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Thread: New York Film Festival 2019

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

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


    LEE SON-KYUN AND JO YEO-JEONG IN PARASITE

    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.


    PARK SO-DAM AND CHOI WOO-SIK IN PARASITE
    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: MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN (2019)


    GUGU MBATHA-RAW AND EDWARD NORTON IN MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN

    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 62%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-12-2019 at 05:38 PM.

  3. #18
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    THE IRISHMAN (Martin Scorsese 2019)

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

    MARTIN SCORSESE: THE IRISHMAN (2019)


    AL PACINO AND ROBERT DE NIRO IN THE IRISHMAN

    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.

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    BACURAU (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles 2019)

    KLEBER MENDOÇA FILHO, JULIANO DORNELLES: BACURAU (2019)


    SONIA BRAGA (CENTER) IN BACURAU

    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)

    BERTRAND BONELLO: ZOMBI CHILD (2019)


    LOUISE LABEQUE AND WISLANDA LOUIMAT (FAR RIGHT) IN ZOMBI CHILD

    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. https://www.filmmovement.com/zombi-child
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-07-2020 at 08:36 PM.

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    WASP NETWORK (Olivier Assayas 2019)

    OLIVIER ASSAYAS: WASP NETWORK (2019)


    GAEL GARCÍA BERNAL AND PENELOPE CRUZ IN WASP NETWORK

    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.

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    THE CLIMB (Michael Angelo Covino 2019)

    MICHAEL ANGELO COVINO: THE CLIMB (2019)


    KYLE MARVIN AND GAYLE RANKIN IN THE CLIMB

    Virtuoso film about a bad bromance

    A triumphant American toxic bromance comedy, The Climb is studded with chuckles and wows. It understandably won the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes last year. The French should have liked it - besides being so good reviewers keep calling it "brilliant," it's dotted throughout with references to France and French culture. It's made up of intricate long takes to delight the cinephile. It revels in the complicated game of making a movie. At 94 minutes, it's admirably succinct. No wonder it was included in other big international festivals. It's fun, but also tailor-made for lovingly close study in film classes. It heralds the start of a distinguished career for Covino and maybe his chief collaborator here, real-life BFF Kyle Marvin, who co-wrote and costars as Kyle, Covino playing Kyle's toxic BFF, beloved yet a sort of unshakable parasite in his up-and-down life.

    Notably, at the beginning and near the end are sequences where Mike announces he's slept with the woman Kyle is about to marry. The first signal and symbolic long sequence (lensed as they all are by deft dp Zach Kuperstein), titled 1 I'M SORRY, unreels in summer on a hilly winding road in the south of France. Mike is leading Kyle on a long bike ride, mostly uphill, while they talk. Indeed, this relationship is an uphill battle. Mike, a cycling enthusiast, is fit. Kyle is overweight and wheezing behind. Kyle is at a disadvantage in other ways. He is about to marry a French woman named Ava (Judith Godrèche), but at a certain moment Mike confesses he has slept with Ava, has been sleeping with her all along. The whole bike ride has been to tell Kyle this, going uphill so Mike is in control, and can coach Kyle on his "cadence." Kyle says "I'll kill you!" but he can't.

    The next long take is at a French hospital: Mike was beaten up by some Frenchmen he insulted during the cycle ride. Ava, now present, beautiful and svelte, talks to Mike, with Kyle wandering around in the background. The sequence is a hint of ones to come, skillfully juggling rooms and people. Ava tells Mike their relationship never mattered, yet when he moves to kiss her, she responds. Kyle sees, and is furious.

    Jump to 2 LET GO and a hilarious cemetery sequence whose humor makes I'M SORRY grow funnier in retrospect. Mike, it appears, has been married to Ava for a while - her wedding to Kyle didn't happen - but she has suddenly died. This time it's the bereaved Mike who loses it, to comic effect; Kyle intervenes to prevent a total fracas. This is the first example of a Covino thing: complicated scenes full of people who the principals ignore, while having a shout-fest or knockdown fight as if the others weren't even there. Transition: cue close harmony a cappella rendition by cemetery workers of "I shall not be moved."

    Maybe Michael-Kyle are a vaudevillian duo à la Beckett, two dominant-submission losers who switch roles while stumbling on. By the next sequence 3 THANKS anyway, role reversal has definitely taken place. Kyle has lost weight and is fit and happy and Michael has become a potbellied alcoholic mess. THANKS announces a full-on Thanksgiving sequence, with a hop forward to Christmas. Both offer excellent opportunities, confidently seized, for virtuoso companion-piece collective scenes. What's come before has been great and satisfyingly accomplished and fun, but is bettered by these Thanksgiving and Christmas scenes, both, again, in long single takes.

    Wouldn't we begin Thanksgiving Day in the basement? Of course we would! Down there, the new winner-Kyle is with his high school girlfriend Marissa (Gayle Rankin) whom his mom Suzi (Talia Balsam), upstairs, doesn't seem to like. Marissa gives Kyle an intensive in saying "NO!" tailored for rejecting mom's control. This goes for dad Jim (George Wendt) too. The "yes" is that Kyle announces he and Marissa are getting married, after the "No" lesson has turned them both on and led to making out. Upstairs, meanwhile ("Is something wrong down there?" asks mom), the movie delights in weaving in an out of holiday disasters, to the turkey here, shortly after to the Christmas tree. In between the camera flows out of the house over into a car where the now alcoholic and overweight Michael sits, in darkness, seamlessly linking the two episodes.

