Little Women

Episodically brilliant, it has too many stitches in the narrative quilt, its often rushed sentiment suffocating the genuine moments of resonant emotion. But it does have a thing or two to say about love. What an undoing it can be, what a triumph it is. Just watch a spirited Saoirse Ronan, as author’s wild alter ego, gaze upon her published work. Or a wise Florence Pugh, as the pragmatic younger sister, gaze at her man.

1917

Sam Mendes’s thespian ‘single take’ virtuoso stunt, a high-wire homage to his WWI veteran grandfather, highlights two things extremely well – film is a director’s medium, and its key ingredient is light. Only celluloid has that required esoteric quality, the materia to absorb and select. Filter reality. So, in a way, 1917 is also Roger Deakins’s film. His digital Arri Alexa mimics the medium almost perfectly. Almost. But it has heart. Following one glorious golden thread. Fighting for the next breath.

The Irishman

Deep down Frank Sheeran, mob hitman, was just one empty room after another in search of a person. As most sociopaths. That’s the gist of this magnificently made film about the boredom of thug life. Peggy, one of Sheeran’s daughters, and the highlight of the saga, does not speak a word until the very end. And although there has been some controversy about this, I can get it. What’s there to say? Really.

Parasite

A bonkers, beautiful, radical & drop-dead intelligent dark satirical tale of social inequality, mock egalitarian weirdness of late capitalism, class arrogance vs. monetary desperation, the perversity of the state of poverty, and all that without being up its own moralistic agenda. Amazing cinema, ending as epic daydream, twisting the social-commentary knife some more, like a pro.

What Did Jack Do?

David Lynch, as hard-boiled noir detective, interrogates a fugitive monkey suspected of murder in a crime of passion. As if fished from a hypnotic opium dream, yet fitting the P. Marlowe canon perfectly, it takes a Lynch to restore one’s faith in film as medium, and its capabilities as an art form to once again transform into something mysterious, illuminating, and worthy of awe.

Golden Globes 2020: Anarchy, Pomp & Circumstance

The human need for a pedestal is to look up to something that is desired, and ultimately, to be achieved. That particular social contract breaks when the chosen begin to look down at the rabble in complete disdain. If in doubt, read up on the French Revolution. And have some cake. The tyranny of being special purely for being wonderfully presentational. Suddenly, who makes that (free) speech begins to count again.

Bombshell

It took a grassroots revolution to demand a change in an entrenched way of dealing with sexual harassment and assault, especially on women, something that would always make victims feel exposed and grasping for shelter, as it diminishes their softest, and therefore most vulnerable space. Their intimate realms. The only way forward was to rebel furiously, collectively. Thus #MeToo was born. With all its contradictions. And what a curious gestation place it had, the very epicenter of bullish conservatism – Fox News.

Marriage Story

The exposure of the personal in public, when love becomes war, always carries within it a fundamental indecency, the prosaic dissecting the poetic. And the prosaic usually wins, as nobody outside a couple can really accurately assess the intimate space between them, least of all people hired to separate them, with benefits. But Baumbach, through Johansson and Driver, achieved the almost impossible. An intimate public display of regret that actually works both ways.

The Two Popes

The fundamental premise of faith as a fortress of dogma to defend vs. a vast river emerging from one source, but open to all that need its waters, has been the key demarcation line in the two millennia of Christianity. Deferential, yet honest & investigative is a tough line to keep. But this is intelligent filmmaking, with two powerhouse performances, telling a difficult, highly sensitive tale in a low-key, old-fashioned way, through the prism of two excellent minds, in opposition, yet still talking.

Knives Out

Although I mostly write spoiler analysis, due to the nature of these reviews, I won’t here, for the sheer pleasure everyone should have while watching this most enjoyable of cinematic experiences. An antidote, if you will, to the nasty landscapes it depicts, with extreme wit and a big heart. Go see it. It’s an all-star murder mystery about inheritance. And yes, I give it five stars, without explaining why. My blog, my rules… etc.

Skin

Guy Nattiv’s raw, yet subdued take on one man’s redemptive arc is somehow more a love story than an examination of white supremacist groups in the US. What we do get is a precise headshot of a vile but limited menace, which we know is part of a much more widespread disease, with cult-like Viking-obsessed Vinlanders in the background, spread like a particularly repulsive smorgasbord of beer, puke & gloomy sexual encounters, every frame steeped in human misery and pointless rage.

Judy

This might be a gold standard Hollywood biopic, with the melodrama sentiments & fan mail, the pale devastation of the flesh smoothed over by flashbacks re-visioning studio corruption and blanket emotional abuse as a technicolor Oz nightmare. But, at its center, is a performance so raw, tender, and gut-wrenching that all the glitz only serves as a mere proverbial curtain.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Lee Israel wrote her forgeries perhaps better than the originals would write their own correspondences, her survival depending on the content being interesting enough for collectors to buy. Lee’s downfall was her insurmountable bile, stemming from a deep-seated cowardice and envy – a cornucopia of foul blocking every living cell of her own creativity. Yet, this ends up somehow a breeze of a tale about hardship and friendship, a perfect couplet, made beautiful by actors that can tell a human from a forgery.

Mapplethorpe

Like many children of malignant narcissists, Robert spent his life redeeming beauty back from the devil. As collateral, he gave the horned one some of his best tunes – his astonishing, impeccable images, and his body, confirming that the only difference between the sacred and profane in art is perspective. Or, to quote Dylan on this – you gotta serve somebody. Not sure whom this film serves, but it does try to honour Mapplethorpe. It also provides a space to think about him.

Joker

Joaquin Phoenix burns like an archangel on heroin, a contorted otherworldly presence that under a different constellation of stars would have ended up a saint, but turns to the demonic, discovering within it that creative spark he searched for all his life spent as a non-entity. Intellectually dangerous cinema, telling the truth, and lighting a match. Too potent as art to ignore or dismiss, and highly flammable politically to treat lightly.

Ad Astra

It sets its sights high on its thorny way to Neptune, but it seems to lack soul material, an obscure alchemical element. Namely, generosity. Even with a core intent that is honourable, and a story that is conceptually beautiful in its severe simplicity – it’s a selfish story about selfishness. A love letter meant for a particular other, or group of others, but perhaps truly written only to oneself. Pushing aside all that does not belong in its elegant narrative.

Hail Satan?

Penny Lane’s crafty, arch entertaining doc on a growing group of US Satanists almost got me thinking backwards, like a spell on a Black Sabbath vinyl. There’s no denying that separating church and state is always a good idea. Then, playing the devil’s advocate to the devil’s advocate, and why not – one must remember that Lucifer finally fell from grace due to hubris, not (just) because he was otherwise cool.

The Kindergarten Teacher

Gutsy, bruising, viscerally disturbing take on a woman imploding in slow motion, developing an artistic obsession with a five-year-old poet prodigy. Gyllenhaal as Lisa possesses space like a ghost of a person she has once been, an ancient curse of the female condition, one that unresolved leads to a special kind of parasitism – a living through the creative world of another, with ferocious intensity of reclaiming one’s own. 

Colette

A true gift gives you tenacity. It’s a well that never dries. Colette was on fire until the very end of her days, and she lived long, blessing us with that rare example of an artist that did not allow the world to shut her down. It seems that a wild spirit is crucial when it comes to creative survival. Remaining untamed is ultimate protection.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

A showreel glorifying the industry of canned dreams, in a backhanded kind of way, it does that pimp thing where it tries to sell you the very stuff it mocks. Its one redeeming feature – Brad Pitt’s actual acting chops. The crack in that eternal sunshine that let the light shine through.

The Brink

In Alison Klayman’s new gutsy fly-on-the-wall doc, Trump’s ex-chief strategist comes across as a charismatic, amoral, but unfortunately pretty brainy Hollywood via Harvard player, who spotted a niche in the political market for disenfranchised white man rage, and grabbed it. Bannon knows he is the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

Chernobyl HBO Aftermath: Seeing In The Dark

The only way to look at Chernobyl is through a rear-view mirror, the complex ocular shield of the camera. Otherwise, we’d be staring at Medusa’s face, unprotected. An open nuclear reactor core burning our synapses through sheer magnitude of existential incomprehension. An apocalyptic serialised memento mori.

Ice On Fire

Leonardo DiCaprio opens his new climate change doc offering a view of the last 250 years of humankind as the longest science experiment in history. An apt take on the magnitude of human impact on the entirety of our planet – and the unhinged way we’ve been unleashing ourselves on our environment.

The Wife

Glenn Close as Joan is a magnificent melting iceberg, an environmental disaster long in the making, the wife of a soon-to-be Nobel laureate in literature, and a woman that signed a Faustian deal which has now reached its inevitable conclusion.

International Queer Film Festival Merlinka – MSUV: Love Is All

Short and sweet weekend ride through a cinematic landscape that is very slowly moving from niche to broader in the Balkans, yet with quality that never drops a beat. Merlinka is a bold and bright festival of good humour and defiance, with a sophisticated programme, a growing audience, and enough maverick charm to face both friend and foe in society with the sage knowledge that, in the end, love conquers all.

The Miseducation Of Cameron Post

It manages to nail the intricacies of emotional abuse in such terrible detail, while muted by pastel colours of Akhavan’s narrative zaniness, that all the twisted soul demolitions of the young hearts being forced to ‘pray the gay away’ suddenly creep up on us – spinning into one heavy gasp of rage.

Third Eye Spies

Essential new mainstream doc on PSY research, a much denigrated fringe topic, one that, perhaps, should not have been left solely for the military to explore. Chock-full of top-tier scientists, high-grade spooks, plus a Nobel laureate and an Apollo astronaut thrown in, for good quantum measure.

Film, the Alchemical Medium: Archetypal Enchantment and the Transformative Potential of the Moving Image

Cursed ancient academic proposal I aimed at studying how we are enchanted by film, using early film theory, post-Jungian analysis & anthropology of ritual. One day I might write about the text’s strange travels, good stuff I got out of it, publish a book, or reboot my bid for title of film doctor. For now, please feast on its faded glory, cite & link, yours might be the kiss that revives it.

The Front Runner

The 1987 campaign story of disgraced Colorado senator, and Democratic Party front-runner, Gary Hart, is as tough as aspirin compared to what we now digest daily. What it did make me do is rethink the Clinton presidency, four years later, and how the pragmatist philanderer made it to the White House, while the idealist one became a pariah. 

The Aftermath

There is an element missing here, the key component to any story of conflict and passion – namely, the passion. It does not bode well for a story of a tumultuous affair if the only performance with conviction, in a love triangle, is given by the betrayed husband. So the entire construction falls apart as if dismantled by a sensible family therapist.

Destroyer

A sun-scorched, store damaged, furious street rant on the ways we destroy others, but more on the ways we let ourselves be destroyed. Detective Bell’s hollow glare serves as an extraordinarily well executed hook – each time we look at her face, we compare it to our mental image of Kidman. And the emotional mayhem done locks us in.

The House That Jack Built

The devil mistakes aesthetics for art, has an innate disdain for the body, and in close-up – he’s one dull mofo. Lars Von Trier grabs your head and shoves it into the vortex of any subject he chooses to examine. It’s never a pleasant journey, but he delivers the goods. I gave it four stars, rather than five, although in its way, it is perfect. Because a film about evil should always be missing something.