Monday, October 24, 2022


There’s a scene late in Ticket to Paradise when stars Julia Roberts and George Clooney, playing a divorced couple who have heretofore been bickering and bantering, finally stop for a quiet moment together. They’re on the top of a mountain on a tropical island and the sun is low in the sky, casting soft orange light all around them. They speak softly and openly to each other and, as their eyes start to sparkle, for the first time from beneath the needling chemistry that’s been sending sparks, we can see the real glow of affection they still have for each other. As they kindle this reconnection, I found myself thinking: I hope they kiss right now. And if that’s not a sign a romantic comedy has its hooks in you, I don’t know what is. The movie is a welcome example of a mode of moviemaking that’s all-but extinct—the glossy Hollywood rom-com—generously containing a further throwback—the comedy-of-remarriage. It finds in this comforting return to sturdy formula yet more resuscitation: a studio movie driven solely by Movie Star power. Roberts and Clooney, in particular, are at this point underutilized old pros, performers totally at ease with effortless charm. The movies these days afford them too few opportunities to appear at all, let alone uncork the full extent of their appeal. And so here we care about this couple because their actors are so good at embodying even the flimsiest formula with depth of personality, and projecting a charismatic likability in every angle and with each line reading. Because they’re pros, we can feel comfortable they can take this journey to its destination and find enough fun along the way.

Writer-director Ol Parker’s previous film was the fizzy lifting drink of a musical: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. That one, far and away his best work, and as feel-good a movie as any released in the last decade or two, must’ve unlocked something in his filmmaker toolkit. Here he continues capably marshaling the charms of stars swanning about gorgeous island locales enacting slightly silly but earnestly felt family dramas that bubble and sparkle with clever dialogue and float toward some convincing sentiment in the end. Clooney and Roberts reluctantly reunite en route to their daughter’s impromptu destination wedding. She (Kaitlyn Dever) has only known the guy for a few weeks, so the parents plan to talk her out of it. Even with just those two sentences, I’m sure you can start to piece together the plot. Yes, it has the miscommunications and mishaps and mistakes and moments of genuine connection and affection. But the joy isn’t in the story per se, thought it is sturdy, but its telling. The proceedings are kept agreeably light and amusing, photographed with brightly-lit scenic views, and build to those moments where, yes, you really do want to see the couple get together in the end. Paradise? Perhaps not exactly, but, when all the stars align, it’s in the neighborhood.

Sunday, October 23, 2022


Here we are again. Black Adam is another walloping might-makes-right superhero power fantasy. It mistakes noise and movement and non-stop violence for excitement, and assumes loud frantic explanations can pass for story. It has some good visual designs and an atypical setting that engages some novel ideas, but it’s also cloaked in a dour, murderous tone and a pace that’s so quickly cut there’s no room to catch a breath. Yet I’ve also come to appreciate the DC movies for their willingness to go overboard, for their sense of careening out of control with more characters and world-shaking developments than one cluttered feature film could contain. That seems to suit the mythological dimensions of even the lesser efforts in this particular cinematic universe. Unlike Marvel’s tidy decades-long planning and homogenous style, DC has been more often than not a chaos of outsized comic book visuals and nonsense plotting that’s concurrently too thin and overstuffed. This one locates a potentially provocative story of exploitation and imperialism—and the need for the enslaved to rise up and take over their own destinies—and buries it in a hurry-scurry plot that gets nowhere fast amidst breathless exposition and cheesecloth characterizations. It’s unsatisfying in its miss, but not in its swing.

After an endless prologue, it introduces a Justice Society (not to be confused with the Justice League) that apparently works with the Suicide Squad’s leader (Viola Davis) to tackle superpowered problems. In this case: Black Adam. He’s an ancient protector of the fictional Middle Eastern kingdom Kahndaq. He was a slave granted god-like powers by the same wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who gave the kid in Shazam his boost. Adam was asleep for thousands of years. Now awoken in modern day by a freedom-fighting professor (Sarah Shahi), he mostly just wants to bring death and destruction to the imperialist gang that rules what was once his city. They fly around on their sci-fi jet bikes and amass an entirely undifferentiated and vaguely defined army. Adam, played by Dwayne Johnson with a stony edifice and rumbling monosyllabic pomposity, floats like an indestructible block through these armies of Bad Guys, exploding them in surprisingly intense ways given the ostensible bounds of the PG-13. He loves killing those who get in his way. But instead of a simple fight for his country’s freedom, the conflict for most of the movie is that the team of shiny heroes sent in to get him under control would rather he not indiscriminately murder people with his lightning hands and speed and strength and flight. Sure, the enemies are bad, the likes of Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) and Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan) tell him. But that doesn’t mean you can just blow them apart.

