ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD, a glimpse into the late 60s, and a love letter to cinema and Sharon Tate

Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.

ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD. Director, Quentin Tarantino. Country, USA. Screenwriter, Quentin Tarantino. Cast, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, Al Pacino, Emile Hirsch, Dakota Fanning, Lena Dunham, Bruce Dern, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Luke Perry, Michael Madsen, Nicholas Hammond, Damian Lewis, Mike Moh, Julia Butters, Damon Herriman. Rafal Zawierucha. Language, English. Runtime, 161 minutes. Venue: Bow Tie Hoboken Cinemas. Mostly Indies rating: A

Nowadays very few directors that go the auteur route seem to have a true grasp of what type of cinema they want to create, and mind you, this may be my point of view, so don’t shoot the messenger even if the messenger may not have all the cards on the table. From someone who has been watching movies of all shapes and sizes since he was seven and caught glimpse of Fritz Lang’s source link daniel tosh takes viagra https://fotofest.org/solving/rhetorical-criticism-essays/5/ how to write a biology research paper https://cwstat.org/termpaper/essay-on-holi-in-hindi-and-english/50/ source site get link essay about my dog charlie prednisone online credit card now source link does lipitor really lower cholesterol levitra albany see url https://rainierfruit.com/viagra-take-the-blue-pill/ levitra everett levitra tyro https://www.texaskidneycare.com/takecare/cialis-30-tablets-free-vouchercoupon/120/ https://www.newburghministry.org/spring/view-loan-officer-resume-for-free/20/ viagra et hypertension santг© viagra problems for women free term paper sample prochoice essays phd thesis topics in computer science go site doxycycline hyclate 50mg capsules developmental psychology essay go site tennis research paper custom paper writing service reviews https://cwstat.org/termpaper/my-likes-dislikes-essay/50/ watch follow Metropolis, and has been enamored with the art of visual storytelling ever since, I think that perhaps I have a slight idea of what auteur cinema is like, and can differentiate a director who deeply, truly, unequivocally loves cinema and the art of movie making from one looking to establish a status and a following and perhaps securing a place in the Criterion canon. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, the ninth film by Quentin Tarantino, from the moment the movie opens, is that kind of film. You will not be able to compare it to anything out there; it has no peers, no equivalences, it exists as its own glimpse into the recent past complete with the director’s own non-sequiturs, in-jokes, love of dialog, love of a set-up that ends in a rip-roaring punchline, and most especially, his love of history revisionism where the underdog is the one to strike back at the man and walk into the sunset.

So with a title like that, what is Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood about, you might ask? Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is about a lot of things, and that is leaving my analysis of it a bit wide. It has a bromance at the center of its story. It’s about Sharon Tate’s baby steps into the movie business. It’s about movie making as a whole, actors, TV, performances, lines, good movies, bad movies, the music from the era, the culture from the era. Does it matter? Not to me, not when it’s coming from the likes of someone who loves movies as much as Tarantino does. If anyone gets the 60s down to the tiniest of details, if anyone captures the essence of LA, and Cielo Drive, and Spahn Ranch, counterculture, the changing times, the music (which my God, it is overflowing with songs from the times), that would be Tarantino.

You see, people going to movies today — Your Truly included — want to see something with clear lines, a meaty plot, a neat resolution. When a film decides that it’s going to bend all the rules and be scattered all over the place as Once Upon a Time is, then you could be thrown off a bit. You might be even a bit bored (and to its slight detriment the movie has a slow pace somewhere in the middle). Even so, there is something undefinable in Tarantino’ own style, best established in his one-two punch Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, films you could not get away with in the 90s because of their own labyrinthine structures, that surely emerges as his current movie progresses.

Sixties cool: Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio as Cliff Booth and Rick Dalton.

When we begin the movie proper we get introduced to Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an actor of TV Westerns most likely based on a number of working actors at the time who defined the previous decade’s incursion into hyper-masculine heroes. He gets notified in a scene-stealing performance by Al Pacino as a movie exec and Dalton’s agent that his type of hero is over. In the meantime, Cliff Booth, Dalton’s stunt double and friend (played to comic perfection by Brad Pitt, who occasionally takes over the movie right out from under DiCaprio’s feet), has less worries than Dalton. His life is much simpler: he lives meagerly, keeps a low profile, drives Dalton around town (after Dalton lost his license to drive), and reminisces on good times gone by.

In the periphery of the entire tapestry, a rising actress, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie, who inhabits Tate and fills her small part with light), moves next door to Dalton alongside her hot-shot director-turned-husband Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha). Dalton hopes that by association, he may “run into” Polanski and get another opportunity at acting in a movie. You would think all Dalton had to do was simply go next door, but in Hollywood, the well-known “In Hollywood, have you ever met a neighbor?” quote from Death Becomes Her still rings true.

