WRB—June 2023 Film Supplement
Not for pleasure alone
Why don’t you get William F. Buckley to write the WRB Film Supplement?
In Annie Hall (1977) Alvy Singer refers to “The National Review” while holding a copy of a magazine with a rather similar name.
In The New Yorker, Michael Schulman on how Marvel conquered Hollywood:
It can be dispiriting to see so much acting talent sucked into the quantum realm of the M.C.U., presumably for a tidy sum, but the paychecks alone don’t explain Marvel’s hold over stars. “At some point, you want to be relevant,” an agent who represents several M.C.U. actors said. “Success is the best drug.” This year, Angela Bassett became the first actor to be nominated for an Oscar for a Marvel role, in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” “Well, it’s so modern,” she told me in February. “We try and stay current, and they’ve got a winning formula.” Entire generations now know Anthony Hopkins not as Hannibal Lecter but as Thor’s dad, King Odin of Asgard. “They put me in armor; they shoved a beard on me,” he told me. “Sit on the throne, shout a bit. If you’re sitting in front of a green screen, it’s pointless acting it.”
In Vogue, Abby Aguirre profiles Margot Robbie, star of the upcoming Barbie (2023), and learns about the world of the movie:
When the shoot breaks for lunch, I meet Robbie in her dressing room. She’s wearing a black chiffon polka-dot blouse, matching pants, and black patent leather ankle boots. I am now so steeped in all things Barbie that all I can think when I see her is: Chanel Barbie. “You’ve changed form,” I say as we sit down. “It’s a very different version,” she says. The concept of the campaign is abstract, Robbie says when I ask if there is one. “It’s kind of like: I’m in a car! I’m in a club. I’m in a room! Is it a hotel? I don’t know! I’m in a theater. I’m watching what we shot. And now, I’m back to putting on lipstick.”
[As Hannah Long pointed out, there’s some interesting unexplored stuff involving Greta Gerwig and religion in here. —Steve]
- on “A24 Brain”:
The modern retelling is considerably more prudish than the mediaeval original. Everything here is gelded. Its Gawain has no totemic qualities; he’s not a highly-wrought image of improbable chivalry, just an everyday neurotic trapped in some bourgeois family drama. In this sense he’s more realistic than the Gawain in the original poem. But the poem managed to say something quite deft and meaningful about the human experience, precisely because it operated at a low resolution. It takes place in the bright symmetrical world that swamps half the human psyche. The film does not. Gawain’s moment of human weakness loses all meaning. In the end, it’s just a guy doing stuff.
In UnHerd, Rob Doyle on the relationship between Ingmar Bergman’s life and art:
This obsessive conflation of past and present is synecdochic of a broader trend towards collapsed binaries in Bergman’s miscible life and work: art and reality, self and other, persona and actor, pain and pleasure, and especially dreams and cinema are always being run together. To Bergman, everything was cinema, theatre, performance — which is to say it was all dreams, or all nightmares. Love itself was a “bold production” in which ‘the decor was tasteful and the lighting well arranged”, whereas the sweetest dream of all was Bergman’s extraordinary career: “Sometimes I dream a brilliant production with great crowds of people, music and wonderful sets. I whisper to myself with extreme satisfaction: “This is my production. I have created this.”
In The Point, David Hering puts Éric Rohmer in political and international context:
Modernism was not in and of itself a problem—“Modernism is not ugliness alone,” he wrote, “we have to learn to see it”—but it could tarnish the heritage of a traditional French city. He believed it was an immature form—its very presence retrospectively tainting the purity of traditional architecture. Throughout the “Comedies and Proverbs,” Rohmer alludes to a connection between the depthlessness of the characters and the “mediocrity in the construction” of the modern architecture in which they reside. Despite his supposedly Bazinian approach, his involvement in the development of the built environments in which the films take place suggests an unprecedented degree of directorial control, unfamiliar even to the most overbearing of auteurs, and yet this role remains invisible to all who watch the film.
In 4Columns, Andrew Chan on Apichatpong Weerasethakul:
On paper, Weerasethakul’s methods might suggest chaos or, worse, contrivance. But for all its formal restlessness, his work is fiercely disciplined in its temperament and cohesive in its preoccupations. Like other cinematic poets of the sublime—Carl Theodor Dreyer, Andrei Tarkovsky, Terrence Malick—he’s given to metaphysical ruminations on love and death. What distinguishes him is the lightness of his touch: the camera is, for the most part, serenely static; the editing is unhurried; the music selections favor gentle, cutesy Thai pop songs instead of portentous orchestral swells; and the actors, who never raise their voices, are usually no louder than the crickets chirping or the breeze blowing on the soundtrack.
In Slate, Dan Kois on the twists and turns of Russell Crowe’s career:
It surely didn’t help that, though his career didn’t crater as Ryan’s did after Proof of Life, his public persona suffered—in part, I think, because for years Crowe so feared the press that his reluctance to play the game became obvious. He’d seen what the media could do. He tried to manipulate Australian journalists, even offering one prominent writer a salary to try to get others to publish positive coverage of Crowe’s sideline singing dull rock music. (The writer, Jack Marx, later told the tale in a remarkable Sydney Morning Herald article headlined “I Was Russell Crowe’s Stooge.”) When, in 2005, he was arrested and perp-walked in New York City for throwing a phone at a hotel concierge, Crowe blamed the concierge, and the police, but also the media for making him a target. He felt like he was walking around, he complained to Marx, with a dartboard on his ass. When a fan asked Crowe to sign a copy of a book about the actor for the fan’s mother, he replied, in one of my all-time favorite celebrity tweets, “Sorry to tell you, unauthorized bullshit biography full of rubbish, assumption, and shit from newspapers. Say hey to your mum.”
The phenomenal scene gives Delpy a chance to dominate, her effortless charm and beauty radiating off the screen as Hawke’s character watches, transfixed. She quips, “Baby, you are gonna miss that plane”, before he laughs, “I know,” fiddling with his wedding ring as he realises that Celine is the love of his life. Although Hawke’s performance is also magnificent, Delpy steals the show, and it’s not hard to understand why Jesse wrote a whole novel about her despite meeting her only once.
In a telling phrase that Penman makes much of, Fassbinder once said he wanted to appear “ugly on the cover of Time.” The phrase suggests something of the high-low medley of his persona. His movies are undeniably arthouse, claustrophobic productions that hold us for too long in humid interior rooms filled with the wrong furniture and the wrong people.
But much of these movies’ style and inspiration comes from lower cultural depths: gangster films (early Fassbinder), the theater (a good splash of Brecht, but heftier pours of cabaret, vaudeville, the flamboyant world of underworld nightclubs), and, perhaps most importantly, the melodramas of German-exile-turned-Hollywood-pioneer Douglas Sirk. From Sirk, Fassbinder learned a certain simplicity, a soft moral sensibility, a humanist feel for the sadness of life. A way to make political films out of everyday scraps.
Siobhán is on her way to Colm’s house with the bloody finger in a shoebox when she is stopped in her tracks by the sound of shelling far away in the mainland. You see an uncertain look pass on her face, but then the next moment she resumes her brisk pace. McDonagh doesn’t let us know, then or later, what Siobhán actually thinks about the war, and the camera frames the interlude all too neatly with a wide shot of her walking on the beach. In that instant you realize that McDonagh doesn’t want you to forget about the war, and that all this while we’ve been peering at these islanders from afar instead of taking in the world through their eyes.
In Journal (the Letterboxd magazine), Mitchell Beaupre interviews Paul Schrader:
On the other hand, I also remember a party I went to in the late ’70s on the West Side. It was all film students and a lot of Brits from cinema magazines and young American critics, a very young room of all of us. And Sam Fuller was there, holding court in the corner with his cigar telling his stories. I remember thinking at the time, “What’s the matter? Doesn’t he have any friends his own age?” [Laughs] And now I’ve become that guy.
In Vox,interviews Laurel Parmet, director of The Starling Girl (2023):
It was important to me to focus on the nuances—to show a more nuanced case of an abuse of power and an abusive relationship. Of course, there are many cases of abuse where it is very black and white. But I think in order to fully understand abuse, we have to look at more nuanced cases as well. If you only focus on the victimization, you’re only telling one side of the story. When it’s only framed as this black-and-white thing, it can be harder for people going through it to actually recognize what’s happening. Then you end up doing essentially what I had done, which is denying wounds because you think they’re not serious enough.
My hope with this film is that people will see how complicated these situations can be. We can be exploited, while also wielding power. Both of those things are truths.
Speaking of Cannes, we finally have a trailer for Scorsese’s upcoming Killers of the Flower Moon (2023).
Release the second Nicole Kidman AMC ad.
Mosfilm has put a lot of its movies on YouTube for free.
New monograph on Whit Stillman coming out in September.
Currently in theaters:
Love Again (dir. James C. Strouse, May 5):
Surely it is possible to devise a better vehicle for Celine Dion than a story about a guy who receives texts a woman is sending to her dead boyfriend’s number (it has been reassigned to him) and uses them without her knowledge to win her heart, which he accomplishes with the help of Celine Dion, for some reason.
[We are still waiting on a movie to find a way to competently show both what is on a screen and what is on the face of the person using it. If we are going to have movies set in the present this will have to be done. Alas, I have no ideas. —Steve]
Fool’s Paradise (dir. Charlie Day, May 12):
John Malkovich is on screen for about two minutes and delivers everything you could want from him as a raving titan of industry. Adrien Brody and Kate Beckinsale are on screen for slightly longer and make their smaller parts as movie stars very funny. Charlie Day is on screen for about ninety minutes and does nothing interesting, as if the Tramp did nothing but have a look of blank incomprehension on his face (Day’s character has suffered a mental breakdown and lost the ability to speak). For a movie that tries and mostly fails to be satire of Hollywood, where everyone projects onto this simple-minded man whatever they want him to be, the ending is surprisingly cheesy, uplifting, and fake. This wants to be Being There (1979) when it doesn’t want to be homage to Chaplin, and it is neither.
[With this and Babylon (2022) we now have two incredibly self-indulgent failures out in the past few months in which an evil rich guy in some sort of lair underneath the desert outside Los Angeles declares that movies will become (in the 1920s) or are (in the present day) a bunch of stupid mindless violence with no merit beyond mass appeal. Messrs. Day and Chazelle, I am happy you are making this critique of superhero movies, but would it kill you to make a good movie in which to include it? —Steve]
Hypnotic (dir. Robert Rodriguez, May 12):
An episode of The Twilight Zone with an uninspired premise stretched out for 75 minutes. The next 15 are used to slap a laughable happy ending on it. Everything is explained in thudding detail, and everything being explained is laughable, a bunch of concepts stolen from better science fiction movies and shown with images stolen from better science fiction movies. At least Ben Affleck’s character has that air that Affleck characters frequently have of superiority and boredom while wondering why he’s here and why he has to deal with this. And it’s true. Ben Affleck is superior to this movie.
BlackBerry (dir. Matt Johnson, May 12):
[“You said they were the best engineers in the world!” “I said they’re the best engineers in Canada.” is the funniest exchange I’ve seen in a movie in a while. I lost it in the theater over and over. —Steve]
Two stories in one, both far funnier than any of the other movies about men in business out recently. The first, starring Jay Baruchel as Mike Lazaridis, tells the story of how a naif was corrupted. The second, starring Glenn Howerton as Jim Balsillie, depicts a completely amoral figure who achieves great success before being brought down by the very same traits that enabled him to achieve great success. That the stage in which either character is on top is not shown—it skips right from everything going right on the way up to everything going wrong on the way down—puts both stories in stark relief.
It’s not clear that this movie has a real theory of why BlackBerry fell beyond “the iPhone”, although it offers glimpses of possibilities in the incredibly dysfunctional relationship between Lazaridis and the tech side and Balsillie and the business side, as well as a stubborn refusal to adapt that is shown on screen as a desire to cling to the clicking sound the keys make. It has a bit too much of a desire to turn everything into jokes to really make the commentary bite, but the jokes are so good that it gets away with it. Watch this one.
Master Gardener (dir. Paul Schrader, May 19):
Schrader has earned the right to keep on making movies about the same sort of guy he’s always been making movies about, and Joel Edgerton inhabits the weariness of the character well. It feels as though Schrader decided that he wanted this one to address race relations and white supremacy, and he sets up an interesting scenario in which to do so, but the movie seems unsure of itself and is content to skim the surface. And at this point in his career Schrader really should have a handle on questions such as “is it appropriate for this movie to depict two characters having sex by showing them driving on a road through a hyperreal forest-garden where everything is in bloom before, at the end, the road itself blooms and everything goes to black?” There are movies in which it is, and this is absolutely not one of them. And that scene speaks to the biggest flaw here: this was not thought through carefully enough.
The Little Mermaid (dir. Rob Marshall, May 26):
Releasing something frequently set underwater that looks this bad, dark, and dull a few months after Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) is just embarrassing for everyone involved.
You Hurt My Feelings (dir. Nicole Holofcener, May 26):
There is a lot of art about artists, but very little of it is dedicated to the all-consuming desire most have for people to find their work good and the emotional devastation that can ensue when they find out that people have been lying to them about what they think. [Tell the Managing Editors what you think of the WRB Film Supplement! Say it’s good! Don’t lie to me! —Steve] Mixing that with the dynamics of marriage and friendship creates something explosive, and this movie knows the characters it depicts inside and out. (Everyone knows people like this—it’s in all creative types somewhere.) The ending is a bit too neat as the characters come to pat realizations of what it means to support one’s artist friends, but it does manage to put a neat bow on the unexpected outpourings of emotion from mild-mannered people throughout this movie. Watch this one.
About My Father (dir. Laura Terruso, May 26):
Great actors can make dreck—for example, the latest in a string of movies out recently that pathetically plead for white ethnic identity to mean something—if not good, interesting and fun. Robert De Niro is a great actor.
Sanctuary (dir. Zachary Wigon, May 19):
[This is a family publication, and so my review is circumscribed.
Oscar Wilde almost certainly didn’t say, “Everything is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power”, but here we have a movie made purely out of that line. It tries to examine the intersection of the power described and class and occasionally has an interesting idea. I would make a joke that erotic thrillers are back, but it’s hard to make that joke when this movie has no nudity. (It is a decent erotic thriller that would not benefit from nudity.) And Margaret Qualley is always worth seeing. She’s a star. —Steve]
Critical notes (cont.):
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial