waleed Zuaiter, Joana Zuaiter, Abbas F. Eddy Zuaiter, Ahmad F. Zuaiter, Farouq A. Zuaiter, Waleed Al-Ghafari, Zahi Khouri, Suhail A. Sikhtian, Baher Agbariya
Starring Adam Bakri, Leem Lubany, Waleed Zuaiter, Samer Bisharat, Eyad Hourani, Ramzi Maqdisi

To do injustice is more disgraceful than to suffer it.

–Plato, Gorgias

On the high road where he steps lightly in concern of its political and religious facets to evade complications and assure the commercial and distributive viability of his pictures, Abu-Assad’s cannily unveiled the humanity of the Palestinian struggle with Paradise Now, then this superior crime drama that demonstrates how dretchingly personal and martial imperatives can snarl. A baker (Bakri) regularly hazards gunfire by the IDF’s snipers and their patrols’ persecution to scale a border wall that segregates Palestinians from Israeli settlers in the West Bank, where he visits his militant friends (Hourani, Bisharat) and one’s lovely sister (Lubany) with whom he’s smitten. Jailed and railroaded for nicking a car as transportation to a military outpost where one of his buddies assassinates a soldier, he’s taught by a gauntlet of incarceration, torture, betrayal, heartbreak, and the legerdemain by an agent (Zuaiter) of Shin Bet — who offers him highly conditional freedom in exchange for his comrades — that one of his own is as perfidious as their oppressors. Corporate perpetrators of stodgy, overproduced fare could learn something from Abu-Assad’s economical feature, which is adeptly plotted, performed, shot and cut with lavish twists, a gripping pair of pursuits, one deeply moving, ruined romance, and an unforgettable conclusion, without a moment of hokum. It’s also one of but a handful of movies to relate that for aggrieved Arabs and Jewish occupiers alike who participate in the everlasting conflict provoked and perpetuated by the world’s most prosperous, parasitic, hypocritical, fraudulent and remorselessly abusive apartheid state, there is no contrition, no reprieve, no guarantee of anything, save death and reprisal.

Execrable: Clouds of Sils Maria

Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)
Written and directed by Olivier Assayas
Produced by Charles Gillibert, Karl Baumgartner, Thanassis Karathanos, Jean-Louis Porchet, Olivier Père, Gérard Ruey, Antoun Sehnaoui, Martin Hampel, Maja Wieser Benedetti, Sylvie Barthet
Starring Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace Moretz, Lars Eidinger, Hanns Zischler, Johnny Flynn, Angela Winkler, Brady Corbet, Aljoscha Stadelmann, Ricardia Bramley

Lies and bombast:

“Any doubts about Kristen Stewart’s true acting potential are extinguished thanks to her surprisingly nuanced and mesmerizing performance in Clouds of Sils Maria.”

–Michael D. Reid, Times Colonist

“…this is a straight character piece, made dynamic by Binoche and Stewart’s powerhouse performances…”

–Chris Bumbray, JoBlo.com

“Stewart gives a striking performance in Clouds. Her character Val, a personal assistant and rock of Gibraltar to Juliette Binoche’s film and stage star Maria, is self-assured, crafty, honest, perceptive and even a little bit warm. It’s a 180 from the dead-behind-the-eyes Bella Swan, yet there’s the same flat delivery and crossed-arm presence. Here it radiates confidence, not Edward vs. Jacob indecision. Most of the film is just Stewart and Binoche in conversation, and Stewart more than holds her own.”

–Jordan Hoffman, Vanity Fair

“The relationship here is quite beautifully drawn, with Stewart again demonstrating what a terrific performer she can be away from the shadow of Twilight. She’s sharp and limber; she’s a match for Binoche.”

–Xan Brooks, The Guardian

“Binoche works in a more animated register, which makes Stewart’s habitual low-keyed style, which can border on the monotone, function as effectively underplayed contrast.”

–Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

“Stewart became the first American female actor ever to win a César for her performance. It’s deserved. She’s a revelation, reminding us that her talent has been eclipsed by Twilight for far too long.”

–Radheyan Simonpillai, NOW Toronto

“Ultimately, Stewart is the one who actually embodies what Binoche’s character most fears, countering the older actress’ more studied technique with the same spontaneous, agitated energy that makes her the most compellingly watchable American actress of her generation.”

–Peter Debruge, Variety

“Stewart is surprisingly self-assured as both a punching bag and launching pad for Binoche’s tour de force.”

–Diego Semerene, Slant

“Stewart is also at her best and convincingly conveys an important quality which so far has rather eluded her, a keen intelligence.”

–David Noh, Film Journal International

“…(Kristen Stewart, a deadpan revelation)…”

–David Ehrlich, Time Out

“This is the film that fulfills whatever promise Kristen Stewart has shown for more than a decade. […] As one-half of a dynamite acting duo in Clouds of Sils Maria, Stewart finally merits all the attention thrown her way. […] Stewart’s strength here is being the kind of actress we always suspected she could be.”

–Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News

“If the juxtaposition of “fascinating” and “Kristen Stewart” stopped you cold, this is the film that should, by rights, warm you up to her. […] Binoche, Stewart, and Moretz can disappear into their roles and at the same time stand outside them – a Buddhist ideal.”

