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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 01:49 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 02:08 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 08:49 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 01:24 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 08:36 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; 08-16-2020 at 12:53 AM.

  7. #22
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    SPENCER Pablo Larrain 2021)


    An intriguing thriller, but with a plot line too intricate to be convincing

    This film has been recently released in the US; it came out in France in 2019 and then was rerun on French TV end of January 2021. Here's what the critic ​Frédéric Foubert of the French review Première had to say then:
    Dominik Moll returns to his favourite genre with this thriller about the mysterious disappearance of a woman in the Causses and the intertwined destinies of a handful of individuals brought together by fate. The round of characters and the Rashômon-like structure almost evoke a "serious" version of But who killed Harry? (which is probably logical from the director of Harry, a friend who wants to do you good), but the mechanics of the script ultimately produce less suspense than monotony, and ends up getting bogged down in a succession of implausible plot twists. What remains is an intriguing set-up, and a taste for a form of sophisticated weirdness, all too rare in French cinema.

    a commence incongru : un jeune Africain à vélo trimballe un bouc sur son dos. Sommes-nous dans la poussière de Dakar ? La chaleur d’Abidjan ? Générique. Brutal changement d’atmosphère : maintenant, on est sur le causse Méjean, dans une ferme qui sent la bouse, la misère, le chou. Une femme arrive, fait l’amour avec le mal embouché qui traîne là, et disparaît. Deux scènes, deux pays, deux morceaux d’une même histoire. Il y en aura d’autres, de ces morceaux. Avec une virtuosité incroyable, Dominik Moll (et son scénariste Gilles Mar- chand) réinvente un jeu de puzzle incroyable, où chaque image éclaire de façon différente l’image précédente, et où s’applique la règle d’or de la fiction : « Les choses ne sont pas toujours ce qu’elles semblent être. »

    La suite après la publicité
    Fausses pistes, secrets cachés, dérapages inavoués, tout se passe sous la surface. A chaque fois qu’on a l’impression d’avoir compris, en fait, on n’a rien compris (et c’est délicieux, ce sentiment de brouillage). Michel (Denis Ménochet), éleveur au bout du rouleau, s’invente une vie de rêve sur les réseaux sociaux ; Marion, petite serveuse dans un bar, vit une passion à peine partagée par Evelyne, une femme plus âgée ; Alice, assistante sociale, est victime d’un cul-terreux animé de bonnes intentions ; Papa Sanou, un marabout altier, quelque part en Afrique, agite sa magie pour faire pleuvoir les sous ; Cédric, le gendarme du causse Méjean, court après une réalité qui lui échappe ; Maribé, une jeune Africaine ravissante, rêve de venir en France ; Joseph, éleveur fruste, vit une passion avec une morte ; Armand, assis sur le sol battu d’une bicoque, tapote sur son clavier d’ordinateur, avec d’autres « brouteurs », et invente une arnaque à entrées multiples...

    « Seules les bêtes » : la renaissance du cinéaste Dominik Moll
    Dans la neige des hauts plateaux du Massif central se noue une tragédie sombre, portée par le vent venu de Saint-Pierre-des-Tripiers et par les nuages accourus des rivages du Sénégal. Dominik Moll aime ces paravents de réalité, ces rêves toxiques. Dans « Harry, un ami qui vous veut du bien » (2000), ou « Lemming » (2005), l’air même respiré par les personnages semblait empoisonné. Ici, le film se décompose en cinq chapitres, cinq regards, et, oui, un hasard fielleux s’amuse à tromper tout le monde. On est dans un fascinant jeu de bonneteau, dont nous sommes les pigeons ravis. Conclusion : Dieu est un sacré charlatan, la preuve par Moll.

    Nouvel Observateur:
    It starts out incongruous: a young African on a bicycle carrying a goat on his back. Are we in the dust of Dakar? The heat of Abidjan? Generic. Sudden change of atmosphere: now we are on the Méjean plateau, in a farm that smells of dung, misery and cabbage. A woman arrives, makes love to the bad-tempered man who hangs around, and disappears. Two scenes, two countries, two pieces of the same story. There will be more of these pieces. With incredible virtuosity, Dominik Moll (and his scriptwriter Gilles Marchand) reinvent an incredible puzzle game, where each image sheds a different light on the previous one, and where the golden rule of fiction applies: "Things are not always what they seem."

