Recently after exiting a local movie theater I was scouring my wallet, looking past all the ticket stubs that have landed there in the last few months, and I realized there were a couple of films that I had seen- but not written about. So, here we are. Ironically, the film that reignited my need to write again was “Drive My Car”, a film I had to drive about forty-five minutes to get to as the showings in my area were slim to none. Since that one was so powerful in its storytelling, it made the other lackluster films more palatable to write about as a group piece than stand alone reviews. In my defense the other two films aren’t exactly Bad per se, it’s just that I initially didn’t feel compelled enough to immediately write about them.
Drive My Car
Written by Takamasa Oe and Ryûsuke Hamaguchi and directed by Hamaguchi, “Drive My Car” is a long form drama adapted from a series of short stories by Haruki Murakami. Some audiences may groan about films with invariably long runtimes (This one is about an even three hours), anything over two and a half hours usually gets this treatment, but especially if it’s a slow-burn. However, this film is a near perfect example of the depth of characterization that can be achieved through long form dramas. Throughout this film I was having flashbacks of Yasujiro Ozu’s great films. While most of Ozu’s films never got longer than little over two hours, with the occasionally rare film nearing two hours and forty minutes, “Drive My Car” feels poised to maximize all of it’s emotional weight through devastating reveals late in the game with characters directly telling stories to others. Ozu’s films had similar levels of emotional intelligence and weight to them, but here, in today’s world, it feels as though the filmmakers had to cut through all of our modern societal expectations to get to the core of the story. So, what is the story actually about? It’s mainly concerned with Yûsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) an actor/director in theatre who accepts a two month residency in Hiroshima as he presides over the production of Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya”- and Misaki Watari (Tôko Miura) his assigned driver during that residency. There are a LOT of small beautiful moments set against broader and more meaningful evolutions, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film so invested in language, silence, communication between people, and the theatre done in such a moving way. I really don’t want to dive too far into the details of the story, but patience will be rewarded if you’re paying attention. This one is incredible, and I highly recommend it.
Written by Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman, and directed by Reitman (son of director Ivan Reitman), “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is a mostly genial nostalgia-fest that has it’s fair share of hits and misses throughout the runtime. First, and foremost, I did mostly enjoy my time with this movie, so please take these criticisms with the knowledge that I’m not just some dude in a basement raging about The Ghostbusters with undue spite. In fact, the first half of the movie feels more like an indie drama on the film fest circuit than it does a sequel to one of the biggest blockbuster franchises from the 1980’s. The story follows the adult daughter of Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), Callie (Carrie Coon), who moves out to the farm that Egon left her after his untimely death with her two kids Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard). While there the awkward teens encounter new friends, new secrets about their family’s past, and Trevor even gets to drive the Ecto-1 in a fun scene later in the film. Phoebe is the star of the film in every regard though. She’s the only one that feels related to Egon, she’s smart, horrible with jokes- which in itself turns into a joke, and she’s the scene stealer that every other actor should be on the lookout for. Seriously, that kid has a good future in acting if she sticks with it and continues to prove herself with more challenging roles. Finn Wolfhard on the other hand, he got the short end of the stick with the role of Trevor. This character essentially serves no narrative purpose, and he doesn’t actually do much of anything in the film either. That scene when he drives Ecto-1 around the small rural town with Phoebe firing off the Proton Pack- that’s the best scene in the film, and pretty much the only time Trevor gets to really be a part of the movie in any meaningful way. He’s here because his character, Mike, in “Stranger Things” wore a Ghostbusters costume on a Halloween episode. Which brings me to the second half of the film. Now, this is all leagues better than the 2016 “Ghostbusters” film in my opinion, but “Afterlife” feels hamstringed by the need to return to form after 2016- but in doing so it misses out on being it’s own film, it never truly innovates. It does try to do it’s own thing on occasion, but the third act goes overboard on the Nostalgia factor. Surprise, Gozer is back! Who ends up being caught by a bunch of ghost traps instead of anything different, because Hey, that’s a thing I know! There are also just plain inconsistencies with the older characters too. There’s a couple of moments that tried to paint Egon as someone “who just lost it“- with the eventual inclusion of Ray, Venkman, and Winston at the tail end of the film, Ray reveals that he’d had an argument with Egon and didn’t believe his warnings about the return of Gozer etc. That makes… zero sense. Why would Ray not believe Egon? Nothing in the other films suggests this as a logical evolution of either character. I must also take the moment to mention how awkward and creepy the ghostly re-animated Harold Ramis felt. It was too much. They could have had it all if they just kept his ghostly arm in that first shot where he helps Phoebe aim her proton pack- if they had just restrained themselves a bit, it would have been a more powerful scene. In the end, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” fails to live up to the first two films, but does a decent enough job of returning the franchise back closer to home. Though there’s Paul Rudd, and that always makes the member-berries easier to forget. Moderately recommended.
House of Gucci
Written by Roberto Bentivegna and Becky Johnston, adapted from the book of the same name by Sara Gay Forden, and directed by Ridley Scott, “House of Gucci” follows the Gucci family through several decades of their decadent lives. Though I distinctively prefer “The Last Duel” as Ridley Scott’s best film of last year, this one certainly has it’s merits. As far as true life crime stories go, this one has the stars, the production value, and the score to best serve this Italian tale. Broadly, the film follows Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) as she enters the world of high dollar international fashion design through the infamous Gucci brand name. Gucci was one of the last major family owned businesses in Fashion, and Patrizia wanted in. The story also equally covers Maurizio Gucci’s (Adam Driver) rise to power within the family business which he begrudgingly accepts due to Patrizia’s insistence. The two patriarchs of the Gucci family are Aldo Gucci (Al Pacino) and Rodolfo Gucci (Jeremy Irons), Maurizio’s father. Aldo’s son Paolo Gucci (Jared Leto) also plays a part in the fashion game, though his inclusion comes in the second half of the film. The best part of this film are the performances with one glaring inconsistency. The four major players in the story portrayed by Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jeremy Irons, and Al Pacino are all fantastic and worthy of awards nominations- but not Jared Leto as Paolo Gucci. His entire performance is basically a joke (the truly magnificent prosthetic make-up made to transform Jared Leto into Paolo notwithstanding). His Italian stereotyping with his vocal choices is entirely bizarre and frankly I’m amazed Jeremy Irons didn’t slap Jared Leto in the face when acting those scenes with him on the principle of diluting the art of acting with nonsense like that. Though- admittedly, I laughed at Paolo and his ineptitude throughout the film. Frankly, I didn’t write about this one back when I saw it in theaters because I found the film to be… fine. Not entirely bad, but nothing spectacular either. It felt a little rote and a bit predictable. Though there is art on the screen, and the performances are worth seeing. Moderately recommended.
This latest edition of the Rapid Fire Reviews is all about catching up with films I’ve had on my “To Watch” list for far too long. At least, most of them. “Tokyo-Ga” and “Odds Against Tomorrow” just happened to be films whose descriptions caught my interest and were captivating enough to be included. The other films come from some of my favorite filmmakers, though truly the handful of names included this time around are some of the most well known and beloved filmmakers in world cinema history. Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and Agnes Varda fill out the majority of this article, and the selected films are some of these celebrated Directors’ finest works. It was a truly mesmerizing way to spend a month this winter!
Written and directed by Wim Wenders, “Tokyo-Ga” is Wenders’ cinematic love letter to all things Ozu. To be clear, Wenders made this diary-styled documentary during his time in Tokyo in the spring of 1983, where he spent his days wandering and wondering if there was anything left of the world that famed Japanese film director Yasujiro Ozu had depicted across his 54 films. The majority of his films were made in Tokyo and often depicted the inherent drama of everyday life. One of the distinctive features of Ozu’s master period of his filmmaking were his “Pillow Shots”. These were short, static, shots of Tokyo as traffic, trains, or boats leisurely rolled through the shot. Occasionally these were active, narrow, alleys with many shops and bars, or repeated locations during the night’s slow and peaceful periods too. In this film, Wenders fills many somber shots of similar style, though the rebuilt and more frantic city life of 1985 Tokyo never quite recaptures Ozu’s notes of melancholy urban life and the upheaval of the traditional Japanese family life that were the subject of most of his films. It was a good effort though! Wenders isn’t here simply to recreate Ozu’s pillow shots though, he also interviews Chishu Ryu, Ozu’s leading man for many of his greatest hits, and Ozu’s cinematographer Yuharu Atsuta. They’re touching and emotional recollections of Ozu’s directorial style and the respect these men still held for him twenty years after his death. As a fun aside, Werner Herzog also appears in the film and has a short scene with Wenders, a good friend, at the top of Tokyo Tower in which he laments the lack of pure images in the urban landscape. It’s a delightful little film that’s full of heartfelt nostalgia, melancholy atmosphere, and curiosity explored. Highly recommended.
