The Dark Knight is the most entertaining blockbuster of the summer, which still doesnât mean itâs any good. OK, thatâs hyperbole (itâs a lot of good, the most start-to-finish aesthetically pleasurable comic-book blow-up Iâve seen in god knows how long), but still a justifiable description given the filmâs freakishly ardent advocates. I canât recall, of recent, a smoother, more all-encompassing tent pole that makes fuller use of its budget: duplicitous, psuedo-hits like Zodiac (which no sane person would expect to be a box-office sensation, hunky Jake Gyllenhaal or no) or Miami Vice (unbeatable franchise value defeated by terminal artinessâthatâs an endorsement, by the way) donât count. Nor does Spiderman-2, my none-too-idiosyncratic pick of the comic-book litter: big, obvious themes done with absolute skill, sincerity and narrative smarts.
The Dark Knight is a seductive film, easily the most technically adept movie Christopher Nolanâs ever made, but itâs as unsettled and uneasy thematically as a latter-day work by Lars von Trier. That it can be argued over so angrily is both its strength and its weakness. Action sequences aside (everyone seems to agree theyâre shit), this is one hypnotic piece of craft. But means and ends donât add up.
Letâs set aside unavoidable compromises. The first presentation of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) as Two-Face is as contrived as possible: our big-jawed, blond-haired hero transformed into a ravening monster, presented in the most distancing ways. Obviously Two-Face isnât going to be some gory bogeyman horrifying you with bloody combat veins in evidence: Christopher Nolan may have gotten away with a lot for (approx.) $200 million, but he plays by the rules. No R rating here: once his head rolls from one side of the hospital pillow to the other, Two-Face is a cartoonish creation, half-WASP/half-Jolly Green Giant. These are the compromises of commercial filmmaking, and though I wish Nolan hadnât kept the presumable revelation of Dentâs true face in such phony suspense (similar to the scriptâs big herring re: Commissioner Gordon), thereâs no way out of it. I also canât be much bothered by complaints that much of the film is about the brute, visceral sadism of the impulse for revenge, the consequences of which are neatly kept off-screen; bloody reprisal is simply not an option.
My problem with The Dark Knight is a variant of my objections to Dogville and Manderlay (whether through praise or damnation, except Iâm not on either side in this case because I enjoy thorny problematics). Von Trier makes it easy on you: he presents blatantly allegorical situations where the conclusion is grimly, deterministically pre-ordained, then drops his condemnation of human nature (exposed as vile, opportunistic, fundamentally self-preserving andâmore importantlyâself-justifying in ways that are, to the privileged viewer, blatantly hypocritical). He never abandons his blatant viewpoint; the situation is manipulated, but the viewer isnât. I donât buy what heâs saying, but at least von Trier makes it clear that everythingâs artificial.
What Nolan does is trickier. First, he presents a Gotham City that seems real: whenever I saw a Gotham City police vehicle, I had to scan the side carefully to make sure it wasnât just an NYPD squad car I was misidentifying. The Dark Knight presents its CGI/helicopter shots as overt, dazzling trickery, separate elements distanced from the rest of the film; puncturing of verisimilitude is never really an issue, and most of the film is by far the grittiest, most live-action superhero movie Iâve ever seen. But as far as plot, Nolan wraps himself in a cloth of graphic novel excuses: whateverâs implausible is a convention of comic books, and hence above criticism. Complaints about plausibility can be deflected as complaints about genre convention, which obviously the critic hasnât bothered to engage with, doesnât understand the background of, is too much of a snob to admit liking, etc. Then Nolan makes his final move: he tries to wrap a statement about real human behavior, deterministically set-up through comic conventions, around the whole.
This is what I think of as the <em>Lord of the Flies</em> fallacy (if you like that book, you may want to stop reading now): set up a series of fundamentally fantastic circumstances that force the worst out of people, then claim itâs a universal truth. In essence, The Dark Knight is a moral duel between Batman (who, like Anne Frank, fundamentally believes in mankindâs better instincts) and the Joker (who believes human morality is a social construct that falls away whenever anonymity and a chance to evade shame is available). In the battle between the two, Batman wins against seemingly insurmountable odds. With every Death Wish instinct telling the conservative, non-criminal refugees to blow away the criminals in the battle of the boats, they blanch out; someone has stood up for their better soul, proving mankindâs fundamental goodness asserts itself no matter what.
The Dark Knight strives to keep Batman in the most ambivalent light possible until the very end, when itâs clear that heâs made the best possible choices: not perfect ones (Nolan is canny enough to insinuate that thereâs no perfect moral outcome where all casualties are avoided), but the ones with minimal collateral damage. At filmâs end, Batman has preserved the maximum number of lives, given the circumstances. And Batman isnât equivalentâand definitely hasnât âledââto the Joker; in any case the Joker was set up, unequivocally, at the ending of Batman Begins. Here heâs basically Anton Chigurh by other meansâexcept where Chigurh offers each of his individual victims a chance at self-definition and appreciation of life, the Joker likes to perform mass social experiments. But theyâre both uncontrollable, motivationless agents of entropy, walking metaphors for whatever.
And thatâs my problem: The Dark Knight pretends to offer up real human problems, but itâs just a clunky allegory, and not a particularly sophisticated one at that. Nolanâthough taking great strides behind the cameraâsimply must stop making his characters say things like âSometimes the truth isnât enough.â Is this an action movie or a big-budget remake of Memento? Nolanâs movies (all of them, aside from The Prestige, too complicated to be blatant about anything) revel in the simplistic appropriation of philosophical problems recycled as trite dialogue; they should give audiences a suggested reading list on the way out. Ironically, for a film touted by fanboys, this is easily Nolanâs most Nolan-like film yet.
[And yes, itâs extremely entertaining. Crazy fanboys give me a break, huh?]
Interview: Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson on Working Together on Ordinary Love
Itâs to the immense credit of these two great actors that Ordinary Love is so inspiring.
Itâs to the immense credit of Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson that Ordinary Love is so inspiring. As Joan and Tom, the couple at the center of Lisa Barros DâSa and Glenn Leyburnâs drama about a couple tested by the wifeâs breast cancer diagnosis, their naturalism and comfort never waver while the characters stare down the disease.