    False leads, hidden secrets, unacknowledged slips, everything happens under the surface. Every time you think you've understood something, you haven't (and it's delicious, this feeling of confusion). Michel (Denis Ménochet), a farmer at the end of his rope, invents a dream life for himself on social networks; Marion, a little waitress in a bar, lives a passion that is barely shared by Evelyne, an older woman; Alice, a social worker, is the victim of a well-meaning asshole; Papa Sanou, a haughty marabout, somewhere in Africa, waves his magic to make it rain pennies; Cédric, the gendarme of the Méjean causse, chases after a reality that escapes him; Maribé, a young and beautiful African woman, dreams of coming to France; Joseph, a rough iivestock farmer, lives a passion with a dead woman; Armand, sitting on the beaten floor of a shack, taps on his computer keyboard, with other "grazers", and invents a multiple entry scam. ..

    "Only the Beasts": the renaissance of filmmaker Dominik Moll
    In the snow on the high plateaus of the Massif Central, a dark tragedy unfolds, carried by the wind from Saint-Pierre-des-Tripiers and by the clouds that have come from the shores of Senegal. Dominik Moll loves these screens of reality, these toxic dreams. In "Harry, a friend who wishes you well" (2000), or "Lemming" (2005), the very air breathed by the characters seemed poisoned. Here, the film is broken down into five chapters, five looks, and, yes, a fiendish chance is having fun deceiving everyone. We are in a fascinating game of chance, of which we are the delighted pigeons. Conclusion: God is quite a charlatan, as Moll proves.

    François Forestier

    Translated with (free version)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-12-2021 at 11:45 AM.

  8. #23
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    PROCESSION ( Robert Greene 2021)



    Robert Greene did something similar with his 2016 Kate Plays Christine (my review is also here).

    By Ben Kenigsberg
    Nov. 18, 2021
    ProcessionDirected by Robert GreeneDocumentaryR1h 58m
    When you purchase a ticket for an independently reviewed film through our site, we earn an affiliate commission.

    Robert Greene’s two most recent documentaries pondered the ethics of re-enacting traumatic events, with an interest in immersion’s psychological effects on performers. “Kate Plays Christine” followed an actress as she prepared to play a newscaster who killed herself on the air. “Bisbee ’17” watched the residents of an Arizona town as they recreated a large-scale deportation that had occurred there a century earlier.

    With “Procession,” Greene pushes the concept of staging-as-exorcism to an extreme: Can men who endured childhood sexual abuse within the Catholic Church confront painful memories through filmmaking — and perhaps gain some solace from that process? The movie is billed as a three-year collaboration among six abuse survivors, a professional drama therapist and the director and his crew. In an expansive “film by” credit, Greene gives the victims top billing.

    “Procession” follows the men as they help one another brainstorm and shoot five scripted scenes based on their experiences. Various elements of the production process (casting, costuming, finding locations the subjects haven’t visited since youth) become means for coping and reckoning. A sixth survivor, Tom Viviano, says he cannot tell his story because it’s still before the courts. His contribution is to act — playing predator priests, in what must be agonizing feats of impersonation — in two segments.

    “Procession” is exceptionally difficult to watch, as it should be. It’s also difficult to assess as art, given how it collapses lines between collaboration and co-option and between cinema and supportive treatment. To judge Greene’s experiment, not least because of its visible salutary effects, feels like intruding on private breakthroughs. But the discomfiting power of “Procession” comes from its ability to show and, to all appearances, facilitate them.

    Rated R. Discussions of childhood trauma. Running time: 1 hour 58 minutes. Watch on Netflix.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-19-2021 at 10:40 AM.

  9. #24
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    MAYA AND HER LOVER (Nicole Sylvester 2021)




    Young blood

    At the center of the warm circle of this little film is Maya, a 39-year-old black woman living in Brooklyn stifled by complicated memories of her overbearing father and on the verge of becoming a recluse, who is drawn into a sexual relationship with Kaseem, a man 17 years her junior. She is zaftig, which he calls "thick", and he finds that sexy. As she yields to his advances she finds her world coming to life. She has been toying with a a website about women with unfashionable bodies, clearly a subtext of this film. She has some money, and has retreated into her comfortable, nicely decorated brownstone apartment. Kaseem, nenwly a Muslim, a self-declared "work in progress," is flint-stone and fire, full of passionate kisses, strong opinions, and multiple, if vague "projects." Shomari Love, who plays Kaseem, delivers dashing line readings that make the dialogue spring to vivid life. Ashanti J'Aria, as Maya, is soft, knowing, a little ironic. She could be older than 39, but it's clear how her "thick"-ness could feel attractive and enveloping to the young man.

    This is a passion project for Nicole Sylvester, who has been in the movie business for a while but only now taken the plunge to direct her own feature, gathering all the funds she could and filming a story that's not too far from home, indeed shooting most of the action literally in her hot Brooklyn apartment in the middle of a New York summer. She has spoken of the vulnerability she had to muster to write a script that was quite personal. Though the frankness of the sex and some of the language is modern, the story is basically old fashioned. As often happens one wonders whether, unless some profound Freudian message is intended, the flashbacks, mostly to the controlling father when Maya was a girl, are really necessary. All the life is in the present-day dialogue. We could have seen more of Kaseem. But maybe more would have been too much.

    Anyone who has had a lover 17 years younger knows the dynamics here. Two people on totally different wavelengths. Kaseem throws an original additional monkey wrench into the love machine when he declares that he is now celibate and wants henceforth to be friends who help each other. He appreciates her education and her wisdom as an "old lady." (The film is not without its welcome moments of humor.) He claims he is a whiz with software and can help her with her web page and incidentally help him buy a laptop. Maybe so, but Maya feels Kaseem is too rough to meet her niece or her best girl friend. Then one day Maya talks to an older man who knows Kaseem and finds out a series of truths about him that he has chosen to conceal from her and she kicks him out.

    That is the essence of the story and the incidents that follow feel less essential and more random. Later Kaseem reappears for a brief friendly reunion and he makes good on some of his promises. The main thing seems to be that Maya is sadder, wiser, but also revivified. Sylvester's wise screenplay etches these characters lovingly but honestly. The best moments are in the early interchanges between Maya, her best friend (Faiven Feshazion), and Kaseem when the humor bubbles and the sparks fly. Even if only briefly, these people seem totally real. A promising debut for Nicole Sylvester, who has made something that lives out of what she knows.

    Maya and Her Lover, 106 mins., debuted in Nov. 2021 in the American Black Film Festival (Miami). It will be released on digital by 1091 Pictures on Dec. 7.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-01-2021 at 11:06 PM.

  10. #25
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    THE PIT/BEDRE (Dace Pūce 2020)




    About a boy

    This quiet, sensitive first film by Latvian woman director Dace Puce with a screenplay penned by her with Monta Gagane and Pēteris Rozītis interweaving three stories by Jana Egle, "Into the Light," "The Quarry," and "Ad sea," is a coming-of-age tale about a ten-year-old boy, Markuss (Damir Onakis, sharp-featured as a fox), who is sent to a rural village into the care of his grandmother Solveiga (Dace Everss) after his artistic father Maris (Nairus Krisftofers Gailitis) has died, apparently of a drug overdose. The boy's mother Sveta (Jana Lisova) is going away and can't or won't take him. So begins the adventure that makes up the quietly intense story line.

    It's summertime. Gatis Grinbergs's camera follows the boy as he walks, runs, and rides a bike back and forth all around the countryside. He is already in trouble as the action begins for "punishing" a little girl playmate, Emilija (Luize Birkenberga) by letting her fall into a "pit" and leaving her there. It is his reaction, we learn, for something disrespectful she has said about his father. We learn a lot of other things, included closely guarded secrets. There is a lot going on in this meandering, brief, coming-of-age film about a typically narrow-minded village and a freewheeling, independent boy, talented in art, misunderstood, eventually welcomed by his initially mean and demanding grandma. The delicately featured Onakis, quietly holding the lead, is preternaturally calm and self-possessed, occasionally venturing a sly, wide smile, comfortably the center of all our attentions and ingeniously holding together this portmanteau of narratives.

    There is something of the folktale and children's adventure here, also an account of the testing, learning, determining of life's focus, for Markuss' artistic talent, taken as a sign of madness or sociopathy by women who wish him ill, is encouraged by a sympathetic diabetic misfit called "Sailor." This is a loner, once a childhood friend of his grandmother it turns out, who teaches Markuss how to make stained glass windows and to accept those who are different from us.

    At one point his grandmother sends Markuss overnight to the house of his uncle Alberts whose adult son Roberts (Egons Dombrovskis) is a brutish drunk who abuses his wife and everyone around and causes a world of trouble. In his Cineuropa review Davide Abbatescianni lists among topics touched on here "sexuality, bullying, love, the prejudice typical of small, closed-minded communities, violence against women and, above all, people's inability to communicate feelings and emotions among each other and our constant need to be heard." He leaves out one thing here that's most significant: the ability to recognize and nurture one's own burgeoning artistic talent when others may be negative or indifferent. Early on Markuss mentions to Emilija that he has won prizes and even been mentioned on TV for his work, and the climactic shot is of the "Sailor's" completed stained glass window to which Markuss has, single-handed, added the final key piece of red glass: amid scoffers, he's still branching out into a new medium. That is his triumph.

    This is Latvia's entry into the best foreign Oscar competition for 2021. Based on three stories by Jana Egle, the film interweaves its talented, watchable young lead with multiple other actors and subplots, escapes, recognitions and grim revelationsto cast its own special spell, in a tradition of other Eastern European films about childhood. The classic orchestral score by Valters Pūce mayseem conventional at times but is nonetheless essential transition to different emotional beats. DP Grinbergs' cinematography has an intimate feel and makes a pleasing use of soft summer light.

    The director has degrees in directing, production, and acting from at home and from England and New York, has her own production company and has previously directed and produced music videos, TV commercials, concerts and events.

    The Pit/Bedre, 107 mins., in Latvian, debuted at Lübeck, Germany Nordic Film Days Nov. 4, 2020 (grand prix), and showed in Dec. at Tailin, Santa Barbara, Jeonju and Tehran (Fajr) in Apr. and May 2021. Previewed for the global virtual press day invite Thurs., Dec. 2, 2021.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-25-2021 at 09:53 PM.

  11. #26
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    THE BETA TEST (Jim Cummings 2021)


    Matt Zoller Seitz ( It takes prodigious comic gifts to make a loathsome, pathetic character so mesmerizing that you enjoy watching him dig himself into a hole for 90-plus minutes. Jim Cummings, the star, editor, co-writer, and co-director of "The Beta Test," has those gifts.

    Cummings plays Jordan, a remorseless, manipulative Hollywood agent working for a CAA-like behemoth who gets ensnared in a conspiracy in the months leading up to his scheduled wedding to his fiancee Caroline (Virginia Newcomb). His troubles start when he accepts an engraved invitation to cheat.

    (This movie came out Nov. 5, 2021.)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-20-2021 at 02:14 PM.

  12. #27
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    FRANCE (Bruno Dumont2021)



    Dumont goes wrong - but it's sui generis eye candy

    Bruno Dumont's France was greeted with boos in Competition at Cannes, and this is inevitable. The distinctive writer-director is out of his element in this film. It's an element that might have drawn more of an audience, a flashy-looking picture related to French politics with a glamorous star, Bond's Madeleine Swann, Léa Seydoux, currently also posing in the nude on a pedestal for a mad artist in Wes Anderson's The French Despatch, here playing a major TV news star in crisis. It's not a success, and uncertain whether it will enhance Seydoux's reputation.

    But France should not be taken merely as a media meltdown misfire. It has the unique twist of this auteur. He's doing what only he does - the peculiar use of non-actors, the long stares, the drawn-out embarrassing moments. I always take a particular interest in sets and costumes where possible, and the glamorously sepulchral Place des Vosges apartment and the succession of fabulous outfits worn by France de Meurs (Séydoux's character) are really eye-popping. (Watch Imdb's film clip career review and see if you don't think Léa Seydoux is a star. But I see from the AlloCiné spectator comments on this film that some French viewers still think she is successful because of her French media royalty "lineage" rather than her talent and hard work.)

    I don't know about you, but much of my pleasure in watching No Time to Die was in ogling Léa. She's more cruelly seen here, but endlessly watchable for the weeping, the ivory skin, the clothes, till it may start to seem really endless because this film, at over two hours, is too long. Séydoux plays a character who deserves cruelty. France de Meurs is a pampered star who treats every hotspot shoot as a photo opportunity. She directs it. She tells Afghan freedom fighters what to say, where to look, and constantly redoes her lines. Then she's back in the huge glittering Paris studio, center stage (it's unrealistic in making this look like a one-man show and retro in its omission of other platforms and social media), taking bows for the "danger" she has faced.

    The succession of such sequences is interrupted along the way by an incident: while she is driving in Paris traffic, France rear ends a motorbike messenger called (oddly, since he's Arab) Baptiste (Jawad Zemmar). He gets a dislocated kneecap; France gets a dislocated career. She's never the same; but maybe her success had palled already. We've seen her clammy, less-famous writer husband Fred (Benjamin Biolay) - in the museum-quality crypt they occupy, and their bitchy nine-year-old boy Jo (Gaëtan Amiel), failing in school for no reason. And her fun, but downward-pulling assistant Lou - comic Blanche Gardin, who French viewers all agree belongs to another, more slapstick movie.

