Saw the spiritual drama-slash-thriller First Reformed last night. As always, Katja figured out the mysterious parts: Ernst Toller, the pastor, commits suicide, and his rapturous embrace of the young woman Mary is his last moment of consciousness.
Katja’s reading, correct in my view, was foreshadowed earlier when the pastor mused about the last thought of someone who shoots himself in the head. And for another bit of evidence for this interpretation, the young woman refers to him by his first name, Ernst, which she hadn’t done throughout the film.
Oh, and it was established earlier in the scene that the the pastor’s residence was securely locked. In this case, a fully human Mary could not have entered the premises.
So, the movie is great. The reviewers have teased out the Dreyer, Bresson, and Bergman influences. Ethan Hawke is in fine form, surrounded by a solid cast that includes Amanda Seyfried and Cedric Kyles (AKA Cedric the Entertainer).
“Because we’ve democratized filmmaking, the good news is almost anybody can make a film; the bad news is nobody can make any money,” Schrader says. “Movies were born of capitalism: You pay for it, we’ll make it for you. There was no tradition of the courts and the church and all that. Therefore, it had a special relationship to capitalism that really protected it. Now that’s broken, and so it’s like every other art form: It’s like poetry, or novels, or painting.”
The race to bake the cookies before I eat all the dough.
Next up: Something on Amazon Prime, perhaps John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King. AP has had a lot of scuzzy 1970s fare available. No doubt everything that’s not Godfather, Jaws, or Star Wars is cheap to license.
Whatever the reason, in the last week I’ve watched Night Moves, Logan’s Run, Soylent Green, and Jeremiah Johnson, all for the first time. Only Night Moves generated any real interest beyond its museum-piece novelty appeal. But even something as so-so as Logan’s Run looks fresh to any pair of eyes that are exhausted by the digital perfection of even the lamest of current productions, with an endless array of overt and covert digital enhancements to paper over the usually vacuous scripts.
I’ve been able to find a few more vintage films to queue up for the coming days: Joseph Losey’s The Romantic Englishwoman (with Glenda Jackson, script by Tom Stoppard), and Wild in the Streets (a counterculture film from 1968).
The Circle–Disappointing film from James Ponsoldt, whose previous films were so good. But a naturalistic, small-scale filmmaker like him is probably a poor fit for this adaptation of Dave Eggers’ attempt to satirize and warn about the encroaching social media dictatorship. Judging from the film, the problems start with the novel. Emma Watson and Tom Hanks star, to diminishing effect.
Game of Thrones: Season One, Episode 1–Got the first seven episodes out from Redbox. Made it 30 minutes into the first episode, found the whole thing tacky and average and not a promising use of 75 hours. I’m sure it gets better, but I bailed.
The End of the Tour–James Ponsoldt again, with maybe the best movie to come out of a killed magazine story? Not a whole lot happens, and this wouldn’t be a movie but for the suicide of the real-life David Foster Wallace, but I appreciated it as a recreation of a mythologized author at the height of his success: living alone in an anonymous Illinois ranch house, eating junk food and watching junk TV, and doting on his dogs. And hoping his hot new book will help him with the ladies!
Amy–The rise and fall of a talented young woman, told through scraps of cell phone videos, tabloid TV clips, voiceover recollections by her oldest and truest friends, and more. Sad and relentless, but worthwhile.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia–Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s police procedural has some striking images and scenes, but much of the film is a near-real time nighttime excursion to the countryside in search of a corpse. Although our TV is 54 inches or so, the experience would have been better in a theater. Still, I enjoyed the actor playing the good-natured but vain, and decadent prosecutor.
Antichrist–Lars von Trier’s provocation from 2009. What he has in common with purveyors of splatter films: He makes us physically react to what’s on screen. I appreciate someone so committed to jolting us out of our complacency and putting something visceral and real on screen. Still, hated this film.
The Big Short–Entertaining enough, but like the Michael Lewis book upon which its based, a bit too smooth, too glib, too narrative-friendly for the complex phenomenon of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. Enjoyed the sequence where Steve Carell’s character travels to Florida to see firsthand the overbuilt McMansions, and a stripper who owns a half-dozen of them.
The Right Stuff–Coincidentally, I watched this a few days after Sam Shepherd died, and a couple weeks after I read the Tom Wolfe book. The film is a sweeping historical drama in the best sense, with aerial photography that still holds up against today’s CGI fakery, so it’s astounding that the film was a box office failure. Quibbles: Shepherd’s widely lauded turn as Chuck Yeager, playing him as a laconic, high-plains-Ralph Lauren cowboy didn’t do much for me, and he’s nothing like the real Yeager, either in appearance or personality. That said, it’s not a deal-breaker. Ed Harris was very fine as the upright, self-promoting John Glenn. Wish they’d given Pancho Barnes’ backstory though–Barnes was the proprietor of the bar at Edwards Air Force base, and Wolfe tells us she had a flying history herself.
Die Hard–I watched this film for the very first time, so I’ve checked off another 1980s classic that I missed while growing up (another one on the list that I ticked off a couple years ago was The Princess Bride, while Ferris Bueller’s Day Off remains on the unseen list). There’s not much more to say about Die Hard, but I notice that this late-’80s film shares more with a 1970s classics like The Taking of Pelham One Two Three than with 21st-century films.
