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A Cossack's time to be very afraid in this Gothic, impressive feat of spooky folkloric horror
I don't know if Gogol in the original story for sure meant for this to be an excoriation of the Cossacks for what they did during his time, though I haven't read the original story and can't say for sure. What is clear is that this adaptation - made by film students apparently, which is to me the start of a great tradition of young filmmakers getting their start on something scary and gnarly as a first feature - manages to bring visuals that audiences associate with horror movies into this mythical-spiritual realm; this is a story where being in the same space with a dead witch in a church (at night only, of corse) will bring out the baddies of the night like a serious version of the Monster Mash, but it's less indebted to Universal Monsters (despite the cries for Vampires and werewolves) than folklore of the local kind.
This does take some time, after a sort of introduction in the first ten minutes to set up how this woman dies - who appeared to be an old hag but was actually the young adult daughter of a local man - to get going as we are introduced to the religious student Khoma, the 19th century version of a hapless young dude who gets in way over his head in so many contemporary horror movies (he even has the hair and beard of a hipster who's listened to a lot of Sublime and Phish, albeit still, yes, a Cossack as he tells us), who somehow was tapped by the young woman as the one who should read her prayers (she asked for him by name... somehow!) So Khoma (Leonid Kuravlyov) is given the task: read prayers to this dead woman (Natalya Varley) in the church for three consecutive nights and he will receive a thousand gold pieces... but can he make it out alive? Muahaha!
Once you get past the set up, which is about a half hour of this 77 minute movie, it does take off and then some: we know from the moment he is left alone with her in the church that s*** will hit the fan, and despite his special supernatural-protection circle, she wreaks havoc on his psyche like any good proud witch should do. And while Kuravlyov is splendid at playing a cowardly dumbass, Varley is one of the great cinema Witches of this or any time period in film. The one influence I might detect, in the filmmaking and for her performance, is Italian horror and some of the lighting and camera tricks and special effects evoke Bava (from what Ive read the same story also inspired Black Sunday, so there you go). But the filmmakers manage to create their own spooky and Gothic aesthetic that grips you, with only the roar of the rooster bringing us out of it... for a moment or two. They may have seen the movies, but they've listened to stories their elders probably told them, too.
As you may have also read, the finale does indeed rock and is like its own 5 star movie in about 7 or 8 minutes, for the ferocious take-no-prisoners intensity of these monsters and creatures coming out, including the title character (don't look into his or its eyes!) And more than anything I just admire the creativity the filmmakers have in devising the camera tricks and make up effects on what must have been paltry budget (at least compared to Hollywood or even Italian horror standards). I think the tone overall isn't totally consistent, as the musical score in particular early on seems more like it's meant for an adventure movie than for something that will later involve supernatural/undead/bat ghosts and goblins, and the supporting human characters mostly get by by having gnarly facial and head hair. But if you can look past that, what you come to see for fantastical spooky effects is masterful and impressive.
Rooty Toot Toot (1951)
a little musical-noir-animated masterpiece
John Hubley was an innovator and quite daring when it came to mixing and experimenting with forms and styles of animation. He worked for UPA for a long time, and here in this short film that is equal parts (Jazz) musical, raw film noir and courtroom saga, he manages to fit in with his team and whole mess of incredible background art; some of it very decidedly meant to be harsh in contrasts to the figures we are seeing, the world becoming distorted as it were as we are seeing varying perspectives on what happened to his man shot in his own home.
It's also kind of funny how a few of the characters look like templates for Mr Magoo, who would come out of UPA and that world of animators. But it doesn't detract from the staggering sense of playfulness and ambition here; like when you see something by the Brother's Quay, you know there are things that are so densely packed that you'll need another viewing or two to understand what everything means, or if not even that just how certain shapes and moments blend together.
This is sophisticated in hoe Hubley and his animators understand color and timing and how to have music drive the narrative without it overpowering what's on screen (a perfect marriage, which shouldn't be a thing but it is here), but it doesn't ever feel like it's above its audience like it should be in a museum. Rather this is precisely the kind of short that would get me in the mood to watch, oh I don't know, Sam Fuller's hardboiled pot-boilers, or the Asphalt Jungle.
A little masterpiece.
excellent cringe dark comedy with career high-point turns from Brown and Hall
An example of how you show who a character is in a seemingly minor (as in not directly plot related sense) but important moment is when, after that first day of filming is done for the documentary, Lee Curtis and Trinitie Childs are in the car going home at night and they're both quiet, nothing to say to one another and it seems tense. Lee Curtis puts on the radio and blasts a very uh Explicit rap song and he is rapping along to it. At first one sees Trinitie not saying anything and the thought is this is showing her as we might reasonably expect - she is along for the proverbial ride and she really can't stand this side of Lee Curtis (or rather who he is when the cameras aren't on)... but then she cuts in on the female verse of this track and raps right along with him. *Well*.
She knows what's up, in other words, and whatever is going to happen with this man driving the car, she is right along with him. And that means through *all* the BS.
This is a very funny, awkward, satirically successful and rich movie where the stylistic choice to do both Mockumentary and just regular-shot drama is OK but sometimes spotty; you can tell when because it'll cut to wide-screen and be shot with convential coverage, albeit there are a few especially keen close ups and, at one point, tracking/dolly shots to create some particular character dynamics (like with Lee Curtis and the sound guy at the basketball court, one of my favorite scenes for how this Minister turns on a... varied kind of oily charm for this guy).
One wonders if it could've worked a little better as a totally conventional-shot film or if it needed to go more all in on the Fly on the Wall approach. On the other hand, how would we get that one sex scene? But the strengths here aren't necessarily in directorial choices so much as it's all in the script, which is especially strong in providing us some extremely awkward and Cringe scenarios that do develop past feeling (potentially) like a one note joke of "Hahaa yes we are for the Lord ::Smile-Rip-Bleed::"
And it's also, most of all, a spectacular showcase for what Brown and Hall can do. I don't know if I've ever seen Brown deliver such a darkly comedic turn, and one laughs because he is playing it so sincerely - my God, when he starts to strip when doing the service for the small gathering, I was about to lose it - but Lee Childs is a, let's say wildly charitably, flawed human who has not so much a Trumpian dimension but like those who are around Trump's orbit. You'd want to feel sorry for this guy if he wasn't so relentlessly digging the hole for himself so fast he's gonna wind up in China.
And meanwhile, Hall has the even more complex part of the film to carry as the woman who didn't, unlike her husband, do anything exactly so scandalous as touching/molesting/who knows with young men. But she is, her predilections for capital S Stylish hats and all, married and committed to this man and she considers this church ultimately *her* church as much as his. By the time she's in that Mime make-up, I feel like she's giving one of those performances you'll read about for years (inasmuch as it will get overlooked, especially by awards branches). For acting students, you can't not see it. Oh, and by the by, Nicole Behaire is 2 for 2 for supporting performances in as many new releases in theaters right now (that also apparently premiered at Sundance)!
So, in brief, this is mostly excellent, gripping, stylistically bold American comedy in a time where theatrically we've been kind of starved for it, and it's more or less for Televangelists what Drop Dead Gorgeous was for beauty pageants.
a unique blend of rock-and-roll musical and Noh historical drama
As much as I could criticize this for having a fairly thin story, it's not every day you see a halfway-Noh halfway kickass Glam-Hard Rock infused historical-ish musical about a blind kid who becomes a guitar virtuoso and the singer (of the title) who performs the songs that bring in the local crowds while hiding the fact that he got cursed with a giant-long arm and face with three freakish eyes. I'm not familiar with Yuasa like some on here, so I can only take his work here on its own terms; my main takeaway is, I dig how approach to (mostly) tightly controlled lines while experimenting with what seems to be watercolors and CGI.
It maybe wasn't *quite* as weird as I was expecting, but the (excellent) trailer spoke to this being the Gonzo animation event of the year. If Inu-Oh not that, the film is nevertheless a unique, throbbing demon of a tale about... friendship, and connecting with a community that didn't know what it needed in their lives, with gorgeously rendered deranged character designs (aside from Inu oh, how about that set of psychedelic eyes that sets things in motion) and great songs.
Not Okay (2022)
Performances deliver, some decent pot shots at social media, and then that ending...
Not Okay features some magnetic and wholly impressive performances, with Zoey Deutch as the young lady snowballing her lie into a mountain and thus getting a real opportunity and taking it with every single fiber in her being with a lead role, and Mia Isaac as the young actual trauma survivor in a performance that will get her work for decades to come (the next Viola Davis? That kind of volcanic energy, screen presence and conviction on film and it's what her second movie christ), and I think the character work is what is best to me.
If Not Okay has an issue it's like the opposite problem of Nope was for me (not counting the visuals): unlike that film, this has largely decently developed people in the story, and its themes (on paper) regarding social media toxicity and it's shallow absorption powers (and the problems that do really happen to people) are solid. But parts of the story are clichéd and one can see from far off, I didn't like the "Bad Guy" hooded figure motif, and it's simply hard to buy completely that such an easily discoverable fabrication wouldn't be found out in just days if not even hours by like video footage or a little simple sleuthing (and like no one in France notices this story and/or the badly photo-shopped pictures? Merde!) And, frankly, there are even a few points where her BS is out of a sitcom, like this is how Elaine Benes lies about something on Seinfeld.
And then an immensely satisfying thing happens: the very end/"Finale" chapter, where our (anti) heroine goes to make personal amends to the young woman she so directly harmed, and she sits with a typed out apology in an audience and then the young Rowan takes the stage and says in one of the most fiery monologues/poetic forces of fire everything that "Not Okay" Lady should know. What makes it so involving is the performance, that she is as great as she was in her first speech, only now even more hurt, more turned up to 11 on the convictions about this whole f-up situation that are.... correct and right and that no one who tries to go on some apology tour can reckon with those they hurt. Not really. Not when it is at a level where it becomes intensely personal - trauma co-opted for clicks. Like that doesn't happen so much....
This movie has its issues, but that final scene nails a *lot* for me about what's so screwed up about the world right now, and how self reflection is not sought, or if it is it's something that's still, when all is said and dont, more about making the perpetrator feel okay. Maybe I'm not sorted with all my thoughts on that final scene. Maybe it all comes down to Narscissim - somewhere I can see damn Loki from Marvel going "yeah, my Odin, and I thought I was bad," - and that the only way to make things right is to... go away. Stop.
I can't say Not Okay gets everything right, and matter of fact in its attempt to kind of squish (journalistic integrity torn asunder) Shatteted Glass with (with a less Goes West, with a sliver of the whole Parkland Survivor Turned Figurehead Conflicts, is totally successful. Yet sometimes two (or Okay three for O'Brien he's great fun) committed actors and enough ideas that really fly high and strong make it worth your time to scroll.
I mean, social media takes, who needs em? ::stares at the camera nervously twitching and runs away for Ben & Jerrys::
Il postino (1994)
Charming little film about what learning something can do to us
Il Postino is sweet little movie about an actual nice, intelligent but soft-spoken soul who, because we are in the movies, gets to meet a legendary modern poet living in temporary exile and understands why poetry (and that key word Metaphor, which flies over the heads of other locals) is the key to someone's soul. It's definitely a light-weight affair that doesn't have a typical sort of antagonist-conflict going on, albeit there's some political intrigue over Communists and the time period being one where a figure like Neruda, an out and out one, faced real pressures and one minute could go back to Chilie and the next not.
I didn't find the political material so compelling, in fact I kind of tuned out from all of that. What was charming about the movie is Troisi, who was ill during the making of this and somehow one can tell his passion for the material despite how low key his character seems (Ebert thought Mario and his dad character were supposed to be a word I don't need to reprint here, and then realized he was normal but didn't have anything to talk about, which is kind of funny). It's also how he interacts with Noiriet, who is delightful in the role. The female actress Cucinotta is just Okay, but at least there the writers make a character that isn't simply a foil for the lead male but does have her own thoughts and desires. We see how the poetry opens her up like it does with Mario.
Full disclosure, I'm not entirely sure I would have sought this film out, at least not at this time in my life, if not for my current obsession with trying to see as many films as possible that were once on the IMDb top 250 (I'm a weirdo film Mogwai that way). I am glad I saw Il Postino as it has a good message about the power of teaching and education on a practical level - if you learn something new even as an adult it can shape your worldview and critical thinking skills more than you can imagine - and if it is a bit lightweight dramatically (it's nominations at the Oscar's is kind of silly), it has a soul and a pulse and that moment in the latter part of the film where Mario goes into that room and looks in the cottage at all the stuff there is remarkable.
Oncle Yanco (1967)
This was an immensely charming short, like given a desert - maybe of Greek origin, who's to say - that is hardy but can melt in your mouth so easily. This Uncle Yanco, who looks like a more cheerful late era David Crosby, is someone who I'd like to think my mother needs to watch this, aside from its light tone she (and many others) would take a liking to because he has mapped put and can trace his lineage and we see a family tree. I'm always fascinated by that stuff too, where people date back to or how far we can look at someone, and in this case Varda was really "Vardas" going back to the 12 century and... well, I don't want to spoil more of the fun, right?
This is fluff, but it's made with a love and sincerity for the subject that can't be separated from how Agnes is playing with the form, down to including outtakes of a moment that she is recreating with her subject of when the two met (naturally no camera at that time, so what else is a filmmaker of her stamina going to do but recreate it). We see how it's paramount for him to sail on his boat (no motor); we see his paper creations of small works of art dealing with hid Orthodox religion; and his philosophies with a literal door opening and closing for his thoughts, like he's some side character on Sesame Street (early era I might add).
I wish I had an Uncle like Yanco, so deadpan against the Establishment (they smell so bad), so happy to be where he is in life with his family and on that house boat. Don't we all wish we had someone like this in our lives? Cinema can give us these windows into reality.
Peau d'âne (1970)
Demy makes you believe what you're seeing is... there! L'Amour!
Yeah, this is... whoa. This is strange, surreal, magical, delightful, what is what with that parrot and that talking rose, she even sings about baking a cake, and the Colors! And talk about the *perfect* first Blu-ray to watch on my new 4K OLED TV (I've watched other things on it but only DVDs and streaming). One little critique: the music/songs are hit or miss. Sometimes it's lovely, but other times it just comes in when it doesn't add much (the Cake song and the song from the Godmother about not doing daddy/daughter incest the major exceptions).
What's important to know with Donkey Skin, Jacques Demy's immersive and ebullient musical fairy-tale come to life, is that it is completely sincere about what it is. I think even a little bit winking or self-consciousness could make this fall apart, like what we might get today where the filmmakers or actors would be tempted to say "hey, look, we're in a Fairy Tale, ain't that fresh!" But Demy doesn't kid us, even when he is throwing us some real curve-balls with his and the costume designer opulence and production designer's curve balls. Actually that's the key word is opulence; even if one hasn't read the fairy tale, and I'm guessing most of you haven't either, you can believe that at least 90% of this came from the source (the helicopter... yeah, probably not), and Demy makes you want to believe in this world of Kings and Fairies and talking flowers and a Donkey Skin that can magically fall on or off through the magic of Reverse-film speed.
In fact, taking the cue from Cocteau as many have pointed out (Jean Marais from those wonderful films appearing here as the determined but not mean-spirited King just wanting to marry his daughter I mean what's wrong with that after all oy), this is a movie intoxicated with the power of cinema, of the tools at someone's disposal. It's actually kind of enlightening to see what a filmmaker could do at this time, using simple tricks and ideas like dissolves and cross-fades to change someone from one costume to another, or those opticals and things to get like for example a shadow of the Prince out of his bed to meet the shadow of the gorgeous Catherine Deneuve to go sing a song about going to the snack bar and having cakes. Demy is like Orson Welles ala Citizen Kane, using the proverbial electric train set at his disposal to create the so called magic that some filmmakers take for granted (or at this time in the end of the 60s/early 70s was being eschewed for Naturalism, which is also understandable).
The actors also all commit to the bit so to speak, and Michel Legrand's score is something else to behold, like with Cherbourg it's a score that lifts up the environment. Though there it was a bit more of an ironic or even satirical comment, while here it is just... a part of the whole scenario. There may be one or two many songs, even as some are just right for the happy mood that Demy is after. That's the thing about this movie in general, it's just so pleasant and joyful to take in, like even when there should be conflict about this daughter running away from her determined King Daddy, it doesn't feel very threatening or dark. That may be the one aspect missing from this to be a more complete fairy tale, but on the other hand maybe that could be appealing for, say, some parents who may find Disney cartoons too dark for their children.
This is all of a piece with Demy in general: the tone is light as a feather, and everything on screen, from those red-painted horses to the gigantic overflowing dresses to the one woman who spits frogs (yes you read that right) is tactile and tangible. I don't know if I love it all as much as his very best, but it's irresistible when you're watching it and images will stay with me for a while.
Varda par Agnès (2019)
"Art should surprise us"
Inspiration. Creation. Sharing. I also really, really want to visit (or live?) in one of those Film Shacks, where it's an art installation/structure where everything is lined with reels of film.