    Much of France is about fame and the toll it takes. Everywhere the superficially tough and chilly protagonist goes she must sign autographs and pose for selfies, and it all makes her wind up being fragile and claustrophobic. When she encounters someone who's never heard of her, as she does with the young Greek and Latin teacher Charles Castro (Emanuele Arioli) she meets at an expensive mountain spa so exclusive Angela Merkel is there, she'd better beware. After paying out €40,000 to Baptiste and his parents, whose digs don't look that poor, and who're terribly flattered by her attentions, France walks away from her job. But then she has a brilliant idea: to come back to it! And then. . . something else happens, something bigger, and yet more distant, something involving a spectacular, drawn-out car accident. There's not so much of a plot here, you see, as the series of media-star set pieces with a couple of dramatic interruptions, all of which give Léa Seydoux reasons to turn on her tear ducts. As I write about the film, I like it less and less; but its texture in the watching is pleasurable and holds you even if it drags a bit. The AlloCiné spectators or trade critics who say it has no flow or continuity may be forgetting, or not know, how that has always true for this director, how the longeurs can come at any moment, and stun you.

    For the average viewer France may be a bit more watchable than many of Dumont's other films, but if you come to it not knowing his work you won't know what you're seeing. The interest here is how each scene pushes the edge of absurdity and extreme. (It's also been commented how unrealistic the blending of background and foreground is in driving sequences, and in the manipulated opening one where France and Lou, making sophomoric hand gestures and mouthing rude comments, are pasted into a bumbling press conference clip of Macron.) Also typical of Dumont are the various uses of slightly-off-kilter non-actors, once the director's only source of cast, in news location scenes, in Baptiste and his mom and pop, and even in the affect of France's would-be lover, even though Emanuele Arioli isn't technically a non-actor, who resembles a character in a film by Eugène Green, and through him Robert Bresson, often cited as Dumont's cinematic father.

    This is the most "mainstream" and "star vehicle" of Bruno Dumont films but still a Bruno Dumont film. I'm resisting - and willingly, because it's still always a wild, interesting ride - the temptation to say he should have stuck with the non-actor-fueled, gruelingly brutal and sexually blunt material shot in his native North that Dumont began with in La Vie de Jésus and L'Humanité. After that he did Flandres and then the troubling, puzzling Hadewijch and Hors Satan. He's kept the shock value by slipping into other genres. He did the biopic with Binoche, Camille Claudel (I missed it), and started using more than one name actor with Slack Bay/Ma Loute, and then did the Joan of Arc pictures, and on the side the quirky, comical and cute "Little Quinquin" oddities for TV. It's in this context that France has come. Admittedly with ab bit of a dull thud. But one waits with bated breath for what comes next from this sui generis film artist.

    France, 133 mins., debuted at Cannes in Competition Jul., 2021, also showing in some major world festivals including Palic, Serbia, Toronto, New York, Hamburg, Busan, Ghent, Vienna, SIngapore and Taiwan. French release Aug. 25. AlloCiné press rating 3.3 /66% (36 reviews) Metacritic rating: 51% (8 reviews). US theatrical release Dec. 10.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-01-2021 at 03:05 PM.

  13. #28
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    A B-Movie horror tale of a possessed nun that winds up being a treatise on the spiritual life

    Mickey Reese, based in Oklahoma City, is a "kitchen-sinker," Walter Chaw says, who just before this made an excellent revisionist vampire movie, Climate of the Hunter. He has an unusually good cast and production values in this latest film, which starts out as the exorcism of a nun (unsuccessfully, by two teams), that ends up in the air, then abruptly switches to the life of the possessed nun's young friend Mary (Molly C. Quinn), who leaves the convent with her former friend Sister Agnes (Hayley McFarland) still raging and struggles to make it on her own working at two lousy jobs surrounded by creeps. Agnes turns out to have been a colorful but relatively minor character as the focus shifts to Mary's more real-life, three dimensional experience.

    "The temptation will be to declare that Agnes is two films when really it's just one extraordinarily clever, unimpeachably ethical treatise on sexual repression, spiritual isolation, and the profound loneliness that derives from it. It's so good." So wrote Walter Chaw, Film Freak Central from Montreal, at the Fantasia Festival. Walter Chaw , who is based in Denver, is rough sometimes, but he has a lot of heart, and I welcome this opportunity to quote him as a start of my favorable report on this oddball and fascinating little film.

