Dave Chappelle: The Closer

Written by Taylor Baker

90/100

Mark Twain Award Winning humorist and self aware greatest of all time(GOAT) comedian Dave Chappelle returns to Netflix to have his patented open conversations with himself – sharing some laughs, some hurt – all while inhaling some smoke. Dave has long talked of his place in our global community of Earth, national community of America, and, especially since The Chappelle Show, how he feels in his skin, in his circumstances. And he’s never been shy about translating that feeling to the larger demographics he considers himself a part of. Whether African-American, Black, Man, Ohioan, Comedian, Artist, or Human Being. Dave has zeroed in on providing perspectives from personal angles and done so loquaciously. Albeit with occasional cultural backlash if not turmoil.

The thing about comedy, and comedians is they’re using words to debate culture, to keep a check and balance on it. They’re fighting ideas and improvising outloud to make their personal experiences mappable to you, with the structured up front goal of making you laugh. If they succeed, they did their job. If they didn’t, they failed. Simple. Men like Gilbert Gottfried have done it for years with use of his harsh tone of voice and clever black comedy lines that you couldn’t repeat to your grandmother. More recently Taylor Tomlinson has expressed moments of her personal life history to enormous effect. Kathrine Ryan has done the same with a totally different personal story. Comedy has always been about the personal, if not directly as reference material for a comedian’s act. It’s what one finds funny. 

So what’s different? Why is The Closer hitting “differently” than Chappelle’s other work? It’s because he’s talking about his emotions and viewpoint from what he might call in his previous special Sticks and Stones, his seat in the car. While the LGBTQ+ community after the release of the special sits center to the conversation about it, they’re one of many groups and individuals Dave speaks on. Naturally a political and cultural battleground is a draw for critics and commentators. Where duty and topical melt into each other, and what is a comedian if not a critic and a commentator at once, giving us a performative art that reflects the very identity of who we are right now?

Dave eschews the LGBTQ+ community at large within The Closer – as he’s done with almost every single larger community. A running theme from almost all great comedians has always been to disregard, if not disrespect, the larger groups in favor of persons and personal stories. Dave, like so many before him, focuses on what is personal and meaningful to him. Drawing a distinction between groupthink and social cohesion by focusing on the people he cares about, the people he loves. These are individuals with messy lives that don’t fit the molds of our cultural conversation. Dave knows our society’s larger groupings are ugly, and rather than turning away from one of the most vibrant and flourishing communities today, he looks directly at them, despite any dangers of an inevitable backlash or controversy. Following the proverb, “Excluding someone from a joke is worse than a joke about them.” 

I can’t say that you won’t have a negative reaction to some of Dave’s material, or that you won’t be hurt by it. What I can say is Dave’s entire body of work demonstrates an immense belief foundationally in equality. Dave’s friend Daphne Dorman committed suicide shortly after the release of his previous special Sticks and Stones. And it seems as if everything uttered before he recounts her tale in the special is exclusively in service to this final piece of the act working. Not just as “material” for laughs but for the audience, emotionally, so we take it seriously and so we take Daphne seriously. He recounts a brief personal story about her and in it delivers the climax of the special. The climax isn’t simply the story about Daphne herself, it’s what she tells Dave while he’s on stage after they’ve dialogued and he says he just can’t understand her. To which she replies, “I don’t need you to understand me. I just need you to understand that I’m having a human experience.” I don’t think there’s anything else I can say that is more important in unlocking this special or Dave as a person. This is the baby in the bathwater. If you can accept that Dave is operating in good faith and compassion, then I think you’ll have a memorable time with this piece. If you can’t, it’s easy to scroll to Netflix “New Releases”.

Dave Chappelle: The Closer Trailer

Dave Chappelle: The Closer is currently streaming on Netflix.

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

Episode 116: Rescreening Thief

“Could I have worked under a system where there were Draconian controls on my creativity, meaning budget, time, script choices, etc.? Definitely not. I would have fared poorly under the old studio system that guys like Howard Hawks did so well in. I cannot just make a film and walk away from it. I need that creative intimacy and, quite frankly, the control to execute my visions, on all my projects.”

Michael Mann, Director of Thief

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

On Episode 116 of Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor Rescreen Michael Mann’s Thief and provide a First Impression of the next Rescreening episode title, John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence.

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

Michael Clawson on Letterboxd | Taylor Baker on Letterboxd

Thief Trailer

Thief is currently available to stream on the Criterion Channel.

A Woman Under the Influence is currently streaming on the Criterion Channel and HBO Max.

The French Dispatch

Written by Taylor Baker

65/100

Yet another Covid belated release bows in theaters this awards season push, nearly two full years since it’s screenplay was available for purchase in France. Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch is now on multiplex screens around the country. With all the formal panache and tweeness Anderson is known and largely renowned for. The French Dispatch is a staggered vignette anthology film that mostly ties together by the end, not unlike The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The last Coen Brothers film which was released on Netflix in 2018 to mixed reactions from audiences. For Anderson fans The French Dispatch will feel like a familiar experience with plenty of stylings, witticisms, and casting choices that make you feel right at home.

For non-Anderson fans though, the throughline of a narrative expressly about Ennui the word and place may seem more than a bit much. Each part is composed of different elements that are all tonally similar, but largely develop into delightful little offshoot excuses for Anderson to experiment with different subplot arcs. Ranging from kidnapping, shoot outs, high stakes chess, chase sequences, nudity, animation, prison, and “Art”. As one would expect from differing sequences with varied elements some stand out more than others, but each is formally presented with the rigor and exacting visual standards that accompany one’s mind when they ruminate on Wes Anderson.

The opening sequence recounts the founding of a publication in Ennui-sur-Blasé, France called the Liberty Kansas Evening Sun. Pitched as a chance for a young Arthur Howitzer Jr. later played by Bill Murray to get his feet wet in the family business and learn about the world. The subsequent sections are each far more rich and detailed than this opening until we reach the end of the film which acts as a book end to the beginning, this time comprised almost entirely of men and women we’d grown to know over the runtime. The three major segments of the film are:

1. The Concrete Masterpiece which is framed by J.K.L. Berensen played by Tilda Swinton as she recalls the story of an artist in a maximum security prison played by Benicio Del Toro, his muse and prison guard played by Lea Seydoux, Adrien Brody the incarcerated man who discovers and buys Del Toro’s Moses Rosenthaler’s art, as well as a host of other talented actors and actresses. This particular sequence is easily my favorite, and presents some choices that feel new or at least uncommon for Wes.

2. Revisions To A Manifesto written and presented to us by Frances McDormand’s Lucinda Krementz. Revisions To A Manifesto recalls the story of Krementz who lives alone by choice and is unknowingly setup on a dinner date by friends with Christoph Waltz. On her way to the bathroom after some tear gas causes a single tear to begin rolling down her cheek she encounters a young and impassioned Timothée Chalamet. He’d snuck home and into the bathroom to bathe after a hard day fighting the good fight of youthful idealism against the establishment. The segment is mostly conversational and coyly addresses politics, youthful idealism, disillusionment, and the deification of dead youth.

3. The Private Dining Room — of the Police Commissioner presented by Jeffrey Wright’s Roebuck Wright with brief appearances by Liev Schreiber, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, and Mathieu Amalric, as well as others. Consists of a story in which Wright’s character Wright is invited for dinner with the police commissioner played by Amalric for a piece that he has been tasked by Murray’s Howitzer Jr. with for the paper. When the commissioner’s son is kidnapped during their meal it turns into a wry rescue mission story that capitalizes in a delightful if on the nose sequence where Wright digs the last page of the piece out of the trash and Howitzer Jr. tells him that’s the reason to the write the piece.

Anderson reteamed with cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman who has worked on and off with him since his sophomore feature Rushmore. As well as editor Andrew Weisblum who has worked with Aronofsky since The Wrestler. It’s always hard to tell where Anderson’s choices begin and end and where a crafts persons work begins, but the collaboration between these three appeared effortless and seamed together with enough ease that no transitions felt jarring, which isn’t an easy task in anthology films. Though The French Exit lacks the enveloping romanticism I’ve found in my favorite Anderson films it’s an intriguing formal exercise from a master. Luckily the viewing experience wasn’t one of ennui, despite it being our destination.

The French Dispatch Trailer

The French Dispatch is currently playing in theatrical wide release.

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

VIFF 2021 Review: Drive My Car

Written by Taylor Baker

96/100

Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car follows a recent occurrence in the last ten or so years of films inspired by Haruki Murakami’s short stories. The short story in question is also entitled Drive My Car. Which details an aging actor’s relinquishment of responsibility to a driver his theater company brings in. Hamaguchi makes the story his own choosing to eliminate a birthmark for a scar, make a stage actor an actor and director, start earlier in the narrative, and switch which eye a particular character gets glaucoma in. Not to mention a half dozen plus or so other alterations. The spirit of the tale is pregnant within the film, flourishing like vines running up sturdy stone walls in spring. Hamaguchi seems to simultaneously knows he’s nothing without Murakami’s text but he also understands shifting the mode of expression will not deepen the experience. It needs to be innovated upon, comprehensively informed by the visual style, and he seems deferentially to inform us of the role he sees as his in a indicative way through the actions and words of Kufuku.

The film incorporates Anton Chekvov’s 1898 play “Uncle Vanya”. Hamaguchi shifts our lead character Yûsuke Kafuku played by Hidetoshi Nishijima from a simply aging actor in Murakami’s short story to an accomplished actor and stage director, who runs plays with multiple characters speaking different languages. Globalism it seems has seeped into stage productions and rather than feeling bombastic or gaudy it heightens the material. Personalizing it, elevating the intimacy of the audience and the performers, as everyone collaborates to bring “Uncle Vanya” to life in a way that emboldens the narrative and feels wholly new. The film begins with Kufuku’s wife Oto nude sitting in bed looking down at a prostrate Kufuku while she’s bathed in darkness recounting a story to her husband, her lover. The sharing of the story immediately deepens the intimate connection between the viewer and the characters. We feel privy to something private, something between two impassioned souls.

This emotionality, this witnessing of personality (emphasis on “personal”) is on display in nearly every frame. The very heart of our leads and larger supporting characters bleed out infusing into our minds in a conversation where their personal rationale which we can’t see or know for certain is playing like a loud speaker in our head as we watch Masaki Okada’s Takatsuki run up the stairs chasing a young man who had snapped a photo of him with Kufuku, or one of Kufuku’s production team translating his wife’s South Korean sign language. This interiority we’re experiencing with the work is precisely like the engagement with the text one gets when reading one of Murakami’s novels or short stories.

There is an actual interaction, a personal monologue that the film drives within you, showing you bigger things than itself within it and inviting you to feel, to touch, to listen, and to observe it. Hamaguchi doesn’t simply make a film, he creates something one could characterize as both an epic and as “literature”, as Murakami has with some of his stories. If you’ve read my work for any amount of time you know by now that I consider one of the greatest works of modern fiction to be Murakami’s Killing Commendatore which invites one to consider it more as a sculpture that one is physically pressing their flesh against after completion than any sort of book or even painting which the novel itself is based around. So to does Drive My Car invite one into a film while morphing into something bigger and more substantive than the word film can currently convey. Maybe that says something about the quality of cinema today, but I think instead it is more about this work itself. It’s modal evolution, it’s inference and interplay within itself and how clearly and cleanly without losing a step communicates its vastness to the viewer who is in turn interpreting. It’s about the humanity of the piece, that aches to our very core, and echoes in our minds long after the lights have come up and we’ve arrived back at home. Drive My Car isn’t just splendid cinema, it’s a bastion of possibility and wonder built on humanity that you can’t help but love.

Drive My Car Trailer

Drive My Car 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 Wrap Up | Taylor Baker speaks with Thomas Stoneham-Judge of ForReel and Matthew Simpson of Awesome Friday!

VIFF 2021 Wrap Up Discussion Taylor Baker speaks with Thomas Stoneham-Judge of ForReel and Matthew Simpson of Awesome Friday! about the VIFF 2021 experience and a Top 3 films of the Festival round table.

The 2021 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival ran from October 1st to the 11th. To learn more about the festival and see more of what VIFF has to offer, visit https://viff.org/Online/default.asp

Connect with Thomas Stoneham-Judge and ForReel | Connect with Matthew Simpson and Awesome Friday!

Episode 115: Tribeca 2021: False Positive / Italian Studies / Last Film Show / Essie Davis Interview

“The invention of the tripod was the best thing to happen to photography and the worst thing to happen to cinematography.”

Pan Nalin, Director of Last Film Show

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 First Impressions of the Fantasia 2021 Titles: The Suicide Squad & All the Moons and the Tribeca 2021 Feature Films: False Positive, Italian Studies, and Last Film Show. Followed by an Interview with Essie Davis conducted by Taylor Baker on her recent role as Bunny King, in the Tribeca 2021 Film, The Justice of Bunny King.

Streaming links for titles this episode

False Positive is currently available to stream on Hulu

Italian Studies, Last Film Show and The Justice of Bunny King are currently seeking distribution and are not yet available.

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

Michael Clawson on Letterboxd | Taylor Baker on Letterboxd

Dune

Written by Taylor Baker

50/100

Unless you’ve been under a rock the last two and a half years you surely know that Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is finally being released to both theatrical and home audiences via HBO Max on October 22nd. Like me you may have had some of your most blissful cinematic moments with Villeneuve. From his enthralling detective drama Prisoners to his otherworldly narrating fish in Maelström Denis has constantly shirked convention and brought to life a visual story that feels fresh or an improvisation on the previous tools of cinema. Which is a long way of saying that walking into a Villeneuve film feels very much like walking into a Spielberg. You have expectations, how could you not. And unfortunately those expectations were unmet.

Anyone familiar with Dune knows the moments that are cinematic and has personal moments that are cinematic to them, the ones that played like a filmbook in their heads, whether it’s the thopter rescue sequence on Arrakis, Paul reaching into the box, the hunter seeker sequence, or the siege by the Harkonnen. You will have personally had these sprawling crystal clear visions of cinematic splendor or stark pieces of affecting drama in your head. And that’s precisely where Dune begins to fall apart; nothing feels personal. Intimacy is missing between the audience and the vistas of Arrakis, the characters of Dune, and it’s storyline. From the lack of world building to the poorly framed miniatures on screen meant to erupt as yawning behemoths, even the worlds of Calladan and Arrakis are small. They lack character, their meaning to the audience is clouded and we’re nearly always briskly trotting somewhere new with Paul which keeps us from ever becoming invested in the characters around him, which are the true magic of the world.

Despite the scaling issues, the drop off from Villeneuve’s recent SciFi film collaborators is noticeable. The step down from Roger Deakins in Blade Runner 2049 with some of the best cinematography in the last decade and Bradford Young in Arrival with a intimacy and love sickness that somehow feels woven into the imagery to recent Adam McKay collaborator Greig Fraser is severe. The layered compositions are absent, instead stark cold images hang like laundry on screen, uninteresting and rigid. Obscured by nothing and harshly naked. The images aren’t zhuzhed up, they don’t seem to have been made with an effort to make them more appealing, or framed in a way to exemplify the scale we should feel we’re witnessing. Not just the cinematography but the whole film seems like more than this team was capable of taking on. But I must commend the splendor and effectiveness of Hans Zimmer’s score. Using an assortment of wind instruments to make the sands and billowing winds of Arrakis come to life aurally. With Bagpipes, wind chimes, and what seems to be the sounds of wind itself used in tandem with other musical components. Zimmer schemed out and achieved something big through small choices to conjure the atmosphere of an otherwise meaningless place.

Huge performers like Jason Momoa and Josh Brolin scarcely have a moment of solitude or development. Everything is reactionary, and what brief exposition is achieved is typically narrowly focused on Paul in ways that don’t inform the feeling of the further picture at large. Stephen McKinley Henderson’s portrayal of the Mentat Thufir Hawat is one particularly effective bit of casting that allows one of our era’s great character actors to use his miniscule moments to humanize and embolden the sentimentality of what we’re witnessing. Chalamet is restrained, perhaps those not looking for a 14 year old boy will be more moved by his performance, but with all the other poorly stacked bricks underneath him Chalamet’s Paul fell apart. Over acting in moments and seeming like stone in others. Charlotte Rampling’s Reverend Mother Mohaim thankfully does lots of heavy lifting unquestionably in mere moments. As does Stellan Skarsgård’s Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. Oscar Isaac is sturdy, believable and as you might expect from my previous words underused. In Dune’s case I think it’s safe to say the volume of talent has nothing to do with it’s issues. But rather the strategy at play to employ the available resources.

If I were an audience member inexperienced with the narrative I think I would be lost. Failing to grasp the script or grandeur of the beginning of this otherworldly tale. Unsure of it’s religious names and their meanings, unclear on the topography of Arrakis, the distance of Calladan to Arrakis, where exactly the Empire is located(not to mention what they are), what the guilds are, or how interstellar travel is achieved from the spice. In essence this is nothing more than a proof of concept standard comic book hero origin story. The fact that at the end of the film we’re unclear not only all the things I mentioned but the very reason why Paul appears to be some sort of a religious figure to this planet is presumably an enormous reason why it fails. Frank Herbert’s Dune is a novel built on meaning, stakes, loss, hope, gains, and language itself. The fact that none of those strength are transitory into this representation of the narrative by Villeneuve despite the two additional writers that worked with him raises questions not only about the draft of this film. But the drafts of part 2 and further should they be allowed the chance to make further entries. You can’t remove the heart of Dune and still succeed in telling it’s story.

Perhaps my most biting piece of criticism would be to look at the exposition of Episode 1: The Phantom Menace of Star Wars. How clearly and how effectively it sets up the entire arc of what’s going on with the empire and in comparison how entirely unclear and incidental that understanding is conveyed to the audience, especially those unfamiliar with the sprawling tales of Frank Herbert on which it’s based. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t focus some attention on the bungled enterprise that was bringing Lady Jessica to life on screen. She not only lacks character but seems to be a constantly crying and cold woman. Nearly all we see is her crying, being silent, or harshly instructing Paul. A far cry from the intimacy and confrontations she shares with Duke Leto, Thufir Hawat, and Paul in the first novel. The very moments of the plot where her intimacy and character and complexity come to life have been erased, rushed passed completely without being compensated for. Leaving one to wonder how much is on the cutting room floor and why they would favor a shot of palm trees rather than a sequence under their new citadel on Arrakis that if you’re familiar with you’ll know is one of the most transitory moments of the novel in conveying the character of this mother and son to the reader. Dune isn’t a bad film, but it’s so cold, distant, and unsplendorous that it could be easily mistaken for the next high budget Amazon project that has no staying power. The excruciating wait for Dune did no favors for what was already a middling exercise in adaptation of a storied novel. If anything, maybe now we’ll all have a renewed appreciation for the undertaking of Lynch in his adaptation to tell the whole story (roughly) and establish the Empire and its politics and factions all in one feature. Any way you slice it Dune fails to live up to its expectations, fair or unfair as they may be. We’ll see if Denis gets to make Part Two but for now I’m not counting on it.

Dune Trailer

Dune releases in theaters and on HBO Max on October 22nd.

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

The Last Duel

Written by Taylor Baker

88/100

The Last Duel is a film in three acts, each act by a different writer, with a different lead character perspective revolving around two main events. That of a rape, and that of the titular duel. Matt Damon alone serves as both main character and writer for his segment. He plays Jean de Carrouges, a squire to Ben Affleck’s Count Pierre. Act one begins with a stirring exquisitely shot visceral battle at a river where Jean leads a charge of men into shallow water on horseback to drive back their foes. During this encounter he saves Adam Driver’s Jacques Le Gris from death, one of many matters to be disputed in the subsequent acts. Then time jumps as do locations. Jean recounts hist defeat to his count, and one day Le Gris who happens to be his dead child’s godfather turns up requesting taxes for the count. Jean cannot pay his full debt and he goes to battle in the north where he meets a woman named Marguerite de Carrouges played by acting phenom Jodie Comer. Eventually as expected the two wed, and Jean convinces Marguerite’s father to include a particular parcel of land in his dowry to Jean, a parcel that happens to be Marguerite’s favorite from her childhood. Events come to pass and eventually Jean departs for Paris, while he’s gone we learn that Jacques broke in and raped Marguerite leading to Jean’s demand of a trial by God, another name within the film and ostensibly of the time for a “duel”, to the death.

