• Cannes 2019: Too Old to Die Young, Zombi Child
    von Ben Kenigsberg am Mai 18, 2019 um 5:54 PM

    "The more perfect society gets, the more psychotic we become," someone says early in Nicolas Winding Refn's "Too Old to Die Young"—or rather, early in the fourth episode, which was screened (along with the fifth) out of competition here at Cannes. Even the world's most prestigious film festival is no longer immune to the TV-versus-movies debate, and Refn, whose "Drive" and "The Neon Demon" screened in competition (with the former taking the best-director prize), is well poised to make the case that a web series can be an auteurist medium. (The show will launch on Amazon next month.) Though it was baffling to start episode four, "Too Old to Die Young," which stars Miles Teller as a detective with the Los Angeles County sheriff's department who moonlights as a vigilante hit man, is weird enough that you suspect that tuning in at the beginning would be equally confounding. Like David Lynch—whose "Twin Peaks" revival, of which "Too Old to Die Young" plays like a junior-varsity version, had a screening here two years ago—Refn is so fervently devoted to his own peculiar pacing and cosmology that nothing plays like it's been designed for chaptered viewing. The only option is to go with the flow. That Martin (Teller) is a killer for hire becomes clear almost immediately, when he shoots a man who is watching the climax of Curtis Harrington's "Night Tide." (Maybe the dead man was using Refn's online streaming service.) In the main plot of what screened, Martin, who only wants to kill only the most degenerate of marks—he refuses to shoot  a man who merely owes a debt of $8,000—takes an assignment to go Albuquerque to kill two pornographer brothers (James Urbaniak and Brad Hunt). "Too Old to Die Young" won't change anyone's mind on whether Refn's depiction of the exploitation of women—and, here, men as well—is gratuitous. A tolerance for Refn's stylistic tics (stolid line readings, neons piercing through darkness) and metaphysical gibberish is also a requirement. (The show, which Refn wrote with comic-book artist Ed Brubaker, argues that although humans may have built civilization and split the atom, breaking "the very fabric of reality," their violent impulses from their days as hunter-gatherers never really went away.) Martin, masquerading as a drifter on the run from a breakup, insinuates his way into a conversation with the two brothers at a nearly empty bar. The scene plays out well beyond a conventional length, and Martin's resulting shambles of a kill attempt—there's a high-speed car chase and a desert standoff that appears inspired by Erich von Stroheim's "Greed"—grows progressively more complicated and surprising. With patience, it's possible to adjust to the show's peculiar pacing and structure and get on its macho wavelength, even if you sometimes wonder if the filmmaker ought to be checked for psychosis himself. I had more trouble settling in to the rhythm of Bertrand Bonello's "Zombi Child," a torpid exercise in intellectualized horror shown in Directors' Fortnight, which aims for a modern riff on Jacques Tourneur's "I Walked With a Zombie" and ends up with something far sillier, and even a little dubious as allegory. Cutting between present-day Paris and a backstory in Haiti in 1962, the movie centers on two young women, Fanny (Louis Labèque) and Mélissa (Wislanda Louimat). A refugee from the 2010 Haitian earthquake, Mélissa is new to the Legion d'Honneur boarding school and being considered for induction into Fanny's sorority. She can also sometimes be found making strange heaving noises in the middle of the night. It turns out that she has brought voodoo customs with her from Haiti. And when Fanny has her heart broken, she is eager to make use of that magic. Bonello ("Nocturama," "House of Pleasures") is a smart enough filmmaker that he surely intends to make a point about French feelings of entitlement toward Haitian customs, and the film is already being read as having likened the half-alive, half-dead state of zombiedom to the specter of being ruled by a foreign country. But the parable has several layers, and "Zombi Child" becomes more troubling when it is viewed in light of the migrant crisis in Europe: After all, in this movie, refugees really are bringing danger to France. And in so far as it portrays outsiders as "others" to be feared, "Zombi Child" seems to traffic in some of the xenophobia it presumably means to decry. Even taken purely as a fright flick, though, "Zombi Child" falls well short of suavity of Bonello's other movies. The dubbing effects at the climax wouldn't look out of place in a "Exorcist" sequel. […]

  • Cannes 2019: Pain and Glory, Little Joe
    von Barbara Scharres am Mai 18, 2019 um 5:51 PM

