WRB—Feb. 2023 Film Supplement
I’m gonna write him a newsletter he can’t refuse
[When I asked Steve to do this, I didn’t expect him to take quite such a comprehensive approach. I’ve allowed him recourse to the first person here, in violation of WRB’s editorial style; this will not continue. I hope you find this edifying and entertaining regardless. —Chris]
The WRB Film Supplement, like film itself, is a relatively new art form. We aim to let you know what’s in theaters (and what’s good in theaters) as well as provide a variety of information, reviews, links, &c about film and adjacent matters. We’ll see what works and what doesn’t and go from there.
In Sidecar, Jonathan Kirshner reviews Quentin Tarantino’s “coming-of-age movie memoir and deep dive into the spectacular films of the 1970s”:
Absurd as it is to invoke Gore Vidal in this context, a quote of his well describes what the reader will learn—or not learn—about Tarantino from this book: “I’m exactly as I appear. There is no warm, lovable person inside. Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.” Yet I still harbour the suspicion that our narrator is actually more sophisticated than he lets on.
In the LARB, Greg Gerke reviews a new collection of Serge Daney:
Many people coming of age today can’t suture themselves into cinema, not only because the tyranny of screens has lessened its impact, but also because their Watcher won’t let them. The necessary angel of the imagination has been branded a counterfeit figure—a view emboldened by intellectuals across political orientation. Hence, we have, instead, the schizoid megalomania promoted by social media, where clips, GIFs, and so on are the thrust of one’s aesthetic booty, these markers the simple brand signifying or supplanting cinephilia.
In The Bulwark,on Avatar’s cultural impact:
The problem with all of these explanations is that they should apply to blockbusters and prestige pictures alike—yet the market is more top-heavy than ever. And this is, perhaps, the true cultural legacy of Avatar: the suggestion that the theater is a place where you go see something that you simply cannot see at home. Where you travel for an experience.
In Vox, Alissa Wilkinson on the controversy over Andrea Riseborough’s Oscar nomination for Best Actress:
What I mean is that campaigning for an Oscar is almost exactly like campaigning for president—except it happens every year, and less is, admittedly, at stake, though it might not feel that way to the nominees. This is so true that when I wrote about it several years ago, I found political consultants were as knowledgeable about the process as awards strategists (and more open about it, too).
In Slate, Dan Kois on the gothic horror of Tár’s ending:
But I will go to the mat to say that reading the “plot” of Tár literally is a mistake. For long stretches of the film, we have exited the realm of realism and are firmly in the world of the supernatural. Tár is not truly a cancel culture movie. Tár is a kind of ghost story, in which we’re so deeply embedded in Lydia Tár’s psyche that nearly everything that appears onscreen is up for debate.
Forrest Cardamenis on The Whale as an artistic failure and a failure opposed to art:
Never mind that Moby-Dick is among the most transcendent works of art known to man, a thorough and invested exploration of the ways people find and create meaning and the limits and possibilities of language in illuminating such hefty subject matter—The Whale wants us to believe that such works are not merely challenging but fundamentally dishonest. It is, we are led to believe, better to say that life may not be very exciting than to actually explore this idea through a more carefully considered use of language.
In Filthy Dreams, Emily Colucci on the Decadent antecedents of Infinity Pool:
“Each of us has Heaven and Hell in him,” Oscar Wilde writes. I don’t quote The Picture of Dorian Gray for no reason. In many ways, Infinity Pool reminds me of a sci-fi/horror version of Wilde’s classic. Both Dorian Gray and Infinity Pool question what would happen if we lived out each and every impulse, no matter how horrific or immoral, with absolutely no consequences. You know, decadence! I can even imagine Gabi delivering some of Lord Henry’s most convincing lines like if “one man were to live out his life fully and completely, were to give form to every feeling, express every thought, reality to every dream—I believe that the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy…”
Currently in theaters:
M3GAN (Dir. Gerard Johnstone, Jan. 6):
In theory this is a movie about a robot who does funny dances and kills people, subject to the constraint of needing this movie to get a PG-13 rating so that teens can see the robot do funny dances and kill people. All of that is handled well enough. The PG-13 rating does make some of the violence seem neutered, but M3GAN does her murders with plenty of panache. In practice this is one of the best pieces yet dealing with particular parental anxieties of our time—is the work of parenting being handed over to screens and devices? Can a single woman be completely devoted to her career and still raise a child well?—while tying it back into the universal parenting anxiety of being intimidated by the responsibility of raising a child and afraid of failure.
Plane (Dir. Jean-François Richet, Jan. 13):
A competent action movie. Gerard Butler is good at this sort of thing and also at sounding Scottish. Good brain-off way to kill an hour and 40 minutes.
Missing (Dir. Nicholas D. Johnson, Will Merrick, Jan 20):
Another competent thriller. One day someone will figure out how to shoot a movie in which almost all the action occurs on various screens. That day has not yet arrived.
Infinity Pool (Dir. Brandon Cronenberg, Jan. 27):
This movie is a mess but a glorious one. Trying to handle twisted erotic obsession, especially with violence, questions of identity, and cult indoctrination against the background of rich people using their money to make their own rules is a bit much, but Brandon Cronenberg (who did not fall far from the tree) mostly manages to hold everything together. The penal system of the Caribbean/Eastern Bloc/Orientalist nation of Li Tolqa allows for one of the best adaptations of the Ring of Gyges I’ve encountered. Think Jekyll and Hyde on steroids. What this movie really has going for it, though, is Mia Goth’s performance as Gabi, completely demented and violent and sexual without even a hint of eroticism. It may be even better than her similar performance in Pearl, which made that one of the best movies of the past year. I highly recommend this one to anyone who will not be put off by body horror and a lot of the least appealing sex acts imaginable.