Despite having never collaborated prior to their brief rehearsals for the film, these two celebrated actors settle authentically into the quiet dignity of longstanding companionate affection. Both performances hum with grace notes as the actors imbue even the most quotidian moments with compassion and wisdom. Ordinary Love speaks to how Joan and Tom maintain the strength of their relationship in spite of cancer, not because of it.
The bond that appears effortless on screen, however, was quite effortful, as I learned when talking to the two actors following the filmâs limited release. The organic chemistry was evident between Manville and Neeson, who both spoke softly yet passionately about their approach to forging the connection at the heart of Ordinary Love. The two performers came to the film with storied careers and full lives, both of which contributed to how they approached bringing Tom and Joanâs tender marriage to life.
Lesley, youâve said that Liam was the big draw for you to board this project. Iâm curious, to start, whatâs your favorite of his performances and why?
Lesley Manville: Oh my gosh! Iâve got to say the right thing here. I wish Iâd have seen you [to Neeson] on stage. I never have. Schindlerâs List, I think, really is up there. Had the [Ordinary Love] script been awful, then I wouldnât have wanted to do it despite Liam. But the script was great, and they said Liam was going to do it, so I said it sounded like a good one, really.
Liam, do you have a favorite performance of hers?
Liam Neeson: Iâve seen Lesley in a couple of the Mike Leigh films. She struck me, and I mean this as a compliment, as like, âOh, thatâs someone who just walked in off the street and is playing this.â She was so natural and so great as an actress. And I did see her on stage, I thought she was wonderful.
Right away, we can sense such a shared history of the couple. Surely some of it came from the script itself, but how did you collaborate to ensure you were on the same page about where Tom and Joan have been?
Manville: Sometimes itâs hard to manufacture that or try to cook it up. I guess the casting of the two of us was pretty good and a fluke to some degree. We could have not got on. The warmth we have for each other is a bonus. We couldnât predict that until weâd met. Weâre quite similar as actors, really, we see whatâs on the page and try to make it as truthful as possible. But day one, we were shooting scenes of them on the sofa, watching telly, not doing much, 30-plus-year relationshipâŠyou just have to plow in and do it. Weâve both lived a fair amountâ
Neeson: We didnât really âplanâ anything. Thereâs a saying, âIf it ainât on the page, it ainât on the stage.â That foundation stone of the script was beautiful.
Was there a rehearsal period, or did you just jump right in?
Manville: We had a couple of afternoons in New York, didnât we?
Neeson: Yeah, we did.
Manville: Liam lives here, and I was doing a play. Lisa and Glenn, our directors, came over and we spent a few afternoons mostly eating quite nice lunches.
Neeson: Yeah, those were nice lunches. But we certainly didnât ârehearseâ rehearse it, did we?
Were they more like chemistry sessions?
Neeson: Yeah, just smelling each other, really!
Liam, youâve said that part of what drew you to the film was the ability to play someone like yourself, a nice Northern Irish man. Is it easier or harder to play something thatâs less like a character and more like yourself?
Neeson: I think if youâre playing a character thatâs not you, i.e. thinking of doing accents, thereâs a process of work you have. Be it an American accent or a German accent, thereâs a process. Then I try to do that and ignore it. So, whatever comes out of my mouth comes out. If a few Irish words come out, if itâs supposed to be German, I donât care. You can fix it a little bit in an ADR department, but I hate doing a scene with a dialect coach there.
I have to tell you a funny story. I did this film Widows with Viola Davis a couple years ago. And myself and Colin Farrell have to be from Chicago. I met with this lovely lady, the dialect coach. My first scene was in a shower, right, and into the bathroom comes Viola with a little drink [mimes a shot glass] for her and I, itâs a whole process we do before I do a heist job. Itâs a little ritual we do, and she has a dog, a tiny wee thing. When we finish the scene, Iâm supposed to go ârawr-rawrâ to the dog. I did this a couple of times, and the dialect coach literally ran in and says, âLiam, youâre doing the dog sound wrong, accent wise! It should be âwoof-woof,â use the back of your throat.â I thought, âSheâs pulling my leg! The dogâs that size [puts hand barely above the ground].â But she meant it.
Manville: Oh dear, she needs to take a check, doesnât she?
Neeson: But being the professional I was, I went âwoof-woof.â
When youâre playing characters who are âordinaryâ or ânormal,â as the final and working titles for the film have suggested, do you start with yourself and fit into the character? Or is the character the starting point and you invest little pieces of yourself into it?
Manville: Certainly, for me, thereâs a lot about Joan thatâs not a million miles away from me, although there are obvious differences. I just thought, thereâs this woman, theyâve had this tragedy in their lives, theyâve lost their daughter, getting on with things, their lives have reduced down to this co-dependent small existenceâitâs all about the ordinary stuff. And then youâve just got to layer onto that the fact that this horrible diagnosis happens. But, in a way, I felt that took care of itself because Iâtouch of wood [knocks on the wood frame of her chair]âhave not been through breast cancer. Iâve had a sister who did, but the women in the [hospital] scenes, the technicians and the surgeons were all real, and they were very helpful. They were wonderful women, and they helped me hugely just walking me through it. I just thought, âThereâs Joan, and youâve just got to be Joan as these other things are happening to her.â Of course, all bits of your own experiences and life stuff comes out. But itâs almost not conscious. Iâve had a lot of lifeâa lot of ups, a lot of downs, as has everybody. Thatâs nothing exceptional. Nothing more different than the average person. Our job is we lock those feelings away somewhere inside of us, and theyâre there to call upon if we need to.
Neeson: Yeah, thatâs a great way of putting it. James Cagney used to have an expression when an ingĂ©nue would ask him how to do a scene. He famously said, âYou walk in the room, plant your feet and speak the truth.â That was always his answer. Itâs true.
Thereâs a moment during chemo where Joan makes a remark that she thought the experience would change her more but feels relatively the same. Lesley, Iâm curious, do you believe her at that moment?
Manville: Yeah, because youâre always you, no matter whatâs happening. I guess that kind of statement is probably quite particular to people who go through a big health thing like that. You expect itâs going to really alter you, shift you, but actually itâs still you underneath. Because itâs just you with this epic thing happening to you. Nevertheless, itâs you.
Is it tough as an actor to depict that kind of stasis while also bringing some variation?
Manville: I think thereâs enough in the scenes. A good point in the film is when they [Tom and Joan] are having a row about nothingâwhich color pill. But itâs bound to happen. Theyâre a great couple, yet something gives way because thatâs human. I felt that was quite well charted throughout the script.
We donât really get a similar moment of verbal reflection from Tom. Do you think the same sentiment of feeling unchanged might apply to him?
Neeson: Thereâs one scene where he visits their daughterâs grave and talks about how scared he is. And I think he is. But heâs âmanâ enough to put up a kind of front that everythingâs going to be okay, and I think he really believes that too. But heâs terrified that he might lose his life partner. It might happen. Without getting too heavy about it, I know Lesley has experienced loss in her family. Iâve had four members of my family die. It was wrenching for the familyâvery, very wrenching. Itâs a horrible disease. Lesley was saying to me last night, in America alone, one in eight women are going to suffer some form of breast cancer, which is an astronomical number. We are all one degree of separation from someone who has it.
Manville: But the survival rate is very impressive now.
Itâs nice that the film is about more than just the struggle of the disease but how life continues in spite of it. We even start the film more or less where we ended it in the calendar year.
Neeson: Just that minutiae of life. Going to a grocery store. You still have to eat! Save up your coupons, that minutiae, I love that it comes across the script.
Youâve both worked with some incredible directors in your time. Is there anything in particular that you took from them for Ordinary Love, or do you just clear out your memory in order to execute what Lisa and Glenn want?
Neeson: I think Lesley said in an earlier interviewâforgive me for jumping in, darlingâthat you absorb it through osmosis if you work with really good people. And bad people too. You just allow it to come out. Youâre not, âWhat was it Martin Scorsese said? I must remember that. Or Steven SpielbergââI donât do that.
Manville: Also, they get a lot from you too. A lot of people think directors are like dictators. If they employ two actors like us, theyâre expecting a collaboration of some sort. Hopefully they get something from us too.
In this more recent stage of your career, youâve each had roles that have exploded and become beloved by the InternetâLiam with Taken, Lesley with Phantom Thread. How do you all react to something like that making such a big splash where people turn your work into a meme?
Manville: I didnât know what a meme was until quite recently. Somebody told me I was a meme.
Neeson: What is it? I honestly donât know. Iâve heard the word, but I donât know what it means.
Manville: They just take a bit of a performanceâŠ
Yes, snippets of a performance and use it as a response to something else. Recontextualized.
Neeson: Oh, I see. Like ârelease the kraken.â
Or âI have a very particular set of skillsâ from Taken. I see that, and I see bits of Cyril a lot online.
Manville: Apparently, Iâm a bit of a gay icon. So thatâs new. Never thought Iâd reach my age and be that. But Iâll take it!
Is that just a nice thing to keep in the back of your head? Does it enter into the process at all?
Manville: No! Listen, I think thereâs a myth that actors, however successful they are, wander around in some sort of successful bubble. Youâre just not! Youâre having your life like everyone else. I understand that our jobs are quite exceptional, and other people view our jobs with some kind of halo over them. But personally speaking, when Iâm working, Iâm working. The rest of my life is incredibly regular.
Review: The Call of the Wild Provides a Resonant Take on a Classic
The filmâs avoidance of cruel Gold Rush realities is more than made up for by its spirited kineticism.3
The latest cinematic adaptation of Jack Londonâs The Call of the Wild is a surprisingly thrilling and emotionally moving adventure film. Its surprises come not only from director Chris Sanders and screenwriter Michael Greenâs dramatic overhaul of the classic 1903 novel for family audiences, but also from the way their revisions make Londonâs story richer and more resonant, rather than diluted and saccharine.
Itâs worth recalling that Londonâs vision of man and nature in The Call of the Wild is anything but romantic; indeed, at times itâs literally dog eat dog. In his story, the imposing yet spoiled Buck, a St. Bernard and Scotch Collie mix, is kidnapped from his wealthy masterâs California manor and sold to dealers in Yukon Territory, where the Gold Rush has created high demand for sledding dogs. Buckâs initiation into the culture of the Northlands involves severe beatings at the hands of his masters, brutal rivalries with fellow sledding dogs, harsh exposure to unforgiving elements, and an unrelenting work regimen that allows for little rest, renewal, or indolence. What London depicts is nothing less than a Darwinian world where survival forbids weakness of body and spirit, and where survivors can ill-afford pity or remorse.
Not much of that vision remains in Sanders and Greenâs adaptation. Buck is still kidnapped from his home and sold to dog traders, but his subjugation is reduced from repeated, will-breaking abuse to a single hit. In this Call of the Wild, dogs never maul one another to death, a regular occurrence in Londonâs novel. And minus one or two exceptions, the human world of the story has now become uplifting and communal rather than bitter and cutthroat. In the first half of the film, Buckâs sledding masters are an adorable husband-and-wife team (Omar Sy and Cara Gee) in place of a rough pair of mail deliverers, and in the second half, John Thornton (Harrison Ford), Buckâs last and most beloved master, isnât revealed to be hardened treasure-seeker, but a grieving man who finds redemption in the great outdoors.
The filmâs avoidance of cruel Gold Rush realities is more than made up for by its spirited kineticism and by its deepening of the man-dog bond that forms the heart of Londonâs story. This Call of the Wild relies heavily on a CGI Buck (and other virtual beasts) to create complex choreographed movement in labyrinthine tracking shots that would be impossible to execute with real animals. One might expect the artifice of even the most convincing CGI to undermine Buckâs palpable presence, as well as the scriptâs frequent praises to the glory of nature, yet the filmâs special-effects team has imbued the animal with a multi-layered personality, as displayed in joyously detailed, if more than slightly anthropomorphic, expressions and gestures. And the integration of Buck and other CGI creations into believable, immersive environments is buttressed by the cinematography of Janusz KamiĆski, who lenses everything from a quiet meadow to an epic avalanche with lush vibrancy.