So Black Adam fights these and other heroes—invincible action figures who slam power into power over and over beyond all reason—until they agree that they instead need to agree to disagree and stop the real bad guys together. The villain who basically sits out the first chunk of the movie suddenly, and literally, turns into a demon from hell, complete with devil horns and a pentagram on his puffed-up CG chest, inaugurating a whole new round of super-punching. It’s all a deadening too-muchness of a repetitive spectacle. The performers are game, and director Jaume Collet-Serra (the B-movie expert in his recent, less effective, A-budget phase) manages to whip up some appealing bombast here and there amidst the otherwise fuzzy, muddy visuals. (I especially liked the fractal planes through which Brosnan travels.) But the swirling frenzy deadens and dominates more than it entertains. I could imagine a version of the movie where it had a slightly sharper take on its politics. Coding the Justice Society as clueless American interventionists is already a step in a clever direction. Explaining their existence even a little bit might’ve been nice. The movie would still need a better shape to its story, though. There’s so much repetition of plot and action beats that one wonder why they wasted their time doing it all so quickly the first time. It may have suitably outsized potential—and a huge, booming orchestral main theme that promises a grander adventure than we get—but it’s just a bludgeoning experience to which you either begrudgingly surrender or give up on entirely.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022


We flatter ourselves if we think we’re better than the past just because we know how it’ll turn out. A story’s ending, after all, depends solely on where we choose to stop telling it. As Faulkner once reminded us, the past isn’t even past. The present sure isn’t either. Peter Farrelly’s The Greatest Beer Run Ever is a movie about how much it might take to make an unthinking person recognize the truth about his own historical moment. In this case, it’s the late 1960s. New York barfly Chickie (Zac Efron) spends his time, when off from hard shifts on merchant ships, drinking with his buddies. Together they lament those friends who are deployed in Vietnam. One has just been shipped back in a casket. The guys grumble about war protestors and the media coverage and grouse that it is unfair American soldiers are losing hope on account of all this negativity from the homefront. On a whim, Chickie decides to hitch a ride on a cargo ship and deliver some beer to these friends serving overseas. Turns out spending time in a war zone isn’t the lark he thinks it’d be, though the movie’s breezy tone and ambling smirk matches its lead’s stupid grin as that lesson takes its sweet time sinking in. Chickie isn’t the fastest learner, but even he can recognize that his army buddies are way more distressed about his bumbling into battlefields than he thought they’d be. (The first deflation has to be learning they can get beer there.) Efron plays this slow-dawning realization by degrees, calibrating his wide grin and frat boy antics—he breezes past Generals by letting them assume he’s CIA, to name one of his carefree gambits—into appropriately chastened through near-death encounters.

Farrelly began his career making, with his brother Bobby, hilariously raunchy (but secretly sentimental) comedies like Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary. Lately he’s pivoting solo, with Green Book and now this new effort, to spin simple lessons out of complicated truths. It’s a little historical depth and extra sentimentality in a slightly more serious version of his studio comedy packaging. (In other words, he’s traded gags about bodily fluids and anatomical functions for gentler punchlines and Important Human Connection.) These movies are dopily well-intentioned at best. Unlike Green Book’s retrograde buddy-comedy approach to race relations, Beer Run is a little more honest about its character’s progression from ignorantly self-righteous into a humbled observer. The trappings of Vietnam in this telling may look flat and overlit and sitcom stagy, but the increasingly harrowing implied violence around the character makes his journey less of a lark. It helps that he meets a world-weary war correspondent played by Russel Crowe with every bit of effortless gravitas that casting implies. Eventually, Chickie realizes that journalists are telling the truth, the military isn’t being honest, and, though some soldiers are brave in the face of senseless killing, the war was probably a mistake. If he makes it home, he might just live up to a British journalist’s description of his feat: “It may be idiotic, but it’s a noble gesture.” There’s the review right there.

