Yesterday we watched The Ugly Dachshund mainly for its title and then ended up kind of charmed by it – except for the racist depictions of other cultures, for which Disney is truly sorry and even has a neat little disclaimer saying so. We checked for a disclaimer on this movie as well and found none, which Sean found a little unlikely but I reminded him that IF any other races or cultures were depicted in the film they surely would be horrible and racist but in 1959 it was even more likely that the film would just be homogenously white. Problem solved! Right? Well, it’s the kind of racism you don’t need a disclaimer for, a thought so disturbing we had to put a pin in it to debate some other time, though I do think the idea has value: the complete lack of diversity is also courtesy of racism, and it’s just as important to recognize racism by omission or lack of representation as the more “overt” kinds that may be easier to spot and condemn. Anyway, on to a very white 1959 indeed…
Wilson Daniels (Fred MacMurray) feels like some kind of freak, but he just doesn’t like dogs. Perhaps, as a former mail carrier, they’re just not meant to mix. His young son Moochie (Kevin Corcoran) wants a dog pretty badly anyway, but dad is adamant (and to be fair, also seems to have an allergy, despite his wife suggesting it may be psychosomatic). Perhaps a dog would have been a safer compromise, though, something to distract the kids because as it stands, teenage son Wilby (Tommy Kirk) is in the basement, about to blow the house up with a missile. Or an “issile interceptor”, mom Freeda (Jean Hagen) mistakenly supplies, because her female brain is clearly inferior, the poor, ignorant slut. In fact, the way Disney treats women in this film deserves its own disclaimer. And would definitely be picketed by PETA, while we’re airing all of Disney’s dirty laundry. That out of the way, back to the review.
Wilby goes and gets himself into yet more trouble, this time involving the girl next door. No, not THAT kind of trouble. This kind of trouble: he takes her to a museum where he clumsily knocks over an exhibit of ancient Egyptian artifacts and accidentally brings home a ring in the cuff of his pants that periodically turns him into a sheepdog. And that’s not even the crazy part! While nosing around a neighbour’s house, Wilby the sheepdog overhears a plot involving spies and stolen technology. He’ll have to convince brother Moochie, who knows his secret, to convince his father, who doesn’t know it yet, to flag the police. Dad is more distraught to learn that his son is (sometimes) a dog than he is about the whole secret agent theft thing. He can’t believe his own son is a dog, how terrible, how embarrassing, what will the neighbours think? He whines long enough that I start to wonder if this is a weird allegory for finding out your son is gay, but then I remember: 1959. Disney. That would be a whole other disclaimer.
No, the son is just a dog, and the dog will have to hop in a cop car and stop the criminals himself – and if he’s lucky, engage in an act of heroism along the way, which would break the dog curse. Fingers crossed.
I was in the right kind of mood to fall in love with a movie, and Mank was it for me.
Sean and I were at the cottage last weekend celebrating his birthday, and it was the first 48 hours I’d spent movie-free all year. Which is weird, considering 2020 will be known, among so many other things, as the year without movies. And yet, if you’re devoted to movie views and reviews, there were actually plenty of films to watch (this is my 428th review this year, not including some of Halloween and Christmas content that I backdate). Still, a lot (most) of the big releases have been delayed and there were perhaps fewer films to really get excited about – most markedly at this time of year, as Christmas is usually the big awards kick-off. So I was ripe to be swept away, ripe to appreciate something big and intentional, thoughtful and well-crafted. Mank was a cinematic gift under my tree this year, and the tag reads ‘With Love from David Fincher.’
Herman J. Mankiewicz (“call me Mank”), having just survived a car crash, is laid up in bed with a broken leg. Recovering in seclusion, and bedridden due to injury, he is perhaps in a wonderful position to do some serious writing, or that’s what Orson Welles is hoping. Orson Welles is a hot shot young director who’s just been given the Hollywood golden ticket, a rare opportunity to have complete creative control over his films. Welles has selected notorious drunk Mankiewicz as his screenwriter, leaving him with a stack of pristine white pages, a nurse, and a typist to get the work done in just a few weeks. What Mank eventually turns in will be a whirlwind, and long-winded, but beautifully written script for what will turn out to be the greatest film ever made: Citizen Kane. David Fincher’s movie takes a closer look at the duress under which that screenplay came to be written, and the Hollywood experiences that inspired it.
1930s Hollywood had a lot of stuff going on: a great depression, a looming war, rising anti-Semitism, the demonization of socialism…it was the Golden Age of Hollywood, but if you rubbed at the gold plating just a little, you could easily expose an awful lot of ugliness. Mank was a skeptic and a scathing social critic. Before he wrote for movies, he wrote for newspapers; he was the Berlin correspondent for the Chicago Tribune but really sharpened his wit as the drama critic for The New York Times and as the first regular drama critic at The New Yorker. When he made the move to Hollywood, Mank was often asked to fix the screenplays of other writers, with much of this work going uncredited. Ultimately he worked on The Wizard of Oz, Man of the World, Dinner at Eight, Pride of the Yankees, and The Pride of St. Louis, and dozens more. He became one of the highest-paid writers in the world, audiences gobbling up his new style of “fast” and “immoral” characters and plot. He wasn’t the most important man in Hollywood but he knew the ones that were – studio head Louis B. Mayer, for example, of whom Mank was not a fan.
David Fincher’s film sees Mank (Gary Oldman) laid up in bed, reflecting on his time in Hollywood, and digesting it into a movie that Welles (Tom Burke) would immortalize, critics would applaud, history would remember, and Hollywood insiders revile, for they knew the man Mank was referencing behind a veil so thin it left very little doubt. The man was of course frenemy and newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance).
As typist Rita (Lily Collins) races to keep pace, turning his volumes of scrawls into something legible, Mank writes feverishly and drinks furiously. He has clearly been holding on to a lot of resentment as we flashback to specific events that are easily related to characters and scenes that we know and love from Citizen Kane. Hearst’s mistress, for example, Marion Davies (Amandy Seyfried), an actress for whom Hearst co-founded a movie studio, and to whose career he devoted many headlines throughout his vast media empire. And Mayer (Arliss Howard) at the studio, shamelessly churning out propaganda that would be mistaken for news (fake news, we’d call it in 2020) in order to sway elections. Mank has contempt for them all, and yet he’s able to turn into a script about spiritual corruption into, well, an enjoyable movie about spiritual corruption. It’s beautiful, in its way, in its insight and compassion.
Fincher’s film attracts my attention, my whimsy, and my admiration from the very first frame – from the opening credits, even. It looks and feels like a movie made during the period in which it’s set, and yet it also looks and feels as though it has every benefit that modern 21st century film making has to offer. With the help of cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, Fincher straddles a line of his own making, and manages to lay down on film the very best of both worlds. Mank is textured and technically brilliant. It is a love letter to cinema, to the greatest movie ever made, and to film making itself, by brilliant film maker himself, an auteur, a highly skilled visual storyteller who eschewed film school and cut his teeth instead on Rick Springfield music videos (true story). After making his way through the very best (Madonna, Aerosmith, Iggy Pop, George Michael, Michael Jackson, the Stones), he made the leap to the big screen with 1992’s Alien³ (which also starred Charles Dance, fyi), which wasn’t a critical darling but did take some admirable risks with the franchise’s mythology. Ice broken, Fincher never looked back, and if you’re any kind of cinephile, chances are pretty good at least one of his films is in your top 10 (Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, The Social Network, Gone Girl), yet he’s never won an Oscar for direction, nor have any of his films landed the coveted Best Picture award, though The Curious Case of Benjamin Button seemed a shoo-in with 13 nominations that year (it lost to Slumdog Millionaire). Will this be Fincher’s year?
Mank‘s cast is not to be forgotten, the film’s success in large part thanks to an extremely talented ensemble who really work the material. The razor-sharp dialogue can be a lot of fun, and some of the drunken soliloquies are absolutely the stuff Oscar clips are made of. Gary Oldman of course deserves top credit for portraying a cynic with a secret soft heart, but he’s surrounded by people able to rally, particularly Charles Dance who is most hypnotic as a titan outraged by criticism. The quasi-betrayal between these two men is a magnetic source of conflict and intrigue.
The script too, is something to behold, and it’s perhaps the component that fascinates me most, credited to a Jack Fincher. Any relation, you might ask? Indeed, Jack Fincher is David’s father. David’s dead father, in fact, dead since 2003 in fact. Mank is his only screen credit. Clearly this script has been languishing in a drawer somewhere for quite some time, perhaps its only companion a screenplay about Howard Hughes that never got made once Scorsese chose John Logan’s version for The Aviator. Still, Mank must have been the favourite, since David recalls that as a budding child cinephile shepherded mostly by his father, there was no question which was “the greatest movie ever made.” Of course, that was very much nearly fact for a very long time, the film beloved and admired from the 1950s on (especially once it started being screened on television). It has been the watermark against which all other film is measured, and has informed an entire generation of film makers. Jack Fincher’s script is a clever way to let us celebrate the film once again, and perhaps appreciate some of its most personal influences. The senior Fincher gets lone credit for the script, though the way it proficiently draws such incisive parallels to present day makes it clear that Junior has had a hand in it is well. I wouldn’t be bothered one bit to see Jack Fincher receive an Oscsar nomination for his work, and I do wonder who holds the record for (forgive me) most posthumously awarded recipient.
Mank manages a send up to an entire era of film making while also saluting the man who gave so many favoured films of the time their unique flavour and identity. It’s a peek behind the scenes that isn’t necessarily pretty, but incredibly fascinating, an homage to an undisputed classic that just may turn into a classic itself.
Radha was a promising playwright; she took home a 30 under 30 award, but she’s rounding the corner to 40 now, and instead of producing the play of her dreams, she’s teaching ambivalent students at a college and stalling out on all that promise. Welcome to Radha’s midlife crisis.
With that milestone birthday looming over her shoulder, Radha is desperate for a breakthrough and knows she has to shake things up to achieve it, but if it were that easy, she would have done it already. Exploring her contacts and the compromises it would take, she dabbles in hip hop, straddling the world of both hip hop and theatre to find her lost voice.
This movie succeeds on one woman alone: Radha Blank, who writes for and directs herself in a tour de force performance. Her writing is strong and incisive, she manages to be wild and free, fierce and determined, while also seeing her character’s evolution through some uncertain and confusing times. If Radha is a little mature for a coming of age, this is perhaps her second age, one in which her wisdom and lived experience have inspired her to create her own space and define the ways she fills it.
If Radha the character is finding her voice, Radha the multi-hyphenate talent responsible for the film has found hers, and found a bold, radical, brilliant way to display it.
Two men are dropped off on a rock in the middle of the ocean, left alone to tend the lighthouse. The men, let’s call them Wick and Winslow, though they mostly go by “Sir” and “lad”, are strangers about to get extremely cozy during the four weeks of their isolation.
Winslow (Robert Pattinson) is a young guy, a bit of a drifter, here to make some serious money and go home. Wick (Willem Dafoe) is gruff yet poetic, exacting yet frustrated by Winslow’s rule-abiding nature. The two rub each other wrong right from the start, and the thing about having absolutely nothing but each other’s company is that you’ll either become best friends or the worst of enemies.
The weeks pass slowly, marked by back-breaking work. There’s wanking and drinking and farting, but eventually their time is up. They’ve made it! Except that’s really just where the story starts.
A storm blows in, which means no boat can come for them. They’ve been stranded, but for how long? Days? Weeks? Time becomes meaningless, reality blurred. We’re witnessing a descent into madness, but the question is: whose? Winslow’s? Wick’s? Our own?
Shot in stark black and white, with an aching cinematography and an arresting sound design, Robert Eggers (director of the Witch) returns with a dizzying, disorienting film about madness.
The candlelight serves perfectly to illuminate Dafoe’s lined face, his fevered eyes leaving us to wonder whether he’s a psychopath or just a drunk. Dafoe and Pattinson spar thrillingly on screen, each pushed by the other to unravel even further. It’s magnetic even if it’s not always easy to watch.
The Lighthouse is full of omens and mythic imagery awaiting decoding. This film doesn’t have the same sense of unending, unbearable dread that the Witch did, but it will surprise and confound you in new and unique ways, daring you to look away.
Roma is the kind of movie that births film criticism. It will be used as the golden example in so many future texts I ache to think how many words will eventually be written about it and can’t quite fathom it.
Mexico City, 1971, a young family is having a rough time. Mom and Dad were fighting a lot, before he left, and now they do it on the phone, when he remembers to call. Four young kids are feeling vulnerable and acting out. Two young servants are trying to keep it all from falling apart. But one of them, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), is going through her own private crisis as well. She’s pregnant, and the father has run off. Fearing for her job but unable to return home to her religious family, her current situation is tenuous and her future uncertain.
This is the semi-autobiographical work by Alfonso Cuaron about that crazy time in his childhood when his beloved maid’s unexpected pregnancy collided with his parents’ bitter divorce. It marked him for life, and all these years later he’s strung together the haunting images from that period and used his memory to paint in the rest. He’s only a minor character in the film, it’s really an ode to the women who raised him: his mother, the two servants, and Mexico herself.
Cuaron immerses us in Mexico circa 1971. Filmed in starkly beautiful black and white, you can’t help but drink it all in, everything from the airplanes overhead, to the geese in flagrante delicto, the muddy markets and the local cinemas, the grassfires and New Year’s Eve traditions, rooftop laundry and candlelit chores, every scene is packed with loving details to a time and place Cuaron clearly treasures. His camera moves slowly, soaking up detail, lingering lovingly in quiet places. His trademark long takes emphasize time and space – the big house compared to the servant’s quarters, and the time Cleo devotes to undoing the naughty work of busy children. The sound design is incredible. At times I was overwhelmed by the layers of noise in the city – hawkers, vendors, tradespeople, cars, trucks, buses, dogs barking, children playing, marching bands tooting their various horns in seemingly random parades.
Roma is of course shot in Spanish and subtitled with care. It is obviously composed with great care as well, with so many interesting angles and viewpoints (a Christmas party filmed at child height, for example) and depths of field. Lensed by Cuaron himself (Emmanuel Lubezki was unavailable, but his collaboration in pre-production means his DNA’s all over it, Cuaron assures us), he often keeps his entire shot in crisp focus, with as much going on in the background as the foreground – but when the focus goes soft, it’s for good reason. Take note.
This film brims with the kind of personal detail that makes it truly unique. I especially liked seeing the young boys clearly obsessed with outer space – posters, toys, and astronaut costumes – you can’t fail to think that these are the origins of Gravity. Indeed, Cuaron has left a little piece of his heart on the screen. It is not sentimental, but it is affectionate, made with love. And I think it will be received, by audiences and the Academy, with nothing but.
I admit that I’ve kind of been avoiding this one. This movie and I have circled each other awkwardly at several film festivals. I’d heard the buzz, sure, but couldn’t repeat it. I mean, just look at that aggressively confrontational title. It makes me uncomfortable. Understand that’s not a criticism; I believe it is intentional, and I admire that, forcing us to sit with this glaring four-letter message of hate, a word used by white faces to make others feel small and less than.
Gook is a movie shot in glaring black and white about the tensions between Korean Americans and African Americans during the Rodney King riots. Eli (Justin Chon) and Daniel (David So) are Korean-American brothers struggling to keep their late father’s shoe store afloat even though its location in a predominantly poor and African-American neighbourhood is less than ideal. On this particular day, as the whole city awaits the King verdict, they get a visitor at the store. Kamilla (Simone Baker) is an unlikely friend and ally, being an African-American 11 year old girl, and yet she just won’t stay away, even though she should be in school, and she’s been expressly forbidden by her older brother, Keith (Curtiss Cook Jr.).