    Katie Rife confirms the good news: "If... you're tired of seeing the same old beats hit again and again in these kind of movies," she writes on AV Club, "Agnes provides idiosyncratic salvation." But while that provides a snappy, if slightly ungrammatical payoff, the NYCk-based online critic JB Spins (Joe Bendel) looks at the film and its oddball structure a bit more critically. "Initially," he says, "the second half feels like a punishingly long and drawn-out epilogue." Indeed; or simply another movie spiced onto the horror movie. But Bendel suggests we're rewarded for waiting because "Reece eventually pays if off with a quiet but really well-written explanation of faith from the newly ordained Father Benjamin." Benjamin (Jake Horowitz, who was in the great Vast of Night) first enters the film as the young Deacon awaiting ordination who accompanies the disgraced Father Donaghue (Ben Hall) for the first, totally unsuccessful attempt at exorcism. Bendel, who wishes this movie didn't feel obligated to "to re-litigate recent Church scandals" (but aren't they essential, though?) feels there's "a lot to slog through" though he allows that "the light-bulb moment redeems it," and approvingly grants that we can all agree the exorcism stuff is "pretty creepy."

    True, Father Benjamin's long answer to Mary's question about where we can find the spiritual in this world is Agnes' moving payoff, but what's been happening up to that in Part 2 isn't just a slog, or this wouldn't be the eye-opening and curiously original little movie that it is.

    I haven't seen any of Mickey Reese's many previous efforts but what I see here is a prolific indie-ish B Picture director so freewheeling, fluent, and confident about breaking some of the usual rules that he can come up with a movie a festival will accept as an art film and convince a distributer of the quality of Magnolia Pictures to to take it on. I liked the way almost-horrible elements in Part 2 are made resonant by the full-on genre-horror of the first part, like Mary's predatory, oily boss Curly (Chris Sullivan); even the two sisters from the now disbanded nunnery, with Agnes and the Mother Superior passed, Father Donague disappeared and the sisters disbursed, who approach Mary to join their new sisterhood nearby. They will come to get you. I like the way the teacher-turned-standup-comic Paul Satchmo (Sean Gunn) is woven through the film's two parts, and how painfully his evening with Mary ends. The writing is baggy perhaps, but its messiness is its unique charm, and its young priest's message to the troubled Mary at the end is indeed a ray of light in our darkness. A genre-teaser gem.

    Agnes, 93 mins., debuted at Tribeca Jun. 2021, showing also at Fantastic Fest, Stiges, and Philadelphia. It opens in the US (Magnolia) Dec. 10, 2021.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-23-2021 at 12:17 PM. Reason: AGNES (: Mickey Reece 2021)

  14. #29
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    TORN (Max Lowe 2021)

    MAX LOWE: TORN (2021)


    The suffering left in his wake by a professional adventurer who fell afoul of mother nature

    On Oct. 5, 1999, legendary climber Alex Lowe, age 40, was tragically lost alongside cameraman and fellow climber David Bridges in a deadly avalanche on the slopes of the Tibetan mountain, Shishapangma. Miraculously surviving the avalanche was Alex’s best friend and climbing partner, renowned mountaineer Conrad Anker. After the tragedy, Anker and Alex’s widow, Jennifer, fell in love and married, and Anker stepped in to help raise Alex’s three sons. Torn will deliver a profoundly intimate look at the Lowe-Anker family using never-before-released archival footage of the ill-fated 1999 expedition, early footage of Alex and Anker as young climbers, personal home videos and strikingly candid interviews with the Lowe-Ankers, the film will follow Max in his quest to understand his iconic late father as he explores family’s complex relationships in the wake of his father’s death. Written and edited by Michael Harte. - Blurb, National Geographic

    Their bodies were found 16 years later. BBC News. When this happened his wife says it was like he cqme back to life. It reminds one of Andrew Haigh's film 45 Years

    The one review on IMDb is in Estonian. Here is an English translation. It was made with the help of DeepL online translating software:

    Max Lowe's first feature-length film, Torn ("The Tower"), is an extremely intimate look at the family left behind by the death of his father, Alex Lowe. One of America's most famous extreme athletes and adrenaline junkies, Alex Lowe was the first man to take mountaineering into the mainstream media, attracting sponsors and making TV appearances, interviews and more. The dangerous hobby became a profession and the ever-increasing ambition (and the dangers) made people question - is it all worth it when you've got a wife and three kids at home? Alex's answer was simple - it's in his nature and he can't change it.

