Episode 118: Rescreening A Woman Under the Influence

“The greatest location in the world is the human face.”

John Cassavetes, Director of A Woman Under the Influence

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On Episode 118 of Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor Rescreen John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence and provide a First Impression of the next Rescreening episode title, Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo.

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Michael Clawson on Letterboxd | Taylor Baker on Letterboxd

A Woman Under the Influence Trailer

A Woman Under the Influence is currently streaming on the Criterion Channel and HBO Max.

Yojimbo is currently streaming on Criterion Channel and HBO Max and is available to rent and purchase on most major digital storefronts.

Spencer

Written by Taylor Baker

82/100

Neon is seeking to follow up its Parasite success with Oscar 2021 hopeful Spencer. Which details a few days in the life of Princess Diana played by Kristen Stewart over a Christmas holiday. It’s Pablo Larraín’s second project of the year following his 8 episode 400 minute adaptation of the Stephen King novel Lisey’s Story, which starred Julianne Moore alongside Clive Owen, a welcome sight to those fond of Children of Men. Larraín is on the surface repeating the process that led to Jackie, one of 2016’s best films which had arguably the best performance by a lead actress that year. It starred Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy following the death of her husband and president of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Spencer, though it omages to the tragedy of Diana’s death, is instead interested in her life, uniqueness, spirit, and maddening situation. Our first glimpse of Diana as played by Stewart shows her lost driving by herself to the Christmas family gathering. At one point she pulls into a Fish and Chips restaurant and asks the cashier and everyone if they can tell her where she is. “There’s no signs.” She says defeatedly. It’s a charming introduction that not only puts us on her side but makes us love her, just a little bit.

The film proceeds forward with an abrasive encounter with Allistair Gregory played deviously well by Timothy Spall, whom most may know as Peter Pettigrew/Wormtail from the Harry Potter films. In which Diana must have her weight recorded before joining the family for sandwiches. We get the sense that Spall’s Gregory is a nefarious force, perhaps one of the many surrounding the royal family that we’ve all heard tell about. Diana’s dresser Maggie, played by Sally Hawkins seems to be a lone voice of friendship in the callous halls of Windsor until she is unceremoniously and without warning sent back to London.

It’s little moments like this and larger ones, such as when her curtains are sewn together or she must put on the same pearls her husband bought for his mistress that we feel frustration and helplessness alongside her. Her very identity seems quashed by the routine and demands of being a royal when all she seems to want is her father’s worn coat and her boys. It’s no wonder to us as an audience as the film continues why she would resort to cutting herself an instance or purging herself in another. She seems to lack control over everything, so she’s asserting order where she can.

Larraín’s team is comprised of top talent working cohesively toward one vision. Jonny Greenwood serves as composer of the film, his score underlays the film with emotionality. Timed perfectly to build anticipation, and where appropriate suspicion. Claire Mathon who recently collaborated with Mati Diop on Atlantics and Celine Sciamma on both Petite Maman and Portrait of a Lady on Fire is cinematographer. Using depth of field and exterior landscapes to enormous effect. And if that wasn’t enough Larraín reteams with editor Sebastían Sepúlveda for their fourth collaboration.

Spencer as Larraín tells us at the very beginning before it starts is “A fable from a true tragedy.” Which cleverly divorces itself of the need to be as accurate and flawless in detail as Jackie had been and audiences would doubtlessly have demanded. Its interest and success lies in watching Stewart turn in arguably her best performance, which enthralls and affects equally. This performance is one of our eras finest, it’s asides with Sean Harris’s Chef Darren and Hawkins’s Maggie are rueful moments of joy that don’t seem cheapened by fictionalization, they instead seem like flourishes that bring Stewart’s depiction of Diana the person to life. Despite all the film’s dourness when Diana comes to mind I’ll think of her as she was at the end of this film, looking into a canal with her boys behind her eating fried chicken.

Spencer Trailer

Spencer is currently playing in limited theatrical release.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

VIFF 2021 Review: The Sanctity of Space

Written by Taylor Baker

65/100

The Sanctity of Space marks the first time either co-director/climber Renan Ozturk and Freddie Wilkinson have eclipsed a sixty minute runtime. It details the passage of the climbers on a collection of peaks that was plotted by renowned photographer, cartographer, explorer, and climber Bradford Washburn. The documentary serves as both historical reenactment of moments of Bradford’s life and a detailed recounting of Renan, Freddie, and Zack Smith’s attempt to climb the route. The route itself is drawn on a gorgeous enormous photograph that Bradford had taken back in the 1930’s. Leading us down an investigation into the life, experiences, and artistry of the Massachusetts native that fell in love with climbing as a child after a perpetual hayfever he suffered from cleared up during an ascent. 