Anyway. Deeper still in the fringes of the story we get introduced to the Manson Family, outsiders if there ever were any, introduced into the movie’s fabric as a blur of hippies just passing by like anonymous tumbleweeds. This approach makes them out to be amorphous, devoid of any identity. They, we all will learn, squat at Spahn Ranch and all seem to be following some guy named Charlie. The Charlie, of course, is Charles Manson, who enters the movie proper in a bone-chilling scene where he stops by 10050 Cielo Drive to ask for former owner Terry Melcher. Observing it all is Cliff Booth, who’s repairing Dalton’s antenna (remember those?), while lost in (the aforementioned) reverie. When Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch) answers the door, there Sharon is, vulnerable. For a split yet pregnant second both Tate and Manson lock eyes with each other. Cue the audience sitting in the theater where I saw it doing a collective gasp! of fear. This, however, will be the most frightening moment you will see in Tarantino’ movie. Manson never appears again. His presence, however, is another story. It becomes a shadow looming over the rest of the movie, a menacing storm cloud over what seems to be the most colorful of all Tarantino pictures. It just shows what having knowledge of a well-known case can do to people fifty years later; whether that actually happened or not — it didn’t — doesn’t matter. The fact that the two of them remain inextricably linked to by a horrific murder scene at that place does, and it’s like the spot of blood that will not get erased.]

Having past that moment, the movie resumes without a beat, and sends its main performers down their own widely divergent paths. Dalton lands a spot in a TV pilot in which he plays a villain. Facing pressure in having to deliver and having trouble with alcohol, Dalton struggles to get into character, but gets unexpected help from the mot unlikely of sources, a method child actress Trudi (Julia Butters). Tate goes out on her own on the town and makes her way into a movie theater to watch her own performance in The Wrecking Crew. Meanwhile, Booth, while driving around town, crosses paths with Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), a hippie who asks him to drive her to Spahn Ranch where she is staying. Having known the owner, George Spahn (Bruce Dern) through work, Booth seems suspicious about the gang of hippies staying at the ranch… and he should be, as it turns out.

Lena Dunham as Gypsy, Margaret Qualley as Pussycat, and Brad Pitt at Spahn Ranch, Image from Indiewire.

This is surprisingly little plot for a movie that is so long, and every scene plays itself out with care–maybe too much care, as if they were their own mini stories and didn’t quite want to end. Much of the movie involves DiCaprio and Pitt interacting together and they almost always — except in the two sequences I mentioned — appear together, and watching them just talk (and true to form, that is all they do in one scene where both discuss their appearances in TV shows) is almost a lesson in actors discussing movies in itself. How many times have you or I gone to the movies or seen them at home and talked right over the entire thing, pointing out even the tiniest bit of movie trivia just for the hell of sharing this info? That is what Tarantino does here, and by God it works. It doesn’t advance the story, but I, for one, couldn’t care less.

Not quite coming close to matching her co-stars is Margot Robbie who appears almost always by herself (except when she gets introduced, and towards the movie’s end). Her scenes, as beautiful as they are, exist in their own bubble, as they should. Then again, writing a character based on an actress of Tate’s caliber is pretty risky, and the movie might not have not worked because of how Tate was shown on screen. While Sharon Tate never fully gets integrated to the story’s leads, Tarantino clearly took great care in showing her at her most luminous, her most vulnerable, and at the height of her tragically short life. Robbie makes Tate almost seem like a dream come true as she glides on camera and either dances to a record player, or walks down a street (it was hard for me to not see this as the movie’s sole incursion into French New Wave). Perhaps it’s best that we see her that way.

And this brings me to the ending. Please do not read if you have not seen the movie. Again — you will either love it, and it is truly a standout in a movie that has been meandering towards it for the most of its running time, or, being a history purist, you will absolutely hate it. I, for one, bought into it hook, line, and sinker. Sometimes a little escapism can go a long way and frankly, the entire time I kept wondering if the movie would go the route that we all know. No, this is not a spoiler. If you’ve seen Inglorious Basterds or Django Unchained you will know that Tarantino will twist the facts in order to go out with a firebomb.

So, in a nutshell, I can hands down recommend this movie, despite it’s somewhat slow middle section, which follows such a terrific introduction. It takes a lot of confidence in telling something that doesn’t really have a tense structure and then spiking that lack of structure with either a punch line (or, at times, nothing at all, as when Booth goes to Spahn Ranch). This is by far the least violent of his films, which also shows perhaps a more mature work from someone accustomed to delivering cinema that features bravura fight sequences and over the top violence and blood-letting. There are nods to previous films (again, Inglorious Basterds gets its nod, as does Kill Bill). This is a movie that you could watch over and over again to catch glimpses of information that on their own inform the viewer of how the 60s were. How it must have been to, for example, run into Mama Cass and Michelle Philips of The Mamas and the Papas at the Playboy Ranch while Steve McQueen told stories of why Sharon Tate and he never hit it off as the Bunnies dance towards the rear, and the beat, as Cher sang, goes on. If any movie would be a love letter to film, music, the turbulent, changing 60, and an actress who left us too soon, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is it.

THE MOUNTAIN and the ugly horror about lobotomies

Wally Fiennes (Jeff Goldblum) questions Andy (Tye Sheridan) after he breaks down in a late scene in The Mountain.

