Week Ending 3/10/23
Happy Oscars weekend to those who celebrate!
Oscar weekend has arrived and there seems to be a couple categories still up in the air—frankly, all we can ask for since going through the motions can force the show into being a slog (for those who don’t think it always is anyway). I was able to watch all but two nominees (thoughts here): TELL IT LIKE A WOMAN, which isn’t supposed to be good and is up for Best Song, and AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER, which isn’t available digitally until March 28 (I wasn’t going to risk COVID for it during the winter and ultimately forgot/was indifferent towards caring afterwards since it shouldn’t find itself winning Best Picture).
My picks for the big eight:
Supporting Actor — Want: Brian Tyree Henry | Will Win: Ke Huy Quan
Supporting Actress — Want: Hong Chau | Will Win: Kerry Condon
Lead Actor — Want: Bill Nighy | Will Win: Brendan Fraser
Lead Actress — Want: Michelle Yeoh | Will Win: Michelle Yeoh
Adapted Screenplay — Want: WOMEN TALKING | Will Win: ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT
Original Screenplay — Want: EEAAO | Will Win: EEAAO
Director — Want: The Daniels | Will Win: The Daniels
Best Picture — Want: EEAAO | Will Win: EEAAO
I know people are high on Austin Butler and Angela Bassett, but I think The Academy is going nostalgia with Fraser (they also love prosthetic performances) and anti-comic book with Condon (especially since it’s the best chance of giving BANSHEES an above-the-line victory). I won’t be surprised if I’m wrong, though, or sad since Butler and Bassett were both great.
The real question, however, is how long we go before someone mocks “the slap” with a comedy bit. I’m thinking Matt Damon hitting Jimmy Kimmel in the opening monologue to keep the joke of their “long-running feud” intact.
What I Watched:
(now streaming on Amazon Prime; Argentina’s International Oscar submission)
After the military dragged its feet to prosecute the leaders of the dictatorial Military Junta that disappeared thousands during their rule (and who “agreed” to a military trial knowing their compatriots would never comply), the Argentinean justice system decided to do what many—including lead prosecutor Julio César Strassera (Ricardo Darín)—thought impossible. They greenlit a civil trial against Videla, Massera, and a cohort whose best defense was blaming subordinates for acting without their knowledge and victims for being the “actual” subversive villains of this tale. Cue death threats, military stonewalling, and fence sitters refusing to dare go against an entity that could very well overthrow the government again as retribution. Oh, and a younger generation willing to fight to ensure the country they’re inheriting is one that won’t be stolen again.
Director Santiago Mitre and co-writer Mariano Llinás’ ARGENTINA, 1985 takes us behind-the-scenes of this development and the arduous court case that ensued from an insanely short time period to collect evidence/witness testimonies to the continuous attempts to delay to a closing argument that would galvanize the nation. Despite the inherent drama to such a monumental historic event, however, the filmmakers understand—like Strassera’s theater friend—that a little panache goes a long way towards winning over an audience. So, don’t be surprised to find yourself laughing throughout this insanity too. It’s a necessity once we begin to hear from the victims and understand just what sort of atrocities were being committed. The subject matter would be too much to bear without it.
So, there’s Strassera’s home life with a precocious, gung-ho son (Santiago Armas Estevarena’s Javier) spying on his sister’s (Gina Mastronicola’s Verónica) boyfriend because Dad thinks he’s a mole. There’s deputy prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo (Peter Lanzani) fighting for the people despite his family being military royalty and his mother a staunch supporter of her church’s fellow parishioner: Videla. Add Strassera trying to avoid an adversarial government gladhander (Gabriel Martín Fernández’s Bruzzo) and his “kid clerks” showing no fear when confronting the military’s defense attorneys and it’s hard not to find yourself enthralled with all the phone calls, theatrics, and distractions meant to derail any actual truth-telling that occurs regardless.
Because the trial is coming. The victims’ stories are why this film was made—not just to memorialize them, but to also expose the reality that everything a Fascist says he didn’t do was definitely done. The only way to stop these viciously anti-democratic actions is to hold those responsible to account, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself seething like me that the US Attorney General has continued to drag his feet and allow the leader of a coup announce his candidacy to try and see if he can succeed this time. To watch the heroism in the face of fear amidst the period detail on-screen still gives hope, though, that such thugs will get their day in court. And that our own Strassera and Ocampo might have the courage and determination to sway hearts and minds even if, as the former wonders aloud, we have already fallen prey to the sort of tribalism guaranteeing the opposite.
MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS
(now streaming on Peacock and on VOD/Digital HD)
There’s a strike happening in the background of Anthony Fabian’s MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS. We see the results of it every time Ada Harris (Lesley Manville) walks the French city’s streets to travel between her kind host’s flat (Lucas Bravo’s André Fauvel) and the headquarters of haute couture icon Christian Dior. Rubbish is piled everywhere. Protestors call for their boss to go to jail. And with that backdrop also comes the somber news that Dior is heading down a similar road. Its penchant for one-of-a-kind elitism is driving its bottom-line to unsustainable heights hampered by the fact their rich clients are sometimes too busy to pay for what they’ve bought. It would therefore seem a perfect setting for a London charwoman fulfilling a dream on vacation to become the Parisian working class’s much needed revolutionary. But that would kind of ruin the mood.
The result is an ironic flip of a subplot concerning Dior’s top model’s (Alba Baptista’s Natasha) unparalleled beauty hiding a brilliant existentialist mind. Where the lesson inside the film is that you can’t judge a book by its cover, the film itself epitomizes that the cover is sometimes spot-on. Because Fabian (and, presumably, source novelist Paul Gallico) isn’t interested in actual politics. Not when Mrs. Harris is drawn as a kind woman with a heart pure enough to work for free rather than force her employers to pay what they owe. No, instead of delivering a message worthy of true drama, this adventure chooses to portray institutions like Dior as being down-to-earth, pragmatic, and “for the people” if reasoned with. Letting Mrs. Harris turn Paris on its head with her “British humor” adds the necessary comedic flavor a realistic depiction of worker revolt simply couldn’t.
So, don’t expect anything hidden behind the curtain. This book is exactly as it seems. Whether that has anything to do with the synopsis reading “in partnership with Dior” is unknown to me, but the film (the novel was written in 1958) does play like a publicity stunt despite Manville’s wonderful performance and the romantic, if one-dimensional, notions surrounding her visit. Because we do love an implausible hero reminding the world there’s more to life than a thankless career. Watching Ada stumble into the good graces of Dior’s misunderstood upper echelon (Natasha’s model, Fauvel’s accountant, and Isabelle Huppert’s directress) is delightfully fun. She’s everything this company isn’t and everything they should strive to cater towards to remain solvent. But some cling to the old ways too tightly while others fear fighting to evolve will only earn them a kick out the door.
MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS is thus a film that proves to be both a welcome distraction when judged at face value and a massive disappointment when judged against the potential of what it could have been. I had a great time watching Mrs. Harris throw a wrench into French high society while also allowing herself the room to stand-up for herself and her dreams regardless of those who believe she didn’t deserve that right. And I found myself scratching my head that the plot would take such pains to present a pro-union stance only to make it so unions aren’t needed since the aristocracy is supposedly a sensible bunch always looking out for its employees. My advice: ready a healthy suspension of disbelief so you can simply enjoy a magical realist love story that’s allergic to stakes beyond Ada getting her frock. All that rubbish in the street is apparently someone else’s problem.
SOUND OF SILENCE
(now on VOD/Digital HD)
The ending of T3’s (Alessandro Antonaci, Daniel Lascar, and Stefano Mandalà) SOUND OF SILENCE tells you exactly what their trio of writers/directors care about most. It shows a background character from earlier in the film finding the vintage radio that terrorized the main characters. Our assumption, of course, is that its horrors are going to be let loose again—the familiar epilogue stinger for these types of haunted object films. The curse can be quieted but never fully broken and the spirits trapped within will continue to wreak havoc through generations as their prison is passed on. But that’s not what happens. The man and radio are red herrings, dragging us along to find another completely unrelated nightmare. T3 craves the adrenaline rush of tension regardless of its origins or relevance.
Here’s the thing, though: they’re very good at conjuring it. Because this isn’t a good film. The acting is lacking (maybe because of the actors, but mostly the directors’ decision to make an English-language film in Italy with an Italian cast that’s much more natural those couple times they’re allowed to actually speak Italian) and the decision to equate stage fright with the violent domestic abuse caused by PTSD from fighting in a World War is quite a choice. There’s the whiff of female empowerment by way of finding one’s voice, but it’s handled in a way that ultimately minimizes the demise of those who weren’t able to defend themselves from physical injury. And yet, when it’s creepy, it’s very effective. Give these guys a solid script and they might make something great because their visual style and ability to manufacture suspense is undeniable.
The crux of the plot is that Emma (Penelope Sangiorgi), a NYC aspiring singer who bails on every audition because the same domineering male judge presides with a scowl, receives a distressing call from her mother. Dad is in the hospital with a concussion and Mom put him there as a result of self-defense. She says it wasn’t him, though, and we know it’s true thanks to a prologue showing what occurred. He found an old radio he’d been meaning to fix, but doing so unleashes a ghost that can only be seen when its music/static plays. The sound gives her form as well, her hands wrapping around his throat before cutting away. So, what does Emma do? She takes her boyfriend (Rocco Marazzita’s Seba) home anyway, believing her mother repressed what really happened because ghosts aren’t real.
A sensory game of cat and mouse transpires with Emma turning on the radio and the clock ticking to “quiet time.” Once there, she must escape specters that only appear against the reverberations of noise. The TV. Dryer alarm. Bug zapper. T3’s marketing compares the film to THE CONJURING (probably because the epilogue teases a franchise of different haunted items), but the real comparison point is DON’T BREATHE. The scares are just as effective too because they add a layer of DOCTOR WHO’s “Weeping Angels” on top, the ghosts moving even when they turn invisible by silence. All it takes is one brief sound to pounce. And they do. A lot. If the story surrounding that atmospheric tension was better than a reductive exposition dump, this would be quite the gem. As is, it’s merely a calling card showcasing obvious talent in need of substance.
(now in limited theaters; VOD on 3/17)
“That's why THERAPY DOGS is undeniably authentic regardless of whether some sequences are staged. It's a kinetic, hopeful snapshot of today's generation finding itself on its own terms.” — Full thoughts at The Film Stage.
TOMORROW IS A LONG TIME
(premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival)
Writer/director Zhi Wei Jow’s director’s statement reveals the crux of his film TOMORROW IS A LONG TIME to be the immigrant experience. It’s an easy one to parse from the first half’s issues concerning illegal residents, insane working hours, and Burmese subtitles every so often, but there’s more to it than just those surface aspects. He talks about their being an “indelible, almost metaphysical link between parent and child in the Asian family” and how he sought to juxtapose that reality against the “backdrop of a contemporary, economically driven society.” So, there’s more to Meng (Edward Tan) wanting to know about his grandfather and wondering if his ailing grandmother can live with them. There’s a desire to connect that Chua (Leon Dai) is simply too exhausted to facilitate.
We’re talking about a widower grieving the loss of his father and wife. A man who cannot sleep and thus takes whatever extra shifts he can working as a fumigator. It’s a dangerous job for his health, yet he cannot say no with a teenage son to support at home. That’s a lie, of course, but it’s one he accepts because the work’s distraction is the only thing keeping him going when Meng’s curiosity brings up sad memories that make him want to leave as soon as he arrives. It’s therefore no wonder the boy seeks inclusion elsewhere, joining a gang of bullies for which he doesn’t belong except for the sole purpose to belong. Both men are forced to choose paths that betray their natures, life effortlessly beating them down as they willingly walk towards oblivion with tears in their eyes and guilt in their hearts.
The film proves quite intriguing for those first forty-five or so minutes as a result. We see the strain of this relationship and watch the hurt these men inflict upon others out of a necessity for survival despite their suppressed morality. And we anticipate a collision course that will presumably dictate where they go afterwards and whether it will be together or apart. While Jow does deliver that collision, however, it’s not as you might expect. His plot ultimately forces Meng’s hand to take over the story himself with a trek through the jungle while fulfilling his mandatory two-years of military service—much earlier than usual. What follows is a lot slower than what came before (and that was very slow too), unfolding in such a way that allows Meng to finally makes choices that are all his own.
