“What’s important is to know who you are and where you want to go.”
This is a key line in “Carmen” (R, 116 minutes, in theaters), French dancer-choreographer Benjamin Millepied’s screen reimagining of Bizet’s opera of the same name. It’s delivered by a supporting character, a singer, but it applies to the two central characters in the story.
Carmen (Melissa Barrera of “In the Heights”), a Mexican woman who slips into the United States after her mother is killed, and Aidan (Paul Mescal, a recent Oscar nominee for “Aftersun”), a Marine veteran who saves Carmen’s life in a border-patrol incident, know who they are and where they want to go.
Neither necessarily have a conscious knowledge of “who they are,” but their decisive, dramatic and, often, spontaneous actions suggest that they don’t think about what they’re going to do, they just do it naturally, based on who they are. Both are fearless. Fierceless and independent, Carmen is on a mission of freedom, and she’s single minded in her pursuit of it. Aidan, aimless before he meets Carmen, is a protector at heart, and willingly faces physical harm to fulfill his sense of duty. Once a Marine, always a Marine.
As for where they’re going (literally), Carmen is determined to reach Los Angeles, and Aidan is determined to go wherever Carmen is going.
Essentially, “Carmen” becomes a lovers-on-the-run story, but told by Millepied in a surrealistic way in which it’s not always easy to separate fantasy from reality. (Fun fact: Millepied, making his feature-film directorial debut here, is married to Natalie Portman.) The film is punctuated with dance sequences that exquisitely reflect, among other things, the passion of the two main characters, beautifully played by Barrera and Mescal. Millepied challenges the moviegoer to go along with this unconventional approach, to feel the fire and ache and mystery of life and art without getting too caught up in the details of the story itself.
It’s worth taking the ride. And, by the end, you might find you’re asking yourself, as I did, “Who am I … and where am I going?” ***½ (out of four)
Fun for the whole family
Sometimes, a family visit doesn’t quite go as planned.
In “Evil Dead Rises” (R, 97 minutes, in theaters), the fifth entry in the “Evil Dead” movie series, Beth, a rock-band guitar technician, discovers she’s pregnant. She decides to visit her estranged older sister, Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), and Ellie’s three kids – Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), Danny (Morgan Davies) and Kassie (Nell Fisher) – at their dingy Los Angeles apartment.
While Beth and Ellie, who feels her younger sis deserted her to become a groupie, deal with the thorny issues between them, Danny and Kassie go to pick up pizza. When they return to the building’s indoor parking area, there’s an earthquake, Kassie drops the pizza, and Danny discovers a hole in the floor that leads to an old bank vault where he finds the ancient “Book of the Dead.”
Those who have seen the previous “Evil Dead” movies know that Dan’s discovery does not bode well for anyone in the vicinity – never mind that Kassie leaves the dropped pizza on the parking lot pavement, one of the more unsettling occurrences in the film. The book unleashes a demonic force that possesses Ellie, turning her into a hideous monster while bending and breaking her body (or, put another way, turning her into a Twisted Sister).
Can the situation get worse? Oh, yeah. We’re talking buckets of blood, piles of puke, and a variety of mutilations. Someone’s eye is dug out of its socket, flies across a hallway and lands in a neighbor’s mouth. It gets that kind of worse.
This leads us to the classic backhanded compliment for a film of this type: “Evil Dead Rises” is good for what it is.
To elaborate: If you’re looking for a bonkers gorefest, you’ll probably want to check this movie out. Writer-director Lee Cronin, whose previous work includes a film called “The Hole in the Ground” (I see a possible pattern here), includes cool camera shots, including some in which bloody mayhem is viewed through the peephole of a door.
But if you find the idea of hideous creatures slaughtering people not only old hat but depressing, you’ll probably want to pass on this one.
“Evil Dead Rises” would hold more appeal if it took a cue from 1992’s “Army of Darkness,” the third of the “Evil Dead” movies, in which Bruce Campbell (an executive producer on “Rises”) delivers a hilarious performance as an absurdly hard-luck hero battling zombies in a medieval setting.
This “Evil Dead” could use more dark humor.
It could use Bruce Campbell. **
Stars can’t save ‘Killer’
Search for “To Catch a Killer” on IMDb.com, and you’ll see how many times the name, or variations of it, have been used for movies,TV series or episodes, podcasts or whatever. The title should be retired.
Yet here we are with the latest “To Catch a Killer” (R, 119 minutes, in theaters), starring Shailene Woodley and Ben Mendelsohn. As the title suggests, it’s a mostly generic crime thriller in which investigators try – you guessed it – to catch a killer!
The stars are the big draw here. Both can be great in the right role – Woodley as George Clooney’s rebellious teen daughter in “The Descendants,” for instance, or Mendelsohn as the psychopathic older brother in the Aussie crime-family drama “Animal Kingdom.”
“To Catch a Killer” will not rank as a high point on either of their resumes, though their acting isn’t the problem; it’s the so-so material.
Directed and co-written by Argentinian Damian Szifron (“Wild Tales”), the film begins with an attention-grabbing sequence in which multiple random people are gunned down by a sniper in Baltimore on New Year’s Eve. Local cop Eleanor Falco (Woodley) is one of the first to respond, and when FBI chief investigator Geoffrey Lammark (Mendelsohn) is put on the case, he quickly recognizes Falco’s underappreciated insights and instincts. He adds her to his small team.
Finding the killer is a challenge (of course; otherwise, no movie), and Lammark, a maverick (of course) who clashes with his politically inclined higher-ups (of course), is determined to do things his way and will not stop until he gets his killer (of course, of course).
Unless he’s taken off the case, and, even then … well, you know how it goes.
And that’s the problem. Too much of this is familiar, including Eleanor’s personal issues. “To Catch a Killer” could be a typical episode on a TV cop or FBI show. Besides the strong opening, the film features compelling work by Ralph Ineson (“The Witch”) as a troubled individual who appears toward the end. But, overall, the film is as forgettable as its title. **
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.
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