On Friday, December 8, 2017, Linda DeLibero – Director, Film and Media Studies, Johns Hopkins University – and Christopher Llewellyn Reed (that’s me) – Chair and Professor, Department of Film & Moving Image, Stevenson University – joined Dan Rodricks on his Baltimore Sun podcast, “Roughly Speaking,” to discuss the following topicsL the ongoing revelations of sexual predation and harassment in both Hollywood and the political realm; what’s currently getting Oscar buzz; what is currently out in cinemas that we recommend (including Coco, The Disaster Artist, Lady Bird and the upcoming The Shape of Water); and highlights from the careers of actor Claude Rains (1889-1976) and film composer Ennio Morricone (1928 – ), both of whose birthdays are on November 10, when we originally planned to celebrate them (a podcast we had to cancel for various reasons). Here is the link to the show. Enjoy!
Just before Thanksgiving, Film Festival Today published two reviews of mine, and then it published another one this past Friday. The three reviews are: Coco, The Divine Order and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Here are links to all 3 pieces:
In the past 2 weeks, Hammer to Nail has published the following reviews of mine: Baltimore Rising (seen at DOC NYC), David Bowie: The Last Five Years (also seen at DOC NYC), Lady Bird, Naila and the Uprising (also seen at DOC NYC), This Is Congo (also seen at DOC NYC) and Criterion’s new Blu-ray of Woman of the Year. Here are links to all 7 pieces:
- Baltimore Rising review
- David Bowie: The Last Five Years review
- Lady Bird review
- Naila and the Uprising review
- This Is Congo review
- Woman of the Year Blu-ray review
In the past 2 weeks, Film Festival Today published the following five articles of mine: a recap of the recent DOC NYC film festival and reviews of Justice League, Last Flag Flying, Murder on the Orient Express and The Square. Here are links to all 5 pieces:
- DOC NYC recap
- Justice League review
- Last Flag Flying review
- Murder on the Orient Express review
- The Square review
In the past 10 days, the following pieces of mine have posted: at Hammer to Nail, reviews of The Departure and The Florida Project; at Film Festival Today, a review of Thor: Ragnarok and a report on the 2017 Middleburg Film Festival. Here are links to all 7 pieces:
- The Departure review
- The Florida Project review
- Thor: Ragnarok review
- Middleburg Film Festival report
Wonderstruck (Todd Haynes, 2017)*
How I wish I did not dislike this movie so much. Its intentions are good, and it features a strong performance from young newcomer Millicent Simmonds, a deaf actress cast in a deaf role (something we don’t see very often), but such things do not a good film make, on their own, alas. Based on Brian Selznick’s 2011 half-text/half-graphic novel of the same title, Wonderstruck follows two parallel stories, the one in 1927, the other in 1977, each with a child at its center. In the book, the earlier story is the one told in pictures, while the more modern tale is related in text, a device which allows Selznick to interrupt the one with the other in dramatic fashion.
Unfortunately, director Todd Haynes (Carol), usually a reliable filmmaker, especially in the arena of production design, does nothing more interesting in the older scenes than film them in black & white, with sets that evoke no period mood at all, though Simmonds is quite fine on her own. The rest of the cast is uneven, and even the great Julianne Moore (Still Alice) barely rises above the trite emotions of the script … until the last act, when the movie suddenly comes alive – inspired by New York’s famed city diorama, in Queens – rising to magical heights of creative design. Where, one asks, was this inspiration, before? It almost makes up for the insipid mess of the earlier scenes, but not quite. I have admired Haynes’ work until now, and hope to again in the future, but I cannot endorse this one.
*[this review was previously published as part of coverage of the recent Middleburg Film Festival that I wrote for Film Festival Today.]
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2017)
For the record, I loved The Lobster, director Yorgos Lanthimos’ previous effort. Building on the tradition he had established in films like Alps and Dogtooth, he there brought his obsession with societies built on arcane systems of governance to glorious fruition in a mesmerizing tale anchored by a deliriously deadpan performance from Colin Farrell (Seven Psychopaths). Both Lanthimos and Farrell are back together again in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, a movie that starts in a similar vein as its predecessor, the actor delivering lines in the same monotone as before, the camera tracking him in off-beat steadicam shots laden with cinematic meaning. Or not. As before, Lanthimos keeps us guessing, toying with our expectations of set-up and payoff. One thing is sure, however: the experience of watching The Killing of a Sacred Deer is deeply unpleasant. The question is: do we gain from it? Over a week after seeing the film, I’m still working on the answer.
This time around, Farrell plays Dr. Steven Murphy, a cardiologist married to a fellow doctor, Anna Murphy, played by the incomparable Nicole Kidman (The Beguiled). They have two kids, a boy and girl, and appear happily married, though quickly we are made to question their life together with the arrival of a mysterious teen boy, Martin, played by a very odd Barry Keoghan (’71). At first we think he is Steven’s son – perhaps from an affair – but when the riddle is solved the truth is even more disturbing. Steven has a score to settle, and the why and the how of his revenge is what eventually drives the plot. This being a Lanthimos film, there are rules to follow; ignore them and you die, though the reasons for everything are vague. Ultimately, the story boils down to this: what would you be prepared to do to save your family? What, or whom, would you sacrifice?
