Patrick Bateman, the yuppie serial killer du jour created by Bret Easton Ellis in the novel American Psycho, is obsessed with all things superficialâa symbol of murderous, unchecked Reaganism. But those who read the book had to struggleâreach evenâto come to such a conclusion, as Ellis settles for pop-cultural reference as a sort of shorthand. If Mary Harronâs adaptation of the novel feels deeper, maybe itâs because the director wasnât able to get permission from many designers to use their names in her film, and as such she has to focus on more than just Batemanâs interest in dropping names. During the infamous threesome scene that earned the film its NC-17 rating, Christian Bale frighteningly evokes Batemanâs complete lack of emotional involvement; he makes love to himself, enjoying the curves of his body more than he does the women he violently berates. Though Bateman is completely loathsome, Harron shows us his human side: He readily admits to his lack of emotion but in sparing his secretary (Chloë Sevigny) harm he not only acknowledges his unstoppable problem but recognizes that there is good in the word. Harron even takes a jab at Ellisâs disinterest in offering a rationale for Batemanâs killer ways (he apologizes to a dinner date for being late by saying that he is a “product of divorce”). If there arenât enough scenes in the film like the final one where Patrick and his friends watch Reaganâs presidential address (that “No Exit” sign hovering in the background), Harronâs vision is at least more haunting than Ellisâs. More so than the book, the film is a nightmarish vision of â80s self-involvement. If all of Ellisâs characters more or less stay the same, Harronâs film suggests that, like the â80s, Bateman to shall pass. He is something we must all collectively learn to survive. There is an exitâitâs just called the future.
Cast: Christian Bale, ChloĂ« Sevigny, Willem Dafoe, Reese Witherspoon, Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas, Bill Sage, Jared Leto Director: Mary Harron Screenwriter: Mary Harron, Guinevere Turner Distributor: Lions Gate Films Running Time: 101 min Rating: R Year: 2000 Buy: Video, Soundtrack, Book
Cannes Review: In Pain and Glory, Life and Art Are Wistful Bedfellows
Pedro AlmodĂłvarâs latest only occasionally captures the spry, comedic rhythms and impassioned intensity of his finest work.2.5
A film about an aging artist struggling to recapture his yen for creation, Pain and Glory has the makings of a deeply personal, career-capping work for Pedro AlmodĂłvar. His name may be Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas), but the gay filmmaker, with his tussled hair, white beard, and red turtleneck, may as well call himself Pedro. One of the very few differences between them is that Salvador has stopped making films while AlmodĂłvar continues to work at a relatively steady clip. Pain and Glory is a ballsy admission on the Spanish auteurâs part that he hasnât made a film in more than a decade that can compare with his most outrageous and subversive output, which makes it all the more dispiriting that his latest only occasionally captures the spry, comedic rhythms and impassioned, melodramatic intensity that defined, say, Law of Desire, Matador, and Bad Education.
Pain and Glory is most surprising at the outset, as the stern narration that weâve come to expect from an AlmodĂłvar film is audaciously paired with CG graphics and abstract animations that illustrate Salvadorâs anatomical and psychosomatic conditions. The man suffers from tinnitus, chronic back pain, severe headaches, anxiety, depression, and various other ailments. Itâs a literally visceral way to begin a film that soon settles into the more familiar pattern of a two-track narrative: Thereâs Salvador in the present, who works toward repairing a friendship with the heroin-addicted star, Alberto (Asier Etxeandia), of his recently restored and most celebrated film, Subor, and thereâs Salvador as a young boy (Asier Flores), preternaturally intelligent and perpetually optimistic, living in poverty with his ever-harried mother, Jacinta (PenĂ©lope Cruz), until heâs finally sent off to a seminary.
Perhaps all of this might have landed with a little more impact if AlmodĂłvar hadnât already covered so much of the same territory in Bad Education, which also centers itself around a film directorâs relationship with an actor and tells the story of a young altar boyâs life, much of it spent at a seminary, through a series of flashbacks. Another rehash of a nearly identical plot point from that 2004 film is Pain and Gloryâs intriguing meta conceit: Alberto convinces Salvador to let him perform a one-man stage adaptation of a monologue the former wrote long ago, an obvious nod to AlmodĂłvarâs longtime collaborator, Banderas, playing a version of the filmmaker here. Pain and Glory is, in fact, defined by its abundance of conspicuously placed Easter eggs. Even in the scenes between the present-day Salvador and his dying mother (Julietta Serrano), namely the moment she tells him not to make films about her, AlmodĂłvar points to the personal turmoil that led to the making of All About My Mother.
Putting aside the boldness of the sequences that kick Pain and Glory into motion, AlmodĂłvarâs formal approach is generally subdued and disciplined throughout. His screenplay is also quite neat in its structure, relating its two plotlines in almost stubbornly linear fashion, reliably hitting standard narrative beats of interpersonal conflict and reconciliation. AlmodĂłvar wouldnât be the first filmmaker in the history of cinema to mellow with age, and thereâs a sense that Pain and Gloryâs artistry is a reflection of that trajectory, but that only makes the too-fleeting snapshots of Salvadorâs hard-scrabble early yearsâwhich includes living inside a white cave with Jacinta and other migrantsâfeel as if they never transcend easy nostalgia.
Still, AlmodĂłvarâs singular use of color as a barometer of charactersâ interiorities and the emotional temperature of a scene remains on vibrant display throughout Pain and Glory. Thereâs also some wonderful comic repartee between the disheveled Banderas, so exquisitely committed to imparting a sense of his characterâs almost ghostly status, and the perpetually bug-eyed Etxeandia. Alberto, upon reuniting with Salvador, almost immediately introduces him to heroin, and, improbably, the way in which they bond through their horrible addiction results in some of the funniest scenes in an AlmodĂłvar film in some time.
Itâs another reunion, though, between Salvador and Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), an ex-lover he hasnât seen since the â80s, that finds AlmodĂłvar delivering on the heightened promise of the filmâs title. The men are brought back together through an absurd coincidence, after Federico wanders into the performance of Salvadorâs play and recognizes that his life has been incorporated into the monologue, but the scene thrums with that distinctly magnetic force of love thatâs fundamental to AlmodĂłvarâs best work. Also, the actual moment of Salvador and Federicoâs reunion is a gracefully staged dance of advance and retreat, beginning with a late-night conversation at Salvadorâs apartment that never leaves the common area. Finally, after an intense kiss, Federico departs, and though he invites Salvador to come visit him and his family, both men seem to implicitly realize that theyâll never see each other again.
Salvador and Federicoâs meeting unfolds almost in real time, and touches on their shared past, the lives they lived in the interim, and how much theyâve always meant to each other. The scene recalls other intense emotional meetings in prior AlmodĂłvar films, but more than that, in its duration and focus, it seems drawn from more contemporary inspirations: Richard Linklaterâs Before trilogy, the final stretch of Barry Jenkinsâs Moonlight, even âLooking for the Future,â the finest episode of Andrew Haighâs Looking. It also arguably packs even more of an expressive force than any of those works, and serves as a reminder that, however much AlmodĂłvarâs formalist bona fides may have cooled, his ability to craft emotionally acute, achingly felt scenes between men in the throes of love is as vigorous as ever.
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, PenĂ©lope Cruz, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Nora Navas, Julieta Serrano, CĂ©sar Vicente, Asier Flores, Julieta Serrano Director: Pedro AlmodĂłvar Screenwriter: Pedro AlmodĂłvar Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics Running Time: 113 min Rating: NR Year: 2019
Cannes Review: Joan of Arc Never Coalesces into a Fully Rounded Character Study
Bruno Dumont seems perpetually aware of the trap of familiarity, which may be why he indulges in some of his most inscrutable filmmaking.2
Bruno Dumontâs Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc may not have earned the French filmmaker many new fans, but it did serve to further his apparent embrace of a more mirthful directorial approach. As radical as any film that the New French Extremity-adjacent auteur has made, Jeanette is also unexpectedly accessible: a full-blown pop-rock musical in which a preteen Joan of Arc frets over her God-given mission to save France during the Hundred Yearsâ War, all the while head-banging to heavy metal music.
Dumontâs follow-up, Joan of Arc, now takes on the task of covering the âadultâ years of the martyred saint, from her waning days as a warlord to her trial and inevitable execution for heresy. And while itâs almost as surprising as its predecessor, itâs considerably less exhilarating. Whereas the latter half of Jeanette, following a time jump, replaced child actor Lise Leplat Prudhomme with the teenaged Jeanne Voisin, the now 10-year-old Prudhomme has been reinstated in the title role here as the 19-year-old Joan. Right away, this recalibration is extremely dissonant, and itâs one that Dumont exploits particularly well in the lengthy scenes depicting Joanâs trial, during which sheâs lectured and beratedâlike the child that she physically isâby misogynistic, condescending âgraduates of theology.â
Much less easy to parse, in terms of intentionality and of classification, is the filmâs proximity to the musical genre. An early scene features a suite of songsâsung theatrically by French indie-pop group Kid Wiseâs Augustin Charnetâthat play over a series of stoical tableaux shots of Prudhummeâs armor-clad Joan, looking pensively into the camera. Dumont briefly seems to be up to something rather brilliant here, reconfiguring the musical tropes of his Joan of Arc saga as a means to manifest the âvoicesâ that the Joan of historical record claimed she heard in her head. But that interpretation gets ever more foggy as the filmmaker goes on to present various musical-esque scenes, but in fractured and recontexualized forms. The most jarring example of this is a lengthy, wordless interlude that features a battalion of soldiers on horseback moving in elaborate patterns, dance-like, a sequence which Dumont shoots in a way that recalls Busby Berkley musicals, with shots from above of the choreographed horses.
At least one aesthetic decision carries over from Jeanette: Only a handful of sets are used in Joan of Arc, and each change usually heralds a major shift in Joanâs lived experience, from battle to trial to imprisonment. (The filmâs first third is largely adapted from French Catholic poet Charles PĂ©guyâs play Les Batailles, while the remainder, almost entirely concerned with Joanâs trial and punishment, is based on another PĂ©guy work, Rouen.) However, whereas Jeanette mostly limited itself to exterior shots of the idyllic French countryside, the contrasts in Joan of Arc are striking: The film moves from its opening passage, set amid cascading dunes, to the clean, vertiginous, and imposing interior space of the Royal Chapel, a place that serves to decisively dwarf an already diminutive Joan.
Itâs in the pristine halls of the Royal Chapel that ornately dressed men of aristocratic pedigree and high authorityâeach drolly introduced in a kind of roll callâgather and almost instantly turn into savages, indiscriminately lobbing insults and explicating their own intolerance with unfeeling displays of intellectualized theological reasoning. Naturally, Joan retaliates, steadfastly refusing to disavow her devotion to her own spiritual dogma.
The best part of these trial scenes, and of Joan of Arc in general, is Prudhomme, who, despite her age, gives an extraordinarily committed, and convincing, performance as the teenaged Joan. The cinema is filled with iconic portrayals of the Maid of OrlĂ©ans, but Prudhomme fully deserves a place among those. Itâs a pity, then, that Dumontâs film doesnât really manage to find many new dimensions to the Joan of Arc mythosâapart from its one inspired casting choice. The filmmakerâs effort to tap into the currents of modernity that run through this centuries-old story can be traced back through film history, at least as far as Robert Bressonâs The Trial of Joan of Arc, if not to Dreyerâs The Passion of Joan of Arcâwhich is, of course, predicated on the particular presentation of the cinematic image.
Dumont does, at least, seem perpetually aware of the trap of familiarity, which may be why he indulges in some of his most inscrutable filmmakingâthe aforementioned horse dance, and a musical cameo from the filmâs composer, French popstar Christopheâand attempts subtle gestures of subversion. Take the final shot of Joan of Arc, which is not unlike the last act of grace and salvation (and blatant homage to Robert Bressonâs Mouchette) that concludes 2010âs Hadewijch. Here, the instantly recognizable composition from the Dreyer filmâfor which Bresson infamously voiced his distasteâis rejected twofold, as Dumont shoots Joanâs fatal immolation in profile, and from a considerable distance.