    The tricky thing about the roster of films competing for the Palme d’Or at Cannes is that each one looks like a winner on paper. The recognized names like Almodovar and Jarmusch sparkle with promise. The newcomers suggest the possibility of exciting discovery. It’s a good day when one of those discoveries proves to be the real thing. This week, Mati Diop, first-time feature director of “Atlantique” leapt into the film world’s limelight as a fully formed artist. By contrast, two competition films by established directors Pedro Almodovar and Jessica Hausner fell flat. For anyone hoping that renowned Spanish director and two-time Oscar winner Pedro Almodovar’s new film “Pain and Glory” would represent his return to feisty form after the lackluster “Julieta” in 2016, will be disappointed with this shapeless drug-fueled look back on life by a fictional film director. The subject alone invites comparisons with Fellini’s “8-1/2,” which remains the gold standard for filmmaker confessionals. “Pain and Glory” is no “8-1/2;” regrettably, it’s not even a 4-1/2. Director Salvador Malo (Antonio Banderas), a scruffy, haunted-looking guy with a stubbly beard, hasn’t shot a film in years. He suffers from a laundry list of ailments, all of them painful but none life-threatening. As the story unfolds, he is visited by memories from his childhood, often under the influence of one substance or another.  In his earliest memory, he sees himself, a very young boy, watching his pretty young mother Jacinta (Penelope Cruz) laugh with joy as she scrubs sheets at a river’s edge with other women. In another, the village priest recognizes that the boy Salva has a pure, clear voice, and singles him out to be a soloist in the school choir. The adult Salva learns that the cinematheque in Madrid has restored his most famous film, “Sabor.” He is invited to present it, along with his lead actor Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), once his best friend. Salva hasn’t spoken to Alberto in thirty-two years, owing to the fact that the actor had interpreted this famous role differently than Salva had envisioned it. The reunion of director and actor kicks off the running theme of addiction and drug use that runs through “Pain and Glory.” Alberto has a longtime addiction to smoking heroin, and Salva readily agrees to try it. As this plot has it, he immediately becomes an enthusiastic and regular user who begins to purchase it, and adds a menu of other daily drugs, including cocaine, to his routine. Very late in the film, this is all ascribed to his desire to ease his back pain. Frequent scenes of drug use through a variety of ingestion methods become tedious and repetitive. Salva is brought face to face with another figure from his past, Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), the early love of his life. This relationship also, is bound up in a history of drug use, but it was Federico who doomed it through his heroin use. Almodovar begins to suggest that the concept of addiction applies also to love in Salva’s case. The two men have an affectionate reunion, but Federico, who now lives in Argentina, lives a straight life with a female partner. Spotted throughout “Pain and Glory” are more visions of the director’s childhood and past. A handsome workman stripping to wash up in Salva’s mother’s kitchen gives the little boy his first revelatory and arousing glimpse of the naked male body. Later memories involve the adult Salva, now a successful film director, in intimate conversations with his elderly mother (Julieta Serrano).   The interactions between middle-aged son and aged mother are among the few scenes in the film that have any emotional resonance. Jacinta opens a tin box of little treasures and shows him the rosary that she wants laced through her fingers in the coffin, and the plain black scarf she wants placed on her head. In all, “Pain and Glory” is a thudding graceless film that lacks the fleet sense of wit and the narrative cohesion that marks Almodovar’s best work. It has a thrown-together feel, as if, lacking a real story idea, the director assembled a jumble of notes, and trusted that it would all work. Easing the pain of living with a little help from an external source turns out also to be the theme of Austrian director Jessica Hausner’s competition entry “Little Joe,” her first film in English. Hausner is known for films including “Amour Fou,” 2014, and “Hotel,” 2004, conveying a sense of directorial precision through a tightly controlled acting style and production design. “Little Joe” is about a genetically engineered plant that is created to emit a mood-enhancing scent. It is designed to make a fortune for the company that plans to rush the blooming product into an international market. Alice (Emily Beecham) is a scientist with a specialty in plant breeding. She is a relatively new employee of a high-tech corporation, where she looks to become a star through her innovative work. A divorced mother who has custody of middle school-aged son Joe (Kit Connor), she names her new experimental creation after the boy, and gives him one that she sneaks out of the lab. The plant Little Joe consists of one long thick stem reminiscent of a water lily, terminating in a spiky puffball of a bright red-orange flower. The plant responds favorably to attention and the human voice, more of a pet than an inert houseplant. When treated well, Little Joe releases a cloud of scent that brings on a sense of happiness and wellbeing in the person who inhales. An incident in which senior lab employee Bella’s dog appears to suffer a violent behavioral change after accidentally inhaling the scent raises an alarm. This is ascribed to Bella’s history of mental illness by one and all, but seeds of doubt are planted when Alice begins to notice behavior changes in her son Joe, who grows hostile and unaffectionate. More complications and alarming clues develop, suggesting that Little Joe emits a virus capable of altering the structure of the human brain. Emily begins to fear the worst. Her coworkers are either under Little Joes’s influence or are blinded by the thought of the profits to be made. Strangely enough, almost every character in the film has gotten a whiff of Little Joe, whether accidentally or on purpose. Only Emily, the plant’s creator, has somehow managed to avoid it. “Little Joe” is an intricately calculated, bloodless film whose plot sounds far more intriguing than Hausner has succeeded in making it. With a plot full of holes and inconsistencies, the film relies heavily on her schematic color theme in the production design. Red is the film’s signature color, starting with Little Joe’s blossom, but represented as a significant highlight in every scene. All other colors, from walls and furniture to lab coats, are limited to a mint green palette.   The film’s acting style ranges from stilted to robotic. The limited range of expression is typical of Hausner’s work, as is the controlled production design. What is lacking here is a spark of life that animates these ingredients as successfully as in her better films, like “Amour Fou.”  “Little Joe” is a creation that could stand a bit more lab time before coming to market.  &nbs […]

  • Thumbnails Special Edition: Cannes 2019
    von Matt Fagerholm am Mai 17, 2019 um 8:26 PM

    Thumbnails is a roundup of brief excerpts to introduce you to articles from other websites that we found interesting and exciting. We provide links to the original sources for you to read in their entirety. This special edition of Thumbnails spotlights coverage of the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. The photo of Roger seen above headlined the critic's conversation about Cannes with The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy in 2012.—The Editors 1.  "The Cannes Film Festival—With Roger Ebert As Your Tour Guide": The Wall Street Journal's Rico Gagliano reflects on the late critic's "timeless itinerary."  “The most evocative travelogue I’ve ever read was written by a guy who spent much of his life sitting very still in dark rooms. The man was the late film critic Roger Ebert. The book is Two Weeks in the Midday Sun, a catalog of his adventures at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival. Though he makes plenty of pit stops to interview movie stars, it’s ultimately a love letter to the city of Cannes, and the movie gala that made it famous. ‘I have always felt a little out of place at these glamorous international events,’ Ebert humbly claims on page five. It’s the only sentence in the book that rings false. The critic attended Cannes religiously for decades, and ‘Midday Sun’ is clearly the work of a man in his element— equally content speeding along the French Riviera on a movie mogul’s yacht, or sipping coffee under a cafe awning in a Gallic rainstorm. Ebert guides us warmly through a world he knows well, embracing joys of any brow: high, low or middle. Now, three decades later, does Cannes still yield those joys? To find out, last May I attended the festival for the first time. Instead of a guide book, I packed my copy of ‘Midday Sun.’” 2.  "In Memory of Roger Ebert—10 Years at Cannes, 10 Books to Giveaway": Alex Billington of explains why he has chosen to give away ten copies of Two Weeks in the Midday Sun. “It's kind of eerie how his writing perfectly captures the experience of being here. How much it sounds like he's sitting right next to me reading this aloud today, talking about what he's about to go see this year. It's also eerie how much is the exact same, how much the festival operates similarly to what he experienced there 32 years ago. But I guess that's part of the magic. That's exactly what makes Cannes such a unique, unforgettable, extraordinary place. That's part of why it has such an iconic legacy, why there's so much history here. And why it still has the most film critics in the entire world attending every year, no matter the line-up, no matter the changes they make. It's Cannes! It's the South of France! It's cinema heaven! And there's nowhere I'd rather be. And I feel truly lucky and honored to be in the same place where Roger Ebert used to return to year after year, sit in the same screening rooms he used to frequent. And hopefully, if we're lucky as well, we'll have that "spine-tingling" experience when a film leaves us floored. Only time will tell…” 3. "Chicago Program Gives High School Girls Lessons in Documentary Filmmaking": Variety's Tom McLean reports from Cannes about the DePaul/CHA (Chicago Housing Authority) Documentary Filmmaking Program. “The program’s founders know that access to moviemaking and equipment — and the chance to put them into action — can be a life-changing experience. Just ask Zana Carter, who a few summers ago was a high school student with a love of writing and the films of Spike Lee and a desire to see more stories on screen that reflected her life as a resident of Chicago public housing. ‘Those things drove me into filmmaking,’ says Carter. ‘Being part of an African American community with stories not being shared that should be acknowledged’ was important. Carter helped make the bullying documentary ‘What If I Told You’ as part of the DePaul/CHA program. She’s now a junior at DePaul studying filmmaking, with a focus on cinematography. That kind of outcome is what earned the program the support of Chaz Ebert, widow of legendary film critic Roger Ebert, who sponsors a premiere night for the films and seeks post-program opportunities both for the shorts and for the students. ‘The girls in the DePaul/CHA program have voices and viewpoints that you don’t see or hear a lot of in the larger film community,’ says Ebert, a Housing Authority resident in her youth. ‘I think these are voices that are very important.’” 4.  "Calm Down, Everyone, 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' WILL Premiere at Cannes": Assures Pajiba's Kayleigh Donaldson.  “Never fear, film journalists who only worry about the Hollywood releases at European festivals, for ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ will premiere in competition for the Palme. It was rumored that festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux was holding out for Tarantino to have completed a cut of the film in time for May. It’s not unusual for such things to happen. Wong Kar-wai’s 2046 was entered into competition in 2003 despite not being finished, and as Roger Ebert reported, it ‘arrived at the last minute at Cannes 2003, after missing its earlier screenings; the final reel reportedly arrived at the airport almost as the first was being shown.’ In 2017, Lynne Ramsay submitted ‘You Were Never Really Here’ about a day after she’d finished her initial edit and admitted it still wasn’t finished (she still won two prizes that year). Tarantino’s film is expected to screen on May 21st, the 25th anniversary of ‘Pulp Fiction’’s premiere.” 5.  "Cannes 2019: Mati Diop 'a little sad' to make history." As reported by BBC's Paul Glynn. Skip to the 33:53 mark of the "Atlantics" press conference to hear publisher Chaz Ebert's question for Diop, followed by the filmmaker's extraordinary response.  “French-Senegalese Mati Diop made history on Thursday when ‘Atlantics’ became the first film made by a woman of African descent to be screened in the festival's 72 year history. Diop said she was ‘moved’ but also ‘a little sad’ at the achievement. ‘It's pretty late and it's incredible that it is still relevant,’ she said. ‘My first feeling to be the first black female director was a little sadness that this only happened today in 2019. I knew it as I obviously don't know any black women who came here before. I knew it but it's always a reminder that so much work needs to be done still.’ She added: ‘As a black woman I really missed black figures and black characters. It's why I needed to make this film, I needed to see black people on screen - it was an urgent need.’” Image of the Day Illustration by Krishna Shenoi. On the latest episode of his essential TalkEasy podcast, Sam Fragoso chats with one of the greatest living filmmakers, Werner Herzog, whose latest picture, "Family Romance, LLC," is premiering in Cannes. Click here to listen to their full conversation. Video of the Day Skip to the 20:15 mark in this English-language recording of the 2019 Cannes Film Festival jury press conference, and you'll hear publisher Chaz Ebert's question for jury president and two-time Best Director Oscar-winner Alejandro González Iñárritu. His answer is a stirring one.  Classic Video of the Day For an entertaining trip into Cannes' past, check out Billy Baxter's 51-minute documentary, "Diary of the Cannes Film Festival with Rex Reed," from 1980. You can also read memories shared by Billy's son, Jack, published on our site in 2015. […]

  • Cannes 2019: Rocketman
    von Ben Kenigsberg am Mai 17, 2019 um 2:36 PM

    Cannes always struggles to strike the right balance between serving as a showcase for rarefied excellence in world cinema and affording glitzy photo ops to the planet's biggest celebrities—which means that sometimes starry movies that shouldn't be uttered in the same breath as the phrase "Palme d'Or" can sneak their way into the Grand Théâtre Lumière, safely programmed out of competition. On the basis of "Rocketman," which brought Elton John to the red carpet last night, no film that will follow in this year's festival could possibly be too dour, too arty, or too difficult that it would risk overcompensating for this glitter gun of a movie, which is not good, but it delivers the glam it promises in excess. Sir Elton even apparently performed at last night's beach party—an event that alone probably generated enough headlines to justify the inclusion. (Also, I should have gone. Drat.) With John himself credited as executive producer (and presumably giving his full sign-off to anything on screen), "Rocketman" was directed by Dexter Fletcher, whose most recent claim to fame is finishing "Bohemian Rhapsody" after Bryan Singer's departure. Like that film, "Rocketman" is essentially a "featuring the songs of" Broadway musical in the guise of a biopic. The human drama is simply filler designed to propel viewers from one hit to the next. Gratifyingly, "Rocketman" dispenses with the notion that we need to see these songs performed in recording studios or at concerts and simply goes whole-hog movie musical. (The screenplay is by Lee Hall, of both the stage and screen versions of "Billy Elliot.") When John (Taron Egerton, whose lively mimicry—he does his own singing—goes a long way toward carrying the movie) gives a breakthrough performance of "Crocodile Rock" at Los Angeles's Troubadour club, he levitates at the piano. "Honky Cat" becomes a musically incongruous tribute to MGM's Freed Unit, replete with costume changes and a city skyline backdrop. "Rocketman" doesn't deviate from the fundamentals of the pop-music biopic. Maybe young Elton (then Reggie Dwight) really did ask his father (Steven Mackintosh), "When are you going to hug me?" Maybe his mother (Bryce Dallas Howard) really did complain to him, at the height of his success, that she never should have had children. The movie is at least slightly tongue-in-cheek in its adherence to the usual fame-drugs-redemption clichés. It's told in flashback from a rehab meeting, which John attends in a full winged-devil costume with heart-shaped glasses. The title song takes the award for most non sequiturs in a single montage. After diving into a pool in an ostensible suicide attempt, John sings "Rocket Man" with his younger self (Matthew Illesley), who is playing a little piano on the pool floor, before being carted away on a gurney by paramedics, who take him straight to a concert at Dodger Stadium, a performance that climaxes with him shooting into the sky. A runner-up for arbitrariness is "Bennie and the Jets," which John sings as he stage-dives into what looks like a Madonna-directed production of "Cabaret." Fletcher seems more comfortable with big set pieces than with dialogue. A scene with the music publisher Dick James (Stephen Graham) doesn't reach "Bohemian Rhapsody" levels of weird editing, but the camera turns up in a quite a few corners of that room. As for the movie's content, "Rocketman" attributes John's rise to fame to killer piano skills and the usual self-help aphorisms (the singer is advised to "kill the person you were born to be in order to become the person you want to be"; ponder that for a moment). His demons stem from various deficits of love in his life. His manager, John Reid (Richard Madden), sleeps with him but sees him more as a cash cow than an equal romantic partner. (The movie isn't as coy about gay sex as "Bohemian Rhapsody" was, but there's nothing terribly boundary-pushing for a Hollywood film, either.) His longtime lyricist, Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), loves him as a brother. His father, given an opportunity to make up with his estranged-but-now-famous son, merely asks for an autograph for a co-worker. But picking at the sillier details of a production that aspires to camp excess is beside the point. Would "Rocketman" be a better movie if it were less extravagant, or if it dwelled less on the question of whether Elton John could himself feel the love tonight? "Rocketman" is high as a kite, flying well above any potential criticism from the Croisette. […]

  • Cannes 2019: Sorry We Missed You
    von Barbara Scharres am Mai 17, 2019 um 1:53 PM

    No one speaks to the heart of the working world, and to every exploited category and class of humanity quite like Ken Loach, a British social realist whose passion for exposing injustices past and present has burned in films  like his two Cannes Palme d’Or winners: “I, Daniel Blake” (2016) and “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” (2006). Loach’s new film “Sorry We Missed You,” premiering in competition in this edition of the Cannes Film Festival, powerfully takes on the humiliations and hidden horrors that today’s ever-growing gig economy visits on those forced into its system.  “I, Daniel Blake” permitted the eponymous hero, an aging unemployed carpenter, his rousing, crowd-pleasing turn in triumphant rebellion, brief though it was. “Sorry We Missed You” is a far more harsh and bitter film, a prolonged cry of pain. A good and loving family’s slide toward tragedy begins when unemployed jack-of-all-trades Ricky (Kris Hitchen) lucks into what appears to be a golden opportunity. He signs on to become a “white van man,” a franchise contract driver making home deliveries for companies like Amazon.  “You don’t work for us, you work with us…master of your own destiny,” says Maloney (Ross Brewster), the blunt thuggish boss of the vast hive of a distribution warehouse in the city of Newcastle. Ricky discovers that working for himself has a price, starting with the purchase of a van and insurance. The alternative is to rent from the company at an exorbitant daily charge. A lengthy list of possible penalty fees and fines is reeled off, for everything from missing the precise time window on the scores of rush deliveries per day, to damaging or losing the all-important hand-held scanner. The scanner will detect his every move and every slip-up. To afford a down payment on a van, Ricky sells the family’s only asset, his wife Abby’s little car. A contract employee herself, Abby (Debby Honeywood) is a visiting health care worker for the elderly. She must now visit her homebound clients by bus, adding many hours to her already long day. With their two kids, son Seb (Rhys Stone), 16, and Liza (Katie Proctor), 11, they are by and large a happy family. The kids know no different way of life, but Ricky and Abby still feel the ache of being renters because the house they were mortgaging was lost in a banking collapse when Seb was still a baby. The film’s title, a line from a delivery form, takes on an ironic significance as it becomes increasingly evident that “missed” is the operative word in the trajectory of this script. Loach juggles the individual story lines of the family members, each struggling with a new order as a result of the essential ingredient that has been removed from their life as a family: time together with each other as a supportive interlocking unit.   Ricky now works a 12-hour day, six days a week, and can barely keep up; Abby also works days plus three nights a week. With little contact with their harried and stretched-thin parents, son Seb grows hostile and uncommunicative, skipping school and tagging in public places. Spirited little Liza is wetting the bed at night, panicked by the anger and shouting that has become the new norm at home. Circumstances close in around the family with developments that include Seb’s arrest for shoplifting spray paint, and the robbery of Ricky’s truck that leaves him injured and subsequently fined and deeply in debt to the company for damages and missing goods.  Loach’s exposition methods are not subtle, and are seldom seamless, but he is a master at making them work with emotional impact. A scene in which Abby, waiting at a bus stop, vents to a bystander after her supervisor berates her for getting off schedule by tending to a client she found covered in her own excrement, is enormously wrenching. “I have one rule, treat them like you would treat your mum.” “Who would leave their mum like that?” she cries, tears sprouting in frustration. The ways in which the system of gig employment is irrevocably weighted against the contract employee are demonstrated brutally. Ricky’s wages are calculated per delivery, and he is expected to meet increasingly accelerated goals while assuming all of the personal and financial risk. If he falls behind, he is expendable. Abby’s loving compassion for her clients’ needs and emergencies is a commodity that has no value for the agency that demands that she tick off a set number of time-limited visits per day without fail.  Loach is a skilled storyteller who has a canny sense of how to bring an audience with his characters all the way. “Sorry We Missed You” is a timely contemporary tragedy, but it is also laced with humor, silly moments, and a very palpable sense of how real people live and feel. Anyone who has ever received an online order delivered by one of those white vans will never look at one the same way again. […]

  • Joanna Hogg on The Souvenir, Painting the Structure of a Film in Watercolors and More
    von Carlos Aguilar am Mai 17, 2019 um 1:22 PM

