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Thread: New York Film Festival 2019

  1. #16
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    Jul 2002
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    PARASITE (Bong Joon-ho 2019)

    BONG JOON-HO: PARASITE 기생충 (Gisaengchung) (2019)


    Crime thriller as social commentary? Maybe not.

    I've reviewed Bong's 2006 The Host ("a monster movie with a populist heart and political overtones that's great fun to watch") and his 2009 Mother which I commented had "too many surprises." (I also reviewed his 2013 Snowpiercer.) Nothing is different here except this seems to be being taken more seriously as social commentary, though it's primarily an elaborately plotted and cunningly realized violent triller, as well a monster movie where the monsters are human. It's also marred by being over long and over-plotted, making its high praise seem a bit excessive.

    This new film, Bong's first in a while made at home and playing with national social issues, is about a deceitful poor family that infiltrates a rich one. It won the top award at Cannes in May 2019, just a year after the Japanese Koreeda's (more subtle and more humanistic) Palm winner about the related theme of a crooked poor family. Parasite has led to different comparisons, such as Losey's The Servant and Pasolini's Theorem. In accepting the prize, Bong himself gave a nod to Hitchcock and Chabrol. Parasite has met with nearly universal acclaim, though some critics feel it is longer and more complicated than necessary and crude in its social commentary, if its contrasting families really adds up to that. The film is brilliantly done and exquisitely entertaining half the way. Then it runs on too long and acquires an unwieldiness that makes it surprisingly flawed for a film so heaped with praise.

    It's strange to compare Parasite with Losey's The Servant, in which Dick Bogarde and James Fox deliver immensely rich performances. Losey's film is a thrillingly slow-burn, subtle depiction of class interpenetration, really a psychological study that works with class, not a pointed statement about class itself. It's impossible to speak of The Servant and Parasite in the same breath.

    In Parasite one can't help but enjoy the ultra-rich family's museum-piece modernist house, the score, and the way the actors are handled, but one keeps coming back to the fact that as Steven Dalton simply puts it in his Cannes Hollywood Reporter review, Parasite is "cumbersomely plotted" and "heavy-handed in its social commentary." Yet I had to go to that extremist and contrarian Armond White in National Review for a real voice of dissent. I don't agree with White's politics or his belief that Stephen Chow is a master filmmaker, but I do sympathize with being out-of-tune, like him, with all the praise of Boon's new film.

    The contrast between the poor and rich family is blunt indeed, but the posh Park family doesn't seem unsubtly depicted: they're absurdly overprivileged, but don't come off as bad people. Note the con-artist Kim family's acknowledgement of this, and the mother's claim that being rich allows you to be nice, that money is like an iron that smooths out the wrinkles. This doesn't seem to be about that, mainly. It's an ingeniously twisted story of a dangerous game, and a very wicked one. Planting panties in the car to mark the chauffeur as a sexual miscreant and get him fired: not nice. Stimulating the existing housekeeper's allergy and then claiming she has TB so she'll be asked to leave: dirty pool. Not to mention before that, bringing in the sister as somebody else's highly trained art therapist relative, when all the documents are forged and the "expertise" is cribbed off the internet: standard con artistry.

    The point is that the whole Kim family makes its way into the Park family's employ and intimate lives, but it is essential that they conceal that they are in any way related to each other. What Bong and his co-writer Jin Won Han are after is the depiction of a dangerous con game, motivated by poverty and greed, that titillates us with the growing risk of exposure. The film's scene-setting of the house and family is exquisite. The extraordinary house is allowed to do most of the talking. The rich family and the housekeeper are sketched in with a few deft stokes. One's only problem is first, the notion that this embodies socioeconomic commentary, and second, the overreach of the way the situation is played out, with one unnecessary coda after another till every possibility is exhausted. This is watchable and entertaining (till it's not), but it's not the stuff of a top award.

    Parasite 기생충 (Gisaengchung), 132 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes, winning the Palme d'Or best picture award. Twenty-eight other festivals followed as listed on IMDb, including New York, for which it was screened (at IFC Center Oct. 11, 2019) for the present review. Current Metascore 95%. It has opened in various countries including France, where the AlloCiné press rating soared to 4.8.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-19-2020 at 12:49 AM.

  2. #17
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    MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN (Edward Norton 2019)



    Edward Norton's passion project complicates the Jonathan Lethem novel

    The NYFF Closing Night film is the premiere of Edwards Norton's adaptation, a triumph over many creative obstacles through a nine-year development time, of Jonathan Lethem's 1999 eponymous novel. It concerns Lionel Essrog (played by Norton), a man with Tourette's Syndrome who gets entangled in a police investigation using the obsessive and retentive mind that comes with his condition to solve the mystery. Much of the film, especially the first half, is dominated by Lionel's jerky motions and odd repetitive outbursts, for which he continually apologizes. Strange hero, but Lethem's creation. To go with the novel's evocation of Maltese Falcon style noir flavor, Norton has recast it from modern times to the Fifties.

    Leading cast members, besides Norton himself, are Willem Dafoe, Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Cherry Jones, Bobby Cannavale and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. In his recasting of the novel, as Peter Debruge explains in his Variety review, Norton makes as much use of Robert Caro's The Power Broker, about the manipulative city planner Robert Moses, a "visionary" insensitive to minorities and the poor, as of Lethem's book. Alec Baldwn's "Moses Randolph" role represents the film's Robert Moses character, who is added into the world of the original novel.

    Some of the plot line may become obscure in the alternating sources of the film. But clearly Lionel Essrog, whose nervous sensibility hovers over things in Norton's voiceover, is a handicapped man with an extra ability who's one of four orphans from Saint Vincent's Orphanage in Brooklyn saved by Frank Minna (Bruce Willis), who runs a detective agency. When Minna is offed by the Mob in the opening minutes of the movie, Lionel goes chasing. Then he learns city bosses had a hand, and want to repress his efforts.

    Gugu Mbatha-Raw's character, Laura Rose, who becomes a kind of love interest for Lionel Essrog, and likewise willem Dafoe's, Paul Randolph, Moses' brother and opponent, are additional key characters in the film not in the Johathan Lethem book. The cinematography is by the Mike Leigh regular (who produced the exquisite Turner), Dick Pope. He provides a lush, classic look.

    Viewers will have to decide if this mixture of novel, non-fiction book and period recasting works for them or not. For many the problem is inherent in the Lethem novel, that it's a detective story where, as the original Times reviewer Albert Mobilio said, "solving the crime is beside the point." Certainly Norton has created a rich mixture, and this is a "labour of love," "as loving as it is laborious, maybe," is how the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw put it, writing (generally quite favorably) from Toronto. In her intro piece for the first part of the New York Film Festival for the Times Manohla Dargis linked it with the difficult Albert Serra'S Liberté with a one-word reaction: "oof," though she complemented these two as "choices rather than just opportunistically checked boxes." Motherless Brooklyn has many reasons for wanting to be in the New York Film Festival, and for the honor of Closing Night Film, notably the personal passion, but also the persistent rootedness in New York itself through these permutations.

    Motherless Brooklyn, 144 mins., debuted at Telluride Aug. 30, 2019, showing at eight other festivals including Toronto, Vancouver, Mill Valley, and New York, where it was screened at the NYFF OCT. 11, 2019 as the Closing Night film. It opens theatrically in the US Nov. 1, 2019. Current Metascore 60%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-08-2021 at 01:08 PM.

  3. #18
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    THE IRISHMAN (Martin Scorsese 2019)

    [Found also in Filmleaf's Festival Coverage section for the 2019 NYFF]



    Old song

    From Martin Scorsese, who is in his late seventies, comes a major feature that is an old man's film. It's told by an old man, about old men, with old actors digitized (indifferently) to look like and play their younger selves as well. It's logical that The Irishman, about Teamsters loyalist and mob hit man Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), who became the bodyguard and then (as he tells it) the assassin of Union kingpin Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) should have been chosen as Opening Night Film of the New York Film Festival. Scorsese is very New York, even if the film is set in Detroit. He is also a good friend of Film at Lincoln Center. And a great American director with an impressive body of work behind him.

    To be honest, I am not a fan of Scorsese's feature films. I do not like them. They are unpleasant, humorless, laborious and cold. I admire his responsible passion for cinema and incestuous knowledge of it. I do like his documentaries. From Fran Lebowitz's talk about the one he made about her, I understand what a meticulous, obsessive craftsman he is in all his work. He also does have a sense of humor. See how he enjoys Fran's New York wit in Public Speaking. And there is much deadpan humor in The Irishman at the expense of the dimwitted, uncultured gangsters it depicts. Screenwriter Steven Zaillian's script based on Charles Brandt's book about Sheeran concocts numerous droll deadpan exchanges. It's a treat belatedly to see De Niro and Pacino acting together for the first time in extended scenes.

    The Irishman is finely crafted and full of ideas and inspires many thoughts. But I found it monotonous and overlong - and frankly overrated. American film critics are loyal. Scorsese is an icon, and they feel obligated, I must assume, to worship it. He has made a big new film in his classic gangster vein, so it must be great. The Metascore, 94%, nonetheless is an astonishment. Review aggregating is not a science, but the makers of these scores seem to have tipped the scales. At least I hope more critics have found fault with The Irishman than that. They assign 80% ratings to some reviews that find serious fault, and supply only one negative one (Austin Chronicle, Richard Whittaker). Of course Armond White trashes the movie magnificently in National Review ("Déjà Vu Gangsterism"), but that's outside the mainstream mediocre media pale.

    Other Scorsese stars join De Niro and Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel. This is a movie of old, ugly men. Even in meticulously staged crowd scenes, there is not one young or handsome face. Women are not a factor, not remotely featured as in Jonathan Demme's delightful Married to the Mob. There are two wives often seen, in the middle distance, made up and coiffed to the kitsch nines, in expensive pants suits, taking a cigarette break on car trips - it's a thing. But they don't come forward as characters. Note also that out of loyalty to his regulars, Scorsese uses an Italo-American actor to play an Irish-American. There's a far-fetched explanation of Frank's knowledge of Italian, but his Irishness doesn't emerge - just another indication of how monochromatic this movie is.

    It's a movie though, ready to serve a loyal audience with ritual storytelling and violence, providing pleasures in its $140 million worth of production values in period feel, costumes, and snazzy old cars (though I still long for a period movie whose vehicles aren't all intact and shiny). This is not just a remake. Its very relentlessness in showing Frank's steady increments of slow progress up the second-tier Teamsters and mafia outsider functionary ladders is something new. But it reflects Scorsese's old worship of toughs and wise guys and seeming admiration for their violence.

    I balk at Scorsese's representing union goons and gangsters as somehow heroic and tragic. Metacritic's only critic of the film, Richard Whittiker of the Austen Chronicle, seems alone in recognizing that this is not inevitable. He points out that while not "lionizing" mobsters, Scorsese still "romanticizes" them as "flawed yet still glamorous, undone by their own hubris." Whittiker - apparently alone in this - compares this indulgent touch with how the mafia is shown in "the Italian poliziotteschi," Italian Years of Lead gang films that showed them as "boors, bullies, and murderers, rather than genteel gentlemen who must occasionally get their hands dirty and do so oh-so-begrudgingly." Whittiker calls Scorsese's appeal to us to feel Sheeran's "angst" when he's being flown in to kill "his supposed friend" (Hoffa) "a demand too far."

    All this reminded me of a richer 2019 New York Film Festival mafia experience, Marco Bellocchio's The Traitor/Il traditore, the epic, multi-continent story of Tommaso Buscetta, the first big Italian mafia figure who chose to turn state's witness. This is a gangster tale that has perspective, both morally and historically. And I was impressed that Pierfrancesco Favino, the star of the film, who gives a career-best performance as Buscetta, strongly urged us both before and after the NYFF public screening to bear in mind that these mafiosi are small, evil, stupid men. Coppola doesn't see that, but he made a glorious American gangster epic with range and perspective. In another format, so did David Chase om the 2000-2007 HBO epic, "The Sopranos." Scprsese has not done so. Monotonously, and at overblown length, he has once again depicted Italo-Americans as gangsters, and (this time) unions as gangs of thugs.

    The Irishman, 209 mins,. debuted at New York as Opening Night Film; 15 other international festivals, US theatrical release Nov. 1, wide release in many countries online by Netflix Nov. 27. Metascore 94%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-23-2019 at 07:49 PM.

  4. #19
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    BACURAU (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles 2019)



    Not just another Cannes mistake?

    This is a bold film for an arthouse filmmaker to produce, and it has moments of rawness and unpredictability that are admirable. But it seems at first hand to be possibly a misstep both for the previously much subtler chronicler of social and political unease as seen in the 2011 Neighboring Sopunds and 2016 Aquarius, Kleber Mendonça Filho, and for Cannes, which may have awarded novelty rather than mastery in giving it half of the 2019 Jury Prize. It's a movie that excites and then delivers a series of scenes of growing disappointment and repugnance. But I'm not saying it won't surprise and awe you.

    Let's begin with where we are, which is the Brazilian boonies. Bacurau was filmed in the village of Barra in the municipality of Parelhas and in the rural area of the municipality of Acari, at the Sertão do Seridó region, in Rio Grande do Norte. Mendonça Filho shares credit this time with his regular production designer Juliano Dornelles. (They both came originally from this general region, is one reason.) The Wikipedia article introduces it as a "Brazilian weird western film" and its rural shootout, its rush of horses, its showdowns, and its truckload of coffins may indeed befit that peculiar genre.

    How are we to take the action? In his Hollywood Reporter review, Stephen Dalton surprises me by asserting that this third narrative feature "strikes a lighter tone" than the first two and combines "sunny small-town comedy with a fable-like plot" along with "a sprinkle of magic realism." This seems an absurdly watered down description, but the film is many things to many people because it embodies many things. In an interview with Emily Buder, Mendoça Filho himself describes it as a mix of "spaghetti Western, '70's sci-fi, social realist drama, and political satire."

    The film feels real enough to be horrifying, but it enters risky sci-fi horror territory with its futuristic human hunting game topic, which has been mostly an area for schlock. (See a list of ten, with the 1932 Most Dangerous Game given as the trailblazer.) However, we have to acknowledge that Mendonca Filho is smart enough to know all this and may want to use the schlock format for his own sophisticated purpose. But despite Mike D'Angelo's conclusion on Letterboxd that the film may "require a second viewing following extensive reading" due to its rootedness in Brazilian politics, the focus on American imperialists and brutal outside exploiters from the extreme right isn't all that hard to grasp.

    Bacurau starts off as if it means to be an entertainment, with conventional opening credits and a pleasant pop song celebrating Brazil, but that is surely ironic. A big water truck rides in rough, arriving with three bullet holes spewing agua that its driver hasn't noticed. (The road was bumpy.) There is a stupid, corrupt politician, mayor Tony Jr. (Thardelly Lima), who is complicit in robbing local areas of their water supply and who gets a final comeuppance. The focus is on Bacurau, a little semi-abandoned town in the north whose 94-year-old matriarch Carmelita dies and gets a funeral observation in which the whole town participates, though apart the ceremony's strange magic realist aspects Sonia Braga, as a local doctor called Domingas, stages a loud scene because she insists that the deceased woman was evil. Then, with some, including Carmelita's granddaughter Teresa (Barbara Colen), returned to town from elsewhere, along with the handsome Pacote (Tomaso Aquinas) and a useful psychotic local killer and protector of water rights called Lunga (Silvero Pereira), hostile outsiders arrive, though as yet unseen. Their forerunners are a colorfully costumed Brazilian couple in clownish spandex suits on dustrider motorcycles who come through the town. When they're gone, it's discovered seven people have been shot.

    They were an advance crew for a gang of mostly American white people headed by Michael (Udo Kier), whose awkward, combative, and finally murderous conference we visit. This is a bad scene in more ways than one: it's not only sinister and racist, but clumsy, destroying the air of menace and unpredictability maintained in the depiction of Bacurau scenes. But we learn the cell phone coverage of the town has been blocked, it is somehow not included on maps, and communications between northern and southern Brazil are temporarily suspended, so the setting is perfect for this ugly group to do what they've come for, kill locals for sport using collectible automatic weapons. Overhead there is a flying-saucer-shaped drone rumbling in English. How it functions isn't quite clear, but symbolically it refers to American manipulation from higher up. The way the rural area is being choked off requires no mention of Brazil's new right wing strong man Jair Bolsonaro and the Amazonian rain forest.

    "They're not going to kill a kid," I said as a group of local children gather, the most normal, best dressed Bacurauans on screen so far, and play a game of dare as night falls to tease us, one by one creeping as far as they can into the dark. But sure enough, a kid gets shot. At least even the bad guys agree this was foul play. And the bad guys get theirs, just as in a good Western. But after a while, the action seems almost too symbolically satisfying - though this is achieved with good staging and classic visual flair through zooms, split diopter effects, Cinemascope, and other old fashioned techniques.

    I'm not the only one finding Bacurau intriguing yet fearing that it winds up being confused and all over the place. It would work much better if it were dramatically tighter. Peter DeBruge in Variety notes that the filmakers "haven’t figured out how to create that hair-bristling anticipation of imminent violence that comes so naturally to someone like Quentin Tarantino." Mere vague unexpectedness isn't scary, and all the danger and killing aren't wielded as effectively as they should be to hold our attention and manipulate our emotions.

    Bacurau, 131 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes, where it tied for the Jury Prize with the French film, Ladj Ly's Les misérables. Many other awards and at least 31 other festivals including the NYFF. Metascore 74%. AlloCiné press rating 3.8, with a rare rave from Cahiers du Cinéma. US theatrical distribution by Kino Lorber began Mar. 13, 2020, but due to general theater closings caused by the coronavirus pandemic the company launched a "virtual theatrical exhibition initiative," Kino Marquee, with this film from Mar. 19.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-05-2020 at 12:24 PM.

  5. #20
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    ZOMBI CHILD (Bertrand Bonello 2019)



    Voodoo comes to Paris

    If you said Betrand Bonello's films are beautiful, sexy, and provocative you would not be wrong. This new, officially fifth feature (I've still not seen his first one, the 2008 On War), has those elements. Its imagery, full of deep contrasts, can only be described as lush. Its intertwined narrative is puzzling as well.

    We're taken right away to Haiti and plunged into the world of voodoo and zombies. Ground powder from the cut-up body of a blowfish is dropped, unbeknownst to him, into a man's shoes. Walking in them, he soon falters and falls. Later, he's aroused from death to the half-alive state of a zombie - and pushed into a numb, helpless labor in the hell of a a sugar cane field with other victims of the same cruel enchantment. In time however something arouses him to enough life to escape.

    Some of the Haitian sequences center around a moonlit cemetery whose large tombs seem airy and haunted and astonishingly grand for what we know as the poorest country in the hemisphere.

    From the thumping, vibrant ceremonies of Haitian voodoo (Bonello's command of music is always fresh and astonishing as his images are lush and beautiful) we're rushed to the grandest private boarding school you've ever seen, housed in vast stone government buildings. This noble domaine was established by Napoleon Bonaparte on the edge of Paris, in Saint Denis, for the education of children of recipients of the Legion of Honor. It really exists, and attendance there is still on an honorary basis.

    Zombi Child oscillates between girls in this very posh Parisian school and people in Haiti. But these are not wholly separate places. A story about a Haitian grandfather (the zombie victim, granted a second life) and his descendants links the two strains. It turns out one of those descendants, Mélissa (Wislanda Louimat), is a new student at the school. A white schoolgirl, Fanny (the dreamy Louise Labeque), who's Mélissa's friend and sponsors her for membership in a sorority, while increasingly possessed by a perhaps imaginary love, also bridges the gap. For the sorority admission Mélissa confesses the family secret of a zombi and voodoo knowledge in her background.

    Thierry Méranger of Cahiers du Cinéma calls this screenplay "eminently Bonellian in its double orientation," its "interplay of echoes" between "radically different" worlds designed to "stimulate the spectator's reflection." Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times bluntly declares that it's meant to "interrogate the bitter legacy of French colonialism."

    But how so? And if so, this could be a tricky proposition. On NPR Andrew Lapin was partly admiring of how "cerebral and slippery" the film is, but suggests that since voodoo and zombies are all most white people "already know" about Haitian culture, a director coming from Haiti's former colonizing nation (France) must do "a lot of legwork to use these elements successfully in a "fable" where "the real horror is colonialism." The posh school comes from Napoleon, who coopted the French revolution, and class scenes include a history professor lecturing on this and how "liberalism obscures liberty."

    I'm more inclined to agree with Glenn Kenny's more delicately worded praise in his short New York Times review of the film where he asserts that the movie’s inconclusiveness is the source of its appeal. Zombi Child, he says, is fueled by insinuation and fascination. The fascination, the potent power, of the occult, that's what Haiti has that the first wold lacks.

    One moment made me authentically jump, but Bonello isn't offering a conventional horror movie. He's more interested in making his hints of voodoo's power and attraction, even for the white lovelorn schoolgirl, seem as convincing as his voodoo ceremonies, both abroad and back in Haiti, feel thoroughly attractive, or scary, and real. These are some of the best voodoo scenes in a movie. This still may seem like a concoction to you. Its enchantments were more those of the luxuriant imagery, the flowing camerawork, the delicious use of moon- and candle-light, the beautiful people, of whatever color. This is world-class filmmaking even if it's not Bonello's best work.

    Bonello stages things, gets his actors to live them completely, then steps back and lets it happen. Glenn Kenny says his "hallmark" is his "dreamy detachment." My first look at that was the 2011 House of Tolerence (L'Apollonide - mémoires de la maison close), which I saw in Paris, a languorous immersion in a turn-of-the-century Parisian brothel, intoxicating, sexy, slightly repugnant. Next came his most ambitious project, Saint Laurent(2014), focused on a very druggy period in the designer's career and a final moment of decline. He has said this became a kind of matching panel for Apollonide. (You'll find that in an excellent long Q&A after the NYFF screening.) Saint Laurent's "forbidden" (unsanctioned) picture of the fashion house is as intoxicating, vibrant, and cloying as the maison close, with its opium, champagne, disfigurement and syphilis. No one can say Gaspard Ulliel wasn't totally immersed in his performance. Nocturama (2016) takes a group of wild young people who stage a terrorist act in Paris, who seem to run aground in a posh department store at the end, Bonello again getting intense action going and then seeming to leave it to its own devices, foundering. Those who saw the result as "shallow cynicism" (like A.O. Scott) missed how exciting and powerful it was. (Mike D'Angelo didn't.)

    Zombi Child is exciting at times too. But despite its gorgeous imagery and sound, its back and forth dialectic seems more artificial and calculating than Bonello's previous films.

    Zombi Child, mins., debuted at Cannes Directors Fortnight May 2019, included in 13 other international festivals, including Toronto and New York. It released theatrically in France Jun. 12, 2020 (AlloCiné press rating 3.7m 75%) and in the US Jan. 24, 2020 (Metascore 75%). Now available in "virtual theater" through Film Movement (Mar. 23-May 1, 2020), which benefits the theater of your choice.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-07-2020 at 07:36 PM.

  6. #21
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    WASP NETWORK (Olivier Assayas 2019)



    Spies nearby

    The is a movie about the Cuban spies sent to Miami to combat anti-Castro Cuban-American groups, and their capture. They are part of what the Cubans called La Red Avispa (The Wasp Network). The screenplay is based on the book The Last Soldiers of the Cold War by Fernando Morais, and it's mainly from the Wasp, Cuban point of view, not the FBI point of view. Unlike the disastrous Seberg, no time is spent looking over the shoulders of G-men, nor will this story give any pleasure to right wing Miami Cubans. But it won't delight leftists much either, or champions of the Cuban Five. The issues of why one might leave Cuba and why one might choose not to are treated only superficially. There's no analysis of US behavior toward Cuba since the revolution.

    On the plus side, the film is made in an impeccable, clear style (with one big qualification: see below) and there's an excellent cast with as leads Edgar Ramirez (of the director's riveting miniseries Carlos), Penelope Cruz (Almodóvar's muse), Walter Moura (Escobar in the Netflix series "Narcos"), Ana de Armas (an up-and-comer who's actually Cuban but lives in Hollywood now), and Gael García Bernal (he of course is Mexican, Moura is Brazilian originally, and Ramirez is Venezuelan). They're all terrific, and other cast members shine. Even a baby is so amazing I thought she must be the actress' real baby.

    Nothing really makes sense for the first hour. We don't get the whole picture, and we never do, really. We focus on René Gonzalez (Édgar Ramirez), a Puerto Rican-born pilot living in Castro’s Cuba and fed up with it, or the brutal embargo against Castro by the US and resulting shortage of essential goods and services, who suddenly steals a little plane and flies it to Miami, leaving behind his wife Olga and young daughter. Olga is deeply shocked and disappointed to learn her husband is a traitor. He has left without a word to her. Born in Chicago, he was already a US citizen and adapts easily, celebrated as an anti-Castro figure.

    We also follow another guy, Juan Pablo Roque (Wagner Moura) who escapes Havana by donning snorkel gear and swimming to Guantanamo, not only a physical challenge but riskier because prison guards almost shoot him dead when he comes out of the water. Roque and Gonzalez are a big contrast. René is modest, content with small earnings, and starts flying for a group that rescues Cuban defectors arriving by water. Juan Pablo immediately woos and marries the beautiful Ana Marguerita Martinez (Ana de Armas) and, as revealed by an $8,000 Rolex, is earning big bucks but won't tell Ana how. This was the first time I'd seen Wagner Moura, an impressively sly actor who as Glenn Kenny says, "can shift from boyish to sinister in the space of a single frame" - and that's not the half of it.

    This is interesting enough to keep us occupied but it's not till an hour into the movie, with a flashback to four years earlier focused on Cuban Gerardo Hernandez (Garcia Bernal) that we start to understand something of what is going on. We learn about the CANF and Luis Posada Carriles (Tony Plana), and a young man's single-handed effort to plant enough bombs to undermine the entire Cuban tourist business. This late-arriving exposition for me had a deflating and confounding effect. There were still many good scenes to follow. Unfortunately despite them, and the good acting, there is so much exposition it's hard to get close to any of the individual characters or relationships.

    At the moment I'm an enthusiastic follower of the FX series "The Americans." It teaches us that in matters of espionage, it's good to have a firm notion of where the main characters - in that case "Phillip" and "Elizabeth" - place their real, virtually unshakable loyalties, before moving on. Another example of which I'm a longtime fan is the spy novels of John le Carré. You may not be sure who's loyal, but you always know who's working for British Intelligence, even in the latest novel the remarkable le Carré, who at 88, has just produced (Agent Running in the Field - for which he's performed the audio version, and no one does that better). To be too long unclear about these basics in spydom is fatal.

    It's said that Assayas had a lot of trouble making Wasp Network, which has scenes shot in Cuba in it. At least the effort doesn't show. We get a glimpse of Clinton (this happened when he was President) and Fidel, who, in a hushed voice, emphatically, asserts his confidence that the Red Avispa was doing the right thing and that the Americans should see that. Whose side do you take?

    Wasp Network, 123 mins., debuted at Venice and showed at about ten other international festivals including Toronto, New York, London and Rio. It was released on Netflix Jun. 19, 2019, and that applies to many countries (13 listed on IMDb). Metascore 54%
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-15-2020 at 11:53 PM.

  7. #22
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    GET AWAY IF YOU CAN (Terrence Martin, Dominique Braun 2022)



    Crazy couple on an island, with flashbacks

    Terrence Martin previously directed the not much noticed 2009The Donner Party, with Crispin Glover. A Cinemagazine review in Danish compliments Glover's straightforward lead performance and says, "The cast acts solidly, the sets look good and the soundtrack is also good. Still, 'Famished' is not recommended. The rigid narrative structure, the slow pace and the muddled editing throw a spanner in the works." (Wife Dominique Braun has no previous credits.) The Danish review says the film begins in medias res with no explanation. This one does the same, plunging us onto a small sailing yacht with an awkward couple (Martin and Braun) going somewhere, we don't know where. Domi (Braun) wants to take a day off on nearby islands. T.J. (Martin) refuses, wanting to complete the journey and saying these are known as "the Islands of Despair." While he is drunk (he is a drinker, also a surfer), she takes a rubber raft and camps on the island. As the awkward couple marinates in this untenable situation, a lot of flashbacks come along to explain how they got here.

    The latter feature Marina (Martina Gusman), a Spanish-speaking woman friend of Domi's back home in South America, saying she admires her love story but Domi, who dabbles in art but is no good and seems to know it, complains that they are not having sex. These alternate with scenes featuring Ed Harris as T.J''s ultra-macho, retro father, disapproving of his planned boat trip, but also insisting he be very careful and establish he is the captain. T.J. evidently has failed at that since Domi has gone on her own in a quite crazy and dangerous way in landing alone on a deserted island. More flashbacks explain the father never liked his son's relationship with this woman and even planned with his other son (Riley Smith) to disrupt it. Domi tells Marina all her husband does is "work all day with his father." The father plans for the son to inherit his business, or did: he now declares him to be an f--ing loser.

    Further flashbacks reveal Domi fleeing dinner after an ugly moment alone with the father and due to the repeatedly alluded to lack of sex and disliking the "gringo" lifestyle, packing up and returning to South America. How they got back together later we don't find out, but it's hinted T.J.'s brother has made him a lot of money and, disloyal to their father, offered him a way to win Domi back. Scenes of Marina and Domi (returned to S.A.) show Domi isn't happy back home either, and decides on her own to return to her husband.

    Meanwhile back on the island - a present time nearly overwhelmed by all these flashbacks - things are progressively crazier. Domi seems to want to settle in by herself, and refuses a catch of fish T.J. offers. T.J. alternately surfs, fishes, and sits among the sea lions and rocks in a wet suit practicing loudly with a Spanish language textbook.

    The surf, the rocks, the islands are dramatic and ruggedly beautiful. The couple washed up on it are a mess and it's impossible to care about them. There is an ominous percussive score that promises something menacing. It goes with the film's anguished, fumbling invention.

    Get Away If You Can, 78 mins., not previously seen, will show in Los Angeles at Laemmle Monica and other select theaters and on digital for rent or purchase from Fri., Aug. 19, 2022.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-05-2022 at 01:32 AM.

  8. #23
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    Jul 2002
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    Filmls not reviewed

    Unreviewed - a summer list (to be continued)


    New summer movies I could not review or preferred not to review. More will be added..

    BABYSITTER (Monia Chokri 2021). Again, like BULLET TRAIN, superficially clever, though nowhere on that production level: a hazy, self-satisfied candy-colored playing around with misogyny and male self-absorption focused on a man who writes a whole book, a bestseller, he hopes, instead of just apologizing, to atone for a rude recorded public kiss that gets him fired from his job. Jessica Kiang shows in her excellent, detailed Variety review that it just isn't as smart or hip as it thinks. She calls it "forced" and "haphazard." Watched on a screener.

