Death Watch (Tavernier, 1980) and Summer With Monika (Bergman, 1953)

I think Bertrand Tavernier is an underrated director. Coup de torchon is a masterpiece, L. 627 and The Clockmaker of St. Paul are nearly as great. Death Watch is the kind of film I’d like to make one day. It’s shot in beautiful 2.35 with the kind of moving camera I really love, and takes a science fiction premise and turns it into something really meaningful and modern. It was also a poignant watch with the recent death of Harry Dean Stanton.

Peirre-William Glenn’s cinematography in this film is fantastic. It feels so real and earthy. Here’s a fairly simple sequence, but one that I quite liked. Katherine (Romy Schneider, in one of her last roles), walks home and is approached by a reporter.

Glenn and Tavernier’s opening frame of the scene is suffused with blue. The wet streets add a lot to it. Tavernier cuts to the second shot below, which is something he does so well in this film: wide moving frames utilizing foreground and background:

The reporter climbs up the hill to intercept Kathine, and the final frame is a somewhat simple 2-shot, but the grey tones and the rain make it much more:

The locations are unanimously great. I love this one where Roddy (Harvey Keitel) talks on the phone. The scratched, dirty walls have so much texture. That green light in the background mirrors the blue cast from the earlier frames (the film seems to get away from these hues towards the end, which makes sense given the change in narrative and mood):

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Or there’s something as simple as this one, where Vincent (Stanton) talks to Roddy’s ex-wife, Tracey (Thérèse Liotard):

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Tavernier and Glenn let the background frame left and right go to basically absolute black. The image is so moody. It could be dangerous, but it’s not. It matches the low-key starkness of the rest of the film.

There’s an awesome sequence shot when one of Vincent’s workers loses Katherine in a crowd at a market. The camera moves so rapidly through the area, getting tight and far from the characters-

At one point (between the first and second shots below), the camera completely loses the man and then kind of runs after Katherine in the distance:

There’s so much life and energy to the frame. It’s fast, a bit shaky, yet still fluid. We’re really running along with and after the characters, and it makes the situation so much more urgent.

Summer with Monika

I can’t remember the last time I watched a Bergman film. It’s been awhile. This is the first time I’ve seen Summer with Monika. Of course, it’s awesome. Not yet shot by Sven Nykvist, but Gunnar Fischer’s cinematography is still gorgeous.

For some reason I remembered Bergman films as being static. I don’t know why. I even use a really great, movement-heavy scene from Sawdust and Tinsel in class. Summer with Monika has such fantastic movement and blocking. There are too many incidents to count. This shot/scene is great, but the stills don’t really do it justice.

Monika (Harriet Andersson) starts in the foreground of the shot at the shop where she works. I’m missing the track left to right, but it’s fast and it ends with the second shot below. The man with Monika then blocks around her as she leans back on the pillar, and we land in a 2-shot:

They have a little back and forth at the pillar. She walks away, he pulls her back (which happens more than once in this scene, and is a decent summation of the film. She walks away, someone pulls her back). Bergman uses the boss’ arrival to block everyone to the back. But it’s really slick how he does it. The man in the foreground in shot three below turns and we land in an over-the-shoulder. In the meantime, Monika is walking off-screen and then in the background of the shot to get to her next mark, which is at the desk in shot 4 below:

The boss leaves and Monika walks frame right to put some boxes away. The camera pans and tracks with her. We land in a wide 2-shot:

There’s some playful, but mostly not so playful teasing. Monika lands down on the ground (with some really beautiful camera operation), and then she sits up, alone:

The scene ends as she gets ready to leave, by herself:

Every frame in this sequence is perfectly composed. The movement is so fast but, unlike Death Watch (and not really for better or worse), it’s all so precisely motivated – Monika is pulled back, she needs to do work because the boss arrives, she places something on a shelf, she tries to get away from someone, she puts on her coat. All of these things force movement, and Bergman is an absolute master at timing them, blocking secondary characters, and finding a perfect camera position to be able to capture all of this in one fluid master.