Joan of Arc, though, has bigger problems than an over familiarity with its source, as its themes and dynamics also recall other, stronger Dumont films. The articulation of interiority through stylized visualizations of the adolescent Joan is audacious and intriguing, but its philosophical meaning isnât nearly as fleshed out, nor as emotionally accessible, as the transformation undergone by a devout young woman into a radicalized religious extremist in Hadewijch. And the psychological understanding of Joanâthe process of her victimizationâisnât as acute, nor as visceral, as Dumontâs similar biopic on institutionalized sculptor Camille Claudel. Joan of Arc canât even claim to have the same conceptual rigor that ignited Jeanetteâall of which amounts to a film that feels like a nexus point for Dumontâs influences and his preoccupations, but one that never coalesces its potential into the major work it clearly strives to be.
Cast: Lise Leplat Prudhomme, Jean-FranĂ§ois Causeret, Daniel Dienne, Fabien Fenet, Robert Hanicotte, Yves Habert, Fabrice Luchini, Christophe Director: Bruno Dumont Screenwriter: Bruno Dumont Running Time: 138 min Rating: NR Year: 2019
Cannes Review: Zombi Child Radically Grapples with Colonialismâs Legacy
Bertrand Bonelloâs quixotic, slow-burn genre film is political largely in the abstract.3.5
Restlessly shuttling between 1960s Haiti and present-day France, Bertrand Bonelloâs Zombi Child roils with colonialist tensions. But as with the directorâs prior Nocturama, this quixotic, slow-burn genre film is political largely in the abstract. While there are moments here where a history of exploitation informs the relationship between the French, lily-white Fanny (Louise Labeque) and Haitian refugee MĂ©lissa (Wislanda Louimat)âclassmates at an all-girls school established by Napoleon BonaparteâBonelloâs interests go much deeper then race relations. Indeed, the decision to switch back and forth between MĂ©lissa and Fannyâs perspectives in the filmâs present-day scenes opens the story up to a more complex examination of how the girls view and relate to their own heritage and culture.
Not unlike Bonelloâs House of Pleasures, which in its final moments made a jarring jump from a brothel in the early 20th century to modern-day Paris and prostitutes working a city street, Zombi Child explores the factors that have allowed a social practice, voodoo, to become a constant of history. MĂ©lissaâs aunt, Katy (Katiana Milfort), is a âmambo,â or voodoo priestess, and sheâs the only surviving member of MĂ©lissaâs family in the wake of Haitiâs 2010 earthquake. MĂ©lissa is drawn to Fanny because the two share an affinity for Stephen King and horror fiction, and as they get closer, Fanny facilitates MĂ©lissaâs initiation into her tight-knit âliterary sorority.â But after this act of bonding, the young women begin to move in opposite directions: MĂ©lissa makes an effort to fit into the sorority, singing along to angry French rap when sheâd rather be listening to music sung in her native CrĂ©ole language, while Fanny, reeling from her sudden breakup with her long distance lover, Pablo (Sayyid El Alami), discreetly digs into MĂ©lissaâs past and decides to use voodoo as a remedy for her heartbreak.
The other half of the filmâs time-jumping narrative concerns Fannyâs grandfather, Clairvius (Mackenson Bijou), who, in 1962, becomes the victim of a voodoo curse that puts him in an early grave and results in the reanimation of his corpse and him having to perform manual plantation labor in a perpetually âzombifiedâ state. Throughout this section of Zombi Child, Bonello fractures the spatial and temporal coherence of scenes, stringing together elemental, horror movie-adjacent visuals, like the recurring image of an iridescent moon shrouded in clouds and first-person perspective shots that careen through dense sugarcane fields. A clear contrast is established early on between the perpetually dark Haitian landscape and the antiseptic, white-walled interiors of the classrooms in which Fanny and MĂ©lissa are lectured by professors spouting one-sided lessons on world history. But just as its racial politics start to seem too explicit, Zombi Child suddenly and radically reframes itself.
Clairviusâs death turns out to have been the consequence of familial jealousy, and his exploitation as a slave comes at the hands of black plantation farmers, not white menâat least not that weâre made aware of. And if the film is rendered with a veracity that a documentarian would envy, thatâs a result of Bonello drawing inspiration from accounts of Haitian slaves being put in medically induced states of âzombificationâ during the early 20th century. This has the effect of recasting a supernatural fiction narrative as reconstructed history.
Bonello also never gives us the racially charged confrontation that MĂ©lissa and Fannyâs relationship seems to be building toward, as heâs interested in their racial backgrounds only insofar as it shapes their modes of self-identification. Fannyâs refusal to accept her life in the present sets her on a collision course with the forces of MĂ©lissaâs ancestry, and leads to a cataclysm of psychological horror that sees one of these forces to take possession over the otherâan undead history rising up to claim a living one. MĂ©lissa, though, draws her identity from her past and her present, and in the same moment that Fanny has her communion with the spiritual forces of voodoo, MĂ©lissa delivers an aural history on the subjectâa kind of counter-lecture to those of the white, blowhard professors in Zombi Child.
The filmâs off-kilter mix of horror, historiography, and youth movie affords Bonello plenty of opportunity to indulge his pet themes and motifs. He spends much time lingering throughout scenes set at the academy on the sociality of the young women and their engagement with pop culture (notably, MĂ©lissa gives a presentation to her class on Rihanna). In fact, Bonelloâs fascination with the dynamics of these relationships seems to drive his interest in the horror genre more so even than the filmâs most obvious antecedent, Jacques Tourneurâs I Walked with a Zombieâas is indicated by a pretty explicit homage to Brian De Palmaâs Carrie.
The filmâs most intriguing facet, though, is the way Bonello plays with temporality. The dialectical relationship between past and present has become a central organizing principle of Bonelloâs artistry, evident in his anachronistic soundtrack choices and his unmooring of characters from their period settings through decidedly modern behaviors or situations, but here he approaches that dialectic in a crucially different manner. Instead of overlaying modern-day signifiers on a period piece setting, as he did in House of Pleasures, Zombi Child suggests two temporalities that exist parallel to each other. And the anxiety this createsâthrough discursive editing and match cutsâleads to a feverish payoff, one that uses genre and supernatural elements to further Bonelloâs idea of there being one historical continuity.