    All that, from bike ride to holiday drunk, happens in the first 30 minutes, perhaps the compactness related to The Climb's development out of a collaborative Marvin-Covino short film. While sometimes the feel of this material is like Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia, it's more economical.

    Thus the whole new Mike situation is described in seconds as, in the dark car, he rapidly guzzles a bottle of booze and burps, undresses down to his wife-beater, cleans up with a shapeless pullover and goes to the house for the Christmas party. He's sent for an armful of firewood, which he drops in the basement, pouring, drunk, over faded mementos of his own history as a high school football star with no real family other than Kyle's. Pathetically, he dons an old helmet, then crashes into the upstairs under the Christmas tree, as family and guests gather round.

    Dialogue can be epigrammatic, but scene atmosphere sometimes has the vernacular feel of HBO's "High Maintenance," like the moment where guests admire a TV ad Kyle penned for female Viagra. Kyle was against his mom's inviting Mike. Someone gives Mike a cigarette and lights it for him. No words are spoken, an eloquent declaration of Mike's dubious status here. An exchange between Mike and Suzi: "How are things?" "Great," says Mike. "What's great?" "Peaky Blinders." "what else?" "That's about it."

    Scene shifts are aided by music, like Gary Stewart's honky-tonk dirge "I've got this drinkin' thing/to keep from thinkin' things" over Mike's booze-guzzling in the car, and a dance-like ski-park sequence introducing 4 IT'S BROKE where Mike is back in Kyle's life, causing him to drink more. He's upstairs bouncing naked on the bed, but before he can have great sex with Marissa, he passes out. This is the third big holiday, New Year's Eve. Mike ruins it further downstairs by himself banging on pots and pans to announce midnight. Of course Mike tries to make it with Marissa next day and she eggs him on, saying this won't alienate Kyle from her, but from Michael, and get rid of him.

    5 STOP IT: Now comes a well conceived sequence of Kyle's bachelor party prior to his wedding to Marissa, with a kidnapping, ice fishing, and a near-drowning. Mike is more toxic than ever, yet the BFF relation indelibly survives. This ends with three exotic musicians on the ice, violin, accordion, and guitarist-singer doing a hearty Russian song - transplanted to upstate New York. Another musical transition, this, to a new chapter, 6 GROW UP. This is a francophile cinematic homage and portrait of Mike's loneliness. On the street of a small town, Mike leaves a wistful phone message inviting Kyle to a movie to celebrate his birthday. He enters Quirino's Crandell Cinema, in Chatham, New York, where "a French Film Retrospective" is going on. Outside is a poster for César et Rosalie, a Claude Sautet film about two men competing for the same woman. Mike talks his way in, unable to prove it's his birthday for the free entree because he has no photo ID. There he sits pensive, the camera and light angle showing his face gaunt, pock marks visible. The film isn't César et Rosalie - that was a teaser - but Le grand amour by the more obscure Pierre Étaix.

    This leads to a virtuoso transition when the camera goes up to the screen, seemingly to show the film switched to technicolor: but it is Kyle at the altar with Marissa, for their wedding. Sisters Bianca (Eden Malyn) and Dani (Daniella Covino) come up for readings. (Scholars may comment on their content!) It's a large, modern church with spectacular high stained glass windows. The camera backs up and exits, slipping out the church door showing its name, "Our Lady of Life." Behind, as yet unseen, a car roars up, the brakes screeching. It's Mike, in wedding attire, late. The music playing now is Isabelle Pierre's "Les enfants de l'avenir se feront l'amour à l'infini."

    MIke rushes into the church, down the isle to "object." He has already claimed Marissa isn't good enough for Kyle. As at the cemetery, a violent encounter takes place followed by an intense dialogue with the wedding guests around, a tableau of spectators. After Mike's disturbance of the ceremony, despite Marissa and Kyle's declaring their desire to wed, and Marissa's dramatic, "I'm pregnant! I'm getting married!", the minister refuses to complete the ceremony, saying they must think it over - and come back, after the child is born.

    The next scene shows Mike doing better: he's running a bike shop called Vélo Domestique, which also has an espresso bar. He serves Marissa, but her aim is to get Mike to come in to retrieve her credit card, a pretext to reunite Mike with Kyle. She has reversed now, and wants them together again. This time the camera pan to a car leads to Kyle - playing with his and Marissa's happy baby boy.

    Is this just like life, the back and forth and up and down? But the unique tragicomic twist is how Kyle, the weak, good guy, self destructively cleaves to Mike, the tough admitted asshole. And there is more: a final section with the ambiguous moniker, 7 FINE. I recommend you watch it, and all this remarkable movie.

    Not every minute of The Climb works. The two men's voices are too alike. The contrivances are delightful but so self-conscious they shrivel the emotional impact to a slither of ornamental touches. But it's a special and continual pleasure to savor the glissando takes, the ingenious scene liaisons, the funny-awful twists and turns of Kyle-Mike, the varied musical linking interludes. And the loving French touches, which declare this to be not only raucous nuttiness, highly wrought technique, but no mere Sundance indie special. There are two more French songs to come before it's all over: one Sinatra sang to signal a breakup originally by Gilbert Bécaud and Pierre Delaroe, with a background of Ravel's "Bolero," then, as an envoi, Bécaud with Mac David, "With your eyes you smile hello, gracias addios." Much to think about, much to rewatch and rethink here, much to admire and much to enjoy.

    The Climb, 94 mins., debuted at Cannes in Un Certain Regard May 2019 and won the Jury Prize. It subsequently showed in 15 international festivals including Munich, Telluride, Toronto, Deauville and Vienna. It was scheduled for release March 20, 2020 but due to the coronavirus outbreak the US release gas been repeatedly delayed, now set for November 13, 2020. Its Metascore is 82%. Released in France July 29, 2020 (AlloCiné press rating 3.9 out of 5 [78%]).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-06-2020 at 12:06 PM.

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    RESIDUE (Merawi Gerima 2020)

    MERAWI GERIMA: RESIDUE (2020)


    OBINNA NWACHUKWU IN RESIDUE

    A young black filmmaker returns to his childhood DC neighborhood and confronts its changes and his alienation

    Residue is an original and impressive first film. It's an autobiographical exploration of the past through the eyes of Jay (Obinna Nwachukwu), the filmmaker's alter ego. He's a young man who's studied film in "Cali" where he went to college, who returns to his old northeast Washington DC Q Street nabe looking for his childhood best friend, Demetrius, and for material for a movie. It would be like this one. It would express shock and alienation. He's been away for years. His parents still live there and don't plan to sell. But the place is full of unfriendly white people, realty firms are gobbling up properties, and gentrification is ugly.

    Gerima infuses this involving, thought-provoking film with images of a ghetto childhood. As experimental as is his use of diegetic sound and chance grabs with a light-footed camera, what impresses the most is the extraordinary "use" - the word seems crude, though - of non-actor locals who take us into the thought processes of urban poor African Americans and just how they talk, how much they must absorb, how suspicious they are. The experimental is leavened and enriched by the ultra-real, and the intense emotions, mostly anger and alienation, are crystalized without ever seeming pre-digested. Gerima happens to come from distinguished filmmaking parents ( Ethiopian father Haile made Sankofa and Ashes and Embers). That can't hurt, but doesn't necessarily make it all that easy. The surprise is that he can so seamlessly fuse diaristic reports from the front into art. AsOdie Henderson says in a very personal review, this shows "Thomas Wolfe was right"; you can't go home again." But if you have Merawi Gerima's unique skills, you can make this movie.

    Plot isn't as important as dialogue here, the action meanders, not all time-schemes are clear (how long has Jay been gone, exactly?), but this doesn't detract from the vividness of so many scenes. Right at the start, who can forget the new white resident's words when Jay gets out of the white pickup truck he's just driven in from the West Coast in, in front of his parents' house. "The music is too loud...Turn the music down. You're also double parked. Don't make me have to call the cops." Welcome home.

    There is also the encounter with white neighbors who let their dog defecate on his parent's lawn. The encounter leads him to a furious rage. But all this is enraging, and confusing. The drive east is subtly conveyed with images of tunnels, lights, summer Black Lives Matter demos, and the voice-over of Jay's father questioning his even coming back - "You said you hated this place...You thought a film could save us? Or did you see yourself as an archaeologist, coming to unearth our bones from the concrete?"

    Not much unearthing of bones is going to happen. When he asks three old timers about Demetrius they're vague about what has become of him. Gerima lets the camera linger after this exchange, when Jay has moved on, to show us the men still talking. They're suspicious of Jay, don't trust him. Everyone is. Why's he so eager to find Demetrius? He could be undercover. This intimacy of the language makes you expect an intimacy of connection that's not happening. And yet Jay's early life, it's all here.

    Jay has fraught encounters with others, and with visions of his past. His parents playfully spar over old slides they flash on the wall in the house, as to who was the best photographer. We also see the young Demetrius (Julian Selman). Was he one of those sweet boys who went through puberty and turned out mean and bad? Or did he do everything right and escape, with money and a family, as some say? A major character is Delonte (Dennis Lindsey), source of guilt for Jay and a need for amends. He was a protector for Jay, then in jail, where wrote many letters. They meet in a peaceful conversation in a forest - that really is a prison visiting room, another sign Jay is haunted by memories and emotions. There's also Mike (Derron "Rizo" Scott). Mike is one of those young black men in a circle, in and out, back and forth between dreams of makin' in and confinement, what happens to so many.

    Jay plunges into this world, the older women (some present, some remembered in visions). He speaks the echt ghetto speak; they all do: not a word of "educated" English is spoken. And no white faces seen. This is a course in black studies. Residuie is a brilliant and stylish first film; Merawi Gerima is an impressive new talent.

    Residue, 90 mins., debuted at Slamdance Jan. 2020,k winning the audience award there. It then was at Venice in Giornati degli autori, Mammoth, and Quebec City in Sept. 2020, and, distributed by Ava DuVernay's Array, was acquired by Netflix, where it may be seen now. Metascore 82%.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-07-2020 at 05:29 PM.

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    THE VIGIL (Keith Thomas 2019)

    KEITH THOMAS: THE VIGIL (2019)


    STILL FROM THE VIGIL

    A Jewish horror film

    Steeped in ancient Jewish lore and demonology, The Vigil is supernatural horror film set over the course of a single evening in Brooklyn's Hasidic Borough Park neighborhood. Low on funds and having recently left his insular religious community, Yakov (Dave Davis) reluctantly accepts an offer from his former rabbi and confidante (Menashe Lustig) to take on the responsibility of an overnight "shomer," fulfilling the Jewish practice of watching over the body of a deceased community member. Shortly after arriving at the recently departed's dilapidated dwelling, Yakov enters into a world of trouble.