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Blade Runner 2049 (Villeneuve, 2017) and The Big Sick (Showalter, 2017)

No one’s going to debate that Blade Runner 2049 isn’t beautiful. I mean it’s gorgeous: cinematography, locations, production design, wardrobe, etc. Amazing to look at, could be watched on silent, and so forth. Great acting, too, and some really brilliant sound design.

Some SPOILERS here.

You ever wonder if it’s the situation in which you watched a film or the film itself? Small theater, kind of tired, sitting next to two pretty annoying talkers, a little hungry, high expectations (always a mistake). We’ll see how this film feels on a second view.

The thing is, I liked Blade Runner 2049. Alongside all of the aforementioned, it’s also gorgeously paced. I like slow burn, and this thing slowly burns. There are also great set pieces. The Elvis hologram sequence? Possibly my favorite in the film. The opening scene? Tense slow boil.

It’s not that the love scene between Joi (Ana de Armas), K (Ryan Gosling), and Marietta (Mackenzie Davis) felt gratuitous. Similarities to Her notwithstanding, it was really interestingly staged and executed. It’s more that it felt, like a lot of the film, a bit hollow. Instead of this wonderfully strange moment where K finally feels a bit like a human I just kept thinking about how cool their hands coming together looked, about Marietta’s kind of over-involved plan, and about the fact that Joi seems to see everything except for the convenient fact that Marietta places a tracking device in K’s bag.

What’s up with Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and Luv (Sylvia Hoeks)? Isn’t the godlike, megalomaniacal, “gently” violent villain such a boring trope? And doesn’t Luv feel so much like nearly any machine/replicant/robot (etc) that we’ve seen in countless films: a violent AI dedicated to her master. These characters just felt so one-note for a world as rich as Blade Runner’s.

I wonder what this film feels like if we get Deckard (Harrison Ford) involved earlier. I liked the scenes between Deckard and K, but felt empty at the end. I guess I can go back to the first film, fill in the blanks between them, and then really feel Deckard’s emotions at that last beat, but I haven’t been with either final character for the last 2+ hours, so for me it just felt like two good actors looking at one-another. I’d rather K have a moment there (does he get one when Joi’s device is smashed? Kind of, but it’s an odd decision not to extend that beat; and then when he sees the Joi advertisement later that moment is all but negated (I like that latter scene, by the way)). I like the beat that K gets when he realizes he’s not human, but while it leads to action (and another fantastic set piece) the emotion just kind of skips by for me. I’m not joking that I’d rather have a film where Deckard comes in at the halfway point, we dispense of Wallace and Luv entirely, and spend the second part of the film just in a buddy-film-two-hander where one person thinks he is the son and they’re just bonding, and the other person is sure he’s looking for his daughter.

The Big Sick

I bet I’ve said this before somewhere on this blog: if a film is funny I sort of automatically like it, all other technique be damned. And The Big Sick is really funny. Great performances (easily the best I’ve ever seen from Ray Romano; he’s so good in this), memorable one-liners, and also something like a compassionate look at different cultures and families. I was really happy when Khadija (Vella Lovell) got a pretty note-perfect scene towards the last third of the film. She felt so real, and it pushed the film firmly back into any reality (and for me, away from potential caricature). I think it’s the best written scene of the film, not only for the really real emotion that comes from it, but also structurally; it re-grounds us at a critical moment.

Michael Showalter’s style is perfect for The Big Sick. I could see a different director pushing the style in a different, distracting direction, but here it just sits in the background and lets the performers and the script work. It’s not not direction, it’s just really strong unobtrusive direction. Kind of true classic Hollywood style for my money.




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The Square (Östlund, 2017), A Gentle Creature (Loznitsa, 2017) and others

I’m yet again falling far behind on my blogs. The Czech Republic holds this amazing yearly festival, which they call Be2Can. It’s a series of films from Berlin, Venice, and Cannes, many of which are screened with English subtitles. I caught The Square, A Gentle Creature, The Unknown Girl, On Body and Soul, and Loveless. This is also probably the order in which I liked the films (the last two are interchangeable for me).

The Square

Ruben Östlund’s third great film in a row. The funny thing about Östlund is that, while he’s operating on a very provocative level, he’s also sort of making screwball comedies. I felt the same about Force Majeure (not so much about Play, though I love both films). In The Square all of the elements are there: smart-alec, often fast dialogue (I’m thinking in particular of the great scene between Christian (Claes Bang) and Anne (Elisabeth Moss) in the museum and after their night together); some kind of sort of romantic/sexual subplot; a reversal of gender roles (maybe not a hallmark of classic screwball, but Hawks definitely courted this idea more than a few times with His Girl Friday and Bringing Up Baby); and of course, an added level of absurdity that spirals things out of control.

There’s also hints of magical realism in the film. The celebrated scene at the museum dinner ends with a beating, and then hard cuts to something entirely different. That beating is never mentioned again. Nor are any consequences. It’s like it didn’t happen. I think Östlund likes blurring these lines. At what point during that scene do we move from pure reality to something less so? It’s unclear, but I’m pretty certain it happens.

Speaking of those hard cuts, Östlund seems to love that transition. There are so many edits that feel almost like shock cuts. A prime example: Christian and Michael (Christopher Læssø) drive to the apartment building. We cut from a quiet scene of them in the office to a motorcycle roaring by. The camera then pans to reveal Christian driving. That abrupt sound cut features throughout The Square.

From the standpoint in which I often write this blog, the blocking in The Square is simple. Characters tend to land on marks and stay there. But it’s so precise and the coverage is so effective. I love the series of 2-shots, for example, that the director uses in a scene where a group of young, arrogant marketers pitch Christian on an idea. There’s not really a master. We cut between three separate 2-shots. The strategy shows us a kind of hierarchy (or at least alignment of interests) and keeps the three groups so separate and distant from one another. They’re all in their own bubble.

I quite like the blocking in The Square. It’s a great example of how staging doesn’t need to look complex or be coverage-heavy, but also doesn’t need to adhere only to long takes and static cameras.

A Gentle Creature

2 hours of the 2 hour 23 minute runtime of Sergei Loznitsa’s A Gentle Creature are flawless. I mean this film is pretty well perfect for me up until a bold, not entirely successful change that moves us from harsh, sometimes funny reality to Alice In Wonderland.

I wonder if Loznitsa or anyone else considered cutting that ending sequence a different way. I’d be really curious to see this film where you go right from the shots of “the gentle creature” (Vasilina Makovtseva) undressing and the soldiers laughing, to her entering the police wagon. You’d skip the entire section of speeches, which are for me on-the-nose and tiresome (though funny and well performed).

One of the funny things about this ending sequence is that the shot that leads us into it (Marina Kleshcheva’s character entering the train station) is one of the best. The sound design is amazing here. Those trains in the background and rhythmic and ominous and basically function like an eerie score. Her performance – the way she sneaks in – is so stealthy. And the staging of all of those sleeping people is perfectly atmospheric. I got the chills at this scene.

That said, those first 2 hours are unbelievable. Such staging! Such side characters (who become main characters)! I don’t know how someone makes this film. It would be so difficult to make. The ease with which Loznitsa moves away from his protagonist to find endlessly interesting supporting cast members is awesome and electrifying.

The Unknown Girl

I love the Dardennes. This is – in a great way – a lot of what you expect from them. Incredible performances. Handheld camera with a lot of long takes. Some sort of narrative about guilt and redemption.

While I liked The Unknown Girl a lot, it’s the first time in one of their films that I’ve had some believability issues. A few things just bumped for me. How much Jenny (Adèle Haenel) became obsessed with Julien (Olivier Bonnaud), the ending conversation. Neither of these quite landed. I get that Jenny is an obsessive character (and a compassionate one, at that) but these felt like a stretch (the first one) or on the nose (the second one).

Anyway, regardless of all of this The Unknown Girl is totally absorbing. It’s always great to see an Olivier Gourmet performance and he doesn’t disappoint here. The sound design is omnipresent, realistic, and loud. I liked it a lot.