Aside from starring, Justin Chon wrote and directed as well, and you can immediately tell how many intimately personal details he’s incorporated. His choice to shoot in black and white only emphasizes the deeply emotional script, and allows simple but striking cinematography to transport. Rationally, I know the film wasn’t perfect, and there are even a couple of details I could nit-pick, but emotionally I felt hypnotized. I couldn’t take my eyes off the lovely Ms. Baker, which Chon must have known since he generously gives her top billing.There’s so much to praise here it almost has me tongue-tied, and I suppose I’d rather not give too much away. Gook is dense with beautiful observations and strong dialogue and aching insight.
Although I’ve always known that gook is an ugly word, an angry slur, I’m ashamed that it wasn’t until this film that I learned that it’s actually the Korean word (guk) that simply means country. Hanguk is Korea; Miguk is America. Americans took this word full of pride and used it against them during the war because it’s easier to kill ‘gooks’ than to kill people. Gook is a powerful reminder that America has oppressed basically every minority during its nearly 242 years. And yet the immigrants still come – to the land of freedom, wealth, and opportunity. And maybe someday, with their help, even equality.
Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) is hosting a dinner party to celebrate her recent promotion (her husband Bill – Timothy Spall – is quite useless). The guests include a couple, Martha and Jinny (Cherry Jones and Emily Mortimer), who’ve just found out they’re expecting triplets, another couple, April and Gottfried (Patricia Clarkson and Bruno Ganz) having one ‘last supper’ before they break up forever, and half of a couple, Tom (Cillian Murphy) who brought his own cocaine and gun. Are we having fun yet?
Poor Janet. She’s just achieved a major career coup and every single guest at her party will make a thunder-stealing announcement. It’s really not her night. It’s REALLY not her night.
I love Patricia Clarkson, luminous Patricia Clarkson, and this is the script that she deserves – compact but with lots of punch. Serving as best friend to Kristin Scott Thomas, the two make a fine pair for this satire and I probably would have really loved this film had it just been their two glorious faces in black and white, conversing back and forth in their clipped and candid way.
The film is well-directed by Sally Potter. Basically told in real time, the editing is quick and fluid as we bounce between the various characters and their various bombshells. The Party feels and is a very small film but it’s hard to tear your gaze away from the very talented actors. It’s not very penetrating and at times it embraces its farcical nature; I’m not sure this is the kind of film to stick with you for any length of time. But for the performances alone, and Clarkson’s in particular, I’d say there are worse ways to waste 71 minutes.
The horror is not what you’ll see on screen – it’s what you’ll see when you close your eyes in bed that night, if you’re able to close them at all.
I went into this film at the New Hampshire Film Festival having been warned by Anna at Film Grimoire – not warned against it, mind you, but warned that it was…unusual, intense, disturbing. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to see it. You may know by now that Jay and horror don’t mix. But Sean was keen despite my own warnings, so we hunkered down in the same beautiful theatre where I barely survived watching The Witch last year and hoped for the best (ie, dry pants when all was said and done).
Anna felt that the less you knew about this film going in, the better, and I agree. But I do feel compelled to tell you that it is not a traditional horror film, by which I mean: I was completely fine, didn’t cover my face even once, but Sean, shaken and pale when we left the theatre, confessed to 0% when I asked how much he’d enjoyed the film. “Enjoy” is the wrong word.
It’s about a young girl living on a farm with her immigrant parents. She witnesses the brutal murder of her mother (at the hands of a super creepy serial killer played brilliantly by Will Brill) and in some ways the even more brutal response to the murder by her father. Basically, she’s warped. As a little girl with certain proclivities, this trauma pushes her over the deep end and she deals with it in ways that most of us only encounter in nightmares.
Shot in stark black and white, the cinematography can be disturbingly beautiful for such a twisted movie. The monochrome may lessen the impact of the gore but it only serves to heighten the intensity of the atmosphere, creating a world I was never sure of, never trusted. So while there’s little in the way of jump-scare, there’s plenty of hair-raising all the same.
