“Women Talking” (2022)

“ Follow the breadcrumbs that lead to the violence” is a great directive for a parable about women trapped in an untenable situation. The trouble is that the viewer never is lead to why a religious community has turned so foul. Every female from toddler to old age has scars and bruises: one has lost teeth. Are all the men and boys in this Mennonite colony evil ? Certainly, not the effeminate school teacher befuddled and suicidal. Both script and production problems make “Women Talking” less than its media hype.

This being said, there is a lot worth watching. Greta (Sheila McCarthy) and Agata (Judith Ivey) ~the two family matriarchs~are Solomon-like wise in their thoughtful way of leading and listening. In an emergency hayloft meeting , (as the men have all gone to bail out their abusive brothers-in-crime) the women gather and hone their options to three: do nothing, stay and fight, or leave. (The movie house venue where two of my sisters accompanied me actually had promotional pins labeled with these choices. We each selected differently in sync with our diverse personalities.)

The ensemble cast is wonderful. Each decade of life seems to be included. The sweet-voiced narrator relates, “ We did not talk about our bodies~silence was the real gapping horror.” She describes how they voted using pictures of a farmhouse, a knife fight, and a mule’s backside.

Though much is made of the gatherings little formal schooling, the dialogue is logical, philosophical , and spiritual in kind. Semantics are touched in the choice of “ leaving” and “fleeing”, and in the words “ forgiveness” and “ permission”. One’s frame of mind is considered in questioning whether forgiveness can be forced. An introspective thinker states, “ When we have liberated ourselves, we will have to ask ourselves who we are.” These scenes are courtroom-like in content ; yet, dotted with humor and passion. They are also the crux of the story: women talking.

Based on a true story of a Mennonite colony in Bolivia, the film’s setting in nebulous. Though the Southern Cross navigation lesson does tell us we are in the Southern Hemisphere. Director Sarah Polley and author Miriam Toews, both Canadians, underscore the feeling of invisibleness , where no one cares what you think or feel, and in some cases where you are.

Rooney Mara is lovely as Ona, a woman raped and pregnant with the subsequent child. Claire Foy is the angrier Salome. Her four-year-old daughter has also been raped. Jessica Buckley is equally dynamic as Mariche, who has an abusive husband, named Klaus.

There is laughter and humor as a reprieve from these dire circumstances. Horses named Ruth & Sheryl are used in allegory for wise and funny effect. Instead of being frightened of the gullies near, the horses gaze down the road and gain a new perspective. The group thinks leaving may give them the same long view. The women consider that they are entitled to be safe, steadfast in their faith, and think for themselves. Their dialogue gives them the opportunity to act. The fact that every man and teenage boy has left for town is odd, but propels the story.

In one scene during the debate, two teens roll their eyes in boredom, and rebraid their hair braids connecting them together. This is as normal as the straw strewn barn floor, but could also be a metaphor for lessons in power. The women must work together: “ process their pain into fuel”. Freedom, hope, forgiveness, love and safety are all discussed. Pacificism is spoken as the key tenet of their faith. Their circumstances leave them without power in a patriarchal society that has turned violent.

The cinematography is good in the use of sepias and light and dark. Slatted walls and children running through meadow-like fields are evocative of another time. I liked the communal feet washing scene. Frames of blood-smeared walls and dentures being removed and hammered on a table not so much. We are to understand that they were bashed out by a man. A three-year-old suffering from sexual abuse crying, “I hurt” was more effective.

The Monkees’ song “Daydream Believers” becomes a mean “ ear-worm” as the government census workers day-trip by with megaphones asking for a head count. No one seems to think the task is very important. In fact, in this film anyone living in the shadow of the cross is seen as less than. The idea proffered is that to reach one’s full potential a patriarchic community will not do.

I found heavy- handedness , but a less than crescendoed exit for the women. The many carriages lined up seemed like they would never move. The frames of women and children taking off through the fields felt more real. The exodus was confusing and long , rather than hopeful. Telling a baby that their story will be different was more like singing a hymn or a lullaby~ just a comforting sound.