    BULLET TRAIN ( David Leitch 2022). Facile train actioner full of clever flashbacks, onscreen titles, and slo-mo violence in a derivative style based on Guy Ritchie and various other undesirable models. Very slickly done and some admire it, but I do not see how you can take it seriously. It's too slick. All that saves it is Brad Pitt's laid-back persona as a hired assassin who wants to become a nice guy now. Brian Tyree Henry is in this, who plays Al/Paper Boi in "Atlanta." Not a worthy follow-up but would would know?

    CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH (Cooper Raiff 2022). I loved his simpler debut, SHITHOUSE (UK title FRESHMAN YEAR), but the slowness and excessive self-regard sinks this sophomore effort about a young man (Raiff) who falls for older women and briefly gets a gig as a "party starter" at Bat and Bar Mitzvahs. Not a slog, since he plays and is a people-pleaser, just blah. People hate the accent; I thought it was real smooth.

    COSTA BRAVA, LEBANON (Mounia Akl 2021). I missed the July 15 and 22, 2022 US release dates.

    I LOVE MY DAD (James Morosini 2022). No, I did review it, though I lost my review at first, then found it a day after its release on my second computer where I had not absent-mindedly copied over it. Maybe I shouldn't. It's generally thought to be "cringeworthy." But I still see something deserving a thread of sympathy since Morosini really was "catfished" (victim of fake identity entrapment) by his father, and somehow they lived beyond it.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-08-2022 at 10:57 PM.

  9. #24
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    BABYSITTER (Monia Chokri 2021)


    The clumsy, drunken lunge and uninvited cheek-kiss that precipitates the action in wildly uneven French-Canadian comedy “Babysitter” is oddly appropriate for a film that can also feel like the victim of misguided, intrusive, if hardly malevolent exuberance. Far less coherent than her more focused and confident debut “A Brother’s Love,” Monia Chokri’s second feature is basically a series of sketches, some of which comment on ingrained, unconscious misogyny, while others lampoon the culture of hypersensitivity around less severe examples of unexamined sexism, such as that forced kiss. This makes it apt, too, that “Babysitter” has such a sugary aesthetic: It often looks like the cake it wants both to have and to eat. - Jessica Kiang, Variety.

    The film is based on screenwriter Catherine Léger’s play, and perhaps the herky-jerk structure works on stage. On screen, however, it just feels undisciplined, as its Quentin Dupieux-style visual drollery never quite gels with its more obvious, broadly smutty farce.

    The film is replete with cleavage and sexy maid’s outfits and perspiring men adjusting their bulging pants, but curiously low on actual sexual content: all titillation, no consummation.

    The husband thinks the kiss will blow over. I
    Instead, it becomes a cause célèbre, thanks in large part to a condemnatory newspaper article penned by Cédric’s holier-than-thou brother Jean-Michel (Steve Laplante), and Cédric is suspended from his job. He’s frustrated and befuddled, until he and Jean-Michel hit on the idea of writing not just an apology letter to the journalist he assaulted, but a whole book of apology letters to women in the public eye. - KIang.

    From Letterboxd: I recognize the audacity of the production but it annoyed me more than anything else and I find that it doesn't always fit with the subject matter. A little restraint would have been in order..
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-08-2022 at 08:06 PM.

  10. #25
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    PASOLINI100 (Castro, Sat., Sept. 10, 2022)

    PASOLINI 100, a day-long event 9/10/22 at San Francisco's historic Castro Theater

    To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922–1975), on Saturday, September 10, 2022, at the historic Castro Theater the Italian Cultural Institute, Cinema Italia San Francisco, in collaboration with Artistic Soul Association under the auspices of the S.F. Consul General of Italy will show, starting at 10 am, PASOLINI (Abel Ferrara, 2014); at 12:30 MAMMA ROMA; at 3:00 pm ACCATTONE; and at 6 pm MEDEA. Afterward, from 8 to 10 pm, Rudy of C’era una Volta restaurant will provide a Roman-style meal to a select few at the Castro mezzanine. You can taper off at 10 pm with Pasolini's dark final film SALÒ OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM. Twelve hours of Pasolini homage!

    About the series films. ACCATONE is Pasolni's 1961 first film, a raw, sad study of a dead-end Roman punk (played by non-actor Franco Citti, who was to be in seven more Pasolini films and many others, and also direct) who lacks even the wherewithal or the energy to be a pimp, though he will pimp any woman who becomes involved with him, and is mocked by his regular cafe terrace pals, also would-be pimps and do-nothings. Bertolucci said in ACCATTONE Pasolini was reinventing cinema, and that he returned to ACCATTONE in making his own films when in need of inspiration, as returning to the source.

    One can contrast this crude but intense debut - which nonetheless was a great success with the public - with Fellini's sophomore effort the 1953 I VITELLONI, also about a group of do-nothings, but joyous, bourgeois ones who choose and have the means to enjoy their idleness; and in contrast Fellini's film is smooth, professional, and charming. After all, the only thing Fellini ever wanted to do was make films; Pasolini was first and foremost a poet and novelist, though it's the films that have guaranteed him lasting fame outside Italy.

    Pasolini followed up his success with the clearly post-neoreaist ACCATTONE with the more operatic, stridently tragic MAMMA ROMA, this time with the great star, Anna Magnani in the lead as the ex-prostitute who switches to selling vegetables in the Roman street market and tries to raise her already sixteen-year-old son Ettore (tall, baby-faced Ettore Garofolo, whom Pasolini and the camera adore), who goes bad and dies tragically, in a prison hospital bed posed like Mantegna's dying Christ. Everything about this film is operatic, the scenes are like arias, without clear links from one to the next. It doesn't make a great deal of sense but oh, does it grab you and the cry of pain for the poor and disadvantaged cuts to the heart even as it celebrates the young punks Pasolini was fatally attracted to.

    Pasolini was to remain a rude, self-made filmmaker, whose films never acquired the studio polish Fellini's had from the start but kept a memorable rough intensity that reflects Pasolini's bleak Marxist outlook and his love of the common people. These are biases that motivated his career-long reliance on non-actors (using artful Italian studio dubbing of voices by pros). In working this way he drew on the tradition of the great postwar Italian "neorealismo" directors led by Rossellini and DeSica (from Rome, Open City to Miracle in Milan), whose "realism" was a skillful and uniquely Italian blend of the authenticity of non-actors with the professionalism of voices dubbed in the studio. This period, the Sixties, it's worth noting, was a time when the Italians were at the top of their game as filmmakers and directors like Fellini, Antonioni, Visconti and Bertolucci (who assisted Pasolini on ACCATTONE) were important to cinema worldwide. Great Italian film comedies were made as well as solemn and ambitious films like La Dolce Vita and L'Aventura. In the small world of Italian filmmaking, Primitive non-cinephile Pier Paolo, with his growing notoriety and popularity, had access.

    His lasting roughness and amateurism didn't keep Pasolini from making great films. He went deeper than the neoreslists into a world of wonderful found faces and tendency of the camera to linger on upon them. He also added elements of fantasy and tackled bold literary subjects like the Greek tragedies in Oedipus Rex and Medea and at the end famous story collections in the wonderful Decameron, Canterbury Tales, and Arabian Nights. The breathtaking boldness of tackling all these subjects is a mix of the passionate amateur and the poet. No one but Pasolini could have made his electrifying Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Peter Bradshaw has called it "A fierce magnesium flame of a movie." The Gospel is a neorealist recreation of the life of Jesus so direct and authentic it feels like you're transported back to the Holy Land at the time of Christ - a film widely acknowledged to be the only cinematic treatment of this subject that really matters. Pasolini's passion and boldness as a filmmaker are unique. Pasolini's use of music issimple and powerful too. While Fellini had found his own light but distinctive composer in Nino Rota, Pasolini was often satisfied with Bach's B Minor Mass or Vivaldi. But by 1968 for TEOREMA he had switched to Mozart's Requiem and engaged the services of Ennio Moricone. Whatever the score of the genre, one of his films was charged with offense to morality, but every one won release in court.