In the filmâs first half, human concerns take a backseat to Buckâs education as he adapts to the dangerous world of the Northlands, but in the second half the emergence of Ford as Buckâs best friend adds to the film a poignant human dimension. Thornton rescues Buck from a trio of inept, brutish, and greedy city slickers (Dan Stevens, Karen Gillan, and Colin Woodell), and Buck in turn saves Thornton from misery and drunkenness as he pines away for his late son and ruined marriage while living alone on the outskirts of civilization.
This is a welcome change from Londonâs depiction of Thornton, who possesses on the page a kind heart but not much else in the way of compelling characteristics; the summit of his relationship with Buck occurs when he stakes and wins a fortune betting on Buckâs ability to drag a half ton of cargo. In this film version, Thornton and Buckâs relationship grows as they travel the remotest reaches of wilderness where Thornton regains his sense of wonder and Buck draws closer to the feral origins of his wolf-like brethren and ancestors. Ford lends gruff vulnerability and gravity to Thornton in scenes that might have tipped over into idyllic cheese given just a few false moves, and his narration throughout the film forms a sort of avuncular bass line to the proceedings lest they become too cloying or cute.
A paradox exists in The Call of the Wild, which is indebted to advanced technological fakery but touts the supremacy of nature and natural instincts. Yet thereâs a sincerity and lack of pretense to the film that transcends this paradox and evokes the sublime.
Cast: Harrison Ford, Dan Stevens, Omar Sy, Karen Gillan, Bradley Whitford, Colin Woodell, Cara Gee, Scott MacDonald, Terry Notary Director: Chris Sanders Screenwriter: Michael Green Distributor: 20th Century Studios Running Time: 100 min Rating: PG Year: 2020 Buy: Book
Review: Daniel Roherâs Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band
Robertsonâs sadness was more fulsomely evoked by Martin Scorsese in The Last Waltz.2.5
Toward the end of the 1960s, with the Vietnam War raging and the civil rights movement and the counterculture in bloom, art was about taking political and aesthetic sides. As such, one can understand how Bob Dylanâs electric guitar could be met with violent boos, as it signified a crossing of the bridge over into the complacent mainstream, to which folk music was supposed to represent a marked resistance. In this context, one can also appreciate the daring of the Band, whose music offered beautiful and melancholic examinations of heritage that refuted easy generational demonizing, while blending blues, rock, and folk together to create a slipstream of American memoryâAmericana in other words. Like Dylan, the Band, who backed him on his electric tour, believed that art shouldnât be reduced to editorial battle hymns. Complicating matters of identity even further, the prime architects of Americana are mostly Canadian. Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and Garth Hudson were all from Ontario, while Levon Helm hailed from Arkansas.
Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band is concerned mostly with celebrating the Bandâs early rise and influence on American culture, as well as their sense of connecting the past and present together through empathetic lyrics. Holding court over the film is Robertson, the dapper and charismatic songwriter and guitarist who looks and sounds every inch like the classic-rock elder statesman. Airing sentiments from his memoir, Testimony, Robertson mentions his mixed heritage as a citizen of the Six Nations of Grand River reservation who also had Jewish gangster relatives, and who moved to Canada at a formative age. Richardson learned his first chords on the reservation, and began writing songs professionally at 15, after he met Ronnie Hawkins and Helm. Hawkinsâs group would over several permutations become the Band, whose musical identity crystallizes during their collaboration with Dylan.
Director Daniel Roherâs glancing treatment of Hawkins, a vivid presence who also performed on Martin Scorseseâs Band concert film The Last Waltz, signifies that Once Were Brothers is going to steer clear of controversy. Was Hawkins bitter to have his band usurped by the teenage prodigy Robertson? Even if he wasnât, such feelings merit exploration, though here theyâre left hanging. The documentaryâs title is all too apropos, as this is Robertsonâs experience of the Band, rather than a collective exploration of their rise and fall. To be fair, Danko, Manuel, and Helm are all deceased, the former two dying far too young, though Hudson perhaps pointedly refused to participate in this projectâanother event that Roher fails to examine. And the big conflict at the center of this storyâRobertsonâs intense, eventually contentious relationship with Helmâis broached only in an obligatory fashion.
Although the fact that Robertson and Hudson are the only Band members left standing adds credence to the formerâs view of things, as he maintains that much of the group succumbed to drugs and booze, leaving him to write most of the music and to shepherd their joint career as long as he could. (Robertsonâs wife, Dominique, offers disturbing accounts of the car crashes that routinely occurred out of drunk and drugged driving.) Helm, however, insisted that the Bandâs collective influence on musical arrangements merited a bigger slice of royalties all around. Robertson and various other talking heads remind us of these grievances, though Roher quickly pushes on to the next plot point. Robertson is a magnificent musician and subject, but his devotion to his side of the story renders him suspiciousâa cultivator of brand.
For these omissions and elisions, Once Were Brothers is a slim, if ultimately enjoyable, rock testimony. The highlight is the archival footage of the Band practicing and recording, including a privileged moment with Dylan after one of the controversial electric concerts, as well as interludes at the pink house in Woodstock where they recorded their defining Music from Big Pink, an album that included their classic âThe Weight,â which Dennis Hopper would turn into a master boomer anthem in Easy Rider. Moments of the Band at play affirm Robertsonâs idea of their early days as a kind of lost utopia, and his present-day nostalgia is cagey yet undeniably moving. Yet Robertsonâs sadness, his sense of having witnessed friends and collaborators get washed away by bitterness and addiction, was more fulsomely evoked by Scorsese in The Last Waltz, as he looked at the Band and saw an entire group, a dying unit, rather than Robbie Robertson and the other guys.
