January 27, 2017

Last one leaving

Don’t Breathe (Fede Alvarez, 2016). The Detroit setting will get your horror movie at least half-way there (Only Lovers Left Alive, It Follows). Other than that, think about bringing the war home. This is efficient, brutal when it needs to be, and packed with dread. 

January 25, 2017

In the world

Captain Fantastic (Matt Ross, 2016). It seemed impossible but everyone learned something. Deep within it, there is pioneering American religious separatism, the founding story, tribes of children and the possibility of innocence. Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, George MacKay. 

January 24, 2017

At the lake

Queen of Earth (Alex Ross Perry, 2015). There is a 1970s feeling to Alex Ross Perrys psychological drama  not quite a horror, but nearly – Queen of Earth, both in its setting (a lakeside cabin with timbered interior) and its theme (a Bergman-ish descent into madness). The eerie score by Keegan DeWitt has echoes of Rosemarys Baby and there is a similar sense of persecution and humiliation in the story of Catherine, a young woman who has lost her famous artist father, played with remarkable commitment and intensity by Elisabeth Moss. As in Perrys previous film, the vicious literary black comedy Listen Up Philip, these are well-connected, creative, upper middle-class New Yorkers whose relationships have turned competitive and bitter  it can almost feel like the dark flip side of a privileged, whimsical Wes Anderson world. 

January 20, 2017

Back from the dead: Mel Gibson, martyrdom and violent religiosity in Blood Father

Blood Father (Jean-Francois Richet). 
Chapter 1: it begins and ends in churches, with confessions of hopelessness.
Chapter 2: the body artist, the dragon drawing and the meaning of Don Quixote.
Chapter 5: the missing mother.
Chapter 9: when he loses the biker beard, he reminds you of his most vulnerable and remorseful self. 

January 19, 2017

The wretched of the earth

Chasing Asylum (Eva Orner, 2016). “It sat with me for quite a number of months. And if I didn’t speak out, who was going to? I’ve got a conscience and I was brought up the right way. And I don’t understand how we can do this to each other. I felt that it was the right thing to do. People need to talk up.” Manus Island guard and whistleblower Martin Appleby.

January 18, 2017

Gone missing

The Captive (Atom Egoyan, 2014). The sad thing about Atom Egoyan is that we measure everything against the heights of his greatest work and find it lacking, time and time again  perhaps he peaked too soon. It doesnt help when a (relatively) new film like The Captive seems to be a pallid, lifeless, poorly-constructed retread of his best films, with their deep explorations of loss and memory. Child abduction, disappearances, guilt, grief: it was all done so much better in The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica and Felicias Journey, which constitute the mature peak of Egoyans career. This has none of the sad, complicated feelings of those three films and Egoyan makes a confusing mess of the tricky timelines  the kind of thing that once came easily to him. 

January 9, 2017

Regrets, nothing

Unplanned double bill: What Happened, Miss Simone? (Liz Garbus, 2015) and La Vie en Rose (Olivier Dahan, 2007). 

January 7, 2017

January 6, 2017

Space ghosts

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Gareth Edwards, 2016). Carrie Fisher died between my first viewing of Rogue One and my second, which complicates the already problematic decision to create a younger version of the actress for this so-called standalone story that is really a direct prequel to A New Hope. The digital Leia is only in it for seconds but a reanimated Peter Cushing gets more screen time and the effect makes him seem strangely shifty, like a lost ghost who isn’t sure if he should be there either. The other resurrection is more straightforward: unused A New Hope footage puts a pilot played by the late Drewe Henley back in the series. Maybe nothing can ever die in the Star Wars universe and not just because there will always be prequels, sequels, flashbacks, recastings and maybe even remakes one day, but because everything returns to the Force, in a Buddhist sense. Sometimes characters die and get to live again (Poe Dameron, Anakin Skywalker) so why not actors? But is there also something about George Lucas’ light, artificial conception of a plastic universe in which actors aren’t even necessarily human beings that jars with Gareth Edwards’ impressive ambition for Rogue One, which is to construct a realistic, behind-enemy-lines war movie within the confines of the greater, Lucasfilm mythology? That tension is interesting and it makes Rogue One more provocative, stranger and less obviously crowd-pleasing than The Force Awakens, which seemed perfectly designed to disappoint absolutely no one and had a remarkable lightness of touch (in that film, resurrections were limited to Alec Guinness’ voice). So I do agree with the critics of Rogue One who say that the story is complicated and even exhausting, and that important plot points and great actors (a Fury Road-ish Forest Whitaker, especially) are lost in the murk while Felicity Jones and Diego Luna feel like the gloomy flipsides of Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac in The Force Awakens, but there is plenty to like here as well: Ben Mendelsohn’s Krennic is already one of the series’ great tragic figures and the duo of Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen don’t just expand the idea of the Force across the entire series, they even seem to refer all the way back to Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, which is one of the things that kicked off all of this for Lucas in the first place. Like every viewer, I’m already thinking of other spin-offs I want to see from this spin-off. 

January 4, 2017

The cinema at the corner of the avenue

“There, I had arrived. I had forgotten the cinema at the corner of the avenue. It was called Le Mexico and it was no coincidence that it had such a name. It gave you a longing for journeys, for running away or escaping … I had also forgotten the silence and the calm of avenue Rachel that leads to the cemetery, but you don’t think of the cemetery there, you tell yourself that right at the very end you will emerge in the countryside, and even with a bit of luck on a seaside promenade.” Patrick Modiano, In the CafĂ© of Lost Youth

January 3, 2017

Interstellar, second time

Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014). The troubled single parent in highbrow science fiction: Interstellar, Midnight Special, Arrival, Signs. As with Arrival, Interstellar is more emotionally affecting on a second viewing. On a first viewing, you are awed by the scale (time, space), but on a second, by the smaller details and connections. Or: nothing gives a film longevity quite like a requirement to view it more than once. The single parent theme owes everything to Spielberg and at least two of the above are homages.