Watching Paint Dry

Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Céline Sciamma, 2019)

Some point after 1725, the artist Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is commissioned by a Milan-born countess (Valeria Golino) to paint the portrait of her daughter Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), whom she intends to marry off to a Milanese nobleman after the death of her elder daughter. Héloïse, formerly a novice at a nunnery, has other ideas and has already worn out a (male) painter. Marianne must pretend to be a companion, and paint in secret. Continue reading →

The Lighthouse Keeper’s World is Round

The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers, 2019)

A curious psychological horror, which begins in the Empire Marketing Board zone of Drifters and goes via Knife in the Water to A Field in England, with the Total Bollocks Overdrive cranked up to twelve and then cranked up further.

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A Family of Charlatans

Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, 2019)

This was on my list to see since I first caught the trailer – a narrative of a young working class student becoming a tutor to an upper middle class girl which was clearly going to take a right turn into horror territory. I caught up with it after the Oscar win (a win that apparently means a broken system has been fixed) and it was surprisingly or unsurprisingly full.

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The Longest Take

1917 (Sam Mendes, 2019)

Once continuity editing became a thing, it was inevitable that directors would try and show their versatility by avoiding it with the longest possible takes limited by the amount of film a camera could load and thus disguising cuts in a way best shown in Hitchcock’s Rope which also has a number of very obvious cuts, as indeed does 1917 in which two soldiers walk, ride and fight their way through no man’s land in order to stop a doomed assault on the western front in which one of the soldier’s brothers will be risking his life and slowly the tension is ratcheted up with countering moments of beauty of cherry blossom and de Chirico illuminated ruined towns and Paul Nash canvases and distracting appearances from half the cast of Sherlock as we carefully balance the idiocy of the donkeys leading the lions with rather more smart generals who are aware of the deaths of the young men they are causing and so there’s a certain distaste in the distraction of formal skill from a subject matter in soldiers are trapped for nearly two hours and seemingly indestructible even at the cake and eat it assault that is over the top in at least two sense of the words as digital enhancements wear their effects on the sleeve to such an extent that one wonders if this is the dream of a dying man from a hundred minutes earlier whilst avoiding the discomfort of Atonement’s heavily augmented beach sequence.

Per Aspera

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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Imagine there’s no Beatles, It isn’t hard to do.

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 Do Subtext

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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Peter Parker’s International Vacation

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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Gonna be, Gonna be, Gonna be, Gonna be, All Right

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.