    Pier Paolo Pasolini: Director credits (IMDb)
    2008 La rabbia di Pasolini (Documentary)
    1975 Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom
    1974 Arabian Nights
    1972 The Canterbury Tales
    1972 12 dicembre (Documentary) (uncredited)
    1971 The Decameron
    1971 The Walls of Sana'a (Documentary short)
    1970 Appunti per un romanzo sull'immondezza (Documentary)
    1970 Notes Towards an African Orestes (Documentary)
    1969 Medea
    1969 Porcile
    1969 Amore e rabbia (segment "La sequenza del fiore di carta")
    1968 Teorema
    1968 Appunti per un film sull'India (TV Movie documentary)
    1968 Caprice Italian Style (segment "Che cosa sono le nuvole?")
    1968 Che cosa sono le nuvole? (Short)
    1967 Pasolini intervista: Ezra Pound (TV Short documentary) (uncredited)
    1967 Oedipus Rex
    1967 The Witches (segment "Terra vista dalla luna, La")
    1966 The Hawks and the Sparrows (Uccellacci e uccellini)
    1965 Sopralluoghi in Palestina per il vangelo secondo Matteo (Documentary)
    1964 The Gospel According to St. Matthew ("L'evangelo secondo Matteo)
    1964 Love Meetings (Documentary) (Comici d'amore_
    1963 La rabbia (Documentary) (part one)
    1963 Ro.Go.Pa.G. (segment "La ricotta")
    1962 Mamma Roma
    1961 Accattone
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; Yesterday at 07:01 PM.

  11. #26
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    Jul 2002
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    ACCATTONE should perhaps be contrasted with Fellini's 1953? I VITELLONI, recently Patron-reviewed by Mike D'Angelo

    Medea (CK review) shows that Pasolini as a filmmaker was always at best a brilliant amateur. His boldness and originality, his breaking of rules, sometimes works terrifically well, and sometimes falls flat, as it does here. Of course this is meant as a radical reinterpretation of ancient material in primitive ritualistic terms. But this is Greek tragedy. More is lost than gained. This isn't the case with the story trilogy. Pasolini uses only a handful from each of the three collections, but in them he brings them magically to life.
    The Italian Cultural Institute
    Cinema Italia San Francisco
    In collaboration with
    Artistic Soul Association

    under the auspices of
    the Consul General of Italy in San


    PASOLINI 100:

    Homage to Pier Paolo Pasolini
    On the 100 year anniversary of his birth
    Saturday, September 10, 2022
    Castro Theatre
    429 Castro Street
    San Francisco, CA
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-10-2022 at 08:39 AM.

  12. #27
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    Messy love

    Also known as Both Sides of the Blade, this is a love triangle film centered on Juliette Binoche, whose longtime lover is Vincent Lindon, but who is blindsided when she runs into former lover Grégoire Colin. This is considerably further complicated when François (Colin) contacts Jean (Lindon) and proposes they work together in a sports management agency (Jean is a former pro rugby player) as they had before Jean served a prison sentence. Sara (Binoche) and Jean tell each other this is going to be fine. But in private Sara is emotionally disturbed; her world has suddenly turned upside down. Soon Jean leaves her to her small but ship-shape modern Paris flat, no doubt funded by Sara's successful job as a government radio presenter, where a lot of the indoor action transpires, and returns to his mother (Bulle Ogier) in the banlieue of Vitry where she has been raising his fifteen-year-old mixed-blood son Marcus (Issa Perica).

    Denis is working with very basic material in a seamless, no-nonsense way here (D'Angelo has called it, disapprovingly, "Dogme style"), in a world of the passions and the quotidian. The style is a little like her Friday Night, or perhaps Un beau soleil intérieur . There is logic in these connections because Lindon starred in Friday Night and Binoche in the other film: both are about passionate lovemaking. (The name of Lindon's character is Jean in the other film too.) And Denis collaborated with writer Christine Angot before on Beau soleil. This is Grégoire Colin's eighth appearance in a Denis film; he has an interesting history.

    Despite the overlaps, the material feels fresh, even if it has its clichéd or heavy-handed moments, mainly because of the very Claire Denis eroticism and the anger fueling things up from scene to scene, save in the blissful prelude where Jean and Sara are on a honeymoon-like vacation floating in a sea of too-good-to-be-true amorous bliss. Before François and Sara have gotten back together, Jean is already very jealous. He's seen how she looked at François at a gathering and can't bear that he kissed her on the mouth, or believe her insistence that she turned away. This is an all-too-believable, grating quarrel. Then we see François and Sara in bed together and it's beyond turning away. He wants her to turn around so he can enter her from behind and she protests as the camera, supervised by Éric Gautier this time, not Denis' regular dp Agnès Godard, shows their aging, no longer trim bodies.

    Richard Brody, in good form here, wrote an elaborate description of this film when it showed in the New York Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. He works out what happened between Jean and François in surprising detail given the scrappy hints provided. I don't know how he figures it out so well, but it makes sense. In some vague way François is a bad guy (did Jean take a rap for him?), though Sara's leaving him originally for Jean, was that "right"? Should the kind of sleuthing Brody has done be necessary to make sense of a movie plot?

    There is a secondary theme of the son and race. As Brody puts it, "Jean tries to give [Marcus] a lesson in race-blind autonomy, and it doesn’t take." This "lesson" for the sullen boy, who is rudderless at fifteen and seems without hope, is disturbing to watch because Jean cluelessly lectures his son and doesn't listen to him, but this element is nonetheless carefully handled by the African born and raised Denis, who also introduces a radio interview by Sara with a real African talking about white privilege, citing Franz Fanon.

    With the sketchy information we're given about the characters and the unresolved, broken ending, Fire leaves one unsatisfied, perhaps longing for the kind of genteel love relations we get in Éric Rohmer's films, which are free of anything like the two repetitious, angry yell-fests between Jean and Sara we have to sit through here, so lacking in French logic or elegance. But Fire is an appropriate film for our disturbed, hostile times and in fact the mask-wearing and vaccinations in includes make it very much of the present post-pandemic era. I'd agree with Brody Fire is "a work of shocking emotional immediacy." The difference is this doesn't quite feel to me like Denis in top form. What she does capture in the verbal fights that's rarely so clear - though the big yell-fest in Baumbach's Marriage Story is similar, if more interesting - is how lovers can show they don't know what they think or feel but that they only know that everything has gone wrong. And nobody else could have made a movie quite like this.

    Fire/Avec amour et acharnement ("With Love and Relentlessness") 116 mins., debuted at the Berlinale Feb. 12, 2022 where Denis won Best Director; a few festival showings since then, mostly in the US, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, Sun Valley, Florida, Wisconsin, San Francisco (SFIFF). US theatrical release Jul. 8, 2022, French release Aug. 31, 2022.

    A French pre-release review: RFI.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-09-2022 at 07:05 PM. Reason: FIRE (Claire Denis 2021)

  13. #28
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    Wrist surgery in early December kept me from driving to movies, and I couldn't type very much at first either, so I watched some old ones I remembered with pleasure. This list starts Jan. 1, 2022. Not counting movies I saw in theaters or reviewed.

    THE LAST SEDUCTION. (John Dahl 1994). I remember Dahl made the best neonoirs ever, for a little while. Linda Fiorentino excels as the vagina dentata the killer femme fatale who will stop at nothing. But she comes across as a little too evil. She needs some touch of weakness, some saving grace. There is none.

    CHINATOWN (Roman Polanski 1970). Well before John Dahl Polanski made the best neonoir ever. Only Robert Towne's great screenplay, especially compared to Dahl, is so grand and historical and political, it lacks the fly-by-night quality of the usual noirs. There are lines I remember not from the film but from somebody quoting them to me like the woman who calls Jack Nicholson asking "Are you alone?" and he replies "Isn't everyone?"

    FLIRTING WITH DISASTER (David O. Russell 1996). This tale of a man, played by Ben Stiller, who was adopted and raised by a neurotic New York Jewish couple and when grown up goes looking for his birth parents out in the American hinterland, was hilarious then, and it's still hilarious now. With Patricia Arquette and Téa Leoni, and featuring George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore as the adoptive parents who are drawn into the fray. The great cast includes supporting roles from Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin as a holdover couple from the Sixties and Josh Brolin and Richard Jenkins as a gay couple in law enforcement who come along for the ride. Unlike Demme, Russell went on to do more great independent movies.

    THE LOST DAUGHTER. In theaters now but also on Netflix. I wrote a review of this which I did not enjoy but admired, as I did both enjoy and admire Sorrentino's THE HAND OF GOD also on Netfilx, which I enjoyed a lot; and others I will publish later from screeners. I also saw and reviewed Adam McKay's DON'T LOOK UP this way and discussed it with my friend Jessica, who enjoyed it more.

    LA COLLECTIONNEUSE (Eric Rohmer 1967). This contains some of the most obnoxious men in any Rohmer film. But the pretty young girl is bulletproof: nothing fazes her. One of my least favorite Rohmer films; I probably forget watching it because I repress it. Evidently I don't appreciate the satire.

    KILL ME AGAIN (John Dahl 1994). This comes before THE LAST SEDUCTION and features a less horrible female - and Val Kilmer as the fall guy private detective. The violence and rapacious cruelty of the women in these two pictures might be called out as blatantly sexist today. But the movies have a durable seediness. Rarely do any American films today capture the down-and-dirty danger and sheer tackiness of neo-noir, and not with such fluency.

    THE BLUE LAGOON (Randal Kleiser 1980). This was despised and mocked; I had never seen it. Now it's a beautiful escape. The cinematography of Nestor Almendros, who shot a lot of Éric Rohmer's films, including LA COLLECTIONNEUSE, was justifiably Oscar-nominated, and Chris Atkins got a best newcomer Golden Gloves nomination. This is a Victorian story, and a dream of Paradise. I take it straight: innocent, not soft-core porn. Netflix.

    MARRIED TO THE MOB (Jonathan Demme 1988). Demme made this and Something Wild, two delightful, light, hip, original pictures with no special agenda, and then went astray. He deserved little credit for the sick, homophobic Silence of the Lambs and sought absolution with the middlebrow, dull AIDS picture Philadelphia, and for no good reason got festival attention for the tedious, overlong Rachel Getting Married. The fun never returned, alas. Michelle Pfeiffer is great as the sweet but ballsy Mafia widow who dares to break away from The Family and try to move to the Lower East Side and be a hairdresser. Matthew Modine is in his prime as the boisterous, physical young FBI agent who gets into a flirt with the Pfeiffer, the lady he's supposed to be tailing, and Mercedes Ruhl shines as the ball-buster gangster wife. The whole thing is a romp that ends up with a shootout like the final of Ridley Scott's TRUE ROMANCE scripted by Tarantino under the influence of John Woo - but that came five years later.

    SOMETHING WILD (Demme 1986). This is really more interesting than MARRIED TO THE MOB because it takes us into some trippy head-spaces, while still remaining basically an eccentric rom-com romp - though one that turns deadly when yuppie Jeff Daniels, who's been kidnapped for the weekend by wild young woman Melanie Griffith, is menaced by ex-con husband Ray Lotta who turns up at a high school reunion. All three of these actors are in their prime and turn in sensational performances. This shows Demme's lifelong musical hipness (discussed in this NPR piece) like nothing else, with street performers popping up in location scenes and Sister Carole literally stepping out of her role as a cafe waitress to stand on the sidewalk at film's end to deliver her unique island version of "Wild Thing." This film has the freedom and excitement of the French New Wave, with a whole new layer of American vernacular vibes.

    LOVE [or CHLOE] IN THE AFTERNOON/L'AMOUR L'APRÈS-MIDI (ÉRIC ROHMER 1972). Frédéric, the protagonist, is a silly, idle bourgeois with a posh Paris office job and a correct wife in the suburbs (and a tot and a babe enroute) who consents to flirt with the sexy, elegant, and unstable Chloé. A subplot is girl-watching which is shown to be in Paris justifiably a fine art; and the glamorous, gorgeous women, who Fédéric fantasizes being able to bend to his will with a magical amulet, as well as several pretty and extravagantly dressed young men, including the always impeccably dressed Frédéric, who we see carefully shopping for accessories, exemplify a new world where men as well as women wear flashy, fashionable hairstyles and designer clothes. All this is gorgeously photographed in luminous color by the great Nestor Almendros.

    This is one Rohmer fans watch over and over. New observations are that it includes a 16-year-old Fabrice Lucchini with long blond hair, a skinny boy, playing Vincent, the would-be boyfriend of Laura (longtme Rohmer favorite Béatrice Romand). It is also amusing to note that the actor, Jean-Claude Brialy the older man who flirts with the young girls who have young boyfriends and finally gets to touch the knee of young stunner Claire (Laurence de Monaghan) was gay. And openly so. He was important in Nouvelle Vague films like Le Beau Serge and Les Cousins. Apart from being desirable, Claire isnl't very interesting - in the French sense of having good conversation. But the conversation is all between Jerome (Brialy) and his older woman friend Lucinda.

    THEY ALL LAUGHED (Peter Bogdonovich 1981). Watched as a homage to Bogdonovich, who just died. I don't understand it, but I didn't want to watch Targets. The forgotten The Thing Called Love touches me, but it's hard to watch films with River Phoenix in them, too sad. There are a few very positive readings of this movie, but it tends to be dismissed as a flop.

    ELEVATOR TO THE SCAFFOLD/'ASSENCEUR POUR L'ECHAFAUD (Louis Malle 1958). Some dismiss this too as being interesting chiefly only for the splendid, spare, improvised Miles David score (as Richard Brody has recently argued). However while I love that as I also love the MJQ one for No Sun in Venice, this reads like a classic to me. I like seeing Georges Poujouly, the little boy on the René Clément's heartbreaking Forbidden Games, grown up into a juvenile delinquent foreshadowing Godard's use of Belmondo in Breathless. Jeanne Moreau's all-night walkaround forshadows her walkaround in Antonioni's [I]La Notte in 1961.

    WEST SIDE STORY (Robert Wise 1961). Someone of my vintage would be expected to have seen this but I avoided a lot of stuff when I was younger because it didn't interest me. I watched it now to prepare for seeing Spielberg's remake. Pauline Kael did one of her pans for KPFA radio, seven years before she got the New Yorker job. She is wrong to dismiss Jerome Robbins' choreography, which is one of the important things, even if it's over-the-top. This won a raft of Oscars, often a bad sign. It seems Kael is right about one thing: this debases the Shakespearean material. These middle class older white men didn't know anything about teenage gangs. I am sure Spielberg's version will try to be more knowing, using more unsubtitled detailed Spanish dialogue, but they are still older middleclass white men. We are more knowing about some things. If someone made Lawrence of Arabia today, it would have more than three Arabic words in it. But after all, Spielberg was doing a homage, not a whole new musical. And musicals aren't meant to be realistic anyway.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-10-2022 at 06:24 PM.

  14. #29
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    Jul 2002
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    GASOLINE ALLEY (Edward Drake 2022)



    A very glib talky COVID confinement two-hander that winds up going around in circles

    This is, inevitably, a closet drama. Filmed over ten days for television, and doubtless well suited to the small screen, it depicts a period of home COVID lockdown of a man and woman (they have a child) who profess, at the outset, to cordially dislike each other and not to look forward to the prolonged time together this situation will entail. These are two excellent actors, but despite some very fluent, not to say glib, writing from the fluent pen of Dennis Kelly, they cannot, alas, save the proceedings from being uneventful, talky, highly theatrical, and ultimately forgettable. Those actors are James McAvoy ("He"), Sharon Horgan ("She"), and young Samuel Logan ("Artie"), a small family in London together for long months of confinement. The time doesn't feel so long so much as repetitive and unproductive. The film skips through it, using intertitles to highlight successive chunks of it. The film feels long nonetheless, because a super-talky but otherwise eventful film about COVID is not what most of us probably need to see right now. Not now, if ever. But Stephen Daldry: he's a good director, right? And James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan: ace actors, right? How can we go wrong? Well, this is a well-made kind of unambitious film that you probably won't remember beyond next week. McAvoy puts on "his" cute Scottish accent, she her mildly colorful English one. They talk a lot. It's very static.

    The theme is of a man and woman forced to re-evaluate themselves (a little) and their relationship as a couple (at length) through the reality of the COVID-19 lockdown. Tjeu have a child and a nice house, but normally they are away much of the day. And now, all of a sudden, they are together. They're presumably the kind of posh people who can work at home. This is a topic that is neglected - the work; toward the end we learn his company has gone under, but little else about it except that he's the one who's had to tell employees they've lost their jobs. But after flirting with the idea of getting married, she assures him they should stay together. They love-hate each other too much to want to be with anyone else. The ups and downs of their feelings as a couple are marked by intertitles showing the successive dates. External events are indicated by things they say, but not in great detail.

    This is a very low-keyed drama. Imagine a story in which a big action moment in the last quarter comes when he makes aubergine (eggplant) fritters, which upon Artie's confession that he does not like aubergines, he throws in the garbage. Most of the time they are in the kitchen. They talk. They come and go and then they talk some more. Time passes. Feelings shift. In the end, they feel a little bit less hostile - if they ever really were hostile and not just playacting - than they did at the beginning, and their relationship has, after all, survived.

    The setting is a cozy, homely kind of nice London house. There's an upstairs, because that's where the kid goes, the young son who's hardly used at all in this two-hander of lengthy addresses across the fourth wall to us, about themselves and their relationship.

    The theme is that hate is a kind of love. This is an exploration, as COVID lockdown could be, of whether a couple can stand each other. "He" and "She" begin by stating that they absolutely despise each other. He hates her mouth. She hates him. No reasons why, they just do. They've been together too long, the love, if there ever was any has drained away, and being in close proximity 24/7 looks like an eternal damnation. All this feels artificial, especially so since it is declared with frequent turns of the head to us, the audience, who are not really there.

    Vicariously, at a distance, the big centerpiece event is the death of her mother, who is in a care home (a nursing home) and taken to a hospital very ill with COVID, where she dies. A doctor they know is with her, and while she is only allowed to be with her mother for fifteen minutes, the doctor promises to be there when she passes, and then he isn't, because he has another patient who had no one, who is also passing.

    McAvoy has also begun wearing a man-bun. Horgan keeps the same hair-do.

    After a pause, the revelation is that "He" and "She," of all things, have begun having sex. Regularly, solidly. Sex! Not dreamy, sensational sex, but it's good. And good for them. Eventually they go over an incident of some mushrooms in which she, or was it he? out of anger or spite fed the other wild mushrooms with the indention not of murder, but doing serious harm. This is an example of the cover-all writing that leaves us with nothing, because as it turns out she remembers wrong and he got the mushrooms, and they both ate them, and they did no harm. A sin of ill intent, one supposes, but a fairly notional one. This is the kind of thing that on a stage, with dramatic acting, might be more effective. In McAvoy's kind of flowing, understating, which never ceases to impress, it's more of a "let's just forget about it" kind of climax.

    What she cannot forget about is the death of her mother, and with him in the background, she goes into a monologue on the theme that she now thinks her mother was "killed." Teo explain this she describes the government's failures, its crucial delays in beginning to address the pandemic and Boris Johnson's idiotic behavior, the way nursing homes were virtually force-infected with COVID patients.

    Meanwhile relations are sort-of better: "I don't think I hate you anymore," he declares, and "So let's f'ing get married, then." More talk follows, recounting bad behavior on her part around vaccine-getting. It's March 2021, and they are having bad relations again.

    And then, after another story of bad COVID behavior by a non-mask-wearer in a convenience story who gets up far too close to an employee, and an employee's cool reaction to his (McAvoy's) gush about how she's a "hero," it finally comes, they hate-love all over again and his declaration: "I sort of love you." It is a very bittersweet kind of love. But they are staying together, for now, and they kiss. And kiss again, more sweetly. THE END.

    Together, 93 mins., was released in Canada, Ireland, England and the USA in June and August 2021. It has not fared well with US critics, as indicated by the Metacritic rating of 59%. Reviewed here as part of San Francisco's Mar. 2022 Mostly British festival, showing 3:15 PM, Sat., Mar. 12, 2022.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-02-2022 at 11:04 AM.

  15. #30
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    NO FUTURE (Andrew Irvine, Mark Smoot 2021)



    The sad truth that addicts can't always be helped

    In this bleak drama (look at the title), a young man, Will (Charlie Heaton, 27, of "Stranger Things), jumps momentarily into a clandestine affair with Claire (twice Oscar-nominated Catherine Keener, 62), after her son and his estranged longtime friend and former bandmate Chris (Jefferson White) dies of an overdose. Will too has been an IV drug user, but is in recovery, and doing okay at the moment, though the crises of this story will undermine that fragile status. This movie fits into the dual categories, drug and recovery saga, May-December romance, with gloomy prospects for both. Heaton is understated and winning throughout, and Keener is strong as always, both low-keyed but very committed. Writer-directors Irvine and Smoot have an excellent cast to work with here and that's what holds you when the over-literal action starts to seem too grim to bear.

    Maybe Will is offering himself as compensation, his survivor guilt compounded by his having been revisited by and rebuffed Chris, just out of jail, the very night he OD's at his mom's house. It was not a bad decision, but you understand people blaming themselves. Chris is unappealing and hopeless in his one scene, with Will, a strong, distinctive performance by White. Later it emerges that Will drew Chris into addiction with him.

    No Future begins with a twelve-step recovery meeting - a tired movie routine, but there's no good way out of them in a tale like this - that shows where Will is now: guardedly upbeat, with a new nurse's aide girlfriend, Becca (Rosa Salazar), who he's afraid of completely opening up to for fear if she fully knows him , she'll bolt. Will's father Philip, (a crisp, fit-looking Jackie Earle Haley) just checks his boy's arms for needle marks, and he causes trouble later when he visits Claire. He hasn't learned to trust his son, blaming him for his wife's demise, and significantly, he does not accept the idea that addiction is a disease.

    Honesty in addiction is a crucial issue. Claire acknowledges to Will that she "enabled" Chris, that it was long just the two of them, and she couldn't save him. Will conceals from Claire meeting with Chris the evening of his overdose. He also lies to Becca that he's going to a meeting the night he suddenly leaves her and runs off to sleep with Claire. And while his recovery meetings provide Will with an essential safe oasis where he can be honest, he doesn't go to enough of them. Claire lies to a therapist her coworker pushes her into seeing, and so gets no benefit.

    Spoiler alert: this film doesn't end happily. This is a truthful picture of how young lives can be brought down by addiction while the damage radiates out to loved ones. Does it have to be so grim and pessimistic? The one-track sincerity is underlined by score that relies heavily on long droning tones contributes to the claustrophobia.

    No Future, 89 mins, debuted at Tribeca Apr. 15, 2020, where it was nominated for Best Narrative Feature. It also showed at Dallas International Film Festival Oct. 9, 2021. Reviewed at Tribeca by Sheri Linden in Hollywood Reporter and Tim Grierson in Screen Daily.

    Gravitas Ventures release No Future in theaters and VOD Oct. 22, 2021.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-13-2021 at 12:47 AM.

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