Director: Daniel Roher Distributor: Magnolia Pictures Running Time: 100 min Rating: R Year: 2019
Review: Come and See Is an Unforgettable Fever Dream of Warâs Surreality
It suggests that a warâs horrors were the ultimate unassimilable experience of the shadowy depths of the human mind.4
War movies largely condition us to look at warfare from a top-down perspective. Rarely do they keep us totally locked out of the commanderâs map room, the bunker where the top brass exposit backstory, outline goals, or lay out geography for the viewer. Both characters and audience tend to know whatâs at stake at all times. Not so in Elem Klimovâs 1985 film Come and See, in which relentless bombings and frenetic camerawork shatter the Belarusian countryside into an incoherent, fabulistic geography, and the invading Germans appear to coalesce out of the fog on the horizon like menacing apparitions.
We experience the German invasion of Belarus through Flyora (Aleksey Kravchenko), a teenager who joins the local partisan militia after discovering a rifle buried in the sand. The early scene in which he departs from his mother and sisters presents a disconcerting, even alienating complex of emotions: the histrionic panic of his mother (Tatyana Shestakova), who alternately embraces and rails against him; the hardened indifference of the soldiers whoâve come to retrieve him; and the jejune oblviousness of Floyria himself, who mugs at his younger siblings to mock his motherâs concerns. Eager to participate alongside the unit of considerably more weathered men, Flyora feels emasculated when heâs forced to remain behind in the partisansâ forest encampment with Glasha (Olga Mironova), a local girl implicitly attached to the militia unit because sheâs sleeping with its commander, Kosach (Liubomiras Laucevicius).
Glasha first takes on nymph-like qualities in Flyoraâs adolescent imagination, appearing in hazy close-ups that emphasize her blue eyes and the verdant wooded backdrop. This deceptive idyllic disintegrates, however, when the Germans bomb and storm the empty camp, kicking up clouds of dirt and smoke that never seem to fully leave the screen for the rest of Come and Seeâs duration. The two teenagers flee, pushing through the muck of the now-fatal landscape, only to discover more horrors waiting for them back in Flyoraâs village.
The horrors lurking in the mists of a muggy Eastern European spring may not be what Carl von Clausewitz had in mind when he coined the phrase âthe fog of war,â but Klimovâs masterpiece suggests a redefinition of the term, the evocative phrase signifying the incomprehensible terror of war rather than its tactical incalculables. Come and Seeâs frames are often choked with this fogâwatching the film, one almost expects to see condensation on the screenâs surfaceâand Klimov fills the soundtrack with a kind of audio fog: the droning of bombers and surveillance planes, the whine of prolonged eardrum-ringing, an ambient and sparse score by Oleg Yanchenko. Itâs a cinematic simulacrum of the overwhelming, discombobulating sensory experience of war that would have an influence on virtually every war movie made after it.
And yet, in a crucial sense, thereâs hardly a more clear-sighted or realistic fiction film about World War II. Klimov refuses to sanitize or sentimentalize the conflict that in his native language is known as the Great Patriotic War. While fleeing back into the woods with Flyora, Glasha momentarily glimpses a heap of bodies, Flyoraâs family and neighbors, piled on the edge of the village where tendrils of smoke still waft from their chimneys. Despite the fleeting nature of her glance, the image sticks with the viewer, its horror reverberating throughout the film because Klimov doesnât give it redemptive or revelatory power. Thereâs no transcendent truth, no noble human dignity to be dug up from the mass graves of the Holocaust.
Florya and Glasha eventually separate, Flyora joining the surviving men to scour the countryside for food, only to find himself the survivor of a series of atrocities perpetrated by the Germans. A full third of the Nazisâ innocent victims were killed in mass executions on the Eastern Frontâboth by specially assigned SS troops and the regular Wehrmacht (though the myth of a âclean Wehrmachtâ lives on to this day). As the end titles of Come and See inform the audience, 628 Belarusian villages were extinguished in the Nazisâ genocidal quest for Lebensraum, so-called âliving spaceâ for the German Volk. As wide-eyed witness to a portion of this monstrous deed, Flyoraâs face often fills the filmâs narrow 4:3 frameâscorched, bloodied, and sooty, trembling with horror at the inhumanity heâs seen.
Like his forbears of Soviet montage, Klimov uses a cast stocked with nonprofessionals like Kravchenko, and he doesnât shirk from having them address the camera directly with their gaze. In Klimovâs hands, as in Eisensteinâs, such shots feel like a call to action, a demand to recognize the humanity at stake in the struggle against fascism. Klimov counterbalances his filmâs apocalyptic hopelessness with a righteous rage on behalf of the Holocaustâs real victims. The film, whose original title was Kill Hitler, takes as its heart-shattering climax a hallucinatory montage of documentary footage that imagines a world without the Nazi leader.
Come and See bears comparison to Andrei Tarkovskyâs Ivanâs Childhood, which likewise narrates a young boyâs conscription into the irregular Russian resistance to German invasion. But whereas Tarkovsky embellishes his vision of a war-torn fairy-tale forest in the direction of moody expressionism, Klimov goes surreal. Attempting to make off with a stolen cow across an open fieldâin order to feed starving survivors hidden in the woodsâFlyoria is blindsided by a German machine-gun attack. Pink tracers dart across the fog-saturated frame, a dreamlike image at once unreal and deadly. Taking cover behind his felled cow, Flyoria awakes in the empty field, now absolutely still, with the mangled animal corpse as his pillow.
As an art form, surrealism was fascinated by the capacity for violence and disorder lurking in the psyche. Without betraying the realâby, in fact, remaining more faithful to it than most fictional remembrances of WWI have beenâCome and See suggests that the warâs horrors were the ultimate unassimilable experience of the shadowy depths of the human mind. For Klimov, the dreamscapes of war realized surrealismâs oneiric brutality.