    Recommended for fans of offbeat and very well researched horror films.

    Released by IFC Midnight it opens in some theaters and on digital platforms Feb. 26, 2021. Metascore: 68%
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-24-2021 at 04:24 PM.

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    L'INTRUS (Claire Denis 2004) - Metrograph revival

    CLAIRE DENIS: L'INTRUS (THE INTRUDER) (2004)


    MICHEL BUTOR IN L'INTRUS

    Terminal odyssey

    Before L'Intrus ("The Intruder") I'd seen other Denis films only at home on video, and with this one, seen in an American movie theater (and I remember the room and how I sat, leaning forward), powerful, vivid, gripping, and totally puzzling, I went from intrigued to permanently hooked. Like Arnaud des Pallières' Adieu of the year before, also a memorable experience of intoxicating mystification, watched at MK2 Beaubourg in Paris, L'Intrus chooses showing over telling in a literal way. Not only is dialogue sparse but all forms of explanation. All is dominated by an intense physicality, enhanced by the director's startling boldness, the handsome work of her gifted cinematographer, Agnès Godard, and the haunting percussive sounds of her frequent score-providers, the British group Tindersticks.

    Denis' film grew out of reading Jean-Luc Nancy's 2002 eponymous philosophical essay (I've found a translation into English; it's short; you can read it here.) She met and discussed the theme with Nancy in public both before and after release of the film. Nancy had had a heart transplant. He also had had a cancer diagnosis, and he had to live with both and with a body in multiple ways not quite his own.

    Themes start to emerge clearer toward the end of the longish film but all the way through it's notable for that intense physicality. Look at how the 69-year-old Louis Trebor (Michel Butor, a glamorous, glittering lizard of a man)) swims, basks in the sun, lies embracing his pair of blond husky dogs, has a severe attack of chest pains that leaves him clawing the wet sand in pain. See him go on defiantly to ride a bike energetically in the sun, make love to a woman, the local pharmacist (Bambou) in the evening, spar with "La reine de l'hémisphère nord" (the wild, gap-toothed Béatrice Dalle of Betty Blue) and her pen of sled dogs. At night, lying with his lover, see him slip out and, his fine hunting knife fast as a lizard's tongue, coolly slit an unknown intruder's throat. Watch how Sidney, ( Grégoire Colin, the tall hunk from Beau travail and multiple other Denis films) neatly and playfully 'seduces' his young wife (Florence Loiret-Caille). She's a road customs border guard with another dog, a sniffing one, and Sidney is a house husband raising their two infants. He is Louis' estranged son who asks him for aid out in town and gets scorned and fobbed off with a small wad of cash. Later watch Alex Descas, another Denis regular, notably later in the wonderful 35 Shots of Rum,, as an unusually handsome and suave priest. Denis likes handsome, sexy men.

    All this is intense and real but how it fits together we don't know and never really quite will. But Denis creates and rides away with a strong central character, one of cinema's most attractive monsters, in Michel Subor's Louis - who isn't outwardly anything like the philosopher from Strasbourg whose experience all this was spun from. He is rich and ruthless, an entrepreneur of hidden global sweep who uses his money (some of it gathered into a bag at a Swiss bank) to buy an illicit heart transplant and then only to try to give it all away. But, old sensualist that he is, before he leaves Switzerland he first buys a gorgeous and very expensive gold watch for himself, because it looks good on his suntanned wrist. Louis is haunted and driven. He is pursued mysteriously by a strange Russian woman (Katia Golubeva) who keeps turning up for the rest of the film, a warning of Louis' many ill deeds and the inevitability of the demise he's trying to buy and dare his way out of.

    Of course if there are illegal organ dealings those in hearts must be the most illegal and the most expensive and Louis goes to Asia for his, insisting on a vigorous young man's heart. Denis delivers a seamless succession of exotic, utterly untouristy scenes in global locations from the Alps to Korea to Tahiti, and we remember she went to primary school "au Cameroun, en Somalie, au Burkina Faso et à Djibouti," growing up the daughter of a French colonial administrator, so exotic places come naturally to her to the age of twelve.

    These many locations are, however, symbolic of Louis' growing alienation from himself. He begins a sensualist grabbing life by the horns, intensely alive even though he may actually be not so long for this life. His self-sufficiency impresses. He's one of the sexiest, most glamorous and mysterious of silver foxes, but he's lonely. And though he scorns Sidney, he wanders the South Pacific looking for another son to give all his wealth to, a son his mother says doesn't want it and doesn't want to see him. Then malaise overtakes him. This hard hearted man and his new heart are at odds.

    There are somewhat strange comings and goings then. Unfortunately, viewing this film courtesy of Metrograph Pictures at home, typically in such circumstances I would up not watching it all at once, but divided into halves, the first one evening, the rest the next day. A movie that's an experience as intense as this one should be seen in a theater on a big screen all at one go. L'Intrus is also best the first time, knowing nothing about it, intensely, pleasantly mystified. Though this film's gorgeous sensuality is cloying by the end, that's also the point: the "intruder", whether Louis in the world or his alien heart in his body, can't keep it down, can't keep it in: it's all too much, and yet was never enough - searching for something never found.

