A spooky and occasionally quite sexy supernatural horror-thriller that gets by on its Hitchcockian vibe and a superb performance from Michelle Pfeiffer, despite it being deadly obvious after a certain point where the story is going.
Pfeiffer plays Claire, an empty-nested housewife, who begins snooping around and spying on her neighbor after suspecting he has murdered his wife, while at the same time, strange things happen around her newly renovated lakeside house – doors creak open on their own, a picture frame keeps falling over, and she keeps walking by her bathroom to find light and steam spilling out of it, her claw-foot tub inexplicably full to the brim.
Claire’s suspicions of foul play next door suggest a take on Rear Window, but that proves to be a red herring; the real threat is the ghost in Claire’s own home, the question then being who is haunting her and why. The script lays out bread crumbs for Claire to follow with a groaning lack of subtlety, and once Claire’s husband Norman (Harrison Ford) is revealed to have been unfaithful with a student who has since gone missing, it leaves little doubt as to who this malevolent spirit really has it out for.
Pfeiffer makes Claire’s hunger to unravel the mystery compelling, and Zemeckis delectably directs more than a handful of thrilling scenes, aided by Alan Silvestri’s inherently suspenseful, Bernard Hermanesque orchestral score. The steamy bathroom is the site of a late game nail-biter, sharply edited and tightly shot, and a pulpy eroticism reaches its apex in a seduction scene where Pfeiffer oozes a deliciously frightening sexual confidence. So although it’s hampered by its eventual predictability, as well as incoherent development in Ford’s character, the movie’s unshowy stylishness and lead performance keep it afloat.
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Explores more facets of life within its specific milieu in a swift ninety minutes than most films do in over two hours, and without any idea or character forcibly shoehorned in. Is at its best though when it’s looking at middle-class guilt through Kate (Keener, always wonderful), whose emergent conscience about running a second-hand furniture business that benefits when people die prompts her to volunteer and give to the homeless as means of redemption. Two highlights here: her trip to a facility for the elderly (“She’s really hunched”, Kate says concernedly as a woman shuffles by), and her crying when she volunteers with the disabled (“Uh, you should go”, says her supervisor, embarrassed as Kate starts tearing up). Holofcener finds the humor in both scenarios without being condescending.
I can’t help but also call out my two grumbles: Kate’s trip to her competitor’s store, where a fellow patron’s talk about furniture “having ghosts” unnecessarily verbalizes an idea Holofcener already sufficiently implied, and Kate later envisioning a dead woman sitting in a chair across from her, which undercuts the power of the preceding shot of the chair empty, weighed down by the absence of the woman who died in it.
Mortality isn’t in every plot strand, but it does seem to weave its way through the movie’s periphery by implication, and occasionally comes to the fore. Everyone’s talking about going upstate to see the Fall leaves, beautiful as they die, Rebecca Hall’s character’s job as an assistant radiologist involves testing patients for a deadly disease, Kate and Alex’s economic future hinges on the inevitability of people dying and their furniture moving on. That the movie is so light on its feet and digestible as it alludes to the most profound aspects of human experience is remarkable.
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Voting in favor of this one. Gets away with making Fred (Fred Flarsky that is, what a name) both a mildly schlubby pothead constantly in the same athleisurewear (which becomes a joke in itself) and a principled journalist with a flair for speech-writing, because Rogen evenly puffs life into both sides of the character. Early stages of the relationship are sweet and pleasant because they’re more platonic than romantic; intimations of stronger feelings are wisely put off until the end of the globetrotting portion, most of which is free of real conflict and instead concentrated on Fred and Charlotte simply becoming good friends. The soundtrack is just right in that stretch, with gentle but upbeat tunes (The Cure’s “Close to Me” is the first that comes to mind) playing quietly below the dialogue, never too emotionally emphatic.
Laughs come at an impressively regular cadence, the highlights being small-scale quips and gags (e.g. Fred’s half-complete swastika tattoo becoming a stick figure dubbed “Adolf Stickler”, Jackson’s character revealing he’s a Republican: “I’m in the GOP…yeah you know me”, Fred’s astonishment at Charlotte asking for rough sex). The broader, physical bits – Fred diving out a window to escape neo-nazis, falling down the stairs after telling off a corrupt media tycoon, Fred and Charlotte together fleeing from a hotel under siege – feel a tad lazier, but still earned chuckles. Super fun to see Theron be so goofy, ducking behind aides to scarf a chicken skewer or managing a hostage crisis while high on molly. No complaints about the film championing integrity and humorously deriding how women are expected to present themselves in the public eye, but the script needed a much sharper pen for those aspects to culminate in any emotional way. As is though, a perfectly diverting rom-com.
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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.
On Episode 111 of Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: The Witches of the Orient & IWOW: I Walk On Water and the Hot Docs 2021 Documentaries: Audible, Archipelago, and A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces.
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.
In a fleet-footed adventure, two clownish peasants with a comical love-hate relationship (famously the inspiration for C-3PO and R2-D2) accompany a princess in disguise and her samurai guard on a trek through enemy territory. In exchange, they’ll get a piece of the gold that they help to haul… that is, if they don’t succumb to temptation and try to steal it before journey’s end.
Mostly light in mood, it shows Kurosawa playfully poking fun at human greed and the distrust it can sew between people, making up for a lack of complexity in character with captivating use of widescreen compositions (you wouldn’t know from the splendor of it that this was his first time employing the format). Most memorably striking are the high and low angle shots of the towering, jagged mountain peaks that the titular fortress is nestled between, where the peasants first meet their royal companions.
For laughs, the movie does rely heavily on the peasants quarreling and quickly becoming selfish, but for me, it stopped short of growing tiresome. It’s the blend of comedy and action that makes this a rip-roaring ride. The action is spectacularly staged, from the large set pieces (such as the early sequence in which a mass of imprisoned peasants revolt and flee from their captors) to the more contained confrontations (such as the spear duel between the guard and an old friend turned foe). The latter scene is shot with patience and deliberation, and is another clear inspiration for Star Wars, the spears reminiscent of lightsabers.
“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.”
Jack, Zack, and Bob: a layabout pimp who isn’t much of a talker, a downbeat DJ whose way with words is buttery smooth, and an Italian tourist with an ever-growing notebook of American idioms, an affection for American poetry, and a less than firm grip on English. A motley trio who land themselves in the Louisiana slammer, which they manage to escape from. This being a Jim Jarmusch movie, however, the prison break isn’t for the sake of thrills or suspense; Down by Law is a cool, languid, funny and fable-like hangout film, with Roberto Benigni’s Bob serving as its crucial ingredient, the spark that along with Robby Müller‘s pristine black-and-white cinematography and John Lurie’s evocative score brings the magic.
Bob might be the foreigner, but Zack and Jack are even more ineffective at meaningful communication. Rather than verbally hash out their beef with each other, they can’t help but get into physical tussles. “Do you say, in English, ‘I look-a at the window’, or do you say, ‘I look-a out the window?’” “Well, in this case, Bob, I’m afraid you gotta say ‘I look at the window.’” Language itself might be the film’s most wonderful motif.