The final film by Agnes Varda is her second self-portrait (or is it even third or fifth or we have all lost count I suppose), but then she herself would have (mildly but still forcefully in her way) disputed this simply by the fact that she was so much more interested and captivated by other people and places than herself. She might have even been in the middle of shooting a self portrait like the masterpiece The Beaches of Agnes (that may be my favorite film of hers, up to this poont), and then she'll discover someone in her journey that she wants to make a documentary on instead, like the man with the little toy trains.
The "Beaches" may be a little stronger and more unique than this, which is more or less like a presentation ala Beastie Boys Story or DePalma where we are getting the Full Career Retrospective Extravaganza, but it isn't all Varda sitting down with a sideshow as she is talking to us in other places and the total strength and wonder of this is just how she accomplished so much while (mostly) keeping her ambitions somewhat modest and always about the personal and inter-personal.
She wasn't off making like grand epic films in a desert or out at sea, but there are certainly times when watching how she created some of these films and works of art that she was forging uncharted terrain of expression, whether it was depicting "happiness" ala Le Bonheur, a resentment at life like in Vagabond, or discovering the wonders of potatoes in the Gleaners and I films.
The structure of her life and work is what is so striking to me, how she begins with Uncle Yanco, her short documentary on her uncle she discovered when visiting the west coast in the late 1960s, ends with her and the artist JR on a beach being metaphorically but also it would seen literally away, and in between the flow from one subject to the next, each film to the next, is natural and emotionally congruent.
I even found myself becoming emotional near the end at the (as she would say again) inspitation of that move with the crane and then the helicopter going up to see the flower in the tree and how high it goes. Or, through so much of her travels and encounters, how despite all of her success how humbled and curious she was, and how much pleasure it gave her to share it with audiences, of other people and our relationship to mediums, to screens, and of course to cats and Beaches.
There won't be another like her, and I'm not sure there even should be. But her life and work is an example for others aspiring and long in it of perseverance and adaptability, of how those factors of Inspiration, Creativity and Sharing are such strong components for an artist when yielded properly, of finding some peace even in grief (the part about her being a widow, which I kind of took for granted, and how she transformed even that into art with other widows is astounding), and the joy of getting Robert De Niro to fall off a boat (ok it was his double but still).
La Pointe-Courte (1955)
Impressive debut, with great docu-fictional filmmaking and an OK love story
La Pointe-Courte was the first feature written, edited (in part, with Resnais) and directed by Agnes Varda, but she came previously from still photography, and her clarity, empathy and specificity with a place and it's many details, from the rocks of the shore to how the water shimmers to the plethora of cats (and of course someone even comments on that), is evident right away. At time of writing this, I don't know the full backstory of how she came to become close and immerse herself with the people in this seaside town or village or whatever you call it, but they clearly are open to her and welcoming for her to see and show us all how they fish and talk among themselves and discuss matters important to them- such as outsiders coming in to tell them what to do. And sometimes we get to look close at a detail like how small snakes and crabs go into a bucket.
I don't think Varda would use this term, but like La Terra Trema or Stromboli, it's a depiction of a time and place, in crisp black and white 35mm film, that is authentic and unvarnished and a bit neo-realist-y. She also places a love story at the center which is coming apart at the seams, and in case it isn't clear the man and the woman walk and talk for minutes on end and speak on their hopelessness for their relationship (or more the woman than the man, he would like for it to work and she sees nothing productive ahead).
This is shot at points like a director figuring out what a style will be, and there are a few times shots are styled to be reflective of the characters abstract feelings, perhaps to each other. When the woman talks to her man, who will soon be her ex, she does that thing Bergman would do a decade later where her face is split down the middle by the man looking the other way (so like him one way her another but not at each other), and he does so too. Or with the two of them carrying on their conversation facing the camera in different places shot to shot. This latter part works well, in a poetic-detached sort of way. The other proto Bergman ones, maybe not so much.
Like watching Kubrick with Killer's Kiss or Fear and Desire, the fascination is getting a look at the Start of it all from a talent with a sharp, dramatically alive set of eyes, and in here where the sensibility of Varda was as someone who, in her case and in what I find very inspiring in the opposite way of like a Scorsese or his ilk, wasn't inspired or taking in homage from other films. From what I've read, she wasn't a Film Buff like the other Nouvelle Vague who would come up after and with her, and was just inspired more by what she was interested in: working class people who work hard and live hard and are noble, the delicacy in the poetry of movement, and cats. If this film is a little less than great or just compared to her other films it's that the strengths lie in the more documentary aspects. The (falling apart) love story is sincere but less convincing, maybe because the actors are mostly the same morose-detached tone for the entire time.
La Pointe-Courte is a very impressive debut, and for what it may be lacking in satisfying relationship scenes it more than makes up for with everything, all the local people and their minor joys and sadness and world weariness around the central characters. In other words, half of it is captivating because of the people Varda has found and made into movie stars, and the other half that is more like a "Film" is a bit more pretentious.
Le bonheur (1965)
the commitment dilemma (or maybe not so much?) - brilliant realism from Varda
Happiness is something in life that so many people seek and can't fully get, or maybe happiness comes in smaller doses than for others. What is happiness other than the feeling of being fulfilled and being around people that make one feel good?
In Le Bonheur, which is what the title translates to, Agnes Varda presents a story where the characters are actually content with what's happening - provided, of course, that the status quo not simply is kept, and in this case here a handsome married man Francois (Jean-Claude Drouot, later a professional but then a first-time film actor) happy with his beautiful wife Therese (Claire Drouot, I assume his real life wife, and also the kids are their kids, I'll get back to that momentarily), and then his mistress, a post office worker Emilie (also the beautiful Marie-France Boyer, gosh French people in the 60's looked good) - but things underneath the surface could combust at any moment. I don't mean to say this is a film with a lot of tension, at least not until it gets to a certain point in the last twenty minutes.
But, and maybe this is only my reading on it, the point of view here is male, and for as gentle or simple as Francois appears, it's his happiness over others (or Therese's at least) that matters. Oh, for sure, he is happy that he is with his wife and that she is happy and that the kids are happy. And wouldn't it be so nice, the idea may occur to some of us (or, really, not a lot of us), that a man could carry on being so happy with two women and that the *wife* as well as the other woman would be ok with how happy and status-quo everything is. What's so fascinating to me is that there is always underneath this sense that things could collapse all so easily, that the backdrop itself which is so sunny and covered with flowers, including that opening image of the sunflower itself, is idyllic and yet, it's....
I think a little analogy here is in order; I teach driving sometimes, and one of the things that I tell students is that there is a difference between a right and a privilege, so for example a right is something that is guaranteed (or, should be, but that's another point for another time), while a privilege is not something immediately granted to you, like you have to take a test to get your learner's permit much less on how to drive. If you have that privilege, there also (cue Uncle Ben) come great responsibilities with that power to use and drive and maintain a vehicle. Being happy in a relationship, or relationships plural, seems to be as a privilege, but some people think it's their right to be happy not only with everyone, but for them to be happy with the way things are. And I don't even mean to invoke the old White Male Privilege point here, but.... maybe I kind of do.
Would the situation, for Francois, be okay if the situation reversed? Like if his dear adorable wife Therese met someone else one day and carried on an affair and felt a certain, and as Francois points out when asked by his new "Happy Place" Emilie a different, happiness, would he be alright in that happiness, in that person, being shared with someone else? It seems like it should be too easy to say this film has a Feminist perspective because Varda is using certain documentary techniques, or rather in the casting of it being largely real people and a real couple with their real (as in non-professional actor) kids, and that there are others who Francois interacts with (like in the climactic point I won't mention here where Therese goes away from him). But there is a critique underlying this, if in a certain gentle way, of how horrific this situation becomes through Francois's self-centered actions.
I mention the documentary technique, but that's not entirely correct either. What is so striking and engaging and impressive about Le Bonheur is how much the use of color is so bright and precise, the music (much by Mozart) makes for pleasant, sunny locations and even in bedrooms it feels like the sun is shining just right so, and the editing is meant to emphasize a person's point of view. When Francois sits down with Emilie for example at an outdoor restaurant, notice how directly we are meant to be seeing other people around the characters from one of their points of perspective. This is how it is for most if not all people when in such a place, we aren't looking solely at one person, it's the entire environment that makes an impression; this also happens when Francois first comes to Emilie's apartment and how all of those little details in her place add up. This has some of the most specific and, with some hard cuts, direct/impactful editing choices I've seen in a Nouvelle vague film.
