A new Magic Tape is here!
Monday, June 25, 2018
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Monday, June 18, 2018
Thursday, June 14, 2018
Friday, June 8, 2018
Sometimes it's a crippling experience to go to the movies. In this early summer of "feel bad times," there has already been a bout of "feel bad films." Usually I dive into these kinds of movies with abandon, but after the gloom of Paul Schrader's highly praised, dour priest drama First Reformed and now young director Ari Aster's crushing Hereditary, I feel more emotionally walloped than emotionally invested. I do sense that Aster's picture is destined to be a mulled-over classic, in the tradition of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, as it's so rich with searing imagery and layered psychodrama; its run in cushy, foot recliner stadium theaters will likely divide the masses, but there's so much here to return to, to re-examine in all its fury. Many prestige horror movies of late are deadly serious even when they are homages to glossier flicks with crooked humor like Rosemary's Baby and The Sentinel. But times have changed, and this movie in particular stands out from the new crop with its visual trickery, richly nuanced details embedded in hothouse horror that I'd like to investigate again and unlock, when, perhaps, some of the lugubriosity of the initial viewing dissipates.
Toni Collette plays Annie, a scale model artist, who lives with her daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro), son Peter (Alex Wollf), and husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), in a remote, woodsy house. Annie's mother has just passed, and we quickly see something is broiling in her wake. Aster's film is a journey, so plot points discussed thereafter both fail and spoil the measured, heady and dready ride of the picture.
Annie is a thoroughly electric wire of a character, with seemingly everything on display--at the dinner table and in her churning, sleepwalking nightmares--and yet she's a deep mystery by the film's end. This is a long-awaited centerpiece showcase for Collette's dramatic powers. An actress usually delegated to standout supporting and bit roles, Collette's unnerving eyes, the gutted timbre of her voice, are such a vital part of Hereditary. It's a bit cliche to say you can't imagine a film without an actor but it's not far off course to say you can't imagine Hereditary without Collette in the same way you can't imagine The Shining without Nicholson.
Hereditary is very much a movie about a reeling family, cluttered spaces within spare environments, riveting visuals, and an all-consuming maternal fire. The movie was shot in Utah. The house, and the morosely isolated surroundings (from a treeless parking lot to a dark-skied drive through desolate landscape) are evocative aspects of the film's visual and emotional language. The art direction and sets are masterfully presented--the scale models are fascinating and eerie to behold. The model-like house of the movie is symbolic to Annie's art form: she seems to have a lack of control of the elements ensnaring it while harboring a furiously destructive nature. The looming deadline of her gallery exhibition winks at her blistering distress. Hereditary is a family drama, that like many family dramas, speaks through unspeakable loss, but it's also a ghost story, shrouded in fly-buzzed, creepy crawly macabre. The ghosts viewed in the corner of rooms and the frozen reactions of those viewing them is the closest I've seen a movie get to my own experiences of seeing spirits. It's both unsettling and strangely serene. ***1/2
Wednesday, June 6, 2018
Tuesday, June 5, 2018
Monday, June 4, 2018
Sunday, June 3, 2018
Saturday, June 2, 2018
Friday, June 1, 2018
Director Joe Wright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton's Atonement was the most recent big screen adaptation of Ian McEwan's work. Sweeping and charged, the movie was a visually and aurally rich picture with an thwarted love story at its center. With On Chesil Beach, McEwan adapts his own slim novella to great effect. The movie, directed with grace by debut filmmaker Dominic Cooke, is much stranger and winningly more complicated than Atonement--intimate and quirky, wrapped in deceiving beauty. Billy Howle and Saoirse Ronan, both outstanding in tricky, intricate roles, play newly wedded couple, Edward and Florence, in 1962 England on their honeymoon. The expectations of marriage has created a new heavy weight upon their shoulders: they are loving but awkward with one another in their cramped hotel room.
Smoothly, the movie is built upon flashbacks, all of which hold troves of McEwan's specificity, as we see the genesis of their relationship and what has led them here to this moment. McEwan treats this love story with care--his narrative and his detail and dialogue are refreshing and sort of weird. Sean Bobbitt helps meld these twisting tales together with his gorgeous cinematography. A climatic scene situated on the pebbled Dorset seashore landscape of the titular setting against a stark gray-blue sky, is elegantly framed and almost nihilistic in its spareness--Florence's cerulean dress and Edward's black suit, contrast beautifully as they clash upon the shore.
Even when the film swerves into gooey sentimental territory, I was still with the picture, so entranced by the visuals and the superb performances. Howle expresses anguish and nimble comedy with seeming ease and control. His face under his dirty blond fringe never quite looks the same and we watch him transform through the various stages of Edward's life with acuity. On the heels of her indelible turn in Lady Bird, Ronan plays a young woman who is repressed, and of upper-class upbringing, quietly rebellious and compassionate. There's a strive for perfection in her, including her terse direction of her string quartet, but also a freewheeling sense of adventure (wading through woods to visit Edward). Far more interesting than the couple in Atonement or many other films I can think of, I enjoyed how these two were never really pigeonholed. The supporting cast is strong too, especially by pros Emily Watson and Anne-Marie Duff, as two very different mothers unable to emotionally connect with Flo and Edward for very different reasons. The slew of classical music and Edward's proclivity for Chuck Berry-infused rock are balanced throughout nicely even if some of those classical chestnuts were a little too precious. I was also impressed with the cinematic handling of the main underlying problem in the relationship--it's a delicate thing and rarely expressed in films, with Ronan's monologues giving fervent voice to it. ***1/2