Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)
This is a bit spoilery in some of its gestures.
You know that you are going to be in for a bumpy ride when the near future setting epigraph to a film crossfades from a line about humanity’s future lying in the stars to the title Ad Astra, in case we can’t translate the Latin. Then the film goes into voiceover, wannabe Blade Runner, but the point of a voiceover is surely to mess with the visuals not to mesh with them. There is no point in him telling us that he is looking for a door and then showing us a door — later he tells us that he feels that he in the dark, holding onto a rope, as he is in the dark, holding on to … well, you get the idea.
Trust the audience.
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The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg, 2019)
For a good chunk of this film I sat there wondering who it was playing Anthony.
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Benjamin (Simon Amstell, 2018)
Yesterday (Danny Boyle, 2019)
I’d not knowingly come across Joel Fry before, but here he is, playing essentially the same role of kooky and tactless best friend in two romcoms.
Back in the late 1970s, Brian Henderson suggested that the romcom was no longer possible – two broad schools of the genre divide into two questions. Continue reading →
The Dead Don’t Die (Jim Jarmusch, 2019)
Jim Jarmusch is evidently one of those low budget indie auteur who both builds an ensemble around him and persuades A-List stars in search of artistic credibility to work for him (presumably for scale). A couple of years ago he cast the divine Tilda Swinton in a misjudged vampire film, Only Lovers Left Alive and now he shifts to the zombie film to pastiche.
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Jake Gyllenhaal has a strange look in his eyes for the first half hour — “I was nominated for a Oscar,” they say, “I used to do low budget quirky cult hits.” He’s a superhero from a parallel dimension, here to do battle with four Elementals that want to destroy this Earth as they destroy his. And it just so happens Water hits Venice when Peter Parker is on his school trip.
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Woman at War (Kona fer í stríð, Benedikt Erlingsson, 2018)
I get the feeling that the writer-director is here channelling the work of Aki Kaurismäki: we have Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir), is single, middle-aged choir leader who wants to adopt a Ukrainian child and incidentally is running a campaign of ecological terrorism against the aluminium plant owned by Rio Tinto.
Her movement around whatever Icelandic city it is and the astounding landscape is interrupted by two balanced trios — three male musicians and three female Ukrainians who shift from extra- to intra-diegetic. It is sometimes whimsical, it is sometimes threatening, it may even be Brechtian (with a dash of Mel Brooks). It gives the film a whiff of the fairy tale and one presumes that pulling down a pylon wouldn’t have the effect that is shown. There is a further shift into folktale territory as Halla is finally arrested and as the action shifts to Ukraine.
Whilst friends and foes are beautifully drawn — her sister, her alleged cousin Sveinbjörn (Jóhann Sigurðarson) and his dog (apparently called Woman) and a co-conspirator Baldvin (Jörundur Ragnarsson) — but I think a foot is put wrong with the comedy foreign tourist Juan Camillo (Juan Camillo Roman Estrada), whose role is to be cycling near the scene of each crime and be arrested. It feels a little too studiedly quirky — although I see that the same actor (and the person playing Halla’s sister with the same character name) is in the same director’s Of Horses and Men ([Hross í os], 2013) so I wonder if I’m missing something.
This was an unexpected pleasure — and I see that Jodie Foster wants to direct a remake, presumably with herself in the lead. See this before it gets buried.
Gloria Bell (Sebastián Lelio, 2018)
So Chilean director Sebastián Lelio made a well-regarded film called Gloria (2013), about a middle-aged divorcée’s tribulations whilst dating. Julianne Moore saw it and liked it and decided she wanted to star in a remake.
There’s an ambiguity to this film and my response to it — in part the double standard of how we (I) react to no-longer-youthful women in films compared to men of the same age. Here’s she’s a divorced mother of two trying to find a new partner or at least some fun in the Californian disco scene. Isn’t she brave to let herself not be glamorous, we (I) might think, in a way we wouldn’t for costar John Turturro. And yet there is an A-list glamour she hasn’t shaken off here and she is in pretty well every shot. She’s had an interesting line in troubled wives already — Far From Heaven, The Hours, Savage Grace — so this is hardly a stretch. We’re carried along by her boogieing to the music, we cringe or empathise at the troubled women in her family and circle, we wonder when Turturro got middle aged…
There is hope — in her daughter’s long distance relationship and in her ex-husband’s new marriage, although he seems estranged from his children. Turturro’s character, whom Gloria meets at a disco, ought to set alarm bells off earlier than he does and presumably it is her sense of this being Her Final Chance that means she ignores them. But she in part condemns faults in his relationships she has in her own. Meanwhile, his military background would have had a more sinister implication in the Chilean original than it does here.
Meanwhile, the film putters along, incident after incident, with minor cameos (Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chris Mulkey) promising more than their characters have screen time to deliver. There’s a moment of crisis that offers catharsis, but doesn’t quite deliver, which feels like the film as a whole.