As for these performers, they are quite sensational at being natural, and emphasizing how much this happiness is deeply felt and expressed, even as it seems so tenuous; Drouot's Francois is a lot of smiles here and kind eyes, but again it's all on if he's getting this dose of happiness all the time - from both women in his life, and his kids. Drouot really pulls off a character who is remarkable to watch mostly because of how unremarkable he comes off, like he's your "Average" white male dude who can get the girl on the side because, well, what else will Emilie do with her time, and she's happy that she's happy, and the wife.... well, that's another story. But both actresses also are completely natural in this setting and under Varda's direction what is so good is how they are so at ease for much of the time, even with this very real conflict hanging over what's going on. She observes and what I assume gently guides without forcing anything.
If I had a small nit to pick (not enough to lower the rating, more of an observation), it might have been even more compelling if (minor spoiler) Francois' revelation to Therese about what's been going on happened a little earlier, like even five or ten minutes in the film, so that what happens in the aftermath could have some more time to develop as what comes next is even more shattering - mostly for what it says about how not only tenuous a woman's happiness is for a man but how easily it can be replaced. But what develops here is this very fine mixture, like a gorgeous stew that is extremely bright and chipper on the surface, like oh look how cute those kids are with that Dad (on Father's Day no less) and the mom... and it could all fall apart so very simply and swiftly. All because of the privilege of commitment, which men have taken for granted for (checks notes) since commitment began.
Brian and Charles (2022)
Picture if Bill Fotsyth adapted an unreleased Asimov story
Brian and Charles, despite the science fiction vibe that would seem evident from it's premise, is really a wholly gentle semi-fantasy (with a very loose documentary framing that comes and goes as it pleases) about what ups downs come to becoming a parent.
The analogy is up front and obvious, right down to Charles creating child-like drawings of his slightly eccentric creator Brian and his cabbages, and then into his, ahem, "teenage" years where he locks himself in his room to mope and listen to loud heavy metal when Brian won't let him outside. It's also about how sometimes you just can't let the bullies of the world push you around anymore and using one's imagination is the only salvation.
That makes it sound potentially heavier than this all is, when in reality Jim Asher in his debut has crafted a light comedy that could be appealing to families (or ones that aren't averse to Welsh accents and dreary rural backdrops), and it's often quite funny, mostly early on as we get to learn who Brian is and how he's just constantly inventing and creating this and that (the town bully's daughters want Brian to make them the same Pine-Cone tote bag he's made, because who wouldn't want one I guess), but also how deadpan Charles is when making his demands to go see this or that or create his Hawaiian costume to go off to Honolulu.
Again, nothing about how this unfolds matters much for the seeming sci-fi trappings, and that's actually fine: I'd prefer if it's going to be about the characters and how they grow and bond with each other for that to be genuine, and Brian and Charles is certainly that. I mentioned the docu-style set up, and why exactly this crew is following this man in this environment is hard to figure, and that plus the filmmakers using it or not using it depending on what the scene entails makes things a bit shaggy and inconsistent stylistically (ie how there are good two-camera set ups often enough to not miss anything, or when things are leading to the climactic showdown between Brian and Eddy). And if you think more deeply about other implications, like what Eddy and his bully family want to do with Charles, it could be questionable.
But if you're just watching for this little idiosyncratic world, it's a sweet story that brings you along that is anchored especially by the appealing performances of David Earl (with those perpetually kind eyes and perfectly but pleasantly shlubby countenance) and Chris Hayward (coming for Anthony Daniels crown for best uptight british android voice), who also wrote the piece. It's the movie equivalent of a nice slice of pie, and sometimes that's all I want.
Montana Story (2021)
Wonderful little American drama that is a rarer breed in theaters
The first criticism, or just observstion, I could see leveled at Montana Story is that it's too slowly paced or that the directors (who made the sleeper The Deep End 20 years back, among a few other things) keep the characters holding back from saying what we expect them to maybe say - or hope they won't say - to rach other. But it may be simply that (most) American audiences don't always flow with dramas that have the confidence to take the time to lay out who everyone is, that there's sorrow and more with a little scratch off the card, and then when the time is right for the people, this brother and sister specifically played by Owen Teague and Hailey Lu Richardson, to lay out what's been eating them away for so long. And of course when dealing with bottled up guilt and pain and suffering, that can be a lot to handle.
The backdrop of mountain-y, sometimes barren and vast landscapes may also play into people thinking that it's a little too, let's atop using slow and just say "deliberately paced," but that's not even the case I think either. This isnt Bela Tarr we're dealing with, so maybe that will turn off those few who think this isnt Slow enough. This feels paced just so for this kind of particular drama, which doesn't come with any particular gimmick nor any operatic grandeur; maybe it lacks some sense of humor, on the other hand it could be hard to see where it would fit given the dynamics between brother, sister, the immigrant nurse and a couple of other supporting characters. It is familiar and not something especially new, there have been and I'm sure there will be again dramas about family coming together against their better judgment to a crisis point that unearths the skeletons.
Execution really is all and this is executed with care and attention to character motivations and depth. There are definitely types here and there, mostly that A. C. is the kindly Nairobi-African immigrant nurse who is caring for this dying husk of a human being and while it could've been more clichéd it is still there enough that it is a type. Luckily he's there just enough that the focus is more on Teague and Richardson. There's something else that I can't call exactly a complaint but it is something to observe which is at least for him the brother character gets a full monologue to explain the Incident that drove the family apart (not that from the sound of it it was the only time the dad was abusive, but the harshest time it seems), and I almost wanted to find the script online to save the monologue to give for future actors I know who would kill to use it in an acting class or audition.
So, that may sound again like a put down, as if the filmmakers make how they tall too obvious. It is very much a BIG dramatic monologue, given by a son to another character over a dad in a coma. But it actually is very affecting and several scenes once it gets into the final act pay off what's been building and boiling over between these two. At first, I thought Richardson was giving the stronger performance of the two, more for what she often isnt saying than is, but Teague as Cal surprised me in a performance that gets better and more pained as it goes on, though it never becomes so affected. These are two real people and the actors fill these roles totally believably.
In short, it's the kind of natural, melancholic but thoughtful piece of dramatic fiction filmmaking I'm a little surprised to see in a multiplex right next to Maverick booming occasionally against the walls. It's not great, but it's very good at being what it is.
Zire darakhatan zeyton (1994)
Engaging as an experiment but as for love, I'm not so sure
My first question is... did Abbas Kiarostami cast Keshavaraz because he looks like the spitting image of Francis Ford Coppola in the 1990s at the time? Maybe coincidence, but I can't not see it now.
This is an interesting film that I wish I could connect to more; on the blu ray there's an interview between an Iranian film professor (actually he taught at my old school WPU but that's neither here nor there) and Godfrey Cheshire where they tall about all three films and with this one they mention Olive Trees got criticized for how Kiarostami is showing this one scene - really it's a few different shots and parts of the same scene (one that is supposed to be a part of And Life Goes On even though it's technically not in that film at all, part of the "Lies to get at the Truth" method the director had) - but that's not where I'd be so critical.
I find the multiple takes aspect involving on a pure experimental level as far as how a director who I suspect Kiarostami wrote and cast with Keshavaraz to be very unlike him - the Economist from "Life" seems more to what I imagine Kiarostami was like as far as someone who would let a scene go on and improvise - as he is very taciturn and very much into this being how the scene should be shot and performed. There's also the layers Kiarostami is playing with as far as a scene being shot for a film, that scene being one for a film that's within another film, and then a story developing between two characters, two people who were (as in the other Koker movies) non professional actors and people who survived the Earthquake as Hossein is talking at Tahereh the woman in the scene. It's this third part that I am more critical of than anything.
I get that this comes out of the dialog Hossein has with the Not-Coppola about how rich and rich shouldn't marry nor illiterate and illiterate and instead those who can read and those who can't should get together. But for me, and clearly I'm in the minority on this as the film is now much beloved, I don't see something all that compelling or just satisfying about this "I want you you must be with me marry me etc" tract the Hossein character is on. He's smitten, but it's clear she's (as the saying goes) just not that into the dude.
Tahereh, who we dont get to know anywhere near as much as Hossein by the way, never engages him in conversation and doesn't even look at him in those downtime moments between takes and then as she walks home post filming later on. I'd stop short of calling it creepy, but it certainly isn't "romantic" either. And, perhaps Kiarostami knows this, Hossein isn't that uh affable or charming, so it's all just a long line of talk at her more than with her.