Cast: Aleksey Kravchenko, Olga Mironova, Liubomiras Laucevicius, Vladas Bagdonas, JĂŒri Lumiste, Viktors Lorencs, Evgeniy Tilicheev Director: Elem Klimov Screenwriter: Ales Adamovich, Elem Klimov Distributor: Janus Films Running Time: 142 min Rating: NR Year: 1985
Review: Corpus Christi Spins an Ambiguous Morality Tale About True Faith
Itâs within the murky realm of self-doubt and spiritual anxiety that itâs at its most audacious and compelling.3
Using as its jumping-off point the surprisingly common phenomenon of Polish men impersonating priests, Jan Komasaâs Corpus Christi weaves an elaborate, thoughtful, and occasionally meandering morality tale about the nature of faith, grief, and community in the 21st century. Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia), a 20-year-old juvenile delinquent, is a recently converted believer, but heâs also an opportunist. After finding himself mistaken for a man of the cloth upon arriving in a small, remote town, Daniel decides to strap on the clergy collar from a costume and play the part for real. Better that than head to the sawmill for the backbreaking work his former priest, Father Tomasz (Lukasz Simlat), has lined up for him.
This setup has all the makings of a blackly comic farce, but Komasa and screenwriter Mateusz Pacewicz play the scenario straight, using Danielâs fish-out-of-water status as a catalyst for interrogating the shifting spiritual landscape of a Poland thatâs grown increasingly disillusioned of both its religious and political institutions. For one, a general wariness (and weariness) of the cold, impersonal ritualism of the Catholic Church helps to explain why many of the townspeople take so quickly to Danielâs irreverent approach to priesthood, particularly his emotional candidness and the genuine compassion he shows for his parish.
That is, of course, once the young man gets past his awkward stabs at learning how to offer confessionâby Googling, no lessâand reciting Father Tomaszâs prayers, discovering that itâs easier for him to preach when shooting from the hip. The convenient timing of the townâs official priest (Zdzislaw Wardejn) falling ill, thus allowing Daniel to slide comfortably into the manâs place, is a narrative gambit that certainly requires a small leap of faith. But itâs one that engenders a fascinatingly thorny conflict between a damaged imposter walking the very thin line between the sacred and the profane, a town still reeling from the trauma of a recent car wreck that left seven people dead, and a shady mayor (Leszek Lichota) yearning for a return to normalcy so that his corrupt dealings can run more smoothly.
The grieving process of the family and friends of the six teenagers lost in this tragedy is further complicated by rumors that the other driver had been drinking, leading to his widow (Barbara Kurzaj) being harassed and completely ostracized by the community. The falsity of this widely accepted bit of hearsay shrewdly mirrors Danielâs own embracing of falsehood and inability to transcend the traumatic events and mistakes of his own recent past. Yet, interestingly enough, itâs the vehement young manâs dogged pursuit of the truth in this manner, all while play-acting the role of ordained leader, that causes a necessary disruption in the quietly tortured little town. His unwavering support of the widow, despite the blowback he gets from the mayor and several of the deceased teenagersâ parents, however, appears to have less to do with a pure thirst for justice or truth than with how her mistreatment at the hands of those around her mirrors his own feelings of being rejected by society.
Itâs a topsy-turvy situation that brings into question the mindlessly placating role that the church and political figures play in returning to the status quo, even if that leaves peoplesâ sins and darkest secrets forever buried. And while Danielâs adversarial presence both shines a light on the townâs hypocrisy and their leadersâ corruption, his own duplicity isnât overlooked, preventing Corpus Christi from settling for any sweeping moral generalizations, and lending an ambiguity to the ethics of everyoneâs behavior in the film.
Whether or not the ends justify the means or fraudulence and faith can coexist in ways that are beneficial to all, possibly even on a spiritual level, are questions that Komasa leaves unanswered. Corpus Christi instead accepts the innate, inescapable ambiguities of faith and the troubling role deception can often play in both keeping the communal peace, and in achieving a true sense of closure and redemption in situations where perhaps neither are truly attainable. Although the film ends on a frightening note of retribution, itâs within the murky realm of self-doubt and spiritual anxiety that itâs at its most audacious and compelling.
Cast: Bartosz Bielenia, Aleksandra Konieczna, Eliza Rycembel, Tomasz Zietek, Barbara Karzaj, Leszek Lichota, Zdzislaw Wardejn, Lukasz Simlat Director: Jan Komasa Screenwriter: Mateusz Pacewicz Distributor: Film Movement Running Time: 115 min Rating: NR Year: 2019
Review: Stella Meghieâs The Photograph Isnât Worth a Thousand Words
The film is at its best when itâs focused on the euphoria and tribulations of its central couple’s love affair.2.5
Near the middle of Stella Meghieâs The Photograph, Michael (Lakeith Stanfield) seduces Mae (Issa Rae) after dropping the needle on a vinyl copy of Al Greenâs Iâm Still In Love with You. The 1972 soul classic is a mainstay in many a foreplay-centric album rotations thanks to the smooth atmospherics set by the Reverend Alâs dulcet tones, but itâs not the aptness of the music choice that makes this encounter so strikingly sensual. Rather, itâs the leisurely, deliberate pacing with which Meghie allows the scene to unfold. As the mellow âFor the Good Timesâ smoothly transitions into the more chipper and frisky âIâm Glad Youâre Mine,â Michael and Mae engage in playful banter and subtle physical flirtations. The sly move of having one song directly spill into the next offers a strong sense of this couple falling in love, and in real time. The subtle surging of their passion occurs along with the tonal change of the songs, lending Michaelâs seduction of Mae an authentic and deeply felt intimacy.
The strength of this scene, and several others involving the new couple, is in large part due to the effortless chemistry between Rae and Stanfield. When the duo share the screen, thereâs a palpable and alluring romantic charge to their interactions, and one thatâs judiciously tempered by their charactersâ Achilles heels, be it Maeâs reluctance to allow herself to become vulnerable or Michaelâs commitment issues. As Mae and Michael struggle to balance their intensifying feelings toward one another with their professional ambitions and the lingering disappointments of former relationships, they each develop a rich, complex interiority that strengthens the filmâs portrait of them as individuals and as a couple.
The problems that arise from the clash between Mae and Michaelâs burgeoning love and their collective baggage are more than enough to carry this romantic drama. But Meghie encumbers the film with a lengthy, flashback-heavy subplot involving the brief but intense love affair that Maeâs estranged, recently deceased mother, Christina (ChantĂ© Adams), had in Louisiana before moving away to New York. These flashbacks arenât only intrusive, disrupting the forward momentum and emotional resonance of the filmâs depiction of Mae and Michaelâs relationship, but they provide only a thinly sketched-out, banal conflict between a woman who wants a career in the big city and a man content to stay put in the Deep South.
