VIFF 2021 Review: Red Rocket

Written by Taylor Baker

85/100

What happens when there’s a global epidemic and the film you’d been planning to shoot can’t be shot? For Sean Baker the answer to that question is Red Rocket. A long gestating idea that’s been percolating around his mind since researching for his 2012 film Starlet which he also co-wrote with Chris Bergoch. In Sean’s own words Red Rocket is a story about a narcissistic suitcase pimp(though it sounds like you can’t be a suitcase pimp without the narcism) who’s more than just “kind of a piece of shit”.

Red Rocket starts out with a bruised Mikey Saber passed out in the back of a car headed from California to Texas. We don’t know who he is, why we’re entering the story with him now, or anything about him besides his visibly rough circumstances. Baker, true to his filmmaking core, is sharing a slice of life film with us again. This time it’s the life of an ex-pornstar and his return to Texas City, Texas. But once again Baker’s film is predicated upon characters on the margins of society, eking out an existence where films other his so rarely look.

After walking an unknown distance Mikey knocks on the door of a ramshackle home to request shelter from Lexi, a woman he seems to have a history with. Her mother Lil, played by Brenda Deiss, also lives with Lexi. It seems these two have been through this sort of thing before as they protest and run through the laundry list of reasons why he’s no good and can’t stay. So, naturally he stays, promising to pay for rent just as soon as he gets a job. Which he needs an extension on because he can’t go apply for jobs looking all beat up like he is now.

Vancouver International Film Festival 2021

After surprisingly applying seemingly everywhere all around town Mikey goes to an old connection of his to see if he can deal marijuana for her again like he did when he was a kid, and slowly Mikey goes about building up a clientele and providing a high quality product that rather than take up the meat of the story with, Baker eschews to the margins of his narrative fabric with details visually shown without fanfare like Mikey always lugging around with his backpack which we know is full of bud or discussing the act of dealing itself but in very few scenes do we actually see him dealing. He is selling so much in fact that he’s able to pay for the month’s rent at once instead of weekly, which gives Lexi, Lil, and Mikey reason to celebrate. So naturally they go down to the local donut shop for the biggest coffees they serve and as many donuts as either Lexi or Lil desire. This is also the moment Mikey meets Rayleigh, a 17 year old girl who works the counter of the donut shop on Wednesday’s after school.

Mikey skeezily begins to build a relationship with Rayleigh who urges Mikey to call her Strawberry instead of Rayleigh. “That’s what my friends call me.” Mikey begins grooming this 17 year old girl immediately. Going to great lengths to convince her that he’s a hotshot agent from LA. Which leads to one of the funniest running gags in the film, Mikey tossing his bike in the back of Strawberry’s mother’s truck to drive him “home” which is a large and luxurious house that stands starkly against the ramshackle exterior of where he currently hangs his hat. He feigns walking to the door as she drives away and as soon as she turns the corner he turns around and begins pedaling his bike back to the home he’s sharing with Lexi and Lil. Whom Strawberry doesn’t know even exist.

Trey Edward Schults mainstay collaborator Drew Daniels serves as cinematographer for Red Rocket. His images are as sumptuous and bedecked in a shading of light and shadow as ever. Images that simply reek of excellence. If you were to put some of the night time exterior bike riding or truck sequences alongside the truck sequences from Waves it would be hard to tell which shot or sequence belongs in which film. Baker serves not only as Director but Editor of the film, per usual. He experiments more with comedy and horror conventions than I’ve previously seen in a way that while cartoonish breathes a different sense of movie magic into his film that previous entries haven’t had, at least not the films from him that I’ve seen. Which also makes some of the harder to chew on details just a bit more bearable. There’s a great deal of significant events, reveals, and plot generalities that sharing in detail would remove the quality of the experience from, so for now I’ll leave the details of Red Rocket at that. Red Rocket feels familiar but treads ground rarely explored with great craftsmanship and tonal command. As Sean Baker said when he introduced the film to us, “It is a dramedy so if you feel like laughing, please laugh!”

Red Rocket Trailer

Red Rocket was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Episode 114: Rescreening Cape Fear (1991)

“The cinema began with a passionate, physical relationship between celluloid and the artists and craftsmen and technicians who handled it, manipulated it, and came to know it the way a lover comes to know every inch of the body of the beloved. No matter where the cinema goes, we cannot afford to lose sight of its beginnings.”

Martin Scorsese, Director of Cape Fear (1991)

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On Episode 114 of Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor Rescreen Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear (1991) and provide a First Impression of the next Rescreening episode title, Michael Mann’s Thief.

