The Thing

The Thing is Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None as a creature feature in an Antarctic research station, and I had such a blast. I’d never seen a John Carpenter movie before and have no idea what had given me the impression that this one would not traumatize me in the least, but whatever it was was right! This is not the sort of horror movie that frightens Tarras. The scariness takes two forms: ice-bound existential dread (my ideal environment, zero scared), and mesmerizingly intricate practical effects (candy apple red and animatronic, zero scared). Even after things got gloppy, I was still thinking about how much I would like to be at a polar research station, chipping off chunks of ancient ice to put in my whiskey and riding the wave of societal breakdown as everyone starts to get way weird out in frozen isolation.

Honestly, minus the part where a mutating alien life form is wreaking havoc among them, The Thing makes this environment look pretty darn chill, no pun intended. Like, incidentally, no one behaves as if they’re actually in painfully freezing temperatures. After one truly outrageous cowboy Elmer Fudd situation he wears for his flying scene, Kurt Russell absolutely REFUSES to cover his lush billowing hair with a hat, even in temperatures he’ll later claim will soon be at 100 degrees below zero. Early on another character opts to just break a window in their South Pole rec room in order to shoot out of it. It’s really all of it rather dumb I think we can admit, a Prometheus situation in which a bunch of supposed scientists behave as if they have never heard of a safety precaution, ever, in their lives. I mean forget hats, none of them even puts on a mask or something when confronted with any of these non-terrestrial horrors!

Because this is a movie where such kind of concerns just do not matter, which I find lowers the stress level completely. Only one thing is going to kill them and it is the plot. The Thing isn’t interested in how to survive this, it’s interested in how it will dole out the deaths. Which is not to say this march of doom is disinterested in drama, it is 100% about drama: the drama of trying to guess which of these 12 men you know nothing about might secretly be the Thing.

It’s also about 1982. It’s about the neon pink glow of flares on snow, the skinny young cook rollerskating down the concrete halls, Kurt Russell’s hair, which I already mentioned because that’s how much this movie is about Kurt Russell’s glorious hair. It’s about brainstorming who would inevitably be cast today in a big budget remake (the man with the dogs: David Harbour). It’s about delighting over elements from this movie that you now recognize were being referenced in other things you’ve watched: the Changeling blood test scene on the Defiant in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a bit of that Davies era Doctor Who episode where David Tennant gets trapped on a shuttle with people who are getting possessed, a whole ass homage on the first season of The X-Files when Mulder & Scully go to that Alaskan research base.

And I love that this iconic schlocky polar horror movie ended the way it did. I have enough goodwill at this point to even believe that the Thing functions as a metaphor for whatever “monstrous” societal element you want to argue for. Why not! Woohoo!


Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Contains discussion of the ending of the movie, and references to the plot of Call Me By Your Name too

There is a considerable stretch in the middle of this movie that is just three women living companionably in a big grand creaky manor house on an island off the northern coast of France, and during the day they paint and embroider and go on walks along the coast, and at night they prepare dinner together and drink wine and play cards and read Greek myths aloud in front of the fire, and it is, quite possibly, THE dream. It is transporting. Every shot is almost soothing it is so beautiful, the rich colors of their dresses and hair against the light walls and furniture and the blue blue blue of the sea, all composed with a breathtaking, painterly grace by my new favorite cinematographer, the boldly elegant eye of Claire Mathon. Her images are how the film draws you in to its embrace, where you then hear, feel its heartbeat against your own: the rustle and weight of cloth, the smooth rasp of paint brushes on canvas, the wind blowing from the sea, the crackling of the fires—all with no score, because this haptic atmosphere is a soundtrack. And Céline Sciamma’s choice to forgo traditional musical accompaniment reserves an overwhelming beauty for the three moments, all diegetic, where music does occur, mounting in power until the crashingly emotional final shot, a long unbroken take of Adèle Haenel crying at a Vivaldi concert.

Of course, that two movies are both gay romances doesn’t mean they’ll have anything else in common in the story they’re telling or how they’re telling it, but beyond the overlay of their ending moments, Call Me By Your Name is actually not an inapt comparison at all to Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu). They are both designed in every detail to bring the audience body & soul into this beautiful world, but a world with an endpoint known to both us and the characters. The brevity of the time the lovers will have together informs the shape of the story, down to both movies containing a scene of the two lying in bed apologizing for the time they wasted in the beginning. But in Portrait of a Lady on Fire, what endings do to both art and romances becomes a central discussion of the film, and renders its final shot of Héloïse into something much more complex than the poignant but simple sorrow of Elio mourning the loss of his first love.

Because Héloïse and Marianne’s relationship, like her portrait, like this piece of music, is a completed piece of art, and she can love it in this form forever. Their love will never grow old and different, just as the Héloïse in the portrait, the Héloïse of Marianne’s memory, will remain as she is forever. They will never become resentful of each other, the terrible thing Héloïse discovered was possible once they’d been together. She asked her Orpheus to turn around, and Marianne did. They made the poet’s choice. And Héloïse listens to the movement that Marianne had once tried to play for her when she found out how much she loved music, and sobs at the sorrow of it all, but also in joy, at this beauty she can feel coursing through her, and she breaks into a gasping smile through her tears.

I’m still recovering from a cold and I think with this I’ve tapped out my ability to be cohesive, so I’m just going to list in post-script further things I loved about this movie:

– That the women each wear just one dress for the whole movie, because that’s how people did back then. And they help each other get abortions and buy party drugs from a woman at a bonfire night because that’s also how people did back then!
– Speaking of: Sophie gently holding the hand of the sweetly babbling baby by her head as the midwife works, god the tenderness and nuance of that moment
– And then: Héloïse announcing “We are going to paint” later that night and posing herself and Sophie so can Marianne depict the scene, give it the worthiness of oil paint
– Those scarves for the wind that you tie around your hairstyle? What were those! They looked so stunning!
– The mother commenting how strange it was to arrive in this house and find her—the her in her portrait—already here
– How high the waves always were in the frame
– Marianne shivering out of her soaked dress to sit naked in front of the fire, smoking a pipe, between the two white panels of her wet canvases drying against the hearth
– The Janelle Monáe/A Fantastic Woman/Armen Susan Ordjanian mirror-in-the-lap image, beautifully deployed here in a new artist/muse context
– Oh and when it comes to references, the queer film that I actually suspect could have been a conscious allusion here would be in the echo of two memorably specific erotic gestures from My Beautiful Laundrette—if you know, you know



The skyscraper being built outside Dakar by underpaid construction workers is a thick spar tapered to a point, massive and looming over everything around it. The air hangs thick and hazy from the crashing Atlantic, and at night, with the winking light atop it, the tower looks like it is piercing the sky itself, a tooth or talon scratching the low dark blue clouds. During the day, everything is pale, a sky somewhere between dust and mist, the rolling sun-bleached sea the same color as Ada’s light chambray top—the top her boyfriend Souleimane would love to get inside of, but it is its sister blue sea that he will vanish into instead. 

Atlantics (Atlantique) is a movie about the impact of labor migration on the communities left behind, told through a love story, told in turn through a ghost story. It has a hypnotic pace, the cinematography and score and editing artful and cool—at one moment elliptical, the other looking right at you. It reminded me a bit of fellow French filmmaker Claire Denis (Beau Travail, High Life), whom director Mati Diop has worked with as an actress. I also found myself thinking of Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, which I feel held its own supernatural elements with a somewhat similar hand.

But Atlantics’ interests are also very much its own. Atlantics has waves, it has fever, and the sun going down. It has a quiet nightclub open to the sea with only women in it, and fires keep starting around town. There is both ambiance and economics here, an inherently modern core and outlook in a fable-like tale of a haunting. It’s mournful, passionate, eerie, vindictive, and dreamy. It’s a mood, and I was in it.


Marriage Story

I don’t think it’s so simple as me not being into the subject matter. I did like Wildlife last year, another movie about a heterosexual couple with a son who are getting divorced. Well, I liked it alright. Okay it probably partly is the subject matter. But I think more than anything it’s just that after three of his, I’ve still never managed to click with a Noah Baumbach movie. And at this point I’m going to propose we just peaceably go our separate ways. I certainly don’t think he’s like, bankrupt as an artist or anything, I don’t think he makes films that are objectively bad, just films that don’t have the key to unlock my stores of investment. Scenes that others find really moving, I am unmoved by. Whereas Joanna Hogg’s insufferable characters captivate me, his I merely find tiring. If your-mileage-may-vary, I’m just never getting up to speed with these.

