Yet another Covid belated release bows in theaters this awards season push, nearly two full years since it’s screenplay was available for purchase in France. Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch is now on multiplex screens around the country. With all the formal panache and tweeness Anderson is known and largely renowned for. The French Dispatch is a staggered vignette anthology film that mostly ties together by the end, not unlike The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The last Coen Brothers film which was released on Netflix in 2018 to mixed reactions from audiences. For Anderson fans The French Dispatch will feel like a familiar experience with plenty of stylings, witticisms, and casting choices that make you feel right at home.
For non-Anderson fans though, the throughline of a narrative expressly about Ennui the word and place may seem more than a bit much. Each part is composed of different elements that are all tonally similar, but largely develop into delightful little offshoot excuses for Anderson to experiment with different subplot arcs. Ranging from kidnapping, shoot outs, high stakes chess, chase sequences, nudity, animation, prison, and “Art”. As one would expect from differing sequences with varied elements some stand out more than others, but each is formally presented with the rigor and exacting visual standards that accompany one’s mind when they ruminate on Wes Anderson.
The opening sequence recounts the founding of a publication in Ennui-sur-Blasé, France called the Liberty Kansas Evening Sun. Pitched as a chance for a young Arthur Howitzer Jr. later played by Bill Murray to get his feet wet in the family business and learn about the world. The subsequent sections are each far more rich and detailed than this opening until we reach the end of the film which acts as a book end to the beginning, this time comprised almost entirely of men and women we’d grown to know over the runtime. The three major segments of the film are:
1. The Concrete Masterpiece which is framed by J.K.L. Berensen played by Tilda Swinton as she recalls the story of an artist in a maximum security prison played by Benicio Del Toro, his muse and prison guard played by Lea Seydoux, Adrien Brody the incarcerated man who discovers and buys Del Toro’s Moses Rosenthaler’s art, as well as a host of other talented actors and actresses. This particular sequence is easily my favorite, and presents some choices that feel new or at least uncommon for Wes.
2. Revisions To A Manifesto written and presented to us by Frances McDormand’s Lucinda Krementz. Revisions To A Manifesto recalls the story of Krementz who lives alone by choice and is unknowingly setup on a dinner date by friends with Christoph Waltz. On her way to the bathroom after some tear gas causes a single tear to begin rolling down her cheek she encounters a young and impassioned Timothée Chalamet. He’d snuck home and into the bathroom to bathe after a hard day fighting the good fight of youthful idealism against the establishment. The segment is mostly conversational and coyly addresses politics, youthful idealism, disillusionment, and the deification of dead youth.
3. The Private Dining Room — of the Police Commissioner presented by Jeffrey Wright’s Roebuck Wright with brief appearances by Liev Schreiber, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, and Mathieu Amalric, as well as others. Consists of a story in which Wright’s character Wright is invited for dinner with the police commissioner played by Amalric for a piece that he has been tasked by Murray’s Howitzer Jr. with for the paper. When the commissioner’s son is kidnapped during their meal it turns into a wry rescue mission story that capitalizes in a delightful if on the nose sequence where Wright digs the last page of the piece out of the trash and Howitzer Jr. tells him that’s the reason to the write the piece.
Anderson reteamed with cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman who has worked on and off with him since his sophomore feature Rushmore. As well as editor Andrew Weisblum who has worked with Aronofsky since The Wrestler. It’s always hard to tell where Anderson’s choices begin and end and where a crafts persons work begins, but the collaboration between these three appeared effortless and seamed together with enough ease that no transitions felt jarring, which isn’t an easy task in anthology films. Though The French Exit lacks the enveloping romanticism I’ve found in my favorite Anderson films it’s an intriguing formal exercise from a master. Luckily the viewing experience wasn’t one of ennui, despite it being our destination.
The French Dispatch Trailer
The French Dispatch is currently playing in theatrical wide release.
It’s been about a year and a half since No Time to Die was originally intended to bow into theaters. Cary Joji Fukanaga of True Detective fame, publicly picked up the fallen pieces of Boyle’s failed attempt to make Bond 25 back in 2018. Leading to what was described as rushed production. After viewing the finished product it’s hard to believe those reports were wrong. Fukanaga is mostly known for his HBO critical hit season 1 of the aforementioned True Detective, alongside later entries in his filmography with the likes of Netflix Limited Series Maniac, and a handful of films that have garnered critical acclaim. Most notable among then and also a Netflix Original Beasts of No Nation(which he also served as cinematographer for) from 2015. Fukanaga has been quietly accumulating one of the strongest and most singular voices in cinema since the late aughts. With excitement building around budding Global Starlet Ana de Armas coming off Blade Runner 2049 and the critical and audience success Knives Out alongside Craig as a heavily marketed new type of “Bond Girl”. And of course the fact that this is to serve as Craig’s last turn as Bond, James Bond. It seemed like everything was lining up for a brilliant rendition of everyone’s favorite British spy with a license to kill.
All this preamble serves not just as a historical assessment of how the film is hitting us now a year and a half after it was intended, but to frame the very real tangible expectations that it fails to live up to. No Time to Die is tasked with juggling multiple things, the end of Craig as Bond, storyline continuity (which Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have been charged with 1999’s The World is Not Enough), a continuing romance, 4 writers(excluding Flemming’s “characters by” credit.), and a rushed production. Four writers as a rule of thumb is two to three too many. And on a ballooning franchise with so many interests, Nokia product placement deals and various other things to keep in order this finished product feels distinctly like multiple disjointed voices and parts Frankensteined together with so much production money that you can almost overlook perhaps the most underwhelming part of it, Rami Malek’s villain Safin.
Fukanaga’s best known for his visual cinematic prowess, which continues here, with exceptional extended sequences, meticulously crafted motion shots, effortless focus pulling… I could go on and on. But all that prowess in service of what? Some witty eyerolling jokes? Stakes that don’t ever become personal? A score of Indiana Jones references? It’s at once a self serious and self critical screenplay that fails to hone in on an actual narrative voice that lets us get a sense of what this Bond “wants”. Instead it shows what all Bond films always have, what he’s willing to die for. With more self reflexivity then we’ve seen recently, but not the interesting or good kind.
Overwrought with nonsensical symbolism, those big cinematic moments from the trailers play as well as you’d expect. The hallway and stairwell fight scenes are fun. de Armas despite her very very very brief time in the film is as charming as she is memorable. Once her sequence in Cuba ends I the rest of the runtime trying to drum up a reason in the plot for her to reappear. She doesn’t. She contrasts heavily against Seydoux’s generally eyerolling, uninteresting, and unfun Swann. I hate repeating myself within a review, but occasionally it’s necessary. The lack of emotionality to the various plot devices at work on screen is without question No Time to Die’s most glaring issue and likely what the film will be known for. Instead of a celebration Craig leaves Bond in an overlong stylized whimper.
No Time to Die Trailer
No Time to Die will be available via wide theatrical release on October 8th.
Love is a strange concept, those who watch Rick & Morty will know it as a chemical reaction in the mind, and there are others who disregard that definition and go for “you know it when you see it.” In Ildikó Enyedi’s The Story of My Wife, both concepts are thrown out of the window and instead our lead Jakob (yes, I notice the its the same spelling of John Cena’s character in F9, but even Jakob Toretto is far more intriguing than our Jakob here.) portrayed by Gijs Naber’s is introduced in the most masculine of ways, captaining a ship out at sea while dealing with some kind of sickness. He is suggested to go to town and find a wife, as that has solved this issue for many other men. Now have we seen any of these men? No. Is this just a plot device used to introduce Léa Seydoux into the film? Yes. From the opening shot of Gijs Naber, I questioned if he even was a ship captain, his mannerisms, speech, verbiage, was all that of an educated man, which he could very well have been, but compared to his compatriots on the boat, it didn’t make sense.
As soon as Léa Seydoux enters the frame, the film dive bombs into another 150 (or so) minutes of absolute dreck. The film is presented, and clearly wants to be an odyssey of a man finding love, but is instead drowned by watered down dialogue that is bound to make you as sick Jakob was. The Story of My Wife is a film with a 169 minute runtime. Co-Writer/Director Ildikó Enyedi clearly let the pace get away from her and did not realize the scope of the picture she was making nor how to control it’s bow. Or perhaps she knew what she wanted to do, and unfortunately failed to do so.
The filmsuffers from an abhorrent script and direction, which caused it’s players to fail as well. The only gleaming note of kindness I can give this film is in it’s cinematography. Captured by Marcell Rév, a frequent collaborator of Sam Levinson, who shot the film with a mix of guerilla and steadicam style. Shooting angles that make the film stand out visually, along with its production and costume design. Unfortunately that is not nearly enough to save this bloated, wretch of a film. I can forgive a bad film, I cannot forgive a boring film, and this film is boring with a capital B. Film is supposed to sweep us away to another world and tell us stories that help us escape reality, here I wanted reality to come back after 20 minutes because what is going on outside in the world is so much more intriguing than this garbage.
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