Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets

Written by Michael Clawson

75/100

In a wide shot, a guy with long grey hair wearing a yellow shirt, denim overalls, a beige blazer and a beret shuffles across a large gravel lot. The camera pulls back as he walks towards it. The lot is empty, and all there is around are cheap storefronts. 

He’s walking towards the Roaring ‘20s, a Las Vegas dive bar that’s about to close down for reasons that are only briefly alluded to – it sounds like gentrification is the culprit – and he’s one of the bar’s colorful regulars that the Ross brothers spend their film observing in vérité fashion on the bar’s last day. From opening through last call and closing time, the doc is a loose, casually ruminative hang-out with friendly drinkers as they lament the closure of their neighborhood watering hole, appreciate how they’ve become like family to each other, and muse generally about the state of the world (the setting is pre-election 2016).

…except that it’s not exactly a documentary, at least in a conventional sense. It resembles one in its fly-on the-wall mode of observation, but the bar we see isn’t even in Las Vegas, and the people we watch are mostly non-professional actors. Does that matter? The Ross brothers don’t think so – the film never openly confesses to its deception. I don’t think it matters much to me either. What we see is partially contrived, but the sentiments, about the community and togetherness to be found in hole-in-the-wall establishments and the sadness in a good thing coming to an end, ring true. And actors or not, these folks are hilarious.

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets Trailer

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is currently streaming on Kanopy and can be rented or purchased digitally.

Shadow in the Cloud

Written by Nick McCann

68/100

You ever get that feeling where you got what you wanted but just not how you were expecting it? I’m feeling that feel. When I first saw the trailer to this movie, I was all about the potential it gave off! World War 2. Creature feature. Female power trip. This can only be crazy fun. And it is! Albeit in the strangest way.

The mood starts off nicely with a wartime Hanna Barbara-styled propaganda cartoon and some sweet synthesizer beats. It builds up a pulpy B-movie atmosphere that carries on throughout, especially in a suspenseful first act. But at a certain point, certain plot reveals gradually build to a level of craziness that I didn’t expect. It’s all about the approach. I figured it would be a lot more of flying beasts vs. bomber crew instead of what writer Max Landis and director Roseanne Liang came up with. And yet, I isn’t much of a drag. Yeah I suppose it’s tonally inconsistent and overall nonsensical in areas. But when it commits this hard to an original execution like this, I can’t help but enjoy myself.

There’s also the usual monster movie suspects in the character roster. Chloe Grace Moretz is our near-perfect action heroine of the hour and she does a fine job, sans some overacting in the action sequences. Regardless of that and her overpowered writing, she keeps the movie going. Her male co stars are also fine. However they go in on aggression! Coupled with surprisingly limited screen time, they become a bunch of interchangeable anger vessels except for some particular players. Get used to a lot of radio voice work from them.

Thankfully action scenes are in steady supply. They are entertaining for how wildly absurd they get. We’re talking physics defying stuff here that still looks entertaining. Visual effects are decent and the slick camera shots are put together well in editing. All injected with an ultradose of female power fantasy that you better get ready for if you aren’t yet. As for the creature itself, it’s not half bad looking. It’s design gets the job done and never feels secondary to everything else for too long. Pretty refreshing too to see it prominent in frame more often than not.

I should also comment on the score. A synth soundtrack for a setting like this is definitely jarring. For the pulp atmosphere the movie gives off though, it’s nicely done. Key word there is “atmosphere.” The moodier portions where it’s background to quieter scenes are more effective than the action cues, where it has too fat of a beat. There’s also a couple music drops and they are too distracting. Almost making up for it is overall good sound design. Everything from gunfire to the rattle of the plane interior is mixed well.

Shadow in the Cloud is a movie that’ll depend on a few different elements if you decide to go ahead with a viewing. If you’re not expecting a pulpy female power fantasy that will go in a vastly different direction than what you’re expecting, you’re gonna shut it off immediately. That isn’t to say that it isn’t fun. There is mindless entertainment for how far out it gradually becomes. It isn’t perfect, but I can’t deny the giddiness I felt. It’s possible I just witnessed a fever dream of a test to see what can be done with film. That or my brain is like a melted slushie now.

Shadow in the Cloud Trailer

Shadow in the Cloud is currently streaming on Hulu and Kanopy.

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

Touchez Pas au Grisbi

Written by Michael Clawson

90/100

Before there was The Irishman, there was Jacques Becker‘s Touchez Pas au Grisbi, an impeccably crafted crime film from 1954, in which French acting legend Jean Gabin plays a worn out gangster in the twilight moments of his career. After his long-time friend and partner is kidnapped by rivals who want his recently acquired loot, Gabin’s cool, collected, and finely dressed Max is forced to put off retirement just a little bit longer, and potentially choose between saving his pal and his nest egg.

Despite their differences in scope, the influence of Becker’s film on Scorcese’s latest crime saga is loud and clear. Though Gabin was twenty years or so younger than De Niro at the time of their respective performances, they share a similar weariness in how they carry and express themselves, and not only that, but their characters also obviously recall one another: Gabin’s Max and De Niro’s Frank are aging gangsters whose loyalty to a friend is tested, and whose looking back on their lives adds a strain of regret to their film’s emotional undercurrents. A sense of late life melancholy is perhaps clearest in the scene where prior to his kidnapping, Max’s friend Riton stays the night at Max’s apartment, and the two are shown in their pajamas getting ready for bed (which immediately recalls the scene in The Irishman where Hoffa and Sheeran spend a night at a hotel together). Riton, whose young lover (Jeanne Moreau in the femme fatale role) has just taken up with another man closer to her own age, examines himself in the bathroom mirror, and gently pushes at the sides of his eyes, as if he’s trying to remember the smoothness of his younger skin.

Connections aside, this film stands firmly on its own two feet. Becker makes the mundane as compelling as the crackling action in which the film crescendos, masterfully wielding silence and musical cues (Max’s song is a wistful harmonica melody) in tandem with the visual grammar of film noir. The climax is an airtight roadside face-off that ends in gunfire, grenades exploding, and a car chase, but nearly everything before it, from scenes of gangsters lounging at their exclusive restaurant hang-out to Max and Riton simply sharing wine and bread, are just as slick and satisfying.

Touchez Pas au Grisbi Trailer

Touchez Pas au Grisbi is currently streaming on Kanopy.

Midsommar

Written by Michael Clawson

90/100

Style and story don’t cohere as rewardingly in Midsommar as in Aster’s debut, but his formal dexterity and ornate, hand-crafted aesthetics make for a visually distinctive and viscerally dreadful trip.

In Hereditary, Toni Collette’s Annie carefully toys with finely detailed dioramas of scenes from her and her family’s life, which, in turn, is being toyed with by an unseen evil. Aster builds this notion of manipulation and interference by outside forces into his film’s very form by shooting the family’s Park City home as if it were a doll house. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether we’re looking at the house itself or a miniature replica of it, which furthers an unsettling atmosphere of ambiguity about what’s real and what’s not. 

Whether its the colorful and folksy sets, the Horga’s pristine white costumes, or the increasingly bloodied props, the fastidiousness with which Midsommar’s trappings appear have to come together enriches the world with detail, but at the same time, can feel too neat. My eyes were dazzled by the particulars, even as I occasionally questioned the authenticity of what I was seeing. The artisanal lottery balls, for example, struck me as perhaps overly ornamental.

Stylistic precision, in other words, is both a feature and bug, and it seems to have come at the expense of the story’s ostensible themes and characters. Pugh is fantastic, and yet she feels underutilized. Dani is a passive figure throughout, stumbling into her throne as the May Queen by chance and then sentencing Christian to death, which is one of the only active decisions she makes that I can think of. Arguably it’s symbolic of Dani’s emotional progress and her finally having the strength to sever ties with Christian and his friend group, having found a new “family”, but it’s hardly the emotional release it could have been since Aster manages to only cursorily imply the nature of their history together and what they’ve come to mean to each other. On a similar note, by the film’s end, I had no better understanding of how far Dani has come in grieving the loss of her family. 

I actually really like this movie though! Hence the very positive rating. I cannot wait to watch it again, and it’ll make a fantastic double-feature with Hereditary because of all their parallels and rhymes. I just think it’s better defended on sensory rather than thematic terms, and as a nerve-shredding nightmare of sunny psychedelia rather than a portrait of a relationship. Separate from theme or character, what Aster handles masterfully is tone. The horrific tragedy everything begins with, the cliff side ceremony of suicide (there’s some S. Craig Zahleresque skull-crushing there), Dani’s escorts wailing in harmony with her when she breaks down – scene after scene is staged with such a singularly unsettling suspense that’s all the more astonishing for being kept up as its balanced and blended with comedy. “Don’t think about it too much” isn’t usually a viewing strategy I endorse, but I do think Midsommar is better felt than decoded.

Midsommar Trailer

Midsommar is currently streaming on Kanopy and Prime Video.

You can listen Michael and Taylor discuss Midsommar in greater length on Episode 42 and Episode 59 of Drink in the Movies.

The Souvenir

Written by Michael Clawson

100/100

Sometimes the smallest painting in a gallery or museum is the one that moves you most, the one you find yourself thinking about more than any large piece you might also have come across. Similarly, size doesn’t necessarily correlate with impact at the movies. The Souvenir, director Joanna Hogg’s follow-up to her 2013 feature Exhibition, may be one of the smallest movies exhibited in Seattle theatres by certain measures, but it’s a masterpiece whose scale belies its immense, wrenching beauty. 

Set in 1980s Britain, it portrays the toxic relationship between Julie, an earnest but timid film student from an upper middle class family, played with magnificent, deeply moving nuance by relative newcomer Honor Swinton Byrne (the daughter of Tilda Swinton, who plays Julie’s mother), and Anthony (Tom Burke, also very good), pretentious, manipulative, and unbeknownst to Julie when they get together, a heroin addict. 

Hogg elides the sensationalism that premise might ordinarily entail. She approaches her main two characters and their relationship elliptically, attuned with supreme sensitivity to how moments of no great size – afternoon tea, dinners with their parents – reveal the contours of Julie’s and Anthony’s relationship, and, in particular, Julie’s naïveté and ignorance of Anthony’s selfishness and deceit.

Hogg demonstrated a keen eye for striking compositions in Exhibition (that movie also took art and a dysfunctional relationship as its subject matter, albeit with a very different, absurdly comic tone) but her work in The Souvenir with cinematographer David Raedeker is exceptional, and consistently so. The images are grainy, the color palette muted. Hogg shoots from various angles and distances (her camera’s typically fixed) to best allow the emotion implied by Byrne’s gestures and mannerisms – her clutching a stuffed animal, her struggling to articulate the idea behind her film – to reverberate within the frame. A tiled mirror in Julie’s flat is often used quite effectively, as are other reflective surfaces – puddles, windows – but the occasional landscape shots are equally breathtaking.

A work of supremely intelligent restraint, The Souvenir may be deemed a small movie, but it’s an essential one.

The Souvenir Trailer

The Souvenir is currently streaming on Hoopla, Kanopy, and Prime Video.

Journey to Italy

Written by Michael Clawson

80/100

To say it’s about an unhappily married couple coming undone isn’t exactly a fair synopsis, as that suggests Rossellini spends the runtime building up to Katherine and Alex openly acknowledging their marital dissatisfaction and acting on it. In fact, and to my surprise, Rossellini quickly establishes that these bourgeois Brits have little passion for each other anymore. Alex talks of being “bored” during the opening car ride, and Katherine remarks in the following scene in their hotel room that they don’t really know each other at all. All it took was a break from domesticity and routine – what was meant to be a business trip in Naples with a couple days of relaxation tacked on – for their alienation from one another to be thrown in sharp relief.

And so they spend their Neapolitan sojourn mostly apart instead of together. Katherine ventures out alone to see the sights – sculptures at the museum, catacombs, volcanic activity at Mount Vesuvius – in moody, potent sequences, some of the film’s best. Evocative of history, death, and the mysteries of the earth, the marble figures, rows of skulls, and eddies of volcanic smoke stir up something in Katherine, as if they’re bringing her to the cusp of a spiritual or emotional breakthrough. Alex, meanwhile, hits the bars and eyes local women. I do wonder if Rossellini errs in showing his cards and revealing that he sides with Katherine; Alex’s leering is less flattering than anything we see Katherine do with her time alone. Nights together reveal simmering jealousies and bitterness.

The story approaches its emotional apex during Katherine and Alex’s lone outing together to see the excavation of two skeletons, lovers entombed by ash after Vesuvius erupted long ago. A symbol of love that endured until the moment it was swallowed by darkness. It prompts an epiphany to manifest in the finale that, while far too abrupt, sees them briefly driven apart but finding each other once again.

Journey to Italy Trailer

Journey to Italy is currently streaming on Criterion Channel, HBO Max, and Kanopy.

Episode 104: Rescreening Once Upon a Time in the West

“When I was young, I believed in three things: Marxism, the redemptive power of cinema, and dynamite. Now I just believe in dynamite.”

Sergio Leone

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

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor Rescreen Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West and provide a First Impression of the next Rescreening episode title, Jacques Demy’s Donkey Skin.

Streaming links for titles this episode

Once Upon a Time in the West is currently streaming on Kanopy and Prime Video

Donkey Skin is currently streaming on the Criterion Channel

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Family Viewing

Written by Michael Clawson

80/100

Atom Egoyan’s strange and fascinating sophomore feature Family Viewing premiered in 1987, two years before the watershed for independent film that was Sex, Lies, and Videotape‘s debut at Sundance 1989. Family Viewing might not be anywhere near as well-known or historically consequential (I haven’t heard of it being considered as such, at least), but the themes it probes clearly echo those found in Steven Soderbergh’s first film. Released at the height of the VHS era, both movies reflect the technological moment in which they were born, and meditate on how the creation and consumption of moving images might inform how intimately we connect and relate to each other (or fail to). That said, where Sex, Lies, and Videotape contains warmth and sensuality, Family Viewing is dark, uncanny, and sometimes almost comically absurd, with a faint current of sadness running beneath its surface.

18 year-old Van (Aidan Tierney) lives in a condo with his father Stan (David Hemblen) – their rhyming names fits with the movie’s overall peculiarity – and Stan’s girlfriend Sandra (Gabrielle Rose). According to his dad, Van’s mother deserted them when he was young. The movie opens in a nursing home where Van regularly goes to visit his maternal grandmother Armen, who has lost the ability to speak. It’s at the nursing home that Van meets Aline (Arsinée Khanjian, who Egoyan went on to marry and cast in many of his films), a phone sex worker whose mother shares a room with Armen.

At home, Van argues that Armen ought to be living with him and his father, an idea that his dad doesn’t entertain. Scenes at the condo are shot as if we were watching a sitcom, and deliberately rigid acting by Tierney, Hemblen, and Rose reinforces that feeling. While the emotional distance between Van and his father seems vast, Van is close with Sandra to an eyebrow-raising degree; their faces come so awkwardly close to each other when they talk, it’s as if they’re on the verge making out. We come to learn that Stan has a lust for making sex tapes with Sandra that verge on sadistic, and is taping over home videos from Van’s childhood as he feeds his habit.

Van and Aline become more involved with one another after Aline leaves town for a stint with a client; in an unsettling sequence seen through the eye of a surveillance camera, we watch her engage with the client in a hotel room. Aline’s mother passes while she’s away, and Van takes it upon himself to see to her burial, while also devising a scheme that allows him to bring his beloved grandmother into his care. The film then morphs into something of a thriller after Stan catches wind of his son’s maneuvering and hires a PI to track Van down. The movie’s lurid streak crests when Van discovers something disturbing on his dad’s dirty home videos.

To swap Sex, Lies, and Videotape out for a completely different point of reference, Family Viewing’s odd and troubling vision of emotionally empty domesticity sometimes brought David Lynch’s Rabbits to mind. The cool temperature does rise a bit by the end. It looks like Aline, Van, and Armen might be on the brink of becoming a makeshift family, one with genuine feeling exchanged between its members.

Family Viewing Trailer

Family Viewing is currently available to stream on Kanopy

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

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