High and Low (1963)
Written by Hideo Oguni, Ryûzô Kikushima, Eijirô Hisaita, and Akira Kurosawa, and directed by Kurosawa “High and Low” is an adaption of the novel “King’s Ransom” by Evan Hunter, who often wrote under the pen name of Ed McBain for his crime novels. I found this film to be cinematic perfection if I’m being honest. It’s a masterclass in direction, cinematography, and the visual geography of scenes. The film begins with several high level executives of ‘National Shoes’ who meet with Kingo Gondo (Toshirô Mifune) to persuade him to join their corporate coup d’etat to force the company to make cheaper shoes quicker in a bid to increase short term profits over the more expensive process that high quality shoes would entail. To their surprise Gondo has his own aspirations and has already horded stock in the company to better posture for his own argument that the craftsmanship and quality of their products is far more crucial than immediate profit margins. The executives leave in a huff and Gondo makes moves by calling around to buy just enough stock to take control of the company. Akira Kurosawa takes great effort to set up Gondo as a man of principle and respect in the opening scenes, and it’s something that rides throughout the rest of the film as the audience can sympathize with the situation he’s soon to find himself in. Amidst all this white collar drama unfolding before us, it’s almost jarring when the hook of the story bursts onto the scene as a kidnapper calls to inform Mr. Gondo that his son has been captured and demands a high ransom that would cripple his newfound position in the company. It isn’t long before Gondo’s son appears around the corner asking where his friend had gone off to, which prompts Gondo’s Chauffeur, Aoki (Yutaka Sada), to realize that it was his son that was mistakenly abducted. The kidnapper calls back after awhile as he realizes his mistake and demands Gondo pay the price anyways. From there the film turns into a police procedural with Gondo disappearing almost entirely from the proceedings until much later in the film. It’s thoroughly engaging, full of well executed suspense, with unexpected evolutions throughout the remainder of the runtime. This one was one of the best films I have seen in a long time and I highly recommend giving it a watch, it’s great!
For more analysis on this film, check out the following article on the Criterion Collection’s online magazine, The Current, at the link below:
Written by Rémo Forlani and Jean-Luc Godard, based upon the novel by Lionel White, and directed by Godard, “Pierrot le Fou” is the first film from Godard that I’ve found myself quite enjoying. I’ve been slow to watch more of his work because each one that I have gone out of my way for has left me in a state of confusion and an utter lack of interest. That changes with “Pierrot Le Fou”. I see this one as the far more interesting version of “Breathless”. Maybe it’s because Godard engages, in an articulate sense, with American genre in a number of scenes that string together a narrative more functionally. At least, that’s how it feels to me. It’s also a far more relaxed and playful film even though the main characters galivant across France committing crimes with the film ultimately ending in a murder-suicide. It sounds strange writing it out that way, but Godard’s films always seem to have that side-effect of being hard to describe in the normal realm of film reviews. The opening scenes in Paris depict Ferdinand Griffon dit Pierrot (Jean-Paul Belmondo) living unhappily with his wife in high society. They head out to a party that Ferdinand doesn’t even want to go to wherein Godard criticizes and mocks what I can only describe as “Advertisement Speech” where patrons of the party talk to each other as if they’re in a commercial. It seems more like mockery than an off creative choice, and I quite enjoyed the sass of that scene. If this is your first film with Godard, his style of oddities may seem abrasive at first, but trust me, this is a good one. Definitely recommended.
Jules and Jim (1962)
Written by Jean Gruault and François Truffaut, adapted from the novel by Henri-Pierre Roché, and directed by Truffaut, “Jules and Jim” is considered, like “Pierrot le Fou” above, to be one of the highlights of the French New Wave. Between Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, so far I’ve vastly preferred Truffaut’s films. Truffaut seems to be more apt to explore a character’s emotional drama and he’s less inclined to edit and write as abstractly as Godard. With “Jules and Jim” Truffaut takes his exploration of interpersonal relationships to the next level. The story begins in Paris a few years before World War One when the titular Jules and Jim meet and quickly become friends. The two bond over literature, art, physical skill in boxing and fencing, and of course, discussions of women. Jules (Oskar Werner) is a shorter, blond, and quiet writer from Austria, while Jim (Henri Serre) is the more extroverted Parisian. He’s taller, lankier, and less troubled than Jules overall. Though while these two share the title of the film, the star of the show and character that moves the plot the most is Catherine (Jeanne Moreau). In an inspired choice, the arrival of this ever evolving presence in the lives of Jules and Jim is foreshadowed by the two seeing a mesmerizing ancient bust of a Goddess during a slideshow. Both are so taken by the smiling figure that they track down the actual bust to see it for themselves. It isn’t long before Catherine enters the picture, and her presence is even more alluring to them than the goddess of stone before her. Her strong sense of self is as grandiose as it is mercurial. Later in the film, under a vastly different context, Jim tells Catherine that he understands her, to which she quickly bemoans, “I don’t want to be understood”. This perfectly captures how she interacts with those closest to her, and broadly the world around her. The films spans quite a longer period of time than I had expected going into it, as the story traces the characters lives before, during, and after World War One. The circumstances of the time meant that each friend was on the opposing side of the war, both often fretting over whether or not they could be shooting at a good friend. There’s a lot of change that takes place between the three of them over the course of the film with Catherine marrying Jules, becoming unhappy with his boring stability, taking on Jim as a boyfriend while Jules just wants to hold onto his love for her and their small daughter in any way he can. It’s a surprisingly complex love triangle, I certainly didn’t expect an examination of polyamorous relationships in a foreign film from the early 1960s! While not my favorite Truffaut film so far (Currently it’s “Shoot The Piano Player” https://spacecortezwrites.com/2020/02/11/old-school-review-shoot-the-piano-player-1960/), but it’s a fairly good film and one I do recommend seeking out!
For more analysis on this film, check out the following article on the Criterion Collection’s online magazine, The Current, at the link below:
Written and directed by Agnès Varda, “Vagabond” is a story that’s mostly fictional, but partly a documentary too. As the story revolves around people living a nomadic life in rural and urban environments, some of the cast actually are nomadic people in real life. Agnès Varda’s voiceover in the beginning of the film serves as the structure of the story for the remainder of the runtime. Which is important as her unseen reporting elicits responses from a variety of people who met and knew Mona Bergeron (Sandrine Bonnaire) in the several weeks preceding her death. Yes, the film opens with the discovery of Mona’s lifeless body, having frozen to death in a ditch overnight near a vineyard. In this way, the film sets up it’s structure incredibly close to how the story in “Citizen Kane” flows through the runtime. Though admittedly, I had not considered this similarity until the article I was reading on The Criterion Collection’s online Magazine, The Current, had mentioned it. I also didn’t think I’d be linking most of the films here to a more in-depth analysis through The Current, but here we are. Throughout “Vagabond” Mona moves from place to place seeking food and shelter, though what becomes clear over time is that she has outright chosen this lifestyle for herself, part of a greater ideology it seems, but we’re never given a large amount of details about it. Though that’s not really the point of the film. Mona interacts with virtually every slice of French society throughout this time. She camps out in fields with her small tent, lives in a mostly abandoned French Chateau with another urban nomad, she even finds herself living with the seasonal Arab migrants who work on an expansive vineyard- though not for long. My favorite stop on her journey was when she was allowed to stay with a maid who serves a rich older widow who lives quite nicely. Mona ignores the maid’s warning about the wealthy Grandma and instead hangs out with her as they both get drunk together. It’s legitimately heartwarming. This is the second film I’ve seen from Agnes Varda, and I have to say, I absolutely love how she control’s the camera’s eye. It showcases curiosity behind the camera, and a willingness to film the inherent drama of normal people’s lives. I also quite enjoyed the side cast of characters surrounding Mona. Initially it seemed as though we would only get snippets of these strangers lives and never see or hear from them again, but not so! Many of the people Mona meets are reconnected by relation or connections to other new characters in a variety of entertaining ways. While the beginning and end of the film are tinged in a melancholy sadness for the entirely avoidable death of Mona, the film does evoke a lust for life through the people Mona meets on her trail. It doesn’t always go well for Mona, but it’s certainly a story worth telling and worth watching. Definitely recommended.
