Monday, October 18, 2021

The Current Cinema 21.3


I'm a sucker for dance sequences in movies, where narrative stops and the only thing that exists is the inebriated will of a filmmaker to melt body and sound in a swirl of motion. Julia Ducournau's "Titane" has 2 or 3 of them. But beyond the stop downs of muscular/shirtless firemen dancing to Future Islands or a woman throbbing to the techno beat on the hood of a hot rod, "Titane" is also immensely buried in the pathos of the people doing the dancing. Toggling between a slasher film, then a psychological thriller and ending on something akin to body horror, she never loses touch with any of the touch points as to why something is happening. As Alexia- the hugely troubled and on the run young woman who may be carrying the demon spawn of a car- Agathe Rouselle is tremendous, speaking with her eye and pummeled body as she forms a perverse but tender relationship with Vincent (Vincent Lindon), also reeling from recent trauma. Ducournau holds it all together with a clear vision, and although the film is described as extreme, "Titane" ultimately tackles some of the most simplest emotions of all- inclusion, forgiveness and acceptance- and in its own sublime way makes everything else the extreme.

Cry Macho 

There's not much complexity in the late career films of director Eastwood. Even the ones I love, such as "Mystic River" (2003) and "Million Dollar Baby" (2004), handle their themes with a sledgehammer rather than a fine pen. It's beginning to work against Eastwood, as his latest about an ex-rodeo rider sent into Mexico to retrieve the young son (Eduardo Minett) of his boss (Dwight Yoakem), follows the same beats as his other less-than-stellar efforts about hard edged men seeking forgiveness in a world that seems to have passed them by. Like the worst tangents of "The Mule", Eastwood can't resist the awkward progression of a possible love interest in restaurant owner Natalia Traven. Borne from either tone deaf solipsism or stubborn vanity, "Cry Macho" does the least to preserve the grit-toothed cinematic visage of Eastwood the Great through terrible choices, risible acting and a narrative that lurches along with pretend subtlety.

Bergman Island

What begins as a film about the looming spectres of cinema soon turns heartbreaking and reflective as writer-director Mia Hansen-Love explores the relationship between a filmmaking couple (Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth) and their venture to a Swedish island. In what feels like her most autobiographical film to date in a career of achingly prescient explorations of first loves, family, and childbirth, "Bergman Island" also could be read like a rebuke to everything, charting instead how she overthrew her past and became her own person. It's a film full of small moments (what exactly is so amusing to Krieps in the first half, giggling but never explaining) that shifts between layers of meta-fiction with astounding grace. This fiction is the second half where Krieps' idealized script becomes real and embodied by Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie as their stories fold into reality with delicacy. How much of the film overlays Hansen-Love's own entanglements is debatable, but the fact that "Bergman Island" dangles these threads with a keen sense of character and place is telling. It's a film that feels personal and lived-in and all the more beguiling for the things it doesn't say.





Lots of new reviews available at Dallas Film Now including Amazon horror films, Dallas VideoFest roundups and films "The Rescue" and "I'm Your Man".



Saturday, October 02, 2021

The Current Cinema 21.2

The Card Counter 


Playing as mannered as one would expect from a Paul Schrader film about self-imposed loneliness and twisted redemption, "The Card Counter" hooked me from the beginning when it explains how counting cards works, and then spends the rest of the film with a gambler named William Tell (Oscar Issac) who fails to accurately read all the cards being turned up in front of him. When Tell meets a young man (Tye Sheridan in a role equally as elusive) bent on vengeance, he takes him under his wing. Along with an entrepreneur (Tiffany Haddish) who bankrolls Tell's entrance in the World Series of Poker, the trio form a kindred family against the nocturnal backdrop of casinos and gambling halls across the country. Rarely stepping into the real world where people have families, go to work or simply enjoy themselves, Schrader has crafted a hermetic universe just as enthralling as that of New York's Times Square in the 70's or the cloistered, hushed reverences of upstate east coast churches that have dotted his previous masterworks. Everything about this film has a purpose.... even the way Isaac tidies up his room with sheets or the way Haddish holds her various drinks. It all builds to a quietly devastating finale that, in typical Schrader fashion, denies the audience flash and gore of a climactic standoff, choosing instead to hold on fingers as they touch glass. Always the Bresson devotee, "The Card Counter" does right by him.

Blue Bayou

Director Justin Chon's films trade in high sentimentality. "Blue Bayou" is no exception, but his instincts as a filmmaker and the folds of humanity built into the margins of his sometimes stereotypical characters are what makes his films feel earnest but not forced. I loved his previous film, "Ms. Purple" for the way it etched survival and poignancy into the troubles of an immigrant family just trying to survive in the California wasteland. "Blue Bayou" shifts its perspective to the humidity of the Gulf Coast, but survival is still the goal as adopted Korean Antonio (Chon himself) tries to keep his head above water (literally) by outlasting his past and creating a thriving future for his family (played perfectly by Alicia Vikander and newcomer Sydney Kowalski). Pushing headlong into overtly melodramatic territory as deportation and echoes of his criminal past loom, "Blue Bayou" expertly weaves together a secondary narrative thread as Antonio meets a sickly Vietnamese woman (Linh Dam Pham) and forms a relationship that not only feels authentic, but gives its finale an extra amount of oomph. I've long been a fan of Chon's work since being introduced to "Gook" at the 2017 Dallas International Film Festival. "Blue Bayou" may be his most widely distributed work so far, but the heart-on-his-sleeves urgency of his preoccupation with the immigrant experience has never felt quite so electric.