Her Smell

I put off watching this for a long time because I heard it was really horrible—in a deliberate way, as in it’s intentionally supposed to be a trial to watch this very unpleasant person. And she IS a very unpleasant person, she’s the Worst, but this movie is not at all! It was horrible to watch and yet I totally enjoyed watching it? I’m still trying to figure out how that works.

Elisabeth Moss, rabid, spiraling, plays musician Becky Something, the chaotic and vicious lead of the fictional ’90s punk band Something She. The movie begins with the group starting to nose-dive toward the rocks, and I’ll just tell ya, it smashes right onto them, and it’s carnage. But the movie is told in five distinct acts over several years, and, wisely I think, it spends the last two looking at the debris and trying to figure out if there’s a way to put yourself back together again.

I love this five act structure, it’s really neat. Each act proceeds in basically real-time, pivotal 25 minute chunks of these people’s lives. The acts are separated in the timeline by anywhere from a few months to a few years, and in the movie by tiny, grainy, brief little home videos of the band sloppily incandescent at the very beginning of their rise to fame. But. But. I did say 25 minutes, and five of them. This movie is two hours and ten minutes long, and you very much do feel it, to the point that in the latter half it started to take me out of it. You don’t want that! Her Smell needs to cut 25 minutes—not one of the acts, I want all of those, but about five minutes from each of them, maybe a little more here a little less there, but get it down to one hour 45. Totally doable. The argument for why it should keep this length is probably so that you really feel these scenes, really suffer, but oho do not worry, you still will! The content is…that potent.

But that it’s overlong to its detriment is pretty much my sole ding here. Otherwise, I loved this. All the acting is killer, not only Elisabeth Moss, who is just….terrifying. I wasn’t familiar with Agyness Deyn but she was fantastically compelling as the band’s willowy British lesbian Marielle Hell (yess), and the third member is Gayle Rankin, Sheila the Wolf Girl from GLOW, whom I was so excited to see! She’s such a grounded performer, just love her. Her character Ali van der Wolff (aah! jokes) had a sweet relationship with Dan Stevens, Becky’s gloomy frustrated DJ ex (husband?) also named Danny, which just confused me right now when I was writing this. In all the horribleness it was nice to get few little moments of mutual support between two people who have bonded in adversity—the adversity being the deadly electrical storm that is Becky.

The movie might lean a little too hard on its use of Becky gently singing a song alone & acoustic to remind us that she is indeed a talented and magnetic artist, but Elisabeth Moss crushes these. Still I know I’d cut one of them from Act 4 first thing. NOT the song she sings for her daughter though, because that part is stunning, and also her little joke at the beginning of it made me laugh so hard and so long that I had to pause the movie. I’m pretty sure it was one of those moments where you’ve finally cracked from all the tension and it just all comes out in a rush of laughter. Cathartic.

Anyway yeah these scenes are agonizing but I think this is a really good movie.

★★★★

Talk To Her

Talk To Her opens with two men watching a Pina Bausch performance and crying in the audience, and then the next thing you know the movie is introducing a lady matador who is terrified of snakes, and there is just so much going on here for me to be very interested in! There are slow orchestral scored bull fights filmed like dance sequences, silent film interludes which we will extremely be coming back to, a woman describing at length her vision for a ballet about the First World War where as each soldier dies a ballerina blooms out of him as his ghost…. I’m so in it, I’m loving it, enough that I’m willing to see where it’s going to go with the grim growing theme of men having no regard for women’s bodily autonomy—what d’ya got going on here, Pedro?

For Talk To Her (Hable con ella) would be a four-hander, but very soon half the quartet is mute and lifeless. The lady matador is gored and falls into a coma, joining the same Bummer Green hospital floor as a young ballerina who was hit by a car several years ago. The passionate Lydia we get to spend some time with at the beginning of the movie, following her blossoming relationship with sensitive Argentinian journalist Marco. But Alicia, the dancer, we only briefly meet in a shallow flashback much later, rendering her the perfect blank, silent, female-shaped vessel into which the sweet but addled nurse Benigno can pour all his care and loneliness. The two men are left to develop their only reciprocated relationship with each other, which they do readily.

The women are medically braindead, they are gone, they can no longer respond to them in any way, and yet the men cannot stop obsessing over them, tending to them, and in Benigno’s case, always talking to them. The men have basically nothing else in their lives that isn’t about their comatose sleeping beauties. They spend all their time at the hospital. They dress the women up in robes and bring them out on a terrace, position them like they’re whispering to each other about them. It’s fascinating.

Pedro Almodóvar is an extraordinarily talented filmmaker, which I believe because I really like and enjoy his movies despite them all having such uncomfortable and problematic topics! This one was a doozy. And there’s another component, and also where the spoiler as well as content warning comes in: I’ve seen three Almodóvar films now, and every one of them has involved sexual assault. Most of them also dive into some real thorny messiness with regard to gender and sexuality, often all three elements getting tangled up together, as they do in this one. His movies all very much ask to be UNPACKED, but they’re done with enough artistry and openness that I feel willing to, because I feel there is value here. Almodóvar is the sort of director I want making challenging movies about these topics, because he doesn’t shy away from wounds and difficulty, and yet he also isn’t being self-importantly ~dark~. There’s always something so colorful and approachable in his movies—melodramatic sure, but of the style of melodrama, where people cry a lot but the film doesn’t bog you down in it. Almodóvar films are never bogged down, their feet always light and unfettered, free to take a sudden, weird leap to land somewhere many projects could never reach.

And the weirdest leap here is not the terrible, obvious thing you hope isn’t coming, what is, tragically, expected, but something I didn’t expect at ALL. Which is that one time when Benigno is telling Alicia about a silent film he went to, we get to see the fake silent film. Everything….is perfect. The makeup, the costumes, the sets, the frame rate, the acting. I was just exclaiming aloud the entire time!! It feels EXACTLY like a silent film you could watch, up until the point that it DOESN’T. Or you know, I should not say that—I have not actually watched any Spanish silent films. Perhaps the Spanish silent films are all dazzlingly psychosexual.

Anyway, in conclusion:

“One day, you and I should talk.”
“Yes, and it will be simpler than you think.”
“Nothing is simple. I am a ballet mistress, and nothing is simple.”

★★★½

The Goldfinch

I’ve read more than my usual amount of movie reviews for this one, because that is the shape my interest in The Goldfinch takes, and it’s been remarkable to me how many reviewers have referred to other reviews in their own. As if a whole Goldfinch review ecosystem has grown up around this movie. And I’m definitely going to fall into this too, so I’ll just start by saying that oh they’re all right, this movie is not good! But it also so nearly replicated my experience reading the book that I’m…impressed? In a grim way? But also a really joyous way? It is confusing! It is The Goldfinch!

I read this book this summer in a protracted state of bewilderment that it wasn’t a satirical fantasy, that it was dead serious, that it was Still. Going. On. And that in all these pages it wasn’t going to just let go and become an absurd picaresque—Candide with antisocial personality disorder. Or as a friend put it, Harry Potter with an Oxy problem. Or just closeted, we all know this would make more sense if Theo was just repressed into inanity. But to my amazement, the novel continued to insist that it wasn’t quite any of these things, sorry, but something else, something maddeningly inconsistent and fucking captivating because of it. Dickens by way of Highsmith, but with Charles Ryder as Tom Ripley, along with Brideshead Revisited’s infamous ability to spend the whole back half lowering you into your grave because it just has to let you down one last time. As another friend once said when we were commenting on how we’d been talking continuously about The Goldfinch for over a month at that point, this book just so SPECTACULARLY fails to live up to its potential. Flawed things can have a remarkable power. And as a result, my fiend heart loved it all the way through, loved it at its most brilliant and its most unaware, loved it at its most sloggish and most deranged. This book got its claws in me, and sometimes I really can’t tell the difference between ironic and sincere enjoyment. Sometimes it all hits the same way.

I do not think The Goldfinch is a great novel, but I am greatly obsessed with it, and that is sure something. And I was so, so excited about this movie, which the gloriously, hilariously melodramatic trailers clearly indicated was going to just re-litigate all this for me on the big screen. I would look at what I knew about the production, and like an echo of how I feel about Donna Tartt, could not understand why John Crowley was making any of the decisions he was making! And then I finally saw the movie, opening night babey, and it was EVEN MORE THIS WAY.