    One can't encompass the wild mysteries of this movie in a short review or appreciation; a book could easily, pleasantly be written about it. In his just and knowing early review Stephen Holden of the New York Times called it a "magnificent enigma"; Dennis Lim in the Voice called it "poetic and primal," "as thrilling as it is initially baffling." Maybe finally baffling too: Scott Foundas wisely wrote that it was designed to be "felt rather than rationalized." We must not spoil it by too much taking apart and explaining. It's typical of Claire Denis very often to bypass rational explanation and to draw us to the physicality of people and places for which she has such a special and precious sense. L'Intrus takes me back to my joy in movies as a child and young teenager, when I intensely felt them and was dazzled and absorbed wordlessly into them. I could tell what happens - that's fun too; but the most fun was being unable to speak, bursting with images and emotions beyond words and throbbing inside for hours or days. That's cinema. Claire Denis is one of the great ones and this one of her best. It's one example of a wildly varied and adventurous œuvre, and it it's your first taste of that, lucky you.

    L'Intrus/The Intruder, 130 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2004, showing afterward at Toronto, Pusan, San Francisco, and other festivals, opening theatrically Dec. 23, 2005 in New York City. This revival opens exclusively at Metrograph.com on Mar. 26, 2021.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-14-2021 at 06:05 PM.

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    PIXIE (Barnaby Thompson' 2020)

    BARNABY THOMPSON: PIXIE (2020)


    DARYL MCCORMACK, BEN HARDY, AND OLIVIA COOKE IN PIXIE

    A pretty pickle and a ruthless lass

    Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid meets In Bruges is how Ben Hardy describes this film which might also be called Irish Guy Ritchie. Hardy is the seductive blond Brit, known lately for X Men and Bohemian Rhapsody, who puts on an Irish accent to play Frank, one of the three leads, a ploy he said he was "terrified" to do. But so did Olivia Cooke, who plays Pixie: she's English too. The third of the youthful lead trio is six-foot-three Daryl McCormack, authentically Irish, Isaiah Jesus "Peaky Blinders," who plays the good natured but innocent Harland. Hardy and Cooke became a couple as a result of this obviously enjoyable shoot, but the good old Daily Mail reports their "budding romance" fizzled during the pandemic lockdown. There are lots of other characters, the recognizable one for Yanks being Alec Baldwin. He plays Father Hector McGrath. head of a gang of crooked priests involved in drug trading. And there's Pixie's twisted family, who are criminals themselves.

    Frank and Harland come upon a satchel with over a million euros worth of MDMA and go for a runner with it driving an old Mercedes with a corpse in the boot. Pixie turns out to be the truly ruthless one, planning to avenge her mother by this big heist. The trio, Pixie, Harland, and Frank escape a shootout in a country church hoping to go far and live wild. Only later the two best mates realize the young lady has all along had other plans. She may not realize just what a mess they have all landed in. Whenever these three actors are on the screen, fun is in the air, particularly when they're in the old Mercedes. It's obvious they were having a good time and it's infectious.

    Barnaby Thompson's script isn't as extreme or clever as his obvious sources, frankly, but the film's got gorgeous deeply colored wild west of Ireland landscapes, often seen from above, plus plenty of humor and a number of lighthearted and absurd moments. The latter like the line thrown away in the trailer where Ben, talking to a choirboy he runs into at a bus stop who's well past his sexual sell-by date, whom he leaves with this persuasive nugget: "If the good Lord didn't mean for you and I to eat pussy, why did he make it look like a taco?" Tacos may never look quite the same. Can we see the beneficial influence of Phoebe Waller-Bridge's brilliant and outrageous "Fleabag" here?

    Barnaby Thompson is English, but got his start producing in Hollywood. He returned home and has produced ten films in the UK. Now he plays the role of managing the historic Ealing Studios, where some of England's greatest films were made, the forties and fifties Ealing comedies, which include the great Alec Guinness classics, King Hearts and coronets and The Man in the White Suit. Others are The Lavender Hill Mob, also Guinness, Whisky Galore and Passport to Pimlico. In the sixty years since, those comedy accomplishments have not been repeated, and they aren't here in this English-Irish hybrid.

    Some of the Irish dialogue requires a careful listen for Yanks, but the fun atmosphere and the pleasant songs are easy to respond to. This is a cut above some of the stuff that traditionally gets dumped at the start of a new year and as Ben Hardy says in an interview, could put you in a good mood for the rest of the day. But don't expect something unforgettable like those Ealing comedies.

    Pixie, 93 mins., opened in the Uk Oct. 23, 2020, in Ireland Dec. 4 and Australia Jan. 2021. Opening in the US in select theaters, on digital and on demand Mar. 5, 2021.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-14-2021 at 06:15 PM.