80 for Brady (Dir. Kyle Marvin, Feb. 3):
No other art has yet dared to confront one of the most important issues facing our nation: the psychosexual fixation that every woman in New England over the age of 40 has on Tom Brady. The argument of this movie, such as it is, is that such women are escaping the flaws of their actual relationships with men by dreaming about Brady, who is unobtainable and perfect and very attractive. [It’s not for me. —Chris] It is dreck, of course, but it is dreck that Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda (whose character has made a career out of Gronk-themed erotic literature), Rita Moreno, and Sally Field have a surprisingly fun time with. I obtained the expected ironic pleasures from this movie. The women in the row behind me at the theater enjoyed it, I assume, sincerely, and also much more.
This movie also ends with Brady sitting on a beach saying he’s not going to retire if he’s still got it. Make of that what you will.
Knock at the Cabin (Dir. M. Night Shyamalan, Feb. 3):
What if nothing happened in Sophie’s Choice other than the titular choice? What if the choice were given additional stakes for some reason? What if a movie did nothing to earn any of this? M. Night Shyamalan answers these questions, and more, in his latest film.
The Best Picture nominees:
Do you actually need to watch all of them for the sake of cultural literacy? No. But you should watch some of them. I’ll tell you which.
All Quiet on the Western Front (Dir. Edward Berger, Oct. 14, 2022):
I haven’t seen this. I understand that Netflix’s business model requires them to send movies more or less straight to streaming. And I understand that people increasingly have big TVs and good sound systems at home. But, to me, this does an injustice to the movie itself, part of an art form that was designed to be seen in a theater and with an audience. I didn’t understand Rothko until I saw his paintings in person: those images of them, a few inches by a few inches, on my laptop screen did nothing for me. We will always watch old movies at home, but those old movies got the honor of being shown in theaters. New movies deserve the same.
Avatar: The Way of Water (Dir. James Cameron, Dec. 16, 2022):
Now this is a movie that justifies the theater. Sure, maybe the first one had little cultural impact, but I’m not really sure what this means when said about a movie that grossed $3 billion. (See the links section below for more about this.) Sure, the plot is hokey and has things thrown in solely so that future sequels can explain them. For example: they’re hunting the space whales for immortality juice, and this gets two sentences? But that’s not the point. You’re not here for a movie. You’re here for spectacle and images, and James Cameron knows how to give you three hours of things you’ve never seen before. It’s still in theaters: go see it on the biggest screen you can (and in 3D).
Everything Everywhere All At Once (Dir. Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert, March 11, 2022):
This movie alternates between sickly-sweet sentimentality and a style of humor best described as either “Reddit” or “lol im so random” and in either case purely nihilistic. Neither works on its own, and they fit together terribly. It’s good to see Ke Huy Quan acting again, and he does the best he can with this material. Really only worth it to see how, despite the best efforts of this movie to produce meaning, sentimentality and nihilism go hand in hand.
The Banshees of Inisherin (Dir. Martin McDonagh, Oct. 21, 2022):
A movie directed by Martin McDonagh and starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson will inevitably be compared to In Bruges, especially when the movie is about men engaged in pointless and self-destructive violence. And it is weaker than In Bruges, but so is almost every movie ever made. It does improve on it in its treatment of women—Kerry Condon turns in the best performance in this movie, a fleshed-out version of the innkeeper in In Bruges who cannot comprehend how these men are so willing to devote their lives to mannered feuds and mannered brutality. I have no use for the lore and mythos that a certain kind of American loves to build up around Ireland, but this movie doesn’t need it, and the windswept island looks pretty enough on screen. The Irish Civil War is, ostensibly [And literally, in terms of the framing. —Chris], the background, and the movie’s take on all that is clear enough, but it’s better than that, since it knows that the universal is found in the particular. [ linked to this Letterboxd review by Devan Scott critiquing the cinematography and I found it pretty compelling. —Chris]
Women Talking (Dir. Sarah Polley, Dec. 23, 2022):
I have not read the novel by Miriam Toews that this is based on. That said, this has the feeling of a weak adaptation. Important plot elements are unexplained or left unclear: thematic elements that I am sure Toews used and developed are just left there. (The only adult male character in this movie for more than five seconds is named after Augustine, who deals with rape in great detail in De civitate Dei. The movie does nothing with this.) This movie also has an odd habit of cutting to B-roll of children playing in the fields. It’s hard to make a movie that’s just people sitting around and talking, but, well, the movie is titled Women Talking and would have benefited from a more intense focus on that.
Top Gun: Maverick (Dir. Joseph Kosinski, May 27, 2022):
Quality American cheese! [I’ll note for the last time that I did not like this movie. And I’m grumpy that no one agrees with me. —Chris]
Elvis (Dir. Baz Luhrmann, June 24, 2022):
A better version of this movie exists, and it’s called Amadeus.1 Quality American cheese!
The Fabelmans (Dir. Steven Spielberg, Nov. 11, 2022):
The biggest question I had after watching this thin fictionalization of Steven Spielberg’s childhood is: does he actually like movies?2 Quality American cheese!
Triangle of Sadness (Dir. Ruben Östlund, Oct. 7, 2022):
It’s fun and funny in parts, but ultimately it says nothing not said better by “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy.”3 Quality, well, whatever kinds of cheese rich Europeans eat!
The Best Picture of the year is
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial