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Thread: Winter doldrums FILM JOURNAL Jan.-Feb. 2019

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    Winter doldrums FILM JOURNAL Jan.-Feb. 2019


    Tableau of Jim and the lads in Postcards in London

    Winter doldrums film journal, Jan.-Feb. 2019

    There is never much happening this time of year other than bad weather and the run-up to the Oscars. There can be so-bad-it's-good movies, or surprise gems, or catching up. And of course plenty of cable TV series. (Recently watched among the latter: "The Romanoffs," "Bodyguard," "Peaky Blinders.") Or film series, which include in a month or so Film Comment Selects, the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema and New Directors/New Films at Lincoln Center.




    LADY IN THE LAKE Robert Montgomery (1946). It was probably my first experience of film nor, seen when I was eight. You remember this particular Raymond Chandler adaptation because it's shot from Philip Marlowe's POV: the camera is his eyes. When he gets knocked out, the screen goes black. Re-watched on YouTube 29 Dec. 2018.



    SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE ( Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey 2018). This omnibus animation is wonderful. It takes in many versions of the myth and shows them in many styles. It won Best Animated Film at the Golden Globes, blasphemously, over Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs. It is joyous, bright, and fun, and nobody much was watching it that Sunday because they were crowded into the biggest auditorium for the leaden Aquaman (budget $160-200 million - but Spider-Man isn't cheap; it cost $90 million). I watched some of Aquaman too. I was not thrilled. Metascore, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 87; Metascore, Aquaman,55. Watched 30 Dec. 2018 at Hilltop Century, Richmond, California.



    POSTCARDS FROM LONDON (Steve McLean 2018). A posh study of an aspiring too-beautiful-to-be-true rent boy who comes from Essex to London's Soho to be a "raconteur" and then a "muse" but gets stopped in his tracks by "the Stendhal syndrome." A series of theatrical tableaux with precisely intoned dialogue featuring Beach Rats' Harris Dickinson and stealing from Derek Jarman's Caravaggio, it's very pleasing to the eyes but lacks substance. Released at the Quad Cinema in November, now available in video from Strand Releasing. Watched on a Strand screener, twice. TRAILER. Metascore 42 (but see Bilge Eberi's kind review in the NYTimes.)



    CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? (Marielle Heller 2018). This serous drama vehicle for Melissa McCarthy is an adaptation by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty of the memoir of Lee Israel, a New York writer in the early Nineties whose declining career as a literary biographer led her into swindling book and manuscript dealers with forged letters from Dorothy Parker, Noel Coward, and other celebrities. Richard E. Grant is perfect as her seedy HIV-infected accomplice and fellow alcoholic. On the one hand, a great role for McCarthy and the rest of the cast, precise in its details. Some find it hilarious and delightful, but it seemed to me too sordid and sad to see that way. Metacritic 87. Watched at Rialto Elmwood, Berkeley, 4 Jan. 2019.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-11-2019 at 10:35 AM.

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    Great Movies In 2018 That No One Is Talking About - INDIEWIRE



    Some excellent 2018 movies that got completely ignored are rounded up in this handy little Indiewire video

    I wrote reviews or at least thumbnail notices of half of them. You can catch them all online now. There are links to my reviews.

    These are the kind of films I'd have been delighted to find in the days when I roamed the aisles of the local video stores in search of hidden gems - or might have discovered through Michael Sragow's invaluable book, Produced and Abandoned: The Best Films You've Never seen.

    I KILL GIANTS (Anders Walter).] Adapted by a Danish director from a graphic novel on a YA theme with an excellent lead performance. In my NY Movie Journal, one of those odd, offbeat winter Manhattan movie experiences.

    LEAN ON PETE (Andrew Haigh) The touching film about a lost America features the immensely gifted young Charlie Plummer and is by the great director or 45 Years. I found it so distinctive and special I made it one of my ten best of the year. Much admired at festivals and by critics but ignored by "casual moviegoers," says the video narrator.

    THE ENDLESS (Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead). A haunting indie sci-fi tale got ignored because it was released the same weekend as THE QUIET PLACE. I reviewed this on a screener at the time of its little noticed April release.

    THOROUGHBREDS ( Cory Finley). IT'S a sophisticated debut feature about spoiled, immoral middle-class young female murderers, including a last role for the far-too-soon-lost Anton Yelchin. I noted this in my New York Movie Journal.

