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.
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.
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.
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.
Richard Linklater’s “Everybody Wants Some!!”, a so-called “spiritual sequel” to the director’s 1993 film “Dazed and Confused”, is set in Texas circa 1980 and follows a group of college baseball players reveling through their last weekend before the start of Fall classes. The focus is on Jake, a Freshman pitcher (played by Blake Jenner), who’s eager to explore his newfound freedom and to whom class is a mere afterthought. The upperclassmen, some of whom are more welcoming than others, are both quirky and highly self-assured. They take it upon themselves to show Jake and his fellow newcomers that although the upcoming baseball season is bound to be a good one, the real fun will be had off the field. “Work hard, play harder” best summarizes their philosophy.
The players spend the weekend bouncing from one venue to the next in pursuit of booze, sex, and camaraderie as if they were fraternity brothers, not athletes. This movie is not, however, a re-imagining of “Animal House”. Linklater has a more meaningful story to tell and his telling of it is simply a blast to absorb. He substitutes titillation for a more honest and nuanced depiction of young adults engaged in both pleasure-seeking and self-identification. In order to keep the alcohol flowing, the team ventures from a disco club, their stomping ground, to a country bar, a punk-rock show, and a party hosted by the performing arts “nerds”. As they do so, we watch them grow to understand that despite their identification first and foremost as baseball players, experiencing other cultural scenes is just as much fun as luxuriating at their home base. Linklater seems to posit that we each take our own road to adulthood, but what unifies our experience is the desire to have as much fun as we can along the way.
A few things detract from what overall is a highly enjoyable movie. One is that the film’s undoubtedly male perspective is occasionally overbearing. The camera tends to ogle the women, which is unfortunate considering that not all of the movie’s themes are applicable to men specifically. Secondly, the romance that blossoms in the story’s second half (Jake falls for a Theater student named Beverly, played by Zoey Deutch) feels a tad too good to be true. Nonetheless, I’d wager that “Everybody Wants Some!!” will hold up over time just as its predecessor has.
Nikole Beckwith’s Together Together is what I’d call a typical Sundance film. It’s quirky but doesn’t overdo it. We are quickly told the story of Matt and his surrogate Anna. While I admit it is nice to see a surrogacy journey I could not see a lot of myself in the film and had a hard time connecting with the story.
I love Ed Helms but his character Matt’s stalkerish and controlling behavior and “need” to connect with his surrogate really put me off the film. It was the little things like asking Anna on a dinner date, when she clearly did not want to go, and controlling what she ordered because she’s pregnant with his baby. Or that time they were talking with a surrogacy counselor and he ignored her and acted like she wasn’t even in the room. There was also that time when he showed up at her work, a coffee shop, and unannounced brought her pair of clogs and tea to make her feel more comfortable even though she explicitly told him she did not want to tell anyone she’s pregnant. Or that time Matt got upset Anna was having sex with a rando. The list could go on and on.
I was also frustrated with Patti Harrison’s, Anna. She wants her space but, at the same time, there are little moments she spends with Matt, like when they pick out the color of the nursery where she was okay with their dynamic or let’s him touch her belly when they are in bed together. The movie is dotted with a few funny moments here and there but that’s not enough to make up for the other problems I described.
There are also a few moments where the movies question traditional gender stereotypes. Like when Matt and Anna discuss if it’s okay for Matt to have a baby shower? Or they discuss what being a single mom or single dad looks like especially the lack of pregnancy books for single men. The movie tries to make up for Matt’s behavior by portraying Matt as someone who is supportive and helps Anna navigate her fractured relationship with her family. Anna insists that they should set up boundaries because she won’t be in the baby’s life once it’s born but then accepts Matt’s invitation when he asks her to move in until the baby is delivered.
Ultimately, I think it tries too hard to be charming and sweet. It tries to question traditional stereotypes (which is something I generally love to see on film) but it doesn’t completely succeed in doing so. My favorite character and moments in the film were Julio Torres’ (Jules) and his one liners. I definitely want to watch more of Beckwith, Harrison, and Torres’ work in the future. I know that this movie will find an audience, but it just wasn’t for me.
There’s a chance I might have enjoyed Mother Schmuckers if I were a frat bro sitting in my frat house with my fellow frat friends and we were all very high. Unfortunately, I am not a frat bro, and I watched this stone-cold sober in my bedroom.
Mother Schmuckers begins with its two lead characters, brothers Issachar (Maxi Delmelle) and Zabulon (Harpo Guit) attempting to force-feed their sex worker mother (Claire Bodson) their own fried shit. Their mother promptly vomits, and we are forced to look at the bile as the title card appears in it. Things don’t get any more sophisticated from there.
The bulk of the movie chronicles the brothers’ attempts to get their dog, January Jack (whom their mother—understandably, might I add—loves more than them), back home after they lost him. What follows is one vile thing after another, from bestiality to necrophilia, ostensibly played for laughs but lacking in any humor whatsoever.
There are the faintest glimmers of something funny, such as when the brothers acquire a gun and chase each other through the streets of Brussels and onlookers think these two idiots are terrorists, or when the two are roped into dancing for a terrible music video. There are the briefest glimpses of an emotional undercurrent regarding the boys’ relationship to their mother, but any tenderness is quickly zapped away by whatever appalling hijinks Issachar and Zabulon get into next. The low-budget, frenetic cinematography and editing could almost be charming if they weren’t showcasing such uncharming scenes. So, what are we left with? Not much, it would seem.
The problem is not that the brothers are completely irredeemable—media is full of morally murky protagonists, and when done well, we still are invested in them at the end of the day regardless of their morality. We can even find them funny: I don’t think anyone would call the gang in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia upstanding citizens, but it’s the longest-running American television comedy because it makes its characters’ unlikability funny. Mother Schmuckers, however, foolishly equates crassness and grossness with humor, leaving us with a distinctly unfunny movie thatlacks any sort of pathos, therefore eliciting no emotion other than disgust.
Mother Schmuckers does not ever attempt to be a sophisticated film (aside from a brief appearance by Mathieu Amalric, whom I can only assume was forced at gunpoint to be in this), but it seems to think it’s a funny one. It’s wrong.
SYNOPSIS: A young man is sent to “La Maca,” a prison in the middle of the Ivorian forest ruled by its inmates. As tradition goes with the rising of the red moon, he is designated by the Boss to be the new “Roman” and must tell a story to the other prisoners. Learning what fate awaits him, he begins to narrate the mystical life of the legendary outlaw named “Zama King” and has no choice but to make his story last until dawn.
Night of the Kings has been formally submitted in the category Best Foreign Language Film by Côte d’Iviore (Ivory Coast) for the Oscars.
REVIEW: A finished story is a dead man. Or so it seems in Philippe Lacôte’s sophomore feature. About a prisoner who is renamed Roman on an ominous night when the moon turns red and the title of storyteller is foisted upon him. Hinging on the words of debut performer Koné Bakary(Roman), this Scheherazade-like fable mixes reality, history, and desire.
Night of the Kings is at it’s most engaging in the prison(La Maca) as we’re witnessing Bakary engage in the act of storytelling. Holding his own against the crowd of prisoners shouting, singing, and jeering as he weaves his tale. When we shift to the images of the story being told they often lack atmosphere, tension, and propulsiveness. Things that immediately leap back into the viewer as we shift–often mid-scene back to the prison.
I found these choices to be deft and thoughtful ones. Reproposing the hypothesis: does a story belong to the storyteller or the audience? It does this all while engaging in the meaning, expectation, responsibility, and duty of telling of ‘your’ story not just as a man but as a nation. Rather than proffering answers Night of the Kings lingers on the cost of these questions.
The contemporary in prison timeline is sumptuously lit, with warm lamps and a near total absence of natural lighting until daybreak. Fabric hangs everywhere, the sets are dressed with care but not overfilled. The sound design and foley work seam together trickles of water, chirping insects, and dampened bare-feet splashing small pools of water to evoke an atmosphere that, were I able to view in a theater would assuredly be all encompassing.
Night of the Kings tells it’s story, and performs a transference of emotion. Emotion at a sense of history, a sense of loss, a hope for the future, but the agony and vigor it takes to just reach one more day. One thing is sure, I want to see more out of Philippe Lacôte as a writer/director and if he can re-team with newcomer Koné Bakary all the better.
Gary Cooper’s pioneering Western deserves its place in the sun
The year 2021 marks the 120th birth and 60th death anniversary of Gary Cooper who, after some 100 films over four decades, is most remembered for one.
First let’s get the quiz out of the way.
The starring role in a Western was once offered in turn to John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Charlton Heston. All turned it down. Which movie was it?
The movie that was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four?
The movie that won four Golden Globes? The same movie that marked Lee Van Cleef’s Hollywood debut, in which he didn’t deliver a single line?
High Noon (1952).
The very utterance conjures up images of the Old West but with a theme that’s as alive today as when it was released.
The story’s been told and re-told a hundred times. If you’re interested in the Cold War theatrics backstory you could do worse than read Glenn Frankel’s book High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic (Bloomsbury). But you’d do better to watch the movie – without distraction, start to finish.
It may be fun for 21st century audiences to insist ‘tell us the story’.
A more fascinating question though is: what does the story tell us?
High Noon is (it seems sacrilegious to use past tense) about the mother of all confrontations. The greatest of all showdowns. Not between Marshall and outlaw. Not between Sheriff and Indian. Not, as many critics have us believe, an allegorical political fight between communism and democracy. Not a metaphorical fight between civilization and chaos. Not a fight at all.
High Noon is, more than anything else, about a man confronting himself, his fears, his weaknesses, his utter desolation. His discovery that defiant strength sometimes hides beneath seemingly debilitating weakness. That the sensible thing (saving your skin), is seldom the right thing. That the only kind of respect worth fighting for, is self-respect. That respect comes not only from what you did ‘back then’ but also from what you’re doing ‘right here, right now’.
High Noon is also about a woman confronting herself. Her realisation that love is nothing if it isn’t tested. It earns its stripes not amidst the swirl of success but amidst the ruin of rejection. Courage and conviction are central to love – a love that flees both, isn’t love in the first place.
That’s what makes High Noon endure beyond its age, rise above its genre.
Contemporary audiences spoiled by colour, hi-def, high-octane direction, high-tech cinematography, editing, sound and polished acting may well wince at the movie’s relatively bare look and feel. But it struggled with the tools of its day to tell a story that would outlive it. We must approach it with the patience and understanding it deserves. The way we’d approach a 92-year old lady or a two-year old boy. We must make the effort to learn from it, to look beyond its apparent dribbling.
High Noon remains the first of the major Westerns to turn its back on scripts preoccupied with guns, girls and gold. Some of the most memorable 1950s and 60s Westerns – The Searchers, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, 3:10 to Yuma, Last Train from Gun Hill, Magnificent Seven, True Grit – merely followed High Noon’s anthem of defending the defenceless, sacrificing self-interest for a greater good.
High Noon spoke compellingly to that generation then. It speaks as hauntingly to ours now. It will speak as eloquently to generations to come. Its lead actor – man’s man Gary Cooper – plays the fearful, conflicted, needy protagonist Will Kane. Four decades before Clint Eastwood’s Will Munny (Unforgiven). Like Cooper, Eastwood would play macho-lead for years before he played more flawed protagonists – heroes for their moral, not physical feats.
Critics may still pan the casting of 50-year old Cooper opposite 23-year old Grace Kelly but as the odds stack up against him, their age differential is the least of his worries. The 5’6” petite Quaker bride looks up at her 6’3” gangly groom and snaps: ‘You don’t have to be a hero, not for me’. He barks back ‘I’m not trying to be a hero. If you think I like this, you’re crazy!’
In those closing scenes with Cooper left alone to face near-certain death before vengeful outlaws, the camera rises to brood upon a town that’s washed its hands off his predicament. The soaring lens at once mocking his alienation and willing him to rise above himself. In one of Hollywood’s most poignant moments a forlorn Cooper nervously tugs at his belt, wipes the sweat off his brow and with one last despairingly hopeful look at the deserted streets, trudges toward his fate – an armed gang riding in on the noon train.
In one of the most courageous script-twists for that era the town’s lawman is rescued not by archetypal hired-guns, powerful ranchers or strongmen but by a woman. A deeply spiritual woman, who abhors violence. As he battles alone, his bride who first deserts him, turns back, then defends him in that final gunfight.
Producer Stanley Kramer, Director Fred Zinnemann, Screenwriter Carl Foreman and Music composer-conductor Dmitri Tiomkin, in their own way, stamped their identities on a film that shines even after repeated viewing. 2021 also marks Kramer’s 20th death anniversary. He produced and directed some of the best movies of that era – The Defiant Ones, Judgement at Nuremberg and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and produced The Wild One and Death of a Salesman.
Katy Jurado, the first Latin American actress to be nominated for an Academy Award (Best Supporting Actress in Broken Lance) won her Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe for High Noon. Fittingly, Jurado as Helen Ramirez, one-time lover of both villain and hero has some of the best lines.
It’s Helen who says with clarity: You’re a good-looking boy, you’ve big broad shoulders. But he’s a man. And it takes more than big, broad shoulders to make a man.
It’s Helen who talks courage into a fleeing Amy: I don’t understand you. If Kane was my man, I’d never leave him like this. I’d get a gun. I’d fight!
Amy taunts her: Why don’t you?
Helen taunts her right back: He’s not my man. He’s yours!
And it’s Helen who warns: Kane will be a dead man in half an hour and nobody’s gonna do anything about it. And when he dies, this town dies too.
Of the hundred or so movies he acted in, over four decades from the 1920s to the 1960s, Gary Cooper was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor on five occasions and won twice – one for High Noon. He beat some heavies that year – Marlon Brando (for Viva Zapata!), Kirk Douglas (for The Bad and the Beautiful) and Alec Guinness (for The Lavender Hill Mob).
The 25th Academy Awards 1953 saw some pretty sharp 1952 contenders for Best Picture alongside High Noon: Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth, Pandro S. Berman’s Ivanhoe, John Huston’s Moulin Rouge, John Ford’s The Quiet Man. DeMille’s movie won but High Noon should have. It isn’t merely a ‘Western’. It isn’t merely an American movie about American stories. It’s a universal movie about universal values and choices. It isn’t even a 1950s movie but a movie for all ages.
Gary Cooper’s filmography is overwhelmingly black-and-white. High Noon was no different. As if by extension, his character Will Kane demonstrates that when it comes to choosing between good and bad, life isn’t technicolour. It isn’t even grey. It’s, well, simpler. Cooper seems to say that the greatest victory is one in which we stubbornly choose what’s doing what’s right over self-preservation or meek submission to overwhelming power. Each age, Cooper seems to say, will make that choice harder by trying to redefine ‘what’s right’. It’s up to us to see through that.
Cooper carried that rather simple black-and-white moral compass late into his “colour” career – Man of the West, The Wreck of the Mary Deare, They Came to Cordura, The Hanging Tree. But in no other other movie is his morality as utterly convincing as in High Noon. There’s a point when you no longer see Will Kane but Cooper himself. And he seems to say, courage isn’t the absence of self-doubt but the refusal to stop wrestling with that same self-doubt. So he wrestles, with no more certainty than the fact that he must wrestle. He isn’t so much standing his ground as refusing to flee. He isn’t scared about giving up or giving in because his new bride and the whole damn town are watching him. He’s terrified because he’s watching himself.
In one scene Judge Percy laments: This is just a dirty little village in the middle of nowhere. Nothing that happens here is really important.
Few characters in movie history have been more wrong.
SYNOPSIS: New Year’s Eve 1999. Twenty-year-old Sebastian, armed with a gun, hijacks a TV studio and takes two hostages a famous TV presenter and a security guard. His plan? No one seems to know, including Sebastian himself. His demand to deliver his message, whatever that may be, via live broadcast is repeatedly thwarted by an uncertain police force and an egotistical network chairman. As the night wears on, Sebastian and the hostages bond in unexpected ways, while those in power fumble to restore order.
REVIEW: Filmmaker, Jakub Piątek, misses the mark one this. It might have been trying to tell a bigger story but it just ended up being vacuous. I love movies that are usually confined in one location and learning that this was set in 1999 I thought it could bring something different into the picture. Instead, it follows up many of the tropes of hostage-movies (e.g. Money Monster, Dog Day Afternoon), and adds nothing new to the landscape.
Those caveats aside Bartosz Bielenia, who you might have seen in the fantastic 2019 Feature Film Corpus Christi, elevates Prime Time. A film that simply would not work without him. His performance is the cohesive glue that holds everything together while revealing very little about his character, Sebastian. While Bielenia’s performance elevates those around him, it fails to make me care about the people he took hostage and the rapport that they end up building.
Prime Time doesn’t deliver on the implied thrills it’s synopsis indicated it may contain. The ending is perplexing in the most meaningless way. I do commend Piatek and his crew for pulling this off during the pandemic but that’s not enough of a reason to overlook it’s drawbacks or make me like it. This is the second film shot during the pandemic that I’ve seen at Sundance 2021 and did not enjoy (the first one being How it Ends).