Lost in Paris, Tied to the Past: Nadav Lapid’s SYNONYMS

SYNONYMS (Synonymes). Country: France, Israel, Germany. Director: Nadav Lapid. Screenwriter: Nadav Lapid. Cast: Tom Mercier, Quentin Dolmaire, Louise Chevillotte, Yehuda Almagor. Language: French, Hebrew, English. Runtime: 122 minutes. A New York Film Festival Main Slate. Release Date: October 25, 2019 at the Quad Cinema in NYC.

Mostly Indies rating: A

It seems that every year there is that one movie that manages to somehow polarize people and emit hisses and boos from the audience. I’ve now seen not one but two of them, the first being Albert Serra’s benefits of case study to students personal essay on parents divorce https://pharmacy.chsu.edu/pages/dissertation-directory/45/ source site prescrizione levitra http://www.danhostel.org/papers/thesis-writing-companies/11/ algo parecido al viagra en chile buy a persuasive essay multiregional thesis viagra cialis spam email much cialis bangkok popular dissertation editing service gb mba essay for admissions go site follow link sports as a career option in india essay Viagra Online PayPal Payments case study samples education source site can import viagra australia best critical thinking booksВ type of essay writing essay on my favourite book wikipedia go site mystery files of shelby woo book report essay about lost in translation click assignment example for university buy a college essay online https://www.texaskidneycare.com/takecare/levitra-generika-oder-original/120/ five page research paper effect would viagra have women Liberte (last night at the Walter Reade) and Nadav Lapid’s film Synonyms at the Alice Tully. Mind you, I didn’t think that this film would prompt such a reaction from the audience once credits rolled — I’ve seen other films that have garnered even more intense reactions, like 2016’s Elle and Raw, or earlier this year when I saw Midsommar, which despite gleaning glowing reviews from critics and Yours Truly, did not exactly find itself loved by the crowd I sat with on preview night that giggled and cackled in scenes that well… you know.

Synonyms is a difficult film to digest, It will polarize moviegoers who will either understand its meaning or feel completely repelled by the anti-hero’s sheer stubbornness and negation of self which near the end reaches a level of almost hysterical blindness. I almost don’t even want to give it a “rating” per se because I fear that in doing so I am somehow being unfair to the story itself, which is just as important and poignant as the tragic story of Edmund in Roberto Rosselini’s Germany Year Zero (Germania Anno Zero). How can I judge a director who is attempting to retell is own life experience into a two hour movie? It would be rather lofty of me to say that perhaps this was a misfire, that I liked The Kindergarten Teacher better, that perhaps some closure at the end would have made more sense, and on, and on, amen.

When we begin the film, we see Yoav (Tom Mercier) from behind, through the lens of a camera that follows him urgently as he makes his way across a busy Parisian street and into the empty apartment where he is squatting. Soon later, he is naked, emerging from the sleeping bag he uses, and going into the shower to take a bath. The second he is done and ventures back out he realizes someone somehow snuck into his apartment and stole all of his items, leaving him basically destitute. Yoav frantically runs out of his place, going from door to door, pleading, screaming for help. No one comes out, He almost–almost!–ventures out into the street but instinct kicks in, and he goes back to his place, into the tub, into the cold water, and seemingly, decides to let fate take care of him.

[Image from Haaretz]

It is here when two neighbors, Emile (Quentin Dolmaire) and Caroline (Louuise Chevillotte) emerge from their places to provide succor. [Why they didn’t open the door earlier remains a mystery, but then, the final shot somehow will repeat the same indifference to the cries of help from neighbors if this might be an inconvenience.] The first thing that Emile notices is that Yoav is circumcized (which is one of the several comedic observations that happen throughout the film). They debate taking Yoav to the hospital but he regains consciousness, and Emile in an act of kindness (laced with a transparent homoeroticism) donates him some of his clothes and also gives him some Euros to survive on.

In a way, Yoav becomes “born again”. He recounts to Emile, with whom he bonds with, his life in Israel, a country Yoav describes using some choice words, not one of them good. Emile, skeptical, refuses to believe a country could be that bad, but Emile is your stereotypical entitled young man with a trust fund living in the city, pursuing his dreams. Yoav, on the other hand, is a damaged soul, one that was once molded by the Israeli military and who left in search ion a better life.