He can fear for the safety of others rather than his own. He can seek to help his fellow man rather than hurt. And he can bask in the freedom of nature’s splendor, sleeping in without the responsibilities of society (school) or family (religious rituals). He can finally breathe. It’s a beautiful message rendered with gorgeous cinematography and two memorably potent performances, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a bit of a slog built upon convenient plot points (gunshots, a soldier’s disappearance, etc.) that make us expect a heavily dramatic climax that simply never comes. The back half is instead lyrically open-ended with diminished stakes. It’s a blank canvas that allows Meng to decide his next steps. It’s an epiphany of relief for him that may leave you wanting more.
(now in limited theaters and on VOD)
Nobody talks about the UNICORN WARS anymore. That ancient time when the Teddy Bears sought to reclaim their position beside God within the Magical Forest after being exiled by the Unicorns. They’ve licked their wounds since, pushing aside their innate desire for cuddly hearts and hugs to train for a gruesome battle steeped in revenge. Except, of course, that it’s been too long since the Bears inhabited that forest. They no longer know what dangers it contains or what it is they hope to recover. Life is only pain now. It’s bad porridge while the generals eat blueberries in their ivory towers and plan which grunts will be this week’s collateral damage. Because what do those in power need that they don’t already have? Nothing. Nothing but a status quo built upon Biblical tales of demonic horned beasts inspiring more soldiers to die willingly.
Alberto Vázquez’s film is a wild mix of APOCALYPSE NOW and BAMBI like the logline states, but it’s also got a liberal dash of the BOOK OF GENESIS to keep things as melodramatically full of fire and brimstone as possible. We watch the Teddy Bears reconcile their nature (undying love and pleasure) with the mission beaten into their brains by religion and patriotism—two entities that care little about their believers outside of their usefulness to the cause. We witness the serenity of the unicorns frolicking within the forest, never once thinking of the Bears at all. And we wonder about the Simians biding time, playing tricks, and potentially looking to hijack the prophecy that states how whoever drinks the blood of the last unicorn becomes “beautiful and eternal.”
Bluey (Jon Goiri) craves that power. He’s yearned to be superior ever since his twin brother Tubby (Jaione Insausti) exited the womb first. These siblings become a sort of Cain and Abel vying for the affection of Mom, God, and the military even if one of them doesn’t realize he’s ever been part of a competition. The result is betrayal. Subterfuge. Insanity. Assisted by hallucinogenic glow worms (that’s not even the craziest scene of the whole) and a literal thirst for blood, Vázquez turns his candy-colored Care Bears into the foot soldiers of a phantasmagoric anti-war hellscape full of urine, intestines, and an eviscerated face only a mother could love (if she were still alive to try). It’s about a Holy War born out of jealousy and bolstered by greed. It’s about the trauma of surviving and the rage of the underappreciated that sustains the carnage.
It’s also an unforgettable R-rated animated experience that takes no prisoners as it metaphorically tells mankind’s own mythological tales under the guise of cutesy characters to truly get to the heart of how absurd our generations of hostility and bloodshed have always been. Things might get too weird at times, but that’s part of its charm. We need that levity and confoundingly imaginative chaos to accept the darkness at its back—especially considering the personal revelations about to be exposed where Bluey and Tubby’s own lives are concerned. It’s doesn’t therefore take much to spark a genocide. It never has. And the scariest thing about such events remains the perpetual hordes of indoctrinated cannon fodder who blindly champion that hate without ever questioning why. Who would think to do so when it’s God telling them to fight? Faith always demands ignorance.
(now in limited release; VOD/Digital HD on 3/14)
A big part of why I decided to watch Jon Wright’s UNWELCOME was the poster. It’s got a cool overhead angle that looks through an opening in the roof of a house. Maya (Hannah John-Kamen) and Jamie (Douglas Booth) are seen below with frightened faces, both looking up—not at us, but little goblin-like creatures that call to mind LABYRINTH or CAT’S EYE. How can you not be intrigued by an image like that? Especially when it plays the presence of these monsters with earnest horror? So, when Niamh (Niamh Cusack) tells Maya and Jamie about the far darrig, or Redcaps, who live behind the property his late aunt has left them, I knew they’d eventually find their way on-screen. You don’t put them on the poster if not. The question was whether they’d bring terror or laughter.