Cast: AdilĂ© David, Ginite Popote, Louise Labeque, Mackenson Bijou, Mathilde Riu, Ninon FranĂ§ois, Patrick Boucheron, Saadia BentaĂŻeb, Sayyid El Alami, Wislanda Louimat, Katiana Milfort Director: Bertrand Bonello Screenwriter: Bertrand Bonello Running Time: 103 min Rating: NR Year: 2019
Review: In Diamantino, Strident Political Satire and Whimsy Go Toe to Toe
The film is at its strongest when depicting how Diamantino becomes a tool of politicians hoping to oust Portugal from the EU.2.5
Part absurdist character study, part satire of various European political crises, Diamantino envisions a Candide-like soccer megastar, Diamantino Matamouros (Carloto Cotta), possessed of naĂŻve but intense imaginations. He lives in a colossal chateau and sleeps on pillows and sheets with his face printed on them, and spends much of his waking life riding the seas on a yacht thatâs big enough to ferry a small army. Despite being arguably the most famous person in Portugal, and among the most famous in the world, heâs oblivious to his star power and the weighty expectations placed on him by soccer fans.
Throughout the film, writer-directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt delight in playing up the precarious balance between Diamantinoâs self-absorption and his sweet absent-mindedness. Unencumbered by an entourage, Diamantino rarely interacts with anyone besides his loving, supportive father, Chico (Chico Chapas), whose humble kindness is rather jarring when set against the palatial trappings of the familyâs digs. Even on the soccer pitch, Diamantino doesnât exude the focus one associates with an elite athlete, as he spends matches fantasizing about running with colossal, fluffy puppiesâplayful daydreams that somehow guide his movements as he slips past other players and scores goals.
Diamantinoâs carefree, seemingly unflappable temperament, however, is disrupted when he spots a raft of refugees while boating, and his glimpse at real human misery shakes him to the coreâso much so that during a make-or-break penalty kick that will decide the World Cup final, heâs too distracted to make the shot, costing Portugal the match. The filmâs manic tone swings into overdrive at this point, as Diamantinoâs daydreams of haunted refugees are contrasted with his tear-streaked face when itâs blown up on jumbotrons, effectively positioning him as a symbol of his countryâs spectacular defeat. And all the while his evil twin sisters (Anabela Moreira and Margarida Moreira) scream at the television set playing the game inside the familyâs living room, causing Chico to have a fatal stroke.
This delirious sequence, touching on a celebrityâs political preoccupation and viral media culture, exhibits an audaciousness thatâs disappeared from much contemporary comedy, and it sets the tone for the filmâs freewheeling style. Humiliated into early retirement, Diamantino announces his embrace of the sort of celebrity activism that regularly comes in for ridicule, declaring that he will adopt a refugee child to honor both the humanitarian crisis and his late father. The Portuguese secret service, already investigating him for suspected money laundering, uses Diamantinoâs proclamation to set up an undercover agent, Aisha (Cleo Tavares), to pose as a Cape Verdean refugee child, Rahim, in order to get into his house to gather clues for their case. And while Aisha only finds hilarious evidence of the playerâs innocence (his computer files consist of nothing but pet photos), she continues her ruse, if only for the filmmakers to add yet another wrinkleâa lesbian relationship with her colleague, Lucia (Maria Leite)âto the filmâs already dense array of plots and themes.
Aisha and Luciaâs presence in Diamantino may turn the dial up on the filmâs hijinks, but in the process stalls its satirical thrust. To be sure, the film wrings much humor from Aishaâs infiltration of Diamantinoâs home, mostly from how quickly she discovers that his innocence is beyond a doubt and that his cruel sisters are comically guilty, as they keep their offshore accounts on a desktop shortcut. Diamantinoâs interactions with Aisha are amusing insofar as Cotta commits fully to his characterâs over-eager treatment of âRahim,â serving his adopted child breakfast in bed and getting into tickle fights that underscore the manâs emotional stuntedness. Yet these moments soon come to feel redundant, leaning too much on Luciaâs petulant anger for comic effect as Aisha grows increasingly close to Diamantino.
That Diamantino and Aishaâs relationship comes to define the last act of the film ultimately detracts from the riotous vision that Abrantes and Schmidt sketch of roiling EU tensions and the way celebrity culture can be just another element in the viral branding of extreme politics. Diamantino is on its strongest footing when depicting how its main character becomes a tool of politicians hoping to oust Portugal from the EU. One scene sees him starring in âPexitâ commercial as a folk hero from the Reconquista, during which Muslims were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula. The right-wing politicians who fund the ad clearly pledge allegiance to the historical figureâs Islamophobia, though itâs also obvious that they hope that the pleasure Diamantino takes in dancing around in his costume will undercut that impression.
Elsewhere, Diamantino is used as a lab rat for a company that attempts to clone him in order to produce the worldâs best soccer team. This stretch finds the film at its most profound, in part because itâs impossible to believe that scientists and supercomputers fail to fathom how a man who lives on an all-sugar diet and daydreams about puppies on the pitch could be the worldâs best athlete. The filmmakers draw a line between the absurdity of these experiments and the insidious quest for racial purity behind most eugenics movements, suggesting that neo-fascists are so prone to celebrity worship that they might mistake their favorite star for the master race. Itâs rich, relevant material for satire, so itâs a shame that the film pivots away from it to resolve around Diamantinoâs relatively straightforward pursuit of happiness.
Cast: Carloto Cotta, Cleo Tavares, Anabela Moreira, Margarida Moreira, Carla Maciel, Chico Chapas, Maria Leite, Filipe Vargas, Joana Barrios Director: Gabriel Abrantes, Daniel Schmidt Screenwriter: Gabriel Abrantes, Daniel Schmidt Distributor: Kino Lorber Running Time: 96 min Rating: NR Year: 2018
Review: The Tomorrow Man Gets Too Caught Up in Its Pursuit of Preciousness
The film is content to peddle the naĂŻve notion that love is the panacea for all that ails you.2
The retired recluse at the center of writer-director Noble Jonesâs The Tomorrow Man spends his days intensely preparing for the apocalypse. When Ed Hemsler (John Lithgow) isnât meticulously organizing his home and secret fallout shelter, heâs posting conspiracy theories on an internet forum or glued to the local news. At least, that is, until a female news anchor (Wendy Makkena) starts to directly address him, at which point he turns off his television and tries to get his head straight. But Ed canât really seem to find a way of easing his troubled mind. Indeed, even after engaging in extended human contact via phone conversations with his son, Brian (Derek Cecil), the old man inevitably launches into diatribes packed with half-baked ideas and comprehensive survival advice.
Youâd be correct in thinking that Ed sounds a lot like Michael Shannonâs Curtis from Take Shelter, and for a short time, he follows a similar trajectory. But where Jeff Nicholsâs film thrives in the ambiguous space between objective reality and the mind of its strange yet plausibly prescient protagonist, The Tomorrow Man never gives credence to any of Edâs protestations of doom and gloom, seeing them as symptoms of his loneliness and isolation. And while his extreme paranoia is unmistakably a form of mental illness, Jones increasingly treats it with less and less concern as the film moves forward, instead using it as fodder for both quirky comedy and the catalyst for a light-hearted septuagenarian romance.
Enter Ronnie (Blythe Danner), the beautiful but equally socially awkward woman whom Ed meets while stocking up on supplies at the local grocery store. Her subtly twitchy awkwardness serves as the perfect balance to Edâs boisterous neuroticism; her steadfast use of cash and strategic purchasing leads Ed to believe that heâs found a kindred spirit, one whoâs equally prepped for the end of the world. Naturally, thereâs a catch, and the ever-fastidious Ed eventually discovers Ronnieâs deep, dark secret: that sheâs a hoarder.
Itâs a fairly ridiculous odd-couple scenario, but when Jones keeps things small and focuses on Ed and Ronnieâs burgeoning love affair and Ronnieâs clumsy efforts at tempering Edâs cantankerousness, Lithgow and Danner imbue the film with a warmth and generosity that lends their characters a bit of humanity. The two actorsâ effortlessly charming rapport enlivens, at least in brief spurts, a film that otherwise reduces its characters to their eccentricities, from her love of war documentaries to his appreciation of ball bearings.
But The Tomorrow Man displays an utter lack of interest in exploring how Ed and Ronnie came to be so reclusive. Following their initial meet cute, the film gets caught up in its pursuit of preciousness. And Jonesâs indifference to the more disturbing elements of his charactersâ interior worlds effectively reduces serious mental health issues to harmless neuroses. Late into The Tomorrow Man, Ed takes to the message boards to post that âsometimes people need to be who they are even if they donât want to be who they are.â Itâs a sentiment of acceptance thatâs hard to argue against, but one that ignores the fact that Ed and Ronnie are in dire need of psychiatric help. And thatâs because Jones is content to peddle the naĂŻve notion that, regardless of your situation, love is the panacea for all that ails you.
Cast: John Lithgow, Blythe Danner, Derek Cecil, Katie Aselton, Sophie Thatcher, Eve Harlow, Wendy Makkena Director: Noble Jones Screenwriter: Noble Jones Distributor: Bleecker Street Running Time: 94 min Rating: PG-13 Year: 2019
Cannes Review: The Dead Donât Die Is Undone by its Meta-Film Aspirations
In Jim Jarmuschâs film, what starts as a subtle undercurrent of knowing humor curdles into overt self-referentiality.2
Jim Jarmuschâs strength has always been his ability to craft films that seem lackadaisical and navel-gazing on the surface, but which are actually very methodical, revealing essential truths about the socioeconomic conditions of modern American life. The filmmakerâs latest, The Dead Donât Die, zips through vignettes set in the small town of Centerville in the days leading up to the zombie apocalypse, and for an hour-plus, the film is sharp, acerbic, and surprisingly melancholic, probing at the generational divides between its characters, who behave in vastly different ways throughout the end of days.
Eventually, however, and perhaps because Jarmusch senses that his trademark deadpan doesnât have the same novel appeal that it once did, what starts as a subtle undercurrent of knowing humor curdles into overt self-referentiality. Itâs not so much a snapping-into-focus as a whiplash-inducing lurch into meta-film territory that Jarmusch doesnât seem to realize is already a very stale play for this genre of film.
Or maybe he just doesnât care. Thereâs much evidence here to suggest that Jarmuschâs prime interest in making a zombie movie is to emphasize the soul-deadening state of America, maybe even the world. So when the filmâs zombies roam around murmuring the names of the products they consumed when they were alive (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, coffee, and so on), writing this all off as a lame literalization of the most prevalent theme from George A. Romeroâs Dawn of the Dead isnât so much a scathing critique of his approach as a confirmation of the message heâs imparting: that our culture is nothing but a zombified version of itself.
The Dead Donât Die is at its best when mulling the contours of the relationships between the cross-generational cast of characters. Neither Cliff (Bill Murray), the resigned, veteran cop, nor Ronnie (Adam Driver), his self-aware but generally unfeeling rookie partner, are particularly well drawn in and of themselves, but their repartee makes them interesting, as Cliffâs air of wisdom and experience dissipates when he finally realizes that Ronnie understands the rules of their genre-inflected universe better than he ever will, and Ronnie, all stoical resolve, is unable to process Cliffâs sobering, earnest emotional outbursts.
The Venn diagram of all things Jarmuschian and all things Lynchian has always shown a significant bit of overlap, but in working with an ensemble cast that throws together longtime collaborators with a gallery of fresh facesâall populating a mosaic of small-town life thatâs pervaded by ethereal dreadâJarmusch mounts something akin to his own Twin Peaks: The Return. The greatest affinity between The Dead Donât Die and David Lynchâs series, though, is the shared interest in investigating how a younger generation can assimilate into the filmmakersâ highly idiosyncratic styles and affect the tenor of their worldviews.