    A visual artist who writes in images more literally than most, British auteur Joanna Hogg has decisively disowned some of the creative chains pertinent to fiction storytelling. Her severance with traditionally formatted screenplays and strictly rehearsed acting came as the result of over a decade in scripted television, where her directorial influence over the material and its portrayal was restricted. Nevertheless, from a practical standpoint, the fruit of that slightly unfulfilling labor was the platform to hone her narrative craft and emerge as a seasoned expert in guiding performances. Breaking the rules is much more feasible when you’ve extensively worked within their limits before. Her 2007 debut, “Unrelated,” inspired spiritually by Rohmer’s “The Green Ray,” began as her attempt to impose those parameters, but naturally evolved into a personalized method where the script was no longer the story’s dictator.   Not unlike “Unrelated,” Hogg’s next sumptuously cerebral, yet criminally underseen, two features: “Archipelago” and “Exhibition,” interpret existential distress with an unassumingly revelatory voice on finely painted canvases. Her dramas observe individuals coming together and falling apart, unspoken doubt and how it tests us, and the irremediable loneliness that sometimes corrodes the human mind. For “The Souvenir,” the first part of two connected explorations of toxic affection and personal growth, Hogg implements her now signature choices to process a chapter of her own memory several decades removed. The reproduction of such innermost pain was made possible by bestowing it onto fictionalized characters, their cores are built out of reality.  In that pursuit, the filmmaker repurposed an aircraft hangar to house her former London apartment and film school under the same roof, and resurrected stills of the city she took in her facet as a photographer back in the 1980s, when “The Souvenir” takes place, to be projected as the views her characters see outside the windows. Being carved out of this deliberate artificiality is perhaps what makes it her most truthful work. Her protagonist, Julie (newcomer Honor Swinton Byrne), not Hogg’s direct surrogate but close incarnation, embodies a vehicle for the past to speak in a soft but penetrating tone.    Appearing in Los Angeles before starting production on part two in the summer, Joanna Hogg met with us to open up about her preproduction experimentation, the curious but purposeful format of her scripts, her love for championing other people’s movies.    "The Souvenir" / A24 In your role as a filmmaker working on your own projects and not television anymore, you refer to the blueprint to tell your stories not as a script but as a “document.” Could you describe what this document or documents are? Yes, I always have difficulty knowing what to call it; it’s just my version of a script. So it is a script in a sense, it just doesn’t look like a conventional screenplay because it’s describing scene by scene, but with only examples of dialogue. I don’t write all the dialogue, but there are some scenes for which I write some words that I want the actors to say, but first and foremost, it’s telling the story and it’s describing the underlying emotion of the story, in a way that you don’t normally do in a conventional screenplay. To my detriment I took a Robert McKee scriptwriting course in the late '80s and I remember he would say, “Whatever you write, you’re writing what you’re going to see and hear.” I was very discouraged by the course that I did. Somehow, from that or maybe later on because then I worked for a long time in television, I came out of TV feeling that I needed to invent my own map for my films. What does the document contain? Is it only text or also visual references?  It also includes images; it includes photographs. And that can be, for example, in the last draft of “The Souvenir - Part 2” that I wrote, I included photographs that were actually taken when we were shooting Part 1. I find that for each draft I like to have new images, so I don’t keep reusing the same images, because it’s for myself, first and foremost. It’s about inspiration and about making connections between ideas. So in an early draft of the first part, for example, I had Polaroid images that I’d shot in the early 80s to give a feel of that time period. [The document] is like a scrapbook in a way. It doesn’t look like a scrapbook, but it is a sort of form of scrapbook of ideas.  Given its more intense personal links, was the document for “The Souvenir” different in any way from those used in your previous projects? No, for “Exhibition,” there was a very similar looking document, again with photographs, again not very much dialogue. It looks more like a novella, or a section of a novel. The same for “Archipelago,” but for “Unrelated,” I wrote the first drafts of that as a conventional looking screenplay, with all the dialogue. It was only when I began shooting “Unrelated,” which was a film I made after about 13 years working in television where I was working from other people’s conventional scripts for TV series, that I felt that what I put on the page was not what I wanted to have happen in front of me in scenes when I was shooting. So I let go of the screenplay, I let go of this 100 page object that I was carrying around, and started to encourage the actors to say things in their own words, based on obviously the plan, based on the story that I’d written, but it seemed just more interesting and more dynamic.  Since you are not working from a traditional screenplay, what do the actors get from you? Do they have access to the document or parts of it?  Not everybody gets that, actually. Using “The Souvenir” as the example, Tom Burke, who plays Anthony, saw the document. I felt it was important that he knew where the story was going and the shape of the film, because he as the character is very much directing Julie, and at points directing the story himself. It felt right for him to he see it, but I thought that for Honor, who hadn’t been an actor before, hadn’t been in a film before, it would be more effective for her not to see where the story was going, and so she is literally sort of lead by him in a sense, and by events that happen, and that way she could respond very spontaneously within a given scene. "The Souvenir" / A24 You’ve often described the sets or physical environments where your films tales place as islands, and I feel like that description it makes a lot of sense. In “Archipelago” of course it’s more literal, but in “The Souvenir,” you recreated your former apartment in a hangar, and in “Exhibition,” you had a few streets in your domain to tell your story. In a way your sets are disconnected from the world. Why do you enjoy working that way? Because it allows me to shoot in story order, because we don’t have to travel very far, so there’s not that practical thing where, if you’re going to a location that’s a few miles away, well then you have do all the scenes that you’ve got in that location in one go, and going backwards and forwards each time that location comes up in a story is really impractical. So it’s partly a thing of convenience, but it also allows me a lot of freedom to contain the story and the characters.  Even though I have this document when we set out to make this film, I am actually adapting that document and I’m adapting the story day by day. So we might end the first week, and then if I’m lucky I’ll get a Saturday and Sunday to work on where the story goes from there, because I’ll learn a lot from the journey, because I’ll see how characters are interacting, or I’ll think, “Maybe I’m interested in seeing a bit more vulnerability of a particular characters,” so I’ll invent a scene that shows that vulnerability that I want to see.  It makes me think of “Archipelago,” where there’s a scene where the Edward character is talking to the painting teacher, and the painting teacher reveals his own struggle as an artist and as a young man. That was a scene that I thought I needed part of the way through the shoot, and didn’t realize what was going to come out it actually, so sometimes I’m just allowing space for things to breathe and move, and really just to keep the whole thing alive.  Working in that approach, would you say your actors become islands themselves, being isolated to the point where the world of the film becomes the only thing that surround them?  In a way, yes, and they’re also experiencing the story in an intimate, more intense way, because we’re all living near each other, in front of the camera and behind the camera, so the story becomes quite real for everybody in a way. Normally everyone would be going off to their different homes and then they’d come back the next day to work, but we’re all together all the time this way. So it’s quite intense, but it’s very rewarding. How did the logistics of working and living together change for “The Souvenir,” since it was an artificial set rather than a space in the real world like in your previous films? It did because we were all living in houses around the air base where we were shooting. When I was first thinking about the story, it wasn’t immediately clear to me how I could contain it, and be able to shoot in story order. I wasn’t sure how the island was going to be created, and then it became clear that of course, we needed to build the apartment, we needed a film school, and that the apartment could be within the film school, and so gradually, it became clear that I could have an island for this film that takes place over a much wider time span.  Both in "Archipelago" and “The Souvenir,” paintings have great emotional significance. Since you are painters yourself, how those that other facet of your artistic personality influences you work in film, philosophically or aesthetically? It influences it in a way that’s very hard to describe, but I find the act of painting myself very inspirational. When I’m working on the ideas and when I’m writing. With “Exhibition,” I painted the structure of the film. It helped me to see where I was going and what I wanted the shape of the film to be, and even if I’m not always painting the structure, I’m often drawing in my notebook, so I like doing diagrams of the shape of the film and the shape of story. I suppose it’s because I’m a visual person. Those diagrams and those drawings really help me find where I’m going.  What do you paint when you are painting the structure of a film? Do you create characters and landscapes or key inspirations? More abstract than that, actually. I was actually doing shapes, and I guess I suppose a form of diagram, but I was actually using watercolor on watercolor paper, so it was a combination of watercolor and charcoal and pencil. It’s hard to describe, but there were shapes and a sense of something developing, a shape developing, and somehow I visualize the whole film in an abstract way. What’s the significance of the title painting at the center of “The Souvenir”? Was that a painting that you always loved, or did you come across it at a particular point in your life like Julie in the film? I was taken to see that painting by the man that inspired the story, and it was before the relationship, and it was very near the beginning of knowing this man. He took me to the Wallis Collection to see that painting, and just like Julie at the end of “The Souvenir,” I was given a postcard of it by him. When you’re working in elusive manner where the moving parts are constantly up in the air, what is are your instructions to the actors? What are the conversations that you have with them when they have what seems to be a lot of creative freedom? They do and they don’t have freedom. It’s a challenge to describe how the process is, because it’s not always the same every day, and then it’s different depending on whether its an actor or not an actor, or on their personality, but it’s a process that happens as we’re shooting. So if we’re doing a take, I’ll start the particular take for a scene in often quite a loose way to begin with, and then rather like, while we’re on the art painting analogy, it’s sort of like sculpting a scene. I usually start off, but that’s not always the case, it can happen the other way around. It can feel quite chaotic at the beginning, and actors don’t know where they’re going to move, and I want them to use their own instincts. It’s quite messy that first frame, often, and then it’s a process of refining it and then limiting it, and then maybe the dialogue also gets reduced or someone comes in from a different place.  I find, again, being visual as a filmmaker, I have to see it in front of me sometimes to know what I want to do with the scene. I need to see the actors moving around and then I know, “Yes, you’ve just got to stay seated,” or “You come out at this point after that person said that line.” It’s a process, but it’s a very active, a very alive thing that happens.  After working for so long within the constraints of television and then leaving that behind, when did you start feeling like you were on the right track to become the filmmaker that you wanted to be? It was when I was making “Unrelated” that I felt like there was something clicking, there was something going on that I really liked, and that I wanted to continue in that vein, in that way of working. Actually, about a year before making “Unrelated” I had been working on a one-off television piece from a series, and during the making of that work, I became very frustrated with the limits of television of that time. The television landscape now is very different, but back then, in the kind of television series work I was doing, I wasn’t able to be that creative with the scripts that I was given or casts that I was given. I could choose how to shoot a scene, the mise-en-scène, within limits. In television then, it was very much about mid-shot, and you mustn’t shoot too far away, so then after the frustration of that, then I felt that, “Well it’s not or never,” in terms of making a film. At the same time, I was discovering other ways of creating work; I was painting and drawing, which I hadn’t done since I was a teenager, so doors were starting to open.  Would you be inclined to return to television at all? I’m much more interested now. I think there’s some really interesting work going on in TV. It’s a very different landscape now. "The Souvenir" / A24 What are your memories of being a film school student? In the film, Julie struggles to find her voice as an artist amidst the emotional turmoil she’s facing at home.  It was a very difficult time actually, because I was involved in this relationship. That meant there was a tension between my home life and my student life, so I never felt engaged in student life, which I wanted to be. It wasn’t so clear to me then, but I was definitely never in the right place somehow. So if I was in the relationship at home, or if I was at film school, I always felt I had to be in the other place, so it meant that I never fully engaged as a film student. Only after this relationship ended did things start to happen in my work at film school. Like Julie, were you at first interested in making films completely unrelated to your own experience?  I was only 21 when I went to film school, I was a lot younger than a lot of my fellow students, and there was no way I could have that outside view of myself at that age, and therefore have a clear enough view of where I was in the world in order to put that into a film. My inspirations were very much outside my own experience, just like Julie. Several years ago you mentioned in an interview that you had started a film club in London to screen repertory titles and films that are rarely seen. Are you still involved? It’s a little quiet at the moment, because of what’s going on with my own filmmaking, and then Adam Roberts, my partner in A Nos Amours is also quite busy, but we’re always talking to each other and we’re always discussing future plans, but we haven’t yet found an idea since having the two-year retrospective of Chantal Akerman. We’re not sure what we’re going to do next, but we’ll come up with something soon. I feel it’s hard to find the time for everything. What do you find fulfilling or compelling about showcasing or championing other filmmaker’s work?  It’s a nice break from my own work, and looking at myself and my own filmmaking, and I’m obviously very interested in other people’s work. It wasn’t just Chantal Akerman, we were showing films by many other filmmakers. It was really nourishing and also satisfying, particularly to show a younger generation of filmmakers or just a younger generation of people these works in the cinema, and know that often they hadn’t seen that particular work, either before at all or certainly within the cinema context, so that was really exciting, to see the response from particularly a younger generation.&nbs […]

  • John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
    von Peter Sobczynski am Mai 17, 2019 um 1:22 PM

    There are any number of thrilling passages in “John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum,” but a moment of true inspiration—when you know that you're in the hands of filmmakers who are intent on creating a work of wit, style, and vision—comes relatively early. Our hero, soulful assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves), is at the New York Public Library to find a very specific book when he's interrupted by one of the approximately 11 million people who will attempt to kill him over the course of the next two hours of screen time. Eventually John kills him by utilizing the book he's holding as a weapon. That part is great, but the moment of true inspiration comes next when he goes back and replaces the book on the shelf where he found it. This detail works not because it is funny, but because it fits the character so perfectly that it would almost be weird if he didn’t do it. In a genre where impersonality is the name of the game more than ever, it's a delight. In the original “John Wick,” we were introduced to Wick, the recently widowed former member of a shadow cabal of assassins governed by the rules-obsessed High Table, who was spurred back into action when connected punks killed the dog left to him by his late wife. In "John Wick: Chapter 2," he was still enmeshed in the world that he had successfully left behind and at the end, he killed a member of the High Table while on the grounds of the Continental Hotel, an establishment designated as a safe ground for those in the assassin trade. This move leads to his being designated “excommunicado” by the High Table—all of his rights and privileges are stripped away and an open contract is issued for one and all on him with a payoff beginning at $14 million—though colleague Winston (Ian McShane) gives him a one-hour head start, partly out of friendship and partly, it appears, for his own amusement. Granted, this is not quite as generous as it sounds since it appears that everyone in the Wickiverse, at least those with speaking or bleeding roles, is an assassin themselves. Wick’s plan is to make his way to Morocco in the hopes of tracking down the secretive leader of the High Table in order to make a personal offer to atone for his grave transgression. Although no one in the organization is supposed to offer any assistance to Wick, he does receive some aid from a couple of people from his past—his onetime mentor (Anjelica Huston) and Sofia (Halle Berry), a onetime killer who now runs the Morocco branch of the Continental and owes Wick for a past favor. While he is off trying to find the head of the High Table and fighting off all comers, another member of the organization, known only as The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) arrives in New York to set things in order and punish both Winston and The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) for daring to aid Wick. To help carry this out, they enlist the services of Zero (Mark Dacascos), a sushi chef with an endless array of deadly ninjas at his service, all of whom seem giddy at the possibility of fighting the legendary John Wick. When the original “John Wick” came out, audiences expecting just another dopey action film were shocked to find that it was a borderline brilliant work that contained an unexpectedly smart and funny screenplay, a performance from Keanu Reeves that bordered on the sublime in the way that it properly utilized his unique persona, and action sequences so stylishly executed that they reminded viewers of the best works of such genre masters as Walter Hill, John Woo, and Luc Besson. Amazingly, the follow-up managed to more than clear the high bar set by its predecessor by doubling down on the action beats and by expanding the film’s universe in fascinating ways. If the original “John Wick” was “Mad Max”—a work that transcended expectations to become an instant classic—"John Wick: Chapter 2" was “The Road Warrior,” a work that took off from an impossible-to-top source and proceeded to top it. As it turns out, “John Wick 3” is not quite the “Fury Road” of the series but is easily its “Beyond Thunderdome,” a work of pop cinema so blissfully, albeit brutally, entertaining that you come out of it feeling even more resentful of its multiplex neighbors for not making a similar effort. The problem is not with the staging of the action scenes—director Chad Stahelski (the former stuntman who also directed the previous installments), along with cinematographer Dan Laustsen, and production designer Kevin Kavanaugh, present us with an endless array of stunning visuals and stuntmen, wreaking gloriously gory havoc with everything from guns and knives to the aforementioned book and even a horse. Where the film does stumble a bit, however, is that the attempts at further world-building are not quite as inspired as in the previous films. The Adjudicator, for example, seems like an interesting idea for a character but nothing much comes of their presence—Dillon is fine but pales in comparison to previous memorable franchise characters played by the likes of Adrianne Palicki and Ruby Rose.  Still, there are a number of wonderful elements on display in "Parabellum." There's Reeves, whose ability to make the most out of the least amount of dialogue would leave the likes of Bronson and Eastwood agog. There are moments of unexpected humor that blindside you—the location where Wick meets his mentor yields a bigger laugh than most actual comedies. And the consistently exciting fight scenes also yield a lot of big laughs, especially during the kills where Wick is forced to use something other than a gun. Oh yes, I almost forgot the dogs. Halle Berry's character is accompanied by a couple of dogs who go on to steal practically every frame of film featuring them, more than holding their own during one of the movie's big fight scenes. No, I haven’t seen “A Dog’s Journey” yet, but if you see only one movie sequel featuring dogs this weekend, I guarantee that “Parabellum” is the one to beat. […]

