A note or two on Emma.

I had a number of notes on the disappointing Emma., which was the last movie I saw in-theater. All my thoughts on this insignificant film seem as trivial as the film itself in the wake of the coronavirus collapse. The biggest note on this film is its theater viewing and the accompanying visit to Stater Bros. that Friday evening, March 6, when shelves were just starting to run empty.

With that, my notes on Emma.:

“Trifle” unto itself cannot support a film. The central problem is that there is no real plot, no story thread weaving through the picture. None of any import, that is. The final act, “Summer,” does provide salvation — to a degree. Things of mild interest happen then. And throughout, the whole smarmy smug entitled attitude exuded by Emma (the character) is something to relish, I concede.

I also liked the graphic style of the titles, until I learned that the period (“Emma.”) is explained by the director as to signify a “period piece.” Get it? Ha ha. So clever. As lame an explanation as the overall effort put forth by Emma. 4/10

Comparison Notes: Recommended, much better options: Dangerous Liaisons/Valmont/Cruel Intentions, Howards End, The Little Hours, The Favourite; Not recommended and even worse: Much Ado About Nothing

Sketch a Portrait of a Lady on Fire

First off, a small quibble on the title. The French is Portrait de la jeune fille en feu, or portrait of a young lady/girl. No big deal, but is it too much to ask to have the same title? Does everything have to be marketing? The movie’s in French, so stick to the translation.

That aside, I liked this movie. I very much liked it, though I’m not over-the-moon as so many critics seem to be. Peter Travers:

Some critics have referred to the film as “Call Me by Your Name with corsets.”  But Sciamma, whose exemplary work on Water LiliesTomboy and Girlhood mark her as a major talent, paints the movie with unrivaled delicacy and feeling. From the costumes by Dorothée Guiraud to the stunning camera work by Claire Mathon (who deservedly won the cinematography award from the New York Film Critics Circle), Portrait of a Lady on Fire is enthralling on every level. In her hypnotic and haunting film, alive with humor, heartbreak and swooning sensuality, Sciamma has created nothing less than a timeless work of art

A little much, methinks. Recalls how critics tripped over themselves with Much Ado About Nothing. Very different film here, of course. And not to give any more credit to the dismal Academy Awards than necessary, but the French didn’t even enter Portrait as their official submission — so they didn’t consider it some great masterpiece. Timeless, masterpiece — give me a break.

But did I mention I really liked it? 8/10

PS: That would put it in the top 5 of 2019, but I am annoyed at all this late release nonsense. When it’s time to make my 2020 list, I’ll decide where to put Portrait.

Comparison Notes: Phantom Thread, The Lighthouse, The English Patient, The Little Hours, Shakespeare in Love, Il Postino, La Cérémonie

The Favourite movie of the year is…

…not The Favourite. However, the period aspect of it is well done, and it engages from start to finish: its greatest accomplishment.  I also very much liked the use of super-wide angle lenses.  The story stumbled in the home stretch, and the end left me dissatisfied.  In other words, there could have been more, but it wasn’t bad.  I suppose you could say that about any movie in the 3 to 8 range.

How’s that for cogent analysis.  7/10

PS To clarify, The Favourite may well be “the” favorite film this year, in the sense that it is sure to rack up many awards including very possibly the big one.  It’s just a couple pegs south of my favorite.

Comparison Notes: Dangerous Liaisons / Valmont / Cruel Intentions, Mother, Requiem for a Dream, Ridicule (1996), The Little Hours

Lady Macbeth Doth Protest Too Little

Lady Macbeth started and ran strongly for about the first two-thirds, before running into territory that was a bit mishandled, and less than optimal even if handled perfectly.  Still though, very good and fully engrossing — and the biggest reason is the film’s star.  Adam Graham, The Detroit News:

With quiet menace, [Florence] Pugh chews through director William Oldroyd’s handsomely composed period thriller like a rat gnawing through a wall.  She’s a force to be reckoned with, and her nightmare stare lingers longer than any poor sap who dares to get in her way.

Cath Clarke, Time Out London:

This brilliantly feminist British indie film plunges a cold, sharp knife into the back of bonnet dramas.

Indeed.  A lot of (evil) fun to be had here.  Maybe think of as a companion piece to The Little Hours, which is sticking with me enough that I’m considering bumping it up a notch.  Every time I think of it I smile inside.  As for Lady Macbeth: 8/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended): Les Amants Criminels, Lars von Trier films, especially Breaking the Waves; Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett), The Last Seduction, The Housemaid, Marie Antoinette.

Film Brief: The Little Hours [u]

The Little Hours is an odd little film, a period piece featuring contemporary foul language.  Mick LaSalle, SF Gate:

Though very funny, “The Little Hours” remains low-key and subtle in its effects. There’s no winking or nudging, no straining for laughs.

He thought it more funny than I, but there were a number of good laughs, and I liked the tone.  Tone is important.  Stephanie Zacharek, Time:

The Little Hours coasts along breezily on the oddball rhythms of its actors. The cast also includes John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon, who cap the whole crazy enterprise in a surprisingly tender coda. It doesn’t hurt that Baena and cinematographer Quyen Tran shot the picture in sun-washed Tuscany. Looking for a break from the Black Death, or even just the summer heat? The Little Hours is just the thing.


Update: Now 8/10

Film Brief: The Witch

The Witch - poster

Not much to see here, folks.  Not nearly as much as you would think.  I was so very much looking forward to The Witch, and so even the more disappointed.  An exceptionally strong pot of potential, but nothing exceptional about the movie.  The Witch is not without its assets, but this one’s a pass — another miss by A24.  5/10

Comparison Notes (Recommended): Antichrist, The Visit, Breaking the Waves


Hail, Caesar! - poster alt

Not to sound lame-brained, but Hail, Caesar! is the most literal example of a FEEL GOOD MOVIE in recent memory.  I was loathe to go see it, based on the ads & trailers.  I made avoiding it something of a quest, Coens be damned!  Plus I had this running theory of Clooney + Coens = STAY AWAY!  But it seemed to have legs.  After a month or so something snapped; I broke down and headed with great gusto to the cinema.

Hail, Caesar! - text blockAnd wow do the Coens know how to put together a movie.  Hail, Caesar! is a thoroughly entertaining, sumptuously gorgeous picture made by absolutely consummate filmmakers at the top of their game.  My only fault was a lack of any real dramatic peril: this is not Fargo or No Country for Old Men.  Otherwise we’d be talking 9-territory; as it is, on the high end of 8/10.

Sit close to the big screen for this one — it’s a visual treat, I found much more so than even The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Comparison Notes: Recommended: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Chinatown, Mulholland Dr.; Not recommended: Inherent Vice, L.A. Confidential