Should we just start at the casting? We’re starting at the casting, and I’m going to block-quote something from Nate Jones’s Goldfinch piece because he really has a way of capturing exactly It:

“Ever since he broke out with The Fault in Our Stars, Ansel Elgort has been the subject of one frequent criticism: that he seems, in the immortal words of my former colleague Margaret Lyons, ‘like a chode.’ There are some young male stars you actually lose sympathy for the more you see of them, and no question, Elgort is one. (Shia LaBeouf circa 2010 was another.) However, I venture that this actually makes The Goldfinch work better! As an orphan with a tragic past who’s grown into a shady antiques dealer, Elgort’s Theo is supposed to be slightly smug and insufferable. Wanting to punch him in the face is the whole point.”

Nate, Nate yes.

And see this is where I get all mixed up, because if a movie perfectly renders a book in every way including its flaws, is that, in a way, good??? Like, god, I enjoyed mopey yet dead inside Ansel Elgort in this SO MUCH, but I was always, always laughing at him. “I wear designer suits,” he dully begins one stretch of voiceover, and I nearly choked and died right there in my seat.

Let me say that the small boy is genuinely good, the littlest pair of Warby Parker frames they cast does a really admirable job. I felt for this small boy! And yet it is still believable that he grows up to be an asshole, just as it is in the book. God, this exquisitely bitchy moment they gave him when he’s being questioned by the art cops and social workers and whomever after the explosion, when he says that his mom had wanted to go back to look at The Anatomy Lesson, and then deigns to supply to these plebeians: “It’s a Rembrandt.”

What we need in movie adaptations, I believe, is more of things like that, new material written for these characters that brings them to life in a different medium with its own toolbox. What we neeever needed was a whole moment devoted to Theo giving his mom’s earrings to Kitsey and her wavering about whether or not she’s going to wear them to the wedding. There were so, so many scenes like that just pulled right off the page, but to what end? To what point, what meaning? And because there is so much of this lugubrious plot they’re trying to get through, it feels like the movie is just dutifully marching from book moment to book moment, and I think you feel the moments they do skip even more this way. This dismal yet clipped energy also ends up stripping the story of so much of its feeling, as few scenes and characters are given time and breathing space to elevate anything above a rote recital.

For instance, Alex McLevy’s is probably my favorite Goldfinch review I’ve read, simply as the only one honest enough to declare that there was just not enough Boris, the cheerful lunatic Russian saint who Pylades Theo through his godforsaken white collar train wreck of a life, and the fucking best part of this book. Alex also proposes that Boris is, metaphorically, The Goldfinch of The Goldfinch, and I had also proposed that in one of my more unhinged moments, so this was a really great moment for over-involved dumbasses everywhere.

However, due to the way this movie is structured (way more on that in a minute), they hold Boris back from us for over an hour into the runtime, which is nearly unconscionable for a character who has an entire section of the book named after him. Then at last Finn Wolfhard tromps in like a gangling ghost, with a boyish attempt at a Slavic accent that honestly I just found cute. He was trying. He was 14. Aneurin Barnard is also just faking his way through it, it is what it is, I don’t mind.

But something odd was up with the Borises, something that mattered to me far more. The cast has been going around repeating how the older and younger actors didn’t work together to develop a consistent character, instead embracing that people are different at different points in their life. So it’s gotta be Crowley’s direction then, that, belying this character’s immense importance in Theo’s life, emotionally as well as narratively, the Borises both come across as rather….broad? There’s something kinda broadly comic and very….side-charactery about both of their performances. As Alex also alluded to, Boris here felt kinda like this quirky figure who just pops up periodically, which I’d say is a mishandling of one of the most meaningful characters in this story.

But, these two actors do something else really similar as well, moving in entirely a different direction, back toward something deeper. It’s their eyes. Their eyes are strikingly similar, both large and very black, sloe-eyed, and they both watch their Theos. As Boris quips in the book once, “Shall we stand here tenderly and gaze?” Oh these ones shall! There’s a scene of little Theo and Boris absolutely toasted on crushed Vicodin and vodka, lying on their backs by the pool, where Roger Deakins has framed Finn Wolfhard in focus just past Oakes Fegley’s face, and he just watches him the whole time he talks, his gaze near and open. And Aneurin Barnard does the same thing, from a new angle now as their height difference has fully swapped, but again, any scene he has his eyes trained up on Ansel Elgort, pausing in his lines sometimes, but always keeping his eyes on him, watchful and intent. These were glimmers of a movie that cared less about hitting a really astonishing number of the book’s march of plot beats, and more about building an emotional truth to it all.

One more small thing in praise of the Borises, who deserved better: there were just two moments where I genuinely laughed watching this, not an ironic or meta laugh, of which I had many, but pure surprised delight at a joke. One for each Boris: young Boris high off his ass on acid, getting caught stealing a glass of wine and responding, dazed: “I thought you couldn’t see me,” and grown Boris, when Gyuri greets Theo outside Schiphol with a cheery “Hello Potter!” and Theo goes “You know that’s not really my name?”, and Boris just staring Gyuri down like he’s the Fae about to steal Theo’s real name and swiftly barking: “So?”

Alright, moving on to: the time jumping. Gotta disagree with a lot of reviews saying this movie cut back and forth between the past and present too much, as I’d say it was a different problem: if you’re gonna cut around in time, you gotta cut around a lot MORE than this did. Go full Fosse/Verdon or don’t go for it at all. As is, the movie actually only moves ONE chunk of the timeline out of book order, which I would not call reshuffling the chronology, but I would call weird as hell! All that really moved was that we got a long interlude of grown Theo in New York dealing in fraudulent antiquities & with Lucius Reeve and reconnecting with the Barbours, just wedged in right after little Theo was brought to Vegas, but before he meets Boris. Then after we see grown Theo meet grown Kitsey, we hop back to where we were and just proceed chronologically again there on out.

The whole film is peppered with the occasional brief PTSD-esque flashbacks to the bombing and immediate aftermath, in the classic style deployed by so many movies and shows, but as those flashes are there to depict the trauma points in the main character’s mind, not to move the plot forward, their being scattered throughout doesn’t function in the same way as moving that whole section. The only move that I would brook this ‘too much shuffling’ argument for is that due to cuts we never see Theo’s mom’s face or hear her speak until the very very end, in a little flashback to the two of them in the gallery looking at The Goldfinch, which I found a bizarre choice as it withholds from the whole preceding film the character Theo spends all of it missing, and the reason why this painting was so important to him. So the timeline is definitely not all cut up, but those 1.5 changes were SO nonsensical and destabilizing that I understand people watching this thinking, “this is chaos.”

As I did, I was watching this thinking it was chaos. And having a great time, I just gotta underline that again. I enjoy this story in every permutation precisely because it is somehow chaotic and yet low energy, and sometimes Boris is there. This is, apparently, how you trap me. And on the grandest meta-textual level, turning a book that pretentious into failed Oscar bait is so hearty I will savor it forever.

★★

Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood

I spent so much of Once Upon a Time In etc etc, and there was a LOT of time in which to think this, thinking that the only reason any of us are evening seeing this movie, much less seeing it blazoned proudly across every theater in the country like a once-in-a-lifetime Event Picture, is because it involves three very famous men. Not a fundamental problem, but it’s definitely fundamental to what this is. If the director was not “Quentin Tarantino”, if the leads were not “Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt”, would this have ever been made and received like this? Does this movie exist like it does made by people of their similar talent levels but not the reputations that they carried into this? I just do not envision a world in which anyone below their existing calibre of star power would get away with two hours and forty minutes of what is undeniably indulgence, but praised for being exactly that by an audience already primed to fondness for the ones doing the indulging.

This is the portion of this review where I’m trying to take an empathetic, magnanimous outlook on something that is well-liked by a large number of people. I am trying to understand. I do get, conceptually, someone being into all the things Quentin Tarantino is into, and so finding this to be a gift. The length would even work to favor this, as it’s even more time you would get to spend in this world. I watched OUATIH on a huge screen on 70mm film, and the pure visual look of it, the colors, the depth of focus, the costumes, the set decorating—it’s all very well, very lovingly done. I don’t think the editing or writing was well done, but that’s because I was turned off by nearly everything this movie actually depicted in way of content, and so was watching it with much more critical ill will than someone caught up in a certain movie magic they were feeling.