This may all be fine for most audiences, or those who can meet this part of the film more than halfway, but I struggled with it. And this is apart from if it's not as powerful or impactful as the other Koker films - though, frankly, this isn't the best of them, and I may just prefer the relative simplicity of Friend's House more. But as a sort of poetic expression, not least of which displayed with a profound sense of cinematic feeling with that final shot of the two figures going through the trees and up the hill (the little slice of hope for our stalwart survivor), I think I wanted to get more wrapped up in Hossein's wants and needs and I just couldn't, whether it be because he's (naturally) somewhat limited as a performer and that... I'm watching this thinking "man, she's not playing hard to get, she just wants to be left alone, like get the net."
So, this has plenty of good ideas, even on the meta-textual level(s) the filmmaker is playing with. But was I moved? Not really, and I don't think that's a fault with me using my poetic super energy to fly into the celluloid, rather that there's a remove personally from the relationship at the center. For me.
Top Gun: Maverick (2022)
A great quality beefy fast food burger of a blockbuster, even if it's still a burger
To convey what I think of Top Gun: Maverick properly, I'll make an analogy that will take a moment. I'm not sure if anyone has heard of the Mythical Kitchen, which is an off-shoot of the YouTube series Good Mythical Morning with Rhett and Link, but Josh from the Mythical Kitchen is quite the craftsperson when it comes to making the most gourmet fast food you've never thought about. Some examples include a "$249 Wagyu Beef Panda Roll from Panda Express" or "569 Wetzel Pretzel Taste Test" or the most recent video, "Josh Makes a Six Foot Taco." Josh can take a ton of ingredients, some I've never heard of and don't know what I would do with, and makes something that is absolutely spectacular looking and, of course, quite expensive - but the idea is that it's much, much more tasty and less like the school cafeteria taste you might get from your garden variety Burger King or KFC or what have you. This is all to say Top Gun: Maverick is a Josh Mythical Kitchen special where you can tell this has been made with intense, high-quality care.... does it transcend being fast food? Your mileage and/or colon may vary.
First off, let's get the good things (sometimes even better than good) into this review meal (ill stop with the food analogy I swear, maybe): Tom Cruise is still a charismatic five foot seven icon for this kind of movie, where he brings much more swagger but also a lot more natural vulnerability, pathos and (maybe reading closer into it) a bit of world weariness underneath all of those decades of movie star "I'll Go FURTHER than you... and then another step MORE" chutzpah. So, if you want to see the movie for him more than any other reason, as I did, you'll get your money's worth.
I also think he has much stronger chemistry with Jennifer Connelly- or maybe it's a better written character she gets to play, or a combo of the two- so their scenes on the whole are pleasing. And my goodness is the one scene he has with Val Kilmer one that can... well, the Berlin song isn't here this time (shock of shocks, the tiniest bit of restraint not with that song). It's certainly because the actor had his own cancer bout and so that had to be worked in to Ice, but their scene is loaded with so much dramatic energy, like you can tell how far the actors have come as stars but also as just people that it informs their scene and tops anything by a metric ton anything in the first movie for honest emotional weight.
As for the new actors, they're mostly... swell. I don't know if I have a stronger word for it (ok, I like Bob and that he's just Bob and nothing more, good on you for not succumbing to a lazy nickname), buy they all fit their types - with H*ngm*n (hey, he scratched out the letters first) this movie's cocky Iceman and Rooster, Miles Teller's Son of the late Goose (is that a saying I dunno), is not.. quite Maverick or Goose, which is good, though he is saddled with the thing that we have seen in many other movies of this ilk of the son trying to live up to a father's legacy, or in this case what the best friend and confidant meant in that scenario. This isn't anywhere near the depth between Cruise and Teller that we saw in, say, Creed, but there's also not as strong or solid of a legacy to have from there anyway. Let's be honest, the death of Goose wasn't some giant mythological nexus point, it was one of those beats in a predictable action movie.
Ok, I still got a little more positive, or a lot depending on your point of view, in comparison at least to 86 Top Gun; both the central plot is executed and carried out with a clearer precision (though ill get back to something that bugs me about a detail with it in a moment), as the stakes are set up from early on and the pilots are working on just that one mission, as opposed to the prior movie with it being almost more like a hang-out flick (with all those towels.. ); and the action and flying set pieces themselves are far, far more engaging and exciting, in no small part because of how film and camera tech now make it so we have a quasi verisimilitude with these actors in the planes and whether they're doing piloting or not (I suspect Cruise did because he's so bonkers, but did Bob? Shrug).
And the climax of the picture is bombastic and with at least a couple of turns that I should've seen coming, if nothing else from my umpteenth viewing of Star Wars (does that make it a mild spoilers? Hell, this movie IS like a New Hope again... is it a better New Hope than Force Awakens? I'll have to sleep on that).
But talking about stakes brings some issues to the table; even a gigantic hundred or several more million dollar popcorn vehicle for Cruise and company should have some politics besides 'America, good - Them, bad,' but this doesn't have that. Maybe the first movie didn't either, but that at least had the cover of the usual typical BS Reagan d-swinging Cold War poltiic where the US navy pilots could clearly be seen as engaging those kinds of targets even if not spoken. But here, we are told that "the enemy" is about to do a thing that will make them capable of enriching uranium. Hmm where have we heard that before in recent news? But there's no mention of any foreign adversary, like Iran or North Korea or even like Borneo or some crap. It's just... *them* and it makes it purposely vague.
Maybe that will be good for audiences who don't want tricky or thorny politics into the mix, albeit its hard for me not to ponder about the times in recent years America has come so close to getting some (ie Iran) to draw back on Uranium/nuclear weapons only to be thwarted by Agent Orange and so on. I do get it to an extent, like it's hard to sell and get so many millions all over the world to watch your movie if you're pointing someone as a villain. But the vagary points to something that bugs me about the movie, which is despite all of its entertaining masculine piss and vinegar and how much one can get caught up in a sleekly shot, near perfectly edited action sequence, it's all kind of safe and impersonal deep down.
Is there more to it than "these Pilots Good, and as for you in the Snowy Mountains with your Enemy Pilots... shrug"? Or what about the personality that could be put in by a director with a little more visual panache than what's required? It's a strange note to end here, but the one thing watching the two Gunss in as many evenings is that Tony Scott really did bring a strong, smoky, Painterly-but-super-commercially attention to lighting and compositions and, as dopey and silly as it all is, a kind of rampant hormone-driven miasma to 86 Top Gun (is it gay? Sure, and that makes it *fascinating* in a bizarre way). I can't tell you a shot that tells me Kosinski stands out from several others, which is a shame as he is definitely talented, and this is better than a number of other films he's made, but...
I'll close here (frankly my Kitchen metaphors made me hungry). Top Gun Maverick, for all of its bravura and, at points, heavily winking nostalgia (like the annoying thing we get now where scenes and moments replay here, with little *twists) is a $406 Whopper with extra high-grade royalty cheese, or like a $300 bag of Doritos. I love a good bag of Doritos and I can dig a Whopper. Will I feel it later? Well.... my wing name is Colon, after all.
(PS: I kind of get, even though it sucks, writing off the female leads of the last movie, as Kelly McGillis was uh too tall I guess next to Cruise and Meg Ryan whatever happened to her... no Tom Skerritt? He could've popped in here, no)
They All Laughed (1981)
A unique blend of Scewball and hang-out movie
Hmm, maybe Peppermint Patty had a point calling Charlie Brown "Chuck" so much - she knew if she kept calling him "Charles" she'd have to compete with the five dozen times Collen Camp's Christy calls Charles... Charles here. But on the other hand, every time she calls him Charles in that arch Screwball-Dame voice I have a dumb grin.
I guess this is all to say first and foremost that I came in to They All Laughed expecting some charming, loose Screwball-ish Detective-Following-Watching-the-Detectives fun from John Ritter and to an extent Ben Gazzarra in his more low-key naturalistic Cassavetes group style and Hepburn in her more lovely/graceful style, and was pleasantly amazed how formidable Vamp is here as a comic force. She's like Madeline Khan in What's Up Doc but given a little more room to be a playful presence (where's her finger?) and she manages to deliver all of that clipped dialog perfectly while being more attractive than almost anyone here - and these are all beautiful people (yes including Arthur).
It's nice when a filmmaker can give that to an audience, but it's also Stratten obviously who is a small revelation here (all the more sad that she was killed before this came out), though a small grace is that we can watch the film today - or I can anyway - without all of that baggage. It also strikes me as like something out of when Woody Allen has cast an actor to be his doppelganger to have John Ritter as clearly a Bogdanovich stand-in - I believe he was going to do the role himself but realized he was too old, plus he had to know how directing this much Heart of Manhattan location stuff would need his undivided attention on a low budget - and I can't not see his character probably being a stand in to some extent as well.