    GOLDSTONE ( Ivan Sen). AN Australian Outback noir detective story with the great Jackie Weaver about a missing Chinese tourist with an aboriginal detective. Greet reviews but poor box office. I missed this one.

    GEMINI (Alex Katz). Crime and mystery in Hollywood with John Cho. I didn't see this but heard about it and have seen and written about two of Katz''s earlier films, including the 2011 Cold Weather. When I see this it will be my third with John Cho this year after Searching and Columbus. He's gone a long way from Harold and Kumar.

    BOMB CITY (Jameson Brooks). "One part pulpy crime story, one part heart-grabbing drama, this is a brilliant little film," says the video narrator. It's about a big clash between punk musicians and local toughs in a Texas town that leads to murder. This one on an unusual topic with a lot of colorful action. It completely eluded me.

    UNSANE (Stephen Soderbergh. A B picture aesthetic "psychological horror thriller" shot on an iPhone, this was called one of Soderbergh's best by Richard Brody, but got no audience. It stars "The Crown" and First Man actress Claire Foy.

    YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (Lynne Ramsey). I saw this twice - in Paris, then San Francisco, and I can't imagine it getting under the radar: it packs a wallop and won a big Cannes prize and has Ramsey and Joaquin Phoenix both working in top form. But it's a tough watch and not for everyone.

    SWEET COUNTRY (Warwick Thornton) Another Australian film, focused on a middle-aged aboriginal farmer. It won a Special Jury Prize at Venice. The director's debut firl Samson and Delilah about two aboriginal kids, was quite memorable. I reviewed it as part of ND/NF 2010. SWEET COUNTRY is another one swamped by the massive success of A QUIET PLACE.


    Bomb City - trailer Works on every level" - Richard Linklater
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-17-2019 at 07:47 PM.

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    MID90S (Jonah Hill 2018)

    MID90S (Jonah Hill 2018)



    Another 2018 movie I have not seen is Jonah Hill's directorial debut, mid90s (Genre: Comedy Running Time: 84 min. Release Date: October 19, 2018), a little more expensive than average, for some reason, to watch online.

    I will watch it online.

    This bright vérité (but beautifully crafted) story of a little pretty 13-year-old kid who falls in with a group of urban skate punks is a charming mix of elements from "Freaks and Geeks" (but more limited in range), Larry Clark's Kids (but sweeter and more upbeat), UK director Shane Meadows, and Van Sant's Paranoid Park. Stevie (Sunny Suljic, of Killing of a Sacred Deer), with his wavy hood of hair, ash-blue eyes and quick smile,s is a 90's L.A. Antoine Doinel who endures hard knocks from his tormented, tense older brother (Lucas Hedges, in a very different role) and a series of mishaps from trying so hard to be tough and bold and fit in. There is little plot, but it's all obsessively right coming-of-age authenticity. The dialogue is scrupulously "full of casual racism, misogyny and homophobia" (A.O. Scott's New York Times review). . Metacritic's 66% score shows a wide range or reactions, but I think this is very good if you let it be. Some are dismissive because the basic material is so familiar. Exceptional period soundtrack and score by Trent Reznor; shot on super 16mm by Christopher Blauvelt. Despite reliance on non-actors, quality production all the way. Watched 9 Jan. 2019 on Amazon.


    RYDER MCLAUGHLIN, NA-KEL SMITH, GIO GALICIA, SUNNY SULJIC, AND OLAN PRENATT
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-11-2019 at 10:58 AM.

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    DON'T COME BACK FROM THE MOON (Bruce Thierry Cheung 2017).

    A wispy, sensitive little coming-of-ager set in a world of boys without dads, Don't Come Back from the Moon is a handsomely lensed Terrence Malick-ish mood piece of abandoned youth from a novel by Dean Bakopoulos set in Detroit relocated to the edge of the California desert, near the Salton Sea. Cheung is a cinematographer turned director, and the accent is on the visuals. It's no accident that the slim, dark lead, Jeffrey (or Jeff) Wahlberg, nephew of Mark, and rumored to be very much under his protection, has lips and eyebrows to die for and lustrous olive skin. It's nearly a ghost town, the factory closes, the resort hotel long ago blew away, and the men all run off with the cash leaving notes saying they've "gone to the moon." The story is narrated by 16-year-old Mickey (Wahlberg), an aspiring writer. He and his little brother Kolya (the busy child actor Zackary Arthur) are abandoned by James Franco (a producer of this movie) and left with their youthful mom, Rachida Jones. Their parents were high school sweethearts.

    Festival blogger Melissa Stang envisioned the filmmakers in an idea session coming up with "like [shooting] an Urban Outfitters catalog in Burning Man. . . using notes from What's Eating Gilbert Grape and The Last Picture Show?" My thought was also of a photo shoot, only one Bruce Weber might stage at a desert junior high school by getting the kids to get pretend-drunk and smooch.

    But Jeff Wahlberg not merely has a face the camera loves. He also exudes some real sensitivity. His voice-over, so essential to whatever forward motion the loosely structured film acquires, is disarmingly offhand and subtle, spoken in a confiding undertone. As Mickey, he has to be the man in the family now, or at least cook eggs for his little brother and mom, and amid the teen wildness that ensues upon the male exodus of the town he falls in love with a girl (Alyssa Elle Steinacker) whose dad also has "gone to the moon." The rest is weird, surreal stuff, sort of Sci-Fi, really, not always quite coherent, with lots of shaky-cam, and longeurs, even though this is short. But with its beauteous images, this is still a good calling card movie for the young actors, should they need one.

    Don't Come Back from the Moon, 85 mins., debuted at the Los Angeles Film Festival June 2017, where it was reviewed by Sheri Linden in Hollywood Reporter, who heralded the director's "unaffected compassion for his characters." It has its theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles and in VOD Jan. 18, 2019. Sent to me as an online screener to review and watched Jan. 10, 2019. TRAILER.


    JEFFREY WAHLBERG, far right
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-19-2019 at 12:57 AM.

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    Bright spots.

    Some of the best foreign films of the year are now getting wide-ish US release, here and there, that is. Theaters are showing ROMA, If Beale Street Could Talk, Cold War, Burning, Shoplifters, Capernaum, all of which incidentally were in the New York Film Festival Main Slate last October, except for Capernaum, which some think manipulative, too easy in its play on the emotions.



    And except also for Never Look Away (see Filmleaf Review), nor in the NYFF either. That is opening next month, though it had a one-week run last November in NY and LA and hence qualified as a Best Foreign Oscar entry, and it indeed got shortlisted for the coveted award with eight other titles: Birds of Passage from Colombia, The Guilty from Denmark, Shoplifters from Japan, Ayka from Afghanistan, Capernaum from Lebanon, Roma from Mexico (the favorite), Cold War from Poland, and Burning from Korea. I was able to watch Never Look Away again (and I've seen Burning twice and plan to see Roma and Cold War in theaters again shortly.

    In Never Look Away, less overwhelmed than I was at Sony NYC just watching it on a screener, I caught many of the rhymes and links more clearly and was even more thrilled at the triumph of the young artist from Dresden Kurt Barnard, who survives the worst depredations of the Nazis and the War, succeeds as a "Social Realist" painter, then escapes to the West and finds himself in the chaotic world of contemporary art at the cutting edge Art Academy of Dusseldorf, becoming successful, famous, and enigmatic. It's okay to know Kurt is based on Gerhard Richter, but it's better not to read the article by Dana Goodyear about Von Donnersmarck's process in the current, Jan. 21, 2019 issue of The New Yorker, because it tells too much about the interrelation of fiction and fact. However, see the film and then read the article.

    This film has special meaning for me, even if Roma, Burning, and Cold War, as well as Ash Is Purest White by Jia Zhang-ke (also nearing US theatrical release and another NYFF Main Slate item) may command greater critical admiration. Nothing in Kurt Barnard's life touches on mine, but the most important part of my life was lived as an artist. It has personal significance for me, since I've only seen it in a small screening room and at home on a screener; it was not in the NYFF, getting its debut at Venice and Toronto, and reviews judging by the Metascore of 69 are far less ecstatic than for the other Best Foreign nominees. It's probably not going to be a big box office hit. With its "Easter eggs," it will be a hidden treasure filled with hidden treasures. In the heart of the Winter Doldrums - another exception.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-17-2019 at 08:25 PM.

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    ON THE BASIS OF SEX (Mimi Leder 2018) My friend chose to call this "quite terrible," but I would reserve that epithet for really awful films, not ones about the good deeds of good people like the wonderful Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the greatest legal champion of gender equality of her generation and one of only three women so far to serve on the US Supreme Court. It brightened my week and, like the summer-released documentary RBG (Julie Cohen, Betsy West 2018) (SFIFF), but focused only on a key early pleading in the US Court of Appeals of Denver by Ruth with her husband Martin, the film chronicles the exemplary work of a diminutive giant of American law. Watched at Hilltop Century 12 Jan. 2019. Metascore 60. Okay, not a great movie, but it can be an inspiring one and is welcome in this gray season.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-17-2019 at 07:26 PM.

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    This thread is a great idea. Your posts are informative and insightful. I enjoyed reading them. I liked to read about how you sometimes have a connection to a film because of your personal history, as an artist for example, and how a movie fits into your expectations. You also have a very sophisticated sense of where a movie fits within the wide range of film production nowadays and a sense about its intended audience. Lots of titles to keep in mind for the future, but having re-visited 45 Years two nights ago, it's Haigh's Lean On Pete I crave most.

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    Thanks, Oscar. I hope Lean on Pete resonates with you. It was a much anticipated film for me and I was not disappointed. As long as one is catching up on some of the previous year's best, there are no Winter Doldrums.

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    STAN & OLLIE (Jon S. Baird 2018).

    The makeup and costumes, period mise-en-scene and impersonations are dmirable, and the two leads do their level best to disappear into their parts. But this stage tour of England and Ireland when the pair were in their early sixties and the overweight Babe (Oliver Hardy) had a failing heart seems most of the way like a very bad idea. It's touching at the end, this movie about the Thirties and Forties movie comedy team of Laurel and Hardy (ably played by Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, respectively) trying to go on performing past their prime and box office viability, in 1953. But otherwise it just seems a huge error of judgment. Do we want to see this downbeat situation played out? The action for the most part is merely dreary, with old hostilities between the two periodically dredged up to create conflict.

    Of course sad clowns could make a great movie. Look at La Strada. But that had Giulietta Messina, and the director was Fellini. This loving but misguided movie wound up not pulling me out of the Winter Doldrums but making them worse - just as Can You Ever Forgive Me? did. Those who have described a "gentle," "sweet," "genial" picture featuring some of both actors' best work ever, saw a movie I failed to perceive. (Good work, maybe, but in a lost cause.) Maybe you will see it.

    Or maybe - your enjoyment is not guaranteed because times and tastes have greatly changed - what you should watch instead of Stan and Ollie are some of the real Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy films - which I remember enjoying when I was very young at Saturday morning children's time at the movies with my grandmother. Later I came to prefer the meaner and edgier W.C. Fields, whose comedy is faster paced. Stan and Ollie's limited US release was 28 Dec. 2018; it releases wide today, 18 Jan. 2019. (Watched on an online preview screener.)

    Stan & Ollie, 97 mins., debuted Oct. 2018 at BFI London Film Festival; also AFI and Gothenburg. Metascore 75.


    STEVE COOGAN AND JOHN C. REILLY IN STAN & OLLIE
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-18-2019 at 10:57 AM.

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    COLD WAR (Pawel Pawlikowski). Remember I said if you're catching up on the best of last year, there are no Winter Drums of film for you in this season after all? Today I rewatched Pawlikowski's Cold War again in a cinema, the local Landmark Albany Twin. It an unmistakable, distinctive tonic, because it's in black and white and academy aspect ratio, and on top of that, very striking cinematography. It's perfect filmmaking, perfect everything. If it has any flaw it might be that it's too perfect.. The concision of the scenes! The energetic, rhythmic way they're paced! The editing, in other words! And that star, that muse, Joanna Kulig! She is infinite and awesome. See this film, and tell your friends about it!

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    GLASS (M. Night Shyamalan 2019).

    Raise your hand if you're tired of James McAvoy impersonating dangerous weirdos with multiple-personality disorder. (He did the same one in Spilt three years ago.) Bruce Willis is here too, on heavy valium, and Samuel L. Jackson. It's Philadelphia, and the town is besieged by nutters with a new complex: they think they're superheros. The idea sounds topical and is one somebody could have had fun with, but not M. Night. The India-born, PA raised filmmaker came on the scene as a brilliant new talent in the late Nineties and early 2000's. But though he's still got some of the same actors, the thrill is long gone. Lots of crisscrosses of characters, actors and storylines for fans and Shyamalanerds - this concludes a trilogy with the 2000Unbreakable and 2016 Split. But I see dead storylines. I see dead characters. I see drab, repetitive mise-en-scene. This is what I mean by Winter Doldrums - the really drab disappointing kind. Release date 18 Jan. Watched at AMC Bay Street 22 Jan. 2019. Metascore 42. Spoiler: get an explanation of the film and its ending
    (which the writer acknowledges are "absurd, if not damned silly") HERE.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-22-2019 at 07:58 PM.