To that end, The Dead Donât Die feels most poignant when it threads the experience of its various characters and exerts a kind of equalizing force over them. The best example of this, and also something like the filmâs philosophical lodestone, is the eponymous country theme song, recorded by Sturgill Simpson and played in various contexts throughout. The songâs ingratiating, hummable melody eventually illuminates how art can have disparate effects on audiences. For the carefree hipster played by Selena Gomez, the tune is an outlet for escape as she drives through the countryside. But it becomes downright oppressive when Cliff gets sick of Ronnie playing it in their police car and chucks the CD out the window.
That range of response is also reflected in the overall trajectory of the film, which begins in a register of playful irreverenceâeven as characters spout pronouncements of environmental disaster wrought by fracking, or ponder what kind of creature may have mauled two women found dead at a dinerâbefore gradually succumbing to its anger. That isnât inherently bad, of course, but the filmâs dreary, didactic denouement proves that Jarmusch is unable to translate his righteous fury at the state of the world into a cinematic statement as compelling, creative, or weird as The Dead Donât Die manages to be when itâs simply content to be a hangout movie that just so happens to be set during the zombie apocalypse.
Cast: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, ChloĂ« Sevigny, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Selena Gomez, Austin Butler, Luka Sabbat, Rosie Perez, Eszter Balint, Iggy Pop, Sara Driver, RZA, Carol Kane, Larry Fessenden, Tom Waits Director: Jim Jarmusch Screenwriter: Jim Jarmusch Distributor: Focus Features Running Time: 103 min Rating: R Year: 2019
Review: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum Sees a Series Resting on Its Laurels
The choreography is as brutal as you expect, but the repetition in style from the first two films makes the effect less surprising.2.5
At the end of another knock-down, drag-out pummeling in Chad Stahelskiâs John Wick 3: Parabellum, the man with the samurai sword sticking out of his chest says to Keanu Reevesâs John Wick, âThat was a pretty good fight, huh?â Itâs a throwaway gag, the kind that action directors like to use for a breather after a particularly bruising melee. But it also comes off as something of a gloatâone of a few signs in the film that stuntman turned director Stahelski, for better and worse, is content to coast on a winning formula.
The third installment in this series about a hitman who would really like to stay retired and mourn his dead wife and dog picks up about five seconds after John Wick: Chapter 2 ended. Winston (Ian McShane) gives Wick a one-hour grace period before heâs âexcommunicadoâ from the Continental, neutral ground for members of the criminal underworld, after killing a crime lord. A $14 million bounty has been put on his head, and as roughly one in seven people in the world of the film appears to be an assassin, that means that at least two or three killers with dollar signs in their eyes chase after Wick down every Manhattan city block.
The immediate result of this in the filmâs pell-mell opening stretch is that the ever-resourceful Wick kills many, many, many people. He kills them with knives, hatchets, and in a particularly imaginative sequence set in a stable, by getting a horse to kick an assailant in the face. Much of this stretch is mindful of what made the prior films in the John Wick series tick. In other words, Stahelski puts Wick through an increasingly absurd and bloody series of confrontations whose intensity plays off Reevesâs hangdog demeanor with deadpan comic timing.
That fidelity to whatâs expected of a John Wick film is initially a relief, at least before the filmmakers start looking for new dramatic terrain to explore. Normally this would be a positive development. After all, just how far can you stretch a concept thatâs essentially Run John Run? But all the little story beats that break up the central chase narrative, mostly in the form of hints about Wickâs origin story, ultimately do little to develop the story or character and just serve to pad out the running time with more human obstacles for Wick to stoically annihilate.
Having more or less set the entire criminal universe against him, Wick has to call in just about every favor he has. Given his long and only hinted-at backstory, that leaves the filmâs writers a lot of room to play with. Jumping from one roost to the next, Wick asks for help from the Director (Angelica Huston), a member of the high-level crime lords known as the High Table, and Sofia (Halle Berry), an ex-assassin who owes Wick a debt and whoâs just as good as he is with a blade and a gun, only she has a pair of kill-on-command canines at her side.
Itâs satisfying to watch as John Wick 3 expands the glimmers of fantastical world-building that had previously gilded the seriesâs retired-killer-on-the-run narrative. The outrĂ© garnishes like the gold-coin currency, the killer spies disguised as homeless people, and the Continentalâlavish, crooks-only hotels that suggest what might happen if Ian Schrager got the chance to whip up something for the mobâwork as a baroque counterpoint to the stripped-down economy of Wickâs dialogue. His response to what he needs for help as the High Tableâs stormtroopers close in for the kill? âGuns. Lots of guns.â
The returning cast continues to provide greater and more nuanced depth of character than is called on from Reeves, especially Lance Reddick as a serenely authoritative Continental concierge, a scrappy Laurence Fishburne as the lord of the homeless, and the ever-lugubrious McShane as the New York Continentalâs sherry-sipping manager. Asia Kate Dillon also makes a fierce new entry to the series as the Adjudicator, a steely emissary from the High Table.
The production design doesnât disappoint, either, with its chiaroscuro portrait of an always rainy and crowded New York. Splashes of neon and lens flare play off the antiquated production design. Anachronisms like old-fashioned yellow cabs and 1970s-era computers are paired with a cutting-edge armory of high-tech weapons and oddball details like the criminal underworld secretaries costumed like Suicide Girls who decided to enter the work force.
As for the action choreography, itâs as brutal as you expect, though the repetition in style from the first two films makes the effect less surprising. Wick piles up bodies by the dozen and never puts one bullet in a goonâs head when three or four will more effectively splatter his brains over the wall. Besides the previously mentioned throwdown in a stable, though, the only other fight scene in the film that stands out is the one set inside an antique store: The unarmed Wick and his blade-preferring attackers have murderous fun smashing open and utilizing the contents of one display case, throwing knife after knife at each other.
But the further the film illuminates the spiderweb of criminal enterprise undergirding its world, the more burdensome the overlong story becomes. The somewhat blasĂ© tone that played as just slightly tongue-in-cheek in the first John Wick is starting by this point to feel like complacency. But given the repetitive nature of much of this entryâs narrative, the eventually numbing action choreographyâpunch, flip, stab, shoot, punch, flip, stab, shootâand the setup for more of the same in a now seemingly inevitable John Wick 4, itâs possible that even fans could wind up as exhausted as Wick himself.