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    THE FATHER (Florian Zeller 2020)

    FLORIAN ZELLER: THE FATHER (2020)


    EMILY COLEMAN AND ANTHONY HOPKINS IN THE FATHER

    Elder care

    Film depictions of dementia proliferate as the issue and awareness of it grow worldwide at a rate said to be "of epidemic proportions." But of course a medical problem isn't in itself the stuff of art. In tackling it, the French writer Florian Zeller, whose play adapted by Christopher Hampton he himself directs for this film, has sought a compromise. He delivers humble, realistic movie-of-the-week observational details, but frames them in ways that suggest the Theater of the Absurd. He has nothing of the resonance of a playwright like Samuel Beckett. The trajectory itself may nostalgically remind us of that greatest of all tragedies of a crazy old man losing it, Shakespeare's King Lear, but Zeller's brand of absurdist surrealism is too realistic to achieve nobility or tragedy. This is a look at dementia that trues to depict the world as the confused old man sees it while showing us him as those around see him. Zeller has heightened the drama as well as making the confusion into Pinteresque wackiness. The play-into-film has strong moments, and some that don't quite connect so well. It seems gimmicky, yet it has the power to move us as Anthony Hopkins lays on the helplessness and pitifulness.

    Zeller is unquestionably a talented and ambitious writer. He has also done plays called The Mother and The Son: he must want to have the whole family covered. This play, in its film adaptation, is effectively presented, with international stars like Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Coleman, and a good cast including Rufus Sewall and Imogen Poots. Hopkins is also just about exactly the real age of his character, the "Anthony" (originally "Andre") of Zeller's script. No makeup necessary! So we can expect work of richness and subtlety, within the limits of the material.

    The Father addresses the subject of Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), an eighty-something gentleman, evidently once highly accomplished, who is now plainly losing his memory and his bearings, with his grown daughter Anne (Olivia Coleman) trying to cope when she apparently must find someone to care for him full time now that she is moving to Paris and can no longer drop by every day, or have her father live with her as she now does. In particular she faces Anthony's repeated refusals to allow in a caregiver (the simpler British term is "carer") driving out one woman (they seem to be women) after another.

    For his multiple point-of-view portrait Zeller draws substantially on the once vibrant midcentury absurdist dramatic tradition whose cornerstones were Ionesco, Beckett, and Genet and whose decorative masonry was crafted by Albee and Pinter. In Ionesco, it is usual for a married couple sitting down to chat to discover with surprise that they live in the same house. This is the world of Alzheimer's. In Beckett, we are playing an endgame, which has both nobility and menial absurdity and can flip back and forth from one to the other in a stunning, heartbreaking instant. In Pinter, in their meandering conversations people play wicked, mean mind games with each other, and one may not know if they have known each other for a long time or have just met. We glimpse moments like all these throughout The Father. Now they exhibit not tragedy or existential terror but the pathetic woes of an addled old man.

    The trouble is, all the devices used to show Anthony's predicament that seem to suit so well to the depiction of senility, have been around for a long time in use for other purposes - to convey the surrealism of everyday modern life, the craziness of families, the triviality of convention, the disorientation of the unfolding of time or the sheer absurdity of the human condition. In this film version of The Father we get a patchwork of styles and angles. The film works as an approximation, sometimes brilliantly observant, sometimes a little too absurd to be as telling or as touching as it may wish to be, though that edge of detachment may be welcome in a story that's going somewhere so basically hopeless and sad.

    More than halfway through the film plays a lot with the surreal. It gives us, apparently, moments from the life of Anthony (Hopkins) as he gets things confused and jumbled. He think's at one point that he's in his own flat, which he bought years ago, but in fact, he's beeen taken in by his daughter Anne.. He's surprised to encounter a man there, who is Anne's husband Paul. At first Paul is played by Mark Gatiss; then for a longer spelll he's played by Rufus Seweall. He hears Anne (mostly played by Olivia Coleman, briefly also played by Olivia Williams) tell him she is moving to Paris to be with a new man, but this turns out not to be true: she's staying in London and she's still with her husband, in the same flat Anthony is now living in. Or maybe not; maybe she is moving to Paris. When a new carer called Laura (Imogen Poots) comes to meet Anthony, to see if they can get along, he grows lively, plays up to her, pours her and himself two neat Scotches, and says in life he was a dancer, a tap dancer, though Anne interjects, "Dad! You were an engineer!" A little playful whirl for Mr. Hopkins and the playwright.

    It's a wacky world Anthony lives in now, sometimes fun, often not. It's not fun that he turns on people, tells Anne he always preferred her sister, accuses the last carer of stealing the watch he keeps misplacing. We see and hear things as Anthony does; but the filter is not precise. We also see and hear things as Paul and Anne do and thus sense their frustration and despair. Paul, as played by Rufus Sewall, gives us a cold outsider's point of view. When he's alone with Anthony he asks him, bluntly, "How long are you going to hang around getting on everyone's tits?" The question comes back again, expressed in more brutal terms.

    A turn to the real comes past midway with the presence of the aforesaid Paul, particularly in a scene at dinner with the three of them, Anne, Paul, and Anthony, because at this moment for once there seems to be a sensed, shared awareness of the whole situation. Again when Anne is out of the room, Paul is blunt with Anthony, pointing out that the couple's Italian holiday has recently had to be cancelled because the old man drove away the carer and had to be brought from his flat to theirs so Anne could keep an eye on him.

    What we see way ahead of time is that Anthony is already very far gone mentally, so much so it seems rather implausible that he could have been functioning without those carers he has been driving away. Clearly, the kindly Anne and her disgruntled husband have a growing emergency on their hands. Anne and Paul must come to the recognition that a couple of adults living in a nice flat won't be able to manage an older man losing his mind.

    The acting is impeccable, of course. The writing is less satisfying. Zeller is clever - too clever. If he'd provided something less showy and theatrical and more simple and true the result might have been more moving, although Hopkins wrings the maximum pathos from his character's decline and the film has garnered many acting awards and nominations.