And listen I have nothing against movie magic for movie magic’s sake, not at all, because the very literal meta element of that was easily my favorite part of this whole thing. I loved Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, and I loved her going to see her own movie. It’s funny, because the fact that this film was going to involve an “angelic presence” of murdered Hollywood star Sharon Tate was the main thing that worried me when I first started hearing about Tarantino’s latest, and then I liked that part the best. Sometimes things work out that way! Margot Robbie is sunshine in this, and her performance is so sweet and engaging. Watching her watch herself in a dark theatre, wide starry eyes at seeing herself up there, giggling in joy and surprise and pride at the audience around her appreciating her comic performance—it genuinely brought happy little tears to my eyes!

But I hated everything besides her, so now we turn to the portion where I resentfully point out everything that bothered me about this movie. I’m gonna spoil the WHOLE thing, so turn back now if either of what I just warned you about is something that you don’t want to read.

Ten Things I Want To Complain About!!

1. Why would you do the Ron Howard in Arrested Development-style zippy narrator break once, in the beginning but oddly late in the beginning, late enough that I was taken aback that this was that kind of movie, and then zero of this for what had to be an hour and a half, before suddenly the narrator reappears, talks at length, and then vanishes again for the rest of it. This was so distractingly inconsistent!

2. Emile Hirsch makes me so bummed out, because I really like him on screen, but he has a history of physically attacking women, and that’s no good at all, and now when I look at him I can’t forget that. Surely this was not intentional casting, as he’s worked with Tarantino on other projects as well, but incidentally, RATHER ODD that he’s allowed to do a perfectly likable and even cute performance of Roman Polanski**, the director who is infamously no longer allowed to enter America because he raped a 13 year old girl. There was just…a lot of dissonance here! I can see one interpretation that perhaps without his pregnant wife getting murdered, this never would have happened, but a) bullshit, you don’t get to blame your trauma for you assaulting a child, b) when Damien Lewis appears to just explain characters to us for about a minute, he alludes to Sharon’s ex waiting in the wings for Polanski to do something bad, and like, how else are we to take that?!

3. Hey so incidentally, Sharon Tate doesn’t get murdered in this! I imagine this has to be what the big spoiler kerfuffle was about at Cannes, and I cannot FATHOM why. The minute I found out that the man who made Inglourious Basterds, Mr. Revisionist History himself, was doing a movie about the Manson murders, I knew he was going to have Brad and Leo save her. Of course he was. This isn’t actually an element I disliked, but I do dislike anyone, and very much Quentin himself, pretending that wasn’t obvious from the moment this movie was announced. We all knew, come on.

4. Brad Pitt’s character murdered his wife and we’re still supposed to like him, our stunt man hero who gets to murder even more women at the end! “No it’s an indictment of masculine violence”—why. Please tell me what in this movie made you think the movie thinks this, because this movie seemed totally in love with Cliff to me. He’s always framed as a hero! He’s doing a charming Brad Pitt performance!

5. I like messy bitch Leonardo DiCaprio (Gatsby springs to mind) but wow I am taxed these days watching grown men throw tantrums. One of my scribbled notes is just “bad men behaving badly.” Honestly this applies to Rick and Cliff both.

6. I thought for sure the scene of Rick nailing a scene (god everyone just loves his idea to throw an 8-year-old girl onto the floor too, what a….great…moment) would be revealed to be a daydream fantasy a la Cliff’s fantasy of beating up a shockingly mean and racist caricature of Bruce Lee (woW), but nope, apparently part of Rick’s storyline is that we’re supposed to love watching him eventually get his ego stroked.

7. The editing was weird. So many times I kept noticing people not in the same position from cut to cut of the same scene. There are sequences that are just a meaningless series of detail shots of their props like “hey look at our good 1969 props” and I’m like “….yeah? yeah I, I see them there.” This is technical nitpicking, but the occasional clunkiness was really surprising to me for a director who is considered such a film craftsman.

8. The women’s feet. The….feet. So much, the feet.

9. Margaret Qualley in a tiny crochet top plays a character named Pussy Cat, who spends half her screen time biting her lip at Brad Pitt and the other half lying in his lap and offering him blow jobs, and it’s so great that she’s so, so, so sexualized while they make sure that we know that she’s not even 18, ooooo~

10. And then at the end, three of the Manson kids show up to murder Sharon Tate, only Rick yells at them for idling with their loud muffler so they decide to murder him instead, and that’s how Cliff, tripping on acid, brutally murders them back. The scene is so, so long. It is so, so grisly. I had my fingers jammed in my ears because listening to that woman scream for minutes on end with her face broken open was setting all my nerves on edge. A pit bull literally tears people apart muscle and bone, Brad Pitt smashes multiple women’s heads in, and Leonardo DiCaprio burns one of them up with a flame thrower. I realize the Manson kids were going to murder Sharon and as expressed I loved her, but jesus christ. That was the embodiment of gratuitous and I really hated watching it so bad!

