Movie City Indie Archive for May, 2019

Friday Movies: ROCKETMAN, THE SOUVENIR, LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD,THE BRINK

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman from Paramount Pictures.

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman from Paramount Pictures.

RocketmanRocketman, the biopic-jukebox musical strung upon the outpouring of songs written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, is saved from its chock-a-block narrative impatience by the pure puppy-ness of Taron Egerton’s performance as Reg Dwight grown big and awful, rocketing toward his present twenty-eight years of sobriety. Camp is indicated more than embodied: the phantasm of Elton John’s feelings, both sad and flying high, plays as a deracinated version of a Baz Luhrmann canvas like Moulin Rouge than the Ken Russell bacchanal that would have incinerated the screen. (The script is by Lee Hall, who collaborated with John on the stage musical adaptation of his highly political Billy Elliot screenplay.) [More here.]

The-Souvenir-07.-By-Sandro-Kopp.-Courtesy-of-A24The Souvenir. Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir is as mysterious as it is specific, tracing the drift of Julie, an intensely ambitious film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) who is distracted by a first true love affair, with Anthony (Tom Burke), a man who appears to take her seriously indeed. Set in the 1980s artistic era in which the writer-director grew up, Hogg’s fourth feature describes how a film narrative can flow around the range of thoughts and emotions that a shy young woman holds as she hopes to make art. Places and faces are equally expressive realms. Can imagination be mere delusion? What are her dreams? Hogg dreamt them, dreams them, again, as distanced onscreen memoir, and the dream is furthered by Byrne’s mesmerizing, fleeting performance. “Making the film, I’m allowing parts of my own biography to be re-imagined and expanded upon and changed,” Hogg has said. “I want it to become something else.” [More here.]

The-BRINK-2The Brink. Alison Klayman’s The Brink, an avatar of cinema-vérité observation, arrives in a hush and escalates with precision. Klayman records political consultant and purported intellectual powerhouse Stephen K. “Steve” Bannon after his dismissal from the arms of Trump power, and the rich result, captured by a filmmaker-cinematographer-sound recordist on their own, all on their own, is edited to a fierce ninety-minute form from day-after-day of close observation of a year in a life of wheeling and huffing and dealing and puffing. [More here.] iTunes, June 4.

marienbad-2

Last Year At Marienbad. [4k restoration; Criterion Blu upgrade.] Furiously beautiful and fatefully unforgettable, Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad (L’année dernière à Marienbad), released in 1961 and written by Alain Robbe-Grillet in an absurdly detailed screenplay, is of its time. Its greatness lies in being a riotous puzzle box with silken and sheer and shiny surfaces that should dazzle, somewhat comforting in their concreteness as figures and objects, but discomfiture of memory and time and dream in its very form. A fantastic world of impossible wealth and improbable ennui and sculptured hair and Coco Chanel couture tacking through castle and courtyard in the shapeliest but least-definable of waking dreams: it is a thundercrack. (Robbe-Grillet said he was describing “a purely mental space and time—those of dreams, perhaps, or of memory, those of any affective life—without worrying too much about the traditional relations of cause and effect, or about an absolute time sequence in the narrative.”) [More here.]

 

 

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin