Love in the Afternoon (L’amour l’après-midi)

Written by Michael Clawson

90/100

The final installment in Rohmer’s Moral Tales is the only one where the tempted male protagonist is actually married, and not only that, but rather happily so. Frederic is, however, a daydreamer. After commuting into Paris from the suburbs everyday and busying himself with work in the mornings, his mind tends to drift in the afternoon, the throngs of attractive women he passes on the street stirring in him a longing for first love again, even though he is maritally content. One of the film’s greatest sequences is of Frederic, as he sits in a cafe, imagining himself actually courting a series of women on the street, each of them played by key actresses from the previous Moral Tales. 

He wants both, the newness and excitement he imagines feeling were he to take up with someone else, and the rhythm and comforts of loving familiarity with his wife. Rohmer’s suggestion that those desires exist in parallel, grating up against each other, drive a tension that’s only further magnified by the reemergence of Chloe, a woman out of Frederic’s past that he begins flirtatiously spending his afternoons with. Just like he reads different books at once to satisfy the desire for different forms of escape, he tries to do the same with Chloe and his wife, but it’s really just torture he’s inflicting upon himself, the temptation to sleep with Chloe felt every time they meet, but him never actually succumbing to the urge. 

Relative to the other Moral Tales, here Rohmer strikes me as more sympathetic to his male lead. While in no way excusing Frederic’s flirting with Chloe behind his wife’s back (I spent a good deal of the movie feeling sad for her), he recognizes the conflicting, concurrent desires of married people, and reveals an optimism about happy marriages withstanding temptation. Rohmer does risk looking like he’s patting Frederic on the back in the end for not cheating on his wife, which bothers me, but the hopefulness and romance of the conclusion is moving nonetheless.

Love in the Afternoon Trailer

Watch Love in the Afternoon on Criterion Channel, HBO Max, and Kanopy

Episode 96: Doc Talk Part 5 / Man with a Movie Camera / Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound / Ex Libris: The New York Public Library

“I don’t like to read novels where the novelist tells me what to think about the situation and the characters. I prefer to discover for myself.”

Frederick Wiseman

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of Vivos & State Funeral and the Documentary Titles: Man with a Movie Camera, Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound, and Ex Libris: The New York Public Library.

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Streaming links for titles this episode

The Man with a Movie Camera on Kanopy

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound on Hoopla, Tubi TV, and Prime Video

Ex Libris: The New York Public Library on Kanopy

Episode 89: The Host / The Hunger / The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

I really hate the creature film convention that says you have to wait until the end to see the monster. One hour and all you’ve seen is just the tip of the creature’s tail.

Bong Joon-ho

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of Mank & News of the World. Followed by the Titles: The Host, The Hunger, and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.

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Streaming links for titles this episode

The Host on Hulu, Prime Video, Criterion Channel and Kanopy

The Hunger and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage are currently available to rent or purchase

The Blob

Written by Nick McCann

72/100

Just as people flock to movies to escape the fearful thoughts of our current virus lockdown, moviegoers of the 1950s were flocking to movies to escape fearful thoughts of Cold War anxieties. Monster and alien films were especially popular, with the decade providing a slew of wondrous and crazy cinematic creatures attacking familiar, real world sights. One such creature was very simple but went a long way, just like the movie it stars in.

For those familiar with the notion of the 1950’s sci-fi monster movie plot, “The Blob” easily identifies with that. Suspense builds as a meteor falls to Earth and releases the creature into a small-town community. It’s as classic as it gets, while also doing some things different compared to what came before. The story is very fun, both in its execution and how it lives up to what we consider the standard blueprint of the genre. It’s an innocent and non-taxing plot to be enjoyed.

There are also some lively characters. Steve McQueen leads the pack in his breakthrough role, demonstrating even in this simple role how charming and talented he is. He’s a likable and well-meaning guy to track a monster with. Everyone else does a great job too, having well-defined personalities and organically developed skills. Aneta Corsaut deserves special mention for breaking the mold of stereotypical horror damsels and for being an active help to the plot.

What’s probably most remembered is the special effects. They are crude even for the time, but there is still craft and creativity on display. The actual Blob looks good in motion, with its dark red appearance and all the variety of ways the director portrays it. There are also creative uses of drawn animation, which aren’t too shabby either. Visually it remains unique and the charm of it rubs off in an appealing way. Fake for sure, but never without heart or intent.

Rounding it out is the overall mood itself. Most of that stems from its low budget production design, which wears its 1950’s setting with a badge of honor in hindsight. From the costumes to the cars, it does give a peek into how the world of small-town America went about life. Not to mention some funny dialog among the characters. A classic monster score over it all seals the deal, most especially the theme song that’s strangely swings for such a serious movie. Thanks, Burt Bacharach!

“The Blob” is the poster child for the 50′ alien monster movie. Whenever someone compares modern creature cinema or recalls a film of the era, they most likely are going to think of this one. It doesn’t have the budget or name recognition of its peers, but that doesn’t matter when all in all, it’s so darn fun. It’s entertaining all the way through. If you want something more modern, Chuck Russell’s 1988 remake is also excellent.

The Blob Trailer

Currently available to stream on Criterion Channel and Kanopy

Mr. Jones

Written by Taylor Baker

76/100

Agnieszka Holland’s harrowing look at the under discussed Holodomor in the 30’s is one of the many overlooked films of 2020. Mr. Jones features elegant transitional supercuts early on. The effect of which is to display the telephone wire and railways as ideas and functions. Holland evokes a sense of excitement about the promise of these technologies in the 1930’s. A point that begins to wane as the film progresses. The film settles upon the shoulders of James Norton playing the titular Mr. Jones, who was the journalist that first reported the tragedy occurring on the Eastern Front of the Soviet Union.

Cementing the narrative at the beginning is the lead in of Eric Arthur Blair better known as George Orwell sitting at a table looking at a pig in his yard. He is beginning to write one of, if not his best known work, Animal Farm. There is still a spirited debate as to whether the Farmer Jones character was indeed named after Gareth Jones, the hero of our film or not. We will likely never truly know this historical detail. There is a very compelling dissertation on this subject can be read here. Despite that debate you can’t help but see the similarity of the content of Animal Farm and the actions and events of the Soviet Union. An apt point that brings a layer to the story that is not only earnest but rings with a feeling of truth.

The film stays away from some of the more disturbing aspects of the Holodomor. Never venturing into the stories of cannibalism or the reality of the mass graves. It focuses exclusively on what Jones’ experience may have been and minor asides of those around him. It expends a bit more energy than is good for it on a budding romance between Kirby and Norton. Which while enjoyable in the thrust of the film, now in retrospect feels to have dampened the impact of the picture.

There are some consequential lulls in the narrative. The real engagement between myself and the film came from the behind enemy lines journalism segments and slow graduation into understanding how nefarious the “success” of the Soviet Union was. This is precisely the type of Historical Drama I often lament at not being made these days. If you like me are hungry for more stories in film about little seen historical events of great importance I encourage you to view Holland’s Mr. Jones. It’s what Snowball would have wanted. 

Recommended.

Mr. Jones Trailer

Mr. Jones is currently available to stream on Kanopy and Hulu

Episode 74: Shirley / The King of Staten Island / Young Ahmed

“Filming is like a house, you have to feel comfortable in it.”

Luc Dardenne

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

On Episode 74 of the Podcast Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: You Should Have Left & Lovecraft Country. Followed by the Feature Films: Shirley, The King of Staten Island, and Young Ahmed in their lead up to the Top 10 of the year so far Episode.

Streaming links for titles this episode

Shirley on Hulu

Young Ahmed on Kanopy and Criterion Channel

The King of Staten Island is currently available to rent from multiple sources.

Drink in the Movies would like to thank PODGO for sponsoring this episode. You can explore sponsorship opportunities and start monetizing your podcast by signing up for an account here: https://podgo.co/apply If you do please let them know we sent you, it helps us out too!

Episode 70: Never Rarely Sometimes Always / Les Miserables (2019) / Sorry We Missed You

“The duty of a film director is to focus more on the soul of the spectator.”

Ken Loach

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

On Episode 70 of the Podcast Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: True History of the Kelly Gang & Capone. Followed by the the Titles: Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Les Miserables (2019), and Sorry We Missed You.

Streaming links for titles this episode

Les Miserables (2019) on Prime Video

Sorry We Missed You on Kanopy

Never Rarely Sometimes Always is currently available to rent from multiple sources.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always Poster Art was generously provided by Illustrator and Designer Tom Ralston.

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The Lobster

Written by Michael Clawson

85/100

Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster is an expertly crafted and biting satire about the absurdity of modern attitudes towards single-hood and marriage. It depicts a dystopian future where single people are brought together and have 45 days to find a partner, or else be transformed into animal of their choosing. David, played by Colin Farrell, is a recent divorcee, and therefore one of the unlucky souls to be forced into the 45 day search for love. Upon arriving at a rural estate, known simply as The Resort, where singles are herded, he’s admitted as if he were a hospital patient, documenting his sexual preference, physical measurements, and, of course, the animal that he wishes to become should his quest for love be unsuccessful. His routine at The Resort involves staff-hosted and chaperoned mixers, “educational” lectures on the value of relationships, and hunts in The Woods for Loners, the band of singles that have shunned society’s romantic mandate. The rules by which the Loners operate are in dramatic opposition to the norm: mere flirtation is forbidden, and those caught canoodling are subject to violent punishment.

David’s experience ranges from hilarious to cringe-inducing and upsetting. Lanthimos exercises directorial precision and control throughout, which allows for a viewing experience that is wholly unique and unforgettable. The cinematography, which often positions characters off from center and brings attention to the cold and harsh interiors and landscapes, makes nearly every frame a sight to behold, and the string-heavy, sharply punctuated musical score eloquently enhances both the humorous and nightmarish turns of the narrative. The Lobster perfectly illustrates the ability of sound and camera-work to elevate a film’s impact.

The extent to which one will enjoy the film, however, depends on whether or not the viewer allows themselves to be enveloped by the world that Lanthimos creates. As is common in satire, many of the ideas and questions put forth by the narrative are often front and center; in other words, Lanthimos is anything but subtle in exploring what’s on his mind. Although it may be instinctive to try, analyzing its conceit while watching the movie would be exhausting because nearly every turn of events is not about audience-character connection, but rather the real-life experience that the moment reflects. The joy of seeing The Lobster results from wholeheartedly stepping into its world and forgetting our own until the credits have rolled, and only then reflecting on Lanthimos’ ideas about love and modern romance.

Michael Clawson originally posted this review on Letterboxd 06/19/16

Available on Netflix and Kanopy

The Steel Helmet

Written by Michael Clawson

80/100

In a long take, a not-yet-named US soldier peeks over the crest of a hill to ensure the coast is clear before clambering over, hands bound behind his back, the bodies of compatriots on either side of him as he wriggles forward toward the camera. Cut to a shot of bare feet coming towards him. Hearing the footsteps, the soldier plays dead, hoping the luck that’s made him the sole surviving member of his unit will last just a little bit longer.

So begins this gritty, hard-hitting Korean War movie by low-budget genre maestro Sam Fuller, who directs with economy and an unblinking eye towards the tough realities of war. The aforementioned troop is the gruff and hardened Sgt. Zack, who is relieved when he realizes those footsteps belonged to a South Korean boy. His own family having been killed, the boy, who Zack nicknames “Short Round”, wants to come along with Zack, who reluctantly agrees. Shortly thereafter, they join up with a motley crew of weary US troops – an eclectic bunch that Fuller efficiently distinguishes from one another – and eventually they all hole up in a Buddhist temple that they mistake as enemy-free.

Fuller stages combat in a realistic fashion, but not without regard for the expressiveness of his settings. In the temple, action is staged around staircases and Buddhist statues, which the camera occasionally pauses to consider on their own, and earlier in the film, a gunfight with enemy snipers plays out in jungle that’s dense with mist. More than the action though, it’s Fuller’s characterization of hard-bitten soldiers and race-related tension between them that leaves an impression. “Dead man’s nothin’ but a corpse. No one cares what he is now.” It’s not just what Zack says that conveys his callousness; it’s that he’s messily chomping on a watermelon when he says these lines, clearly so much more interested in the fruit than the loss he’s referring to.

Michael Clawson originally published this review on Letterboxd 01/16/20

Discussed on Drink in the Movies Episode 60.

View it on Kanopy and the Criterion Channel

The Farewell

Written by Michael Clawson

75/100

Say hello to writer-director Lulu Wang, whose auspicious, autobiographical sophomore feature The Farewell, starring a very good Awkwafina, showcases one of the more subtly assured cinematic voices to break through this year.

Awkwafina plays Billi, Wang’s stand-in, a single, twenty-something year old Chinese-American based in New York. When her family learns that her grandmother, or Nai Nai, who still lives in China, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, they decide, to Billi’s dismay, to keep with Chinese custom and withhold from Nai Nai the devastating news. Billie’s cousin’s wedding is pushed up as an excuse for the family to gather in China and say goodbye to grandma – without really saying it, of course. 
 
Unfolding mostly over mouth-watering family meals and wedding preparations, we watch as family members conceal their grief, sometimes unsuccessfully, from the spirited Nai Nai, who’s more worked up about the wedding menu and romantic prospects for Billi than her own mortality. Which is to say that while this is a melancholy movie about differing cultural attitudes towards losing loved ones and Billie’s wrestling with the ethics of the family lie, it’s also a quite funny film, and Wang interweaves comedy and sadness as confidently as Nai Nai still does tai chi in front of her neighbors. A scene in which Billi joins her for the exercise is one of the sweetest.

Wang’s story will already be familiar to listeners of the This American Life podcast; she told it on episode from 2016. Haven’t listened to it myself, but the story will be worth revisiting for those who have thanks to Wang’s evidently instinctual sense for the utility of the film form. A mostly muted pink and blue color scheme synchronizes with the dual tones of humor and sorrow. The tender vocals on Alex Weston’s score breathe empathy for the family’s mourning. Wang’s camera placement reveals a knack for composition and for how to involve us in a scene, such as during the first meal after Billi arrives in China. The camera peers from behind the characters across from whoever is speaking, as if we haven’t yet been trusted to hold back our tears if given a seat at the table (the audience at my screening definitely would have blown it; there were lots of sniffles). And while this is an ensemble film, Awkwafina succeeds as the focal point, her slouches suggesting the weight of the emotional burden she’s shouldering on her Nai Nai’s behalf.

Occasionally, Wang reaches for more feeling than she needs to. Slow motion takes, for example, work against the film’s overall subtlety, as do the last couple shots. Slightly more problematic is that the script simply repeats certain beats rather than building on them. Understandably, Billi can’t help but wonder if anyone else feels as she does that perhaps it’s best to tell Nai Nai, but the conversations that follow her asking everyone from her parents to her grandma’s doctor gradually add less and less texture to the inter-family dynamics and Billi’s discomfort with the lie. But if I said my complaints held me back from really enjoying the movie, then I’d be lying.

Michael Clawson originally published this review on Letterboxd 08/23/19

View it on Kanopy and Prime Video

Discussed on Drink in the Movies Episode 45.