I mean I’ll be the first to tell you that there were three lines in Marriage Story so funny I paused the Netflix player so I could write them down while laughing. Still, Baumbach’s sense of humor just doesn’t land quite right for me on the whole. I think I expect the people in the scene to also find these things funny, maybe? It’s like the jokes feel a bit more written than lived, I guess, but then again I don’t know if that’s it, can’t really put my finger on it. Two of the jokes were Scarlett Johannson’s, whom I thought delivered by far the best performance in this, she was really really great. When she starts crying as soon as she walks around the corner, that long monologue she has when she first meets her lawyer that she delivers in a delightfully weird way, her Acting we see in Charlie’s (terrible looking) New York plays and her (terrible looking) Hollywood sci-fi show. I thought Adam Driver was just fine; I always think Adam Driver is just fine. I know he really appeals to some, but whatever magic he holds for them misses me. Noah Baumbach loves him.

Oddly, I found the vaunted Laura Dern performance in this to be a pretty basic near-caricature of a glamorous type of LA divorce lawyer, a reaction that mildly surprised me. Wait, was that it? I thought after she delivered a short spiel about mothers, that’s the Oscar-winning speech? Same too with the big fight that Netflix unwisely released as a context-free clip of histrionics, same too with the Company song that was happily reported from the Toronto film festival and what I’d been honestly joking was my number one reason to watch this movie—each time, with mild surprise: that was it?

But you know how it is, sometimes people just aren’t the right fit, and it’s not really anyone’s fault more than the other. I believe Noah Baumbach and I can split amicably.



What I love about Joanna Hogg movies is that she makes these like, slow posh English mumblecore things with just enough of a weirdly brutal edge where I feel like at any moment it’s possible one of the characters might fully die in an accident. There were so many still wide shots of people climbing through landscapes in this, and they all had me screaming. Every meal conversation: screaming. By the time the characters in a Joanna Hogg piece finally scream themselves, it’s like smashing plates, violent and destructively satisfying. They are these very bloodless movies that make me feel very bloodthirsty and I’m into it!

Archipelago takes place on an actual archipelago, a cluster of really unplaceable islands off the tip of Cornwall called the Isles of Scilly. One moment the environment looks almost like Scotland, all windswept heather and rock, and the next moment there are tropical plants with birds twittering in them. Everyone is always wearing coats against the cold but the water is turquoise blue in places. I had no idea a place like this even existed. It feels like an English colony still within England. Incredible. And just a perfect setting for this, a story (“story”) of an upperclass young man spending an uncomfortable holiday with his mother and sister at their vacation home before leaving for an unnamed country in Africa to do AIDS awareness work for eleven months, and oh boy they hate this almost as much as him trying to befriend the cook they’ve hired for their stay! Basically everything he does to try to allay his privilege just makes everyone involved feel more uncomfortable about the class divide, and I was just watching all this drinking my tea, rapt, going out of my mind at scenes where Tom Hiddleston puts on his boots in a hallway for like five minutes while continuously apologizing to people trying to get around his long legs.

Honestly this movie would be valid just for acknowledging that Tom Hiddleston is too tall. Which it does, several times, passively yet pointedly, my favorite by far being its deployment in the delicious metaphor that is Edmund leaving the big bedrooms for the others and volunteering to take the little servants’ quarters upstairs alongside the cook, even though he physically does not fit in the space

I probably spent an outsized amount of time in this movie just thinking about Tom Hiddleston. I mean he does play the main character, by a slim margin but a margin, but at this point ten years later, he’s a Person, and he wasn’t then, and I kept thinking about it. In 2009 he was still wearing his hair longish, in his natural blonde curls that preposterously don’t suit him at all. His costuming is in rich person clothes, but also ones that don’t particularly suit him, lots of these ill-fitting baggy trousers. He of course still has that striking, angular face that looks like it should be cut into a coin, but you’d have to be paying attention to much notice it, as the camera cares so little for close-ups of any of the characters, leaving them always held at a middle distance (#symbolical). It was just interesting to me to see how this movie uses him totally differently than films do now. And before he’d be washed in the veneer of fame that would make him “Tom Hiddleston”, pulled out of the bespoke suits both dress and supervillain, he’s just this tall British actor who’s actually pretty dang good at what he does.

This Joanna Hogg role isn’t gonna be my favorite performance of his (pretty sure that will always be the RAF pilot with narcissistic personality disorder—if you want to talk about things eminently suited for him), and Archipelago is not going to be my favorite of her movies either (there were other and stronger points to end it on—I love a good unresolved ending but this wasn’t it), yet I sure had a great time on this cold island.



Pride is not a complex or challenging movie. It’s not telling a story that is new, or in a new way. But it is so affectionate and thoughtfully detailed—taking care to weave in a surprising number of threads about specific trials faced by the queer community into the movie’s central story, that of a real historical moment of solidarity between a London-based group of gays & lesbians and striking Welsh miners in 1984. But it never feels to me like the movie is simply running through a checklist of instances of Thatcher-era homophobia and labor oppression, because while what happens may be quite paint-by-numbers, it is painted with such tender attention. It is a work of love, quite truly: after watching it this time, I learned that the screenplay was written by Stephen Beresford, Andrew Scott’s partner of then nine years. I think that’s where so much of the film’s feeling of warmth comes from—it was made by family, about the family who came before.

In fact, one of my favorite elements of this movie is the way it depicts the brevity of gay generations, how queer folks just a bit older than you can seem like they come from a whole different era. Andrew Scott’s character Gethin and his boyfriend Jonathan (a delightful Dominic West), just by dint of being over 25, as Gethin wryly alludes to in an early scene, are very much the group’s elders. They would have come of age in the early ‘70s, during London’s glam scene—clear from everything Jonathan ever wears or does—and now quietly, on Gethin’s part at least, run a gay bookshop together. And it’s so tenderly observed how we see that now in the ‘80s, those barely ten years younger than them already view them as mildly out-of-touch and embarrassing in that way of parents, but also a source of domestic stability (again like parents), their place serving as a harbor for “orphans from the storm.” I love that we get their distinct generational outlook on the current events of the movie—“What ever happened to Gay Lib, Jonathan?”—that sense of a continuous queer history this lends, within a movie that is itself about a very specific period of it.

And, part of what it is that creates the brevity of gay generations, particularly at work in the 1980s, is certainly not ignored. Homophobic politics that kept queer people in danger, unprotected from violent attacks on their property and their bodies, and of course the deathly shadow of AIDS that begins to crawl across the film. Pride, again, approaches these familiar story beats with care and detail, depicting several different ways HIV can impact those who are diagnosed and those who love them. Sure, particularly in instances of illness and injury this movie is a tear-jerker, a heart-string-puller, and honestly what of it? Like we haven’t been telling for ages of human history these sorts of predictable, poignant stories of people experiencing both tragedies and triumphs, and ending in hope. They have a value for the heart, and for the community. I was trying to access why I find even the sadness in this movie somehow cozy to experience, and Emily had it: Pride is like a queer folk tale.

It is also one of those movies with the kind of deeply banked cast of talent where Russell Tovey can show up for just one scene. And special shout-out to supporting actor “aerial shots of the Welsh countryside,” one of the standouts. But truly, what tips this movie over the top is Andrew Scott. No matter what he’s doing he seems to be drawn in ink that’s bleeding right through the screen into your heart. Just an indelible performance. The way Gethin’s painful personal history in Wales gently plays out consistently reduced us to wails of our own. When he takes that phone call on Christmas from Imelda Staunton? It’s just this little moment and I’m like, this is better and more moving than most cinema. If you’ve seen him as the Priest in Fleabag, you know how impossibly endearing Andrew Scott can be, and he was perfecting that here, with Dominic West in his big scarves and pink pajama pants in tow. Those two are so lovingly married in this, and it’s…honestly one of the most comforting things to watch. A queer folk tale. Can we hear it again, in front of the fire?