    The Father, 97 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2020, showing subsequently at over a dozen international festivals including Toronto, Telluride, Woodstock, Zurich, the Hamptons, Mill Valley and AFI (Los Angeles). Many awards including editing and best screenplay. A Sony Pictures Classics release it opens in the US Feb. 26, 2021 in NY/LA, Mar. 12 in theaters nationwide and Mar. 26 on demand. UK theatrical release Mar. 12. Metascore 87%.

    .
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-24-2021 at 05:34 PM.

  13. #28
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    ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI (Regina King) and MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM ( George C. Wolfe)

    I watched Ma Rainey's Black Bottom a while back and enjoyed it very much, but since it had been out a while I didn't write a review. And then it's a movie of a play. Lately I finally got around to watching One Night in Miami, available currently for free to Amazon Prime subscribers. It filled me with emotion. A look at Sam Cooke on YouTube impressed me more than words can express. Watch him singing "Send Me" on American Bandstand. I have never seen anything so suave in my life. And Leslie Odom Jr. of "Hamilton" as Cooke in the film does a very good and moving imitation of the silky sweet voice that from what they say was the godfather of all popular soul artists. Knowing that both Malcolm X and Sam Cooke were to be assassinated within a year of this evening is devastatingly sad. Eli Goree does Cassius Clay's intonations with great accuracy and lightness.

    But the movie is obviously from a play, and some of the additions tilt it off balance. There are longeurs and jarring moments and is choppy. It's too unsatisfactory structurally as a movie for the excellent acting to compensate. it lacks naturalness, it doesn't flow.

    None of that is true of Ma Rainey. The direction of George C. Wolfe and the adaptation of Ruben Santiago-Hudson get prominent credit, but this is a play by August Wilson, one of our most significant playwrights and it shows. It flows. It has energy and drive from first to last. This film has spectacular performances by Viola Davis and the last great one by Chadwick Boseman and all the acting sings because of the tight writing. Ma Rainey winds up being a much more significant film than One Night in Miami. One Night in Miami, as a history lesson, is a n overwhelmingly powerful reminder of the precariousness of the Black power that these four giants talk about in this imagining of that night. It makes you think about Black history in a very concentrated way. But as a movie or a play - no.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-21-2021 at 12:22 AM.

  14. #29
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    SOUL (Pete Docter, Kemp Powers 2020)

    PETE DOCTER, KEMP POWERS: SOUL (2020)


    SOUL

    Joe loses his "soul" but get a good gig in this timid Pixar step into black creative experience

    Time's Stephanie Zacharek, writing of Soul, says Pixar films are "the most philosophical of the animation world," but the fact they "deal overtly with existential problems or anxieties" might sometimes trick us into "believing they’re better or deeper than they actually are." Such high-flown preoccupations can be distracting - from making a good movie; because solving all the problems of existence or saying something profound can just lead to corniness, or empty fluff. It seems often by accident that this successful studio, now owned by Disney, turns out to make an offbeat film that may be charming or good. Here you sympathize with Joe, the unmarried black jazz pianist in New York, approaching middle age, who's wound up being a middle school band teacher for so long his dream of becoming a successful jazz pianist has become a joke at the local barbershop. The movie enters into Joe's soul, his afterlife, his return to life, his sense of fulfilment - all that jazz. Give PIxar credit: focusing on a black would-be jazz musician is a stretch for them. This is the first time a black writer has received the co-directing title to a Pixar film - Kemp Powers, living his sudden moment. He also wrote One Night in Miami, his play now adapted as a Netflix movie. Pixar deserves credit for this step. But don't expect a miracle. This is a step, not a sprint.

    Pixar teases with the hint that this movie is about the breakthrough of a black would-be jazz pianist - or about jazz music much at all, because those are only part of what's going on. It's sort of that, and a lot about "souls" in that other sense, and the afterlife. By a fluke, just after being offered a full-time position after years of teaching at the school, Joe is offered a gig at the Half Note, a Lower Manhattan jazz club obviously based on the Village Vanguard, in the Dorothea Williams Quartet (Dorothea is voiced by Angela Bassett). But he gets so excited on the way home to get ready he falls down an open manhole and dies. Or almost dies. This is where, after only ten minutes of the film, a long episode up in the nether world follows, where sketchy figures with odd British accents assemble and arrange souls before or after death. I zoned out. If this is where the dealing "Overtly with existential problems and anxieties" comes in, they lost me. It seems mostly tiny light blue Pixar-style blobs. A slightly larger blue-blob form of Joe is there too. His eagerness to get the gig leads him to beg for permission to return to earth - you know the drill - along with a recalcitrant semi-soul critter known only as "22." Here begins a kind of metaphysical fantasy of a soul reanimating his nearly dead body in a hospital.

    And a comedy of errors, which carries us through the middle section of the film, when - by accident - Joe's soul (voiced by Jamie Foxx) enters into the body of a chubby pussy cat, and "22" (voiced by Tiny Fey) enters into the body of Joe. They become a team and 22, who had never wanted to be sent to earth at all, gradually learns to love pizza, lollipops, getting a haircut in a Black barbershop (the most animated and rich sequence in the movie), and being a jazz mentor, a jazz player and a beloved son. You almost forget the nether world nonsense and the cockney soul manipulators. But they come back. And the back and forth with Joe's body gets confusing, with Joe seeming to be simultaneously in Queens and up in the stratosphere.