Anyway, I’m sure a lot of people will argue that this movie “means” something, that I just didn’t “get” it. I don’t care. I did not enjoy this film.

**UPDATE

Well all, I need to issue a CORRECTION: this past weekend on my travels, Jen pointed out that I had MIXED UP SOME MEN in this film, and it is with great relief that I can now say Emile Hirsch is *NOT* playing ~cute Roman Polanski~, something I had really hated when I thought that was happening!! No Emile Hirsch is playing an entirely different guy, and yes this is just now a new kind of bewildering, albeit WAY less upsetting than the alternative.

There was some mild critical chatter back in the summer about whether Quentin Tarantino should have been obligated to do more set-up of the real world events he’s riffing on here, for audiences who are unfamiliar with the Manson murders. I think no, he is not beholden to do that, people are perfectly allowed to make movies about history without giving people a primer up front. HOWEVER. You do have to make it clear which of two very similar-looking people is which, especially if one of them is Roman Polanski. If your introduction of two men who are described in dialogue as bearing quite a resemblance to one another is a wide angle dance scene shot from across a pool, obviously I’m not gonna have a great idea which is the ex and which is the husband. And when I’m then only ever seeing the Emile Hirsch one of them for the rest of the movie and he’s always with Sharon in the house as if he lives there, I’M GONNA ASSUME THAT’S THE POLANSKI. You gotta have some more dialogue about this or something. Like, presuming your audience is on the same page with you on historical context is fine, it’s whatever, but assuming your audience is coming in with your movie’s IMDb page committed to memory, that is presumptive filmmaking!

Anyway on that note I just looked up Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’s IMDb page and discovered that Damien Lewis was supposed to be Steve McQueen in that scene where he described Sharon and her men, and just. God.

Gattaca

Contains spoilers up to and including the very end

Real talk, definitely thought this took place in space. Turns out it doesn’t! Also, definitely did not expect it to be so homoerotic. Turns out it is! Gattaca! What won’t you surprise me with.

The first thing to address though, is that this is a movie where I think there are two total non-white characters who have maybe 10-60 seconds of dialogue each? And it is a movie about eugenics. It’s just odd. The movie is aware of this, they have the black doctor really deliver a line about how Ethan Hawke’s parents’ second son will have “fair skin”, and later grown Vincent will comment that the new form of discrimination is all gene-based and not about things like skin color anymore. But still, all the named characters are white. Just, diversify your casting, my friends! It’s SO easy to fix!

They didn’t do that, but they did make a movie that I really enjoyed. The world-building is fun, extensive but not over-bearing on the narrative. It’s rather manufactured how frequently Vincent is at risk of being found out as an “In-valid”, someone born without gene optimization, but you can’t fault the effectiveness of the stakes! So many scenes of high stakes! Good tension, and varied—all the biological tests sure, but also those STAIRS. And as a former corrective lens-wearer who got my own (surgically) optimized eyes just this past spring, the scene of Vincent trying to cross a busy street at night after surreptitiously ditching his tell-tale contacts was very personally anxiety-inducing. I have had nightmares like that.

While Gattaca does not actually take place in space, going there is the primary motivating force of Vincent’s whole life, driving him to his most extreme actions to prove that he is capable of it, and as such, kinda would have expected space to be more present in the narrative, must say. Even just more imagery of the stars, that would have been enough. I had a much stronger visual and emotional sense of how the ocean figures in his mental landscape, the repeated image of swimming through the waves away from shore. Which was great, I liked the way that was done, and just would have appreciated that attention paid to representing inter-planetary travel as well, as that dream is to have an equally powerful influence on who Vincent is.