Broker (2022)

It seems unimaginable that murders, child prostitution, and baby trafficking can be a backdrop for a moving film about family and caring; but, this is just what the film “ Broker” offers us: an experiential lesson in empathy and societal ills.

The Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-Eda writes the tale, directs the tale, and edits the tale. Sometimes doing it all is a mistake; and here, the over two-hour timeframe is a tad long. But like his winning “ Shoplifters” ( reviewed Jan. 24th, 2018) , Kore-Eda does a masterful job at humanizing and elevating the underclass. The two films are considered “ companion pieces”. One common theme being that “ all the ties that bind need not be genetic”.

“Broker” is filmed in “The City of Film” ~the port city of Busan, South Korea, with its population of over 3.5 million. The Busan International Film Festival is the largest in Asia. In an unusual format for a cinematic drama, Director Hirokazu Kore-Eda speaks directly to the audience before his film begins. He thanks many and hopes all enjoy their experience. He himself is emotionally invested. Being a Wansei, ( Japanese born in Taiwan before 1945) Kore-Eda was repatriated and may still understand that “ wandering-stranger-feeling” of orphanhood.

Kore-Eda chose an all Korean cast, and he places his mix-match of family members here in Busan. Song Kang-ho stars as the broker, winning Best Actor Award at Cannes for this part. He mesmerizes in every scene ~be it in his joy or in his pain. The reunion breakfast with his small daughter is masterclass acting.

Kore-Eda’s storyline is very plotted. It begins with a church’s baby box , supposedly, a safe haven for a newborn’s abandonment. Our broker owns a small laundry and repair business across the street. He pays gangsters for business protection. Money is tight. His friend~himself a younger twenty-something orphan~works at the church. They sell babies on the black market when Dong-soo can delete video surveillance before the church counselors can take charge.

The duo tell themselves that they can find better parents and keep the babies out of foster care where many have bad experiences. The church orphanage where they volunteer may be a better option, but it is 100% full, and often brings a dark future.

The heavy piano score, I did not like; but , this is just personal. Much of the original score by Jung Jae-il is evocative without being leading.

Enter our young mother played by Lee Ji-eun. As Moon So-young , she can spit fire; but, before we know her heavy history, Hong Kyung- pyo illuminates the screen with golden-bronzed rain. She is plodding her way to being cleansed. Later, he uses chiaroscuro to great effect as each family member thanks the others for being born.

His flowing water over bricked city streets is like raw rainsong. The flow of the rivulets and the mounting currents are metaphoric of personal drift. Life moves the individual more than the individual moves life. We find ourselves , like our protagonist, in a sea of circumstance. Kyung-pro’s one long-held shot of a toilet bowl was lost on me, but many tender shots linger, like when So-young sleeps next to her baby.

Our mother, Moon So- Young, decides she wishes to be part of the adoption selection. She is not an innocent. Innocence has been taken from her. She is worldly wise when she yells “ Benevolence, my ass!” at our rather self-labeled “charitable traffickers”.

Enter the detective duo~two female investigators, who are building a case against our adoption traffickers. Humor abounds in their constant snacking: pork, noodles, tomatoes, eggs. They must arrest the group in the act of selling the baby. There is more humor as the prospective adoptive-parents comment on the baby’s sparse eye brows. Moon So-Young is incensed and demands they find a better buyer.

What we have next amounts to a road trip of vans, buses, trains and boats. Lots of directions are given on the best way to diaper, bathe, burp, and entertain our infant. We are teased with lots of ways this family trip can end. Fleeing from the past meshes with running toward a future. Forgiveness is in the songs sung: “Rain washes everything I was up to yesterday~you just need a big umbrella~ big enough for two”. More water motifs and humor come in a great scene at the car wash.

Bae Donna is Soo-Jin, the lead crime investigator. She muses to her colleague that for professional traffickers, the group seems impoverished. In a crazy plot entanglement, we learn that her murdered husband is the father of Moon So-young’s son and her victim.