    What satisfies in Soul is the well-realized New York City milieu. The middle school classrooms were based on real ones. Astoria, Queens and lower Manhattan come through really feeling like their actual New York counterparts, with all the concentration of energy, movement, and traffic and crowds that well-stuffed city delivers. A black actor - Jamie Foxx - actually does get to voice Joe, the disappointed jazz pianist. But some have thought having his body invaded by Tina Fey was rather racist. A lot of the time this black man is possessed by a white woman's voice and a prickly sprite's mind. Joe is bored with teaching at a middle school, which makes it odd that this setting was crafted in consultation with a real Queens music teacher who loved his work.

    PIxar has always gotten largely a free ride, and so not surprisingly some reviewers find the supernatural afterlife and beforelife world of Soul "beautiful." How come then it is made up so largely of little light blue and white blobs? It may be ingenious, but it's merely a chilly distraction from the more interesting events involving Joe and the Half Note. Armand White, whom I'll quote further, calls these sequences in the great beyond (or before) "cute existential surrealism." In the event, Joe or his body invaded by a now thoroughly adapted 22 does splendidly in his first night in the Dorothea Williams Quartet and Dorothea welcomes him to the band - but he has waited so long for this moment that when it's over he feels strangely let down.

    Is this Pixar saying that ordinary life, like playing in a good jazz band, isn't enough for them, and they must have conferences and manipulations in the celestial spheres as well? That's what they get. But for the humble viewer, it's the moments of real life, like the dry cleaning establishment Joe's family runs and his mother's love and concern, the too-brief montaged-moment of a successful concert at a jazz club, and the camaraderie and group dialogue at the barbershop, that are the moments of Soul that have soul.

    How satisfying is Soul for jazz lovers? Not very. Its - again, frustrated, derailed - jazz piano protagonist is just a lovable doofus. Where is the celebration of jazz? Of being a creative musician? Armand White thinks the film wants to "alienate black music culture from its gospel roots" (misleading with the R&B hints of the "Soul" title); and to "idolize" jazz performance and "mislead" with the "Soul" title playing with the R&B hints in the word that the movie ignores. It also does coopt and water down jazz and the jazz experience. At the end Joe is allowed to return to earth (you know the drill) but, after living his life dreaming of being a jazz pianist, now doesn't know what he will do. He's had the soul drained out of him and now he has had the jazz drained out tioo.

    You might get the theme of a black musician making it better in the 13-minute film, "A Concerto Is a Conversation," not about jazz, but about a real young black classical composer and Julliard graduate whose composition, and this film, are a homage to his grandfather, who hitchhiked from Jim Crow Florida to Los Angeles with $28 and became the owner of a dry cleaning business by the age of 22. Telling that with old photographs and voiceover is more effective than it would have been summarized in a cute Pixar condensation. This is packaged too, but it has the edge of real experience attached to it.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-21-2021 at 09:29 PM.

  15. #30
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    NEWS OF THE WORLD (Paul Greengrass 2020)

    PAUL GREENGRASS: NEWS OF THE WORLD (2020)

    A pleasant little slog

    Another Christmas 2020 release, like Promising Young Woman.

    The elevator pitch for Paulette Jiles's new novel, News of the World, just announced as a finalist for the National Book Awards, would be something like True Grit meets Lonesome Dove, maybe with a little Cormac McCarthy thrown in for seasoning. It's set in the Old West, after all, and features a tough, likeable old codger, a troubled, troublesome young girl and a harsh and unforgiving landscape.- Jack Kirchhoff, Globe & Mail, 2016. For the movie, with Tom Hanks, whom Greenglass directed a few ears ago in Captin Philipps, The Searchers has also been mentioned.

    News of the World is a charmer, a sort-of Western of a grizzled stauncher who has lost his newspaper in the wake of the Civil wWar, in which he fought but makes a living now traveling around the frontier towns giving shows whee he's changing ten cents a head to read the news from local papers for the benefit of the illiterate or uninformed masses. Then he's landed with a girl stolen from her German family, who were massacred, and raised from the age of six by Kiowa indians. Now she's been "rescued" by white barbarians who massacred her new family, and Captain Kidd is saddled with Johanna, who now goes by Cicada, taking her down south to another frontier locaton to turn her over to her only remaining family, an uncle and aunt.

    Johanna turs out to be first hostile, then an ally with unexpected skills and the strength of a survivor. It's she who augments the weopenry when a gunfight occurs between Kidd and some bad guys who first what to buy her and then to steal her. But this fight, inserted to liven things up, has been accused of being so slow and dull it's a wonder Greengrass stayed awake while filming it. It's hard to believe he's the guy who made two of the hottest Bourne films.

    A mmodel of mine is Jarmusch's Dead Man, and, remembering that, I kept wishing each scee of News would have something really memorable about its setting, characters, or dialogue; but they're not. This is a cozy Western style period buddy picture/road trip. Hanks is always watchable and relatable. The German born Helena Zengel as Johanna is a hell of an actress, and also so striking and mature looking you think of Cate Blanchett. As an actress too she has skills. Why doesn't se get to speak any German? And how come Kidd starts knowing so much Kiowa all of a sudden? Language is an element that has possiblities here that are mostly unrealized. And the ending - wehre is it?
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-23-2021 at 11:58 PM.

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