That’s a meaningful question. Put into practice, however, Steven’s response is difficult to stomach. I like that Lanthimos consistently pushes our buttons in a valiant attempt to provoke an emotional reaction, but I cannot say I enjoyed the experience of that reaction. The onscreen anguish of the characters may serve a narrative purpose, but it is something I can do without. Though brilliantly shot and cast, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, much like Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!, released earlier this year, traffics in a kind of torture porn that risks losing itself in the act of self-flagellation. There is no denying its raw power, however. I may have been horrified, but I was not unmoved. Let’s leave it there, and you can judge whether the experience is worth it for you.
In the past two weeks, the following pieces of mine have posted: at Hammer to Nail, reviews of Cocaine Prison, Dina and Criterion’s Blu-ray of Exterminating Angel, plus an interview with filmmaker Mathew Klickstein about his new documentary On Your Marc; at Film Festival Today, reviews of Netflix’s 1922, as well as of Goodbye Christopher Robin and Thank You for Your Service. Here are links to all 7 pieces:
- Cocaine Prison review
- Dina review
- Exterminating Angel Criterion Blu-ray review
- Interview with Mathew Klickstein
- 1922 review
- Goodbye Christopher Robin review
- Thank You for Your Service review
The Snowman (Tomas Alfredson, 2017)
Let’s not mince words: The Snowman is a grotesque, gruesome gargoyle of a thriller with very little to recommend it beyond some picturesque shots of Norwegian landscapes and architecture, as well as the sight of actor Michael Fassbender (a landscape unto himself), deep in thought. Always a compelling screen presence, Fassbender (Macbeth) does his best with very little, forced to third-act paroxysms of outrage that are powerful because he makes them so, but almost lost in the sheer inanity of the script. It didn’t have to be this way. Swedish Director Tomas Alfredson has previously demonstrated a strong command of brilliant atmospherics married to plot in Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, so there was reason to hope that The Snowman might work. I have not read the source novel, by Jo Nesbø, and so cannot say whether the ridiculous, convoluted premise is the fault of the author or that of the multiple screenwriters (or of the fact that there are multiple screenwriters). Suffice it to say that The Snowman is a textbook case of a story that is all over the place except where it needs to be.
The problems begin in the very first scene, shot and cut in a manner that right away leaves us reeling to understand the basic actions of the characters; the visual grammar is a mess (and that is on Alfredson, for sure). We find ourselves in a Norwegian cabin by a frozen lake in winter, where a little boy builds a snowman as nasty shenanigans go on inside. Given the portentous lingering on the coffee beans used for the snowman’s mouth, plus the desperate urging of the boy’s mother to “build a snowman” (plus the fact it’s the film’s title), we understand that, yes, the snowman will matter, later. And when the opening ends in tragedy, we have but to wait for all to be explained. Fear not, there is much exposition to come.
Cut to Fassbender, an alcoholic cop asleep on a bench, vodka bottle in hand. He’s Harry Hole, whom we gather from context is a hotshot detective whose cases are legendary. True, he has an addiction problem, but what self-respecting hero doesn’t have a flaw? Soon he’ll have to put the booze behind him, as: a) women are going missing; b) his ex-girlfriend’s son wants to hang out with him; c) there’s a new piece of police video technology to master; d) a 9-year-old case to explore; e) a new female partner (with mysterious motivations) to get to know; f) insomnia to battle; g) a sub-plot about Norway’s campaign to host the “Winter World Cup” (a winter-games sporting event; h) and so much more, most of it a distraction from what should be the central mystery. It’s as if each writer were given a different task, the whole compiled from the various drafts without any attempt to make sense of the resultant amalgamation.
It’s too bad, as beyond Fassbender there are some fine actors doing good work, among them Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), as that new partner, and Charlotte Gainsbourg (3 Hearts), as that ex-girlfriend. Val Kilmer (Standing Up), as a detective at the center of that past case, is not one of the standouts. Obviously post-dubbed (for whatever reason), he delivers a Razzie-worthy performance that is the icing on the rotting cake of his particular narrative through line. Beyond all of the above missteps, however, perhaps the worst thing about the film is the excess of its violence, particularly (though not exclusively) towards women, who are dismembered with glee by the serial killer at large. Best to let this one go, then, allowing it to melt into the gritty sludge of its deserved destiny.
Since my last omnibus post, I have written, or participated in, the following movie reviews: at Hammer to Nail, reviews of Bending the Arc and Human Flow; at Film Festival Today, reviews of The Foreigner and Marshall; and on The Baltimore Sun‘s “Roughly Speaking” podcast – with Dan Rodricks and Linda DeLibero – an episode on the original 1982 Blade Runner and its just-released sequel, Blade Runner 2049. Here are links to all 5 pieces:
- Bending the Arc review
- Human Flow review
- The Foreigner review
- Marshall review
- Podcast on Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049