The film quickly turns from historical reenactment and pursuit of a historically documented but unattempted climb to a personal retelling of dead friends, emotional experiences of our central climbers roughly between 2007 to 2013, and a few failures at the climb. It’s not at all clear why exactly the post production for the film took such a long time. But it’s clear that the choice to frame the film around Bradford Washburn came deep into their creative process. The historical reenactments are of great quality and convey a sense of the expedition that he was on and the risks he undertook.

There are a half dozen talking heads that walk us through the legacy of Washburn from his advice to Amelia Earhart that after being disregarded directly led to her death, and his over forty year term as Director of the Boston Museum of Science. It’s hard to imagine that I knew nothing of Washburn nor his legacy overtly before walking into the film. It stumbles where it attempts to juggle the intimate lives of our climbers with the nature of their expedition, like summiting the peaks themselves the film gets lost and loses its definition–its communicatory conveyance of the details of their physical climb. We don’t know exactly where they are or the way it felt to attempt the summits. They do overtly tell us at various points but as viewers we’re lost in the enormity of the mountains trying to tracing the route with them. Instead we witness only what we can, which is what they’ve captured and it doesn’t connect.

The Sanctity of Space was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

VIFF 2021 Review: Paris, 13th District (Les Olympiades, Paris 13e)

Written by Taylor Baker

86/100

Jacques Audiard’s Paris, 13th District is a metaphorical mic drop on the anthology romance films you might know from the last twenty or so years like New York, I Love You or Berlin, I Love You (very original titles, as you can see.). Audiard last flooded cinema screens with 2018’s The Sisters Brother. An unorthodox western built on great characters and beautiful cinematography. Based on Patrick DeWitt’s novel of the same name. Likewise Paris, 13th District is based on a previous written work. Four of Adrian Tomine’s short stories, Amber Sweet, Killing and Dying, Summer Blonde, and Hawaiian Getaway.

Each narrative is woven together building on the characters and tensions of the previous segments. It first builds itself on the back of a very capable newcomer to film Lucie Zhang as Émilie Wong draped nude on a couch singing karaoke to her new lover and a character we’ll come to spend a large amount of the next hour and forty so minutes with Camille Germain played sincerely and unquestioningly by Makita Samba. One day Camille knocks on Émilie’s door inquiring about a room for rent. Which leads to a weeklong passionate fling between the two. Ending as suddenly as it began with cold and delicious spiteful humor from Émilie sitting at breakfast dummying up new roommate rules now that they won’t be romantic partners.

If it seems a bit conventional and unsubstantial that’s because it is on the surface. The pain these twenty and thirty something budding adults are navigating is at the periphery of the story. Émilie’s grandmother is slowly dying. The apartment she’s living in and renting out the room to Camille is also her grandmothers, who now lives in a nursing home a short distance away. Yet Émilie cannot bring herself to face her, despite her demanding mother’s insistence that she go see her. Camille is likewise navigating his own heartache which in his words has him not ready to date anyone, not just Émilie. Naturally this assertion evaporates when he meets his teaching replacement, Stéphanie played by Oceane Cairaty. 

Camille leaves Émilie and moves in with Stéphanie. At this point the film’s introductory segment that starts with Émilie singing karaoke on the couch ends distinctly with an image of Jehnny Bett’s Amber Sweet beginning a cam show mostly nude except for some lingerie while brandishing a vibrator. It’s a powerful shift tonally and visually that resonates long after the credits roll. Two women brandishing mechanical objects trying to play at something, to feel something, to reach something. It’s not a clean metaphor nor is it a clear one, but it leaves something in your teeth to think about, especially as each of these women develop throughout the film.

This second act though actually isn’t as much about Amber Sweet as it is about Noémie Merlant’s Nora Ligier. Nora, a 33 year old woman, recently left her career in real estate with her uncle to go back to school in Paris with the goal of achieving a law degree. While attending university she decides to attend a party with her classmates. In preparation of the event she purchases a wig and dolls herself up. While at the party the boys Amber was performing for at the beginning of the act mistake her for Amber. Which leads to a university wide rumor of students laughing at Nora. Climaxing in a cacophony of phone notifications and a wall of students in a lecture hall each bathed in the light of their smartphones watching Amber’s videos in stifled laughter while Nora attempts to stutter her way through a question for the professor.