Better use of true trappings to tell a caper in the shadow of real war is David O. Russell’s Amsterdam. It’s at least more invested in the bodily damage combat leaves in its wake, and finds metaphors to match. Two American soldiers in The Great War (Christian Bale and John David Washington) bond when they, riddled with shrapnel, are pulled from the trenches. Each saved the other. Their nurse (Margot Robbie) extracts jagged metal from their flesh and stores it for use in her found-materials art projects. Turns out she’s an emigre living the European life, and as the long post-war years loom, the three become good friends. She’s in love with one, and a dear friend of the other, and they all live together in a cozy loft apartment in Amsterdam—a gauzy, artful, open-minded arrangement in the caesura between World Wars. And yet, because they met in bloody circumstances and the shock of the war is nonetheless the engine driving the culture in which they swim—surrealism and modernism elbowing into their rosy, softly-lit lives—it’s an inextricable part of their fleeting friendly connection. Reconfigured and reclaimed, it literally surrounds them: a tea set, a photograph, a memory. The city of the title takes on a similar symbolic weight. It’s a place, and a mindset, that’s an oasis from the usual, and a respite removed from the weight of prejudices back home that’d make their casual arrangement unthinkable.

That the characters can’t stay so cozily in the emigre state of mind fuels the bittersweet heart of the picture as it plunges into a knotty conspiracy back home in America. The central trio has parted, and when they meet again a decade and a half later, on the streets of New York City, they’re all mixed up in a plot involving white supremacist agitators hoping to shake off FDR’s New Deal and align their country with the rising tide of European fascism. A beloved General is suddenly dead, and his daughter is subsequently pushed under a moving vehicle. When the murderer tries to pin the blame on Bale and Washington, they scramble about looking to clear their names. (All this, and they’re trying to stage a charity reunion revue for their old army unit—shades of White Christmas—too.) The movie ambles along, slowly untangling the various threads by the time the credits roll. It plays loosely with history, but fairly in identifying between Europe and America a shared moneyed class with a taste for authoritarian control to protect their business interests. Imagine Frank Capra doing John le Carré, complete with unsubtle sentimentality hammering home a too-easy moral (hear that interminable final monologue) after the hard work of international intrigue. Buffeted by these competing demands, the central trio is a beguiling collision of acting styles. Bale stumbles and squints and blusters; Washington lets it all slide down easily; Robbie flits and flutters and flusters. And together they push and pull at the edges of the stifling story’s baggy pace and semi-complicated mystery to find moments of improbable melancholic grace.

Russell, no stranger to mismatched slow-boiling character conflicts, is usually quite good at cooking up scenarios in which good actors can cut loose and spread out potentially silly turns in serious subjects with a full commitment to both. His best movies—Flirting with Disaster, Three Kings, Silver Linings Playbook, Joy—have compelling stories told with a kind of farcical plate-spinning quality, keeping a varied cast’s competing aims and through-lines legible even as they overlap and collide. This one’s sleepier, bringing on eccentric supporting characters in a soft-shoe of a mystery. The large ensemble—Rami Malek, Anya Taylor-Joy, Robert De Niro, Andrea Riseborough, Timothy Olyphant, Michael Shannon, Mike Meyers, Chris Rock, Zoe Saldana, Taylor Swift, and so on—makes for information devices and red herrings. There’s a wan quality to the imagery that keeps them pinned down, and a soft looniness to the line readings and complications that make for a hazy unreality that never quite gathers the heft it needs. The performances are a collection of tics and takes, with actors given space to spin out their competing ideas and aims. The story occasionally curlicues into distraction—and some overfamiliar fake-outs. But, for all the tricks it pulls, there’s a sharp political point in the middle about the collusion of corruption, and the way it tears at the happiness of those who just want to love each other and make art and help the defenseless and live in peace. Didn’t they almost have it all? One almost wants this ersatz Rick and his Ilsa to say we’ll always have Amsterdam.