  • The Sun is Also a Star
    von Christy Lemire am Mai 17, 2019 um 1:20 PM

    Beautiful, young people fall in a swoony, doomed love over the course of a single, eventful day in a sun-dappled New York City.  Yes, “The Sun Is Also a Star,” based on the Nicola Yoon novel of the same name, is the impossibly contrived stuff of Young Adult fantasies. And yet the leads are so lovely and the city is so shimmery that it’s hard not to get caught up in its spell—for a while, at least, until its corny coda destroys whatever goodwill the film has generated. Director Ry Russo-Young (who previously directed the teen time-loop drama “Before I Fall”), working from a screenplay by Tracy Oliver (“Girls Trip”), aims to break our hearts, but also make us think. “The Sun Is Also a Star” is a fable about what it means to be an immigrant in the United States in today’s increasingly closed-minded climate. The lead characters struggle to be true to their heritage while also defining their own American experience, on their own terms and with their own expectations. These pressing notions are wrapped up in gauzy, dreamy packaging, with likeable, photogenic stars enjoying a sparky romance that grows increasingly melancholy, as we know it can’t last. Yara Shahidi of “Black-ish” and Charles Melton of “Riverdale” make the leap from television with aplomb as opposites who aren’t just attracted to each other—they literally collide on the sidewalk. Granted, Melton’s hunky Daniel had seen Shahidi’s radiant Natasha earlier that morning in Grand Central Terminal and stalked her through a few different neighborhoods, which we’re meant to think is sweet rather than creepy. But still—they meet cute at a moment when they’re both on the brink of big changes. She’s the daughter of Jamaican immigrants whose whole family is about to be deported the next day after an ICE raid. He’s the son of Korean immigrants who’s about to visit a Dartmouth alumnus for an interview that might help him secure a spot at the prestigious university. She’s a pragmatist with a head for science who’s fascinated by astronomy. He’s a romantic with a heart for poetry who’d rather do anything than become the doctor his parents want him to be. She doesn’t believe in love; he believes in nothing but. They are ideas, these two, but they’re also pleasant company. Naturally, as they get to chatting and flirting, they realize how different they are. But when Daniel bets Natasha that he can make her fall in love with him by the end of the day, it’s only a matter of when, not if, despite the fact that she has a ticking clock of her own. In the vein of Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise,” Natasha and Daniel walk and talk through the streets of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. And they do have decent chemistry with each other, even as they’re saddled with some cringey, on-the-nose dialogue. (Along those lines, Shahidi is often stuck spelling out the film’s themes through self-aware narration, a frequent YA movie trope.) But New York City looks lovely and inviting—a place where seemingly anything is possible – through the eyes of cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw, who recently shot Max Minghella’s vibrant “Teen Spirit.” “The Sun Is Also a Star” also explores sections of the city we don’t often see in movies, from a black hair care store in Harlem to the Roosevelt Island tram, as Daniel tries to prolong their “fated” connection and Natasha insists it’s pure coincidence while fighting to keep her family in the U.S. A scene at a karaoke bar where Daniel seductively croons “Crimson and Clover” while richly hued lights play across Natasha’s mesmerized face is particularly lush. Certainly, you don’t see a movie like this for realism. You go for the escape, and to bask in the glory of its gorgeous leads. But “The Sun Is Also a Star” deserves credit for trying to sneak in some actual substance beneath the fluff. It also features an ending that’s downright perfect and borderline daring—if it had indeed ended there and not continued on five years and several minutes of screen time later. There’s a natural stopping point that feels just right and leaves the story on an achingly wistful note. But then it keeps going in a scene that prompted unintentional (but well-deserved) giggles from the audience during a recent screening. Sometimes, it’s better if everything isn’t written in the stars. […]

  • The Souvenir
    von Monica Castillo am Mai 17, 2019 um 1:20 PM

    I imagine that Joanna Hogg’s “The Souvenir” plays differently depending on your life experience. From its Sundance premiere, I heard grumblings about its main character, Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), and the frustrations some felt with her decision to stay in a clearly toxic relationship. For me, “The Souvenir” is perhaps the most empathetic movie to capture that kind of bad romance, the way it seeps into every aspect of your life, the way it changes your behavior, how you hold onto the memories of good times when things get rough and how after it ends, you're a changed person. In Hogg’s semi-autobiographical movie, Julie is an aspiring film student who wants to tell stories outside her rarified privilege. By chance at a party one night, she strikes up a conversation with Anthony (Tom Burke), a mysterious and slightly older employee at the Foreign Office. He takes a great interest in her, challenges her ideas and courts her with letters that make her smile. Anthony introduces Julie to art, gives her movie recommendations and takes her out to fancy dinner clubs. He seamlessly becomes a part of her daily life and moves in with her. For Julie, it’s an idyllic whirlwind romance, until one night when she notices bruises on her lover’s arm. Anthony waves off her worries, but soon, more telltale signs begin to show. He constantly asks her for money, his absences grow longer and his behavior becomes more erratic. One of his friends eventually asks Julie what’s she’s doing dating a heroin addict. Their romance starts to cracks but doesn’t break. She still loves him and stays by his side when he goes through withdrawals and waits for him through the night until he wanders back to her. Throughout her 2007 debut “Unrelated,” “Archipelago” and “Exhibition,” the characters of Joanna Hogg’s movies are mostly privileged, repressed members of British families who feel their way around emotions without ever verbally acknowledging them. Her stories take place in gorgeous, architecturally rich spaces or off at an idyllic vacation. Often she places her camera far from her characters’ faces to watch scenes play out from a distance, somewhat alienating the viewer from whatever inner turmoil is roiling within these people. Despite these characters’ material comforts and beautiful surroundings, there’s always a profound layer of vulnerability and insecurity in Hogg’s characters. “The Souvenir” tops them all, in part because Swinton Byrne wears Julie’s vulnerability and insecurity as plainly as she if she had put on a winter coat in summer. She gives a tremendous performance, balancing her character’s anxiety, her crumbling focus on school and her steadfast resolve to be there for Anthony with varying degrees of success before the next outburst. Without spelling it out, the movie touches on how important Julie feels when helping the person you love, the exhilaration of finding someone who understands you for the first time and the crushing realization that you might be out of your depth with his problems. Burke’s enigmatic work is just as remarkable as his co-star’s. He effortlessly keeps an air of mystery to Anthony but makes it subtly apparent why he has such a hold on Julie. Anthony lavishes attention on her and takes her seriously in ways her parents and teachers won’t. He listens to her intently, yet only rarely gives her the approval she so craves. He pulls her away from her work and friends and openly manipulates her emotions. But once they embrace, her frustration with him melts away, and their warped relationship cycle begins anew.   Not every shot in “The Souvenir” is in sequential order, and there are sporadic flashes to the countryside and the couple’s trip to Venice sprinkled throughout the narrative. The countryside is where Julie’s parents live, and it’s where her mind goes to when she’s working out thoughts. Her voice is her own in these interstitial scenes, unaffected by Anthony’s influence. Venice marked the beginning of the end of the couple’s happier times. At the start of their visit, she’s stressed and crying, and later, when dressed up and heading to the opera, they walk up a flight of stairs separately, with Julie following Anthony rather than beside him, their unequal relationship dynamic rendered as gorgeously as a magazine perfume ad. Yet, in between these painful moments, there are moments of affection and passion, and those seemingly random shots of Venice become the memories she uses to justify staying in the relationship. As with Hogg’s previous work, her architectural eye perfectly frames the tragedy in all its different stages. Most of the drama unravels in Julie’s flat, a small but light-filled space that becomes overwhelmed by Anthony’s moody presence. His fondness for dark suits and a floor length deep navy coat contrasts against Julie's pastel wardrobe Julie. The mirrors in Julie’s flat and in the hotel room in Venice act like Hogg’s reflection on her past self, an understanding gaze that only comes with experience and time. David Raedeker’s cinematography has a soft quality to it, as if the movie itself were a kind of memory that’s no longer as sharp as it once was. Most of the eclectic soundtrack are new wave staples about love, like the Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way,” a reference to the story’s ‘80s setting and Julie’s hopeful mood about this new romance in her life. On my rewatch of “The Souvenir,” I paid more attention to Tilda Swinton’s supporting performance opposite her daughter. Fittingly, she plays her mom in the movie as well. On-screen, they share Hogg’s trademark stifled relationship, in which Julie doesn’t appreciate her mother’s concerns for her but neither does she feel secure enough to tell her about her older boyfriend’s heroin addiction. There’s a tender scene near the end of the movie where the two women are up late waiting for Anthony, and Swinton’s character send her daughter to bed saying she’ll wait for him in Julie’s place. Julie’s mom then sits on her bed with the lights on and a sorry stare. She had given her child everything and still fusses over her as a grown-up, yet she couldn’t protect her from this particular brand of heartbreak. To steal a quote from “BoJack Horseman,” “When you look at someone through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.” With the combined efforts of Hogg, Swinton Byrne and Burke, “The Souvenir” recreates the sensation of riding an emotional roller coaster with an unstable partner: the dizzying highs, the free-falling lows and the unpredictable sharp turns that can be either terrifying or thrilling. The title of the movie comes from Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s painting that’s featured heavily throughout Julie and Anthony’s doomed affair, but “The Souvenir” doubles as a reference to the unseen but still painful bruises you can get with a relationship as rocky as theirs. Some days, I miss those rose-colored glasses, but I have the bruises to remind me why I took them off in the first place. […]

