One of the many residual effects of the massive success of the Star Wars trilogy was the boom of fantasy films that arrived in theaters in the mid-1980s. Movies such as Legend, Masters of the Universe, The NeverEnding Story, The Princess Bride, and others were all released within the span of a couple of years, and each to some degree featured sprawling sets, evocative atmospheres, and extensive use of prosthetics and puppets. These elements were staples of George Lucasâs storytelling, a quality that proved to be a strong companion to the Star Wars filmsâ grand visual and narrative design. It wasnât long after the trilogy had wrapped that even Lucas himself had dipped into the bankable commercial lore of fantasy moviemaking when he produced Jim Hensonâs 1986 film Labyrinth. His own contribution to the subgenre followed two years later at a time when fantasy appeared on the decline. With an original story by Lucas, Willow was met with widespread ambivalence upon its release. Retrospectively, however, the filmâs graceless hybrid of Star Wars-style mythmaking and leftovers from the short-lived fantasy period in commercial cinema that Lucas inspired offers a pointed reflection and portrait of the filmmaker that has grown more compelling as the full trajectory of Lucasâs career has emerged in view.
Of course, Lucas didnât direct Willow (weâll get to that later), but the film bears his authorial stamp almost immediately at the outset. In fact, you donât even need to see the trademark Lucasfilm logo to sense the filmmakerâs touch. The setting and storytelling influences may diverge from those of Star Wars, but the same propensity for merging age-old legends is evident. Instead of drawing from Joseph Campbell and Akira Kurosawa, Lucas and screenwriter Bob Dolman fold elements of the Grimm brothers and J.R.R. Tolkien into a nakedly bibilical framework. Take the prologue: Willow opens on the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh), who orders the slaughter of all newborns for fear of a prophecy predicting the usurping of her power. But the blatant bibilical allusion doesnât end there. Lucas and Dolman also add a dash of Moses for good measure, when a baby born in secret is placed into a basket and floated down a river. Then, after the baby is discovered by Hobbit-esque folk called Nelwyns, Willow shifts into Star Wars mode, slowing down to allow the larger world to develop.
wThe structural resemblances to Star Wars thicken as the plot develops, particularly in the department of character dynamics. For example, after the title character (Warwick Davis) resigns himself to protecting the baby, he meets the wise-cracking Han Solo-esque Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), a man who proves his value in a fight, but whose loyalties are in question. Other Star Wars touches abound, from the sidekick duo (half of which is played by a young Kevin Pollak) standing in for C-3P0 and R2-D2 to the sub-villain General Kael (i.e., Darth Skeletor), who inexplicably dons a black cape and skull mask while marching around looking intimidating despite not accomplishing much of anything. (To be fair though, Darth Vader didnât do very much in the original Star Wars either.)
All of this would otherwise be acceptable if Willow carried off a modicum of Star Warsâs charms. Outside of the earnest and grounding turn by Davis, however, the characters and accompanying performances are uniformly maladroit, particularly Kilmerâs bumbling warrior. Beyond the scope of characterization, the film exhibits a nearly complete absence of rhythm, both within individual scenes and as a whole. That grating quality comes courtesy of director Ron Howard, who has an eye for elegant visuals, but lacks the sense of movement and pacing from shot to shot and scene to scene thatâs so integral to allowing a story as absurd as this to dig in and embed itself on the imagination.
The film is better off working from the straight fantasy mode rather than emulating Star Wars. It showcases technical bravura in the form of meticulously crafted special effects (such as the two-headed dragon that appears during the filmâs high point) and a lush James Horner score. Willow is also notable for its charming early scenes starring dozens of little people. But these highlights only underline the filmâs fundamental faults. With each shapeless chase and action set piece that ensues, the sheer misjudgment of the attempt to fashion Star Wars in a new package becomes more obvious and aggressively overshadows Davisâs strong lead performance and the production polish of the fantasy elements.
Given the directorial deficiencies on display, it would be easy to pin Willowâs broader failures on Howard. But the real blame falls on Lucas, who was known for unmistakable attention to detail, but instead seemed satisfied offering up a shoddy replica of a proven formula in the most convenient narrative scenario. Willow spelled the end of a fad that Lucas helped initiate, and it was just the beginning of the public criticism that Lucas received in the years to follow. He has earned harsh criticism for selling out on good storytelling in place of toy sales and finding new ways to package his older works to maximize profits. Astute filmgoers claim evidence of these developments in Return of the Jedi, but a more apt summation of Lucasâs shifting priorities is Willow, a cold calculation of a film that isnât so much a signal of a filmmakerâs waning touch as waning interest.
I donât doubt that Lucas believes in his stories. His Star Wars prequel trilogy is, after all, an expensive display of a man cocooned from outside voices. But those films also conveyed the wistful sensibility of an artist trying almost desperately to rekindle the passion that enabled him to build a commercial empire that eventually detached him from that very passion. But if the prequel trilogy represents Lucasâs self-conscious attempt to recapture the days before he transitioned from artist to mogul, then Willow is the tragic statement of a mogul who had us all think that he was still an artist.
Ted Pigeon is author of the blog The Cinematic Art. He also contributed to the Cinephilia in the Age of Digital Reproduction: Film, Pleasure and Digital Culture, Vol. 2.
Review: Charlieâs Angels Has Good Intentions but Lives in La-La Land
All the feminist virtue-signaling in the world canât conceal the filmâs creative conservatism.1.5
As a minor cultural institution, Charlieâs Angels has, in all its TV and film incarnations, operated as a kind of Rorschach test: Fans see it flying the female empowerment flag by bringing women into the traditionally male detective genre, while critics by and large view it as a symptom of feminist backlash, objectifying its stars in the service of campy male fantasy. Now, by diversifying its cast and placing a female writer-director, Elizabeth Banks, at its helm, the new Charlieâs Angels attempts to remove all political doubt: These Angels are woke and answer to no man, not even one issuing orders from a speaker box. The intention is pure, but in the end, the emancipatory aims of this reboot exist only in la-la land, its feminism failing to resonate beyond the cynicism of corporate rebranding.
Mostly remembered as a montage of iconic images, the 1970s Aaron Spelling-produced TV series was actually a bore, its success depending solely on the charisma of its lead actresses; the two early-aughts films, both directed by McG, were 100% cheesecake, hypersexualizing its actresses in what amounted to glorified music videos. The new Charlieâs Angels moves well and at least puts forth a semblance of reality, with a few moments hinting at the tense, moody spy thriller it might have been. Yet the dominant strain of its DNA is the Generic Action Movie, and all the feminist virtue-signaling in the world canât conceal its creative conservatism.
The plot centers on the usual stuff of spies and saboteurs. Not yet an official Angel, Elena (Naomi Scott) works for a company thatâs run by an Elon Musk type (Sam Claflin) and creates an electronics product that possesses deadly potential. When her superiors bury her report on its risks, Elena enlists the AngelsâSabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska)âto help blow the whistle. But sinister parties, of course, want the gadget for themselves, and most of the film consists of a series of car chases, break-ins, and stakeouts as the Angels pursue the MacGuffin in the name of global security. Speaking of global: Charlieâs private investigation firm is now an international business, with multiple Bosleys leading their own teams of lady spies. And in a first for the franchise, our Angelsâ Bosley is played by a woman (Banks).
Indeed, the film has a female-led, rather than female-focused, bent. Having nothing to do with the story, the opening credits sequence features a celebratory montage of girls from around the world, and the finale and end credits reveal Charlieâs agency to be run by women, a far cry from the TV seriesâs patriarchal framing: âOnce upon a time there were three little girlsâŠnow they work for me. My name is Charlie.â Banksâs coup de grace âtwistâ on the Charlieâs Angels formula is diversity in casting, as the Angels are played by one out actress and two of color.
Stewart is the filmâs most potentially interesting presence. In the opening scene, Sabina seduces a bad guy by wearing an ultra-femme disguise that includes a cascade of flowing blond hair, and when removing it to enter fight mode, she reveals a dyed, short-cropped butch âdo. Yet the rest of the film fails to develop the code-switching possibilities of her character or anyone elseâs. Thereâs a slew of nearly preternatural wardrobe changes (at one point, Sabina dons a jockeyâs outfit for some reason), but thatâs been par for the course in the world of Charlieâs Angels since the Ford administration, with much of the franchiseâs appeal residing in the material fetishism attendant in an endless game of dress-up. Like their predecessors, these Angels look glamorous and gorgeous while fighting crime, and while Stewartâs queerness may qualify her objectification, and actually makes her more of a subject (as when she sneaks a lascivious peek at an attractive woman), itâs only in a relative sense. Overall, her on-screen appearance is lensed as much for exploitative pleasure as vicarious admiration.
One major appeal of the Charlieâs Angels properties is seeing men consistently underestimate the physical and intellectual capability of its female leads. But because she dares nothing visually or dramatically original, Banks prevents the Angels from exhibiting unique or surprising traits. The Angelsâ bios are strictly single-line affairs: Sabina is rebellious and sarcastic, Jane is steely and professional, and Elena is goofy and wide-eyed. And all of them quip and banter in similarly sitcom-ish rhythms. Ultimately, Banks believes itâs enough that queer and brown women perform the same suspense-free action set pieces and combat choreography that their white male counterparts have performed since time immemorial.
In contrast to McGâs films, which took place in the realm of a live-action candy-colored cartoon, the world of this Charlieâs Angels vaguely resembles our own, giving Banks the opportunity to show what realâor at least real-erâwomen can do in seriously intense and perilous situations. But save for a few stressed situations and unique notes (such as Luis Gerardo MĂ©ndezâs Q-like Saint, whoâs both the Angelsâ weapons expert and their health advisor and spiritual guru), this film is so much disposable entertainment. Itâs too frenetic, tongue in cheek, and impersonal to extend its vague feminism to true individualism.
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Elizabeth Banks, Patrick Stewart, Djimon Hounsou, Sam Claflin, Noah Centineo, Jonathan Tucker, Nat Faxon, Chris Pang, Luis Gerardo MĂ©ndez Director: Elizabeth Banks Screenwriter: Elizabeth Banks Distributor: Columbia Pictures Running Time: 118 min Rating: PG-13 Year: 2019 Buy: Soundtrack
Interview: Lauren Greenfield on The Kingmaker and Threats to Democracy
Greenfield discusses how the film relates to her body of work and the warnings Americans ought to heed from it.
When it comes to documenting stories about the dark underbelly of wealth in contemporary society, Lauren Greenfield is like a moth drawn to a flame. A photographer by trade who has ventured into documentary filmmaking, Greenfield broke out in 2012 with The Queen of Versailles, a âriches-to-ragsâ tale of how billionaire Florida couple Jackie and Robert Siegel attempted to build an American equivalent to Versailles. Their absurd ambition amounts to their folly as construction kicks off at the height of the Great Recession and strains their precarious finances, leaving the mansion unfinished. Greenfield continued this theme in her 2018 documentary Generation Wealth, a companion film to her monograph of the same name that follows multiple less bombastic tales of how an unfettered pursuit of opulence and glamour results in deep emptiness.
Greenfieldâs new documentary, The Kingmaker, began with her interest in another powerful symbol for the hollowness of wealth and power. In the Philippines, former First Lady Imelda Marcos evicted the native population of Calauit Island, located in the Calamian Archipelago, and replaced the inhabitants with African animals. Though the regime of her husband, Ferdinand E. Marcos, fell and drove the family into exile and disrepute, the animals remained. Generations later, the creaturesâ inbreeding and the general disarray of the islandâs ecosystem appears to be a fitting testament to the corruption and incompetence of their rule.
And yet, once Greenfield began to sit with the octogenarian Imelda Marcos, she found a subject spinning an alternate story, as well as a populace willing to believe it. The Kingmaker portrays the unfolding of a terrifying period in the history of the Philippines of how a political dynasty can rewrite the history of human rights abuses and corruption in order to return to power. While events continue to unfold in the country, the necessary forces and people are in place to pave the way for Imeldaâs son, Bongbong Marcos, to assume the presidency in 2022.
I spoke with Greenfield prior to The Kingmakerâs premiere at DOC NYC to discuss how the documentary relates to her body of work as a whole as well as the warnings Americans ought to heed from it as a similar political dynamic to the one in the Philippines develops stateside.
Youâve said elsewhere that you liked Imelda on a personal level, but much like The Queen of Versailles, The Kingmaker itself remains a little ambiguous so the audience can come to their own conclusions about the subject. How do you finesse that ambiguity in your filmmaking and in the editing process?
Itâs a little bit different with Imelda Marcos because I came in knowing the history. I was more interested in the paradox between the fact that when youâre with her, sheâs kind and generous and personable, versus the terrible consequences of the huge human rights abuses she was complicit with. It wasnât like, âOh, I think sheâs nice, letâs let the audience come to that conclusion.â I felt journalistically, ethically, and historically that I need to give the audience the information so they could see that what she was doing was telling untruths. So they could see that she was an unreliable narrator. Thatâs why, when I realized that about her, I brought in other voices that the audience would instinctively feel are credible.
Itâs a little bit of a different journey because, in the beginning, youâre sucked into her personality, which is lovely and charismatic, and I wanted people to see that. It was the key to her political success. But, even by the end of the first act, when you know sheâs depopulated an indigenous population to bring in the animals to her pet project island, I think you canât abide by that anymore. By the time you hear about martial law and torture, youâre not thinking sheâs nice anymore. Jackie Siegel was another journey because you start out thinking sheâs horrible, and then you end up kind of rooting for her. For Imelda, I wanted to show her humanity, but itâs a paradox of how can a human do these terrible things and not feel any remorse.
When you started filming Imelda, you thought maybe the film would become a redemption story? At what point did you begin to realize that wasnât going to play out?
I was still hoping for it, even at the very endâthat maybe sheâd have some kind of revelation. I thought thereâd be a moment where sheâs like, âOh, I didnât see it that way.â But looking back now, I was being naĂŻve. Of course, this is not her first rodeo. Sheâs talked to the press a million times. During the election, I realized they were just going to lean into their story. There was a TV interview that Bongbong did, and the reporter said, âAre you going to say youâre sorry? Are you going to say youâre sorry for martial law?â Thatâs what people really wanted, for him to apologize. And he said, âWhat do I have to apologize for? Should I apologize for the roads? The infrastructure? The building that happened during that period? If I hurt somebody, I would apologize, but what do I have to apologize for?â When I heard that a few months into the election campaign, I realized they were going to lean into the story, into their rewriting of history that those were the good times, and they werenât going to apologize. Itâs kind of a Trumpian move: never apologize, never say youâre wrong, just say, âIt was good, it was great!â And then people will eventually believe you.
Isnât the film, at least for Imelda, a redemption story? Sheâs restoring honor to the family name and, in doing so, putting some power behind their wealth, which has become a little toothless in the absence of actual clout.
Well, she is trying to whitewash history. Thatâs her goal, politically, and itâs why she chose to participate in the film. She wants to put out her version of the Marcos legacy. Thatâs not what I meant by âredemption story.â I meant her having a moral moment of realizing sheâs done something wrong. She does tell herself that sheâs doing something good. I do believe she thinks sheâs doing good, and that she believes her own story.
Everyone tells themselves a story of their life that makes sense, but the difference between the visions of grandeur of people like Imelda and Jackie Siegel and the average person is that they can manipulate reality to become their fantasy using wealth.
Her story helps her survive. It pushes her to keep going. Deep down, she feels like sheâs doing the right thing. If she felt like she was doing terrible things, it would get in her way. Itâs a strategic story that helps her live with it and get a young electorate on board for a comeback.
I found it a little difficult to discern toward the end: Does Imelda and the rest of the Marcos family see the contradictions in boosting a candidate like Rodrigo Duterte, who runs against the perceived corruption of a system only to re-legitimize a self-dealing former dynasty? Or is the irony completely lost on them?
Iâm not sure that thereâs a lot of irony there. Even though he pretends heâs one of the people, working class, talks trash, and swears, heâs actually from a place of privilege. Thereâs also a lot of corruption going on in this government. When Bongbong was campaigning, he also said he was going to go against corruption. Thatâs what everybody says. The reality is that Duterteâs father was in Ferdinand Marcosâs cabinet. Duterte looks up to Marcos. Heâs threatened martial law. He likes the idea of the strongman. So, I think that theyâre pretty aligned.
I was more surprised that Bongbong would align with Duterte because Bongbong was Western-educated and has the veneer of a legitimate politician, so I was surprised that he would go with somebody responsible for so many street killings. But, at the end of the day, itâs political. They made an alliance thatâs helped them both. They could give Duterte support for becoming president, and in return they got the heroâs burial that Imelda has wanted for decades. Duterte backed the sister, Imee, for senate, and she wonâas did every candidate that Duterte backed. Going into the next election, Duterteâs backing is extremely important.
A thread through your work is that people suffering from the adverse effects of wealth tend to cast themselves as victims in their own stories. From your experience, do you think that narrative holds any water? Or is it just a survival technique?
Yeah, I donât think we need to shed any tears for Imelda. What Iâm trying to do here, and in Generation Wealth, is to focus on the one percent and look at how it affects everybody else. Thatâs the important thing: looking at the long-term consequences of the Marcos regime and how the abuse of wealth and power affects everybody else. I came in looking at that through the animal island, but thatâs really symbolic for how the Philippines was hurt by how the Marcos family, in taking five to 10 billion dollars, hurt development, created persistent poverty, and made the people vulnerable to bringing back another strongman and supporting people like Bongbong Marcos, but especially Duterte. Benigno Aquino, the president when I was filming and son of opposition leader Ninoy Aquino, said his father told him you canât have democracy when youâre hungry. Thatâs what we see in the Philippines, democracy being threatened because peopleâs basic needs are not being met.
It almost feels like weâre doomed to live in a plutocracy forever.
Thatâs the irony. Thatâs what was so sad. Itâs also similar to Trump, as peopleâs needs were not being met, so they voted for change only to have somebody whoâs really on the side of the wealthy. Itâs ironic that these people get brought in by the support of the working class. But in the Philippines, youâre not even talking about the working class. Youâre talking about deep, deep poverty where people are getting money, food, or clothing in exchange for votes. And especially without proper information, the history not being taught in the schoolbooks or not as many outlets of independent journalism, itâs very hard for a democracy to thrive.
Youâve noted that Imelda is yet another adherent of the âdictator chicâ styleâthe gauche, in-your-face extravagance that attracts aspiring autocrats from Trump to Saddam Hussein. As someone who observes the intersection of wealth and aesthetics, do you have any theories about why this phenomenon cuts across the globe?
In a way, that was a little bit more of what I looked at in Generation Wealth. Thereâs an aspirational nobility that people with power want, like being a king or a queen. You see that in the portrait of Imelda at the beginning of the film and in some of the commissioned portraiture she didâand, for that matter, some of what the Siegels did. You can see the love for gold that Trump has. I think itâs an association with nobility, especially for the nouveau riche and people who are ambitiously climbing their way up.
As someone whoâs studied and documented wealth across the world, what do you make of this moment in America where it seems like a large portion of the country worships an opulent, self-proclaimed wealthy leader and another large portion finds inspiration in politicians who are rallying people against the idea of concentrated wealth?
Well, I definitely think weâre at a really precarious time at the moment, because the amount of inequality we have right now is dangerous for any society or democracy. And dangerous economically. We have this myth of the American dream where anyone can go from rags to riches. I think thatâs whatâs standing between us and revolution, even though many people are not sharing in the spoils of our economy. Itâs because of this âkeeping up with the Kardashiansâ mindset. In Generation Wealth, I looked at how in the space of a generation, people went from âkeeping up with the Joneses,â their neighbors, to keeping up with the Kardashians, these ultra-wealthy people they see on TV. Itâs so unrealistic, and yet thereâs this deep myth in the culture that you can become that one day, through a reality show or whatever it is. Obama called that out more than two decades ago when he was a lawyer. The thing about Donald Trump is that people think they can be him one day, or maybe their child can be him. Thereâs this illusion that keeps people accepting the status quo.
And then I think thereâs a waking up happening, particularly among young people, that thatâs not going to happen, and that thereâs some real rot. The game is rigged, and what theyâre telling us is the goalâbeing richâisnât actually making people happy. Especially on the millennial side, there are signs of people waking up and wanting something different. The problem is that the culture and corporate capitalism are so slanted toward keeping the status quo. Just money in politics, for example, and the disinformation from social media. We saw it in the Philippines, we saw it here, we saw it with Brexit. Thatâs the thing Andy Bautista [former head of the Philippinesâ Presidential Commission on Good Government] keeps telling me about the Philippines: If you have money, you have speech because you can put forward lies on social media and convince people of that. And itâs kind of like that here as well.
Review: The Hottest August Is a Rich Patchwork of Discontented Voices
Brett Storyâs documentary represents a city ground down by inequality and division.3
Throughout The Hottest August, director Brett Story asks her interview subjectsâa collection of mostly working-class, outer-borough residents of New York Cityâfor their feelings about the future. More interesting than these peopleâs answers are the way their faces change as they process the question, invariably morphing into an ironic smirk. From there, the responses are despairing, even at their most hopeful, as nearly every subject answers with a summation of their career goals or their desire to earn more money.
Our collective failure to reckon with the onward march of climate change and vulture capitalism is the often unspoken subject of this structuralist documentary, which was filmed over the course of August 2017. Though Story makes her themes clear in a voiceover narrative (recited by Clare Coulter) that combines the directorâs own writings with those of Karl Marx, Zadie Smith, and Annie Dillard, the people in The Hottest August have other things on their minds. A college student who works at a call center for wealthy investors describes herself as an âentrepreneur,â while a man driving a food truck has to move out of his apartment the following day without having found a new home. Periodically, the artist Ayodamola Okunseinde wanders the streets as a character he calls âThe Afronaut,â clad in an Afro-futuristic spacesuit designed to encourage others to consider their own futures.
Even without this surreal image, the filmâs photography (by Derek Howard) has an alien vibe, emphasizing humans that look rather small amid the buildings, beaches, and blockades they navigate every day. Apart from a â20s-themed costume party on Governorâs Island, a few public parks, and, of course, a subway car, most of the landscapes in The Hottest August are weirdly underpopulated. This is appropriate for a film that seems equally inspired by Chris Markerâs sci-fi-inflected essay films and Jean Rouch and Edgar Morinâs Chronicle of a Summer, and also for a work that must invariably address the gentrification of New Yorkâs neighborhoods.
The middle- and upper-class New Yorkers glimpsed in The Hottest August are most often seen peering through windows or standing in desolate corporate courtyards. Gridlike compositions of air-conditioning units are dotted with running flat-screen televisions or films projected onto white walls. The public square is hard to locate, and Story finds them where she can: a Black Lives Matter rally where black speakers address an overwhelmingly white crowd; a Staten Island cop bar where politics are deemed verboten until one ex-police officer goes on a rant against a mythical welfare queen; a recreational softball league that descends into a near brawl; or the beach, where most of the subjects Story talks to are underemployed.
Near the beach in the Rockaways, one small home has been raised multiple stories on stacks of wooden pallets. Those closest to the water ignore post-Hurricane Sandy evacuation notices and dismiss climate change as Al Goreâs ploy to get rich and speaking with certainty that the hurricaneâs status as a â100-year stormâ means that theyâre safe for another century. Thatâs not the most immediate delusion to be found in The Hottest August, which spends a few scenes with working-class Italian-American couple who gradually express their frustration with a diversifying neighborhood, culminating in an actual âIâm not racist, butâ monologue.
Where Storyâs previous film, The Prison in Twelve Landscapes, meticulously depicted how the tentacles of mass incarceration creep into civic life, The Hottest August is a more loosely guided snapshot of generalized resentment. People are mad at the rich, who they also want to be. And then there are those clever enough to seek to profit from the ambient rage of the era: an entrepreneur who runs an industrial space where clients can destroy everything in sight, or a hipster from a VR company who barely believes his own bullshit about the automation revelation yielding a universal basic income where all will be free to do as they please.
With The Hottest Summer, Story puts on display a New York City thatâs very different from the one depicted in Frederick Wisemanâs In Jackson Heights, where every corner and office is teeming with representations of active, often progressive political and social discourse. While there are moments of grace and whimsy in here (a woman on a bench texting next to a duck, a smart young skateboarder who rides Story for interviewing some loudmouthed teens in the same park), the documentary represents a city ground down by inequality and division, where millions of selves who have by and large given up on one another.
Director: Brett Story Distributor: Grasshopper Film
Review: I Lost My Body Finds Poetry in Tracing Lifeâs Uncertainties
It focuses equally on moments of shared connection and incidental loss until the two feel indistinguishable.3
Naofel (Hakim Faris) has a small birthmark between the knuckles of his right handâs pointer and middle fingers. This would be the appendageâs most distinctive characteristic if not for the fact that, after being severed from Naofelâs body, it develops a will of its own. Throughout I Lost My Body, the hand skitters around of its own accord, using its fingers to crawl out of the hospital lab where it was kept following Naofelâs grim accident. JĂ©rĂ©my Clapinâs animated film chronicles the journey of that hand through, among other places, the rooftops and gutters of Paris, into a river and across a highway, in an attempt to reunite with its owner, dodging animals and cars along the way.
Do hands have memories? Naofelâs right hand certainly seems to. As the wayward appendage propels itself through the air with an open umbrella or flicks a lighter to fend off a bunch of subway rats, flashbacks recall the young manâs troubled, lonely life. He feels adrift, barely present in a world that seems only to have harsh words and unhappiness for him. Heâs at odds with the relatives who took him in after the death of his parents in a car accident, and his half of a shared room is unfurnished save for the mattress placed directly on the floor. He works as a pizza delivery boy, but he isnât a particularly good one, as heâs often late and, in one scene, scatters his pizza boxes into the street after crashing his bike into a car.
Many of I Lost My Bodyâs flashbacks foreground Naofelâs hand as though presenting its perspective. People and objects loom above it, its digits taking up wide swaths of the frame as they cling with insect-like precision to boxes or hold a microphone in their grip. Tight close-ups capture the fingers tapping random objects or emerging from the sand, and there are even POV shots of the hand peeking out from a dumpster or prodding the plastic bag itâs wrapped in. These sequences are a great showcase for the filmâs subdued, naturalistic, and, above all, detail-rich hand-drawn animation: We see fidgeting fingers grabbing onto a locker door, a pigeon laboriously nudging the hand out of a gutter, and Naofel penciling lines onto blocks of wood that heâll later trace over with a saw in his woodworking apprenticeship.
The metaphor at the heart of the film seems deceptively obvious: disconnection from the world and other people, literalized through a hand severed from its rightful body. But Clapin complicates that metaphor every step of the way, as in a flashback where Naofelâs father explains to him that, in order to catch a fly, the boy must aim where the fly will be rather than where it is. But knowing how to catch the fly doesnât necessarily make the task any easier to accomplish, and the filmâs depiction of fate follows a similarly unpredictable trajectory.
