Sunday, March 3, 2019

Movie Review: "Velvet Buzzsaw" (2019)

Director: Dan Gilroy
Year: 2019
Rating: TV-MA
Running Time: 1 hour, 53 minutes

A woman working in an art gallery finds numerous paintings in the apartment of an elderly neighbor who has just passed away. People seem to be drawn to this man's art, but it may have a curse upon it, one that will destroy all those who try and profit from it.

Velvet Buzzsaw 2019 Netflix Jake Gyllenhaal Zawe Ashton
"We don't sell durable goods, we peddle in perception thin as a bubble." (Image Source)
When people say "that's a killer painting," they usually don't mean it literally. "Velvet Buzzsaw" is written and directed by Dan Gilroy, who is known for directing films like "Nightcrawler" and "Roman J. Israel, Esq." The story revolves around the Los Angeles art world and focuses on an art dealer named Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), her assistant Josephina (Zawe Ashton), who hopes to find power in her employment, and an art critic named Morf Vandelwalt (Jake Gyllenhaal). One day before work, Josephina finds one of her neighbors dead in the hallway of her apartment complex. She hears that all his stuff is going to be destroyed and decides to take a look at his apartment. It turns out this man, whose name was Vetril Dease, was a secret painter who created hundreds of pieces of art that have a tormented look about them that speaks to people's souls. Josephina takes the paintings without asking and eventually comes to a deal with Rhodora to sell it. Meanwhile, after writing a stellar review of Ventril's portraits, Morf works on a book about the artist in exchange for a few of the pieces for himself. However, these aren't just ordinary paintings by a regular artist. They are ones that seek to destroy those who try to profit from them.
Velvet Buzzsaw 2019 Netflix Rene Russo
"What's the point of art if nobody sees it?" (Image Source)
We loved Dan Gilroy's first directorial effort "Nightcrawler," but his second film, "Roman J. Israel, Esq.," was a big disappointment and a bit of a shambled mess. We had high hopes for "Velvet Buzzsaw" because it would reunite Gilroy with both Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo (we had no idea they were married). Though "Velvet Buzzsaw" still falls short of his freshman directorial effort, we must admit, we enjoyed this bizarre movie. It's another film in the "high art horror" genre, which can be pretty damn divisive. While the story starts out as being very grounded in reality, the viewer must quickly accept that there are supernatural elements and cursed paintings, which may instantly put people off and cause the film to lose viewers. The entire first half of the film is spent establishing characters and their motivations without anything close to horrific happening. The story slowly builds, but it eventually mixes in creepy elements with an influx of blood and gore more steadily before going full-blown attempted robot murder. The other thing that may turn people away from "Velvet Buzzsaw" is its use of dark humor. At times, the actors deliver their lines in a way that made us laugh out loud because of the satire of it all, and whether people will understand it as such, we cannot say with 100% certainty. These tonal shifts may be jarring for some, but we think Gilroy handles them as well as he can to get his point across somewhat effectively. It doesn't hurt that he has the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal, Toni Collette, John Malkovich, and Rene Russo delivering his remarks with their excellent performances. There's a lot of sharp, cutting dialogue and ambition behind Gilroy's script, though perhaps he was a little too ambitious. This movie has a lot to say about art, the value of it, the critiquing of it, and who it exists for: the viewer or the artists themselves. This is all represented by a great visual aesthetic and it damn well better be because if someone's going to make a movie about art, it better be shot in an "artful" manner.
Velvet Buzzsaw 2019 Netflix Jake Gyllenhaal robot
"Just know demand has people ready to kill." (Image Source)
Our major complaint about "Velvet Buzzsaw" is that after having a slow burn for most of the film's runtime, the ending wraps up a little too quickly for our taste. The story could have been a little tighter, but we found enjoyment in it nonetheless. This is not a mass appeal kind of film. In fact, most people have disliked it, but we applaud Dan Gilroy for trying to bring an out-there perspective and commentary on an oft-discussed topic.

My Rating: 7.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: ~5.8/10
RT Rating: ~64%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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