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    SF Indiefest



    My first year of covering this local festival. See the Festival Coverage section to read the full reviews, where there are any.

    SF Indiefest films depart from the commercial sometimes in very cool ways, holding the Winter Movie Doldrums at bay effectively for a while. I was moved by The Area, made over several years by a sociologist doctoral candidate, David Shalliol, who's also a fine still photographer. It's a Chicago documentary about a poor black neighborhood uprooted to make space for railway sidings. Stuart Swezey's Desolation Center is another documentary, about punk field trips to the desert in the early Eighties that is a study in ultra-cool. These were events so unique and edgy they make Burning Man look like Disneyland, and Swezey, the organizer at the time, provides stunning archival footage.

    Callum Crawford's Degenerates is a little improvisational comedy thriller about a young screenwriter whose ultra-lowkeyed mood has an English charm. Others have been less successful. Centerline (Takumi Shimumkai), the Japanese futuristic film about a time when the computer brain of a self-driving car is taken to court for manslaughter, is a cool idea, but I got lost in the details of the case. Paul Osborne's Cruel Hearts (2018) is a tricky neo-noir with a tacky ingenuity about it, pretty forgettable, though. I couldn't stand Sarah Pirozek's feminist horror flick, #Like . If I follow my self-imposed plan, I'm not even half way through my coverage.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-03-2019 at 10:16 PM.

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    GREEN BOOK (Peter Farrelly 2018). No, I haven't actually watched this yet, but I did buy a ticket for it today. I mean to watch it to see what all the palaver is about, despite my great suspicion that it's treacle. But today I abandoned ship after fifteen minutes of it (before the Don Shirley character had even appeared) to watch a newer film instead:




    THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING (Joe Cornish 2018). A perfect movie for fifth-graders about a present-day eleven-year-old who is tasked with saving Britain from the evil Morgana. It has surprisingly great special effects for a little English film, enhanced by the cinematography of Bill (not Dick) Pope. It has Patrick Stewart as the adult Merlin and some terrific young actors. Admittedly it lacks the punch of Cornish's 2011 Attack the Block - that one melds the fantastic and real kids in an edgier way - but it's a real charmer and I enjoyed it. Metascore 66.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-03-2019 at 08:24 PM.

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    MISS BALA (Catherine Hardwicke 2019).

    This inferior Hollywood remake of Geraldo Naranjo's 2011 movie was watched as a duty, since I saw and admired the original and knew this has gotten dismal reviews. It preserves none of the originality, particularly in depicting a Mexican gangster story from a captive woman's innocent, static POV. I wrote of Naranjo's Miss Bala (NYFF 2011) that it "still does read as an action film, but one with a distinctive personal style that includes many moments of stillness, and thus is far from the precipitous loud action of the conventional thriller." It was notable for its elaborately staged action sequences shot in remarkable long takes with fixed-position Steadicam and its restrained music. All of that is abandoned in Hardwicke's movie, which turns the story into a loud, flashy conventional and uninteresting Hollywood actioner, trying to use Gina Rodriguez to turn the woman protagonist into an action star and her captor Lino into sexy beefcake, not like a real criminal as in the original. Clueless. Doldrums material indeed. Watched at Hilltop Century Richmond 3 Feb. 2019. Metascore 41. (Original film Metascore 79.)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-03-2019 at 10:19 PM.

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    PET NAMES (Carol Brandt 2018) SF INDIEFEST . ]This looks like the gem of the festival, devastatingly precise and real portrait of a millennial couple who've broken up but reunite at the last minute for a short camping trip. Buried emotions stay buried under whiskey and 'shrooms till the pain comes out. Meredith Johnston plays the girl and wrote the script and co-produced and did some of the key music. She is brilliant. This got raves at other festivals. Happily, you can watch it on Amazon Prime. Here is an example of how a bright line can shine through the "dump season" mediocrity. Festivals do that. I wrote a longer review (see link) but really, just watch it.

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