  • Trial by Fire
    von Sheila O'Malley am Mai 17, 2019 um 1:19 PM

    Ten years ago, David Grann's article "Trial by Fire" appeared in the New Yorker, with the subhead: "Did Texas execute an innocent man?" Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 for murdering his three children by arson in 1991. Grann painstakingly digs through the shoddy investigation, the rushed trial, Willingham's appeals (Willingham never pled guilty), and makes the case that yes, Texas executed an innocent man, and Texas knew it executed an innocent man. Just reading the article is enough to make your blood boil. Edward Zwick's film "Trial by Fire", starring Jack O'Connell as Willingham and Laura Dern as Elizabeth Gilbert, the playwright who took an interest in Willingham's case, is a blistering polemic, even though Zwick's approach is pretty workmanlike. The film plods at points, trudging along, and there are a few misguided narrative "devices" tacked on, but still, "Trial by Fire" bristles with anger. The opening sequences show in no uncertain terms that there was something fishy at Willingham's trial. Willingham was a notorious figure in the small town of Corsicana, Texas. He was a drinker, a bruiser, and had a volatile relationship with his wife Stacy (played here by Emily Meade). The investigation into the fire which engulfed their tiny house seems rushed, as though arson is the only possibility, and during the trial witnesses inexplicably changed their stories. The neighbor, who saw Willingham breaking windows, trying to get back into the house, suddenly testified that he hadn't seemed upset at all, he seemed more worried about his car. (Willingham later said that yes, he moved his car away from the house but only because he was concerned it would explode from the nearby flames). The prosecutor makes a big deal about Willingham's love of heavy metal, and its possible connections to Satanism (shades of the West Memphis Three). Willingham does not have money for a proper attorney, and so his defense is lackluster. Willingham yells out complaints from his spot in the courtroom, to no avail. He is convicted and given the death penalty.  Even for someone who hasn't read Grann's article, it's obvious that Willingham didn't do this. And because it's so obvious, these sequences—although enraging—somehow lack tension. "Trial by Fire" is filled with this weird mix: lack of tension alongside an enraging sense of injustice. When Elizabeth Gilbert (Laura Dern) enters the story, she does so through a prison outreach program, volunteering to correspond with a prisoner. She is assigned Willingham. They eventually meet, and their series of conversations through the glass partition are central to "Trial by Fire," showing Gilbert's transformation from a shy and uncertain woman, dealing with her own problems (two teenage kids who don't get her obsession with a murderer, and a dying ex-husband), to an impassioned advocate for Willingham's innocence.  Zwick is more comfortable in Gilbert's middle-class world than Willingham's world, and this is an issue, especially since Zwick and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher stick close to the chronology Grann used in his New Yorker article. Zwick knows Gilbert's world first-hand, and it shows, the film settling into an atmosphere of book club girl-chat, rushed breakfasts and parental concern. Many of the flashback scenes to Willingham's past are the opposite of lived-in, with a lot of flailing about and Stacy yelling lines like, "You think you can stay out all night and come home and sweet talk me?" "Trial by Fire," for all its empathy, is totally outside the experiences of people in such dire economic circumstances. Laura Dern galvanizes projects with her sense of authenticity and truth, and she does so here. She is the one who unleashes the film's sense of anger and helplessness. Gilbert begins her own investigation into Willingham's trial, uncovering inconsistencies in the trial documents, even tracking down Dr. Gerald Hurst, a famous fire investigator, begging him to look at the evidence and weigh in. (Grann's article is very good in explaining how arson investigations can be botched by incorrect assumptions about how fire operates.) The eccentric Dr. Hurst is played Jeff Perry, a wonderful actor (and an original co-founder of Steppenwolf Theatre). In a great stand-alone scene, Hurst takes one look at the evidence in the crime scene photographs and immediately sees that the fire wasn't arson, was, in fact, probably caused by a faulty space heater.  Zwick and Fletcher have added some "flourishes" which don't work at all, particularly the device of having the ghost of one of Willingham's daughters visit him in prison, sitting on his bunk, chatting with him. This device is familiar from Zwick's work on "thirtysomething," the television series he co-created with Marshall Herskovitz, where straight narrative was interspersed with wild fantasy sequences, launching you into the headspace of the characters. But here, it's awkward, super-imposed. Equally awkward is Willingham's developing friendship with one of the prison guards, a man initially hostile to him. "Trial by Fire" is a very angry film, and these choices are unnecessary and sentimental.  "Trial by Fire" is a weird mix. It's a rage-ball of a film, a furious op-ed column (with extant footage of then-governor Rick Perry praising Texas' death penalty laws), but also a conventional melodrama about a woman neglecting her resentful teenage kids the more she gets wrapped up in the case. Dern's passion is so palpable it makes you wonder why the story wasn't told from her point of view. Only in her face, in all its passionate sincerity, do you feel the literally incendiary nature of the injustice taking place. […]

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