On Body and Soul Loveless

I wanted to like both of these films a lot, particularly since I really like On Body and Soul director Ildikó Enyedi’s film Simon the Magician, and I like every other Andrei Zvyagintsev film that I’ve seen. But neither worked for me. The former had some awesome dream sequences and a few character reversals that I quite liked, but seemed to underuse some of its stronger points, and had characters and relationships that stretched believability and likability too much. Interestingly, I didn’t know that a woman directed it going in. I had some strong feelings about the female representations in here. I’d love to read an interview by her.

I loved the last 45 minutes of Loveless. It’s a beautiful film and the pacing at the end is agonizing (and better for it). But the setup is so melodramatic. I get that you need to pace that out differently, spend a lot of time with the two parents to make the search and their brief changes worthwhile, etc, but from their first argument on it felt really unsubtle and obvious.


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The End of a Priest (Schorm, 1969)

A really amazing Evald Schorm film that was released after the Prague Spring, and as far as I can tell, one of the last Czech films that really fits the true “New Wave” moniker (alongside other late period films Valerie and Her Week of Wonders and The Cremator), The End of a Priest reminds me a bit of Capricious Summer, and its sidelong glance at religion reminds of, who else, Luis Buñuel. I think everything reminds me of Buñuel lately for some reason. But this is a film that would pair so well with Death in the Garden.

A sexton at a small church (Vlastimil Brodský) arrives in a village badly in need of a priest. He pretends to be one, much to the chagrin of the local teacher and theater director (Jan Libícek). These central performances are amazing, as are those of the other villagers. Jana Brejchová (once married to Miloš Forman) gives a really great turn as Majka, a Mary Magdalene figure but with more comedy and less tragedy.

That sidelong glance I mentioned earlier: there are so many religious metaphors in The End of a Priest, but it’s not like Christianity is only seen in a ridiculous, mocking light. People are comforted; the sexton isn’t necessarily a bad person, he’s just wayward and lacking something in life. The real finger wagging here is reserved for a representation of the state: three men in black trench coats and fedoras who charge in comically towards the end to arrest the wrong man in front of a congregation (great reaction shot here)-

-leading to something like a crucifixion scene with “Jesus” in the middle and two other criminals, one repentant, one not, on either side of him:

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These trench coat men (I suppose State Security) are in the film multiple times. They’re suspicious of religion and quick to arrest anyone. They’re at once comic relief and terrifying.

But there’s plenty of comedy in The End of a Priest. There’s the swearing grandmother, a near-resurrection (Schorm and co-writer Josef Skvorecký are really smart to make a lot of “almosts” so as to avoid being on-the-nose: there’s almost a resurrection…but then it’s quickly determined that that’s not what happened; there’s almost a bishop arrested…but then that’s quickly sorted out), and an amazing scene with a new fire truck.

This last sequence feels straight out of Buster Keaton (to whom I think this film is also indebted). We start with a lot of pomp and circumstance as the fire truck drives into the square and the teacher gives an arrogant speech on its importance:

Of course, immediately there’s a chance to prove its usefulness-

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-but the village drunk falls on the hose, stopping the flow of water:

What else is there to do but pray?

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Prayers notwithstanding, the drunk stands, the water returns, and instead of the teacher and his truck receiving praise, it’s the priest who is lauded:

It’s a really clever sequence that brings everyone together, that pits logic directly versus religion, and that has an outcome that isn’t really a victory for either (though there is the appearance of victory for one). The shot selection here is so good. Schorm builds up how much effort has gone into the event, which makes the failure of the hose even more embarrassing. Crosscutting the drunk, the hose, and the priest directly puts them all in competition. It’s not just that it’s logic against religion, it’s that the third factor that “controls” both of those, is totally incoherent and abides by no rules (I wonder if there’s a thesis here).

There’s plenty more religious imagery throughout the film. There’s a wedding party where, instead of turning the water into wine, the “priest” drinks too much of it; there’s an apostle figure; a sequence where the “devil” tempts “Jesus” in the desert; etc. But while all of these make the metaphor real and obvious, they all totally function in the story and never take The End of a Priest away from its narrative pursuits.