Do I recommend it? It’s interesting. It’s unique. It’s creepy as fuck. I found it bearable, but the suspense is unrelenting. I had to buy Sean a Fred Flintstone nightlight, so I guess your “enjoyment” of this film will depend a lot on your tolerance for depravity.
For 16 glorious hours, Blue Jay was my favourite movie at TIFF. Then I watched La La Land and I was in cinematic, technicolour heaven. I’ll tell anyone who will listen every single day of my life that I’m a lucky, lucky girl. Getting to watch 2 astounding, knock-your-socks-off films? Frosting on my fucking cupcake.
Blue Jay is nearly an anti-La La Land. It’s a small, quiet, black and white film that’s not destined for the Oscars, or even really theatres (a small run in LA and NY, and then Netflix by the end of the year – lucky us!). But it is superb.
It stars Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson, almost exclusively. They play high school sweethearts who bump into each other 20 years later. Agony and ecstasy, right there on the screen. And heaping spoonfuls of awkwardness, don’t forget that. Because they were in luuuuurv. The real deal. And now they don’t even know each other. It reminded me of a friend who had recently posted on Facebook that it was her ex-husband’s birthday, a date she can’t help but remember even if she no longer even knows if he’s alive. Isn’t it weird that we can lose track of people who used to be our whole worlds?
For Jim and Amanda (Duplass and Paulson), once they get over their initial weirdness, it’s almost like no time has elapsed at all. They’ve both moved on, new cities, big jobs, other lovers. And yet they can pick up where they left off, the magic reappearing in an instant. It’s like opening up a dorky little hole into time and space, hurtling these two pushing-40-year-olds back to their glory days in high school, when things were light and fun, the sex was hot and heavy, and Annie Lennox was everything. Jim and Amanda will take you down your own worm hole, and if you don’t end the movie thinking about your own First Love, then you my friend have a cold, cold heart.
I picked this movie on two words alone: Mark Duplass. But Sarah Paulson is luminous; she fucking shoots starlight out of her face. The two together have incredible chemistry, and it’s obvious they work-shopped their characters together to perfection – the nostalgic backstory, their lovable eccentricities, the subtle hints to what caused their demise. Duplass and Paulson each deliver career-best performances. No kidding.
If you have ever loved and lost, this movie is for you. If you didn’t marry your high school sweetheart, this movie is for you. If you married him and left him, this movie is for you. If you appreciate things like smart dialogue, meticulous observation, authentic and vulnerable performances, and little bursts of spontaneity that are pure joy on celluloid, this movie is for you.
Oh fer fuck’s sake, just see it. It’s for everybody. It’s perfect.
Last month, we got a Facebook message from a very brave filmmaker. Jaschar L Marktanner invited us to watch and review his short film, voluntarily facing the wrath of not one but three admitted Assholes. How fun it would be to pan AUFDRUCK (LABEL in English), from a writer-director so boldly putting themself in the hot seat.
Imagine my disappointment when I actually enjoyed it. LABEL is only four minutes long so a spoiler-free description is a unique challenge for me as a reviewer. I think (and hope) that Jaschar won’t mind me telling you that it’s shot in black and white, which is an excellent choice, partly because it adds to the French New Wave feel. In their first IMDB credits, Kira Mathis and Mary Krasnoperova play two women in a coffee shop describing a mutual acquaintance as a “son of a bitch”. Labelling and complaining with a friend over coffee may seem like a pretty universal experience but it soon becomes clear that these women use the label pretty liberally, as the conversation becomes more and more absurd.
LABEL is funny, gradually upping the ridiculousness as it follows the structure of a really good comedy sketch. Marktanner’s film has more to offer than just laughs though with what I read as an effective critique of modern fatalism. I am happy to report, however, that he has generously given this Asshole one thing to grumble about. Speaking no German, I was forced to watch LABEL with English subtitles which were colour-coded depending on who was speaking. I found the dark red to be difficult to read against the black and white background. Once or twice, I had to pause it to avoid missing a single word. There, I said it.
Overall, LABEL is well worth your time and I am grateful to Jaschar for sharing it with us.