Police baiting and an adorable eight-year-old played by Im Seung-soo add more unforgettable scenes. The big picture for our screenwriter et.al. is the irony of celebrating Family Month and Children’ s Day in May when not enough is done for South Korean family services in any month. This entertaining and thoughtful film ultimately pushes one to care for criminals and for families alike.

“ The Whale” ( 2022)

Screenwriter Samuel D. Hunter has incorporated biographical tidbits to draw the director, Darren Aronofsky, the cast, and the viewers into a tragedy of grief, regret, damaged children, and self-immolation. The 41 year-old Hunter wrote “ The Whale” initially as a play, which premiered in Denver. The commonalities between Hunter and Charlie, his protagonist, are many. Hunter taught college composition, grew up in fundamentalist religion in Idaho, is gay, and has a daughter. He also suffered from depression and self-medicated with food. Like a good writing instructor he practices the mantra: write what you know.

So why would we wish to view a man slowly killing himself with extreme behavior and its accumulation of heartaches? The answer is two-fold: for the flawless acting and for the positive way we are emotionally saved from this sad story.

The film follows in a claustrophobic setting. A small, cluttered sitting room and connected kitchen. Charlie is on-line with his students. He lies and tells them that his computer’s camera lens is broken, all the while cajoling them to write something honest. He knows his visage will disgust them. Likewise, the pizza man, who delivers at least bi-weekly is visually kept at bay.

As Charlie, Brendan Fraser is Oscar worthy. He wheezes, clutches his chest, roils like Melville’s Moby Dick, and portrays believable bouts of self-pity. His perennially moist eyes seem to say” how did this happen”. We see him gorge on tubs of greasy chicken and toss half-eaten candy bars back into his stash drawer, only to retrieve them again and again. Here, Hunter supplies Charlie’s student with a sentence from his own student’s writing~ one that he thought was brutally honest. “ I think that I need to accept that my life isn’t going to be very exciting.” In Charlie, we know that the teacher has accepted that his own life is over.

Charlie has not completely ostracized himself. Four people come and go. The first is Liz, Charlie’s nurse, arrestingly portrayed by the American-Vietmanese actress Hong Chou. Chou is alternately exasperated and fraught with anxiety. In one scene, she is required to perform the Heimlich maneuver. She yells, “ Chew like a normal human being!” She is as direct as she gives Charlie’s blood pressure reading at 238/134. Even the audience gasps. He refuses to go to the hospital.

As the sister of Charlie’s lover, who has jumped to his own death, Liz is not ready to go through this again. Her anguish is palpable. She loves Charlie, and because of this , she is the classic enabler. Liz brings Charlie meatball sandwiches with double cheese and provides him with a double-wide wheelchair. Chou’s nuanced caregiver-portrayal lights the screen.

Charlie only wishes for Liz to read an essay on Melville’s “Moby Dick”. She is angry with the circumstances. We later learn the essay is Charlie’s daughter’s. Enter Elle. Sadie Sink, 20, is a dynamo as a failing high school senior abandoned by her father and given up on by her mother. Elle is mean, manipulative, and hate-filled. Now, suspended for writing a threatening note to her school mate, she sees her father for the first time in eight years. Her first words: “ Am I going to get fat?”

Scene after scene astound. Elle drugs Charlie with sleeping pills, blackmails a New Life Missionary, and in one of the most excruciating sequences demands that her father stand-up and walk to her without his walker. Sink seethes with pain and her bravado burns the soul. Her statements explode: “ You taught me at eight that people are assholes,” “ You could have been part of my life!” Charlie responds softly, “Elle, who would want me to be part of their life?”

Edward Albee’s “Whose Afraid Of Virginia Wolfe?” is brought to mind. And the thought continues with the entrance of Mary, Charlie’s ex-wife and Elle’s mother. The British character actress, Samantha Morton, 45, is astounding. I first saw her in “ Morvern Callar” ( 2002) a nihilistic and bizarre tale where nothing seems to phase her character. Here, Morton is electrically charged. When she screams, “ Enough!” at Elle, it is like the gates of Hell have opened. Mary admonishes Charlie for planning to give his life’s savings to Elle. At 17, she would spend it on face tattoos and ponies.

Though Mary fought for full custody, she feels she has been a bad mother. Failing at everything. She calls their daughter “ a terror”. “ She is awful, Charlie. She is evil.” Alcohol has loosened Mary’s tongue, and she lets slip the reason she has kept Elle from him this long. “ I was worried she would hurt you.” We have seen enough to believe her.

Mary shows what Elle has posted on-line and , in a monologue of exceptional tenderness, she tells Charlie how sorry she is for the death of his friend. Charlie and Mary recall their Oregon beach memories when Elle was eight. Mary offers to help and rests her head on his shoulder. Love is here.

Finally, emotionally exhausted viewers wind down with a plot twist. The missionary, Thomas, ( Ty Simpkins) confesses to Elle that he has stolen church funds. She tells him that she likes him better, and then sneeringly notifies his church and his parents of his wrong doing. All forgive him. His forgiveness is seen by Charlie as proof that Elle set Thomas’ redemption in motion, and that she cares for another human being.

Fraser delivers those last meaningful lines: “ People are amazing. People are incapable of not caring”.

The final light on Elle’s face and her screech of, “ Please, Daddy!” just may show that his innocent love got through.

Two Storm Wood ( 2022)

by Philip Gray

Londoner Philip Gray is the new necromancer of war. Gray has conjured a female protagonist on the European Front, searching for her fiancee circa 1918 . Standing in the aftermath of WWI, “Two Storm Wood” is a gothic romance with psychological punch. The sordid aspects of war are horrendous as in the Kevin Powers, Iraq war novel “ The Yellow Birds” and as in the Karl Marlantes, Viet Nam sorties in his novel, “Matterhorn”; but here, we are not in battle~ but picking up the pieces. There are 5,000 unburied bodies for every mile walked. Identification of the dead plays the most prominently, disfigurement second, and madness third.

Character driven and thematically focused, “Two Storm Wood” pits practical and idealistic souls in war’s moral morass. Great foreshadowing in this heavily plotted tale keeps mystery alive. Underground chambers, colonies of rats, shell holes and trenches cut through burial sites mix with tagged bodies and demented deserters. Dread builds, drugs, atrocities accumulate; racism and privilege raise their heads. War is seen as a contest of violence not virtue. Amy, our protagonist, is in the vortex like no other heroine I can recall since Jane Eyre. Masterfully done.

“The French Dispatch”

To watch a Wes Anderson film is to watch actors having fun. Recall “ The Grand Budapest Hotel” ( 2014) . In his tenth feature film, Anderson allows campy, piecemeal antics to somewhat cover-up his paean to ex-patriot journalists. In other words, don’t expect a Hallelujah Chorus: some of the story gets lost. And plot, there really isn’t one. In “ The French Dispatch”, newspaper structure holds the whimsy together. New Yorker’s founding editor, Harold Ross, and his Kansas staff are celebrated in the credits.

Our locale is a fictional French city, Ennui-sur-Blase. Funny in itself. Newspaper editor, Arthur Howitzer, Jr. ( Bill Murray as Harold Ross) in his last will and testament, assigns three well-received past feature articles and his obituary as his paper’s farewell and final edition . Even in death, Howitzer’s editorial dictums: “ Try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose” and “ No crying” in the office hold. Writers were his people, and he would not cut an article. Along this line, Anderson’s movie itself is two hours long.

The ensemble cast is long, too. Owen Wilson is a staff cycling travel writer and Angelica Huston is the film’s narrator for the goings-on at “ The Liberty Kansas Evening Sun”. Alexandre Desplat does the musical score which is heavy on the bassoon and tuba until we get to Theodosius Monk’s resonant jazz and the celebration of good journalism at the film’s end.