What I may be trying to say here is They All Laughed is a constantly likable movie about infatuation to a large extent, how clumsy and foolish it can make us appear when we are a few feet back looking on at those following others, and (for Gazarra) how when one is older what a gentle touch can bring even as the man is kind of (or is) a dog. And, it's a very entertaining picture, even as it may be more about the joy of putting all these people in these places and watching a bit of awkwardness spiral into some chaos than about anything very substantive, but maybe thats enough that it's very good if not a mind-blowing delight.
Also, how there can be the simply joy of two people having a connection with one using a hand puppet to communicate here and there, as one does (ironic that Gazarra and Hepburn were breaking up BTS, here you'd think they were magnet and steel for years), or the sort of odd-quirky humor in just staying for a minute on the guy who runs the Detective agency rocking back and forth doing some kind of aerobics in the office with Gazarra just watching and talking. I do think the Gazzara/Hepburn story wasn't quite as involving for me as the Ritter/Stratten/Camp material, but maybe it's more like it feels out of another movie (absolutely not a bad one! A very good one, just... another one, one with more melancholy)
There's even touches of genius here from Boganovich as a director and stager of set pieces; when Ritter's Charles has to get on roller skates at the rink early on to keep an eye/follow Stratten with Benny Goodman blaring in the background to perfect accompaniment while Arthur tries to talk to him and Charles stumbles around like a goober... this is what cinema can be in a pure, Coca-Cola sugary-satisfying kind of way. There's another moment like this with a simple offer of a stick of gum. The other touch of genius is that Bogdanovich understands the (younger) men in this movie are knuckleheads and that the women, for all of their quirks, are more empowered and smarter and can easily lose their tail in NY traffic. But the real wonderful love story here is the director and Robby Mueller on camera with the city itself, as there's this hard energy that is always there in every street and location, or how the street is scene in the background of places like the agency, or the interiors of the bookstore and toystore carrying their own weight.
Last but not least, the clever thing about this production is that it appears at first sight to have a plot, or even a couple, but it's in its way more of a Hang-Out movie, like we do know there are stakes for Ritter and Gazzara et al to follow these women, and reasons for them to if not lose them then just connect as human beings. But these connections make for a (pleasantly) lose narrative. You don't get too many movies like this anymore - maybe in 1981 there weren't, either. It's not a masterpiece but it is unique and that's enough. 8.5/10.
Written on the Wind (1956)
wild is the wind...
One scene to start.... It's hard to overstate how much Freudian and other Psychological ideas are in that pivotal point where Kyle is told that he has a "weakness" involved with his you-know-what by a doctor, from Stack's acting to the image Sirk makes us see, like a secret weapon deployed to make the blow harder, of the little boy on the mechanical toy horse outside the shop. There's gotta be an entire Slavoj Zizek book about that one scene, yes?
Or maybe he'd slobber with his hands more about how mirrors are implemented, or that one scene where Dorothy Molone's Marylee looks on at the pond and all of those voices from childhood flood back and she goes through a half dozen faces in thirty seconds. But moreover, that moment with Stack's Kyle, of how his entire sense of self propped up by a completely toxic male world, is a prime example of the tone here- that is not without some sense of reality, but is also going up into the stratosphere of emotional range - or as someone says here, "Cloud Seven" whatever that means.
I've read about the subtext (or was it more than that, yeah probably) of Stack's Kyle having homosexual feelings for Rock Hudson's Mitch (I'm sure there's probably another reading, in probably a few scholarly articles no less, about Hudson being closeted as well, but anyway) and i can see some of that there. But from my perspective that's not as interesting (at least on s first viewing) as what the film has most of its raw power around as a torrid, satirical and not even over the top so much as redefining tops in general look at how men and women get defined by what is expected in a world run by men, where the Hadleys run things, the town is *named* Hadley, and how Marylee and Lucy have to shape their expectations around the men who either want them or... definitely don't.
It's an engrossing and completely entertaining experience because of how Sirk, from the script plus Russell Metty's photography and design by Clatworrhy and Golitzen, manages the very real context of patriarchy and the toxic world of the wealthy - and as another Wind movie (Gone with) told us before, any time you have a giant staircase, watch out - where people have their roles and may fight against them or use wild music to dance to or booze or just quiet desperation to cope, while at the same time where he gets the actors to, or allows them to go or both, is to the highest mountain-top of Melodrama where characters react with a very wide range of expressions (Malone probably earned an Oscar just for that scene by the pond, but any time she interacts with Hudson is ::chefs kiss::), and it's all the better for it.
This material benefits from things going into high plains of tension, to where it's (as ebert pointed out) almost parody, but it doesn't quite go into that. If I do have a nitpick it's that Lauren Bacall, the supposed lead actress of the piece, kind of seems to get sidelined sometimes and is arguably usurped by her supporting team of Stack, playing one of the ultimate desperate and tragic drunks of Hollywood cinema, and Malone (which is kind of like, I don't know, how Wahlberg or Adams got overshadowed by Bale and Leo in the Fighter, they're still good if playing at an 8 instead of a 13).
But even she knows what Sirk is after and can deliver one of her strongest performances of that time, and everything else around her is just so palpable and juicy with pulp. Not to extend the food metaphor but this is like a ripe orange that you see and feel peel away with a shiny exterior that reveals itself eventually to be moldy and ready to fall apart. I only wish I could see it on a giant screen, preferably in an old movie palace where the wind itself could be a fuller character unto itself.
Cain at Abel (1982)
Of Scoundrels and Mothers
Director Lino Brocka sure knew how to wring a whole lot of intensive, raw emotion out of a relatively straightforward approach to filmmaking, as seen in his little seen (until now with a bluray restoration) very loose adaptation of the eponymous story. What I mean is he doesn't do anything too complicated or outlandish with the camera or the editing, scenes play out mostly in medium shots and with a few carefully chosen close ups (one with the brother Ellis and his Runa late in the fikm is one such example), and he probably aa with his other films like Manilla and Insinang have a large budget.
But I think a more polished look or a studio shoot would take away from the reality presented here, and other reviewers pointed out that it represents a political situation of what it means to live under a manipulative totalitarian; there's narcissism of course as one of Ellis's women points out to her at a key point, but it's also that feeling of 'I know what's best, you listen to me now and do this' and its always to one or the other without consistency.
It's how conflicts and violence escalate when it's among usually reasonable if totally flawed people; Lorens is proud but for all his stern talk a good family man while his brother Ellis is a little spoiled. The mother here, Senora Pina (Mona Lisa, continuing as another matriarchal trauma figure from Insigang), is so striking because she (mostly) keeps an even tone with her sons, and is completely indignant and appaled when others call her out on her BS (and it happens more than once).
Not every performance is always top level (the kids are... kids I guess), but most rise to the demands of Brocka's dramatic demands, but what's so compelling to me is how violence is shown to largely stem from male pride and egotism, and at other times just a sort of blithe ignorance. There's the men on Lorens's side who go on and on about what should be done, and notice how this man is so resigned to what's happening and he can hardly tell them No because, well, how will that make him look? Meanwhile, once things escalate after the deaths of lovers on both sides and Ellis gets some guys who show him how to use a gun, it's like they aren't even fighting for anything (except as one says vaguely "to win") and they're dudes in a rock band(!)
Cain & Abel is another cold, hard, equally melodramatic but harrowingly naturalistic crime drama of how people can be so completely corrupted - most of all by someone close to us (oh, mom). And I can't stress enough how formidable and imposing Mona Lisa is here as this conniving mother of these two grown-ass dopes (or she emphasizes what are their lesser qualities - most of all to the other visa vi their places in the world and with her and in work and family dynamics et al).
Gojira vs. Mekagojira (1993)
All hail Godzillasaur (so cute)
It's hard to come up with any intellectual thesis about why this movie is enjoyable since it has some of the least memorable humans I can recall in a modern (as in the past thirty some odd years) Godzilla series, like there's the one doctor woman who becomes attached to the Godzillasaurus baby and doesn't want the baby to be used as a "commodity" (this is emphasized by a zoom-in close up), and we are given one guy near the beginning who is thrown into training sessions involving fighting Godzilla and then, perhaps wisely so, is put to the wayside despite there being... martial arts training for Military maneuvers against Godzilla.