    Synopsis (PÖFF). This was the case on 5 October 1999 with legendary mountaineer Alex Lowe, who tragically died in the mountains of Tibet. Alex's best friend Conrad Anker miraculously survived. In the aftermath of the tragic accident, Conrad and Alex's widow and sons had to rebuild their lives, but what once fell apart may never be the same again.

    Torn is a compelling documentary because it frames a story that probably no one else will ever be able to tell again. Because Alex Lowe was so famous, he was always accompanied by a camera or even a film crew, so the man's life in the mountains is well captured to the bitter end. And the twists and turns of this story, such as the discovery of the man's body 17 years later with a working camera, provide plenty of material around which to build a decent story.

    Although Torn is really the director's own effort to remember his lost father, to tell his story, he himself remains behind the camera. He doesn't take over the story but allows his mother, brothers and father's best friend (and foster father) to tell it. The story is divided into three parts - first introducing the sport of mountaineering and Alexi Lowe's role in its development, in the media and beyond. The second part is about the family after the death of the man and Alex's role being passed on to his best friend Conrad Anker, and the final part is about the finding Alex Lowe's body and dealing with this discovery. Each third is an episode with a different tone, so they could be taken as episodes in a miniseries.

    The first third is a classic personality-focused talking-head doc in which the details unique feature as a climber was not only his skill and accomplishment; the family waiting for him at home is highlighted. Other famous mountain climbing names were unmarried, uprooted people who deliberately defied death by not forming close social ties, but Alex was not deterred. We can see the hardship of Alex Lowe's chosen path for his wife and children. In the end it is only the eldest son who has any strong memories of him at all.

    The second third turns accusatory in tone, showing how filmmaker Max Lowe sees his mother and stepfather Conrad. Only months after Alex's disappearance, Conrad is already having an affair with his best friend's wife, and this raises many questions. There's even a point in the film where a tearful Max asks his mother, "How can a person fall in love again only a few months after losing the love of their life?" What the mother answers is left for the viewer to discover. The episode in this story is a little reminiscent of Netflix's investigative documentaries, but only indirectly so, as the younger brothers only know one father - and that's Conrad. Thus, two conflicting points of view - Conrad as the intruder to the eldest son, but as the rescuer and necessary male role model for his two younger brothers.

    The final third breaks the formula and allows the camera to look at the bigger picture. Now the whole family is in focus. Time spent together is in focus. We see in detail how Alex is found and how the family copes. What will be discovered about the camera he was carrying? There are quite a few tear-jerking moments, especially for the parents. We get to see Alex's legacy in the sport of climbing and we also get a chance to understand the decisions Conrad made. In the end, this is a story of three people - Max, Alex and Conrad.

    The title Torn is not just a reference to the family, but to Max's own condition throughout the film. On the one hand, he believes that his father loved them all, yet he couldn't stay home with them. On the one hand, he loves his stepfather and is grateful to him, but on the other hand, he still hasn't forgiven him for grabbing everything his father owned so quickly. Conrad is happy to have found a family, but he is still in Alex's shadow and feels he will stay there forever. And that's what this film is about. Unexpectedly intimate, sometimes even too much so. Not all the tears here are earned, but every minute is made with real feeling. A poetic and fitting end for a man who has lived life to the full. A definite recommendation. Score: 8.5/10

    Torn, 92 mins., was to be first seen in the cancelled 2020 Telluride festival, but debuted instead Sept. 2021 at Telluride, also showing at Camden. A National Geographic film, it releases Dec. 3, 2021 in New York and Dec. 10 in Los Angeles.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-25-2021 at 06:12 PM.

  15. #30
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    THE POWER OF THE DOG (Jane Campion 2021):



    Machismo challenged

    This is an assured and austerely beautiful movie, whether its striking New Zealand landscapes work as stand-ins for the ranges of Montana or not. It has an elegant sense of period, 1925 (in its look). Jonny Greenwood's score, like the ones he did for Paul Thomas Anderson and Lynne Ramsey, is distinctive. This is first-rate stuff. And yet it unmistakably falls just a little flat at the end with a finale that's surprising, but too abrupt. The test comes in the work it evokes, George Stevens' Giant and Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven. This film has neither the epic sweep of Giant nor the lyrical flights of Days of Heaven. It comes off as a very classy study in gender role-playing, with distinctive trappings of the Western (it's almost as quirkily authentic as Jarmusch's Dead Man). It seems woefully underlit till one grasps how authentic that is. At times the cast members appear to be rattling around in the magnificent settings with too little to do, hampered by an action that moves a little too slowly. "Slow burn," yes; but for that the pacing must really burn. And yet this delights the eye and ear and lingers in the mind.