Friday, October 14, 2022


The trick to making the umpteenth entry in a long-running series is getting the exact right balance of new ideas and old familiar ones. David Gordon Green’s been tinkering with that balance for reviving Halloween for three movies now. His first attempt as director and co-writer had one great new idea: bringing back Jamie Lee Curtis and making her original slasher survivor Laurie Strode a doomsday prepper awaiting the inevitable return of her masked killer, Michael Myers. The rest of the movie was content to retread the series’ usual stalk-and-slash set pieces. Green’s second effort, Halloween Kills, was even worse, a procession of characters making stupid decisions in a mindless slaughterhouse of a picture. Third time’s the charm. Halloween Ends dutifully doles out violence, but is also concerned with the effects of all this slasher film violence on the people involved. Instead of trotting out trite therapy talk or easy metaphor, it sits in their discomfort. Curtis and her granddaughter (Andi Matichak) are trying to mourn and move on with their lives, but they, and the entire town of Haddonfield, can’t escape the shadow of the killing sprees in their past. Even with Myers missing for years, the survivors don’t shake the feeling he’ll be back. They still live with the consequences. Early in the movie, Laurie is confronted with a scarred, mute victim from the previous entry whose family blames the Strodes for provoking these attacks. How can anyone ever fully recover when the scars remain? The movie settles into a sensitive groove, watching these women try to make new friends and keep the old, while the menacing shadow of their past looms larger as the eponymous holiday draws near. Because the movie takes its time drawing us into their lives, and the cast of characters surrounding them, the inevitable bloody murders inflicted upon the ensemble will sting a little more than usual.

Green also cleverly makes this a movie about the sick fascination with violence—the grim allure of the potential power it brings, the false sense of control it can lend to the lonely and dispossessed, the nasty curiosity of seeing bodies torn apart—that movies like this (or real life mass death, for that matter) can draw out of some troubled people. He introduces a new character of a young man (Rohan Campbell) who suffers a terrible mishap in the opening scene—one of the film’s best shocks, and the one with the longest-lasting effects. The poor guy then barely recovers to scrape by after such a life-altering incident. Perhaps because of this trauma, in addition to the social ostracism it brought him, he finds himself drawn to dark thoughts. As he gets entangled in the lives of the Strodes, one can see the potential for redemption through shared connection with the ugliest aspects of their pasts. But one also sees an ominous potential for further destruction. Because of the series to which this story belongs, you can make a good guess about where it’s going. And, indeed, the plot’s painted into a corner in its final moments, with only one excessively nasty way out. (The final frames of Myers in this one are especially stupid.) But Green admirably keeps the ideas simmering, and the sympathy flowing, even as bodies start to pile up. Here’s an agreeably mournful slasher picture, that largely keeps the slashing to a few well-chosen moments throughout before a bloody finale. The technical details—a casually blocked scope frame, a sinister score from John Carpenter riffing on his original work, teeth-grindingly convincing gore effects—are impeccable. But it’s the compelling mood and genuine human interest in its ideas that keeps it a cut above the usual pulp.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022


Marilyn Monroe has always been treated as, to borrow a phrase from Rodgers and Hammerstein, an empty page that men would like to write on. This is certainly the case with every public figure who passes from famous to iconic. But for Monroe, whose objectification has long obscured her individuality, it’s denied her participation in her performances. She’s too much the image: the legs, the cleavage, the billowing skirt, the tasteful nudes, the mole, and, yes, the blonde hair. Her genius as a performer, perpetually underrated by some critics and reclaimed by other (smarter) ones, was typified in films such as Some Like it Hot or Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She’d somehow play both the oblivious sexual object and the shrewd self-presenter as she subverted sexist expectations of those attempting to define her. And yet when she’s trapped in the cultural memory we are so often left with the shallow glamor and the sordid details. From made-for-TV biopics (1980’s Marilyn: The Untold Story) and the occasional prestige big screen effort (2011’s deadly dull My Week with Marilyn), the beats of her life are somehow placed on a pedestal of reverence even as such slobbering lends easily to condescension and objectification. Even when she died, as Elton John would remind us, all the papers had to say was that she was found in the nude.