Our first feature is printed in The Arts & Artists section. Benicio Del Toro is Moses Rosenthaler, insane asylum artist. Anderson uses his usual 90 degree camera angle to let Del Toro lshow us who he is. We are made to feel like we are the interviewer seated right in front of Benicio, a straight-jacketed, French Splatter Proof Group artist, who paints and repaints a nude policewoman, Simone ( Lea Seydoux ). She raps him hard when he smudges paint on her body’s g-zone.

How crazy is Moses really? After violent dismemberment charges were filed for his decapitating two bartenders ( off screen) , he signs up for “ clay pottery and basketweaving” to express his artistic side. Moses then proposes to guard Simone as our narrator ( Angelica Huston) tells us “ some women gravitate to incarcerated men”. Moses , in repose, spends much time staring at the ceiling’s mold spots and seeing art.

Next, comes actors Adrien Brody and Henry Winkler. Brody plays Julien Cadazio, an unscrupulous art dealer and gallery owner. He sees Moses’ work in the “ Demented & Deranged” section of the asylum. Moses Rosenthaler’s art is “discovered” ! Now, pigeon blood and petrol his medium.

As the nonsense goes on, we see fresco fights and peelings that are described as the “ best contemplation of peripheral vision” ever seen.

In the Politics & Poetry Section we have a story with Timothee Chalamet , Saoirse Ronan, and Frances McDormand. Chalamet writes a manifesto for male student rights to enter girl’s dormitories. Between month long protests, chessboard games , and riots, McDormand’s deadpan lines are memorable: “The children are grumpy”, “ I prefer relationships that end.” And my favorite: “ This isn’t the first manifesto I have proofed.” And “Journalistic neutrality maintained!” Tongue-in-cheek fun.

In the Crime Section vignette, William DaFoe is jailed for the kidnapping of a commissar’s six year-old son. The boy’s first words were in Morse Code, and Morse Code is how he saves himself. An animated car chase befuddles this scene. Maybe, it is cheaper to film in animated, cartoon style.

In the Taste Section, we have the aromas of great chefs like “ kidney poached with plums from the arbor”. The food writer speaks of “ the sad beauty of a table set for a solitary feast.”

Elizabeth Moss pleads for the reporters to write their editor’s obit. together. Jeffrey Wright , as ex. pat. James Baldwin, gives another long rambling talk for humor, as does Tilda Swinton as art lecturer, a tip of the hat to Rosamond Bernier, again of “New Yorker” fame.

One reviewer called “ The French Dispatch” “a hodgepodge of pleasure”. I knew little about the journalists listed in the credits: Mavis Gallant and Lucinda Krementz . The film has a lot to take-in “ attractive wastrels” all. Anderson’s silly throw away lines are the best: “For every note he sings, a peasant must die in East Africa”. “ Poetic, not necessarily in a bad way.” “ I have a typographic memory.” A typographic memory is needed in reviewing a film like this one! Remember that these actors had fun and you may, too.

“Belfast”

Kenneth Branagh’s memoir takes you to another place all the while telling you that place is important. Leaving can give one perspective, but the “can’t take Belfast out of the boy” often rings merely sentimental. The warmth of extended family is what one comes away with.

“Belfast” shows ” the Troubles” in stark black and white: Protestant and Catholic, a working class street divided. Yet, the film’s end vibrates with “Cherrio” —all will be well. If one can follow the impressions and the directions of the nine-year-old Buddy, nostalgia and sentimentality are yours. And who couldn’t skip over cobbles with the adorable Jude Hill ! Hill plays the nine-year-old Branagh to Oscar contender fame, but then so does the unconquerable Judi Dench, and the exquisite Ciarán Hinds; and, Caitríona Balfe and Jami Dornan shatter the screen with perfect character performances.