The irony of his appearance in Paris can’t be denied: in a time when there has been a rise in anti-Semitism in France, Yoav has arrived there ostensibly to erase any trace of his former life in Israel, obsessively learning French from a Larousse he carries with him at all times, Strangely, he works for Israeli Embassy, where he makes the acquaintance of some Israeli guys who seem to behave as if they belonged to some fight club. These acquaintances, who only appear during the middle portion of the movie, serve only to paint a clear picture of anti-Semitism; in one scene, while Yoav observes, one of his friends heckles passengers while humming the Israeli national anthem and proclaiming “I’m Jewish.” It’s an uncomfortable sight, for both the passengers and the Israelis who Yoav is acquainted to, because it is a sad reality that the immigrant is always seen as “the other”, “the invader”, and someone to basically, ignore at all costs, perpetuating the cycle of us versus them.

It’s in the final act when Synonyms starts to reveal the impasse between cultures, and cultural alienation. Yoav has begun, it seems, to date Caroline (complete with Emile’s blessing, which again, seems to be happening with some unspoken, ulterior motives). Caroline states at one point, “When I saw you naked in the bathtub I knew we’d end up together,” which makes me believe she does not see Yoav as a person she’d like to be with but a fetishized version of a man. Her motives to approach and resolve why Yoav found himself in the predicament at the start of the film seems to cement the fact that she does not and will not get to know him. Yoav, sadly, is already too damaged and too “macho” a character to fully explore his own self. He almost gives into Emile early on, but think that too would have ended badly.

Adding to the mix is that Yoav has found work on the side as a model, which in this case is synonymous with some shady work for a pervert with an iPad who subjects Yoav to undress, lie down, touch himself, and then reach orgasm but speaking in Hebrew. The scene is painful to watch because not only is Yoav being degraded, he’s also being forced to look into his own heritage and debase himself with it, which in a way, could be seen as the ultimate act of self-loathing and the denial of self. His cries in Hebrew of “What am I doing here?” which the videographer takes as ecstatic are particularly hard to watch, and then, to close it all, Yoav meets the videographer’s girlfriend, who happens to be from Palestine, and who flatly tells him she will not speak to him, point blank, because as we know… Israel and Palestine do not mix.

Synonyms does bring the past full circle with the appearance of Yoav’s father (Yehuda Almagar), who only wants to make sure that his son is well. However, by now, it has become clear that while Hoav is taking classes to become “assimilated” into French society, his own identity has become blurred. Nadav Lapid brings this disassociation to a painful head when Yoav basically loses it when attending Caroline’s concert, and now finds himself painfully locked out of his own apartment, That Lapid ends his movie in this way speaks volumes to the message he wants to convey. More often than not, those who emigrate to other nations and don’t conform to that nation’s expectation usually find themselves shut out, pariahs, trying desperately to fit in while being rejected just the same.

Tom Mercier gives an electric performance as Yoav, a man who is obsessively tries to blend in with a society that does not accept him (or at one point, sees him as a curiosity, when he ventures into a club to play Techotronic’s 1988 hit Pump Up the Jam). His mannerisms and body language suggest someone lost but who is all reflexes, closed off, suffering in silence, The rest of the cast seem to be a bit stale, perhaps a bit predictable version of entitled individuals who for reasons tilting towards curiosity and fetichism help an immigrant out, but don’t or can’t provide any real support. As I said earlier, this is a very difficult film that presents a harsh reality for anyone not fitting the norm and should be watched right up to its exclamation point ending.

Making Love? out of Nothing AT All: Albert Serra’s LIBERTÉ at the New York Film Festival

Still from Albert Serra;s Liberte [Image from BFI]

LIBERTE, Country: France, Portugal, Spain. Director: Albert Serra. Screenwriter: Albert Serra. Cast: Helmut Berger, Marc Susini, Iliana Zabeth, Theodore Marcade, Baptiste Pinteaux. Languages: French, German, Italian. Runtime: 130 minutes. A New York Film Festival Main Slate and US Premiere. Release Date: TBA.

Mostly Indies Rating: A

Caveat emptor: this film may provoke walkouts. Venture forth with an open mind.

Not since discovering Pasolini ages ago while in college have I come across a film so unabashedly transgressive and willing to push the limits of eroticism to a point when it blurs the line between the imagined and the real, and then the real and the pornographic, and finally, the pornographic that seeks to titillate and the one that verges on the grotesque as Albert Serra’s Liberté. However, for someone like yours truly who at one time was actively involved in the leather scene (minus wigs and makeup), I could say upon viewing his movie, with an arched eyebrow and an expression of worldly cynicism, “Alrighty! That just happened. So much ado for naught. In my world this would be just another regular Saturday night at the dungeon. Not as messy as going outside into the woods and getting dirty, and that is exactly how I prefer it.”

However, in 1774, the time when the events of Liberté takes place, dungeons didn’t exist for consensual purposes and if you were sent to one, it was usually against your will and you pretty much died there, forgotten among the rats and other undesirables of France right before the Revolution of 1789. Just ask Sade, who mastered the art of writing his own brand of transgressive fiction, and who saw the life of day and freedom, oh, never, for most of his life, and until his death in 1814. Forgotten until the 1940s when his work was discovered tucked away, which is probably how he liked it anyway.

So, let’s go to the aforementioned events. You could summarize them in one sentence: One evening, libertines expelled from the court of King Louis the XVI gather in the depths of the forest with a German noble (played by Helmut Berger, the only marquee name of the cast of mostly unknowns) and engage in consensual debauchery.

And that’s it. The entire two and a quarter hours of Liberté is a series of vignettes taking place deep in the countryside (which could offer a sense equal parts privacy and transgression as they could be discovered at any time by a passerby). Some are light, merely verbal exchanges pregnant with a heavy Sadean influence.

In one particular scene somewhat in the middle of the movie two women engage in a discussion, mostly off-screen and in voiceover, about what to do with a weak man. One of them states how she would go by humiliating him over and over because she detests weakness in a man. When the other asks how would she present her affront to God, she replies that she wouldn’t care, and would love to receive “his perversion.” It is a highly erotic exchange, because while you don’t see anything happen and most of the scene is in the dark, your mind is on overdrive, imagining not just the act of humiliation, but that of possible retribution and the woman on the receiving end in ecstatic bliss as she receives her comeuppance. I’m pretty sure Sade would have chuckled at the very idea of not just perverting the divine, but also receiving bliss from it.

Other exchanges, however, are increasingly graphic in content. Here is where you either stay to the end (Albert Serra did ask the audience to stay until the final shot, because there have been walkouts in Cannes and other venues where Liberte has been screened), or decide you just can’t and throw in the towel, never to see Serra’s chosen ending. I wouldn’t go and classify any of these scenes as particularly erotic, but three are a standout; the humiliation of a blonde virgin tied to a tree and doused in buckets of milk. [At least I hope it was milk.] The scene involves only the images of the actress, restrained, her body glistening. The second involves one of the French Duc’s (Marc Susani) getting flogged until he shrieks in pain and ecstasy, and then the same Duc as he gets berated by the Madame de Dumeval (Theodore Marcade).

Now, for the crucial part: is this film recommendable? I would say yes if you dare, once it gets released in cinemas. [It has been acquired for distribution; its release date unknown at the time of this writing.] Nothing happens that is not so awful you can’t see it — and frankly, I have seen war movies and thrillers with more bloody content than anything that transpires here. Much of Serra’s film is strictly auditory as it is, so while two characters (or more) may be involved in a scene of consensual sex, we may hear loud shrieks and moans from a distance and wonder what the hell could be happening. The setting, strictly nocturnal, is perfect for Liberté, and only until the rather weird final scene in which daylight happens (yes, that is all), does light filter onto the trees while the sky remains dark. Liberte is an unclassifiable, but strangely beautiful, abstract exercise in nihilism and freedom posing as a period film indeed.

Opening Night at the 57th New York Film Festival: THE IRISHMAN

[Credit: Slashfilm]

THE IRISHMAN. Country: USA. Director: Martin Scorsese. Screenwriter: Steven Zaillian, based on the book “I Hear You Paint Houses” by Charles Brandt. Cast: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Anna Paquin, Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, Jesse Plemons, Jack Huston, Kathryne Narducci, Stephanie Kurtzuba. Release Date: November 1, 2019 (limited), and November 27, 2019 (Netflix). Language: English, Italian. Runtime: 209 minutes. Venue: Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center.

Mostly Indies Rating: Instant Classic. A+

I’m going to say it. The Irishman is, bar none, quintessential Martin Scorsese, a director intimately acquainted with the dark, tortured heart of the underbelly, and who continues to find new ways to tell compelling stories that will make you laugh out loud and cringe in horror at the same time. If he chose to stop making movies and go out into the sunset, this would be the perfect vehicle to end a career that has now spawned six decades and a body of work that many would kill to possess. This is, no doubt, a director’s masterpiece, an artist at the very peak, expressing a familiar story that feels vivid and crisp, full of energy, life, and ultimately, sadness.

Reader, this is why we go to movies. We want visceral stories of people caught in circumstances mainly of their own doing, maybe or maybe not learning their lessons. Stories don’t need to be only about heroes and The Irishman does not contain a single one, Back in the days of Unions and when the mob ruled the world, men “did things”, took late night trips to work, and neglected family in the name of prosperity, power, politics, and the American Dream.

Sheeran “The Irishman” ‘painted houses’, which came to be known in mob terminology as something quite different involving a visit, an armed gun, and blood splatter on a wall. Sheeran, per his confession to Charles Brandt who wrote the book “I Heard You Paint Houses” (which gets displayed in titles over a black screen, a wink to Jean Luc Godard’s experimental style) started small, as most future gangsters did, acting as a truck driver and early on in one of the film’s flashbacks makes the fated if you will acquaintance of Russell Bufalino (Pesci, who coming out of retirement, this time only employs his watchful eyes as a means of using violence as a necessary thing, and does so to incredible effect). Sheeran soon found himself ascending the ladder of prominence in the underworld by being a ruthless killer-for-hire, one you just did not cross with if you knew what was good for you.

A quartet of giants: Scorsese, Pesci, Pacino, and De Niro, at opening night of The Irishman in its World Premiere.

Today, however, instead of being a lethal weapon, Sheeran gets introduced not by an act of violence but by soft doo-wop music as the camera snakes into an old person’s home where he now resides, alone, waiting for us to tell his story. Scorsese moves Sheeran’s account in furious back and forth manner, often punctuating a flashback scene with another shocking image from another event, as the movie then segues into a lengthy trip to Detroit to cover for the murder of a rather notorious teamster.

That notorious teamster is none other than Jimmy Hoffa, and played by the lion that is Al Pacino. Larger than life, Hoffa comes into the narrative about 45 minutes in to quite easily take over the story from Sheeran, who stands by quietly, acting as friend and advisor, merely serving as the power behind the throne. Pacino plays his Hoffa as a man who, despite the changes in power, will not relent, and doesn’t even comprehend that perhaps his time has passed, a thing that seals his fate. It is an electric performance that could easily go over the top (and in one scene when Hoffa loses it as his well-known battle with then Sen. Robert Kennedy (Jack Huston), he almost resuscitates his caricature of power in Dick Tracy), and it is one that I think is guaranteed to garner Pacino a Best Actor Oscar.

There is so much energy in Pacino’s portrayal that when he makes his untimely exit an hour before closing credits, the movie threatens to lose some steam. [After all, this is not only a movie about the murder of Hoffa but the aftermath of a life of crime. Sheeran has confessed in his account to Brandt that he was the one who killed Hoffa, which is still up to much debate. It doesn’t really matter; Sheeran isn’t exactly telling us the pure truth from the word go: he just serves as the mouthpiece to tell a long-winded, serpentine story to match the fashion that he gets introduced in the lengthy first shot of the picture.] If The Irishman does lose some of its energy it is mainly due because many of its characters are now aging and dying in jail and the ones we met at the beginning entered the stage with a hilarious time stamp of how they died, which was usually, in a rather bloody manner. Maybe crime does not pay after all.

Now, for the technical: much has been said about Scorsese’s use of VFX to bring the actors either to look younger (as he does with De Niro, Pacino, Pesci, and Keitel) or older (Cannavale). I can’t say that the technique threw me out of the story one second, even when some scenes in which Pacino or De Niro get into physical altercations might betray the actors’ age. It just feels organic to the entire product,

Another thing I want to point out is the way Scorsese has embraced the mundane into his epic story. Early on, the drive to Detroit features Kathryne Narducci (who plays Pesci’s wife) vocally expressing her need to have rest stops to catch a smoke. Later on, another car drive yields a conversation about fish that ventures into the style of Tarantino.

However, most notably is a running narrative featuring Sheeran’s interaction with his daughter Peggy (Lucy Gallina as a young girl and Anna Paquin as an adult). All throughout, the mainly non verbal role watches Sheeran, wide eyed and communicating so much, as she comes to realize her father may be involved in much more than “just work.” It’s a sequence that ends in pain for Sheeran once the inevitable happens and he is left alone to walk on crutches and need the aid of a home attendant.

This is probably when the last and most painful of the many layers of skin gets peeled back in The Irishman. Once we reach this level of the nadir of a gangster, who even now refuses to disclose where the bodies are buried, we realize how nihilistic Scorsese’s film was all the time. All that buoyant music that plays in the background, those flashy Cadillacs and lavish parties, all the appearance of power for power’s sake has been reduced to one last moment in which a broken shell of a man now sits alone, facing the camera, with no one to tell his story, and much less, no one to care for him.

A Voyage of Self-discovery and an escape from delusions is the heart of Ad ASTRA

AD ASTRA. Country, USA. Director: James Gray. Screenwriters: James Gray, Ethan Gross. Cast: Brad Pitt, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland, Liv Tyler, Tommy Lee-Jones. Release Date: September 20, 2019. Language: English. Runtime: 124 minutes.

Mostly Indies rating: A–

Ever since the beginning of time mankind has not only dreamt of one day being able to leap out of the comfort zone of our gravitational pull and out into the vast, endless depths of space and beyond, but it has also been haunted by the lingering questions, “Are we alone?” “Is there someone, something out there?” “Can we possibly be the only intelligent life form floating in a pebble around a distant yellow star?” It is why the power of some cults have led some unfortunate people into believing that they don’t belong, that they need to return to their roots, and those roots are not a part of this Earth but from a far away galaxy where superior beings await. It is an undercurrent that continues to pop up in James Gray’s handsome movie Ad Astra, the fact that some well-intentioned men can fall prey to folly and end up on the dark side of the Moon.

One such man who has been on the fringe of delusion is Roy McBride (Brad Pitt, in a rare performance calling for restraint). Roy, estranged from his wife Eve (Liv Tyler) due to work, finds pleasure as an astronaut working high above the heavens because he relates to solitude, so much that when a power surge, the latest in a series of surges that have been slamming the Earth and causing havoc, knocks him off his station, he doesn’t as much as do an eye blink, and remains unbelievably calm throughout his free fall. He comes to learn from US Command SpaceCom that the surge is blasting from The Lima Project, a station in the orbit of Neptune which was heralded by Roy’s famed astronaut father Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) and of whom nothing has been heard of for16 years. SpaceCom wants Roy to travel to Mars, escorted by an old associate of his father, Colonel Pruitt (Donald Sutherland), to (possibly) establish contact with Clifford if in fact he is still alive, and resolve the issue of the persistent and dangerous surge.

This of course is easier said than done, and in typical space adventure, there are some stations of the cross to walk through, some related to the location at hand (such as the pirate ambush on the Moon), other related to the deadly power surge that has now left a ship in distress and with some deadly cargo aboard, The arrival on Mars brings forth some crucial information about Roy’s mission and the true intentions of SpaceCom, which then propels Roy, who finds himself forbidden to continue en route to Neptune, to literally blast his way through and against his very own sense of preservation, complete his own trek which is to find out what in fact became of his father, and perhaps find a reason behind his abandonment.

It is all a terrific buildup to the piece de resistance, the final encounter at Neptune, and how pregnant in symbolism it is. I wonder if Gray himself realized that placing the Lima Project in the planet of illusions and addiction is almost as central to the story as that of Roy confronting his own path of self-destruction. The scene in fact is more eerily reminiscent of the confrontation scene between — hear me out — Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. One has already accepted and embraced that he does not belong; the other, who still has ties on Earth and realizes how much he misses his life there, has to make a terrible choice in order to save his humanity, Its the archetypical tale of the man who has to murder his own shadow self in order to return to life.

Plots and symbolisms aside, Ad Astra is a solid good yarn that doesn’t really try to emulate the films Gray claims to have been inspired by (2001: A Space Odyssey and Apocalypse Now) but instead opts for telling an internal tale of a man trying to find himself and his way back by the guise of interplanetary travel. It’s not a perfect film — the Moon sequence has some questions that I felt needed resolution and at times the voice over can be a bit much, but overall, it looks and feels as though much thought went into it in order to leave a discerning audience satisfied. Ad Astra might not quite deserve its own lofty title, but as a whole, I have to say, it had me hooked.,

A Return to DOWNTON ABBEY, Upgraded for the Big Screen

DOWNTON ABBEY. Country, UK. Director Michael Engler. Screenwriter: Julian Fellowes. Based on the PBS series of the same name and characters created by Julian Fellowes. Cast: Michelle Dockery, Matthew Goode, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Tuppence Middleton, Elizabeth McGovern, Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Allen Leech, Imelda Staunton, Harry Haden-Paton, Raquel Cassidy, Robert James-Collier, Phyllis Logan, Sophie McShera, Joanne Froggatt, Jim Carter, Kevin Doyle, Michael Fox, Lesley Nicol, Brendan Coyle, Geraldine James, Kate Phillips, Max Brown, Susan Lynch, Simon Jones, David Haig, Philippe Spall, Douglas Reith, Perry Fitzpatrick. Language: English. Release Date: September 20, 2019. Runtime: 120 minutes.

Mostly Indies rating: A+

It had to happen. Even though it ended four years ago amidst much drama and fanfare and lots of Kleenex, the series we know and came to love, Downton Abbey, came to an end, and left us Anglophiles with not much to hold on to. While Masterpiece Theatre consistently has brought to life countless shows, some with their own spin-offs, none it seems has resonated with so much verve as Downton, an exploration of (what else?) upstairs and downstairs life at the turn of last century, something that R. F. Delderfield could write in his sleep.

This time, director Michael Engler pulls out all the stops. Even when every episode had the characteristic of a one-hour movie and often was treated with much care and cinematic attention to detail, when we see the movie that is Downton Abbey, we are in for quite the experience. A letter, a very important letter, is on its way to Downton, and its travel is treated with enormous suspense, with the music by John Lunn waxing and waning so beautifully you can’t but help but hold your breath, Once it is clear where it’s headed, cameras floating over the hills reveal the majestic castle, and thus begins the wistful, melancholic, rich theme we have come to know and love. The camera continues to move and pan and zoom in and out, giving us snippets of life at Downton, with Andy (Michael Fox) receiving the letter, Daisy and Mrs Patmore (Sophie McShera and Lesley Nicol) going about in the kitchen, in and about the many, many rooms, where we see Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery) discussing business (as it’s clear she’s the one who runs the house). It is a remarkable way to introduce practically everyone who lives and works in Downton, and if you are new to the story, it probably doesn’t require you to have seen the series, as Fellowes has left his people intact, with some slight changes. Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier) now runs the house as butler alongside Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) and is actually a nice guy. Retired butler Mr Carson (Jim Carter) tends to his garden. Other than that, it is business as usual: the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) and Isobel Merton (Penelope Wilton) continue to exchange barbs (although, let’s be real, those two love each other in the same way Lady Mary and Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), for once, happily married, don’t. Tom Branson (Allen Leech), who had attempted life in the US, is back. Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode)? Absent, mostly. The Bates’ (Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt)? Check. Lady in waiting Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy? Check.

Missing, but mentioned? Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James) and Lady Rosamund Painswick (Samantha Bond), and that’s okay, We have new people to introduce, and that letter I mentioned is precisely why Downton begins that way. It turns out that the letter is coming from none other than Buckingham Palace itself. The King (Simon Jones) and Queen (Geraldine James) are coming to visit, since they are performing a tour around the country’s royal residences as a move to espouse the importance of the monarchy. Man the harpoons! Everything has to be picture perfect down to a science. Not having it is Daisy, who voices her more modern opinion that this is all a colossal waste of time, and of course, we side by her, but of course, we don’t really care, because let’s face it, Downton.

Also not quite having it but willing to suffer is Violet. The Queen’s lady-in-waiting, Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton) is also Robert’s cousin once-removed and there has been a falling out over an inheritance that has left the families all estranged.

Interestingly, the real drama starts once the King and Queen’s staff arrive. Richard Ellis (David Haig), the Page of the Backstairs, behaves in a manner that is so offensive he reduces Barrow into absolute timidity. Lady Mary has no other choice but to bring the reliable Carson back, but even that has no effect on the Royal Staff who continue to act as if they own the house and none of the Downton staff even exist. This puts a monkey wrench in the plans of almost everyone involved: Mrs Patmore sees her cooking will not be put to service, Mrs Hughes finds herself relegated to the background, and basically everyone is forced into a corner. In the meantime, Anna Bates who really needs her own show where she plays a Miss Marple character, has put her sleuthing to good use, this time with a Royal Staff employee with a penchant for legerdemain.

Midway up the stairs, Tom Branson has been approached by a stranger with ulterior motives, and Branson finds himself somewhat out of place with the sheer spectacle of it all while he also serves as a counselor to Princess Mary (Kate Phillips) who finds herself trapped in a marriage to an abusive man and he also finds possible love with Maud Bagshaw’s maid Lucy (Tuppence Middleton). Busy man.

Interestingly of all is Barrow’s own storyline. Barrow is the only downstairs character who other than being basically a bitter bitch through the entire show never quite had a storyline that would be satisfactory. He makes friends with one of the King’s footmen (Max Brown). It’s only too bad that Fellowes doesn’t take the opportunity to make this meeting a bit more pregnant with some foreboding of times changing the same way he is so verbal with Daisy’s snarling against the attention to pageantry. But, perhaps had this been a three-part miniseries or an official sixth season, that would have been a bit more fleshed out.

Yes, this happens.

There is not a thing I can really say against the movie version of Downton Abbey (other than some plots move at cannonball speed and everything gets touched with such a light tone as to leave the viewer as though he saw it all through an impressionistic fog, but caught only the most salient of the best of the menu. Yes, there is a ridiculous amount of attention to period pieces, detail, gowns, lighting, because again, this isn’t your average 40 inch screen. The writing is often on point and of course, the best and bitchy lines go, hands down, to Maggie Smith, Probably a minor quibble is the way Elizabeth McGovern and Hugh Bonneville seem to have reduced their characters down to befuddled spectators on the side just enjoying a life of pure privilege, but that is just a side observation. Judging from box office receipts, it looks like America really, really loves royalty, castles, and intricate family plots involving heirs toe and whatnot that only serve to remind that this is a life that once was privy to a handful. Do not be surprised if we in 2021 or 2022 see a further iteration of Downton.

THE GOLDFINCH examines grief and loss through the thread of a bird caught in canvas.

THE GOLDFINCH. Country: USA. Director: John Crowley. Screenwriter: Peter Straughan. Based on the Pulitzer Prize novel by Donna Tartt. Cast: Oakes Fegley, Ansel Elgort, Nicole Kidman, Jeffrey Wright, Luke Wilson, Sarah Paulson, Finn Wolfhard, Aneurin Barnard, Willa Fitzgerald, Ashleigh Cummings, Dennis O’Hare. Language: English, Ukrainian, Danish, French. Released: September 13, 2019. Runtime, 150 minutes.

Mostly Indies rating: C+

Right on the heels of having watched It, Chapter Two, comes the adaptation of yet another massive novel, Donna Tartt’s polarizing novel The Goldfinch, a piece of work that has been labeled as both the best and the worst thing that has happened to the English language as of late. So its not a shock that a book that would engender such sentiment in the literary world would also stir some equally difficult feelings once its conversion to cinema was made a reality. Of course, that is exactly what happened, with the first reviews arriving right on cue with not much good to say about the movie, noting its richness of visuals, but lack of a central heart, its length, its shallow depiction of grief, uneven acting on behalf of some of its cast, and the choppy time jumps in which we begin at the end and go back only to do so over and over again. I for one did not see anything wrong with the time-jumps; somehow, I felt at ease with the technique. What probably helped me ease into the “Dickensian” story (yes, that too has littered one too many reviews of this movie; I won’t give it that comparison, sorry) was that I knew next to nothing about it. I haven’t read the book and since have begun it. Like 2018s The Wife, I leapt to cinemas solely on the basis of a) the trailer and b) Glenn Close and boy, was I stunned to see not only a performance with a capital P, but a lean story that opened itself up, revealing layers and layers of hurt, betrayals, sacrifice, and selfless love that would have been better off in a more deserving man. [The book, while good, is actually less compelling.] Anyway, so I went to see The Goldfinch and I have to say, it is a handsome, well-told story of a boy facing unimaginable loss and having to come through using only his wits and the one element glueing himself to the ground: the 1654 Fabritius painting of a goldfinch, captive in time and space on canvas. To see his eventual growth and incursion into the underbelly of society while haunted for the entirety of it, almost like an outsider looking into a car crash in slow motion, is sad enough as it is, and both actors — Oakes Fegley and the baby-faced Ansel Elgort carry the story more or less successfully. However, let me say, despite that I enjoyed The Goldfinch, I never felt that the story itself was, however, too compelling: perhaps there was a true lack of mystery to it nd not much angst, or emotional highs and lows, and holding the audience rapt for two and a half hours only to reveal its cards at the very end, while it is fitting, comes off as a bit underwhelming when much of the events are somewhat muted and not too interesting. If at all, seeing solid actors try their best (although Sarah Paulson does a massive faux pas in a scene when she gets so emotional over a tragic loss that it takes her into another movie entirely, considering how bitchy her character has been, but I’m still okay with that) is all that one can ask of a movie adaptation of a book. It could have been worse, and no, this is not even close to the triumphant disaster that was The Bonfire of the Vanities — that was just gross negligence to bring any coherence to a satire. The Goldfinch is a well told yarn that should he a self-contained miniseries. It is, not, by any means, Dickensian. Let’s just say, it’s Dickens-lite for the novice. There are many of these novels around with stock characters you’ve seen in many other movies and plot developments that you can predict in your sleep. Does it deliver? Yes, Is it solid? Yes? Now, will you remember this tomorrow?

No.

it: chapter two

IT: CHAPTER TWO. Country: USA / Canada. Director: Andy Muschietti. Screenwriter: Gary Dauberman. Based on the novel by Stephen King. Cast: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Bill Skarsgard, Jasden Martell, Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Teach Grant, Nicholas Hamilton, Javier Botet, Xavier Dolan, Taylor Frey, Molly Atkinson, Joan Gregson, Stephen Bogaert. Language: English. Release date: September 6, 2019. Runtime: 170 minutes.

Mostly Indies rating: A–

Well, it’s here, it stormed into the box office and the story is told. Stephen King can rest knowing that even when the movie version of his much-beloved (and massive) 1986 novel “It” may never see a sufficiently dark and terrifying version without some significant alteration of the source of the horror, it goes without saying that at least the film version comes out swinging.

Truth be told, it is never an easy task to adapt a Stephen King novel. Much of the final story in It, for example, takes place in the astral plane and has ties to his Dark Tower macroverse, that to depict that one lengthy sequence would be next to impossible. Also, to its detriment, how scary can a clown truly be to kids raised on social media, YouTube, and a million other apps that can be conduits for the real horror: child predators? I’m going to have to say that in a way, It the movie is less scary this time, geared to hardcore Stephen King fans who have been reading him since Carrie, Salem’s Lot, and The Shining (the latter two who have yet to receive a truly gripping adaptation), but still, a compulsive watch.

So here we are, not quite back where we left off (although the first sequence, with the young Beverly (Sophia Lillis) apparently underwater, in a scene that recalls the moment she went into the deadlights — which thankfully get much more screen time here. Flash forward to today, 27 years later, when Adrian Mellon (Xavier Dolan) gets the extremely savage end of homophobia and meets an indescribable end at the hands of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), who’s come out from the dark and is, let’s say, “hangry” with a chip on his shoulder. Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), who’s since been devoted to tracking Pennywise’s every move before and after their apparent first defeat (and who seems certifiably bonkers; trauma has a way of clinging onto you well after the horror is over), now has to deliver the stomach-churning phone call to his six other childhood friends, not knowing if they will even respond or take his call. They do, in an excellent montage, the adult Losers are introduced with the barest of backstories presented. Bill (James McAvoy) is a successful horror novel writer who’s books end badly. Beverly (Jessica Chastain) is an abused housewife. Ben. (Jay Ryan) is a successful executive. Richie (Bill Hader, in a standout performance, mind you), is a stand-up comic going through a hard time. Eddie (James Ransone) is a limo driver. And finally, Stan (Andy Bean), who takes the call the hardest.

With the knowledge that It, the creature they once defeated, has returned, the remaining members of the Losers Club reunite in Derry. As it tends to happen, memories, long since repressed and buried, start to resurface, and with that, the ancient traumas, Of course, the question arises, why bother? They’re grown adults, what could they possibly be doing back in the town where they escaped from? Isn’t that what everyone does? Beverly, however, seen in the first frame of the movie, delivers the news: while under the deadlights, she saw them all dead. They have to go back, destroy the past, to be rid of it once and for all, and for them, that means performing the fated Ritual of Chud.

A huge chunk of the movie, from now on, becomes the six of them (well, really five; Mike has been here all along) walking through town, trying to pick up elements from their haunted past, in order to reunite later on. Of all of the solo scenes, Beverly’s was the one that stood out the most simply because her horror — which Pennywise in the novel manipulated) — is too real to ignore. When Pennywise appears to her in the body and shape of her father (Stephen Bogaert), without a dime of prosthetics, it’s more frightening than any of his disguises, which the movie curiously doesn’t use to its advantage. Another scene, this time not involving any one of the main cast members but a little girl who has a mole on her face, is truly terrifying because of its sparseness of special effects and Pennywise’s distorted maw of anticipation.

Overall, It is a solid piece of work that seen as a whole alongside the first movie will reveal a director who understands childhood fears and the genre, but also, reveal flaws in King’s own narrative. It is no secret that King nowadays, free of any editing constraints, has made a habit of producing extremely long works of fiction that go on and on for pages, chapters, even entire sections, without advancing the plot, The motive is to bring forward not just backstory, but a credible universe for people to see where his characters, good, bad, major, and even minor, are coming from. That in the literary world is okay — eventually you realize you will get to where the “meat” of the story is. However when translating into cinema, it just does not work. A lengthy scene where Bill rediscovers his old bike serves one self-indulgent pat-in-the-back moment. It is for fans only. Towards the end we are given a double dose of a similar scene from the first when Bill first encountered Pennywise in the flooded basement and near the end when the Losers go into the sewers. A little editing could have worked.

Also, and I’m just realizing it now: absent from both movies is Derry itself. Derry is supposed to be a haunted small town. Pennywise, a creature who defies explanation and whose presence alone could drive a person insane within seconds, feeds on the town’s residents equally, magnifying their adult prejudices and petty motives until they reach criminal levels (hence, the murder of Adrian Mellon) while still feeding on children. Derry as a character is corruption itself, a tainted place that offers no solace, no comfort, and the nagging feeling that some invisible, omnipresent evil is over them, literally playing them against each other like a puppet master. [It is a theme King started in Salem’s Lot and would revisit again in The Stand and Needful Things.] It’s a crying shame that this wasn’t woven into the fabric of the narrative except for the very first portion of the 2017 movie. It would have made the entire setting even more disturbing for the adults who come back, making their return to trauma even more horrible to stomach.

And lastly, presenting Pennywise continually as a clown eventually wears itself thin. In the book, he (it) was anything: a constant shapeshifter who was out for revenge against the “others” who had maimed it. At least, the battle of wills is done in a striking, clever, and even poignant way, something I would not have seen coming. So, for all its missteps, which even involve the use of CGI to make some of the kids look younger than they do and some awful use of Javier Botet as a bouncing horror that threatens Jessica Chastain, It delivers, does not include room for a potential sequel, and is now, over.