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Asia Kate Dillon, Mark Dacascos, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston, Tobias Segal, Said Taghmaoui, Jerome Flynn Director: Chad Stahelski Screenwriter: Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, Marc Abrams Distributor: Lionsgate Running Time: 130 min Rating: R Year: 2019
Review: Perfect Is a Series of Lurid Pillow Shots in Search of a Soul
Eddie Alcazarâs film is a purposefully inscrutable, wandering, disconnected, symbolic, and highly precious mood bath.1
Eddie Alcazarâs Perfect is the sort of purposefully inscrutable, wandering, disconnected, symbolic, and highly precious mood bath that youâll either adore or loathe. There are stilted allusions to everyone from Nicolas Winding Refn to Panos Cosmatos to Mel Gibson to the granddaddies of modern cinematic surrealism, Luis BuĂ±uel and David Lynch. But these references add up to nothing more than a catalogue of fetishes.
Thereâs a narrative in Perfectâsort of. A beautiful young man billed in the credits as Vessel 13 (Garrett Wareing) calls his equally beautiful mother (Abbie Cornish), who appears to be roughly the same age. Sonny boy has done something bad, having either beaten his girlfriend to death or nurtured an elaborate fantasy over the act, which, in this world, is more or less the same thing. The mother, all icy, well-tailored matter-of-factness, sends Vessel 13 to a remote spa somewhere in a mountainous jungle where she once spent time herself. There, heâs advised to choose his path, which entails cutting chunks of flesh out of his face that resemble cubed tuna tartar, and inserting crystal silicon into the exposed wounds.
Vessel 13âs acts of self-surgery are the filmâs most original flourishes, involving some fun horror-movie gimmickry. The instruments for cutting the flesh come in a see-through plastic container, with cardboard backing, recalling an action figureâs packaging, complete with a mascot that suggests an anime Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Vessel 13âs scalpel is basically a drafting knifeâa nice touch, given that this man is tasked with making himself over.
But much of Alcazarâs film is fatal hokum passed off as a mystical quest for transcendence. In place of most of the dialogue is an ongoing voiceover, which is composed of non-profundities such as âThe way out is really the way in,â âIn this great illusion of love, an object cannot exist without something else to reflect itself back onto itself,â and, most hilarious of all, âThe problem with the truth is that once you know the truth, you canât un-know it.â Few films could recover from such an unceasing tide of nonsense.
Meanwhile, Vessel 13 wanders the spaâs grounds while gorgeous young women hang about an atmospheric pool seemingly posing for a special collaboration between Rue Morgue and GQ, which Alcazar complements with a neon-bathed lightshow designed to flout his bona fides as a serious arthouse figure. The self-surgeries gradually turn Vessel 13 pale and bald, fostering a weird likeness to Jason Voorhees from 1980âs Friday the 13th. Why would the spaâs treatment, which turned Mom into, well, Abbie Cornish, transform this young man into a ghoul? It has something to do with facing your inner ugliness and expunging it so that you may become a carefree hottie again, and frolic on the beach with a new, even hotter woman without fear of bashing in her brains. Erasing said ugliness also involves elaborate black-and-white visions of a quasi-Aztec society, where Vessel 13 sees himself as a barbarian eating a live human baby. By this point in the film, one might as well shrug and ask, âWhy not?â
Perfect is desperately evasive about what itâs actually eaten up with: sex. The film feels like an excuse to corral a bunch of good-looking people together at a hip location and fashion a variety of lurid pillow shots. Thatâs not an inherently unpromising desire, though Alcazar canât lay off the self-aggrandizing mumbo jumbo, and a sense of humor wouldâve helped. The filmmaker honestly appears to believe that Perfect is an examination of privilege, particularly our ruthless standards of beauty, when itâs really just an embodiment of the same. This interchangeable collection of sequences has no soul.
Cast: Garrett Wareing, Abbie Cornish, Courtney Eaton, Tao Okamoto, Leonardo Nam, Maurice Compte, Alicia Sanz, Sarah McDaniel, Rainey Qualley Director: Eddie Alcazar Screenwriter: Ted Kupper Running Time: 87 min Rating: NR Year: 2018
Review: Ritesh Batraâs Photograph Lives and Dies by Its Frustrating Excisions
In pushing so many seemingly crucial moments off screen, the film transforms its main characters into blank slates.2
Ritesh Batraâs Mumbai-set Photograph is a film as reserved as its protagonists. Full of quiet, contemplative shots of would-be lovebirds Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), the film strikes a muted tone that serves as a conscious contrast to the high-blown romances of mainstream Indian cinema. Even as it takes a subtler, more realistic approach to romance across class and religious divisions in India, it almost self-reflexively resembles a Bollywood love story, but only in outline form, as if its stillness were an effect of its having lost the musical numbers that typically define such films.
In the tradition of so many works about star-crossed lovers, Rafi and Miloni come from different worlds. Rafi is a Muslim from a rural village who works as a street photographer, attempting to force his services on tourists visiting the Gateway of India. Miloni is a young, bourgeois Hindu excelling in, but not particularly excited by, her courses on chartered accountancy. They meet one day when Rafi convinces Miloni to pose for a photograph, using his usual pitch that a photo is a material memoryâthe preservation of a moment that would otherwise fade away. Miloni poses for the photograph, but lost in her thoughts, she leaves with one of the two copies before Rafi can hand her the other.
Separately, the twentysomething Miloni and fortysomething Rafi are each coping with pressure from their elders: Miloniâs parents want her to move to America to study, while Rafi still deals with admonitions from his grandmother (Farrukh Jaffar) that he hasnât yet married. To mollify her, Rafi includes the photo of Miloni in a letter, claiming sheâs his fiancĂ©e, and soon the grandmother announces that sheâs on her way to Mumbai to meet the prospective bride. Itâs at this point that anyone whoâs ever seen a romantic comedy can guess where this masquerade is headed, and that the film isnât going to be interested in a rewriting any rules. If anything, the places where the story does diverge from the expected path, as in a conversation between Rafi and a ghost, are more mystifying than meaningful.