THE MOUNTAIN. Country, USA. Director: Rick Alvertson. Screenwriters: Rick Alvertson, Dustin Guy Defa, Colm O’Leary. Language: English, French. Cast: Tye Sheridan, Jeff Goldblum, Hanna Gross, Udo Kier, Denis Lavant. Runtime, 106 minutes. Venue: IFC Center, NYC, NY. Rating: B–

I think it’s safe to say that the 1950s in America will be studied for all the wrong reasons. While a small portion of the American populace — namely, the infamous one percent, a ruling class controlled by none other than rich which men — were enjoying the benefits of what is now known as white male privilege and securing their wealth while granting the masses the illusion of upward mobility and the American Dream, a darker cloud was spreading across the land and it was called repression.

Note how women, who had enjoyed untold freedom during the wat and had been both on the front and in the workforce, now were being directed, like sheep, back to the home, and imposed domesticity became the norm down to the creation of the new, revolutionary kitchen, guaranteed to keep the wife busy and behind an apron — as long as she was decked to the nines in pearls and her hair, now short, in curls. Note how the Lavender Scare and rhe Red Scare flourished, and those who were seen a enemies of the nation were not just targeted, but their live ultimately destroyed.

Another branch of repression, one that has been rarely placed on screen, was the treatment of the mentally ill (or those suspected of being ill). It was not uncommon for people to have their problematic relatives “committed” against their will where they were basically left to the hands of the science of the era which thought that the removal of activity in certain parts of the brain was a form of a cure (in fact, it only worsened the conditions, with some added problems, but that would be another article). Rick Alvertson enters the 50s at this juncture with his latest movie The Mountain, which centers on a young man, Andy (played by Tye Sheridan in a near mute performance) living in a small town with his distant father (Udo Kier). His mother, we learn, has been committed to an asylum off screen. Andy moves about in a haunted fog while life itself passes around him… until he gets the notice that his father has died.

Sort of adrift, he crosses paths with Dr. Wallace Fiennes (Jeff Goldblum, charming as usual). Wally (as he would rather be called) a lobotomist, approaches Andy, who seems to have nothing left, to work for him as a photographer of his patients. Perhaps as a means to understand the mechanics of what landed his mother in the insany asylum, or perhaps because there is the vaguue possibility he may see her, he passively becomes Wally’s assistant. It’s here that The Mountain becomes a road movie with slight comedic (and I mean, very slight) overtones. Midway through the movie, Wally learns that his techniques are becoming unwelcome in most institutions. Andy, on the other hand, seems as if all this information, his involvement in the stunting of people, might be taking it a little harder than he lets on, and one late scene in the movie certainly confirms it. Even so, Wally, his practice on the way out, doesn’t seem too fazed, and he drives to the home of a Frenchman (Denis Lavant) to perform what might be a final act on his daughter Susan (Hannah Gross).

With Susan, Andy forms an immediate bond. It’s unsure why she’s being told to — it seems — to undergo the procedure, but throughout the movie Alvertson has been indicating that anyone — particularly women — who were seen as problematic, unruly, or hysterical, all went under the pick, and emerged “cured”. It’s more or less here where the movie loses a bit of its tracking. Wally exits the narrative, leaving Andy, broken and himself somewhat lobotomized at a psychic level, in limbo. A last act involving a long, rambling speech performed by Lavant, well known for his outright crazy acting in movies like Holy Motors, almost stops the movie dead in its tracks. I’m sure that there was some intention here; however, the movie does not try to bring any overt reason for this one scene, straight out of a David Lynch nightmare, for existing.

The Mountain, as a whole, is a slow moving dream where everything is seen under a dull, cold camera lens. Alvertson removes all the glitter and the color from the era and instead goes for a palette of dirty hues that render the movie an exercise in darkness with little chance of escape — the thing that insane asylums were known for. It is grounded by strong performances by Jeff Goldblum (in a second-banana role, he’s actually the most ‘normal’ if you will, of all people, treating his own detached inhumanity with a cool casualty that promises only dark), and Tye Sheridan, in a difficult role that asks he communicate only shell-shock and a thousand yard stare. This is a sometimes dreary movie that will appeal to art-house buffs and lovers of dark dramas that on occasion take a turn into horror without technically being in that genre.

LUZ: Film Review

LUZ. Country, Germany. Director: Tilman Singer. Screenwriter: Tilman Singer. Cast: Luana Velis, Jan Bluthardt, Julia Riedler, Nadja Stubiger, Johannes Benecke, Lili Lorenz. Language: German, Spanish. Runtime: 70 minutes. Venue: IFC Center, NYC, NY. Rating: B

The ironically titled Luz opens with a wide shot of a police precinct. A woman practically drags herself in, serves herself a soda, and is about to leave when she blurts out an incomprehensible question to the clerk in the lobby. When he doesn’t reply, she repeats the question in an ear-splitting shriek. And that sets the tone for Tilman Singer’s college project-turned movie Luz, which hit its (very) limited release last week in NYC, LA, and other cities around the country for its one to two week engagement.

The woman in question is Luz, a cab driver, but we’ll get back to her in a bit. The movie cuts to a scene in a bar where a blond woman named Nora (Julia Riedler) is eyeballing a man (Jan Bluthardt) nursing a drink. She aggressively hits on him, but her intentions are a bit murky at best. She proceeds to tell the man, who we learn is Dr. Rossini, a story of a woman she knew back in Chile named Luz. Both she and Luz performed some Satanic ritual to summon up a demon, and now it wants Luz. Dr. Rossini seems completely hypnotized by Nora’s gaze (hypnosis will figure prominently from here on), and allows her to lead him to the bathroom, where some weird exchange takes place. [It sure seems like she’s masturbating him, but we don’t get to see that — only his shaking body after she kisses him and sends in a bright light into his horrified, gaping mouth.

Weird enough? Don’t worry; it gets better. Back at the precinct, Dr. Rossini is about to commence a regression therapy to extract a confession from Luz. Luz, who has been up to now incoherently babbling some reverse prayer in Spanish, begins to recount how it is that she got to this place. And then. Singer lets whatever was hinted in the background take center stage, and we’re in the middle of a hazy nightmare shot in thick shades of grey fog that continue to suggest something evil is in the midst, more felt than seen, seconds from announcing itself.

Singer never lets Luz go off the rails like most other possession horror movies do because of a need to raise the body count and produce shock after shock for shock purposes alone. There is a thick pulse running through the film, and it reaches an early peak before plateauing somewhere in the middle, then building again until the movie reaches its nightmarish conclusion. I don’t think that it could have been scarier than it was, though. This is exactly the type of fucked up shit our minds and subconscious throws at us while we dive deep into sleep, and when we wake up, we can’t quite place the pieces together. In that sense, Luz “makes sense” and illuminates a dark event reaching its natural conclusion. It will produce shivers and a sense of unreality. And frankly, this is all I need for a movie like Luz to take effect. It’s sparse set, minimal players, and brief running time give it the right amount of dread needed to make Singer’s film be a memorable entry into both the cinematic world and the horror genre.

Picking at the scab to reveal festering wounds in “I Do Not Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians.”

I DO NOT CARE IF WE GO DOWN IN HISTORY AS BARBARIANS. Country: Romania. Director: Radu Jude. Screenwriter: Radu Jude. Cast: Ioana Jacob, Alex Bogdan, Alexandru Dabija. Language: Romanian, English. Runtime: 140 minutes. Venue: IFC Center, NYC, NY. Rating: B–

I’ve come to realize that every country not only has its skeletons well hidden (or perhaps preserved in formaldehyde) in certain parts of the psychic closet, forgotten… but not really, right? The powers that be, those who control information, what gets released, what is suitable, would rather no one ever touch the topic of the more unsavory aspects of what transpired in past generations (especially if anyone from that time, particularly the guilty, could face judgement). and the scars that still haven’t healed properly, that haven’t even scabbed proper. Radu Jude, two years or so after his period piece Aferim!, returns to the theaters with I Do Not Care if We Go Down in History a Barbarians, an examination of Romanian history, and his topic of choice, heralded under the guise of Mariana (Ioana Jacob), who stands in for himself, is the reenactment of a historic event in 1941 in Odessa, Romania, where the Romanian Army, headed by Marshall Ion Antonescu, allied to Nazi Germany, carried out the ethnic cleansing of Jews, managing to kill by hanging, execution, or plain fire, a total of 25,000 – 34,000 Jews between October 22 – 24, 1941, and ultimately, over 100,000 civilians — among them Roma, Jews, and other ethnic groups — in total.

Mariana (Iona Jacob, in a committed, brazen performance) isn’t having it. She may have, it seems, have access to Jude’s short documentary The Dead Nation. (I digress; some of the pictures and one shocking short clip from the era seem to nod at its inclusion.) Mariana, from the word go in which she breaks the fourth wall, talks to the camera, and introduces herself as Mariana (not the poet, a thing she repeats several times) announces to the invisible camera operator she is preparing a reenactment of the events of the Odessa Massacre of 1941. So far, all looks good. She talks to potential cast members auditioning for parts, asks them how they would react to, let’s say, being burned in fire, or pleading for their lives. She reads passages of obscure books to a man she’s dating on Skype, and continually banters away at Romanian complicity during the War. A scene from the movie The Mirror makes its way into the movie as Mariana and others criticize Antonescu. Oh, and it seems that she might have missed her period, but tells her pilot boyfriend not to worry.

It’s when rehearsals commence that things begin to get contentious. A crew mate refuses to do a scene the way Mariana wants it, and this one leads to other crew mates not wanting to participate alongside Romas. Most contentious of all is the appearance of Movila, the government official (played by Alexandru Dabija) who has concerns with Mariana’s vision and would rather she place focus — and more blame — onto the Russians and Germans. Mariana, however, remains staunchly committed to filming her piece her way, and you can see tensions rising among her and her crew as many refuse to even participate in her show, in one case leading to a fistfight. Even now, Jude points out with his deadpan calm, there is a complacency afoot in Romania, who would rather negate than confront, deny than acknowledge, wash their hands instead of holding itself accountable for such a tragic event. Movila’s continues to throw the famous “Never again!” slogan from the Jewish Defense League onto the audience, not as a cry of progress, but with a heavy dose of cynicism. It made me think of the way Hannibal Lecter addressed the screaming of the lambs to Clarice after she had prevented another murder. Would Mariana’s reenactment do the same?

Mariana’s idealism and sheer force of feminist rage would tell you that yes, it would, and by the scorching finale, which is its own feat of direction and is presented in crisp images that contrast the home movies feel of the previous scenes, she’s practically got you by the balls. In her and Movila’s first and longest scene together, Mariana and Movila lock horns in an intellectual battle, throwing out names like Hannah Arendt, Wittgenstein, Hitler, and Spielberg, and then including their current iterations under the terrors of ISIS, or the destruction of Syria, which serve as another picture that even now it’s still happening because sadly, that is the nature of humanity.

There is so much history both analyzed, acted, or presented in film that it felt a bit like information overload. There were times when I felt I was being waterboarded into submission by the sheer force of history and current events. It doesn’t help that Jude extends his narrative into 140 minutes, which for a movie like this, seems a bit excessive. However, like Mariana, every director has a precise vision. Between arguments, he places a camera in static mode to point at the approximate location where Jews were hanged… and then does so, after the reenactment, now with mannequins posing as murdered Jews. It’s one of many striking visuals, which will disturb the audience with their sheer savagery. And all the time, the echo of “Never Again” continues to resonate after the credits have appeared. They’ve just now been punctuated by a question mark.

On the 30th Anniversary of WHEN HARRY MET SALLY…

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY… Country: USA. Director: Rob Reiner. Screenwriter: Nora Ephron. Language: English. Cast: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan,, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby, Harley Jean Kozak, Steven Ford, Lisa Jane Persky. Runtime: 95 minutes. Rating: CLASSIC.

Jane Austen once wrote how difficult it is for a man and a woman to establish a relationship not based in sex with her timeless classic Pride and Prejudice. Unless you’ve lived under a rock, or plain skipped every literary assignment you were given in high school, you’ll definitely know at least the bare-bones premise of the story and the development of its characters who for the most part remain blind around the fact that they love each other.

Flash-forward almost two centuries later and Nora Ephron, an author known for her acerbic, razor-sharp wit, developed, in conjunction with director Rob Reiner, a movie based on themselves to a degree (even when neither of them had been in a relationship with each other, which makes me wonder how that would have ended). The result… well… it’s made cinema history, thirty years later, as it gets re-released to either new audiences who might walk into theaters and watch it out of hearsay or moviegoers suffering from a case of nostalgia who, like me, saw it when it came out on cable in 1990, and want a shot at experiencing it — love in New York! oh, so romantic — on the big screen.

Who would have thought that this little movie which was a surprise hit back when and would have garnered more had it been considered for Oscar nominated performances by its two leads (who anchor the movie with their chemistry and those lines written by Ephron), would by now have entered our lexicon with that the line, “I’ll have what she’s having?” If only anyone knew back then, what comedic material they had in their hands. This is why you owe it to yourself to experience this movie. Rent it, buy it, or go check it out again in any retrospective near you. It’s that good of a film, you can watch it over and over and the entire film feels fresh and up to date. Much of what was true then rings true now, as men and women continue to circle each other and attempt relationships with each other.

[Heck, entire series have been created based on this “let’s be friends only” rule. Most of “Friends” was angled at this type of dynamics, and “Seinfeld” offered yet another example of a woman and a man being friends with no interest in each other whatsoever. “Sex and the City” brought this setup to the late 90s and the start of the new millennium, and “Will & Grace” took it a whole other direction by flipping sexuality and establishing a solid friendship with hints of sexual tension not just in its two main leads (Will and Grace) but in its two other leads (Jack and Karen).]

In short, When Harry Met Sally is timeless and the best movie Woody Allen never made (although it does bear some slight relation to Allen’s Annie Hall). With not only Carrie Fisher and the criminally underrated Bruno Kirby on board to produce a solid foursome, but also, as I mentioned earlier, the brilliance of New York City a its own character, to provide ample scenery for the clueless couple at the center to fall in love. And with a killer view of the Empire State Building (as seen in Harry’s character’s loft apartment), or with those walks both Harry and Sally take throughout the Upper West and Central Park, who wouldn’t want to meet someone and fall in love?

ROJO pictures an Argentina with its eyes wide shut against the climate of political corruption during the 70s.

Dario Grandinetti in Benjamin Naishtat’s Rojo.

ROJO. Countries, Argentina/Brazil/France/Belgium/Germany/Netherlands, Switzerland. Director: Benjamin Naishtat. Cast: Dario Grandinetti, Alfredo Castro, Diego Cremoesi, Rafael Federman, Laura Grandinetti, Andrea Frigerio. Screenweiters: Benjamin Naishtat. Language: Spanish, English. Runtime 108 minutes. Venue: Quad Cinema. Grading: B

From the opening shot, Benjamin Naishtat’s Rojo establishes a world where the normal order of thing has been replaced with something darker and deadly, unseen, but heard of through the grapevine in coded conversations. We see a house,and our eyes inform us, this is just another Spanish-styled house sitting placidly, its doors and windows shut, nothing out of the ordinary. Moments later, someone comes out with items that we understand were up to that moment inside the house. More people come out, each one carrying objects. A man (Diego Cremonesi) appears, this time facing the house, his back to us, as if in calm observation. Meanwhile, several more exit the front door, each one carrying an artifact. A pregnant moment later, the man who’d been silently observing become a participant and goes inside.

Diego Cremonesi interrupts Grandinetti’s world in Rojo.

We then cut to a scene in a restaurant. Sitting quietly, reading the news, Claudio (Dario Grandinetti) who we come to learn is a respected lawyer in this unnamed city. Conversation weaves in and out, indistinct and hushed. With almost no warning but without announcing himself the man who’d been observing the looting of the house at the opening scene is at the restaurant, again observing, but this time with rising indignation. A scene follows: the man would like to be seated at a table, and Claudio, who is clearly not having any dinner because his wife (Andrea Frigerio) has not arrived, is occupying one that the man would like. A confrontation develops between the two, escalating from the mildly annoyed to flat out contentious. Claudio relinquishes the table, gives it to the man… but not before unleashing a tirade of well-modulated insults as a final stab at the man who broke into his bubble of privilege and dethroned him. Violence suddenly explodes, the man is ejected from the restaurant, and Claudio once again returns to the table that was his, where he sits back to smugly wait for his wife who finally arrives, completely unaware of what just happened.

However, the night isn’t over — it’s just begun. On their way home Claudio and his wife are approached by the same man who now shows a gun. What happens next is shocking enough, but it’s Claudio’s reaction that sets the tone for the movie. You see, this is the Argentina of the 1970s, which was then under control of a dictatorship and was on the brink of a coup d’etat. There is a palpable sense of paranoia running through the entire narrative, and while we won’t see the man who opens the movie after his fateful encounter with Claudio, he will actually pretty much dominate the events to unfold much like the dead who do not rest in peace.

All of Naishtat’s movie evolves in ellipticals. It’s really the only way I could express it, because when you live under such repression and even daylight sequences are marred with the fear of being watched and heard, every word, every action carries the huge burden of code, side glances, and innuendoes. Claudio, safely detached for now from his encounter that starts the movie proper, learns that a neighbor has not been seen for a while. Perhaps he is on vacation, a woman says. A colleague approaches him to pitch the purchase of a house — the same house seen at the prologue of the movie — and that purchase comes with a wall of shady undertones. Does Claudio relent? Not really. What importance could that house have? We never know. Like a commercial from the period, where a well-dressed man eating some chocolates blithely shoots another, off-screen, who wanted a piece, and returns to his thoughts without as much as batting an eye, we are in a place where the hand does not connect to the heart; where actions do not think of consequences.

Rojo is a reflective, albeit disturbing look into Argentina’s past that attempts not to pass judgement but to simply observe how people, both from the old and new regime, lived and reacted through that dark period of oppression. When another boy goes missing — missing being the mode of operation in which those who were seen or even suspected of being dissident were dealt with — the reality of fascism comes home and reveals only repetition into the future. Tellingly, the story occurs in the months before the coup; Argentina would be walking dark waters until the early 80s, and finally acknowledge — though, not fully — its participation into controlling its populace through the Triple A.

The great Alfredo Castro, in Rojo’ climactic sequence.

So, it is a bit of irony that we finally see a glimmer of poetic justice arriving under the presence of Detective Sinclair (Alfredo Castro). From the word go he’s set his eye on Claudio, and circles him like a vulture, gathering bits and pieces of information. When we realize his true purpose, but that his knowledge and position prevents him from taking action against the unjust, it is a powerful scene that happens in the middle of nowhere and resonates well past its run, bleeding right into the foreboding ending where Claudio appears to have embraced his own hand in suppression, but now moves about under a mask of normalcy, while his daughter (Laura Grandinetti) will have to contend with the next generation of abusers of power.

in the meantime, all we can do is sit back and watch a nation bathe in the blood of the innocent and walk around with eyes firmly shut. Because when you live in such countries, ignorance is bliss, and knowledge means to carry a load too heavy to bear. Rojo is Naishtat looking at Argentina with a mirror, and what a haunted mirror it is.

Gentrification and displacement, in THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO.

Jimmie Fails in The Last Black Man in San Francisco.

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO. Country, USA. Director: Joe Talbot. Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover, Mike Epps, Tichina Arnold, Finn Wittrock, Thora Birch. Screenwriter: Joe Talbot, Rob Richert. Language: English. Runtime: 122 minutes. Venue: Angelika Film Center, NYC. Rating: A+.

So far, this has been a landmark year for original voices telling their stories, and in this case, there have been so far three movies tackling the topic of gentrification and cultural identity in widely dissimilar ways. The Farewell, currently playing in cinemas, takes on the loss of a cultural heritage through the guise of the impending death of a much loved relative. The yet to be released De Lo Mio from Dominican Republic gets a bit closer to gentrification through the omnipresence of a house in Santiago, about to be demolished. The one I’m about to review i also from a first time director. Joe Talbot adapts Jimmie Fails’ story of trying to recover his childhood home in San Francisco in the poignant, melancholic mood piece The Last Black Man in San Francisco, which focuses on two close friends, Jimmie (Jimmie Fails, playing a version of himself) and Mont (Jonathan Majors) whose lives are closely tied to a Victorian house in the Fillmore district of San Francisco.

Jimmie has been closely guarding this house as if he were a faithful guard-dog waiting for the past to come back, At the start of the film you get to see him lovingly tending to it as if he were its lifelong caretaker. This is a man who truly loves this house in question and you wonder, “Why? It’s not his.” You see, Jimmie used to live in this house, which his grandfather told him he built in 1946. His very sense of identity, itself braided into memory, is tied to this place that now houses a white yuppie couple who seem to know who he is, but who don’t really care for his intrusions, particularly the wife, who seems a bit off as well.

It’s never quite explained what exactly went wrong with Jimmie’s family. It seems that Jimmie’s father hit on some hard times and bad business deals. The mother, who appears in a brief scene later, left. Jimmie himself was rendered practically homeless, going from place to place. Essentially, Jimmie became rootless, and now spends time with his artist and writer friend Mont and his disabled father (played by Danny Glover, in a quiet but thoughtful performance).

As luck, destiny, maybe the gods themselves, would have it, some situation happens and the yuppie couple is forced to move out. An idea springs into Jimmie’s head. In a wonderful sequence full of joy and warmth, Jimmie and Mont enter the house and begin to occupy every frame of it. Jimmie, for an ecstatic moment, is back where be belongs, basically claiming the house as his, placing the utility bills to his name, It’s a wonderful fantasy, but where there is a house in a neighborhood in the midst of gentrification, there will be a realtor coming in for the spoils to then renovate and place a price tag in the millions. And that is money that Jimmie does not have.

Even so, we root for Jimmie while all the time basically shaking our heads. The guy is really likeable, but a bit clueless as to how life itself works. There are moments when you want to scream at the camera for Jimmie to get on his feet and get his head out of the clouds. Even a visit to his sister (Tichina Arnold, in two sharp as nails scenes that are too brief), who has moved out of the city and into a neighborhood she can afford seems to beg at Jimmie to please wake up. However, as can happen with places where one has a special connection to, outgrowing that isn’t as easy as it seems. Soon, a major plot point involving the aforementioned specter of a realtor (Finn Wittrock) and a play Mont is writing will come to the foreground to threaten Jimmie’s dream.

Stories like these are heartbreaking because they basically only offer one solution, and that one is a step that Jimmie just can’t take, and his inability basically leaves him hanging, and no, that is not a spoiler. The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a sad song filled with broken dreams that can never be put back together, and is a bleak reminder of what happens to neighborhoods that lose their own sense of identity to real estate developers swooping in to create ultra chic enclaves for the affluent. Like Wuthering Heights, Jimmie is inextricably bound to this house, and perhaps will be for the remainder of his life. And that, in a way, is a tragedy.

Beatlemania, revisited in Danny Boyle’s YESTERDAY

YESTERDAY. Country, UK, Russia. Director: Danny Boyle. Cast: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Joel Fry, Kate McKinnon, Ed Sheeran, Sarah Lancashire, Camila Rutherford, Robert Carlyle. Screenwriters Jack Barth, Richard Curtis. Language: English. Runtime: 116 minutes. Venue: C Newport Mall, Jersey City, NJ. Rating: C+

So you’re a musician, just shy from being a busker, and you’re trying to make it in a world filled with performers of all shapes and sizes, styles and talents. No one, except your only fan, wants to hear you, and you’re left to marinate in an uncertain future and working as a non-entity in a factory just to make ends meet.

That’s the reality of Jack (Himesh Patel), who’s life seems to be destined to hit a brick wall and stay there until Fate, or the Gods, if you will, decides to play a little joke on him. One night upon returning home from yet another disappointment, the planet experiences a massive, global blackout. Jack gets hit by a bus. When he recovers from his ordeal, he performs Yesterday to his friends who, while loving the tune, do not recognize it or The Beatles. At all.

It slowly dawns on him and he confirms during a Google search… The Beatles have never existed. There is no trace of any song from their catalogue, no mention of John, Paul, George, or Ringo. Nothing. That, of course, leads Jack to discover, that if The Beatles never were, neither were bands that based their sound on them — for example, Oasis.

So what’s a man to do? Can it be called plagiarism if Jack ‘steals’ the songs from a group that never existed? Jack never gives this a second thought — and neither it seems, does the movie — and allows that Jack begin performing Beatles tunes that he has, through sheer memory, brought back. He becomes a local sensation, even securing a spot aside Ed Sheeran who becomes a mentor. And then America beckons under the guise of a greedy exec (played to comic perfection by Kate McKinnon) shamelessly approaching Jack to make money “and secure herself another house.” Jack, who’s struggled all his life, can’t but take the offer and face “The Americanization of Jack” while singing songs that aren’t his, all the time wondering how long can the jig last before it’s discovered his performance is a sham.

Yesterday, however, isn’t trying to tell a story about posing — even when Jack’s renditions of Beatles’ classics often skirts the kind of indie music that can be heard ad infinitum on coffee-rock stations, pretty but not especially memorable. In Boyle’s movie you are asked to really listen to the songs, pay attention to the lyrics, as if the Beatles truly were a band nearing extinction, and in that way, it’s pretty clever and unique because it places their artistry at a level of rediscovery not seen since iTunes or their Free as a Bird video from 20 years ago.

Also, In many ways, the whole premise of the world hitting a weird fugue is merely a backdrop for Boyle to tell a sunny romantic love story between a boy and a girl who are meant to be together (and it helps that both Himesh Patel and Lily James are perfectly cast; he as the unwilling, passive rock star; she as the woman who knows him best). It just takes some gentle prodding from the blackout-turned-catalyst and the man himself, John Lennon (Robert Carlyle) in a much-needed emotional scene.

MIDSOMMAR, Ari Aster’s sun-drenched masterpiece of breaking free, told in the guise of pagan horror.

MIDSOMMAR. Country, USA. Director, Ari Aster. Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter, Ellora Torchia, Archie Madekwe . Screenwriter: Ari Aster. Language: English, Swedish. Runtime: 140 minutes. Venue: AMC Newport Mall. Rating: B

Movie lovers, prepare for the must fucked up trip of your life. Ari Aster, fresh off of his thunderous 2018 Hereditary has flipped the genre on its head and done what no other director has been able to do: bump up the lights, fill every frame with sensory overload you can almost touch, and all the while, let his slow-burn horror hide in plain sight, slowly peeling away at the layers of bright colors until we reach the heart of darkness just underneath if you know where to look. In many ways, Midsommar is thematically very similar to Hereditary — that film explored the grief of a deceased family member through the explosive performance of Toni Collette as the mother trying desperately to hold onto her family, and her sanity, while haunted by the spectre of her dead mother and her secrets. Midsommar uses the power of grief and loss to even deeper effect. In fact, it’s so powerful it practically defines the character of Dani (Florence Pugh, in a powerhouse performance to rival Collette’s). At the start of the film, we get introduced to Dani through her family, and a sister she cannot get in touch with. Already in a fragile state of mind, dependent on mood-stabilizing pills, and in a blatantly dysfunctional relationship with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor), when she finds out that her worst fear hasn’t just come through but left her essentially rootless, she implodes in a heart-wrenching sequence. More dependent than ever on Christian, who was planning to break up with her but has now remained by her side out of guilt (and perhaps her own clingy nature), she finds herself tagging along, uninvited but tolerated, to a trip to a Swedish commune that hold its own traditions. Better to be with a shitty boyfriend than to have no one, and here we see a glimpse of the true horror of loneliness and codependency.

The Swedish commune of Harga takes center stage from here on, and neither Dani, Christian, nor his friends Josh and Mark (William Jackson Harper and Will Poulter) are prepared for the sheer trippiness of the place. From the word go, there is a sense of unreality to it, from the mushrooms they take upon arrival, which give a reluctant Dani a bad trip that sends her back to her grief instead of providing bliss, to the village itself, where everyone is clad in pristine white, women sail around preparing food and singing hymns, men tend the land, and elders prepare for ceremonies that will last nine days. This is a place far removed from the quotidian coldness of society, and in the guys eyes, the closest thing to heaven there might be, with women at the ready for picking. Dani, however, remains reclusive, shuttered throughout, and even the attentive, sensitive advances of Christian’s Swedish friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), a native from the commune and the person who invited them in the first place go unnoticed by her. Around the edges of the plot, a young redhead makes eyes with Christian, Josh attempts to write his thesis on the commune, they all meet another couple, the British Connie and Simon (Ellora Torchia and Archie Madekwe), and Mark just hangs around trying to score. Nothing much happens, it seems, for a good hour, as Aster delivers enough set-up for what’s to come. Once it does, however, prepare for the gore and the shock. And then, the slow unraveling of the story, which comes with relentless dread and loads of foreshadowing.

Midsommar is, despite it’s bloated time, worth more than one viewing. In fact, the level of detail and artistry present almost demand you see it, like I did, several times just to get every inch of what Aster is going for. This is polished direction, people. Most directors nowadays go for the tired jump-scares and generic scenery: Aster, who again, demonstrated what gloom and foreboding could do in Hereditary, uses enormous long takes, Kubrickian imagery, elaborate sets complete with paintings and tapestries, and scenes of complete disassociation (such as the one following the movie’s first shock) to deliver the chills. His shots, so unsettling at times, aim less for shock, more for disquiet. Yes, this is a story not dissimilar to The Wicker Man (1973), or Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”, and if you’ve seen those, you probably know much of Midsommar… to a point. After all, this is in essence the story of a young woman slowly evolving from being completely defenseless, unable to cope, to someone who gradually starts to realize she’s caught in a dead end. At the end, her pain which has never truly left her, has been excoriated in a sequence both bonkers for its sheer audacity and cathartic. It’s no surprise when she morphs into a role she might have been preordained to, and you almost accept her painful, but necessary decision.