(Netflix Streaming, October 2017) Dramas like The Kite Runner remind me of unflavoured health food: it’s good for you, no one looks strangely if you say you’re eating it, but it feels completely joyless. Respectable but blandly ordinary, this drama set in Soviet-then-Taliban-occupied Afghanistan sees an Americanized refugee going back home to re-immerse himself in childhood memories and rescue a friend once betrayed. It’s as high-drama as you’d expect from a guilt-fuelled movie featuring kids and while it does work without being unbearably manipulative, The Kite Runner still leaves viewers with the sentiment of having seen something unnecessary. Adapted by director Marc Foster (who’s done much better and much worse) from a script by David Benioff from a best-selling novel from Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner checks off most of the boxes of middlebrow popular drama. Ethnic flavour? Yes. Universally applicable themes of guilt and redemption? Sure. Likable actors, faraway setting, adequate directing? Yes, yes, yes. And yet the end product feels manufactured, as safe as its kind of story can be. I expect that everyone’s mileage will vary on this one.
(On TV, August 2017) From the very first disorienting moments of Stay, what with its first-person sequences, a psychiatrist protagonist and hints of something stranger going on, it’s obvious that this is going to be a twisty thriller. Ewan MacGregor stars as a therapist trying to help a troubled young man not to commit suicide, but his probing only reveals more confusion. Meanwhile, Naomi Watts is troubled as his girlfriend and Ryan Gosling, back in his punchable-face pre-Notebook early career, is suitably abrasive as the suicidal student. As the movie goes on, it makes less and less sense and experienced viewers may choose to disembark from the emotional train at this point, suspecting that it’s headed for a crash. The resolution of the film would prove them right, as it conjures up a weak explanation for the film that nonetheless manages to make a mockery out of it, merely one step removed from “it was all a dream.” What a disappointment, coming from director Marc Foster (Stranger than Fiction, World War Z, etc.) and screenwriter David Benioff (Game of Thrones). But what saves the film from complete failure is Foster’s intense stylistic touch, infusing to the film a style that keeps it interesting even as we begin to suspect that it’s narratively hollow. I’d use “Lynchian” carefully, and not as a term of endearment. Small interesting segments do not amount to a satisfying whole, especially when it’s the film meta-narrative conceit that it’s a whole assembled out of fragments. I went into Stay completely cold (as in; unaware of its content) and can’t recommend the experience—like many movies who keep a self-conscious punch for the end, it may best be seen as warm as possible: Read the rather good Wikipedia plot summary first, and then see the film for yourself fully expecting the twist. Maybe it’ll be more satisfying like that.