Visit us on your preferred Social Media Platform Letterboxd, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Michael Clawson on Letterboxd | Taylor Baker on Letterboxd

Fantastic Fest 2021: Lamb

Written by Taylor Baker

50/100

Valdimar Jóhannsson solo directorial debut Lamb is a mountainous pastoral film that details the lives of two farmers. Maria and Ingvar, played by Noomi Rapace(Millennium Series and Prometheus) and Hilmir Snær Guðnason whose films most American audiences won’t know. Maria and Ingvar have barns full of sheep, a barnyard cat, a shepherd dog, and underlying the film–no child, no one around younger than them. We’re introduced to Maria and Ingvar as they deliver lambs in one of the barns on their property. The scene is one of truly bringing life into the world as the ewe is actually bearing each lamb into the world.

The wilderness, wind, and fog surrounding the land takes on character in the film, as the fog is essentially the first character we’re introduced to. It’s ideas of separation, isolation, and mixed realities breathes a tonal consistency to the film that saturates it allowing Valdimar control of how we as audience experience what is presented. Looking with the characters themselves through fog. 

Maria and Ingvar take one of the lambs they deliver inside that first night. They nurse it, and put it in a crib with blankets, and somehow the lamb loses it’s four hoof bearing legs overnight in exchange for human appendages. Two hands and two legs. It’s a full faced absurdist piece of magical realism that goes essentially unquestioned despite Ingvar’s disapproving brother’s arrival into the film. Pétur turns up one night as it appears he has many times before, seeking shelter from his brother and Maria. Though he disapproves he doesn’t question the occurrence.

Valdimar Jóhannsson crafts an uncompromising tale, one of absurdism, lust, taboo, and folk tales. But fails to arrive at any particular tier of excitement, intrigue, or affection. We simply witness as bystanders the events of the film rather than being affected by them. That doesn’t take away from his atmospheric prowess creating a place we feel we can imagine, but it does take away from me carrying Lamb further than the drive home from the theater.

Lamb Trailer

Lamb is currently playing in wide theatrical release.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

VIFF 2021 Review: Mothering Sunday

Written by Taylor Baker

40/100

Mothering Sunday is a staggered storyline period piece, that follows Jane Fairchild played by Odessa Young as she variously writes a novel, and experiences the sultry romance of forbidden love by imagining herself as the main character in the story she’s telling. Her lover Paul Sheringham is played by Josh O’Connor, and though he spends little time in our camera’s focus he is undoubtable, always seeming not only of the time but the place. Both lovers are lengthily photographed nude, in each other’s arms, lounging, or walking around. Husson’s camera never elicits an overtly sexual gaze as much as an intimate or personal one.

Vancouver International Film Festival 2021

Young’s Jane is a serving girl in the household of Niven. The head of the house of Niven is played by a tightlipped Colin Firth. Trying to stay cheery in the face of difficulty alongside his wife, played by a restrained Olivia Colman who scarcely utters a word. These two heavies seem to serve more as big name finance anchors, than any tangible value to the story. Collectively showing up for scarcely 10 minutes of total screen time.

Based on the novel of the same name by Graham Swift. Mothering Sunday like many adaptations before it accomplishes little. Young continues to have a unique magnetic quality that we’ve seen on display in Shirley and The Stand. Though that fails to compensate for the brooding slowness of the piece that loses its edge the clearer it gets. At best it’s a delicate omage to a moving piece of romanticism rather than a notable entry into the genre.

Mothering Sunday Trailer

Mothering Sunday was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

VIFF 2021 Review: Compartment No. 6

Written by Taylor Baker

85/100

“All humans should be killed.”

Juho Kuosmanen’s sophomore feature Compartment No. 6 popped on my radar after it received the Cannes Grand Prix award alongside Asgar Farhadi’s A Hero. His first feature previously took home the Un Certain Regard Award at Cannes back in 2016. Juho’s well formed presentation, smooth transitions, and distinctiveness make it feel like his 10th, rather than his second.

The film begins with a social party at our main character Laura’s lovers home/apartment in Moscow. Her name is Irina and it’s not immediately clear who Laura knows at this party or if she even belongs there. She stumbles into a parlor and leans against a couch as everyone trades lines of literature back and forth asking each other who said that or wrote that. Eventually Irina asks the group who said, “The parts of us can only touch parts of others.” Only Laura replies, she guesses wrong and is visibly ashamed. She wanders off secluding herself alone in a room where she begins to look at a book on petroglyphs. Thus starts Compartment No. 6 a not quite romantic tale of a woman from Finland taking a train to Murmansk to see petroglyphs.

Vancouver International Film Festival 2021

Eventually it’s made clear to us that not only does Laura live in this home she seems so out of place in, she’s also Irina’s lover. The woman who quoted Marilyn Monroe’s line, “The parts of us can only touch parts of others.” Laura is played by relative newcomer to film Seidi Haarla, who wears discontentment on her face with ease. She had planned to travel to Murmansk with Irina. But for unclear reasons Irina chooses not to come leaving Laura alone to board the train north. Her ticket assigns her to Compartment No. 6 where she comes face to face with Ljoha, a middle aged Russian man moving north to work in a mine. Laura seems to have a healthyt dislike of everyone and Ljoha is no exception. She quickly flees the compartment that first night and opts to spend every second she can in the dining car.

After a time as expected the dining car closes and Laura is driven back to her compartment in which a now stone drunk Ljoha who won’t leave her be. The relationship between these two becomes center to the film. No extra tendril of emotion is mistakenly placed, no melodramatic convention incurred. Life happens along the rails and these two are thrown together by it or through it. A man from Finland who can’t speak Russian joins them for a time. They visit a woman in a town the train stops in over night for more than a few drinks. These details sound uninteresting, but they’re palpable and filled with moments of internal character expression brought to life through dialogue, ticks, and behavior. The camerawork is so subtle and effective that it’s easy to forget it’s working on you.

Compartment No. 6 isn’t something that can be explained. It’s a picture that is witnessed, that is felt, and that is experiential. No amount of recounting can do justice to what exactly it feels like to view Juho’s texturous tale of lost souls bound toward a destination that is empty of the answers they truly seek. Like most great films it’s one you’ll need to see for yourself.

Compartment No. 6 Trailer

Compartment No. 6 was viewed as part of the 2021 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Episode 113: Best of 2021 So Far

“I believe that as much as you influence your film, the film also influences you. You think you are in control but then things happen that you didn’t anticipate. That’s cinema, and you need to be open and listen to your film.”

Dea Kulumbegashvili, Director of Beginning

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Deezer | Gaana | Google Podcasts | iHeartRadio | JioSaavn | LibSyn | Player FM | RadioPublic | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their 10 favorite films of 2021 so far, as well as hand out show awards for Wounded Soldiers, Squandered Talents, Best Ensemble, Best Documentary, Best OST, Best Actor and Actress(Lead and Supporting), Best Directorial Debut, and Best Classic Discovery.

Visit us on your preferred Social Media Platform Letterboxd, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Michael Clawson on Letterboxd | Taylor Baker on Letterboxd

Forget which film you wanted to check out while listening? Find links to both Taylor and Michael’s lists below: Michael’s Top 10 on Letterboxd | Taylor’s Top 10 on Letterboxd

Fantastic Fest 2021 Review: Titane

Written by Taylor Baker

75/100

“Da da da da da da macarana!”

Contrary to popular sentiment, Alexia played by Agathe Rousselle having sex with a car in the opening minutes of the film is actually one of the tamest and most sensical moments of the Palme d’Or winner Titane. Which requires the aforementioned first time actress Agathe Rouselle to bite, claw, stab, pinch, and tear her way along the film. Ducournau builds on her debut solo Feature Raw with another unconventional film that is simultaneously gripping and absurd. Rooted in body horror, a genre that for so long was synonymous with David Cronenberg is now beginning to feel more global and more expansive.

The film opens with a long look at a seeping oily undercarriage that almost seems biological, with the hum of an engine and a little girl, the camera skirts up under the hood to look at a thrumming belt before young Alexia the young girl humming in conjunction with the vehicle gets in a car accident with her father. She is rushed to the hospital and over an unclear amount of time has a titanium plate put in her skull. Ostensibly serving as the inspiration of the title of the film, Titane.

Reusing the name Alexia from Raw isn’t the only repeated decision Ducournau makes. Bringing back Garance Mariller who played Justine the young veterinary student who develops unorthodox tastes in Raw as a supporting character wears the same name again in this film, Justine. Alexia (Rousselle) and Justine (Mariller) are each car show models, shown to the audience in a long neon lit take that capitalizes in a Alexia draped across the hood of Caddy dancing, horizontally.

Titane straddles multiples lines, juggles multiple hats, and sheds all convention with a long look at the taboo. Murder, mental illness, incest, aging. These types of themes are normally tiptoed around. Ducournau opts instead to look down the barrel of the gun, and bring us with her. A metallic chopstick dealing deafening blows. Body augmentation, chemical and mechanical. Eventually Alexia through circumstances that aren’t quite explained becomes very visibly pregnant while also needing to pretend to be a boy to escape the authorities that are searching for her. She opts to take on the identity of a young boy who was taken years earlier. This introduces us to Vincent Lindon’s Vincent.

Vincent is a firefighter tasked with saving lives and casts a strong contrast to Alexia. There is an enormous range of events and moments that occur between these two in the meat and marrow of the film that deserves engagement but due to amount of spoilers that would provide so close to the release of the film I’ll instead steer away from them for now. What I can say is these interactions lead to instances of catharsis, of shame, and acceptance. There’s also glorious exterior and interior firefighting sequences. With the roar of flames cascading up walls and sprawling across a sparse forest. It’s particularly in these fiery sequences that the sound design and foley work are expressly on display in crystal clear and clean exquisiteness.

Ducournau has a penchant for communicating implicit ideas about self governance, discomfort in our skin, and the personal gluttony that can lead one to commit an act that is taboo. Few films or filmmakers are as straight forward in their risks, as formally accomplished, or as committed. Titane is violent, sexy, and absurd. If it’s playing near you, take the time to see it in a theater.

Titane Trailer

Titane is currently screening in limited release.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

No Time to Die (007)

Written by Taylor Baker

50/100

It’s been about a year and a half since No Time to Die was originally intended to bow into theaters. Cary Joji Fukanaga of True Detective fame, publicly picked up the fallen pieces of Boyle’s failed attempt to make Bond 25 back in 2018. Leading to what was described as rushed production. After viewing the finished product it’s hard to believe those reports were wrong. Fukanaga is mostly known for his HBO critical hit season 1 of the aforementioned True Detective, alongside later entries in his filmography with the likes of Netflix Limited Series Maniac, and a handful of films that have garnered critical acclaim. Most notable among then and also a Netflix Original Beasts of No Nation(which he also served as cinematographer for) from 2015. Fukanaga has been quietly accumulating one of the strongest and most singular voices in cinema since the late aughts. With excitement building around budding Global Starlet Ana de Armas coming off Blade Runner 2049 and the critical and audience success Knives Out alongside Craig as a heavily marketed new type of “Bond Girl”. And of course the fact that this is to serve as Craig’s last turn as Bond, James Bond. It seemed like everything was lining up for a brilliant rendition of everyone’s favorite British spy with a license to kill.

All this preamble serves not just as a historical assessment of how the film is hitting us now a year and a half after it was intended, but to frame the very real tangible expectations that it fails to live up to. No Time to Die is tasked with juggling multiple things, the end of Craig as Bond, storyline continuity (which Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have been charged with 1999’s The World is Not Enough), a continuing romance, 4 writers(excluding Flemming’s “characters by” credit.), and a rushed production. Four writers as a rule of thumb is two to three too many. And on a ballooning franchise with so many interests, Nokia product placement deals and various other things to keep in order this finished product feels distinctly like multiple disjointed voices and parts Frankensteined together with so much production money that you can almost overlook perhaps the most underwhelming part of it, Rami Malek’s villain Safin.

Fukanaga’s best known for his visual cinematic prowess, which continues here, with exceptional extended sequences, meticulously crafted motion shots, effortless focus pulling… I could go on and on. But all that prowess in service of what? Some witty eyerolling jokes? Stakes that don’t ever become personal? A score of Indiana Jones references? It’s at once a self serious and self critical screenplay that fails to hone in on an actual narrative voice that lets us get a sense of what this Bond “wants”. Instead it shows what all Bond films always have, what he’s willing to die for. With more self reflexivity then we’ve seen recently, but not the interesting or good kind.

Overwrought with nonsensical symbolism, those big cinematic moments from the trailers play as well as you’d expect. The hallway and stairwell fight scenes are fun. de Armas despite her very very very brief time in the film is as charming as she is memorable. Once her sequence in Cuba ends I the rest of the runtime trying to drum up a reason in the plot for her to reappear. She doesn’t. She contrasts heavily against Seydoux’s generally eyerolling, uninteresting, and unfun Swann. I hate repeating myself within a review, but occasionally it’s necessary. The lack of emotionality to the various plot devices at work on screen is without question No Time to Die’s most glaring issue and likely what the film will be known for. Instead of a celebration Craig leaves Bond in an overlong stylized whimper.

No Time to Die Trailer

No Time to Die will be available via wide theatrical release on October 8th.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: The Guilty (2021)

Written by Taylor Baker

48/100

Before talking about Antoine Fuqua’s The Guilty one has to mention the Danish film on which it’s based. Gustav Möller’s Den skyldige which translates to The Guilty, was submitted by Denmark for their Foreign Language Category at the Oscars in 2019. All that to say Fuqua isn’t remaking a poor film, one that perhaps needs it. Instead he with Netflix is retelling nearly the same story from 3 years ago absent any meaningful reason other than the original wasn’t in English.

Fuqua is coming off his worst film to date in May on Paramount+ he released Infinite. Which starred a checked out Mark Wahlberg opposite of a dialed in maniacal Chiwetel Ejiofor. Fuqua’s gone back and forth with hits and misses his whole career. Whether you measure from critical acclaim or actual dough at the box office. The Guilty is a return to form in that it’s fine. It dots i’s it crosses t’s. He puts a great actor in front of his camera and makes him work. Jake Gyllenhaal is game. Chewing on the darkness and wheezing his way through conversations to save a little girl at the other end of the phone line.

It’s all just a little thin though. I can’t quite believe the circumstances surrounding our character Joe Baylor played by Gyllenhaal. He’s supposedly a complex and ranging bad guy. I mean he is one of our “guilty” from the title, after all. But he seems heroic not just for moments but nearly the entire runtime. And when his ugly moments do come out he seems pathetic rather than responsible. There’s a tonal loss of control from the originals central character Asger Hold performed expertly by Jakob Cedergren and this rendition.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

Instead of sticking to the tight, suffocating atmosphere that worked so well, Fuqua opts instead to constantly look out through the TV screens to fires raging in LA. His message, themes if you want to be courteous enough to call them that are worn on his knuckles. He’s trying to juggle a bunch of different issues that in his own words preceding the film he wants to bring attention to. Well unfortunately, bringing attention to things and doing a service to them are very different and though his heart may be in the right place his storytelling wasn’t.

The Guilty is at it’s best Gyllenhaal is bug eyed on the phone with Emily and Abby. Trying to help them be reunited safely. The brief moments Gyllenhaal’s Officer Baylor shares with Ethan Hawke’s no bullshit Sgt. Bill Miller ring as a revelation. Hawke as voice actor is superb. Venomous, witty, clever, and insightful all through his annunciation. Once casting directors see what he can do I suspect there will be a late career boom of Ethan Hawke voice acting.

Fuqua’s “one roomer” does little to build on its predecessor. But it doesn’t do it a disservice. The original is undeniably better, but I expect this rendition to be receive lots more eyes with the language shift. Undoubtedly one of the better Netflix Original films to come out this year.

The Guilty Trailer

The Guilty was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival and will be available on Netflix starting October 1st, 2021.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: The Starling

Written by Taylor Baker

10/100

Theodore Melfi’s long awaited feature film follow up to 2016’s Hidden Figures is a an schlocky melodrama with paper thin characters and paper thin ideas. Melfi reteams with Melissa McCarthy who plays Lilly Maynard. A grieving mother whose child one day doesn’t wake up. Her husband Jack played by Chris O’Dowd checks himself into an institution after his wife wakes up to find he’s attempted suicide.

Along the way there’s a CGI bird, that begins incessantly attacking McCarthy whenever she goes outside at home, on her way to work, or just to garden. Part of the film is spent figuring out a dastardly way to deal with the pesky starling, but each plan always ends with McCarthy holding back and opting not to go forward, or regretting the decision she’d made. Over loud composition forces emotion whenever the occasion arises, which is often. The Starling serves as Matt Harris’s first attempt at a feature screenplay and while it hits familiar narrative beats it lacks personal intrigue, we’re always an arms length away from our characters rather than in lockstep. Watching their emotions rather than feeling them.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

McCarthy’s Lilly interplays with the Kevin Kline’s veterinarian/therapist Larry, who while clever in his moments reinforcements that The Starling is fanciful and entirely unreal. Timothy Olyphant, Daveed Diggs, and Skyler Gisondo round out the significant supporting roles as a Grocery Store Manager, Art Therapist, and Grocery Clerk respectively. Each of these players seems forced into the narrative to an awkward level of neither being significant nor briefly shown. Rather they’re in the familiar uncanny valley of, “We got great actors look! And please ignore that we don’t know how to use them.”

Ultimately The Starling doesn’t sing or even warble. It stumbles slumping laboriously through the genre conventions of melodrama. Loss eating up every inch of the narrative without ever really feeling sad. Leaning on a CGI bird for Melissa’s character arc, as she emerges to a more outspoken partner while O’Dowd is away. The Starling isn’t even interesting in failings, not only unoriginal, but uninspired. As too many of these recent Netflix Original Film offerings are.

The Starling Trailer

The Starling was viewed as part of 2021 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival and is currently streaming on Netflix.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.