Episode 110: Rescreening Short Cuts

“People have asked me throughout the years which directors have influenced me. I don’t know their names, because I was mostly influenced when I’d see a film and think, “Man, I want to be sure to never do anything like that.” So I never learned their names. It wasn’t a matter of copying or emulating somebody I admired. It was getting rid of a lot of stuff.”

Robert Altman

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This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor Rescreen Robert Altman’s Short Cuts and provide a First Impression of the next Rescreening episode title, Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat.

Short Cuts Trailer

Streaming links for titles this episode

Short Cuts is available to purchase physically but is not currently digitally available
The Big Heat is available to rent and purchase from select digital storefronts

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Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Review: Poser

Written by Taylor Baker

73/100

“I usually will record digital, then I rerecord analog because analog just sounds better.”

Sylvie Mix stars as Lennon Gates, and before the title sequence winds down there’s little doubt that she’s the professed Poser that the film’s title indicates. But how far does it go? What follows is a weaving observational film at times bordering on a critique of the music and art community in Columbus, Ohio. All the while Lennon is in the background observing, recording, and chewing her lip to create episodes for her Podcast, a motif that certainly hit home with this particular viewer. When does the operation of collecting become artistic theft, and when does mimicry do the same? These are big questions you can put in the heart of Poser though it’s unclear if the film’s screenwriter Noah Dixon(who also co-direct’s alongside Ori Segev) intended for them to be there all along, or if he found something perennial in his screenplay by accident.

Lennon convinces Bobbi Kitten to do an interview for her Podcast around a third of the way into the hour and twenty seven minute film. Bobbi Kitten is part of a musical duo that is at the top underground music scene, and as the film continues Lennon becomes infatuated and obsessed with her. Looking to see and feel the world how she does. Wanting to know what it’s like to be her. Someone so cool, so creative, so original. These ideas come alive in an art gallery where Bobbi asks Lennon to focus on her and do everything she does. The idea being that at some point, the one who is copying begins to inform the choices of the originator. It’s a chewy idea, and one that hasn’t left my mind days after viewing.

The films editor Donavan Myles Edwards works crisply alongside composers Adam Robl and Shawn Sutta who provide original music to the score. Their sounds constantly buttress a written or contextual accent further, crescendoing to particular sound queues and frequently lingering in wideshot images that evoke feeling. This allows the composition to sit in the background miring us deeper into various emotions. Not quite a drama or thriller Poser lies moodily somewhere in between. 

Poser is currently playing as part of the Tribeca 2021 Film Festival to purchase a ticket to it click here.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Written by Alexander Reams

59/100

Some will always say that the third film in a trilogy is the weakest, sometimes that is true, and sometimes it isn’t. This is the unfortunate instance where that rule is true. In the past 10 years the horror genre has had a resurgence, a fall, and another resurgence. Starting in 2013, after an abysmal year for the genre, in walks James Wan with his newest horror project, The Conjuring. One of the most notable and recent entries in the “serious horror” genre, the film focused more on characters and their relationships with one another than the scares. Characters have always led to the best scares in horror films. This is a lesson that the Conjuring-verse films forgot about after the first film, but were reminded with the second. With one film in particular applying this, Annabelle Creation (2017). However, after the critical failures that were The Nun (2018), The Curse of La Llorona (2019), and Annabelle Comes Home (2019). The Conjuring was due for a resuscitation in quality, and to a degree that happens in this film. However this is also the first time in the trilogy that the film begins to care more about the scares than it’s characters. 

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson have been playing these characters for over 8 years now, and with that comes good and bad. What’s good and borderline great about their performances is that over the time of these films you can see their relationship grow, just like in a marriage. Their flow on screen together gets better and better with each film. With their relationship being the best aspect of this movie. According to the films, they met 30 years ago, and it’s been 10 years in this universe since our introduction to this couple, according to the dates given. Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona), clearly let these actors do whatever they felt was right and trusted them to keep with the tone and style of relationship as the previous films. I definitely view this as a positive mark on the film because the last film Chaves made had very poor acting and direction. This time it is only in the direction that he stumbles. Valuing jump scares and set pieces over character development caused it to blend into numerous other generic horror films that audiences have grown accustomed to rather than a distinctive piece unto itself. 

One of his few saving graces is the way he shoots this film with DP Michael Burgess. Particularly in the last half hour of the film, the wide shots are beautifully captured on the Arri Alexa and Alexa Mini with Panavision lenses. Scenes in the medical bay of the prison are beautifully lit to create very macabre images which in turn make this film visually stand out in a way that the previous films hadn’t. While this film does not live up to the original films in the trilogy and is disappointing in terms of quality, I am not surprised that it was what it was. The direction is not even close to the level of James Wan’s and strays too far from the path that was laid before it. Despite this, it still stands very tall over the other various unwanted and poorly made spinoffs that this universe birthed along the way.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It Trailer

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is currently in Theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Army of the Dead

Written by Alexander Reams

85/100

Army of the Dead is the latest film from Zack Snyder, and his second of 2021. The film follows Dave Bautista and a slew of others including Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick (who has not been getting enough credit for his performance here), Ana de la Reguera, Theo Rossi, Matthias Schweighöfer, Nora Arnezeder, Hiroyuki Sonada, Garret Dillahunt, and a standout who borderline steals the scene ever chance she is on screen, Tig Notaro. This ragtag group of mercenaries is hired by Sanada to steal $200 million dollars in Las Vegas, the only hiccup, the city is walled off due to a zombie virus infecting the city. 

Dave Bautista has been typecast ever since his breakout performance in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy as the buff tough guy who can also do comedy. In this film however he shows a much larger range. Snyder gives Bautista more room to work in, and leaves the comedy to other actors in the ensemble. The visual style of this film is similar to the previous style of Snyder’s previous films, but with him also being the Director of Photography along with Directing, he is in total control of the frame.

After the 8 year stint at Warner Bros and being screwed over constantly, Zack Snyder has been welcomed into the Netflix family with full creative control and support from the streaming giant. Giving Snyder full creative control might be the best decision made in this film. From the fantastic and mesmerizing opening scene and opening credits sequence, that has become a staple in Snyder’s visual style, that provide the viewer with as much laughs as shots that are nothing short of pieces of art. Snyder’s latest is the gory fun that we have come to expect from him and his return to the zombie genre is full of twists, great action scenes, and very colorful and memorable dialogue. 

Army of the Dead Trailer

Army of the Dead is currently in limited theatrical release and streaming worldwide on Netflix.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Capsule Review: Ace in the Hole

90/100

Written by Michael Clawson

As charismatic as he is cynical and unscrupulous, down on his luck newspaperman Charles Tatum (Kirk Douglas, fantastic) stumbles on exactly the kind of “human interest” story he can exploit to get himself out of the boonies of New Mexico and back into the big leagues of East Coast journalism. A man has gotten himself trapped deep inside an old Native American cliff dwelling just off the highway, and while getting him out could have been a matter of hours, Tatum – abetted by a couple of other morally bankrupt individuals who see an opportunity to cash in – connives to stretch the incident into nearly a week, allowing himself the time to generate national publicity and attract the media spotlight. Leo Minosa, meanwhile, alone and buried up to his waist in the claustrophobic darkness of the cave, can do nothing but wait as his health and hope of being rescued wane – a disturbing thing to witness. A riveting, gut-punching critique of media sensationalism and greed, the movie might not have any fedoras or foggy city streets, but it’s undoubtedly in the realm of film noir with its pessimistic, hard-bitten outlook and savagely amoral primary characters. I love that in the end, Wilder declines to give us any reason to have faith in these people, instead only further twisting the knife.

Ace in the Hole Trailer

Ace in the Hole is currently streaming on Crackle, Kanopy, and Prime Video.

Cruella

Written by Alexander Reams

89/100

Cruella is the latest film from critical darling Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, I,Tonya, and Fright Night). The film follows a young Cruella de Vil as she attempts to leave her young life of crime and enter the London fashion scene. All the while discovering revelations about her past with her companions Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (Joel Fry). 

Emma Stone took this iconic character and truly made it her own. She delivers a nuanced, extravagant, and heartwrenching performance in the film. Her performance has already been compared to Joaquin Phoenix’s in 2019’s Joker, and rightfully so. The main difference for me is that Stone is far superior in her role than Phoenix was. She exudes joy and menace at the same time. 

With this film being about fashion, you would expect that the costume and production design are nothing short of brilliant, and you would be right. Jenny Beavan and Fiona Crombie do excellent work as the costume and production designers for the film, fully immersing the viewer in 1970’s London. Gillespie brings back his usual editor, Tatiana S. Riegel, to edit the film. She does a marvelous job, knowing just when to let the shot continue and when to do quicker cuts. Nicolas Karakatsanis returns to work with Gilespie after their collaboration with 2017’s I, Tonya. His tracking shots are very frenetic and beautiful. 

My issues are very few with the film but still issues. One scene in particular that sticks out was either lit very poorly which made it look like a green screen, or the VFX was done very poorly, but either way it just does not look right and sticks out like a sore thumb. Despite that the film still has so much going for it. Emma Stone’s performance, Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser being comedic revelations, the editing and cinematography, and Gillespie’s direction. All of this made for a very fun time that is well worth a watch.

Cruella Trailer

Cruella is currently playing in Theaters and on Disney+ with a 29.99 surcharge.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

The Wait (L’attesa)

Written by Michael Clawson

50/100

Just after experiencing a devastating loss, Anna (Juliette Binoche) hosts Jeanne (Lou de Laâge) for several days at a Sicilian villa as they await the arrival of Giuseppe, Anna’s son and Jeanne’s lover. They spend their time meandering the grounds and dining well together as Jeanne grows increasingly suspicious of Giuseppe’s absence and Anna waits to share with Jeanne the true reason for her grief.

“L’attessa” (aka “The Wait”) is the feature directorial debut from Piero Messina, who clearly prefers dialogue to be sparse and for imagery to tell much of the story. He leans heavily on Binoche’s ability to communicate emotion with facial expression and body language and tries to amplify dramatic moments with musical crescendos. Suspense is built on multiple fronts: the audience is probed to wonder about the true whereabouts of Giuseppe, his and Jeanne’s history, and when, if ever, Anna will bring Jeanne out of the dark about what so intensely upsets her.

Binoche and de Laâge do more than enough to lend credibility to their interactions, but the film is dripping too profusely with contrivances to maintain a comfortable level of drama. At one point, we see Anna attempt to squeeze every last drop of air from an inflatable pool toy, as if the effort from doing so will allow her to shed the burden of her grief. It’s reminiscent of Messina’s effort to inject feeling into every frame, so much so that the experience is nearly stifling.

The Wait Trailer

The Wait is currently available to stream on Prime Video and Kanopy

Toni Erdmann

Written by Michael Clawson

80/100

In director Maren Ade’s latest film, which begins in current day Germany, Peter Simonischek plays Winifred Conradi, a divorced, unkempt, and oafish schoolteacher. He’s nearing retirement and seems to be suppressing his loneliness and ennui with practical jokes that sometimes go too far. He lacks a sense of boundaries and is either overconfident in the degree to which others appreciate his humor or is simply short on self-awareness. His daughter, Ines, played by Sandra Huller, is a high-strung, ambitious businesswoman who’s regularly forced to put up with insufferable, sexist males colleagues. She’s a consultant for an oil company in Bucharest, Romania, constantly extending her stay in the country at her boss’ request; she’d rather relocate to Shanghai.

The film kicks off in earnest when, at a small family gathering to celebrate Ines’ birthday, Winifred begins to pick up on the fact that Ines might not be as happy as she lets on. To better assess the situation, he does what any good father would do – he goes to Bucharest and starts unexpectedly showing up at Ines’ work with a bad wig, fake teeth, and the persona of Toni Erdmann, an eccentric character who’s background and profession changes depending on who’s asking.

Winifred never explains outright the reason for his appearances. Is he trying to get Ines to lighten up? Is he as unhappy and lonely as he thinks she is, and thus seeking her companionship? Or does he actually think Ines and her colleagues will find his gag as amusing as he does?

Toni Erdmann is a delightfully bizarre, funny, and touching father-daughter comedy that gives us reason to believe Winifred’s real motivation is perhaps some combination of the above and much more. To some extent, Winifred himself might not even be able to fully articulate why he keeps up the act. What’s even more a pleasure to contemplate is why Ines tolerates and sometimes welcomes Toni into the boardrooms and business dinners at which much of her time is spent. Like most great films, the ambiguity necessitates multiple viewings, upon which I don’t expect the humor to lose its potency nor do I expect the commentary on workplace sexism, fatherhood, daughterhood, careerism, loneliness, and the search for the meaning of life to become any less fascinating.

Toni Erdmann Trailer

Toni Erdmann is currently available on VOD

Scenes from a Marriage

Written by Michael Clawson

100/100

An intensely emotional two-hander about the dissolution of a marriage. Shot almost entirely with extreme close-ups, Bergman puts a couple’s years-long emotional odyssey under a microscope, taking intimacy between viewer and character to new heights.

Each installment recontextualizes what came before it in such devastating ways. In “Innocence and Panic”, Johan and Marianne’s interview with a magazine about their seemingly idyllic relationship feels merely like a foundation for the story to come. Later, we learn that not only has Johan been unfaithful, but also that Marianne is the last in their social circle to know, revealing that Marianne unwittingly humiliated herself by participating the interview. It’s thrown in new light again when it surfaces that Marianne was also unfaithful, albeit earlier in their marriage, which further complicates our understanding of who she is. 

Also in episode one, Marianne has an abortion after accidentally getting pregnant. It’s much later that we learn their two kids were also the result of accidental pregnancies, which establishes the abortion as a sort of inciting event for the unwinding of their relationship. It’s their first act of resistance against expectations in years, made with themselves in mind, not others, and it leads them to contemplate what other decisions they’ve made for the sake of appearances and satisfying others.

Episode 4 – “The Vale of Tears” – is when the essence of the story crystallized for me. As Marianne shares entries from her diary with Johan, there’s a montage of photographs of Johan and Marianne throughout their lives. It’s one of the film’s most jarring visual transitions, and it suggests that the problems that infected Johan and Marianne’s relationship might be rooted in traits they acquired long before they ever met. Societal pressure to put others first, avoid conflict, repress desire and anger, and  keep routine made them unprepared for the emotional turbulence that characterizes their relationship.

Scenes from a Marriage Trailer

Scenes from a Marriage is currently available on Criterion Channel, HBO Max, and Kanopy

Gojira (1954)

Written by Nick McCann

91/100

Pretend, reader, that you were a citizen of Japan in mid-summer of 1945… yeah that sucked. The atom bombings of World War 2 left a permanent stain on that country and the world. The nuclear age was born and affected everything that followed. Cinema of course took notice. While America was taking advantage of this themselves, the land of the rising sun was brewing something straight from the heart at Toho Studios. That turned into one of the greatest monster movies ever.

This first outing in the long running series does not mess around. Instead of tongue-in-cheek fun as seen in most American sci-fi, “Gojira” tells a grim tale with a blunt real-world parallel. There is suspense from the start and director Ishiro Honda maintains a solid pace throughout. Frankly it can get horrifying! As a viewer, you are always reminded of the gravity of the situation. It leaves little room for respite and earns its tone. Even when the message is dead obvious, it never feels intrusive. It works both as a monster movie and a stern warning for what destructive power awaits us in our future.

That power is encapsulated in Godzilla himself. He still looks threatening to this day. His design iconic and the performance by the suit actor–great. He may be a guy in a rubber suit but he always feels like a looming presence, on and off screen. The special effects are of course dated in spots. Yet Godzilla’s rampages still have a dark and explosive quality, be it a collapsing model building or raging fire. Sound design is also intense, between Godzilla’s mean, echoing roar and a barrage of cannon and machine gun fire.

Accentuating this is some gritty camera work. The low angle coverage and overall look of the black and white film stock makes it all the more foreboding to watch. It’s directed as if this were an actual event, capturing all aspects of the chaos and subsequent aftermath. Lain over top is a grim score by Akira Ifukube. With it’s brash sound, it gives everything heightened power. Not to mention the times when it doesn’t play and lets sound effects take over are quite effective.

Last of note is the cast. They may not have the most deep personalities or dynamics, but they are well on the money in their performances. Akira Takarada is a dependable leading man while Momoko Kochi is a good emotional center as she takes in more of the situation. Two standouts though are Takashi Shimura and Akihiko Hirata. Shimura as the paleontologist Yamane has a wise presence and shows heartfelt sorrow for Godzilla’s scientific potential. Then there’s Hirata as Dr. Serizawa, a man troubled by his creations and feels guilt at the possibility of what it could entail. As he becomes more involved, you can track how much everything weighs on him.

Anyone who says monster movies are trite need only look to this movie for proof of a quality execution. “Gojira” is just as much of an eye-opener of social commentary as it is a thrilling monster movie. Through its titular creature and blockbuster filmmaking, it’s dour story is a stern warning as to what nuclear power means for humanity. It also laid the stepping stone for what has now become a legendary franchise. Don’t miss out.

You can connect with Nick on his social media profiles: Facebook and Letterboxd.