Jude Hill plays Buddy to the hilt. He is ready to learn, woo that first girl friend, and slay dragons. What impresses him, impresses us. The hell and brimstone sermon of his Protestant minister, the adults that all speak to him on the street, his Gramps betting horses while sitting on the outside toilet, and his Da’s bi-monthly return from joiner work in London. Clashes, tanks, curfews, barricades, and double bluffs are part of a Belfast life. Primary school, with seating charts according to scores, and advice on girls and slogans like “ If you can’t be good, be careful” punctuate the scenes. Snippets from movies like “High Noon” with its theme song “ Do Not Forsake Me ,Oh My Darling” and “ Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” add to the grade-school-age clime.

Initially, “Belfast” employs colorful, present day, architectural stills of the city to set what a visiting native might recall: the Titanic Hotel, bright yellow Harland and Wolf shipyard cranes, and colorful graffiti splashed buildings. A ship- building port city on the River Lagan, Belfast erected the Titanic. Nods to rope-making and linen weaving are here, too. Black, white and gradations of grey take control of the cinematography, and the film’s focus is on family life in those interface areas where Catholics and Protestants reside. We see those caps of the Peaky Blinders and the lace curtains of the Irish windows. We are in August 15, 1969.

Truisms like “ Too long a sacrifice can leave a stone in the heart” play well in “ Belfast”. The contrasting dancing and singing of “Everlasting Love” hits the right chord. This is Kenneth Branagh’s homage to the generations of Northern Irelanders, those who stayed, those who left, and those who were lost. The jazz sax plays for even vegetarian Anti-Christs in this film. Enjoy the vibe.

“The Power of the Dog”

Some novel-based films demand one to read the book. This is the case with Jane Campion’s much touted new Netflix release, “ The Power of the Dog”. While this may be a good thing, for certainly Thomas Savage’s 1967 book deserves the read, it should not be required in order to understand the film’s main theme of self hate.

There is much about this quasi- revenge film that is laudable. The acting is superb and the attention to period detail draws us in by the remembrance of things past. Even the cooking implements speak of the early 1900’s. Filmed in New Zealand, our setting is told to be a wealthy Montana cattle ranch in 1925. The owners are two very dissimilar brothers. One is a bully cowboy, who happens to be a Yale graduate in the Classics. The other a gentle soul, a college drop out who has trouble finding words to express himself. Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the master curmudgeon with the smart aleck mouth and mean spirit. He tells his younger brother, George, ( Jesse Plemons ) who he refers to as ” Fatso” that they were raised by a wolf like Romulus and Remus. The elder Phil is attached to George. They even sleep in the same room in twin beds ,though there are many available. Phil reminds George that their first cattle run together was twenty-five years ago. This fact is the one positive statement offered to his brother during the entire film .

There are housekeepers and cooks and heavily carved staircases and parlors. But then again there are rowdy ranch hands and heavy chaps and beautiful mountains and sloping foothills in big sky country. Cinematographer Ari Wegner captures it all. She glides the camera through all shades of brown from seamed stockings to bull testicles, from polished saddles to mud baths and secret watering holes.

The plot arc is set once Kirsten Dunst steps in as the “suicide widow” , the term coined by hateful Phil once he sees that George is smitten with Mrs. Rose Gordon. Rose has a very effeminate son, whom Phil delights in mocking and mortifying. In one scene, he has a dozen cowboys surround him on horses and call him “ Miss Nancy” and ” Little Lord Fauntleroy”. There is irony here since Rose’s son, Peter, will become anything but a “Goody-two-shoes”.

No viewer will be surprised that the brutal cowboy is a suppressed gay horse beater and bull castrator. There is no need for “ a big reveal” even before the sensual scene with the silk fabric caressing Phil’s genitals and face. To his credit, Cumberbatch makes us feel Phil’s loneliness. Jonny Greenwood’s score supports the popular songs of the era and enhances mood and suspense.

George and Rose marry. And more subject matter like alcoholism and anti-intellectualism is introduced. The film-script is complex. Dunst provides a multi-dimensional Rose. She is a grieving widow, a protective mother, a closet alcoholic, a berated and brutalized sister-in-law, a Native American sympathizer, and a kind and loving wife. Rose understands condescension. Dunst’s face makes us see her awareness as she tosses back her orange blossom cocktail. Dunst is good, if not better than Cumberbatch.

