Hey Ho, Van Gogh

At Eternity’s Gate (Julian Schnabel, 2018)

If you need to know — I didn’t know — At Eternity’s Gate is a late painting by Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh, of an old man with his head in his hands, based on earlier designs. Van Gogh didn’t get to be an old man, having (spoiler) shot himself in the stomach whilst not in a fit state. He is the poster boy for artist as mad, tortured genius, seller of a single painting in his life time and now worth millions per canvas.
Continue reading →

Impeccably Liberal

On the Basis of Sex (Mimi Leder, 2018)

This is the story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) struggling at Harvard Law School because of discrimination against her even by those who admitted women to the university, struggling to get a job as a attorney or lawyer because she might get pregnant or make her colleagues’ wives jealous and then struggling to bring a sex discrimination case that could uncrack the whole canon of sex discriminatory laws. At one point Dorothy Kenyon (a cameo from Kathy Bates) tells her it will take a generation.
Continue reading →

The First Casualty of News

A Private War (Matthew Heineman, 2018)

Marie Colvin was a female war correspondent, following in the footsteps of Martha Gellhorn (and Kate Adie), reporting under fire from many of the hell holes of the world. We know what war correspondents are like from films — hardbitten, tough, driven, sociopathic and unable to maintain normal relationships, slave to the bottle and traumatised if they’d but admit it. It’s still unusually to see a women in this role on film, although since at least the 1930s journalism has been an acceptable job for a woman on screen.

Continue reading →

Beale Street Blues

If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins, 2018)

Barry Jenkins is a straight man who seems to be making gay-themed films — his last one, which I recall a bit of a sense of agnosticism about, Moonlight, rightly won the Oscar over La La Land. Here Jenkins adapts the late novel by the great gay African American writer, James Baldwin, in a project that has been long in development. I confess I haven’t yet read the novel, but I gather the ending has been softened, but it remains a powerful piece.
Continue reading →

Wrong is for Other People

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Marielle Heller, 2018)

There’s a PhilDickian moment towards the end of the film where a character is asking about the authenticity of a signed letter and is told it comes with a letter stating it is real. How do you know if that letter is real?

Continue reading →

Orpheus in the Deep South

Green Book (Peter Farrelly, 2018)

There’s a point in this film when driver/body guard Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) tells African American musician Dr Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) that his wife (Linda Cardellini) has bought his version of Orpheus in the Underworld. That’s the one is which the champion lyre player descends into hell to rescue someone.

Continue reading →

Uncle Tom Cobblers

Hereditary (Ari Aster, 2018)

Remember, if there’s a gun over the fireplace in Act One, then…

Early on, we learn that little Charlie Graham needs an epi, and despite the fact that she could die at any point from anaphylactic shock, this always gets left behind. So, obviously, when her mother forces Charlie’s brother Peter to drag her to a party, she’ll make a beeline for the walnut cake. And things then take a turn for the worse, as stoned Peter tries to get her to casualty.

Ouch.

I’d very nearly given this a miss, but somehow I’d been convinced that this was Quality Horror, presumably on the grounds that Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne wouldn’t appear in something which was pants. How wrong whoever that was was.

Annie is an artist who makes miniatures of her life, including her family and her Nasty Dead Mother. For example, she makes a model of Peter failing to get Charlie to hospital.

Ouch.

The family is haunted, perhaps by guilt, perhaps by something supernatural, and there is a room in their huge house that used to be her mother’s and they now keep it locked, because…

One day she attends a bereavement session, but Annie lies about going to it, claiming she was at the cinema. Hubby, whose job is not entirely clear but involves reading large manuscripts and sitting at a big desk, has clearly never asked her about what she has seen. Personally, I think a bereavement session is more fun than movies. This allows her to bump into Joan, similarly bereaved, and get to know her. Joan introduces her to the wonderful world of seances.

This cannot end well.

It doesn’t.

Before long, we’re deep in Rosemary’s Baby territory and the only question is who is in on the conspiracy and who is disposable. This film could have been made in 1968 and frankly Lucifer hasn’t caught up with Second Wave feminism yet. The One must be prepared for. And so we get some risible low key special effects and some embarrassing nudity and you’d have to have a heart of stone not to laugh.

No wonder Gabriel Byrne looks so miserable throughout.

There’s some neat uncanny stuff, and Annie reminds me of Frances Glessner Lee’s crime scene models, but the ironies of Annie creating fake world whilst herself being a puppet never really pays off. The director likes tracking shots, but even these seem a little haphazard.