The overly deterministic manner with which Meghie weaves the two stories together adds an unnecessary gravity and turgidity to a film thatâs at its best when itâs focused on Michael and Maeâs love story. The intercutting between the two time periods is clunky, and while both narratives eventually dovetail in a manner that makes thematic sense, Meghie extends far too much effort laying out Christinaâs many mistakes and regrets for an end result that feels both overripe and overwritten. When The Photograph lingers on the euphoria and tribulations of Mae and Michaelâs love affair, itâs rich in carefully observed details, but the gratuitous flourishes in its narrative structure gives it the unsavory pomposity of a Nicholas Sparks novel.
Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Issa Rae, Chelsea Peretti, Teyonah Parris, Kelvin Harrison Jr., ChantĂ© Adams, Rob Morgan, Courtney B. Vance, Lil Rel Howery, Yâlan Noel, Jasmine Cephas Jones Director: Stella Meghie Screenwriter: Stella Meghie Distributor: Universal Pictures Running Time: 106 min Rating: PG-13 Year: 2020
David Loweryâs The Green Knight, Starring Dev Patel, Gets Teaser Trailer
Today, A24 dropped the trailer for haunting mustache enthusiast David Lowery’s latest.
Jack of all trades and haunting mustache enthusiast David Lowery is currently in pre-production on the latest live-action adaptation of Peter Pan for Disney, which is bound to be full steam ahead now that The Green Knight is almost in the can. Today, A24 debuted the moody teaser trailer for the film, which stars Dev Patel as Sir Gawain on a quest to defeat the eponymous âtester of men.â Scored by Loweryâs longtime collaborator Daniel Hart, The Green Knight appears to have been shot and edited in the same minimalist mode of the filmmakerâs prior features, which include Ainât Them Bodies Saints and A Ghost Story. Though itâs not being billed as a horror film, itâs very easy to see from the one-and-a-half-minute clip how Loweryâs latest is of a piece with so many A24 horror films before it.
According to A24âs official description of the film:
An epic fantasy adventure based on the timeless Arthurian legend, The Green Knight tells the story of Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), King Arthur’s reckless and headstrong nephew, who embarks on a daring quest to confront the eponymous Green Knight, a gigantic emerald-skinned stranger and tester of men. Gawain contends with ghosts, giants, thieves, and schemers in what becomes a deeper journey to define his character and prove his worth in the eyes of his family and kingdom by facing the ultimate challenger. From visionary filmmaker David Lowery comes a fresh and bold spin on a classic tale from the knights of the round table.
The Green Knight is written, directed, and edited by Lowery and also stars Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, and Barry Keoghan.
See the trailer below:
A24 will release The Green Knight this summer.
Review: Onur Tukelâs The Misogynists Stagily Addresses the State of a Nation
Tukelâs film doesnât live up to the promise of its fleet-footed opening.2
Taking place on the night of the 2016 presidential election, Onur Tukelâs The Misogynists begins, fittingly, with the sound of a woman crying. Alice (Christine Campbell) explains to her concerned daughter that sheâs sad because half of the country has made the wrong decision, prompting the child to respond that her mother has herself been wrong before: âYou were wrong when you thought that black man stole your cellphone.â Defensively writing off this past instance of casual racism as nothing more than an honest mistake, Alice sends the girl back to bed, after offering a weary âprobably notâ in response to her asking if she could be elected president someday.
In just a few lines of dialogue, Tukel exposes the moral blind spots and hypocrisy of otherwise well-meaning liberals, not to mention the irresponsible vanity of outrage and despair in the face of a stinging electoral defeat. This short scene highlights the emotional vulnerabilities that often underpin, and undermine, political convictions, and it serves as a perfect encapsulation of almost all of the filmâs thematic concerns.
Unfortunately, the rest of The Misogynists doesnât live up to the promise of this fleet-footed opening. Set mostly within the confines of one hotel room and featuring sex workers, a Mexican delivery boy, wealthy businessmen, and other roughly sketched characters from the contemporary political imagination, Tukel seems to be aiming for a broad comedy of manners in the key of Whit Stillman and early Richard Linklater, but there isnât enough attention to detail, sense of place, or joie de vivre to make his scenarios come to life.
The narrative revolves around Cameron (Dylan Baker), a friendly but obnoxious Trump supporter. Holed up in the hotel room where heâs been living since breaking up with his wife, he invites various visitors to share tequila shots and lines of coke in celebration of Trumpâs victory, while he holds forth on such hot-button topics as racial hierarchies, gun control, and gender roles. Baker delivers a spirited performance as Cameron, but the character is little more than a one-dimensional stand-in for a particular reactionary attitude, especially compared to the more nuanced and conflicted figures he interacts with. As the script isnât bold enough to dig into the deeper emotional appeal of Trumpâs nationalistic fervor and old-school machismo, Cameronâs smug, pseudo-intellectual cynicism is mostly unconvincing.
Tukel realizes one of his few visual flourishes through the TV in Cameronâs hotel room, which switches itself on at random and plays footage in reverse, transfixing whoever happens to be watching. This works well as a metaphor for the re-emergence of political beliefs most people thought to be gone for good, as well as the regression that many of the characters are undergoing in the face of an uncertain future. It provides a hint of the more affecting film that The Misogynists could have been had it transcended the staginess of its setup.
Though the filmâs dialogue rarely offers enough intellectual insights to justify a general feeling of artificiality, it does effectively evoke the media-poisoned discourse-fatigue thatâs afflicted us all since before Trump even decided to run for public office. The film shows people across the political spectrum who appear to have argued themselves into a corner in an effort to make sense of their changing society, and their failure to live up to their own beliefs seems to be contributing further to their unhappiness.