Jesse Plemons, as George, is perfection, minus the not too hidden body padding . The film would not be possible without him. Plemons is the perfect foil, whom it pains us to see locking the bathroom door to protect Rose’s privacy, and buying a baby grand to promote her amateurish piano playing. His George serves salad in Rose’s restaurant when she needs aid, and he cries because it is so nice to not be alone. George feels Rose is marvelous. Phil calls her “a cheap schemer”.

The hardest character to develop in the Biblical titled “ The Power of the Dog” is Peter, Rose’s son. Kodi Smith-McPhee plays the trauma- ridden teen, who has cut his father down from his suicide noose. Peter blows off taunts and ridicule by gyrating a hula hoop. He is an innocent coping until he hatches a revenge plan.

Phil Burbank is always looking at the far-off hills. He is impressed that Peter, too, sees the same barking dog-like shadow he has always seen. This seen cloud image marks them as the same. Phil begins to mentor Pete. He teaches him how to dry rawhide and braid rope. We get over- wrought symbols of posts being rammed into the ground. After Peter kills an injured rabbit to put it out of his misery, Phil praises him for his strength of will. Peter tells Phil, “ My father used to fear that I was too strong.”

The Psalm 22:20 ” Deliver my soul from the sword, my darling, from the power of the dog.” is what we are left to read. Yet, Rudyard Kipling’s rather silly poetic line, “..beware of giving your heart to a dog to tear..” makes more sense to this reviewer. The final frame of Peter seeing his mother and George happily coming home leaves him free to take his own life like his father did. Thus, the last frame of the braided rope tossed under the bed, a hand’s reach away. I will be reading Thomas Savage’s book for psychological clarity, because the film left too many questions.


“Lamb”

Mother Nature is turned upside down in the folkloric horror film “ Lamb” (2021). The enthralling cinematography and the violin and cello score will please even the uneasy. Animals seem to know more than we do about the natural order of things. The Icelandic horses, the family border collie, their cat are wary. It is easy to attribute anthropomorphic thoughts to their neighing, barks, and meows. Yet, their stares are what send the chills up your spine. Especially, the sheep seem to code “ Don’t go to sheep”. There is wisdom here.

Yes, Director Valdimar Johansson’s film is slow to unspool, but it is beautiful. Texture is what we see: breath steam, wood grain, snow blasts, horn ridges, blades of grass. The film’s colorist, Eggert Baldvisson, is an artist using blues and browns arrestingly. Cinematographer Eli Arenson proves to be one of the best. The vistas of mountain peaks and streams alternate nicely with rural farm framed window shots and sheep barns. Clothes flapping on the line and a windy grave yard mesh with homey dinners, familiar dancing, card playing and watching soccer on tv. Normal, yet so not.

Porarinn Gudnson’s score is full of violins, cellos, piano and drums. The music leads our emotions perfectly.

We don’t learn the names of our three characters until mid-film, and their backstory is more hinted at than told. Superb acting is on all fronts. Swedish actress Noomi Rapace , of ” Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” (2009) fame, is good at showing a darker side of motherhood. Possessive motherly traits and unresigned loss lead Maria to easily acquiesce to a surrogate for Ada ( her dead daughter ). I did find it creepy that Ada’s name was so easily usurped.

Maria and her husband communicate with glance more than with words. Rapace has wonderful facial control for this ” glance language”. Likewise, Icelandic actor Hilmir Snaer Gudnason provides a face of hurt and care to Maria’s husband, Ingvar. When Ingvar cries alone in the tractor, I did, too. When he drags the old baby crib out of the barn, we know what will bring this couple complete happiness. His teaching Ada how to use the geology of the region to always find home is sweeter than any father/ daughter talk I have seen.

Ingvar’s off-beat brother, Petur, ( Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson) serves as another pair of eyes. He is funny, lazy, and constantly coming on to Maria. His well-timed line, “What the fuck is this ? ” had the audience bursting with laughter. When he takes Ada by the hand along with a rifle, we worry. Suspense is a keynote to horror.