Now here’s Andrew Dominik’s Blonde, which, like Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, is interested in a mid-century icon as the icon, attempting to excavate in a freewheeling, loosely (or, in this case, tangentially) factual way, but feeling right about how they moved through the culture. But unlike Luhrhman’s glitzy, heartfelt montage, which has a palpable love for Presley every second, Dominik is largely skeptical of what Monroe did, and what was done to her. The movie has a blitz of montage and mix of style—varied colors and ratios and CG flights of fancy that trade off with a cold logic—that could only look slow and tame compared to Luhrmann (or Oliver Stone at his most manic), as it looks at Monroe from a cool remove. She’s Norma Jeane abused and exploited and rendered hollow by a culture that looks only at the surface, and a personality that grinds itself into traumatized dust. She’s played by Ana de Armas in a state of fret and worry, really only alive on screen or in bed. Her voice slippery and tremulous, pulsing with breath and anxiety, she fidgets and darts her eyes, looks up from underneath the makeup and hair done in a perfect simulacrum and steps into the spotlight, before retreating into the shadows again—or forced into yet another abusive situation. She’s beaten, raped, forced to have an abortion, run through a meat grinder of casting couches. All the time, she clings to the men in her life—a procession of famous men (Bobby Cannavale as Joe DiMaggio, Adrien Brody as Arthur Miller, Caspar Phillipson as JFK) who think only they really get her. The her she sees on the big screen, the one we all love, she doesn’t recognize herself in there.

Dominik has previously done good work exploring American myth-making. His The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a great late Western, casting a critical eye on the consequences of living out a life of disreputable legend, and, in its brilliant final sequences, what happens to those left after that life has gone. Similarly, his Killing Them Softly takes traditional crime movie tropes and makes them into a grubby mirror of capitalist self-congratulation, a talky swirl of potent political cynicism. With Blonde, adapting a Joyce Carol Oates novel that has a passing resemblance to reality, his vision of Monroe is troubled by superficial confusion. It’s interested in surfacing the real ugliness of parts of her life, and eliding any pleasure or control she may have had. Typical of the film’s interest in her work is a scene set in a theater playing the last scene of Some Like it Hot—with its hilarious final line chirped out with perfect timing by Joe E. Brown and wide-eyed reaction from Jack Lemmon. Dominik doesn’t let us hear any laughter from the crowd. Instead there’s eerie silence followed by sped-up footage of rapid-fire applause. Blonde creates a vision of Monroe’s stardom as nothing but product, served up to the masses in a va-va-voom wolf-whistle package. Watch the cross-cutting of the woman getting a—ahem—hand from a fella in a theater while the roaring waterfalls of the trailer for her film Niagara gush forth on the screen.

You can’t say the movie’s not boldly trying out its ideas. It’s lousy with thin Freudian analysis—the words “mother” and “daddy” are murmured here more often than in a Tennessee Williams play. Her mom (Julianne Nicholson) is cranked up near Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest levels (though “Get! In! The! Bath!” is no “No! Wire! Hangers!”), and pop is a black and white glamor shot that haunts her. (Echoes of familial tension are doubled by a CG fetus slowly twirling in amniotic fantasia.) It's perhaps perversely resistant to entertainment or nostalgia, dripping as it is with classic movie clips digitally altered to place new people in old shots, and copious period detail. Here Hollywood is shown as a suffocating spectacle that wraps Norma up in increasingly tight framing and sun-dappled faux-grain that cinches in just as her stardom expands. Her chaotic upbringing and tumultuous affairs are also grim—she never enjoys sex, and even the men who worship her body fall flat when getting access to it. JFK lounges with disinterest on the phone while she leans over his lap; more baroque configurations of bodies earlier in the film are blurred and bleakly mechanical; powerful men invade her and use her and think nothing of her. Here’s a stark movie that revels in its misery, and avoids all hero worship and vicarious success of the True Hollywood Story. Instead, it’s a burning Babylon of a city, with wildfires, broken women, and madmen whose suits buy them respect they don’t deserve. It’s a young woman with a tear running down her cheek. But Blonde isn’t interested in anything more that gorgeous misery. It just hurts. In doing so, the movie does the exact same thing it laments—turning her pain into its own narrative from which to profit. That leaves, no matter its intriguing qualities, its ambitions beyond its reach.