But while they didn’t give me that, Gattaca IS very gay, which was a whole new element outside of what I anticipated that I graciously accepted. The movie holds back Jude Law’s entrance for long enough that I was beginning to wonder how he was going to fit into the picture, and the answer was as Jerome, a definitely queer, I’d-call-him-alcoholic-if-he-hadn’t-been-augmented-to-avoid-such-things Brit, whose superior genetic material apparently did not make him happy, as he soberly stepped in front of a speeding car and wound up paralyzed in a wheelchair instead of his preferred ending. Do to their passingly similar appearance, he gets matched up with Vincent by a black market Yenta (Tony Shalhoub, incredibly) for a highly illegal sci-fi scam, in which Vincent can pretend to be Jerome for career advancement, palming (semi-literally) Jerome’s fingerprints and blood and hair and urine to pass off as his own during this society’s apparently near-constant genetic spot checks, and Jerome can live off a portion of “Jerome”’s subsequent high income. So here’s your classic, Persona-esque blended identity element built right in to the plot, which can so easily pass into a fission of queer erotic tension.

But I wasn’t expecting that to really come to the fore at all, until out at a celebratory dinner one night, Jerome downed an entire glass of wine in one go while looking at Vincent through the glass, asked what Saturn’s moon Titan “is like this time of year,” and Vincent laughed lowly and said “Exactly like this” and leaned down to slowly blow cigarette smoke into the bowl of his own wine glass. “Holy fuck,” I said. Jerome stares, and then Vincent drinks the wine, with the smoke still spilling out, and wow, wow. Wow.

Vincent, apparently a tease, then spends the rest of the film pursuing Uma Thurman (understandable, she is like a beautiful sad 7 foot gazelle), leaving the remainder of the queer coding to Jude Law, who manages very well on his own, thank you. The kiss he steals from Irene during their improvisational ruse? That had everything to do with the fact of her dating Vincent, a transference, he kisses you and now I kiss you. I wasn’t surprised the movie doesn’t actually do anything textually undeniable with all this, as I didn’t find this in the Queer Cinema section, but fuck, Jerome genuinely sends Vincent off to the stars with a lock of his hair tucked into a fold of paper. “God that is Romantic,” I breathed, in awe. Jerome…you are Valid.

★★★½

Venom

Well this movie sure is not good, but it does have this sort of gonzo innocence that someway endears me to it. Mostly conceptually. Actually watching it was….well kinda evened out to a neutral experience in the end, because whenever I’d hit another point in all the goopy smashing and crashing where I’d wonder how I could still be watching this, I’d remember watching Jenny Slate and Riz Ahmed standing in a laboratory just saying absolute nonsense to each other, which while not necessarily riveting, was so……weird…that I couldn’t not stick around.

This cast is bonkers. I don’t know if that’s part of it or some other factor, but I mean, Michelle Williams is in this movie. I laughed three times and one of them was just at her delivery of a line. God this movie makes no goddamn sense. Doylist or Watsonian. Within world, I have no idea why suddenly the symbiotes could bond with whomever no problem when before it was a big disaster. Outwith world, I have no idea why anyone in this cast agreed to this script.

Anyway, when I said gonzo innocence, what I mean is that there were clearly no stakes to the success of this film, and it was refreshing to watch a superhero movie that just doesn’t matter. Even less than the X-Men! No one cares about Venom, this is technically a Marvel property but they put no other characters in this, it’s just out here on its own, footloose and franchise-free, and that seemingly let them do whatever oddball thing they wanted without overthinking it. Is it, as a result, under-thought? Oh sure! Again, it’s really not good! But it also doesn’t have that tiring MCU feeling of a movie that’s constantly conscious of its position within an existing mythos. There is no sense of self-importance here. None. Nor self-awareness either, this is not another Thor: Ragnarok. This is just a dumbass comics-based action flick where at one point Tom Hardy crawls into a restaurant lobster tank, chills for a moment like a capybara in a pool, then scoops up a crustacean and just chomps it.

Overall though, and I really am sorry to say it, I just did not find Venom near as funny or as kinky as I’d been expecting. Honestly, found it surprisingly dull. But I do absolutely see where that happy rowdiness came about in the ensuing fanbase. That hungry monster does love that sweet trash man, as he directly roared inside his ear.

★★

Days of Heaven

Spoilers probably

I was into this. I don’t know I just love movies from the 70s, man! That was an aesthetically terrible decade for clothing, interiors, design in general, but for cinema? Banging. Objectively their filmic craft is not always operating at excellent levels, keyly in scene transitions, and yet, as a piece, they just work. MOVIES.

