Monday, February 4, 2019

Review: "Velvet Buzzsaw" is the weirdest movie you see this year, and its only February

Velvet Buzzsaw Review

Dan Gilroy is an American screenwriter who has had some serious success in a short amount of time. He wrote the scripts for movies like "Reel Steel," "Kong: Skull Island," "The Bourne Legacy," and "Two For The Money" and all of those movies have some big pros to them. As he's quickly become a director and writer, his talents have taken a major shift, because none of the movies he's made so far as a director are very commercial. "Nightcrawler" is the most popular movie that comes to mind, and for good reason, its addicting to watch, start to finish. His second film as director, "Roman J. Israel Esq." was a little less popular, and for good reason. Its a movie that feels like a bunch of various vignettes of the major character all in search of a movie, and its a hard film to sit through.

Dan Gilroy is once again collaborates with Jake Gyllenhaal and his own wife Rene Russo who both starred in "Nightcrawler" in "Velvet Buzzsaw." Which will possibly go down as the weirdest, strangest thing Dan Gilroy has mustered up so far. As I discuss this movie in this review tonight, you are probably going to think this was a beyond odd thing to sit through, and it sure was. Strange doesn't always mean bad, though. Not to me. From the very beginning I was definitely intrigued. There is a gleefully strange opening credit sequence, then we are quickly whisked away into the life of Morph Vandewalt. 

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Vandewalt, a bisexual art critic living in Miami Beach. We meet Vandewalt attending an art exhibit with his friend and Agent Josephina (Zawe Ashton) run by a bitchy art gallery owner played by Rene Russo. This being Jake Gyllenhaal and this being a movie where he plays a guy named Morph Vandewalt, its another memorable performance of oddball speech and a unique way of living life. Morph is definitely, to put it in blunt terms, kind of a douche. But this stuck-up world of art is supposed to be a douchy world, so he fits right in.

When Josephina returns from the gallery that night, she finds her neighbor dead, she also finds a big box full of amazing, undeniable art pieces. When she shows the pieces of art to both Morph and Russo's character Rhodora, really strange things start to happen. As they investigate the art, it is discovered that the artist who made them had a messed-up life and died from strange circumstances. Then...the movie goes downhill from there. Not in a bad way, per se. But in a way, our characters begin to fall down a deadly rabbit hole from which there is no escape.

It's really hard to describe the movie any further, and that's both a pro and a con to the movie. Much like "Roman J. Israel Esq." this is another Dan Gilroy movie that is simply doing way too much. While its not two and half hours like "Roman" was, it certainly feels that long, never a good thing. Is "Velvet Buzzsaw" simply a movie about cursed art? Or is it a metaphor for the art scene in general? Is it a character study about a bunch of incredibly high-strunk, uptight, snobbish artsy-fartsy people? Is there a greater scheme going on between Rhondora and Morph and Josephina? If so, what is that greater scheme? "Velvet Buzzsaw" feels like a movie full of potentially great ideas that seem to go nowhere.

There have been several people who have compared the movie to a "Final Destination" movie. Honestly, I get it. When people die in this movie, it's under the most bizarre circumstances. I can say this about Dan Gilroy this time out, he's definitely flexing his exploitation muscles a little bit, which is a strength I never knew he had. If you are the type of horror fan that likes seeing people die in really gruesome, screwball ways, then I think "Velvet Buzzsaw" will work on you to a degree. I am just not sure I understand the rules of the haunting in this movie. Is it the spirit of the dead artist doing the killings? Or is it something else? The movie never really specifies, but points to the two possible conclusions. Its also a little hazy as to why there is a haunting or a curse to the art, which is aggravating. If you are going to make a movie about a killer ghost or a killer what-have-you, make sure they have a clear motivation as to why.

Dan Gilroy also has the talent to bring together great casts. Along with Gyllenhaal and Russo is Toni Collette, John Malkovich, Natalia Dyer, Daveed Diggs and Billy Magnussen, all of whom do outstanding work. The twist is most of them barely have characters to play. These actors are all good selling a bunch of hoopla that ultimately means nothing and goes nowhere. Which is an outstanding feat all to itself. John Malkovich in particular plays a character which could have literally been edited out of the movie altogether.

"Velvet Buzzsaw" eventually boils down to being too weird. A movie that doesn't have a clear vision of what it wants to do and what it wants to be. There's good performances, some wacky deaths and a memorable opening and closing credits sequence. Gilroy has some really good ideas that deserve to be explored, but maybe not in one movie? 

FINAL GRADE: C

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