Why? Shrug. All I can tell you is I like Mecha-Godzilla's look, Rodan is... fine, and the baby Godzillasaurus is cute as a button. It's probably/maybe definitely too long by ten or fifteen minutes, but once the action gets going it helps to keep one focused in what matters, which is giant pre-historical/Nuclear-era creatures fighting against a man-made creation of (almost) perfect destruction - not to mention he/it shoots out like a rainbow-colored bunch of flames that looks rad. There is some goofy human stuff midway around the little baby Godzilla that doesn't bog down the movie, even as again no one stands out at all. But then how can a human stand out when Zils has to toss a giant robot across a city?
Not top tier franchise fare, but good enough.
Petite maman (2021)
A charming little existential fable that is decidedly minor but about major things
A hot take: this really needed more Totoro or Cat-Bus. Wouldn't it have been something to see Marion and/or Nelly chilling out on the belly of a cute little troll with black wood sprites flying about?
My comparison to Miyazaki isn't some big leap or accident as Celine Sciamma has been up front about the inspirations for her film. What I took from this was maybe something that is perhaps an extrapolation of how it was made which is, since it has to be in 2020 into early 2021, a Covid-era pandemic movie. That it begins with a little girl saying Au revoir to several seniors at an old age home from which her grandma just died (don't forget as the cliche and song go the Children are the Future) can't be completely accidental or coincidental, and if she wrote it in some sense as a way of coping or reckoning with this period in time I get it. That it's also about the girl/Nelly's mother going away to some operation tracks back to Totoro and that idea of expressing a childhood point of view but with a dollop of surrealism/magic realism (spoiler, the other little girl, who is played by the performer's twin, is supposed to be not simply a little friend but the title character).
I find coming to this after it seems practically everyone else I follow critically has watched it and heaped buckets of praise on it that I'm somewhat outside the pack simply calling it *good* and not some total masterwork (my better half couldn't stand it but that's another story). I come to this also as a big fan of 'Portrait' and had high hopes for whatever she had to offer. I like Sciamma as a director, I like how she has a gentle and delicate sensibility with her performers and has these patient frames. From my limited perspective on her style (only seen these two for now) you're either completely immersed in her existential cinematic grammar or you're not. I was here up to a point, but wanted something.... more. Or perhaps even less.
At 70 minutes this is a thin slice of storytelling, but that's hardly a negative. Authors for centuries have created novellas and short novels that contain multitudes on the human condition. Maybe some of my lack of connection here is not for disliking what she does so much as what is not here or left out. This is a story that has grief as a theme, but aside from a couple of instances where the little girls have fun making pancakes or spitting out a little bit of bad soup, they're restrained... maybe so restrained that it feels uneasy at times. Maybe that's part of the point, but I had to wonder if it was because these are girls who haven't acted much before that Sciamma had them do less because she knew they couldn't or simply by design of the script.
Either way there is that and also the distinct lack of music. That of course, as in Portrait of a Lady on Fire, leads to an astonishing point where music does come in near the end. But aside from that and maybe one other small moment there isn't any score here, and it's so quiet that it's maybe too quiet for a story about girls (yes even as one is the Maman) who form a connection. Or to put it another way, it's a story with a kind of slightly heightened magical sense, maybe akin to something out of Rivette, and it's played so straight that ALL the work is on us as the audience to interpret. Again, I don't mind that work, but even at 70 minutes it asks a lot emotionally.
I don't mean to give the impression I wasnt captivated by this or admire it as I certainly do, but perhaps it edges to being slightly overrated as well. As either a short film at 30 minutes or a longer feature it could either condense its ideas into something still as profound but more to the point (still keeping her patience and time in scenes), or as a longer feature with more time with Nelly and/or Marion and the parents. It's a gentle little movie that is pretty and in its own muted dimensions charming, but I don't see it staying with me as long as her other film and didn't hit the kind of chord maybe I'm just looking for more after these last two years (ironically Portrait was one of the last films I saw in a theater before lockdown).
The Northman (2022)
A brutal epic that makes clear Robert Eggers is one of the greats
My first impression is that this is a contender for the Most Metal Movid. It's like when you first see The Wild Bunch with a good screen and sound, you leave with more chest hair than when you came into it (whether you're a man or a woman). It's brawny, bloody, brutal, graphic revenge fiction made by a filmmaker who is so sincere that any further to the right or left and it could could self parody. It never is and if I found myself chuckling over how unique a giant vision of how violence dooms.... everything and everyone.
Eggers and his absolute Top of the Heap artisans and designers, from the designers of those trippy sequences to whichever team made *that* severed head to the volcano set piece and location scouts etc etc, manage to transport you to a time and place that is not familiar to I'd suspect 90% of us, and even for like a Game of Thrones comparison that has more of a modern sensibility and humor than this. Eggers and Sion manages to pack two semesters worth of study on Mythology into a little over two hours in a completely organic sensibility.
But there's a mystery to parts of the symbolism here that I'm sure will keep me coming back to analyze things like the Supernatural and otherworldly (are they totems to the afterlife? What about the Valhalla woman on the horse riding into the sky? Well... all of a piece, right). Amid the transporting into this other realm is this sense that violence is so overencompansing it can swallow you whole.
And the performances add to this feeling of fervor and intensity and with 11000% pathos going on in that similar sincerity with the design elements. And occasionally much needingly with Anya Taylor Joy, who is so strong as the pulsating beating heart beneath this thing. Someone like her character helps to not so much soften but balance out how almost everyone else here, certainly Skarsgard in a towering and angry but vulnerable turn but also Hawke in his time and Kidman when she gets her moments (next Oscar already throw her one she is staggeringly good), is firing on these cylinders of seriousness and primal rage and sadness and just.... fire is the word for it. If you've ever seen a Heavy Metal album cover the actors are channeling *every one that has ever existed* into this one film (Bjork being like the weirdo Norway metal for her minute or two).
Robert Eggers has been a filmmaker to watch for a while now. With this, he joins the all timers. What a master. What a giant hunk of 20 pound steak of a movie with grizzled onions and hot pepper. Sorry guess it made me hungry for meat.
dramatic, ambiguous, about spirituality by an avowed Atheist (thank God)
How you'll most likely take in a film like Nazarin is if you have context and/or a little prior experience with the filmmaker Luis Bunuel; conversely, it could be a completely absorbing and intellectually intriguing piece if it's you're first time with him. Bunuel was for his life and career an avowed non-believer (one of his truest and wittiest quotes: "thank God, I'm an Athiest"), and so one comes to a story like in Nazarin about the titular priest who, following a fire in his quite poor abode, decides to go around the countryside in a sort of pure journey without any definite end.
All Nazarin knows (Francisco Rabal in a towering performance, mostly for hoe he keeps his emotions at an even keel for 90% of it) is that he has to find some purpose in his position, though he is constantly witness to and victim of miscreants and evil-doers and just people who will kick him and them kick him again knowing he won't fight back. Oh, and a couple of women look to him as a SAINT, to which he tries to ward off but to no avail.
These two women are Beatriz (Marga Lopez) and Andara (Rita Marcado), who are coming to this priest in a couple of dire straits as the former has gone kind of insane after her lover has left her for the military and the latter, who initially tells off Nazarin (he badmouthed a cousin who knows) and then comes back after killing someone. How full in their belief in Nazarin are they? Well... it would seem like quite a lot, at least for Beatriz (watch her flutter her eyes before she goes into a state at one point).
But this idea of what belief means, what faith in actual practice and the exact cost of following a life of really being there for people, like the sickest ones who are very poor and can't get out of bed and may be near death, is at the heart of this film and what Bunuel I think is interrogating. I don't think necessarily he is unsure about his own faith, or lack thereof, but he grew up in a Catholic world and society in Spain and saw first-hand the good intentions but also the hypocrites and charlatans and how the "normal" people will very much go into Church one way and leave acting totally different. Religion is an institution, and the hierarchy is there to keep people in place just like anywhere else, and Nazarin, morally knowing how to be but understanding that people can get "insane" in going overboard (ill get to this momentsrily) but still going out into the world to practice what Jesus preaches by helping people and walking mostly barefoot.... he's seen as an "eccentric."
Nazarin is a great film of contradictions, namely that there's this satirical bite to it that Bunuel can't not have here on one hand; notice the midpoint, which is where I think this takes off from just a very good story (the first act is loaded with colorful histrionics and dabs into comedy before that big fire changes the course of things) into being much more, when Nazarin is called, reluctantly, to see to a very ill woman by Beatriz and some other women in a small village. When he goes in he does what little prayer he can and yet somehow his reputation, whatever the hell it is, has been reinterpreted as to a Healer with a capital H. This is darkly amusing but it also speaks to how people, usually lacking in certain education or any access to medicine or Healthcare, will go to whatever seems like the best chance to healing. And then when the girl Nazarin saw the next day has been healed, it seems whatever he did.... worked! What did he do? He doesn't know!
So, there's this thematic line running through the film about how much some of the characters look up to Nazarin, what his effect is, but this is not a full blown satire or I should say Bunuel doesn't take any easy road with depicting these people. Another filmmaker I could see creating a story where Nazarin gives in to the cynicism and becomes a cult leader or something. Instead what we get in this film is something closer to Neo-Realism, in acting and direction, and in casting for supporting players (oh that little guy is a stand out, a very charming devilish presence), and it gives the film this edge even as he and his crew film everything so simply and clearly (there's camera moves, for sure, and one near the end as one cart passes Nazarin that I found very moving), but he makes it about the emotions of the characters, and to this Lopez and Macedo are excellent here and make these two women intense and fierce and show strongly how these women may believe in God, but they definitely believe in this man on his Jesus-like course through the countryside.
What I mean is this film is so interesting to me because it does call out the double standards of Christianity, how people can turn on someone or people so quickly and judge so quickly (notice how many times other people assume Nazarin has these two women to basically sleep with), and how our titular hero is a man of faith but he's not without reason (he uses a word many evangelicals find dirty today, "Science") and really wants to be left alone even after he takes his would-be "disciples", and yet I don't think this could ever be called blasphemous or something controversial - unless of course one is so stuck to a dogma that anything outside of it is filth. Luis Bunuel's courage and skill as an artist is to give us a story like this and let us decide for ourselves what's what and doesn't judge anyone (well, save for men in uniforms with guns and the higher Clergy, he knows where they can shove it).
I'll be thinking on this one for some time, maybe more than some of his other movies; my immediate take is that Nazarin himself is what bumps this into the director's top tier, how he's written and portrayed as this relatively pure soul who wants to do Good and knows what goes into Goodness (he tells this to another at one point), but feeling it and doing it in a cruel and poor world such as this Mexican rural landscape is staggering. Lastly, it's not one of his more surrealistic pieces (albeit the one seizure/hallucination memory Beatriz has is like a sprinkle on this soufflé), but the ambiguity, even down to that final shot, is spellbinding.
RRR (Rise Roar Revolt) (2022)
probably the most brutally violent PG-13 in a while, plus a dance battle!
Total militaristic propaganda on a scale that is as immense in scope as a David Lean and as bloody and brutalist as Mel Gibson. It's certainly nowhere near as subtle as the former (well, duh, kids), but it also manages to be rapturously stupid it's gruesome violence than anything the latter would do. My wife with me also pointed out Zack Snyder but far superior visa vi "here's a man with something to say... and it's LOUD and SLOW MO" and I concur up to a point. And if you don't like British people, boys and girls have I got a smorgasbord of "f the Brits" for you (it's alright there's the one good lady one).
But what experiencing all 187 minutes of RRR truly is - and final peppy and totally dissonant music number included that is the run time - is going to the All You Can eat buffet where you are not going to leave for like 10 hours: it's a somber and powerful war movie, a Gritty Run they the Jungle slaughter fest, a Cornball treatise on Friendship, a (at times very literally) fiery call to arms against the British or any Colonial power, a sliver of romance for good measure for Bheem, and for five to ten minutes a deliriously exciting Step Up dance-off movie. It's exhausting and crude and at times laughable (all those CGI animals oh my), and I had an absolute blast. You know what you're in for when our two heroes first meet under the bridge surrounded by fire. If you're not with it by then, leave and don't come back.
I know this is not historically accurate (LOL), but who needs accuracy when the exploitation-meter needs breaks through the glass and becomes a superhero bent on saving everyone with all the guns? This is gloriously crazy but it's totally sincere. Oh, and Ray Stevenson: performance of his career! (If only Aamir Khan was here, 5 stars easy).
The Blob (1988)
Very cool Funhouse horror with memorable creature fx and witty script
What I can tell you about this Blob is that it's a) superior to the 1958 one, with one or two callbacks that you just have to do, and that had its moments but was kind of dull for most of its story, and b) this is highlighted by visual fx set pieces that are among the peak of what was achieved in the 1980s. There's one set piece especially in the kitchen of the diner - when the one employee discovers *that* is whato happens when you try to de-clog the sink - that stood out to me, but it's hard to pick just one because from the moment the Blob gets to attacking, every "Im sticking my hand here" moment included, the filmmakers understand well that this is like a cousin of The Thing 82: it's a vehicle for putrid, gnarly and gruesome violence and body horror, and yet Russell is a bit more keen on traditional Slasher scares than Carpenter who more on prolonging the dread in the suspense.
This is more like a series of wonderful Haunted house attractions, at least by the halfway point, with exquisitely rendered disgusting creature designs (and moreover how the victims are shaped into the Blob). It then has a clever turn into capital S and F Sci-Fi with the containment team and they do (or don't do really) as the movie ramps up. What also sets it apart are the performances and writing (I suspect co scribe Darabont was already channeling Stephen King hard core and that is also a welcome influence here), with Kevin Dillon, Shawnee Smith and Jeffrey Demunn especially giving some appealing presences and somewhat smarter than the average stock Slasher characters (Dillon especially reminds me of like Bobby Briggs from Twin Peaks plopped into... this and its very enjoyable). Oh, and a little nifty set up and payoff goes some ways (watch for that jacket!)
It's not quite an all-timer (the music score is a little basic), but it's very good and fun and I'm sad I didn't see this more as a kid. Look for Jack Nance cameo as a doctor.
Faux Gritty with a winning Beales performance
Hmm, I feel like I'm being sold something here, just can't put my finger quite on it.... anywho, I'll tell my kids that this is the plot of CODA (which of course they'll see before that. Best Picture? Phooey, this won for "What a Feeling")
Anyone else notice those ladies working out in that white space from The Matrix?
This is Faux Gritty, as shallow as talking to the lamest Valley girl imaginable. Come to think of it, there are probably a plethora of Valley girls with more substance than this. And I almost feel bad comparing this to CODA now, as that has a slightly sinar push-and-pull element of "I want to follow my passions but I also have this life of work ahead of me," but that, even as dusty as that plot is, is a plot. Flashdance feels at most points like a hang-out movie where Alex is mostly surrounded by the more or less working-class stiffs from this bar where she does uh... dancing of a kind (not stripping of course, not Go-Go dancing, just... music video circus act stuff), and it sounds like basic Screenwriting 101 crap that I shouldn't have to tell it, but it lacks a sort of driving conflict to make it interesting.
And I know you might say that "jack her conflict is she doesn't know if she can have that WHAT A FEELING" and yet that seems woefully underdeveloped and then gets time by Alex throwing tantrums when her well-off boyfriend cum boss gets her the audition she's applying for (with her long list of credentials you know). The rest of the movie is just episodes of Alex doing this or that, sometimes trying to help her Would-be skater friend (who omg falls on hard times for a scene), and like walking around steel factories with her guy set to lame synth ballads. And I think that I'd be more fine with the movie having less of a real story if the characters we are hanging with were better or (except for Beals) better acted, but we aren't getting that here.
The other movie that's impossible to not (pun intended) flash to is Showgirls, which is also a Joe Estzerhaus scripted joint and it's uncanny to ponder that experience as that was... not good, but it was wildly entertaining and had these giant performances with the arms-akimbo (anti)magnetism of Berkley. There's really a number of similarities that's hard to shake, albeit here there's also the unmistakable influence (that's putting it lightly) from Saturday Night Fever, as a character does a gig by day to follow a passion by night, though here with the added kick of "I am a Serious Artist Dancer, people" while also, again, throwing fits. But and I can't believe I'm defending Showgirls against this, but we understand Nomi far more than Alex. Like; why is she a welder? Shouldn't we get, convention and all, a character asking her what she's doing as a (chortle) 18 year old as a Welder, which is a, uh, union profession? And we only get like a couple of cursory scenes with her family, why aren't they involved a little more with their 18 year and and... nevermind.
This is shallow nonsense, surprisingly based off a real person (how about a documentary today on her, natche), but that makes it sound more interesting than it is. It's intermittently exhilarating, even once or twice trashy/sexy (ie that restaurant), the climax is very good and with a fun energy the rest could use more of, most of Moroder's songs and music are sweet, and it's no wonder Beales became a (minor) star for the time. But it kind of sucks. Oh, hey, Robert Wuhl for one minute!