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Twin Peaks: The Return

It’s pretty amazing to think that Twin Peaks was so unlikely in its original run and that it’s still so unlikely in 2017. I mean this feels, more than 25 years later, that this still shouldn’t be on television. I don’t mean that in a bad way. This is one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time, but that has to say something about Lynch, the state of TV, and really just how ahead of its time the original was.

Very slight SPOILERS here.

I don’t/didn’t watch Twin Peaks for story. I like and get many individual narrative elements. I make some connections as I go, but I’m not creating any fan theories and I leave pretty confused. Lynch gives me enough things that I can put together in my head to make me understand that it’s not random and that there is someone behind it all (he’s the real dreamer here, right?), but while watching I just want emotion and experience and chills, and an unraveling story feels totally secondary or tertiary.

In the last episode, when Cooper and Laura Palmer are driving I was struck by how much the sequence felt like a Lynch film. There are the obvious things: the characters themselves, and of course the POV shot of a road at night illuminated only by headlights. But it was also the pacing. That’s one of my favorite parts of this series. Sometimes that pacing is those really long beats between lines. They can be painfully long (and sometimes really funny), but I think it’s also about going into coverage at times that feel counter to narrative development. Like in this car. We basically have five shots – 2-shot of Cooper and Laura; the road; shot-reverse on them; and then a low angle from the back seat on Cooper. We really only go to that last shot once, I think, but Lynch keeps cutting into the other coverage and it feels like something is going to happen within those frames, or because of the cut (like, because we cut to Cooper we miss what happens behind Laura). But that doesn’t really happen. It’s just a lot of looks, America passing by, and – the point – a slow sense that we’re building towards something important. You could build build towards that sense in so many other ways that don’t feel as deliberate or like we should be in the midst of a dialogue sequence but just aren’t.

I love seeing all of the other Lynch trademarks come into play throughout the series: digital slo-mo; handmade special effects that recall his short films; unnerving sound design; backwards walking and talking played in reverse; starting a scene on a character frozen and looking and then silently, slowly revealing what they’re looking at…and many more.

The series also feels like such a recall to all past films, but for me, more than any, it’s The Lost Highway and that film’s slow, creeping dread. One of the reasons is because Lynch is the absolute master at capturing the fear and/or helplessness as people recall something – a dream or a memory. He’s one of the only directors I can think of that so often (with exceptions obviously, including the great Monica Bellucci cameo scene) doesn’t cut to that dream or memory, but derives real, true terror from just staying in pretty tight on the person doing the recalling. I remember that from The Lost Highway and it happens so much here. I get such a visceral feeling in these moments.

The so-called “quirkiness” is really disarming. To be fair, I actually found it annoying for the first 4-5 episodes, but patience really pays off with this show. But in the end it’s such a strategy: it makes everything that isn’t just light and fluffy so much more disturbing. I mean we go from Jim Belushi absolutely mugging for the camera, to an episode that feels like Eraserhead meets The Twilight Zone taking place in New Mexico, to the scariest shot in the film – Laura’s overhead extreme handheld shaky scream in the lodge. And sometimes we make changes like this from episode to episode, or within one episode. That contrast, especially for me in the last two episodes, leads to some real stress. I like Lynch also because when he gets relentless, he’s just entirely relentless.

Like Buñuel or other directors who work on a symbolic level, there are some clear themes – electricity, for example. But I don’t know what to make of them all. Then there are just repeat motifs. Like the child in the car slowly vomiting (one of the best scenes in the film and a great example of weird horror in a Lynch film – and I’m talking more about the screaming woman in the driver’s seat) and the prisoner slowly bleeding. But I don’t know what to make of them, either. It reminds me a bit of the twins in Jarmusch’s recent Paterson. The fact that those connections exist across episodes is enough for me.

Other random things that I thought as I watched: I like how Lynch seems just really into the procedural. What happened to Audrey (I’m sure a whole lot of people have a whole lot of answers for this)? The box towards the beginning is kind of like the eyeball slit in half in Un Chien Andalou. Both in some way seem to warn that you’re about to watch something different, both introduce violence in a way that feels really sudden and personal, and both use that violence as semi-narrative, at best. Laura’s scream is terrifying. Ben Rosenfield gives such a great, Lynchian performance.