Through images of loneliness, as in a wooden igloo cobbled together on a rooftop, I Lost My Body builds an atmosphere of isolation and, above all, uncertainty. Because while Naofel takes his fatherâs advice to heart, his own attempts to live unpredictably, ahead of fate, do not always work out for him. His infatuation with Gabrielle (Victoire Du Bois), initially so stirring as they close their eyes to listen to the rain and the wind from separate ends of an apartment intercom, goes in a few stalkerish directions. She rejects him for being a creep, and Naofel ironically comes to find fulfillment not in a relationship, as he had hoped, but in the woodworking he initially took up only to impress Gabrielle. I Lost My Body finds poetry in tracing lifeâs uncertainties, focusing equally on moments of shared connection and incidental loss until the two feel indistinguishable, as one part of a delicate whole.
Cast: Hakim Faris, Victoire Du Bois, Patrick d'AssumĂ§ao Director: JĂ©rĂ©my Clapin Screenwriter: JĂ©rĂ©my Clapin, Guillaume Laurant Distributor: Netflix Running Time: 81 min Rating: NR Year: 2019
Review: The Report Is Noncommittal on the Moral Morass of the Dubya Era
In the end, it canât help but sentimentalize the better angels that supposedly reside in the land of libertyâs flawed human fabric.2
The moral morass of the George W. Bush era is surveyed and scrutinized in writer-director Scott Z. Burnsâs The Report, a true-life docudrama that bears all the visually monochromatic, thematically jaundiced hallmarks of Burnsâs collaborations, as screenwriter, with Steven Soderbergh. Burns even manages to slightly best his mentor with his second solo feature. Compared to Burns and Soderberghâs most recent joint effortâthe feeble, scattershot Netflix-produced satire The LaundromatâThe Report zeroes in on its incendiary sociopolitical subject with laser focus. That still doesnât mean it adequately challenges preconceived notions about an especially dark period in American history.
The filmâs title refers to the Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agencyâs Detention and Interrogation Program, a 6,700-page document that took a long, hard, and unflattering look at the C.I.A.âs post-9/11 use of detention and tortureâor, in politico parlance, âenhanced interrogation techniques.â Daniel Jones, the committeeâs lead investigator, is the protagonist, and heâs played by Adam Driver with a reserved sternness and solemnity thatâs occasionally leavened by full-throated flashes of righteous indignation. Jones is all work, no play, and itâs evident that Burns intends this forbearing crusader as an audience surrogate. Yet Daniel mostly remains a cipher, a human enigma attempting, with Sisyphean effort, to expose and unravel the most sadistic and inhumane institutional practices.
It can be fascinating, of course, to watch a film thatâs purely about process, revealing of the ways that those tied to an operation come off as cogs in a Moloch-like machine. And it helps, at least initially, that Driver is so good at conveying a total single-mindedness. When Jones looks around the cloistered, colorless basement office that will serve as headquarters for his investigation, heâs like an artist glancing at a blank canvas. For Jones, the swamp isnât something to be drained, but to dip his brush in. And heâs painting a picture for an audience that, for the most part, is likely to undercut and minimize his efforts.
Burns is clearly reappropriating and remixing cinematic lessons learned from Alan J. Pakulaâs starry Watergate exposĂ© All the Presidentâs Men. Jonesâs boss, senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening, letting her wig do most of the acting), assumes the role of Ben Bradlee-esque overseer. Archival footage of many of the big names in the torture debate (such as Dubya and Dick Cheney) is peppered throughout. And thereâs even a paranoia-tinged encounter between Jones and a Deep Throat-like figure played with nauseated edge by Tim Blake Nelson.
The margins of The Report are filled to the brim with character actors doing creditably yeoman work, among them Corey Stoll as Cyrus Clifford, Jonesâs pragmatic lawyer, Jon Hamm as chiding National Security Adviser Denis McDonough, Ted Levine as officious C.I.A. Director John Brennan, and Matthew Rhys as a New York Times reporter desperate for a scoop. Elsewhere, Maura Tierney and Michael C. Hall, as a pair of ideologically adaptable bureaucrats, headline the sections of the decade-plus narrative that detail the nitty gritty of the enhanced interrogation program, waterboarding most definitely included.
Cinematographer Eigil Bryld shoots these latter sequences with a sickly green-orange tinge that one supposes is meant to convey ethical queasiness. Whereas the scenes featuring Jones and his team poring over papers and presenting their findings to functionaries in various stages of outrage (or not) tend toward the icy blues or the ultra-high-def neutrality of a David Fincher production. Ever-shifting color temperatures aside, The Report is rarely stimulating. Its conscious detachment from the events it portrays proves not so much analytical as noncommittal. The closest it comes to picking a side is a tossed-off moment in which Jones throws some scowling shade at a TV commercial for Kathryn Bigelowâs Zero Dark Thirty, which was rather unconvincingly sold during its release as a work of objective nonpartisanship.
Itâs strange, then, that Burns tosses a flagrantly uncritical bone in The Reportâs final scenes, as John McCain, often held up as a model of principled dissent, is shown passionately decrying the United Statesâs torture program on the Senate floor. As in many a Hollywood production about American transgression, Burns ultimately canât help but sentimentalize the better angels that supposedly reside in the land of libertyâs monumentally flawed human fabric.
Cast: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Ted Levine, Michael C. Hall, Tim Blake Nelson, Corey Stoll, Maura Tierney, Jon Hamm Director: Scott Z. Burns Screenwriter: Scott Z. Burns Distributor: Amazon Studios Running Time: 119 min Rating: R Year: 2019
The Best Stephen King Movies, Ranked
Weâve compiled the best feature-length adaptations of Kingâs work, excluding the mostly mediocre TV adaptations.
Stephen King is one of the most influential of all contemporary writers, an artist who followed Richard Mathesonâs example in wedding irrational horror with the surreal minutiae of everyday American life. The most distinctive elements of Kingâs remarkably vast bibliographyâhis exacting and uncanny empathy for working-class people and his loose, pop-culture-strewn proseâare rarely accounted for in the dozens of films that have been made from his novels and stories, which often predictably emphasize his propulsive plotting. Consequently, these adaptations often resemble routine genre films with a smattering of Kingâs dialogue, which sounds better on the page than when performed by often self-conscious actors who look as if theyâd rather be anywhere than trapesing around a simulation of Kingâs beloved Maine. But a number of excellent films have been made from the authorâs writing, either by doubling down on the neurotic naĂŻvetĂ© of the authorâs Americana or by striking new ground, recognizing that a good film needs to be a movie, rather than a literal-minded act of CliffsNotes-style embalming. To commemorate the recent release of Cell, weâve compiled the 10 best feature-length adaptations of Kingâs work, excluding the countless, mostly mediocre TV adaptations.
Editorâs Note: This article was originally published on July 8, 2015.
10. Stand by Me (1986)
Those who accuse Stand by Me of indulging shameless boomer nostalgia are missing the point, as thatâs precisely what the film is about. Director Rob Reiner dials down the violent hopelessness of Kingâs source material (the novella The Body), but still emphasizes the cruelty and loneliness that mark four boysâ coming-of-age odyssey to see the corpse of a young man nearly their age. The film is framed as one of the grown boyâs remembrances, as he attempts to spin his unreconciled feelings into the more tangible stuff ofâŠcoming-of-age fiction. At times itâs hokey, and, yes, the soundtrack does some major emotional heavy lifting, but the feast of excellent acting compensates greatly, particularly by Wil Wheaton, Kiefer Sutherland, and River Phoenix. Stand by Me remains one of the best adaptations of Kingâs more sentimental non-horror writing, and itâs far superior to preachy, insidiously insulting staples like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.
9. Creepshow (1982)
Still one of the great comic-book movies in that it approximates the actual tactile act of reading and flipping through a magazine, ideally on a rainy Saturday afternoon with a can of soda by your side. George Romero directed from Kingâs original script, which pays homage to EC comics like Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror, and the filmmaker displays a visual confidence and tonal flexibility thatâs reminiscent of his Dawn of the Dead. The bright, deep, and garish cinematography is both beautiful and disturbing, enriching Kingâs gleefully vicious writing while providing a framework for the lively performances of a game, celebrity-rich cast. The film straddles an ideal line between straight-faced seriousness and parody, particularly in the unnerving climax of a story in which we can hear the pained gurgling of aquatic zombies.
8. Silver Bullet (1985)
A creepy drive-in horror movie that throws a werewolf into a boyâs sentimental coming-of-age tale. Based on Kingâs slim Cycle of the Werewolf, which was released with gorgeous illustrations by artist Bernie Wrightson, Silver Bullet weds evocative imagery with spare plotting that allows each scene to breathe, giving the film an nightmarish free-associative energy. There are several boffo sequences, particularly when the werewolf seizes a manâs baseball bat, his paw shown to be beating the man to death from below thick fog, or when the wolf is outsmarted by the protagonist, one of his eyes blown to pieces by a bottle rocket. Speaking of the monster, the movie has one of the great wolf designs, which suggests a huge, bitter, upstanding bear with a terrifying snout. The human identity of the creature is a great, characteristically blasphemous King twist.
7. Dolores Claiborne (1995)
Five years after her career-making performance in Misery, Kathy Bates returned to Stephen King territory with Dolores Claiborne, which, like the book, disappointed nearly everyone for not being a typical horror story, instead combining the traditions of martyred-woman melodrama with gothic mystery. Critics, who only seem capable of praising melodrama when itâs directed by one of their pre-approved canon placeholders (like Nicholas Ray or Douglas Sirk), also turned their noses up at Dolores Claiborne, and itâs a real shame. Both the novel and the film get at the heart of Kingâs preoccupations with sexism and classicism, spinning a fractured narrative of a mother, her daughter, the man who nearly ruined their lives, and the all-encompassing pitilessness of aging. Yes, the film is behaviorally broad, but this broadness is utilized by the reliably underrated director, Taylor Hackford, as a form of catharsis. And Batesâs performance as the titular character is positively poetic. Her delivery of a monologue about Doloresâs work routine particularly locate the weird, qualified dignity of thanklessness, reveling in the pride and transcendence that can be wrestled from menial-ness. Perhaps more than any other film on this list, Dolores Claiborne has the feel of Kingâs voice.
6. Misery (1990)
No one performs Kingâs dialogue like Kathy Bates. She embraces and owns the moving cuckoo logic of his best orations, understanding that theyâre almost always rooted in class anxiety. The most disturbing quality of Misery, both the novel and the film, is the fact that we relate to Annie Wilkes, psychotic ânumber one fanâ of author Paul Sheldon (superbly played in the film by James Caan), more than we do her victims. Bates is so intimately in tune with Annie that we feel for her when she fails to impress Paul, somehow temporarily forgetting that sheâs holding him hostage and torturing him. Annie is yet another of Kingâs unleashed nerds, a repressed soul seeking actualization, but she isnât sentimentalized, instead embodying the ferocious self-absorption that fuels obsession, leading to estrangement. Director Rob Reiner and screenwriter William Goldman regrettably trim Kingâs most ambitiously subjective material, but they compensate by focusing pronouncedly on the cracked love story at the narrativeâs center.
Review: Last Christmas Wears Its Sloppy Heart on Its Kitschy Sleeve
Thereâs a lack of concreteness about the story and characters that render its reiteration of Christmas lessons utterly toothless.1.5
Multiple times in Last Christmas, Kate and her immigrant parents (Emma Thompson and Boris Isakovic) say that they hail from the âformer Yugoslavia,â a rather outdated and strangely non-specific way of referring to their origins. When Kate comforts an Eastern European couple on the bus after theyâre accosted by a Brexiter, they excitedly but vaguely ask her, âYouâre from our country?â At this point, Last Christmas has begun to sound downright evasive, and you may wonder if the filmmakers even know where Kateâs family is supposed to come from. To screenwriters Bryony Kimmings and Emma Thompson, such details would appear to be extraneous to this anti-Brexit Christmas Carol. Merely tacking an affirmation of immigrant rights onto a familiar Christmas narrative about selflessness requires little more than an evocation of a general Slavic-ness about the characters.
Another element that Paul Feigâs film keeps pointedly indistinct is the nature of a recent illness that the twentysomething Kate (Emilia Clarke) has endured. Clearly depressed in the wake of a major health event, the aspiring singer is ostentatiously selfish, exploiting what remains of her friendsâ and her bossâs good will. Currently homeless, she travels with a roller suitcase from crash pad to crash pad, drinking heavily, bringing home one-night stands, and openly flirting with customers at work. Kate is employed full time at a Christmas shop in London whose wisecracking owner (Michelle Yeoh) goes by the name Santa. At one point, Santa expresses distress at Kateâs haggard, disheveled state because she doesnât want the young woman to drop dead. âI donât have enough tinsel to cover your body,â she worries.
The grounds for Santaâs concern that a woman in her mid-20s may be killed by the lifestyle lived by many Londoners in their mid-20s is left open because its ultimate reveal three-quarters of the way through the film points toward one of the silliest twist endings in recent memory. We only learn what happened to Kate when she reveals the scar from an operation to Tom (Henry Golding), the beautiful, saintly man she begins seeing after finding him bird-watching outside the Christmas shop. Suffice it to say, Last Christmas is âinspired byâ the Wham! song of the same name, specifically one lineâand one line onlyâfrom its chorus.
Kate loves George Michaelâone imagines she feels a bond with the late singer, the son of a Balkan immigrant himself, though the filmmakers leave this unexploredâand thus Last Christmas attempts to remake some of his most well-known songs into seasonally appropriate tunes. Obligatory montages to âFaithâ and âFreedomâ speed us through parts of Kateâs Tom-facilitated rehabilitation from cynical wastrel to Christmas-spirited patron of the homeless, though these segments are brief, cutting off the songs before we realize they have absolutely nothing to do with the jolly Christmas vibes that the film attempts to give off. Even âLast Christmasâ is only heard in snippets, lest we realize that the songâs lyrics have little to do with seasonal giving and charity, and everything to do with regret, hurt, and resentment.
Last Christmas counts on our absorbing the sugary sound of Michaelâs music but none of its substance. This is perhaps the filmâs fatal flaw, and itâs not unrelated to its evasiveness regarding Kateâs origins and its simplistic affirmation of liberal outrage at Brexit. Thereâs a lack of concreteness about the story and charactersâtrue from the beginning, but particularly after its last-act revealâthat render its reiteration of Christmas lessons utterly toothless.
Besides the general sound of Michaelâs music, Last Christmas clearly draws influence from classic Christmas-themed films like Itâs a Wonderful Life and The Shop Around the Corner. Such films, though, earned their Christmas miracles and holiday moralizing by grounding their stories in a sense of the community created by bonds between fully realized characters. Clarke works hard to make the messy, perpetually flustered Kate relatable, but the film surrounds the character with a community as kitschy and false as the trinkets she sells in Santaâs shop.
Cast: Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Emma Thompson, Michelle Yeoh, Boris Isakovic, Lydia Leonard Director: Paul Feig Screenwriter: Bryony Kimmings, Emma Thompson Distributor: Universal Pictures Running Time: 102 min Rating: PG-13 Year: 2019 Buy: Video
Review: Midway Delights in the Thrill of Battle Without Actual Peril
In the film, the Battle of Midway suggests something out of a photorealistic animated film.2
âWith the advent of CGI,â critic J. Hoberman writes in his 2012 book Film After Film: Or, What Became Of 21st Century Cinema?, âthe history of motion pictures was now, in effect, the history of animation.â Rarely has this point been more vividly illustrated than in Roland Emmerichâs slick historical combat epic Midway, in which the eponymous WWII naval battle is depicted with such an abundance of shimmery digital effects that it suggests something out of a photorealistic animated film.
Emmerich, a latter-day heir to the cinema-as-spectacle tradition of Cecil B. DeMille, employs special effects in Midway not to induce a sense of you-are-there verisimilitude, nor to exhilarate audiences with a series of death-defying stunts. Rather, the filmâs scenes of combat are more like elaborate paintings, similar in spirit and function to the cycloramas that were such popular attractions at the turn of the 20th century: vast panoramas that compact all the major highlights of a particular event into a single canvas.
Unlike Saving Private Ryan, thereâs no attempt here to key the viewer to the chaos and horror of battle. In fact, thereâs scarcely any blood to be found in Midway. In addition to the Battle of Midway, the film depicts the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, and other skirmishes in the Pacific during WWII, and these sequences, so bathed in honeyed sunlight, exude a sense of wide-eyed gee-whiz glee: all the fun of battle with none of the icky gore.
Midway is a paean to those brave American soldiers of the greatest generation, one that positions the brave sailors of the U.S. Navy as scrappy underdogs who, after the humiliating surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, make it their mission to avenge themselves on the Japanese. The film studiously avoids acknowledging anything about the era it depicts that might make its target audience (read: white History Channel-watching patriarchs) uncomfortable. Nowhere is this more evident than in its treatmentâor, rather, complete non-treatmentâof race. Emmerich not only completely sidesteps the issue of racial segregation in the military, black soldiers are completely unseen in the film, despite the fact that many African-Americans served on U.S. ships that fought at Midway, albeit primarily in support roles.
Though most of the filmâs characters, a bland succession of largely interchangeable good olâ boys, are based on real-life historical personages, Wes Tookeâs leaden screenplay renders them all as little more than stock war-movie types. Devil-may-care flyboy Dick Best (Ed Skrein), a â40s-era twist on Top Gunâs Maverick who gains some maturity when heâs promoted to command his own unit of pilots, is the closest thing that Midway has to a protagonist. Less flashy but similarly righteous is a naval intelligence officer, Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson), who fights the good fight against the bureaucracy in order to convince the higher-ups that the Japanese plan to attack the Midway atoll. Woody Harrelson also shows up looking tired and slightly lost as Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, while Dennis Quaid is saddled with the role of Vice Admiral Bull Halsey, whoâs mostly on hand to attest that shingles are absolutely terrible.
The Americans are all salty, gruff, and jokey, while the Japanese are somber and aphoristic, though both sides share a fondness for speaking in banal clichĂ©s. The script never invests us in any of these characters, failing to establish real narrative stakes for any of them. The plot is really little more than perfunctory filler between the battle sequences, which are peppered throughout the film with the regularity of dance numbers in a Rogers and Astaire musical.
Midway is reportedly a longtime passion project for Emmerich, for which he scraped together funds from a number of sources, making it one of the most expensive independent films of all time. (These funders included some Chinese equity firms, which may account for the presence of a completely tangential subplot involving Army Air Forces officer Jimmy Doolittle, played by Aaron Eckhart, bonding with oppressed peasants in Japanese-occupied China). But while Emmerichâs childlike excitement at the whiz-bang action of naval combat is palpable, the filmâs battle sequences lack any real suspense or sense of danger. In these moments, Midway suggests old newsreel footage come to life. The filmâs veneer may be unmistakably modern, but itâs no less devoted to promoting and flattering a certain idea of heroism, even as it keeps the men inside all those ships and planes at a distance from audiences.
Cast: Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, Aaron Eckhart, Nick Jonas, Mandy Moore, Woody Harrelson, Dennis Quaid, Darren Criss, Jake Weber, Brennan Brown, Alexander Ludwig, Tadanobu Asano, Keean Johnson, Luke Kleintank, Jun Kunimura, Etsushi Toyokawa, Brandon Sklenar, James Carpinello, Jake Manley Director: Roland Emmerich Screenwriter: Wes Tooke Distributor: Summit Entertainment Running Time: 138 min Rating: PG-13 Year: 2019 Buy: Soundtrack
Review: Klaus Gorgeously Grapples with the Reinvention of Tradition
Sergio Pablosâs film is essentially a metaphor for its own unique and refreshing mode of expression.3
From Genndy Tartakovskyâs Primal to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, mainstream animation has taken a long-overdue look in the mirror as of late. Increasingly, animated films are opting for more experimental approaches, and often by taking inspiration from past techniques. Sergio Pablosâs Klaus is one such project, a throwback to classical animation that appropriately bakes its concern with tradition right into its plot. As a sort of Santa Claus origin story, the film examines the ways that tradition is built and torn down, all through an aesthetic thatâs striking, beautiful, and as innovative as it is mindful of its own history.
The film follows the disgraced Jesper (Jason Schwartzman), a failing student at a postal academy, as heâs exiled to the frozen northern town of Smeerensburg. His father (Sam McMurray), the very rich head of the international postal service, has given him an ultimatum: establish a functioning post office in Smeerensburg, where so many others have failed before, or be cut off from his luxurious lifestyle. As a tipsy ferryman, Mogens (Norm MacDonald), notes at one point, the townsfolk have one thing to say to each other and no need for letters to say it: In some long-standing Hatfield-McCoy-esque familial feud, they swing axes and fire muskets at one another, making the ramshackle town a perpetual warzone.
No one in Smeerensburg sends their children to school because that would mean mingling with the enemy, and out-of-work teacher Alva (Rashida Jones) has adapted by using the schoolhouse for her side gig as a fishmonger, filleting catches right on her desk in front of the chalkboard. As he visits the unaccommodating locals, Jesper discovers a gruff, reclusive woodsman named Klaus (J.K. Simmons). Though Jesper initially suspects the hulking, white-bearded man of being an axe murderer who traffics in severed heads, Klaus only wants to help the townâs beleaguered children by gifting them handmade toys. All they have to do is ask for one by sending a letter with, of course, postage paid to Jesper.
The gears of the kidsâ animated holiday movie are immediately apparent here, not just in the presence of a treacly tie-in song, but also in how Jesperâs own motivations will inevitably come back to bite him, with a requisite âIâm sorryâ scene following a requisite âI quitâ scene. These moments somewhat drag down the back half of Klaus, but the sheer extent of the filmâs visual invention ensures that even such lulls are fabulous to look at. The exaggerated character designs are at once spindly and pleasantly rounded, and, most impressively, the textured, naturalistic lighting gives the filmâs throwback techniques a distinctive and thoroughly modern edge. Pablos worked on Disneyâs Treasure Planet and Tarzan, and that lineage is readily apparent in the bouncy, vibrant life that runs through all the character movements.
Beyond its charactersâ wondrously cartoonish, emphatic gesticulations, much of the filmâs humor results from unlikely circumstances of violence and hardship. When delivering presents in one scene, Jesper stuffs toys in socks hung to dry above a fireplace because he doesnât dare enter the rest of the house, as we see him boxed into the center of the frame by a pack of sleeping, toothy dogs. And he drops into homes via chimney because the unwelcoming townsfolk of Smeerensburg, whose lawns and porches are littered with spikes and bear traps, naturally keep their doors locked. In the world of the film, Christmas traditions emerge through childrenâs rumors: Klausâs wagon becomes a flying sleigh by pure circumstance, sent sailing through the air once the wheels come off, and when one child sees it just before it crashes to the ground, the story of the âsleighâ spreads like a haphazard game of telephone.
Thereâs an anarchic edge to both the filmâs humor, as in a glimpse at a group of creepy kids building a snowman with so many carrots stuck into it that it suggests a stabbing victim, and the way it builds its uncanny origin story, all the while remaining skeptical of entrenched customs. Characters note that the long-running Smeerensburg feud (one scene shows it in the form of a cave painting) is what the town was built on, but the filmâs dominant thematic current is that itâs time to move on, that remaining shackled to tradition or stuck in a rut only impedes progress. And with gorgeous animation that makes what was once old feel new again, Klaus essentially becomes a metaphor for its unique and refreshing mode of expression.
Cast: Jason Schwartzman, J.K. Simmons, Rashida Jones, Will Sasso, Neda M. Ladda, Sergio Pablos, Norm Macdonald, Joan Cusack, Sam McMurray Director: Sergio Pablos Screenwriter: Sergio Pablos, Jim Mahoney, Zack Lewis Distributor: Netflix Running Time: 98 min Rating: PG Year: 2019
Review: The King Is a Moody, and Confused, Song of Mud and Chainmail
If only the film made more of the curious tension between TimothĂ©e Chalametâs Henry and Robert Pattinsonâs dauphin.2
A moody song of mud and chainmail, David MichĂŽdâs The King twists Shakespeareâs four histories, known collectively as the Henriad, into a rather modern political fable. Itâs the story of a young leader intent on rescuing his country from intractable warfare who nonetheless finds himself expanding the nationâs military footprint without doing great damage to his idealistic reputation. The film, co-written by MichĂŽd and Joel Edgerton, doesnât dwell on the parallels between King Henry V and Barack Obama. Intead, it shrewdly casts the former Prince Hal (TimothĂ©e Chalamet) into an avatar of millennial discontent toward power and the grisly means in which itâs exercised. Heâs nonetheless seduced by its thrall.
The King doesnât limn much conflict from Henry Vâs failure to live up to his ideals. In fact, MichĂŽd and Edgerton seem strangely oblivious to its most compelling aspects, chiefly the styling of Hal as a mid-1990s goth icon, a la Brandon Lee in The Crow, before his elevation to the throne. Chalametâs narrow frame and innate talent for expressing sullen diffidence provide a jolt of modernity to the early scenes where England is riven by civil war and King Henry IV (a cotton-mouthed Ben Mendelsohn) sinks into paranoia and dementia. Estranged from his family, Hal cavorts with Falstaff (Edgerton), spending his nights at taverns and waking alone because Falstaff has ushered the women whom the prince beds out of their inn at sunrise.
After the deaths of his father and brother, and despite his emo rebellions, Hal assumes the role of Henry V with a mandate to pursue peace and a haircut that transforms this brooding figure into a wary warrior. His attention is soon consumed by the French, who send spies to infiltrate his circle of confidantes, and whose heir apparent, the Dauphin of France (Robert Pattinson) seems intent in taunting him into battle. By and large, the film portrays the kingâs capitulation to a new battle as an act of attrition, in redundant scenes of Henry seeking the counsel of a war-hungry Archbishop (Andrew Cavill) and his Chief Justice William (Sean Harris).
The King somehow becomes more self-serious after Henry integrates Falstaff into his advisory council, reinventing the massive gallivant into a gentle friend and self-proclaimed man of few words. âWhat if Hagrid but a taciturn war hero?â appears to be the pitch for Edgertonâs Falstaff, a character whoâs emblematic of the filmâs confused identity. Is Henry a master tactician or a peacenik whoâs in far over his head? This question is cast aside abruptly when the king declares war on France after an attack on Henryâs pride at the hands of the dauphin. This hasty decision is the only moment where The King questions Henryâs ego, and the scene undermines the filmâs outsized attention to tedious backroom negotiations.
Though the film fails to explore Henryâs psychology, Chalamet effectively conveys the kingâs efforts to perform leadership and charisma: The Kingâs version of the St. Crispinâs Day speech takes place on a muddy battlefield where Henry appears diminutive but persuasively motivates his troops into a potentially hopeless battle. If only the film made more of the curious tension between Henry and the dauphin, who Pattinson portrays as a gleeful imp who looks like heâs been airlifted out of Neil Jordanâs Interview with a Vampire. Instead, the two are sent into a scrum of armored bodies drowning one another in puddles and stabbing heedlessly. The battle is, like too much of The King, a slog of desaturated colors and endless slow motion that means to treat war as a brutal, meaningless affair, all the while capturing the action with a reverent grandeur that suggests thereâs no other realm where heroes can be made.
Cast: TimothĂ©e Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Ben Mendelsohn, Robert Pattinson, Andrew Cavill, Lily-Rose Depp Director: David MichĂŽd Screenwriter: David MichĂŽd, Joel Edgerton Distributor: Netflix Running Time: 133 min Rating: R Year: 2019
The Best Stephen King Movies, Ranked
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