For more analysis on this film, check out the following article on the Criterion Collection’s onlinemagazine, The Current, at the link below:
Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, “Persona” is one of those films that feels indescribable at first. At first glance, the film is about an actress who has become mute, and the nurse assigned to help her through this silence and tend to her needs. The actress is Elizabeth (Liv Ullmann), a well known performer who mysteriously became mute in the middle of the stage production of “Electra”. The psychiatric Nurse is Alma (Bibi Andersson), a talkative and warm presence who is the polar opposite of Elizabeth as we shall come to see. I’ve done some digging into this film, and there are a variety of ways to absorb the story. There’s the completely viable method of understanding the film as it is literally shown to us, but there’s plenty of depth there if you’re willing to look for it. After the initial round of therapy at the Hospital in town fails to produce productive results Alma’s superior suggests the two of them head to the good doctor’s summer retreat on a sunny island for a month or two to better facilitate an environment for Elizabeth to recover in. Once on the island the two continue to move forward hoping for Elizabeth’s mental health to improve. Over time Alma begins to become comfortable around Elizabeth- eventually enough to reveal a personal story of sexual infidelity while engaged to the man that would become her husband. We find that while Elizabeth is married unhappily, she also bore a son whom she did not want, whereas Alma successfully aborted her unwanted child from her beach encounter. There’s a whole lot to dig into with this film, from the beginning of the film which opens like an old silent film, there’s even a meta shot at one point of Bergman and the crew sitting at cameras looking back. It’s all quite dreamlike to be honest. There’s speculation that both Alma and Elizabeth may be two parts of one person, especially with the camerawork done to superimpose half of each Actress’ face to form an unsettling new face in one shot. It’s abstract and ethereal, it plumbs psychology and plays with the fabric of its own reality. It’s definitely one you should watch if you’re making your own “Film School” of sorts by thoroughly flipping through cinema’s history to learn more about the craft itself. It’s a weird one, but most definitely worth your time! Give it a shot!
For more analysis on this film, check out the following archived review from Roger Ebert, at the link below:
Written by Nelson Gidding and Abraham Polonsky, based on the novel by William P. McGivern, and directed by Robert Wise, “Odds Against Tomorrow” is first and foremost, a film of it’s era that still holds lessons for audiences today. This Noir heist film is one that also has a societal message underpinning it’s genre sensibilities. The title and theme of the film is that if we can’t take the time today for a little more patience and understanding of our fellow man, our neighbors, then the Odds Against Tomorrow will be a price too high to achieve. The three main characters of the film begin with Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte) a nightclub singer who also has a bit of a gambling problem at the horse racetracks, Earle Slater (Robert Ryan) a racist fanatic whose performance should make any audience’s flesh crawl with disgust, and Dave Burke (Ed Begley) a former Cop that was fired in disgrace for corruption charges. Burke organizes the whole operation, he brings in Ingram and Slater separately to show them each the details of the heist before putting the two lit fuses in the same room together. It’s a simple heist that relies heavily on the trust of each participant, and when this uneasy alliance begins to crack, things get dicey for everyone involved. This one was thoroughly entertaining! The actual heist is taut and engaging with each character’s performance leading into the main event layering each moment with potential instability. It’s definitely worth a watch, especially if you enjoy crime genre sensibilities.
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