    With this "mysterious and menacing" "Gothic Western Jane Campion makes one of her best films, set in Montana in the 1920's and based on Thomas Savage's eponymous 1967 novel about a man lost "in the veneer of his masculinity." That's description used in an interview by Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the lead character, the successful rancher Phil Burbank, a wealthy rancher who lives alone in a vast house with his milder, plumper brother George (Jesse Plemons). George disrupts this safe masculine world when he abruptly marries Rose (Kirsten Dunst, Plemons' real-life spouse), a widow who runs a frontier restaurant, and brings her to live in the big house. Her late husband, a doctor, committed suicide. Her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) disturbs and maddens Phil with his seeming effeminacy when nd George and Phil meet them by taking the ranch hands to dine at the restaurant to celebrate roundup time. The story is of that uncomfortable meeting and the disruption that follows when things are rearranged at the ranch house.

    The casting is a work of art. Benedict Cumberbatch is awesome as Phil Burbank, the ill-humored Marlboro man brother who thrives on dispensing cruel mockery and is just barely warding off homosexual panic. If his stinky cowboy pose feels rather fake, that's the point, since as we soon learn he's a Phi Beta Kappa in Classics from Yale. Phil has learned the wrangling and tough cowboy talk and the one-handed ciggy rolling, wearing chaps all the time and never washing from a deceased, still obsessed-on mentor called Bronco Henry dead at 50 who himself didn't learn to ride till he was, well, abut the age of Peter. Smit-McPnee, who plays that role, is more important than Kirsten Dunst as Rose, his mother, because this story is about masculine roles, not about women, and Peter is a major provocation for Phil, and perhaps an attraction. Kodi and Benedict are both beanpoles, Kodi slightly the taller and the more unique looking. Kodi has said he liked the role of Peter because his character is more secure about being the way he is than he is himself, which is to say "very feminine." McPhee may seem daunted momentarily as Peter, but the character is notable for his total inner stillness and self-possession, even when challenged.

    Jane Campion may have been derailed by #MeToo into making this film, especially since she hasn't done a feature in 12 years. Is a film critiquing masculine roles a feminist film when its women are this unimportant? From the masculine point of view, feminism like this can seem strained.

    There are two women working in the house, the housekeeper Mrs Lewis (Campion regular Geneviève Lemon) and a young attractive maid, but they aren't noticed, except to make Rose uncomfortable at being waited on. (A lustier young lad would have gone for the maid.) Rose does not thrive. She has been greeted as an adventuress by Phil, he has already made her weep by mocking her son on first meeting, and unlike her unflappable offspring she is deeply shaken and takes to drink, hiding bottles of bourbon round the house. Phil points this out in the rudest and most explicit terms. George may have ways of coping with this, but he tends to fall by the wayside as the action focuses at the end on Phil and Pete.

    Phil will have a change of heart toward Peter and start to train him in cowboy-ing, though it will be short-lived since Peter's is a medical student and only there for a holiday. This film is divided into chapters, like a book. But several chapters seem to go by before we notice them and the fluid time-scheme moves swiftly. One thing that lingers in the mind is the bad evening set piece when George invites Mom and Dad and the governor of the state and his wife to dinner, and Rose chokes when asked to play the baby grand piano George has bought her, even though she used to play in a dance hall. Phil shows up only at the end because he refused to wash. Yale seems to have worn off pretty thoroughly.

    Power of the Dog seems to both drag and skip swiftly toward it's abrupt plot twists. But those supremely awkward moments gendered by Phil, and almost all the big scenes, stand out vividly, including the time when Phil takes the boy, whom he now calls "My pal Pete," up into the hills. The finale, as mentioned, is abrupt, as is the explanation of where "the power of the dog" comes from and how it enters the story. But there is another dog, an unexpected one that links Phil and Pete and gives them an almost mystical bond - and hints at more in the original novel that may be lost here.

    The Power of the Dog, 126 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2, 2021 and showed at over two dozen major international festivals including Telluride, Toronto, New York, Mill Valley, Busan, the Hamptons, and London. US limited release Nov. 17, 2021 (Netflix). Screened for this review at Shattuck Cinemas, Berkeley CA, Nov. 29. Metacritic rating: 88%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-29-2021 at 09:57 PM.

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