Val

Written by Alexander Reams

68/100

“I went from being the star of the play, to playing the character that was the butt of every joke,” a very begrudging Val Kilmer says as he discusses his first breakthrough at Julliard Acting School. This footage, like most of the documentary, is compiled of six decades of footage Kilmer has recorded throughout his life. After having his vocal medium all but stripped from him, he now turns to the visual medium to tell his story. With direction from Leo Scott and Ting Poo, and narration from Val’s son, Jack Kilmer, Val is telling a story once again. The story of his life. 

While the documentary tries to be an act of emotional catharsis for Val, it can be frustratingly vain. Only showing the work he’s put in, and not his own professional issues that gave him a certain reputation. A reputation that many forgot about when signing onto a movie with him because of his beauty. A beauty that may come once in a lifetime. One that propelled him to superstardom. Leading him to be in films that he himself has proclaimed “are hard to explain”, such is the case with the first film he discusses, Top Secret!

What the documentary does spectacularly is make you see a side of Kilmer that is not often shown, stripping away the beauty of him, to show his personal struggles and backstory to becoming the iconic actor we now know. The journey of which is best shown in the behind the scenes footage for Top Gun. Even admitting that he did not want to do the film. What Kilmer brought to the film changed the way the character was in its original inception. However, by Batman Forever Kilmer’s career, had seemingly outstayed its welcome. The danger that comes with films like Val is the film can cross the border of vanity into boorishness quickly.

By the end of the film, I no longer cared about Kilmer’s career, instead I wanted to see more of his personal life besides the surface level veneer we’re presented. Which still continues to frustrate me even as I write this after the film has ended. Despite all this, the portrait the film presents of its titular subject is fascinating, if not fully interesting. Ting Poo and Leo Scott did a great job of bringing this footage to life and showcasing a controversial, interesting, and vain life of a man who has lost his voice, and are helping him still tell stories, giving him a voice when he no longer has one.

Val Trailer

Val is currently in limited theatrical release and available to stream on Prime Video.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

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.

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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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

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 95: RoboCop / Starship Troopers / Miami Vice

“I don’t underestimate audiences’ intelligence. Audiences are much brighter than media gives them credit for. When people went to a movie once a week in the 1930s and that was their only exposure to media, you were required to do a different grammar.”

Michael Mann

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

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of Project Power & She Dies Tomorrow and the Feature Films: RoboCop, Starship Troopers, and Miami Vice.

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Streaming links for titles this episode

RoboCop is currently available on Prime Video

Starship Troopers is currently available on Tubi TV

Miami Vice is currently available to rent or purchase

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

Episode 88: The Outside Story / MLK/FBI / 76 Days

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Martin Luther King Jr.

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

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of the Prime Video Titles: I’m Your Woman & Sylvie’s Love. Followed by Official Selections to the Heartland International Film Festival, San Diego International Film Festival, and the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival. These Official 2020 Film Festival Selections are: The Outside Story, MLK/FBI, and 76 Days.

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Streaming links for titles this episode

MLK/FBI will be released by IFC FIlms on January 15th 2021

76 Days is currently available in Virtual Cinemas

The Outside Story is currently seeking distribution.

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. If you do please let them know we sent you, it helps us out too!

Sound of Metal

Written by Anna Harrison

85/100

About halfway through Sound of Metal, Ruben (Riz Ahmed) is given a sign name in American Sign Language: a hand curled to form a “C” held up beside the right eye. The reason this becomes Ruben’s sign name is obvious the second you see Riz Ahmed’s enormous brown eyes in action, so big and expressive they seem to swallow the screen. He looks, as one character remarks upon, a bit like an owl, a trait that makes it difficult to look away when Ruben appears on screen.

Sound of Metal follows Ruben, a recovering addict who replaced heroin with music and a girlfriend, Lou (Olivia Cooke, with unfortunate bleached eyebrows for most of the film). As a drummer in a punk rock band with Lou, Ruben bombards his ears every night with loud guitar riffs and screeching, until one day he suddenly finds he cannot hear anything. Disoriented, distressed, Ruben tries to act like nothing has changed, and goes back onstage that night. Worried that he might relapse, Lou checks him into a facility for recovering addicts populated entirely by deaf people, run by the tough yet empathetic Joe, played by Paul Raci, who turns in an excellent, understated performance.

Ruben struggles without his music and without Lou; he can never bring himself to truly embrace his new identity, and flounders as he tries to avoid facing his situation head-on, finding inventive ways to keep his brain thinking about anything but his newfound deafness. Eventually, he begins to settle into a new life—learning ASL, teaching the drums to deaf children at the local school, and drawing raunchy tattoos for a friend—but no matter what he does, he cannot completely quiet the noise that remains in his head. He dreams of getting back to “normal,” and always remembers what he has lost even as he finds moments of joy in his new life. If the actual plot mechanics sound threadbare, that’s because they are, but the character work is rich.

As Ruben, Ahmed gives a nuanced and powerful performance, deftly portraying Ruben’s raw pain and rage while never drifting into melodrama. He is helped by first-time feature director Darius Marder (co-writer with his brother, Abraham, and Derek Cianfrance), who walks along a razor’s edge here with surety, avoiding pandering, easy answers and working hard to accurately portray sensitive topics without schmaltz. Ahmed’s best co-star, however, is not Cooke, but the entire sound department.

From the opening beats and screams of a punk rock song, the sounds immerse us. The whir of a blender, the drip of a coffee pot, and then, suddenly, a high-pitched ringing in the middle of bombastic drumming that drowns everything else out. Like Ruben, we are thrown into disarray, struggling to understand the world around us, straining to make out coherent noises through the fog. We slip and panic with Ruben. Sound flits in and out for the rest of the movie; sometimes we hear as Ruben does, sometimes we hear what he cannot, but always we are intensely aware of the sound or lack thereof. For those who have ever wondered—like me, back before I learned better—why “boring” sound editing and sound mixing are categories at the Academy Awards, here is your answer. 

It’s not a perfect movie; it has its lulls, and Lou, while an important presence, seems thinly sketched, and we are told that she is interesting rather than shown. But these quibbles do not detract too much from the film: Sound of Metal handles its quiet, personal story with grace, making us both yearn for chaos of noise and appreciate the stillness that comes with absolute silence.

Sound of Metal Trailer

You can watch Sound of Metal on Prime Video

You can follow Anna on Letterboxd