Each of these characters has an intimate pain which you might call trauma at their core, a past, present, or looming future tragedy on their mind and in their heart. Trying to process who they are and who they want to be while navigating the eternally messy all too human pursuit of romance. Hurting each other and themselves as they stumble through life. At once a beautifully photographed fully realized vision of contemporary life for meandering millennial adulthood in Paris, and a sterling depiction of how short stories can be seamed together to reach something deep and beautiful in film. One of my favorite scenes of the year which encapsulates the eternally human with the new technological age is Émilie playing an old piano reading sheet music off an iPad, eventually she has to lift her hand up to scroll to the next section. It says everything, and nothing. Some things never change, despite our new tools, and new ages.

Paris, 13th District Trailer

Paris, 13th District was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Vancouver Film Festival.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Episode 117: 1971 Retrospective: McCabe & Mrs. Miller / Death in Venice / The Last Picture Show

“Comedy is the hardest thing to get right. I remember a joke we did in ‘What’s Up, Doc?’ that didn’t get a single laugh. So we moved the shot a foot-and-a-half to one side, and all of a sudden, the laugh was there. It drives you crazy; the balance is so delicate.”

Peter Bogdanovich, Director of The Last Picture Show

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Deezer | Gaana | Google Podcasts | iHeartRadio | JioSaavn | LibSyn | Player FM | RadioPublic | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

On Episode 117 of Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: Scenes from a Marriage & Titane. Then they look back 50 years to three 1971 Feature Films: McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Death in Venice, and The Last Picture Show.

Streaming links for titles this episode

McCabe & Mrs. Miller is currently streaming on HBO Max.

Death in Venice and The Last Picture Show are currently available to rent and purchase on most major VOD platforms.

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Michael Clawson on Letterboxd | Taylor Baker on Letterboxd

Last Night in Soho

Written by Taylor Baker

76/100

With Last Night in Soho Edgar Wright returns to the cinema screen for the second time this year, following up his breezy if lengthy documentary The Sparks Brothers detailing the highlights of the Sparks group comprised of Ron and Russell Mael who notably scored, wrote, and appeared in Leos Carax’s Annette this last summer. Wright’s film leans on two young proven talents in Anya Taylor-Joy and Thomasin McKenzie. Names that will doubtlessly draw audiences for decades to come. The narrative conceit or trick to Soho is an entanglement of two lives in two different times, Thomasin in modern day London and Taylor-Joy in 1960’s London. Taylor-Joy plays Sandy and McKenzie plays Eloise.

The film begins with Eloise leaving her rural home to go to London to pursue a career as a fashion designer. Since her mother’s untimely passing Eloise had been living with her Grandmother Peggy Turner played by Rita Tushingham and had overcome some psychological issues wherein her mother would appear to her through a mirror. A clever visual choice for the film to demonstrate an “ability” as purely visual rather than ask us to buy into something less conveying within the medium.

Sandy appears to us as if through a dream once Eloise settles into her new room in London. She’s adorned in a sheer billowing dress walking down the regal stairs of a local London night club where she dreams of singing one day. There she meets and begins to become entangled with Matt Smith’s Jack. The night progresses and Eloise wakes up pulling us from the 60’s back to the contemporary. Eloise hadn’t had the best time at her dormitory with her peers partying late so she takes up a job at the local watering hole to help her pay for a room rented to her by the late Diane Riggs’s Miss Collins.

Last Night in Soho slowly evolves riffing on well known conventions. Sandy begins performing as a back-up dancer to another woman at the Rialto and slowly the perfect gauzy effect that Wright had layered onto the films 60’s sequences dissipates into a more dejected grungy look that makes one think despairingly of Christiane F. instead of something like 1957’s Funny Face. McKenzie’s Eloise steals scenes and pulls focus from Taylor-Joy’s Sandy with surprising consistency. McKenzie has had precious few chances to engage on screen with other female performers so this not only serves as a refreshing look at her talent, it reiterates the magnetism audiences have collectively picked up on since her first performance back in 2018’s Leave No Trace.

Last Night in Soho is a gripping and fun riff on giallo with modern social commentary that has and will surely continue to have audiences applauding and opposing it. Regardless of which camp you fall into you’ll likely be gripped by the premise and underwater dreamlike sequences as they unfold only knowing for sure how you feel as the credits roll and we look down the various empty streets of London where Diana Riggs’s Miss Collins tells us that, “Someone’s died in every nook and cranny of.”

Last Night in Soho Trailer

Last Night in Soho is currently screening in wide theatrical release.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Antlers

Written by Taylor Baker

60/100

Scott Cooper’s Antlers was originally slated to release in April of 2020, a couple delays and a Disney buyout of 21st Century Fox later and the film that completed it’s shoot in November of 2018 is finally available to audiences nationwide. Scott Cooper’s previous film Hostiles released in the late December award contender window of 2017. So the lengthy wait for his follow up film has been more or less due to circumstance than a ruminatory artist pursuing his muse. And Antlers is a decidedly different affair than the brooding stoic western with an ensemble of big names(Headed by Christian Bale) and great talent that made up Hostiles(Though Jesse Plemmons does reteam with Cooper here). Instead Antlers leans on Keri Russell of FX’s The Americans fame who returns to her Oregon rural mountain mining hometown following the death of her father. Her brother Paul Meadows, played by Jesse Plemmons, was just elected sheriff of the small town just before the film begins following the step down of Sheriff Stokes, played by Graham Greene.

At the start of the film we’re greeted by a grim scene, a young boy playing outside returns to a pickup truck parked in front of the mineworks. Shortly after he gets on the wide bench seat of the truck his father shuffles up from the mine shafts with a box in his hands. As he tucks the mysterious box under a tarp in the truck bed he commands his son to stay in the cab. The ominousness is largely missing as we’re cudgelled by the knowledge something bad is undoubtedly about to occur. The camera follows him as he ignites a flare and navigates the zigzagging shafts of the mine until he reaches a friend he is cooking methamphetamine with deep in one of the pockets. As he approaches the cook site we hear a growling otherworldly sound. This is our introduction to the Wendigo, the native American mythological creature the film and the short story on which it’s based revolve around. 

Keri Russell’s Julia Meadows is a school teacher in the isolated town and one of her students Lucas Weaver is the eldest son of the man we saw previously cooking methamphetamine in the mineshaft. Upon discovering some of his drawings she becomes disturbed and the film’s narrative proper kicks in. Antlers is a disappointing step down from Cooper. Aside from a handful of exterior shots, the gorgeous cinematography of Hostiles which he shot with Masanobu Takayanagi is gone. Florian Hoffmeister picks up the camera for Cooper and though it’s doubtlessly unfair to compare the two entirely due to the setting of Hostiles being rampant with gorgeous vistas and skyscapes, Antlers is uninteresting even in its ugliness. Only reaching higher moments of quality at it’s big loud jump scare plot beats. In addition to its general flatness the story doesn’t creep into or under your skin. Not just in a horror motif way, but in a caring about the narrative way. In the story of Cooper’s body of work Antlers is undoubtedly a down swing. Other than a few fun jump scares, it never fully capitalizes on its premise nor it’s talent.

Antlers Trailer

Antlers is currently available in wide theatrical release.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Raindance Film Festival 2021 Preview | with Thomas Stoneham-Judge of ForReel

Raindance Film Festival 2021 Preview | Taylor Baker speaks with Thomas Stoneham-Judge of ForReel about what their each looking forward to at the Raindance Film Festival and what great films the festival has that they’ve already had the opportunity to see.

The 2021 edition of the Raindance Film Festival runs from October 27th to November 6th. To learn more about the festival and see more of what Raindance has to offer, visit https://raindance.org/

DXIFF 2021 Review: The Rescue

Written by Taylor Baker

50/100

Oscar Winning Directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi follow up their harrowing Oscar Winning documentary Free Solo with a film about the extraction mission conducted by Thai Seals and Divers in Thailand to save a youth soccer team that was trapped in the cave. The film is composed primarily of historical reenactment footage, with event footage captured by the many cameras on site during the extraction, and talking head style interviews recounting the process and journey undertaken. The Rescue begins with some shots of flooded farmland in Thailand before cutting to Vern Unsworth pointing at a map trying to explain the only way they can get the children out of the cave while someone translates his English to Thai so the man who seemingly presides over the operation can understand. It effectively puts you immediately in the middle of the chaos in an effort to feel what it’s like to accomplish this extraction. Not unlike Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi’s way of looking straight down the sheer cliff faces in Free Solo to put you right there on the mountain side with Honnold.

The boys had wandered into the cave playing that day while celebrating a birthday. The cave functioned as a sort of playground for them to play in and typically when the cave system begins flooding in July it is closed off. But in June when they boys entered it and had not yet been sealed to the public. While they were inside a sort of flash flood occurred that immediately sealed the cave system with water forcing them up to the highest point in the caves with limited oxygen supply in the pocket they made it to. Vern Unsworth(who you may know from the kerfuffle with Elon Musk during the extraction.) instructs the team heading up operations that the only chance they’ll have to successfully rescue the boys is to get the best cave divers in the world.

Which leads us into an introductory sequence with Rick Stanton and John Volunthen, renowned as the world’s best cave divers. From there we get an amalgamation of stitched together footage and voice over recounting their arrival to the camp and their recollection of the difficult process to convince the authorities to not only allow them access to the caves but to let them perform the extraction one at a time by injecting a medication to knock the boys out so they could be extracted one at a time by the divers. Convincing Dr. Richard Harris one of the best anaesthesiologists in the world to come up from Australia to help with administering the drugs. It would be a harrowing documentary if we didn’t already know how it ended more than three years ago. It plays like a thriller and a bit like PR film for the subjects. Their look at Honnold was much more neutral, it was clear they loved him, but they let in his faults, his ego, and some of his callousness. Characteristics that would have been welcome this time around from anyone besides those who are presented to have impeded the rescue mission. Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi are clearly here to stay. Let’s hope the next thing they turn their cameras toward they’re a bit more objective or more transparent about their roles during filming.

The Rescue Trailer

The Rescue was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival and is currently screening in limited theatrical release nationwide.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Dave Chappelle: The Closer

Written by Taylor Baker

90/100

Mark Twain Award Winning humorist and self aware greatest of all time(GOAT) comedian Dave Chappelle returns to Netflix to have his patented open conversations with himself – sharing some laughs, some hurt – all while inhaling some smoke. Dave has long talked of his place in our global community of Earth, national community of America, and, especially since The Chappelle Show, how he feels in his skin, in his circumstances. And he’s never been shy about translating that feeling to the larger demographics he considers himself a part of. Whether African-American, Black, Man, Ohioan, Comedian, Artist, or Human Being. Dave has zeroed in on providing perspectives from personal angles and done so loquaciously. Albeit with occasional cultural backlash if not turmoil.

The thing about comedy, and comedians is they’re using words to debate culture, to keep a check and balance on it. They’re fighting ideas and improvising outloud to make their personal experiences mappable to you, with the structured up front goal of making you laugh. If they succeed, they did their job. If they didn’t, they failed. Simple. Men like Gilbert Gottfried have done it for years with use of his harsh tone of voice and clever black comedy lines that you couldn’t repeat to your grandmother. More recently Taylor Tomlinson has expressed moments of her personal life history to enormous effect. Kathrine Ryan has done the same with a totally different personal story. Comedy has always been about the personal, if not directly as reference material for a comedian’s act. It’s what one finds funny. 

So what’s different? Why is The Closer hitting “differently” than Chappelle’s other work? It’s because he’s talking about his emotions and viewpoint from what he might call in his previous special Sticks and Stones, his seat in the car. While the LGBTQ+ community after the release of the special sits center to the conversation about it, they’re one of many groups and individuals Dave speaks on. Naturally a political and cultural battleground is a draw for critics and commentators. Where duty and topical melt into each other, and what is a comedian if not a critic and a commentator at once, giving us a performative art that reflects the very identity of who we are right now?

Dave eschews the LGBTQ+ community at large within The Closer – as he’s done with almost every single larger community. A running theme from almost all great comedians has always been to disregard, if not disrespect, the larger groups in favor of persons and personal stories. Dave, like so many before him, focuses on what is personal and meaningful to him. Drawing a distinction between groupthink and social cohesion by focusing on the people he cares about, the people he loves. These are individuals with messy lives that don’t fit the molds of our cultural conversation. Dave knows our society’s larger groupings are ugly, and rather than turning away from one of the most vibrant and flourishing communities today, he looks directly at them, despite any dangers of an inevitable backlash or controversy. Following the proverb, “Excluding someone from a joke is worse than a joke about them.” 

I can’t say that you won’t have a negative reaction to some of Dave’s material, or that you won’t be hurt by it. What I can say is Dave’s entire body of work demonstrates an immense belief foundationally in equality. Dave’s friend Daphne Dorman committed suicide shortly after the release of his previous special Sticks and Stones. And it seems as if everything uttered before he recounts her tale in the special is exclusively in service to this final piece of the act working. Not just as “material” for laughs but for the audience, emotionally, so we take it seriously and so we take Daphne seriously. He recounts a brief personal story about her and in it delivers the climax of the special. The climax isn’t simply the story about Daphne herself, it’s what she tells Dave while he’s on stage after they’ve dialogued and he says he just can’t understand her. To which she replies, “I don’t need you to understand me. I just need you to understand that I’m having a human experience.” I don’t think there’s anything else I can say that is more important in unlocking this special or Dave as a person. This is the baby in the bathwater. If you can accept that Dave is operating in good faith and compassion, then I think you’ll have a memorable time with this piece. If you can’t, it’s easy to scroll to Netflix “New Releases”.

Dave Chappelle: The Closer Trailer

Dave Chappelle: The Closer is currently streaming on Netflix.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.