But at least it has reach, which is more than one can say for Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling. It, too, wants to interrogate the prison of pining for mid-century femininity. Too bad it’s just a slice of Swiss—thin, cheesy, full of holes. This misfire wants to be a mysterious mind-bender of a picture in which an idealized 50’s suburban community is slowly revealed to be Up To No Good. (Gee, where have were heard that before?) Because it’s 2022, that means it starts like a bad episode of The Twilight Zone and ends like a typical episode of Black Mirror. Florence Pugh stars as a seemingly happy housewife who cooks and cleans and shops and takes ballet lessons and hangs with the other neighborhood women. It’s a company town where the men drive off to the plant and are in constant admiration of their boss (Chris Pine). Pugh starts to suspect something’s up with the men’s double-talk and the other weird sub-WandaVision breaks with reality revealing that everything’s pretty empty in this existence. She’s literally trapped behind glass walls or cracking open empty eggs. Get it? But the free-floating symbolism never adds up and a potentially interesting stew of topical and philosophical ideas get buried in the movie’s long, slow trudge—flat declarations, muddled revelations, confused supporting characterizations, perplexingly fuzzy world-building.

The irritating lack of specifics here—everything’s burnished and polished and vacant—make the eventual revelations feel all the more inadequate. It’s the kind of dull thriller that one thinks back through with full knowledge of the twists and finds it even more lacking. If that’s what’s going on, then it makes even less sense, one thinks. You could probably talk for hours with your friends about every nagging loose end of confused sub-twist, but, gosh, how boring would that be? The movie does have Pugh giving it her all, even with as inconsistent a scene partner as Harry Styles as her husband who loves getting down to business on her, and also endlessly twirling on stage for his buddies. And Pine is perfectly sinister as her foil, a masculinist phony clearly cultivating a cult of personality—he’s like a few prominent poisonous alt-right faux-intellectual men you might think of. But the movie clicks into its most interesting ideas right as it all falls apart, and makes such a hash of its conclusion that one feels all the more intently the waste of time it took to get there. Sure, kids these days might not’ve seen—and here’s a warning that if you’ve seen the following you’ll start to glean this one’s twists—The Stepford Wives or The Truman Show or Pleasantville or The Village. (They should, though!) Even they might smell this one’s meager second-hand nature.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Darn Ya: SMILE

Horror movies love a good supernatural infection, although it plays admittedly extra unsettling after our pandemic experiences. We know all too well how frightening it is to know you might seal your doom without even knowing until it’s too late. You’ve already let it in. That’s been the fright of The Rings and It Follows, even the Things and so many expert chillers past. Now it’s back again in Smile, a fine horror effort from debut director Parker Finn who proves his facility with dread and effective creeping suspense. The film is about a psychiatrist (Sosie Bacon) who witnesses a patient’s suicide and is soon convinced she’s being stalked by an evil entity hoping to drive her to the same fate. This thing’s signature is giving people, both real and hallucinated, stranger and memory, the creepiest smiles—an eerie glowering wide-eyed Kubrick stare combined with a toothy grin. This evil also manifests as distant whispers of her name in the dark of night, and the occasional unlocked door when she’s home alone. (Would you believe her seemingly supportive fiancé, shallow sister, dry therapist, and caring boss don’t believe her?) That’s standard spooky stuff, but done with enough commitment to silences on the soundtrack and empty spaces in the frame to raise the hairs on the back of the neck with regularity. As the lead (with the help of her cop ex-boyfriend (Kyle Gallner, honorary Scream Queen)) starts researching more and finds she’s simply the latest link in a long chain of witnesses to violent death meeting their own a week later, the film’s trajectory is clear. She’s done everything right, and has been infected all the same.

Though using this long-familiar horror trope of curse-stalked protagonists well enough, Smile is also playing with the recent en vogue horror use of the trauma plot. It lets us know the lead hasn’t recovered from her mother’s death decades earlier, and that’s haunting her, too. The movie plays fair with that metaphor and uses it with some degree of subtly, if cynically drawing to a downbeat conclusion. That stuff is more standard fare, but falls flatter than the stock shivers. What does work, though, is the way it hooks into a kind of pandemic-era dread, matched with other recent horror efforts like David Prior’s The Empty Man and David Bruckner’s The Night House. The former’s sinister whispering keys into a feeling of psycho-social contagion, a dreadful subliminal ugliness that’s unleashed without our knowing and yet tugs at the tides of our moods and consciousness, poisoning our communities into ever-darker thoughts. The latter’s grief metaphor is paired with an architectural ambiguity where shifting nighttime shadows become subtle specters in corners and crannies. Though Smile’s the least of these three pictures, its steady frames and looming doom, and its clear-eyed sense of mental unraveling prodding by traumatic events, places it in the same head space. It’s enough for an effective cold chill on a fall night.