Because of personal traveling, I did not get to see many new movies for the first time. Still, I got to see one somewhat interesting movie and an older movie that was playing on HBO. Here are the movies that I viewed last week:
The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) – dir. Andre Ovredal
There is a terrific buildup to make half a good horror movie in this 86-minute flick. Brian Cox and Emilie Hirch play a father-son team of coroners who perform an autopsy of an unidentified female corpse that turns out to harbor many secrets. The title should already suggest that the film is not for the squeamish, but the first 45 minutes makes good use of the potential morbid humor and jump scares that can happen in the grisly setting of the morgue. Many have mentioned that the resolution is disappointing (and I agree) and each viewer would have their own opinion about the degree to which it mars what came before. One reason that it is disappointing is because it invites comparison to another recent horror film (which I won’t name because it may be a spoiler) and the revelation tied to that element seems like a hokey twist to an old historical event. Also, while I know the leads characters are supposed to be more subdued being people who dissect dead bodies for a living, the tension could have been raised a bit by ratcheting up the characters’ desperation and/or ingenuity (to be closer to a survivalist horror film a la Get Out). Still, there has been a recent surge of quality in horror films (Personal Shopper being another one) and the first half of this film is indicative of a trend of going back to the more classical tradition of well-timed scares.
Shaft (2000) – dir. John Singleton
I admit that I have not seen the original 1971 Shaft that was hugely influential in its popularization of the blaxpoitation genre (and I would like to see it at some point). But this loose remake from 2000 was playing on TV so I decided to stop and watch it. The remake, on its own terms, really amounts to an uneasy alliance between a serious crime drama and a movie that frivolously wants to celebrate the coolness of its central character. Samuel L. Jackson, who plays the titular cop turned private eye and vigilante, is rock-solid as the central character who takes matters into his own hands to take down a rich tycoon’s racist son (Christian Bale), who has murdered an African-American man in a frenzy. There is a slew of superb actors including Bale (who played a similarly homicidal rich man in the much better American Psycho), Toni Collette, and Dan Hedaya, who are all typecast to a T. They, along with the mercurial character actor Jeffrey Wright as a gangster, bring a lot of gravity that would be fitting in a grittier, urban crime drama. But the seriousness is at odds with the vigilantism the movie celebrates and stretches credibility to do so (Shaft, after he quits the police force, is really a civilian who shoots and kills multiple people in his own personal code of justice). The result is a movie that is confused in tone where good actors and a good director (Singleton made the great first film, Boyz n the Hood) try to elevate material that is awkwardly unable to be elevated.