This is one of my favorite shots from the show. I really love the highlight on the door in the center of the frame, the hazy quality of the light on the dirty window, and how much emphasis is given to what’s behind Laura:

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Sleeping Car Murders (Costa-Gavras, 1965) and Dante 01 (Caro, 2008)

I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen The Sleeping Car Murders before. Maybe at the Dryden years ago. Regardless, it’s a really fun thriller that predates Costa-Gavras’ superior, political films. It has a bit of the Elevator to the Gallows feel in that it’s noirish, jazzy, and modern, but it’s more procedural and less existential than the Malle film.

There are some SPOILERS below.

Costa-Gavras really assembles a hell of a cast for his feature: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Simone Signoret, Michel Piccoli, Yves Montand… I wonder if this is because of his AD work with Jacques Demy, René Clément, and René Clair, among others.

The two things I remembered from the film are the last shot and an elevator sequence. Apologies for the low quality, but here’s that last shot. A police investigation ends with a long dolly away under a bridge alone the Seine (I think; I know nothing about French geography):

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But it’s the elevator sequence that’s more memorable. It feels like the gallios that the film is concurrent with.

Simone Signoret, great as Eliane Darrès, gets in an elevator to descend. Costa-Gavras’ cuts are rapid fire. We start in this medium establishing the approaching killer and Darrès’ position. He then cuts to a direct overhead that zooms dramatically down. It’s not quite a POV – it’s too overhead. Instead it’s sort of a combination of an accelerated elevator descent and Darrès’ doom reaching her:

Then to these three cuts, nearly on-axis, cutting to the barrel of the gun until it’s pointing at us:

Back to Darrès for her reaction:

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And then to these ECUs:

I love those eyes back and forth. They sort of make no sense. The killer is above her. Why is she looking left and right? It’s one of the longer shots (probably less than 2 seconds) in this montage and it seems, if anything, to again talk to us. It’s like a pink panther moment, mocking a stereotypical image of investigation films.

We cut tighter on her eye (this sequence is also, probably obviously because Bava was, too, indebted to Hitchcock). Then to two quick shots of the gun, this time cutting a little further away sequentially, rather than the reverse, above:

Back to a tight reaction, and then wider, on action, as she reacts and falls:

There’s so much coverage for one moment. It’s the only sequence in the film really like it. It feels like a young filmmaker (successfully) experimenting, and also like a moment for Signoret. But it’s also dramatic and a nice use of Psycho’s implied montage (an elevator instead of a shadow, a gun instead of a knife).

Dante 01

I know the Jeunet-Caro collaborations, but I had never seen Marc Caro’s solo sci-fi effort from 2008.

On its surface it looks a lot like those films…well, at least its color scheme looks a lot like Jeunet’s second solo feature, Amelie. It’s rather green and yellow, there are a lot of inflected animals, and the characters are peculiar.

The mood in the film is nice, and there’s some somewhat interesting philosophizing but the film ultimately feels like it was cut short or altered drastically in post (I wonder if it was). Things feel rushed; the voiceover doesn’t really help things; so much is reliant on Christ-figure symbolism.

For some reason all of the characters are bald:

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There are some interesting connections to be made. Like the nanotechnology that is shot into the spaceship-prisoner’s blood-

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-looks a lot like the actual spaceship which the entire crew is traveling on:

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It’s as though within is the same as without. That’s fun and all, but it doesn’t really advance beyond this visual similarity. There’s an overlong VFX-heavy ending that feels dated and eventually brings us here:

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Where we seem to now be at earth. I wonder if there are theories about this ending. I’m sure there are. I didn’t really feel the urge to investigate. Something transcendent happened and we’re transported to a more human, survivable environment. It’s not that it doesn’t track, it’s that it feels a little exhausting to track it.