That contrast is unfortunately where things get a bit shaky with Mark Stay’s script (from a story by him and Wright). Since two-thirds of the runtime carries a very dark specter of extreme violence wrought by the depravity of mankind, it’s easy to presume the far darrig will only play a small role—as saviors against that true evil, for a price. You don’t therefore expect from that darkness (the film opens with a brutal home invasion that justifiably haunts Maya and Jamie’s every subsequent move with the looming potential of eventually having to choose between moral pacifism and cutthroat survival) is the Redcaps giggling beneath a muppet/VFX appearance turning things so far in the other direction that you can’t help getting knocked off-balance. The final act is truly bonkers. Like a completely different movie bonkers.
Should Wright and Stay have introduced some humor earlier on as a result? Probably. I don’t think toning down the prologue would inherently water down the impact it has on them moving forward. The filmmakers are so intent on pushing Maya and Jamie’s backs against the wall of sanity and decency that they kind of forget just how silly their climax proves by comparison. Thankfully, that imbalance doesn’t ruin the experience. Colm Meaney, Kristian Nairn, Chris Walley, and Jamie-Lee O'Donnell are so over-the-top in their rough-knuckle thuggery as Irish contractors hired by the leads’ English transplants that you can always sense a shift from pitch black drama to the absurd is coming. We’re talking about folklore goblins too, after all. I only wonder if the whole would have been more successful as a PG-13 romp or hard-R nightmare rather than an odd “silly billy” amalgam of both.
Cinematic F-Bomb -
With GLASS ONION up for an Oscar, here’s a throwback to Rian Johnson’s KNIVES OUT. (Substack apparently can’t handle an embedded gif, so you’ll have to click over for a smoother experience. Or see everything at cinematicfbombs.com.)
New Releases This Week:
(Review links where applicable)
Opening Buffalo-area theaters 3/10/23 -
65 at Dipson Capitol, Flix, McKinley; AMC Maple Ridge, Market Arcade; Regal Elmwood, Transit, Galleria, Quaker Crossing
CHAMPIONS at Dipson Capitol, Flix; AMC Market Arcade; Regal Elmwood, Transit, Galleria, Quaker Crossing
THE MAGIC FLUTE at Regal Elmwood, Transit
THE QUIET GIRL at North Park
“It's a subdued drama that allows us to sit with the characters as they sit with each other. This story doesn't need gimmicks when a perfectly executed example of narrative mirroring is enough to express love via a hug.” – Full thoughts at HHYS.
SCREAM VI at Dipson Amherst, Capitol, Flix, McKinley; AMC Maple Ridge, Market Arcade; Regal Elmwood, Transit, Galleria, Quaker Crossing
SHONIBAR BIKEL (SATURDAY AFTERNOON) at Regal Transit
SOUTHERN GOSPEL at Regal Transit
TU JHOOTHI MAIN MAKKAAR at Regal Elmwood
Streaming from 3/10/23 -
CHANG CAN DUNK - Disney+ on 3/10
HAVE A NICE DAY! - Netflix 3/10
LUTHER: THE FALLEN SUN - Netflix on 3/10
TANGOS, TEQUILAS Y ALGUNAS MENTIRAS - Amazon Prime on 3/10
MONEY SHOT: THE PORNHUB STORY - Netflix on 3/15
ERA ORA - Netflix on 3/16
STILL TIME - Netflix on 3/16
Now on VOD/Digital HD -
80 FOR BRADY (3/7)
GIVE ME PITY! (3/7)
THE KILLER (3/7)
OF AN AGE (3/7)
SOUND OF SILENCE (3/9)
Thoughts are above.
LEFT BEHIND: RISE OF THE ANTICHRIST (3/10)
RIGHTEOUS THIEVES (3/10)
THE RITUAL KILLER (3/10)
From the press kit archive:
Thanks for reading Hey, have you seen ...?! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.