–David Edelstein, Vulture

“Kristen Stewart is cool perfection as her assistant, giving as good as she gets despite the power imbalance in their relationship.”

–Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly

“A meditation on fame, acting, aging, and acceptance, Clouds is a multilayered rapture on the subject of woman, performing. Not only does the film demand repeat viewings, it rewards them.”

–Ty Burr, Boston Globe

Whether they were bribed by one or more of this movie’s numerous producers or distributors (one hopes that Les Films du Losange wouldn’t stoop to such iniquity) to disseminate fawning, fatuous falsehoods, or with venal idiocy convinced themselves that their blurbs above are at all accurate, the panegyrical deluge of these hacks ultimately amounts to nullity, much like Assayas’s overrated pap.

In her youth, an actress (Binoche) rose to prominence on stage, then screen in the role of a callously cavalier demoiselle seducing an established, married mother and inheritor of a troubled company, whose suicide eventuates when she’s unavoidably jilted. Decades later, a successful theatrical director (Eidinger) revives this play immediate to its author’s sudden demise, and invites the quondam ingenue — now frampold, flush with fame and fortune, and freshly divorced with her capable but trendily philistine adjunct (Stewart) in tow — to assume its tragic senior lead opposite a notoriously wayward Hollywood star (Moretz). Scene after scene of sophomoric, excruciatingly expository dialogue as amateurish as Stewart’s, Moretz’s and Flynn’s performances reflect just how incompetently Assayas scripted this mess and directed his cast. Binoche is palatable when she isn’t overburdened with leaden lines, yet heinously hammy in others. She affects a peevingly puerile swagger whenever her splenetic superstar’s tipsy, bobbing her noggin like Sam Waterston in an episode of Law & Order, perhaps to counterbalance the void with whom she’s paired. Again, every paid critic who lauded this movie is dishonest or deluded, because slouching, plankish, unbrushed, occasionally uptalking, stupidly tattooed Kristin Stewart cannot act, which is why she’s still monotonously reciting and volleying lines that she clearly struggles to recall. Nonetheless, she’s not so embarrassing as Moretz, whose clownish physiognomy consorts with her gushingly callow delivery, especially in confabulation with her boyfriend, a novelist gaumlessly enacted by Flynn with an inanimacy to rival or exceed Stewart’s. Eidinger represents his sensitive, dramaturgic visionary with a smooth virtuosity shared by Zischler as an aging actor whose personal and professional past is thornily entangled with Binoche’s, largely because they haven’t anything abashing to say. Assayas’s story and all who inhabit it are easily outshone by his and DP Yorick Le Saux’s majestic, wintery then vernal Alpine panoramas, and particularly therethrough the Maloja Snake, a magnificent climatic phenomenon of clouds creeping low and sinuate through the Maloja Pass.

Not too many years ago, Assayas was still parading talented leading ladies in unexceptional vehicles (Irma Vep, Clean, Boarding Gate). Wading into conceptual depths once occupied by heavyweights (Bergman, Mankiewicz, Truffault, Cassavetes) with adequate technique and thoughtful characterizations, his wretchedly corny, jejune verbiage reveal the limits of his intuition and intellect, and how poorly he interprets and contrives psychology. Insights only glint when Binoche’s histrion and Stewart’s subaltern grapple in labored, private rehearsals at and while hiking about its late dramatist’s chalet in pastoral municipality Sils Maria. One scene from a ridiculous space opera that they view in theater starring Moretz’s wild child drolly parodies mindless genre fare, but when Stewart subsequently agonizes to defend the movie’s thematic legitimacy to bibulous Binoche’s rident despite, they play off one other ticklingly, as they ought’ve throughout. Glutted with trashy scandals, ungainly and often reiterated oral histories for the benefit of a presumably obtuse and unmindful audience, hungover Stewart’s roadside disgorgement, and comparisons and contrasts of enduring erudite forms and an increasingly, rightly unpopular popular culture, this movie’s repeatedly distracted from its burden: how the interrelations of its characters mirror and affect facets of their professional roles, fictional and otherwise. Assayas treats of commonplace and promising themes fleetingly, or as inconclusively as so many of his fizzled discussions. Although it’s filmed well, this pic’s transitional pace is disrupted by its interstitial cuts, dissolves and fades, all as clumsily mistimed as its soundtrack’s bathetic application of beautifully dulcet, familiar movements by Pachelbel, Spohr and Handel.

All of the shills, favors and accolades paid can’t redeem this pabulum’s monetary losses (on a relatively small budget) and half-baked insipidity, however such artifices are manifest: its nomination for the Palme d’Or at Cannes; Stewart’s unduly awarded César (which only underscores its cultural irrelevance at this point); Chanel’s subvention in exchange for the conspicuity of their raiment, finery, maquillage and logo therein; prompt issuance of the Criterion Collection’s DVD and Blu-ray editions; simpleminded and superabundant reviews containing varieties of witlessly hyphenated terms prepended with “meta-.” All of this merely confirms that this cynically marketed product presented as filmic art has failed thoroughly as both.

Instead, watch All About Eve, Day for Night, Opening Night, or Sex is Comedy.