Isn’t it terrible that it’s become almost the norm to go, whenever you read about a movie and see that Nicholas Cage is either starring or involved in it in some capacity, “No, next, not doing this?” Yes, I know and we all know Cage has been for a long time, well before his Oscar win, marring his career with movies that are sometimes so bad you just don’t know what to make of them. [True story: I recently attended a Nicholas Cage party in which we saw, back to back, some of his worst ever films: The Wicker Man, Ghost Rider, and Season of the Witch. It was epic. We hooted, we howled, and we yelled at the TV, hoping that Cage, by some miracle, would hear us writhing in pain and perhaps bring us something decent. Even half-baked good. It didn’t work, and by the end, we simply threw our hands in the air and all agreed to that Cage should simply stick to doing Cage and the hell with quality.
Then came December and the promo for Color Out of Space. It seemed intriguing, but my hopes were much like the country’s morale: dashed and floating at the bottom among the detritus. I figured, sure, I’ll come, if IFC is showing it then it must mean something. Then again, IFC has screened some god-awful Indies, luckily for their one-week requisite run before slamming into VOD for rental eternity. So I went to see Color, with no expectations, and a fairly elastic mind.
To be fair, this is not by far a masterpiece. Richard Stanley (the man who was supposed to direct The Island of Dr. Moreau) in the 90s but who instead got sidelined into obscurity and a documentary that explains it all), has a strong hand, an excellent source material in Lovecraft, but too much in ideas (all of them quite good!) that some seem to get lost in translation. The great part is that he sticks close enough to the source material without bogging it to the ground. Anyone who’s read the story will know it is sparse, if almost entirely, devoid of dialogue, and the horror that starts to take over is at times so beautiful, but so abstract, that it would be next to impossible to render it convincingly onto the screen.
Here Stanley grounds his movie in presenting an entirely believable family that has moved into the country, presumably to go off the grid, and live naturally. Everyone gets fleshed out rather well and quickly — with Nathan (Cage) being presented as a loving albeit slightly eccentric father, Theresa (Joely Richardson, a cancer survivor trying to get her business off the floor), and their three kids of which Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) being the most complex as a young Wicca who wishes to leave the woods and go back to civilization. Except… something lands in their front yard. A meteor. But it’s not quite a meteor. It has colors. It has life. And it’s reaching out…
Stanley proves that Lovecraftian horror is rich in texture and a minefield of visual storytelling that is begging to be explored. He deftly waits and waits enough to slowly release the germ of corruption upon the Gardners. Soon, but not too soon, everyone starts to slowly succumb to this nascent evil that has decided to focus its rage and hunger on the hapless family who by all means should move… but don’t. And we wonder, why? Because the first thing to go is their very will go leave — if not, we would have no story, and the antagonist has to secure the Gardners to the ground like lamb too scared to move, just waiting to be slaughtered for when pandemonium ensues.
In many ways, Color Out of Space goes the route of Annihilation, a movie that consciously or subconsciously borrowed from Lovecraft in presenting its otherworldly terror both terrifying and beautiful. Like the book we are presented with an entity, one that has arrived, but instead of being beneficial shows clear signs of having ulterior motives. In many ways, you could subtract the magenta-hued alien in the well and you would still have a family falling apart at the seams and wonder if perhaps the happiness, the love, that we were presented with at the start was just a show, and the darkness within, so completely in contrast with the color that invades the entire frame in a surreal glow, was just their own darker selves surfacing onto the ground. Much like the doomed family in The Witch, no one quite seems to know what to do with their talents — Lavinia, while a witch, is useless to help herself and her family, Nathan can’t get his own house to produce edible fruit, Theresa can’t get her business to start, and both sons are of little use, the youngest being the first to fall prey to this unearthly, zombified state that permeates the movie as we dive deeper into the story.
Stanley takes his movie into rather destructive territory without reducing its characters into mere devices on which to inflict torture. All the pain and horror you will see is justified, and only one moment — in which a chance to escape goes awry because of a lost pet in the family well — seems fabricated. Other than that, Cage, who is known for hamming it up as an actor, does deliver a completely believable performance, going from loving, doting father to incomprehensible monster in a matter of two hours. And no, the movie does not seem even vaguely long: I would even argue that it would be served better as a four to six part limited series to truly encapsulate the sheer level of horror that takes over.
Color Out of Space will come to streaming platforms February 25.
It’s truly a thing to witness, this turn into the New Year. December, as its wont, always brings with it the tradition of releasing Oscar contenders right until Christmas Day, many good, some not so good, and among them, caught in the middle of the shuffle, a small roster of arty films that will probably barely make a dent in box-office but still manage to have enough of a magnetic pull to bring in an audience.
And then, the second January comes ringing, the moment the ball drops, the confetti whirls, people embrace and exchange toasts and wish each other a Happy New Year, something odd happens. Like the slight left twist that happens almost at the halfway mark in Bong Joon-ho’s savagely funny Parasite, we start witnessing the arrival of Dumpster January. Dumpster January doesn’t even have the subtlety to wait perhaps a week into the month to suddenly release its toxic gases into a movie theater near you and blind you with its terrifying badness. It’s weird, how that happens – and positively schizophrenic.
From movies like Clemency and Portrait of a Lady on Fire the movie parade takes a screeching halt and begins serving you with sheer garbage of the likes that should never, ever been seen, or rented, but deleted and forgotten, forever.
It’s as if movie studios had no idea how to market a movie that perhaps had ambition but didn’t find a test audience gullible enough to sell. Or perhaps the movie was so terrible that it got shelved for a few and quietly “placed” in a few multiplexes without any warning whatsoever. Think of this as the crap stores mark down to bargain basement prices when they decide to go into “Everything! Must! Go!” mode, and there you are, the unsuspecting client, walking into a nightmare that looks somewhat promising on the outside but reveals all its flaws before you’ve even set foot in your house. And now, there you are, face reddening, blood boiling, realizing you bought a defective product and there are no returns.
So imagine the same for movies. While Little Women and [the aforementioned] Parasite still play to packed houses, you check in to watch something new, easy, maybe an okay thriller or a cheap comedy. Take… Underwater, for example. Here we have a movie that stars Kristen Stewart with a platinum Eton cut. It’s in the realm of sci-fi/horror and it tells the story of a crew of scientists manning a drilling station located off the Marianas that encounter some unsavory creatures with a taste for human meat, and why not, really. It’s almost guaranteed that the moment a crew gets the task of exploring into some remote area of the globe shit has to hit the fan, and then we have the law of economy in which one by one, the entire cast goes bye-bye in often gruesome ways.
I’m not too much a naysayer of the genre since Alien basically created it and its sequel, Aliens, solidified it. James Cameron managed to flip the haunted house in space concept into a war movie with two bad-ass women (Sigourney Weaver as Ripley and the all-but forgotten Jeannette Goldstein as Vazquez) kicking serious ass. Even Cameron’s follow up, The Abyss, managed to add a solid dose of spiritual gravitas as it delved into life after death topics mixed neatly into a Close Encounter’s cocktail to pretty sharp effect.
Underwater is what happens when the same story sinks right to the bottom of its own idea and never recovers. Station in danger, check. Outside menaces, check. Cast of disposables starting with the black guy, of course – necessary: we all know the black guy has to get it first and must never survive past go. Kristen Stewart in her underwear, eh—if it can sell, bring it. The Bill Paxton funny guy that you secretly want to meet a nasty death (and actually applaud when it happens), check. And while I’m at it, let’s talk about TJ Miller who in Underwater subs for Paxton without the actual ability to be funny. Can TJ Miller actually act? Yes? No? Quizas, quizas, quizas? Or does he simply exist to repeat the same dead shtick in movies over and over and over again, expecting cheap laughs while the movie whirls all around him? If all a character’s demise can do is inspire you to go to the concession stand and order a second round of popcorn… then that basically sums up my reaction to Miller.
