Four new reviews from Blake Crane for Film Racket

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“PERSONAL SHOPPER”

Maureen has ghosts. One of them she’s trying to make contact with, literally, and her quest is quietly entrancing. At a deliberate pace, Personal Shopper, an artful, introspective ghost story, poses existential questions about coping with grief in a straightforward, affecting way. It also gets weird. And achingly tense.

“KONG: SKULL ISLAND”

Kong: Skull Island is simultaneously grand and bland. The large-scale monster mayhem is technically dazzling, but the lack of convincing purpose for the human characters leaves the action feeling cold.

The film is designed around a series of sequences where Kong throws palm threes through helicopters, fights other spectacular indigenous wildlife, and so on. While these individual moments look cool, they’re shapeless pieces of a scattershot narrative with several logic and tonal issues. Set at the end of the Vietnam War, the allegory is always present in a heart of darkness story that isn’t dark enough to have any meaning, or nimble enough to be a consistently fun CGI romp. Naming a character James Conrad (surely a nod to Heart of Darkness author Joseph Conrad) and incessantly blaring Vietnam-era rock songs signal the complexity of the metaphors at work here.

“BEFORE I FALL”

Groundhog Day goes YA in Before I Fall, a twee yet honest and well-constructed drama about a privileged high schooler living the same day over and over. “I Got You Babe” on a clock radio in a Punxsutawney bed & breakfast has been replaced with an iPhone alarm in a contemporary suburban mansion, but the mechanics remain largely the same. Though there’s some interesting spin in the high concept this time around, it doesn’t work quite as well with a mopey teen.

“LOGAN”

Seventeen years. That’s how long Hugh Jackman has remained committed to playing Wolverine. And through nine films of varying quality with changing casts, questionable continuity, and even time travel, the actor has remained a consistent highlight of the X-Men franchise.

While much of that cinematic history is middling, without that past as prologue Logan wouldn’t work as well as it does. This is the poignant culmination of a long hero’s journey from brash warrior to haggard legend. Owing as much to classic Westerns as modern superhero tradition, the film is grounded and deliberately paced while honoring comic lore, much of it from the “Old Man Logan” story. Punctuated by outbursts of violence, the somber aesthetic remains equally entertaining and surprisingly tender. Having the characters watch Shane may be a bit much, though.

CLICK ON THE TITLES TO READ BLAKE’S FULL REVIEWS!

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