The second act’s main perspective and thus character is that of Jacques Le Gris played by Adam Driver. A squire who according to his recollection keeps Jean from killing himself at the river battle, that quickly rises up the ranks and gains his master Count Pierre’s ear. The segment itself is written by Affleck, witty and subjectively grotesque as it is convincing. Affleck creates a villainous lead that believes himself not only the center of universe outside of his master’s calls, but also a decider of emotions for those “less” than he. Driver is convicted and convincing as ever, speaking latin, playing court, and shaking down taxpayers. We see his own recollection of events against Jean’s; the locations and people are the same, but events and dialogue shift. Jacques naturally is heroically at the center of how he sees it. One day he meets Marguerite and after Jean insists she kiss Jacques to show there’s no ill will between the two and Jacques becomes enamored. We see the act of how Jacques saw his actions, which are grotesque at minimum, his lack of self awareness, his disregard toward Marguerite even in his presentation of recollection is beyond harrowing. It is in this segment that we see Jacques ask Count Pierre what to do, to which Pierre says, “Deny it. It never happened. Deny.” It’s not quite possible to put in this review how that segment hits, it’s bigger than an explanation can offer, the looks and feelings cast on Driver’s face in the scene breathe toward something that despite his awfulness could lead to something like redeeming, but then all at once, it’s snuffed out. This segment too ends at a trial.

The third act is written by renowned filmmaker and writer Nicole Holofcener. Who deftly, stoically, and openly lays bare not only the weaknesses and insecurities of the men in the first and second act but the pride, the ego, and the hurt that anyone involved in a rape may bear. With her segment the film graduates out of a sanctimonious competition between insecure warriors to a larger gradation of achievement. Heightening rather than underscoring Damon and Affleck’s segments before. She, Damon, and Affleck through the talented cast and crew but especially Scott and his talented DP Dariusz Wolski use the events of the past and how they’re presented to talk about the here and the now. Marguerite’s act is the most beautifully presented, the most emotional, and the most harrowing. It’s also the most impactful, so rather than recount and dig into the nuances of her segment I’ll leave it to you to experience.

There’s been a lot of discussion about when and if the definitive Times Up/Me Too film will turn up since 2018, and while I don’t think we’ll ever really know the definitive film of a large social movement or moment until time passes The Last Duel seems to be the most eloquent, stylized, and cinematic presentation of the difficulties that come from grappling with it in the open. The Last Duel is a film that simply cannot be accurately discussed in any capacity without mentioning rape or more specifically the rape that the whole film hinges around. Which may seem ugly, untoward, or disgusting to some, but by elevating the subject and the word “rape” itself into any conversation about the piece of art itself it’s forcing these hard conversations. The Last Duel itself doesn’t end in a way that asserts that one openly declaring publicly what happened to you is the right thing to do but rather expresses the truth of those emotions one may have. And the various reasons a woman may or may not make that personal choice. Being unable to discuss a film at all without mentioning rape hasn’t been done in this capacity since Irreversible and with Scott’s prolific filmmaking sincerity and Holofcener’s clear hearted voice at the center of the film I think you’ll find you’re better for watching it. I don’t suspect anyone thought that from the director of Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, American Gangster, etc, we’d be getting a powerful, emotional, and sincere presentation about the subject matter of the Times Up/Me Too movement. But we did, and we’re all the better for it.

The Last Duel Trailer

The Last Duel is currently playing in wide theatrical release.

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

VIFF 2021 Review: Bergman Island

Written by Taylor Baker

88/100

Mia Hansen-Løve’s seventh feature length film entitled Bergman Island is in essence a meta fictional island getaway trip to work on new creative projects for a couple. The titular island is called Fårö, Ingmar Bergman’s palatial getaway where he crafted some of his greatest masterpieces, and some of the world’s greatest moving images. The couple Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony (Tim Roth), are each artists if not artisans working at their next projects, battling through writer’s block, and more conventionally navigating their relationship whilst doing it. Occasionally when a film is meta, deferential and/or (in this case both) referential to previous work I find myself making comparisons to other previous works of art in an effort to reach toward understanding their contents, themes, and ideas to myself or to hold the idea(s) of them in my head from another angle, at arm’s reach rather than up close, or from afar rather than in the room with me. An alliterative title that keeps doing laps in my head is that of a rebranding of Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona, instead Mia Chris Fårö. Mia Wasikowska joins us in the last third of the film as Chris begins sharing her incomplete screenplay draft with Tony to try and get advice on whether he thinks there’s anything to it. Wasikowska seems to be Chris’s stand in and thus Mia Hansen-Løve’s stand in (If you’re willing to concede that Chris is Hansen-Løve’s stand in to begin with.) Are you losing track of the metaphor? Me too. That’s part of the game with these films within films about films, especially when those films are self aware of the source material.

It’s not clear to a final delineation of comprehension exactly what Hansen-Løve’s point is at the end of the film as Wasikowska’s Amy fades and Chris returns running through a field to hold her daughter. But the spirit of the idea, the ghost of the understanding is there. We spend time throughout the film learning of Bergman’s successes and failings, at one point in a dinner conversation Chris essentially asks, “Do you think he could have been the artist he was and also been a better father?” This is in reference to him having nine children from six mothers before the age of forty, to which her dinner companion scoffs in a jovial laugh and says something to the effect of “Do you think you can direct 24 films not to mention plays before 40 and spend your time changing diapers?”. There’s the ghost of a sacrifice there that Hansen-Løve herself is tackling, through Chris. What is more meaningful? The “work”? Or the family? And perhaps more deeply why can’t the family be the work? These aren’t revolutionary questions or ideations, they are eternal, Bergman himself explored them, but not in the same ways. In that way Hansen-Løve’s film isn’t just an homage using his name, it’s building on the foundation that predated Bergman but accenting itself on the very body of his labor. Revitalizing it in a way, paying deference in another, and more interestingly acknowledging the intimate relationship between an artist and an observer of the art as a relationship itself. Something that Chris herself seeks from Tony during her recounting of her screenplay whilst he receives phone calls, and treats it less deferentially than we’ve seen Chris treating Bergman’s work up to this point. What’s interesting though is it’s not a pointed finger from Hansen-Løve teaching a lesson about the absent minded husband not paying proper attention to his wife. Half a dozen times before this falling action we’ve seen Chris blow off Tony or not take his pieces of work seriously. It’s not that one is right or wrong, so much as acknowledging the intimacy that comes when someone truly connects with a piece, or pieces in a way that maps not only onto their identity but how they express themselves in the world.

All that serious thematic content may make it sound more dour and more stern or observational than it actually is. There’s a scene where Krieps’ Chris walks into the bathroom she and Tony share, the one from Scenes from a Marriage and she simply brushes her teeth. But as she’s brushing them she begins seemingly unprovoked to chortle with laughter, eventually reaching a near hysterical level. It’s not something everyone in the theater got to share, not most, not half, not even an eighth of an at capacity Vancouver Playhouse Theater understood the inside joke of. But those of us(maybe you, dear reader) who’d borne witness to some of the history of that location had a different elatory experience with Chris. The very idea that she was brushing her teeth in the same bathroom where Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson’s Marianne and Johan shot their masterpiece Scenes from a Marriage is simply hilarious. Fårö itself but especially the room Chris and Tony share, is practically a religious site for cinephiliacs, of which Hansen-Løve is clearly one. There’s shared history and through that shared emotions.

Hansen-Løve through Chris inquires as to the religiosity of Bergman himself, she and seemingly Hansen-Løve herself learned on her own trip or through her own study that he believed in ghosts before he passed. This idea of a ghost isn’t overtly dug into, it’s at the corners, the creases of the film, the backgrounds, a figure passing in front of window, or perhaps a Hansen-Løve surrogate named Chris played by Vicky Krieps having a joyful one might say soulful laugh at the very premise of brushing her teeth in the same bathroom Scenes from a Marriage was shot in.

Bergman Island Trailer

Bergman Island was screened as part of 2021 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

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

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.