Tag Archives: black and white movies

TIFF19: The Lighthouse

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.lighthouse

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.

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TIFF18: Roma

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 MV5BNGEyMTgxZDYtOGUyZC00NDk5LWEwYjUtODcxYmZjNjFmZTFkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTA2ODMzMDU@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1502,1000_AL_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.

Gook

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 MV5BMjU5MDQ2NDY4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjcwODE5MDI@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,740_AL_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.

The Party

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?

MV5BZTcxMmI2MzUtMWUyOC00NzNiLWFmN2YtNGNhNjBhZmQ5YTA1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_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 Eyes of My Mother

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 screen-shot-2016-06-26-at-9-47-49-pmwas…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 eyesmo2beautiful 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.

TIFF: Blue Jay

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.

bluejay_03-h_2016It 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, thecaa09d60-5f6f-0134-3e92-0ad17316e277 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.

AUFDRUCK (LABEL)

LABEL

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.