Underwater is… well past bad – in fact, so bad it just ate at my skin like a sudden onset of eczema. Its only good set piece is the very beginning with Kristen Stewart brushing her teeth. After that the movie implodes (pun not intended) First of all, it starts with a promise of aural menace that I liked, but other than that, it implodes, never to recover again. You can’t see a fucking thing throughout the entire mess even when scenes are dimly lit (which are few and far between), so good luck trying to know what on Earth is going on. Characters have no time to interact. It’s one calamity after another and people trying to find some kind of plausible safety, and then, those humanoid creatures. No, I’m not really spoiling it, of course this would be a creature feature because it is a blatant rip off of other creature features and these are I think equal parts sock and arms. Look, I don’t know what the fuck they are. And then, the Lovecraftian touch which adds nothing to the plot and leaves you wondering if maybe you were better off doing your taxes at home.
What do you do when you present a horror movie that tries its best during the first few minutes to be something a little above average and then falls flat on its face? I just came out of hating Underwater, and now I have the chore of having to write another paragraph or two about another January release. This time, it’s Floria Sigismondi’s The Turning, a movie that per its title should tell its audience that it is a remake, or visual transition of the Henry James’ novella The Turning of the Screw, itself made into a chilling adaptation by Jack Clayton in 1961 called The Innocents with Deborah Kerr in the lead. That movie is worth seeing and it pops up rather frequently on TCM, or FXM, so if you have a chance, go see it.
[And for anyone seeking quality cinema in these dog days where nothing clicks and you have to wait until March to see the first of the Sundance releases (and hope they are worth it), check Clayton’s extremely brief but important cinematic filmography, which began with the Oscar Winner for Best Actress Room At the Top (with Simone Signoret), The Pumpkin Eater (with Anne Bancroft, also Oscar-nominated), Something Wicked this Way Comes, The Great Gatsby, and his last film, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne with Maggie Smith In one of the better performances of 1987, totally overlooked by the Academy that year. ]
Back to The Turning. And before I start proper, a word to young nannies everywhere: if your job description includes a giant house, creepy kids, and a housekeeper that has a penchant for outdated hair and frosty demeanor, just go elsewhere. Get a certification in coding or a degree in something you can definitely use for your future. Heck, wait tables if it’s really that bad. It really isn’t worth your time to wander into a home that is so pregnant with mood and things that go bump! in the night that you feel like you are physically walking eyes wide open, into a horror story in which you will guaranteed see something weird, or perhaps, not survive. I of course am going for the bigger picture here–how many times are we going to see a young blond thing put herself into a situation where she is all but losing her fucking mind just because there is a paycheck attached to it and the rest is ‘occupational hazard?’
Sadly, the studio system keeps churning these things up, and I’m not going to even describe or get into detail of what takes place because while it somewhat sticks to the novella… it’s pretty much dead on arrival. Nothing works here, even scenes meant to scare come with a sense of ham-fisted insincerity, and all Mackenzie Davis, excellent in Terminator: Dark Fate and Blade Runner 2049 can do is overact and play damsel in distress and telegraph to us that perhaps she herself, like Eleanor Vance and many other horror movie protagonists, has some ghosts of her own. While that element would definitely make for an interesting development, it never does more than announce itself and then… the movie ends?
That is when yours truly did a serious, “What the fuck?” and just sat there, gaping, wondering… where did the movie go? Is-is there perhaps something I missed? Nope. Credits, end, we know nothing more. A total, colossal waste of time and money. Highway robbery masquerading as cinema.
Look, just don’t. The movie won’t last into the first week of February and by then we will have another onslaught of garbage thanks to the multiplex mentality and the dumbing down of cinema. Really: rent or watch The Innocents for a better take on the novella. Or read the book — it is decidedly complex and a great read.
Opening January 24 is Bertrand Bonello’s intriguing zombie horror – coming of age psychodrama Zombi Child, which premiered last year at the New York Film Festival. You can find the review here.
Also opening on January 29 are two more New York Film Festival standouts — Kantemir Balagov’s searing drama Beanpole, Russia’s entry into the the 92 Academy Award for Best International Picture, and The Traitor, Marco Bellocchio’s ultra-violent, powerful drama that tells about the fall of the Costa Nostra. You can find the reviews for these two films here.
Another year, and just like that, the decade is over and gone. I’ve been watching movies now for a little over 40 years. Dear readers, this is a lot of cinema to take in over an entire lifetime, which is why December and the first half of January tend to be rather sparse in entries. Last month I barely saw three new movies (not including repeat viewings of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, The Irishman, It: Chapter Two, and the re-release of Béla Tarr’s seven-our epic Sátántangó from 1994 which from what I understand, has never received an official, true release other than one at MoMA, and a special screening at the 57th New York Film Festival, which itself spawned a one-week show a the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Of all the movies I’ve mentioned, this one is the one to view. A picture that despite its running time demands at least a second viewing, Sátántangó is mesmerizing as it is punishing. Seeing an unincorporated little place in Hungary fall prey to the machinations of an outsider posing as a Messiah is at times equal parts darkly comedic and a vision of Hell if there ever was one. This is not a movie to see on DVD, but now, with the advent of streaming, once it comes out, do give it a look even if you have to pause during the [two] intermissions.
And because every time a year ends, lists become inevitable. I see at least a movie a day so this is going to be a daunting task because there are many that might have made it, but others somehow, took that little extra and came to the forefront. So here we go, the best of the best, from 30 to 1, as seen per yours truly.
Mati Diop, Senegal
“What starts as a movie steeped in social realism quickly (and quite deftly) morphs into something else entirely. Diop doesn’t provide a tidy answer past what she presents, but her debut movie (which won the Grand Prix at Cannes, no easy feat) is a strong sequence of visuals verging into the magical that could fit in any coastal town, where men who have gone to sea may not be at rest.” — Mostly Indies, October, 2019.
29. LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT
Bi Gan, China
“This will be a film for those who love obscure stories that go into darker regions of narration and throw logic out the window. Patience is absolutely required to watch Bi Gan’s film. If you don’t you will walk out and not bother to look back. If you do sit down, do so with an open mind, and let its imagery take you. In that respect, yes, Long Day’s Journey into Night is a sumptuous, brilliant exercise in trippy visuals. It’s just one that offers no real characters, not much substance, and even less logic.”
28. THEM THAT FOLLOW
Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage, USA
“Them That Follow is a terrific buildup of sheer tension, a juggling act that the directors handle extremely well.Nothing in the movie—even and especially its characters’ decisions to let faith alone guide their actions—seems out of place.”
27. THE MOUNTAIN
Rick Alvertson, USA
“The Mountain, as a whole, is a slow moving dream where everything is seen under a dull, cold camera lens. Alvertson removes all 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.”
Alejandro Landes, Colombia
“[Alejandro] Landes presents a tableau that has all the risk of flying off the rails into unbearable depravity and exploitation, especially in its scenes involving [Julianne] Nicholson as she battles for her life and attempts to keep her sanity. However, in leaving some of the horror to the imagination, and also bringing forth an unlikely hero like the gender non-comforing Rambo (Sofia Buenaventura), he still manages to paint a horrifying canvas of innocence perverted at the hands of unseen pupeteers.
Chimonye Chikwu, USA
Alfre Woodard delivers a haunting performance as Bernardine Williams, the prison warden who has come to carry out death sentences with frightening casualty. Watch how she handles an inmate on death row as he pleads for his life, and how she starts to question her own beliefs and ultimate purpose.
24. QUEEN & SLIM
Melina Matsoukas, USA
“Prepare to be outraged. Melina Matsoukas’ feature film debut Queen & Slim arrives with a roar and goes out in a blaze of injustice.”
23. THE TRAITOR
Marco Bellocchio, Italy
“The Traitor is, by far, one of Italy’s strongest entries following 2013’s The Great Beauty — compelling from start to finish, when we learn the fates of everyone. If anything, the one thing I could see in both men — one fictitious and one who died a little under 20 years ago — is the haunting sensation of regret. The biggest difference is that while Jep Gambardella’s one regret is that the could never find the essence of beauty, Buscetta laments not having been there for his sons, and their absence from his life haunts him throughout the entire film. It is an anguish that Favina’s eyes alone register once all is said and done, and everyone has met their fates behind bars.”
22. VITALINA VARELA
Pedro Costa, Portugal
“Arriving late to her husband’s funeral, she [Vitalina Varela] is introduced emerging from the plane in nothing but her bare feet. It’s a striking introduction because it leads to defining who she is: a woman that has nothing, who simply exists. Vitalina the actress holds the entire picture together with her fiercely and mostly silent performance.”
Kantemir Balagov, Russia
“Beanpole is another slice of despair and nihilism and the inability to take matters into ones’ hand to find anything resembling happiness.”
20. GLORIA BELL
Sebastian Lelio, US/Chile
Forget her Oscar for Still Alice; this is the one performance that should have garnered Julianne Moore the statuette. Her Gloria is a consummate optimist and one who is not afraid to live life on her terms, but look closely at her expression, her gestures… even as she dances, there is a deep, deep sadness just quivering underneath as she navigates life alone. Lelio’s camera alone is a love-letter to mature womanhood in all its glory.
19. ASH IS PUREST WHITE
Zhangke Jia, China
I’ve come to believe that director Zhangke Jia likes to put Zhao Tao under enormous stress by making her take parts in which her character undergoes some incredible transformation by making the wrong choices or falling for the wrong man. In A Touch of Sin and Mountains May Depart, as in Ash is Purest White, she always winds up in a prison, be it literal or symbolic (as in Mountains May Depart). But can she command the screen.
Julius Onah, USA
“A narrative that seems to be at surface value cut and dry morphs constantly into something deeper and reveals shades of shadows even in its most well-defined characters. Luce forces you to first see one thing, then hear of another event linked, and then become privy to yet more information that might either negate what you thought was the truth and leave you with no one to truly root for.”
Nadav Lapid, Israel/France
“[T]his 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.”
16. THE SOUVENIR
Joanna Hogg, UK
“What I found at first somewhat off-putting, then increasingly meaningful, was the way Hogg positioned her scenes, staged from a somewhat distant point of view, as if she herself was an observer through a time capsule and was trying to analyze what was transpiring through the increasingly dysfunctional relationship that is Julie’s and Anthony’s. How else would you look back to your own life and see the mistakes you made? Hogg never questions it, but simply, recreates it and lets Julie and Anthony clash.”
Todd Phillips, USA
“Take away the superhero / comic book facade and you have a tragedy of epic proportions, plain and simple.”
14. THE IRISHMAN
Martin Scorsese, USA
One question will linger long after the final credits of Scorsese’s work. “What kind of a man would make a call like that?” And then you have DeNiro, sitting alone in an old person’s home, the door ajar, listening to activity, no one to come visit him, everyone whom he knew and work with dead and long forgotten, and only he knows the secrets of where the bodies are. If that is not hell, I don’t know what is.
13. UNCUT GEMS
The Safdie Brothers, USA
Adam Sandler. That is all. If at all, just watch it for his performance only and be blown to bits as he turns into a ringmaster weaving this intricate mess of a web that threatens to unravel around him at every turn.
12. HOTEL BY THE RIVER
Hong-Sang Soo, S Korea
“The use of black and white not only mutes the story’s emotional center down to internalized reflections and barely felt notations, but it also gives the film a chilly feel that gives the story its somewhat somber note somewhat reminiscent of Woody Allen’s films from the late-80s, particularly September and Another Woman.”
11. ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD
Quentin Tarantino, USA
Tarantino loves cinema. Let me rephrase that — Tarantino IS cinema, Alpha and Omega, from dusk til dawn. This is his most mature work, focusing on an era of free love, the changing face of cinema, and the lingering ghost of what was to happen at Cielo Drive, and it’s all glued together by the ghost of Sharon Tate.
Ari Aster, USA
If this is Aster’s version of a breakup, I would only wonder what would he do with a divorce. Florence Pugh, again proves she’s an actress to contend with, even in a genre film this sumptuous.
9. I LOST MY BODY
Jéremy Clapin, France
“This is not your garden-variety crowd pleaser, and for Clapin to bring so much beauty into a movie that would be pressed hard to find a crowd shows commitment to the art of animation and making a compelling, tragic story that manages to find a glimmer of hope during the cold of rejection.”
8. PAIN & GLORY
Another director who is deeply enamored with the art and visuals of cinema pure, this time bringing one from the deepest of his own bowels, a veiled autobiography in which Antonio Banderas channels Almodovar and allows us to see the frailty behind the maestro.
7. AD ASTRA
James Gray, US
“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.”
6. HIGH LIFE
Claire Denis, France
“The irony of the title — a constant in Claire Denis’ body of work — refers to something luxurious, grandiose, epicurean. Life is grand and expansive.”
5. THE FAREWELL
Lulu Wang, US/China
“Lulu Wang’s The Farewell is simply a beautiful love letter to her own China, a fragment of her own self, her past, and potentially, her future, seen through the eyes of a family coming to terms with the death of its matriarch. Watch the performance of Awkwafina: it’s a revelation to see her carry this awful weight of displacement on her perpetually hunched shoulders.”
4. THE NIGHTINGALE
Jennifer Kent, Australia
“The Nightingale is not an easy film to see. This is a movie marked by acts of incredible violence against women and Aborigines alike, and after Clare’s own horrific sequence, there will be one more that happens twice, almost daring the audience to look away.”
3. PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE
Celine Sciamma, France
A carefully placed finger will immortalize a love story for the ages in Sciamma’s carefully controlled romance that is exploding in color and pregnant in emotions waiting to be acknowledged. Adele Haenel, in one scene only, reveals an entire life and love lived, enjoyed, and ultimately lost to the ravages of society’s norms.
2. THE LIGHTHOUSE
Robert Eggers, USA
Robert Pattinson, who also appears in High Life, and Willem Dafoe (who absolutely needs to be given an award already!) battle wits, hate each other, need each other, and ultimately destroy each other, and it is marvelous to watch in glorious, rich black and white.
Bong-Joon Ho, South Korea
Who is the parasite here? Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece, unclassifiable movie is an expertly choreographed narrative tour-de-force focusing on a core of people, the haves and have nots, trying to get a moment’s respite from the quotidian and the pervasive ghost of poverty which no one wants to face, let alone submit to. At turns morbidly funny, Parasite presents a black-as-night farce peppered with horror-movie brush-strokes under the guise of the Kim family as they expertly — and almost too easily — infiltrate that elusive, shimmering, spotless monument to contemporary architecture — warm, but ultimately, devoid of real love and warmth — called home. Only, with getting their wish and landing plum jobs, they realize all too late that their rich benefactors truly are despicable. They will continue to exploit them mercilessly and laugh at their misfortunes (while blindly depending on their servitude). The worst of it all, the final blow, the one that plunges the entire movie into a literal dungeon of horrors and unearths the house’s demons… someone has already outdone them in their plans. There truly is a ghost living within the walls and underneath, feeding off the spoils, resistant to change, and deadly afraid of the light of discovery. Parasite is not just the best movie of 2019… but of the entire decade.
[These last two reviews are coming in a bit late in the season since I saw both movies over the Christmas holidays and after that decided to take a bit of time off to gather myself into the New Year, so I do apologize for being late.]
I’m going to feel a little bit like a heel for saying this, but while I admire Greta Gerwig as both a writer and a director, I’m not sure that this was the turn she should have taken in her nascent career. I’m not saying that she can’t direct a period piece — this one is proof positive that she’s very capable of as the production values are extremely high and the movie itself looks equal parts fresh and vivid in its flashback scenes while also acquiring a more adult look as it delves into its more present, adult themes.
However, this is the fourth adaptation of the well-known novel by Louisa May Alcott. After seeing Katharine Hepburn, fresh off her (then, considered) groundbreaking debut in A Bill of Divorcement and her Oscar-winning performance in Morning Glory, paying Jo, and Elizabeth Taylor suitably playing the vain but sensitive Amy in the 1949 version, to the okay 1994 version in which Winona Ryder took on the Jo role and was flanked by Susan Sarandon to the left as Marmee and Kirsten Dunst (again suitably), as Amy, this one comes as more of a dare than an actual need to tell a tale.
