Kiss of the Black Widow

Black Widow (Cate Shortland, 2021 film)

I confess I’ve only seen about a third of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I’ve long wondered with something like three hundred films in the franchise now, why the recurring characters were so male and pale. Black Panther challenged this — although for obvious reasons a sequel is problematic. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) seemed to be a character defined by her gynaecology, and I don’t think they ever explained who her husband was. Now she gets her own film and a female director, so as the world ended.

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Tilda Speaks

La voz humana (The Human Voice, Pedro Almodóvar, 2020)

Part way through this English-language short, I got a flash of memory of Law of Desire (1987) and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), and realised that Tilda Swinton was channeling Carmen Maura, once Almodóvar’s muse and favourite actor. What I’d forgotten was that Cocteau’s 1930 monodrama, on which this film is loosely based, was performed in Law of Desire and fed into Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Like Tom Stoppard, Almodóvar loves this kind of mise en abîme and the whole film seems to be filmed on a film set. Continue reading →

Water Dropwort

Minari (Lee Isaac Chung, 2020)

This has the feel of a fable — the Yi family move from 1980s California to Arkansas to live in a static caravan where Jacob (Steven Yeun) starts a farm to grow vegetables for Korean restaurants and Monica (Han Ye-ri) works in a chicken sexing unit to try and bring more money in. After a short period, they bring her mother Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung) across for childcare and Korean War vet Paul (Will Patton) helps out.

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Don’t Try This at Home. Or at Work

Druk (Another Round, Thomas Vinterberg, 2020)

Supposedly, the Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud suggests that humans are born with a blood alcohol 0.05% too low. In this comedy, four middle aged, jaded, male teachers decide to keep drinking to ascertain what the psychological effects are and whether it improves their work and personal lives. After initial success, they increase their intake.

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Sssshhhhhhh!!!

A Quiet Place Part II (John Krasinski, 2020)

I confess to a bit of a hazy memory of part one — there are some kind of aliens or critters who react to sound and are menacing an American family in the wilds of New York State. Alongside bearded Lee Abbott (Krasinski) and heavily pregnant Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt), there are various kids, including the hearing impaired Regan Abbott (Millicent Simmonds) who is, of course, used to communicating nicely. It seemed a bit of a back to basics one damn thing after another thriller, without the tongue in cheek of Tremors or the social commentary of Blumhouse horrors.

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Daddy, Daddy

The Father (Florian Zeller, 2020)

So Anthony Hopkins bags an Oscar for playing disabiity — Anthony (Hopkins) is an elderly man, suffering from some kind of Alzheimer’s, has fallen out with his carer, and now lives with his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) and her boyfriend Paul (Rufus Sewell). The film is moreorless — but insufficiently – focalised through Anthony’s eyes, as the flat changes subtly or less so and Anne turns into Olivia Williams and Paul into he’s-the-new-Tony-Slattery Mark Gatiss. At times it feels like he is being gaslighted — has his watch been stolen? has his art been sold? — and that would be somewhat more interesting.

Hopkins is ok, and I’ve not seen Boseman’s performance, but Ahmed was better in Sound of Metal. Meanwhile, Colman confirms her place on the list of actors I’d watch in anything — with here her astonishing ability to have to performances on her face at the same time.

Clang!

Sound of Metal (Darius Marder, 2019)

I’d noticed Riz Ahmed in a couple of films and been impressed, and of course he’s in Chris Morris’s Four Lions, so here he is in pretty well every scene, if not shot, of this film. Heavy metal drummer Ruben Stone (Ahmed) is in the middle of a low budget tour with his thinly-drawn girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) when he begins to lose his hearing. Whilst he is determined to get cochlear implants, first he has to check into a school for the hearing impaired and learn to sign. Here he reluctantly learns from Vietnam vet Joe (Paul Raci, stealing every scene) and befriends Jenn (Chelsea Lee).

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White, Red and Topkapi

Das weiße Band, Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte (The White Ribbon, a German Children’s Story, Michael Haneke, 2009)

Topkapi (Julius Dassin, 1964)

Red Joan (Trevor Nunn, 2018)

The White Ribbon has the same slightly frustrating and unnerving feel as Happy End, this time set in Germany (or possibly Austria) in the year leading up to World War One. An unnamed teacher (played by Christian Friedel) narrates (Ernst Jacobi) his memory of a time in a small village, where the pastor (Burghart Klaußner) fills the children with fears of sin and damnation, forcing the guilty parties (including his own children) to wear white ribbons as a symbol of wrongdoing. This seems to invite wrongdoing — an attempt to kill the doctor, vandalism, masturbation, violent revenge — and presumably is building a narrative that will lead to the Second World War. The right people aren’t necessarily punished.

Meanwhile, Topkapi is a much lighter confection — for which Peter Ustinov won his second Academy Award. Elizabeth Lipp (Melina Mercouri) and Walter Harper (Maximilian Schell) hatch a plan to steal a treasure from a museum in Istanbul. Simpson (Ustinov) is meant to be a patsy, but gets recruited into the scheme. There’s some odd fourth wall breaking, especially at the beginning, and Mercouri, presumbaly not acting in her own language, can’t quite carry the film. Schell, meanwhile, is handsome in a way I’d never noticed before, knowing him better for The Black Hole (1979). But Ustinov steals every scene he is in and the whole thing is almost a dry run for The Italian Job, with a less clever ending. I really ought to read Eric Ambler one of these days.

I watched Topkapi knowing nothing about it — it popped up on BBC iPlayer. This led me to Red Joan, which takes the real story of the exposure of an old woman, Melita Norwood, as a Soviet spy. Here she is Joan Smith (Judi Dench), initially defended by her son Nick Stanley (Ben Miles, who I keep confusing with Ben Miller), arrested for sixty years earlier leaking of atomic secrets and occasionally has to look like she has indigestion so we can flashback to 1949 and Sophie Cookson being Young Joan. The politics is frankly botched and the sexism of the the 1940s is a little underplayed. Dench is always worth watching — and Iris did a more interesting double casting and flashback (although Kate Winslet was still less interesting). 

I Love Lucy N

Lacombe, Lucien (Louis Malle, 1974)

At the start of the movie, seventeen-year-old Lucien (Pierre Blaise) kills a bird with a catapult. As it is war time and this is occupied France, I at first assume this is food. (Later, he shoots rabbits and breaks the necks of chickens.) But there’s not a lot of meat on a song bird, even if you are desperate.

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