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Good Time (Sadie, 2017) and Dunkirk (Nolan, 2017)

Good Time is up there for my favorite film of the year. I love how much the Safdie’s shoot in close-up. The first scene – one of the best in the film – is so tight that you can feel the compression. There are so many moments in here where the concern is far away from establishing spatially and much more so with the frenetic tension of their tight frames. It’s pretty consistent throughout the film, though it opens up a bit in a great sequence at an amusement park.

Good Time was shot by Sean Price Williams and it looks amazing. So much neon! And I was really into how the filmmakers were pretty comfortable letting the image go to near underexposure at times. You can feel the film grain in those moments. This is a film that I think needed to be shot on 35.

Robert Pattinson is turning into a hell of an actor. He’s so good in this, as he has been in much of what I’ve seen him in recently (Maps to the Stars, The Childhood of a Leader, The Rover). Benny Safdie’s performance as Nick, Pattinson’s Connie’s brother, is also pretty brilliant. There’s an awesome moment when, at the beginning of the film, the two are robbing a bank. Nick wants to take his mask off and Connie won’t let him. It feels so kind. The same is true of the immediate aftermath when they’re in a back alley beginning their getaway. Connie’s lines – “I couldn’t have done this without you!” – are so obviously untrue and true at once. Another of my favorite parts of the film.

Is this film all handheld? I only started looking for it about 20 minutes in. Sometimes it’s so obviously so. But there are other times (the hospital sequence) where I couldn’t always tell if we were in really controlled handheld, or on a steadicam. Either way, that motion, and that motion that sometimes rides a line between fluid and unsteady, really works in here. It’s a frenetic film narratively, but there are long moments of calm in the midst of all the energy (I’m thinking in particular of a sequence at Crystal’s (Taliah Webster) house, where things just settle a bit) – I think that the camera does a nice job of not always just being one or the other.

Another thing that really struck me in here: in most films Connie would be really dumb. Like he would literally be written as an unintelligent character. But he’s pretty smart in this film. He makes quick, informed decisions, all for the sake of his brother. It makes me like him a lot. I see his brain work as he manipulates people and, while he’s not always pleasant, I like how hard he’s working for Nick. I wonder how much writers Ronald Bronstein and Josh Safdie struggled with the character, or at least how much he evolved. It’s a tightrope – there’s a moment at the end that pushes an extra amount of guilt onto his shoulders that’s a real gut punch.

Then there’s the score. I’m not the biggest fan of Oneohtrix Point Never, and it’s a hell of a risk in here (it’s so present) but it really pushes the film into something beyond just heist/road film. That’s sort of what it is, but this is a great example of form (including performance) transcending what is an already good script.


This is one of my favorite Christopher Nolan films. I’d imagine I have some of the same issues with it that other people have. For me, it’s mainly two: the score is too much, and there’s too much on-the-nose sentimentality at the end. But otherwise, this is a really good film. The IMAX is breathtaking. The first time the image comes up in that format is really wonderful.

The first scene in Dunkirk is the best. It’s mostly silent storytelling, it drops us right into a beautifully dangerous situation, and the blocking (as the characters are first running down the street, in particular) is so good. It’s my favorite part of the film; I’ve sometimes wished that Nolan would rely less on dialogue, and when he does here, which is most of the film, it really soars.

What’s the difference between the score in Good Time and here in Dunkirk? I mean, both are really present, pretty loud, and unmistakable. I like the music in Dunkirk but it seems to lead the emotion too much, or Mickey Mouse too much. An example of the latter: just at the beginning of the stretcher sequence the music changes. It’s pluckiness feels like mimicry and it totally pulled me out of the beginning of the scene. Luckily I got past it, because this scene is also pretty awesome.

That’s another thing that I like about Dunkirk. I bet these are some of Nolan’s longest scenes. He stays with his characters for extended periods. He still cross-cuts, as he always does, but this time it’s across time, which is fun. Regardless, there are long scenes where we don’t change temporally or spatially and we just stay with one person. It works so well, particularly for me, on the land.

Another issue I’ve had with some past Nolan films is the performance of side characters. Here they’re great. There’s no weak link in Dunkirk. I really liked Mark Rylance, perhaps the most. His face is so expressive. He switches so easily from full-steam-ahead confidence, to crestfallen terror.

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