Let’s be honest — I like Gerwig, and she has an entire career behind the cameras ahead of her, smiling down, filling her with deserved accolades. Ladybird was a massive success because it felt more authentic to Gerwig as the story felt unique to her and her alone. Remember Frances Ha? If you look closely, you can practically see the movie that Ladybird became in its final sequences. When Frances moves to New York to become a dancer and can’t seem to find her way, that in essence is Saorise Ronan’s character down to the details, and both movies are glued in spirit to Sacramento, which become focal points — one to the actress Gerwig herself became, and the other for her heroine.
I’ve come to realize that every director who needs to prove they’re capable of more has to direct either a period piece or an epic. It’s almost a rite of passage. Every blockbuster director had indie roots — even Sam Mendes and Christopher Nolan began in tiny features. Heck, look at Scorsese! So Gerwig, of course would want to fill her own shoes out, and retell Little Women but with a much more modern slant. If you think of it, the story has not aged well. However, Gerwig, a woman walking in a minefield made by men, makes her two main heroines reflections of resilience and adaptability that defies their own stature as women living in the 1800s. Yes, Alcott never married and by her own account was not into men — which explains Jo’s sudden decision to break with Laurie. However, Jo’s not a dimwit — she finagles a suitable amount plus percentages to make sure her book leaves her very well off and finds love in the end (because, again, let’s face it, like Tracy Letts’ character Mr. Dashwood, people love happy endings. Amy of course would be the one to come off shining like a rose — she more than any of the March sisters would have known the value of charm and smarts and marrying well (although she also manages, through Aunt March, to find her own niche in the art world). Even Marmee manages to get in a subtle modernistic spin on her own, voicing her opinions while remaining strictly on the side of the maternal.
Little Women is strictly fan service for the fans of Louisa May Alcott’s novel of the same name. It’s often beautiful to watch, and let’s face it: the women — the aforementioned Ronan, Florence Pugh (a standout, as usual), Emma Watson in a rather staid role and tepid storyline, and newcomer Eliza Scanlen as the doomed but strong in spirit Beth are all uniformly correct. Laura Dern makes her role into more than what the book Marmee was, Meryl Streep as Aunt March is, well, solid but predictable, and Timothee Chalamet, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, (the redoutable) Chris Cooper, and Louis Garrel all have their moments. Another newcomer, Jayne Houdyshell as Hannah, also has some pretty solid moments. So there. It’s good, but mainly as fan service.
Adam Sandler, if you ever read this and I highly doubt you will since I’m not an Ebert or a Rex Reed, I just want you to know what you did in Uncut Gems was absolutely mesmerizing. Please — for the love of all that is good in cinema! — stop making those dreadful movies that are draining your talent dry and leaving you probably a few million richer, but destroying your craft as an actor. You’ve got so much to give as a quality, hi-octane performer. I’ve seen you in Punch-Drunk Love and The Meyerowitz Stories, New and Selected. You’ve got it in spades. If you don’t do anything else, stick with the Safdie Brothers who know movies. Those dudes aren’t afraid to tell compelling character studies that look almost like action movies where the plot hammers through the canvas and into your brain as though it needed to pummel you oijnto submission and leave you, dazed, wondering what the fuck did you just witness, but still begging for more.
What you did with Howard Ratner, a man who displays equal parts vulnerability, insecurity, and clueless levels of stupidity based on an addiction to the win, is really something that left me gaping. No wonder his buddies want to rip his face off, as he constantly juggles two women and a rock that he wants to bleed dry. This is the stuff of 70s cinema when antiheroes ruled and a good time often came with a heavy price. In his prime, Pacino would have probably done a louder version, closer to A Dog Day’s Afternoon, and while that’s not a bad thing, you did one better by keeping Ratner even keeled, and occasionally exploding in the center of the vortex that was his life.