Showgirls–This movie isn’t so-bad-it’s-good. Nor is it, as such arbiters as Quentin Tarantino and J Hoberman maintain, some trenchant satire about showbiz and capitalism. It’s just stupid and bad. Sure, I could sit with a drunken midnight crowd and enjoy laughing at the movie, but really, it’s bad.
Inherent Vice–The only Thomas Pynchon adaptation we’re likely to see. It’s not a great movie, but I’m glad P.T. Anderson made it. He captured the druggy decadence of the period, and I watched it with gauzy recollections of Altman’s The Long Goodbye, Joan Didion’s essay about Haight-Ashbury, Norman Mailer’s writings on the period, and the Pynchon fiction I’ve read. Oh, and some Kurt Vonnegut is in there, too, I think. Jena Malone’s monologue in the first act had me in stitches, and I enjoyed Katherine Waterston as Shasta Fay, kind of a combination of the lost bad girls of Chandler’s The Big Sleep and the film Chinatown. Joaquin Phoenix’s fantastically shambling performance rid me of any desire I might have had to ever smoke pot again.
Passengers–What was this? Chris Pine, maybe? Jennifer Lawrence? Intriguing set-up, but once the dialogue started the mediocrity became apparent. Bailed.
Silence–This Scorsese film was weak. A film like this can’t have a bland pretty boy, a creature of the 21st-century celebrity machine, like Andrew Garfield. He may be a decent actor, but there’s nothing he can do to convince us he’s in the 17th century, and he certainly doesn’t put his body through the meat grinder in the way Christian Bale or Charlotte Gainsbourg would have.
Elle–Overrated crap, with Isabelle Huppert gamely playing an unintentional parody of an Isabelle Huppert role.
Julieta–Almodóvar tackles Alice Munro, with results that improve as the movie goes on. The heartbreaking rift between mother and daughter eventually makes the film succeed.
The Last of the Unjust–Claude Lanzmann’s four-hour footnote to Shoah is a fascinating eyewitness recounting of one Jewish man’s collaboration with Adolf Eichmann in the management of the sham “model” internment camp called Theresienstadt. The propaganda film that was produced at the time–parts of which have survived–is one of the most awful things I’ve ever seen. You have to assume that everyone seen in the film was dead within months or a year.
Toni Erdmann–I’d heard some hype for this German comedy. It had its shaggy charm, but it was too loosely and haphazardly edited and plotted for it to have any real power. The piece de resistance–the naked office party–felt surprisingly undercooked, as if they came up with the notion but didn’t have time to script or block it thoughtfully.
The Sorrow and the Pity–I first learned about this movie a quarter century ago, in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. At the time, I thought the film was a gag–how could there be something with such a title?
Blackboards–Rented this film, directed by the young Samira Makhmalbaf in 2000, but I wasn’t up to the challenge of appreciating what the film had to offer, other than its bleak vision of itinerant schoolteachers peddling their nearly worthless skills with portable blackboards on their backs.
Margaret–Kenneth Lonergan’s white whale of a film. Reviews were generally poor, and indeed, the film didn’t really go anywhere, or didn’t get anywhere fast enough to redeem its unpleasant, pampered protagonist (who is not named Margaret). But on a scene-by-scene basis, it was occasionally spellbinding. Bonus: I now know who Jeannie Berlin is.
Crazy, Stupid, Love–Come for Marisa Tomei, leave before the last act, which features multiple endings and a revolting resolution to a subplot involving a pubescent teen’s crush on his babysitter.
Maggie’s Plan–Perhaps a bit preciously situated on the Washington Square-Morningside Heights axis of academic self-importance, but in spite of its painfully self-conscious class trappings, this comedy of remarriage has winning moments and scenes–including the final one. But time may be running out on Greta Gerwig’s scatterbrained shtick, and I don’t want to see Ethan Hawke playing bad writers anymore. Maybe he should get to be a good one?
Masterminds–Don’t have a clear recollection of this one. Something about hillbilly bank robbers and Kristen Wiig. Owen Wilson as a bad guy. Kate McKinnon funny as a redneck dyke (I think).
Mississippi Grind–Ben Mendelsohn OMG. Also, I’d lost track of Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden. Good to see them still making good films.
Felicia’s Journey–William Trevor died earlier this year, giving me an excuse to watch Atom Egoyan’s 1999 film adaptation of this story about a desperate young Irish woman alone in England, and the serial killer tracking her. I don’t think the film has aged well (though I missed it when it was young). It’s stiff and awkwardly campy–the latter effects were terrifying in the novel, as I recall.
3:10 to Yuma (1957)–I thought this movie would be set on a train. Disappointed.
The Spectacular Now–By all rights, Miles Teller shouldn’t be such an appealing actor: His face is so fleshy and frat-boy complacent. But boy can he act. Also, Kyle Chandler can act, and so can Shailene Woodley. This film is from James Ponsoldt, who also made the very fine alcoholism drama Smashed, which I just re-watched (OMG Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The two films end on identical shots.
Get Out–Very entertaining and pretty creepy, especially the notion of racist white people putting the brains of their late family members inside the bodies of healthy black people.