Rafiâs plan to hoodwink his grandmother is contingent on Miloniâs participation. Luckily, he runs into Miloni on the bus, but Batra leaves their conversation out of the film, cutting to Miloni agreeing to the scheme. Her motivation, beyond the general impression Photograph gives us of her kind-heartedness, is that sheâs lost the original photograph Rafi gave her. The photo was confiscated in class by her creepy accountancy teacher (Jim Sarbh), whose attraction to Miloni becomes a minor subplot. It appears Miloni liked her own image so much that sheâs willing to play the part of Rafiâs fiancĂ©e in exchange for a new picture.
Batra excises other pivotal plot points from the film, giving scenes an elliptical, allusive tone. The point, underlined by Rafi and Miloniâs visits to a movie theater playing Bollywood musicals, appears to be the filmmakerâs belief that heâs telling a familiar story whose more rote moments donât need reiteration. Photograph tries instead to focus on interstitial, lived-in scenarios, like Rafi lying awake in the one-bedroom apartment he shares with four other street photographers, or he and Miloni enjoying shaved ice and kulfi, an ice cream-like desert.
But in pushing so many seemingly crucial moments off screen, Photograph transforms its main characters into blank slates. For one, the absence of the scene in which Miloni agrees to lie to Rafiâs grandmother makes Malhotraâs character seem inscrutable, a meekly smiling void. In a society chock-full of imaging technologies, the prospect of a new photograph doesnât seem a particularly strong motivation to entangle herself in Rafiâs liesâparticularly considering that he involved her by using her image without her knowledge. Photographâs admittedly clever conclusion suggests that Batra wants to make his audience swoon, but the filmâs contrivances and conspicuous excisions undercut our connection to the characters.
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra, Farrukh Jaffar, Vijay Raaz Director: Ritesh Batra Screenwriter: Ritesh Batra, Emeara Kamble Distributor: Amazon Studios Running Time: 108 min Rating: PG-13 Year: 2019
Review: The Wandering Soap Opera Is a Riddle Stubbornly Wrapped in an Enigma
After a while it seems like one needs to be in some kind of dream state in order to properly savor the film.2
The most remarkable aspect of The Wandering Soap Opera isnât in the film itself but in its trajectory to the screen. The late master filmmaker RaĂșl Ruiz shot a collection of sequences in his native Chile way back in 1990 before abandoning the project. Then, several years after his death in 2011, Valeria Sarmiento, Ruizâs widow and frequent collaborator, decided to complete it. Itâs a path that echoes that of Orson Wellesâs The Other Side of the Wind and Manoel de Oliveiraâs The Visit or Memories and Confessions, and one that brings a ghostly tinge to the satiric vignettes that comprise the film.
The Wandering Soap Opera is divided into a series of chapters that initially abide by the campy conventions of Latin American soap operas: melodramatic dialogue, a gloomy sound score, stiff acting, implausible scenarios, and ridiculously unconvincing special effects. This is a world where every man seems to have salt-and-pepper hair, don a suit and tie, and hold a stake in some financial company. Theyâre also constantly in the process of either seducing a woman or conducting some shady business practice with another man over rounds of scotch. The sequences, however, eventually turn these conventions into what seems to be some kind of national critique or allegory, and through the surreal exaggeration of the genreâs tropes.
In the film, one character says that soaps are âthe fourth power,â another does mean things to a pig, and another caresses a bunny rabbit. An actress says she has multiple names: Alma Rios, Alma Comunista, and Scheherazade. A ghostly character is juxtaposed to a soap scene, like a double exposure, in order to deride it, remarking on its artifices. Weâre told that nothing is real or happens in a soap opera. Itâs all just fake characters commenting on other fake characters, someone says, conflating the film itself with how audiences consume soaps.
In one sequence, a woman responds to the incessant flirting of a man by asking if heâs a leftist and establishing his politics as prerequisite for him to touch her. In the same vignette, the woman keeps reminding the man that âpeople are watchingâ them. She eventually tells him she loves men with big muscles, which prompts the man to hand the woman a chunk of raw meat. This and other scenes unfold in very cryptic fashion, suggesting some kind of master plan toward a biting political critique that at times feels like weâre too illiterate to enjoy.
Thereâs a strong presence of a political code in this darkly humorous film, but it never seems as if we can quite crack it or what itâs in service of. And this opaqueness makes many of the sequences seem either too cerebral or just downright dull. The exception is when the over-the-top approach is such that the film veers toward complete absurdity, allowing us to completely revel in the nonsense on screen instead of wanting for meaning. As when a bearded man sucking on a popsicle asks a stranger where La ConcepciĂłn Street is located, only for another man to join them and let them know that his wifeâs name is, yes, ConcepciĂłn.
That particular sequence becomes an unbridled play of associations that recalls the best segments of DamiĂĄn Szifronâs Wild Tales. In the Ruiz film, all characters end up revealing some intimate knowledge of or silly relationship with the word âConcepciĂłn.â Suddenly the characters decide to push somebodyâs broken-down vehicle while chatting about how awful it would be for a father to name his daughter ConcepciĂłn, knowing that sooner or later she would get the nickname of Concha. Someone then wonders if âHermesâ is spelled with or without an âH,â before then heading off to a bar called âHâ with a man named Homer.
It would seem that weâre in the middle of someoneâs dream, and after a while it seems like one needs to be in some kind of dream state in order to properly savor The Wandering Soap Opera. Or to regress to a child-like state, where the pleasures of language arenât in sense-making, but in the sheer joy of uttering or hearing gibberish for gibberishâs sake.
Cast: Luis AlarcĂłn, Patricia Rivadeneira, Francisco Reyes, Consuelo Castillo, Roberto Poblete, Liliana GarcĂa Director: RaĂșl Ruiz, Valeria Sarmiento Screenwriter: PĂa Rey, RaĂșl Ruiz Distributor: Cinema Guild Running Time: 80 min Rating: NR Year: 2017
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