Mostly though I did spend this whole thing fixated on the score and how I could somehow already know it. Wikipedia is telling me that the part I knew was heavily referencing the ‘Aquarium’ movement from Camille Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals suite. Wikipedia is not telling me that Alan Menken’s ‘Prologue’ in his Beauty & the Beast score is also referencing this, and that if A = B, and  B = C, then the Days of Heaven theme is the Beauty & the Beast theme, but it is, isn’t it? I’ve had too much mezcal (smokey appropriateness!) but, isn’t it?? I mean not as much as how the ‘My Tamako’ theme from The Handmaiden is the Downton Abbey theme (ENTIRELY), but it is so so similar! The music was so beautiful! God! And the cinnamontography of those wheat fields? Fuck me up.

Though—Richard Gere feels fundamentally out of place in the 1910s, I never accepted it. His hair is so fluffy, his face so….post-1950s. Richard Gere you look askew. What is that anyway? Where people’s faces just don’t align with certain times? Incongruous. Richard Gere in this looks like a Tibetan fox dropped into the Panhandle. Like I see what they were going for, but wrong grassland environ for you, bud.

But I like a tone poem very much. I also like a movie that gets surprisingly well on the way to polyamory. I mean it was…the Seventies. But when one party hasn’t agreed to this, then that is just an affair. A like, reverse affair? Hey it was interesting! So was the use of narration. I liked the little sister’s odd film noir VO (film sepia?), but it also made me grieve for her lack of education. Imagine what she could do with her word choice instincts if she had more words to choose from.

Anyway, this is one hour and a half and every scene is good to look at. It’s a movie you can just feel and not really have to think about. Sometimes I wonder why people consider action movies the mindless ones, when impressionist movies like this deliberately invite you to just slip into neutral and drift along with it for a spell.

★★★½

The Great Beauty

Deep (deep) into The Great Beauty, deeper than possible in most, as this is just an extraordinarily long movie, a character stands on a stage and says that it’s the end of August, and it feels like September may never come. And I sat there watching this on September 1st like god damn, I’ve done it again. Near calendar-perfect, you are welcome @ myself.

Maybe on some level I had sensed the last weekend of August was the time for The Great Beauty (“La grande bellezza“), because I knew it opens with a man in fancy Rome celebrating his 65th birthday, and the rest is an impressionistic sort of mosaic of him going about his life considering the idea of his own and also the concept in general. And what better time than the slowly drawn end of summer for that, the waning gold light and drowsy melancholy of a warmth that is due to turn, that should turn. Perhaps we’ve been too long in the sun. It’s still warm and butter yellow now, but the shadows at dusk are going blue. As Jep’s face at the end, intermittently, gently lit by the sweep of the lighthouse lamp, doused in the blue of the night.

But if you’d asked me, the reason I was watching The Great Beauty now, about five years since my roommate in New York had told me about it, was because the trailer for The New Pope dropped this week, and I was hopped up on Paolo Sorrentino again. I love the way he and his cinematographer he always works with set up shots, this living tableau quality that gets me every time. I love the way he deploys songs, the music direction always just killer, integral to the art of the work, in way where I mean it as a compliment when I say that Sorrentino basically makes very long very good music videos. The Great Beauty shares far more in common with something like Thom Yorke & Paul Thomas Anderson’s Anima than it does most feature length releases. It’s not that Sorrentino can’t plot—The Young Pope speaks to just how very much he can, so much story in so few episodes and somehow never feeling rushed. Plot and action just wasn’t the focus in The Great Beauty, he was building a movie out of other things. Visuals and sound and contemplation.

It is too long, not because of the length itself, but because the Saint storyline that meanders through the last half hour feels too much like a new thread, and over an hour and forty-five minutes in is too late to introduce another chapter. At that point you begin to wonder if you’re in a rare sexagenarian picaresque, a thousand-page Candide unspooling over hours, which is fine if you just know that’s what you’re getting yourself into. As is, either it should have been even longer and a miniseries, or stay a movie and just trim off that last stepping stone, keeping this at maybe an hour fifty? That seems fine for its pace and purpose. Do keep the interlude with the artist with the pictures of himself every day from childhood to now, because it unexpectedly moved me to sudden, overcome tears. I wept and wept. Art, man! All the things of Great Beauty.

★★★½