The slow reveal and the matricide plot are ominous. Dreams of wild-eyed sheep play a part. Ada’s goldenrod sweater will imprint along with her laurel buttercup crown. She is seen as a gift, a new beginning. She becomes the reverse. This review will not give the three chapter plot or the melodramatic ending up. Just see this film for its originality and its bow to folktales.

“The Chef”

“The Chef” is a foodie’s comedy /slice of life piece that delights! Whether it is the passion of creating butter-slathered grilled cheeses & Cubanos or sizzled sauces that draws one in, this film centers on parenting and work, and how our children are often excluded when they need not be.

Emjay Anthony is adorable as a kid that anyone would wish to call his/her own. A softer Sofia Vergara is lovely as the insightful nurturer,and Robert Downey Jr. is more than memorable as the phobia ridden ex with ADHD. Dustin Hoffman adds another character to his repertoire, and Scarlett Johansson does her thing as sexy confidant. One wonders how Jon Favreau, who wrote, directed and starred in “The Chef” could get so many”sous-chefs” for his film. No one upstaged another. As gustatory critic, Oliver Platt, was a natural. Comedic actors Bobby Cannavale and John Leguizamo added a special zest to a beautiful cast.

“The Chef” is so freshly current with its social media, with its “lay your hits” marketing philosophy, with its undocumented workers, that the audience immediately connects, or at least recognizes the lay of the land.

The music is so engaging that several patrons danced out of their seats and down the aisle as they left the theatre. Tito Puente comes to mind. And “Mr. Bone Tangle” & the street artist highlighted our chef’s past laments. This film will cause me to research Mr. Favreau,who must love & respect women and is not afraid to show his softer side.

“A Marriage Story”

Noah Baumbach’s divorce movie is a noble contender for “Best Picture”. Painful and funny, the script begins with Nicole ( Scarlet Johansson) and Charlie ( Adam Driver ) listing all the things they love about each other. The listing is not on Valentine’s Day, but required by their divorce mediator. The film is very much of a love story in the course of a divorce that really did not have to happen. There was no third person to obfuscate nor any major event to traumatize values. There was love in every scene. Though often, it was just in Charlie’s and Nicole’s eyes. They did not have to divorce, thus the tragedy.

We learn through flashback that Nicole and Charlie work together professionally. Charlie has the upper-hand as director. Nicole feels he is holding her screen career back. It is Nicole’s divorce attorney who listens to Nicole and articulates and guides her in the dissolution of her marriage. Laura Dern is scathing as the raw-talking guide, who will get the split done. Dern plays a shrewd escalator in what becomes a battle for the custody of Nicole and Charlie’s young son. The New York verses L.A. commute becomes paramount. Charles states that they are a New York family: Nicole runs to her California roots and regresses to a surly teen in her mother’s house.

To give Nicole her due, the scene with her mother melting over her son-in-law is off putting, and Charlie has his narcissistic side. But Nicole never really talks about what she wants or feels is lacking. Johansson’s tearful monologue on her attorney’s couch needed a real counselor to draw out why she allowed Charlie to hold back her career and decided to call it quits without giving her husband a chance to change. Her self-love and the possibilities for her career supersede real partner intervention. Her intent is set. Driver’s Charlie plays more sympathetic. His striving to keep his son in his life is admirable and heart-wrenching.

Ray Liotta uses his shark eyes and his own shrewdness to stand against Dern in legal battle. Competition between lawyers and competition between theatrical and film careers seem to draw out the worst in everyone.

The acting on all counts is terrific. We are lost in the characters , and Driver’s and Johansson’s star power never breaks our focus. I wanted to hand them both Rollo May’s “Love and Will” ( 1969). It is possible to participate in the ” meaning-matrix” of another without surrendering your own. Anyone who has experienced divorce will wince more than once, yet ” A Marriage Story” somehow finds caustic humor in this domestic tragedy of a heart- breaking variety.