Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Your hair is like fire,
My heart burns there, too.
—Stephen King, It
New year, new newsletter? I saw ten new releases this month, three of which were technically 2021 movies that either took their time reaching me or vice versa, and found it to be a fairly average January — not great, not terrible. My memory of most of these will be extinguished come February, but a few seem likely to leave just enough embers for me to remember them for some time.
The Tragedy of Macbeth
Theatrical adaptations have never been my jam. I like movies that do things only movies can do — movies that take full advantage of every cinematic tool available — and intentionally barebones stage-to-screen adaptations don’t really fall under that umbrella. Still, it’s Joel Coen directing Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, with a genuinely mesmeric Kathryn Hunter (an English stage legend whom philistines like me remember as the squib from Harry Potter) reshaping our very conception of the Witches, which is to say that The Tragedy of Macbeth has grown on me.
See for Me
From my Variety review: “It’s as though Okita, Yorke, and Gushue made a list of every mistake similar films have made in the past and set to eschew all of them. With the theatrical situation being what it is at the moment, See for Me itself seems destined to end up on a more esteemed list: solid genre films that deserve a bigger audience.”
You know those straight-to-Netflix action movies that cost $100 million to make but still feel less like actual movies and more like Content manifested by the algorithm? Your 6 Undergrounds, Red Notices, and Triple Frontiers? The 355 feels exactly like one of them despite receiving an actual theatrical release. No one saw it, because no one’s seeing anything not named Spider-Man right now, but at least they tried.
From my Variety review: “If you’ve been awaiting the triumphant return of the erotic thriller, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that Shattered is very much an erotic thriller, complete with femme fatale and out-of-his-depth protagonist. The bad news is that, despite a game performance from Lilly Krug, the next Basic Instinct this is not. Written by David Loughery and directed by Luis Prieto, Shattered comes across as an update on the thrillers of yore — just with the wrong elements updated.”
Some have criticized this “requel” for being too meta, an exceedingly odd complaint given that Scream’s self-awareness has always been its defining trait. Well, that and the fact that, unlike the Halloweens and Friday the 13ths of the slasher world, the franchise’s main character isn’t also its antagonist. Neve Campbell’s Sydney Prescott makes herself scarce to allow more room for the new characters, a passing of the torch that, like nearly everything else here, surprised me with how well done it was. I appreciated just about every creative decision made in this one, from name-dropping the likes of It Follows and The Witch as part of a discussion on elevated horror (a Film Twitter cause célèbre that I mercifully avoided) to hewing even more closely to the original film than the prior three sequels. Mostly, though, I liked the focus on Dewey. I’d never thought of David Arquette’s bumbling cop as a tragic figure before, but now it’s impossible to think of him as anything but — even more than Neve Campbell’s Sidney, he’s unable to move past the trauma of dealing with this bullshit for a full 25 years and bears scars both literal and figurative that have never fully healed. I hope we don’t have to wait another 11 years for the next one.
Bob Spit — We Do Not Like People
From my Variety review: “What happens when a cutting-edge artist no longer considers himself cutting edge? That’s one question raised by Bob Spit: We Do Not Like People, but it’s far from the only one. In addition to being a stop-motion animated documentary about Brazilian cartoonist Angeli, it’s also a psychedelic road movie in which a roving pack of tiny, bloodthirsty Elton Johns set their sights on a punk-rock vigilante trying to reach his creator: Angeli himself. That’s nothing if not a unique premise, but writer-director Cesar Cabral’s animated whatsit proves more compelling as a concept than as an actual movie.”
Like Farhadi’s last few, this one didn’t land for me. He’s clearly a master dramatist, but his movies have become too bureaucratic for me to find them engaging as cinema — in this case, with the downtrodden protagonist’s simple problem spiraling out of control in a way that’s tragic for him but mostly just frustrating for the viewer. Certainly that’s intentional on Farhadi’s part, but I can only watch so many protracted scenes of a guy pleading his case to one mid-level official or another in drab office before wondering when Farhadi’s going to make his next A Separation. Most filmmakers never make one movie half as moving as that, but his subsequent work has frustrated precisely because I know he’s more than capable of doing it again.
A Taste of Hunger
From my Variety review: “The former Jaime Lannister is a different kind of ruthless in A Taste of Hunger, a foodie film whose protagonist’s ambition is summarized by the opening epigraph: ‘If you ask me what I want, I’ll tell you I want everything.’ Everything, in this case, is the restaurant world’s crowning achievement: a Michelin star, which since 1926 has designated the best of the best around the world. Only 2,817 eateries have been so honored, and director Christoffer Boe’s drama focuses on a restaurateur’s quest to become the 2,818th. The result certainly isn’t fast food, but neither is it fine dining.”
What does the past owe us, and what do we owe it? Parallel Mothers is not at all what I imagined it would be, and I can’t imagine it’s what anyone else had imagined, either. Pedro Almodóvar’s latest is as much about motherhood as it is about the motherland’s historical wounds; to say that the two are related would be putting it lightly. And though Penélope Cruz is somehow even better than you’re expecting her to be, it’s Milena Smit (a dead ringer for a young Patricia Arquette) whose performance puts a bow on things.
Any movie even tangentially about school shootings has the unfortunate fate of being compared to Elephant, but The Fallout may be the first not to suffer for it. That’s true in large part due to Jenna Ortega, who, between this and Scream, has quickly emerged as one of the most promising performers of her generation. It’s beyond disheartening that there’s still cause to even make films of this nature 19 years after Gus Van Sant’s elliptical Palme d’Or winner, but here we are with no reason to believe that there won’t be just as much cause to keep making them 19 years from now. Happy 2022, everyone!