Going even further than this, one of the escorts, Sasha (Ivana MiliÄeviÄ), hired by Cameron offers up whatâs perhaps the filmâs thesis statement during an argument with her Muslim cab driver, Cairo (Hemang Sharma). She insists on her right to criticize whoever she wants, claiming that âAmericans wouldnât have anything to talk aboutâ without this right. This idea of conflict being preferable to silence ties into the ambiguous denouement of The Misogynists. Tukel ultimately seems to suggest that the freedom so many Americans insist upon as the most important value is, in fact, so lonely and terrifying that even the spectacle of the world falling apart is a reassuring distraction.
Cast: Dylan Baker, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Ivana Milicevic, Lou Jay Taylor, Matt Walton, Christine Campbell, Nana Mensah, Rudy De La Cruz, Hemang Sharma, Cynthia Thomas, Darrill Rosen, Karl Jacob, Matt Hopkins Director: Onur Tukel Screenwriter: Onur Tukel Distributor: Factory 25, Oscilloscope Laboratories Running Time: 85 min Rating: NR Year: 2017
Review: Downhill Is a Watered-Down Imitation of a True Provocation
Downhill never makes much of an impact as it moves from one mildly amusing cringe-comedy set piece to the next.2
Ruben Ăstlundâs 2014 film Force Majeure brims with precisely calibrated depictions of human miseryâshots that capture, with a mordant, uncompromising eye, the fragility of contemporary masculinity and the bitter resentments underlying the veneer of domestic contentment. The observations it makes about male cowardice and the stultifying effects of marriage arenât exactly new, but Ăstlund lends them an indelibly discomfiting vigor through his rigorous yet playful compositions. Given the clarity of that vision, it probably goes without saying that Nat Faxon and Jim Rashâs Downhill, an Americanized remake of Ăstlundâs film, faced an uphill battle to not seem like an act of redundancy.
Downhill not only borrows the basic outlines of Force Majeureâs plot, but also attempts to mimic its icily cynical sense of humor. The result is a pale imitation of the real thing that never builds an identity of its own. Like its predecessor, Downhill tracks the fallout from a single catastrophically gutless moment, in which Pete (Will Ferrell), the patriarch of an upper-class American family on a ski holiday in the Alps, runs away from an oncoming avalanche, leaving his wife, Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and two sons, Finn and Emerson (Julian Grey and Ammon Jacob Ford), behindâthough not before grabbing his phone.
This scene, which Ăstlund covers in a single indelible long take in Force Majeure, is broken up here into a conventional series of shots. Itâs reasonably well-constructed, and it effectively sets up the chain of events that follow, but perhaps inevitably, it doesnât carry the same weight. And the same is true of so much of Downhill as it moves from one mildly amusing cringe-comedy set piece to the next, never making much of an impact.
Comedy of discomfort usually depends on the willingness to linger on an awkward moment, to make it impossible for us to shake off that discomfort. But Faxon, Rash, and co-screenwriter Jesse Armstrong lack the courage of their convictions. They craft some truly cringe-inducing scenarios, such as an explosive debate between Pete and Billie as they attempt to convince a couple of friends, Rosie and Zach (Zoe Chao and Zach Woods), whose version of events about the avalanche is correct. But they donât give us enough time or space to soak in the uneasy atmosphere. During the debate, for example, Billie rouses Finn and Emerson and has them testify before Rosie and Zach that her memory is correct. But almost as soon as the sheer inappropriateness of the decision to bring her kids into the center of a brutal marital dispute hits us, the moment has passed, and the film has moved on to the next gag.
Itâs hard not to feel like Faxon and Rash are pulling their punches, perhaps anxious that going a little too dark or getting a bit too uncomfortable might upset the delicate sensitivities of an American audience. Rather than really dig into the marital strife at the heart of the filmâs premise, theyâre mostly content to step back and let Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus do their thing. And the two actors bounce off each other with a pleasantly nervous energy, Ferrellâs clammy desperation so well contraposed to Louis-Dreyfusâs rubber-faced emoting.
Ferrell plays Pete as a man terrified of his own feelings, unable to reveal his deep insecurities to anyone, including himself. Louis-Dreyfus, on the other hand, wears every emotion, however fleeting, right on her face, which is in a state of constant flux. Throughout Downhill, Billieâs emotions range from unease to anger to self-doubt to pity, often in the span of seconds. More than anything else, itâs Louis-Dreyfusâs performance that sticks with you after the film is over.
If Force Majeure was essentially a film about male cowardice, Downhill is in many ways about the lies women must tell themselves to remain sane in a manâs world. Itâs apt, then, that one of the pivotal images in Ăstlundâs film is that of the husbandâs pathetically weeping face as he breaks down in a fit of self-loathing in front of his wife, and that the most lasting image in this remake is the look of shock, confusion, and rage on Billieâs face as Pete tells her the same. Unfortunately, itâs one of the few truly striking and meaningful images in the entire film.
Cast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell, Miranda Otto, Zoe Chao, Zach Woods, Julian Grey, Kristofer Hivju, Ammon Jacob Ford, Giulio Berruti Director: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash Screenwriter: Jesse Armstrong, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash Distributor: Searchlight Pictures Running Time: 86 min Rating: R Year: 2020
Wes Andersonâs The French Dispatch, a Tribute to Journalists, Gets First Trailer
Andersonâs latest is described as a âlove letter to journalists.â
Today, Searchlight Pictures debuted the trailer for The French Dispatch, Wes Andersonâs first feature since 2018âs Isle of Dogs and first live-action film since 2014âs The Grand Budapest Hotel. According to its official description, The French Dispatch âbrings to life a collection of stories from the final issue of an American magazine published in a fictional 20th-century French city.â The city is Ennui-sur-BlasĂ© and the magazine is run by Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), an American journalist based in France. The trailer, just a hair over two minutes, quickly establishes the workaday (and detail-rich) world of a magazine, a travelogue struggling with just how much politics to bring to its pages during a time of strife.
A French Dispatch is written and directed by Anderson, whose described the film as a âlove letter to journalists,â and stars Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, LĂ©a Seydoux, Frances McDormand, TimothĂ©e Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson. See the trailer below:
Searchlight Pictures will release The French Dispatch on July 24.
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