Monday, December 31, 2018

Timing of My Year End Report

Hello all,

You may recall in year's past, that while I go overboard with my year end report - listing the top 30 movies of the year, having other lists for each of the acting categories, and animated films and docs and disappointing films and worst films - and my own Oscar Ballot - I'm always later than most, as I like to ensure I see everything I should before posting, and more often than not, there are a few contenders that qualify themselves, then go wide in January. This year, there is really only 1 film that I missed, that I need to catch up on when it goes wider - but it's a big one - Barry Jenkins' If Beale Street Could Talk. Considering the massive acclaim, and my love of Moonlight, it seems silly to do a top 10 list without seeing it. Hopefully, that could be as soon as this weekend - it's supposed to expand on January 4th, and I head back to work this week anyway in Toronto, so one way or another, I should see it. (I supposed one could argue On the Basis of Sex as well - but that hasn't really found a footing this awards season - although, I'm still interested).

There are others I would love to see - a quintet of docs - Minding the Gap, Hale County This Morning This Evening, Bisbee '17, Monrovia Indiana and Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun - on top of that list, but while all seem available in America, none are available here in Canada (other than Minding the Gap, that played at the Lightbox the week I was at Disney World, I don't think any were even released here). So my doc list will have a HUGE asterisk on it this year, but what I can do? I may get to catch up with another of my big ones - Paul Dano's Wildlife (another film that never hit Canada) - but we'll have to see when it actually hits streaming here in Canada.

Bottom line, I'm behind this year - so we're looking at the second or third week of January before I can get the lists out. I'm behind on writing them - not to mention I have to write 11 reviews of the movies I've seen over Christmas break (Bumblebee, Shoplifters, Vox Lux, Bird Box, Aquaman, Vice, Mary Poppins Returns, Ben is Back, Bodied, Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes and Mary Queen of Scots - as well. I'll get up my lists as soon as I can. Until then, stick around - those reviews are coming, and soon after, the lists.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Movie Review: Cold War

Cold War **** / *****
Directed by: Paweł Pawlikowski.
Written by: Paweł Pawlikowski and Janusz Głowacki.
Starring: Joanna Kulig (Zula Lichoń), Tomasz Kot (Wiktor Warski), Borys Szyc (Lech Kaczmarek), Agata Kulesza (Irena Bielecka), Jeanne Balibar (Juliette), Cédric Kahn (Michel), Adam Woronowicz (consul), Adam Ferency (minister), Adam Szyszkowski (camp guard)
Cold War is a love story told in fragments over a 15 year period, from 1949-1964, between two Polish musicians. Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), a conductor with a Polish theatrical group specializing in traditional folk music. He is one of the people auditioning young Poles from the countryside to be included in the troop, when he first sets eyes on Zula (Joanna Kulig) – a beautiful blonde, with a nice voice and undeniable star quality. The two are immediately drawn together – and fall in love.
In simpler times, this would a simpler story – but here it isn’t. Their group attracts the attention of people higher up in Soviet Poland – and they are “encouraged” to sing more about workers and the proletariat and how great Stalin is – and of course, it’s not merely a suggestion. The group starts to travel – and Wiktor decides that what needs to happen is that he and Zula should flee across the border in Berlin to freedom. When Zula doesn’t show up, he goes anyway. The rest of the film involves the few moments over the next decade when the pair of lovers can come together. When they are alone, you can feel their longing for the other. When they are together, things aren’t as rosy either. They may well be happier apart – but they don’t know how to let go.
The film is directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, who uses the same basic visual strategy that worked so well in his last film – the Oscar winning Ida. That film was about a novice nun, who before she is to take her final vows, is sent back to the hometown she never knew to talk to an Aunt she didn’t know she had – and it’s there she finds out what happened to her family in WWII. Both films are shot in boxy 4:3 aspect ratio, in beautiful black and white – and both films often leave large swaths of the frame above the character’s heads, unfilled. It’s a visual strategy that keeps the characters boxed in – the character’s world is closed off to them.
You would think that a movie as deliberately fragmented as Cold War would be somehow less complete than this one is, but Pawlikowski makes it work. He uses music to great effect – it changes as the movie goes along, beginning with those folk songs, moving to something akin to Russian propaganda anthems, and then moving into jazz – sometimes jazzy versions of those earlier folk songs. In one masterful scene – the best scene in the movie by far – even rock n’ roll comes along – with a dance number by the luminous Kulig set to Rock Around the Clock, which is easily one of the best sequences of the year. The music underlines the emotions of everything, and pulls us through from one scene to the scene, one year to the next – as the film pushes the characters together, only to wrench them apart again.
That Pawlikowski does all this in a svelte 88 minute runtime is kind of astonishing. Many directors seem to think that longer films are somehow better – more important and deeper. They can be, but sometimes a film like Cold War gets to the heart of what it wants to say, and does so quickly. You don’t need a longer runtime, when you get straight to the heart of it like Cold War does.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Movie Review: The Mule

The Mule **** / *****
Directed by: Clint Eastwood.
Written by: Nick Schenk based on the article by Sam Dolnick.
Starring: Clint Eastwood (Earl Stone), Bradley Cooper (Colin Bates), Taissa Farmiga (Ginny), Alison Eastwood (Iris), Michael Peña (DEA Agent), Andy Garcia (Laton), Laurence Fishburne (DEA Special Agent), Dianne Wiest (Mary), Clifton Collins Jr. (Cartel Member), Manny Montana (Axl), Jill Flint (Pam), Robert LaSardo (Emilio), Noel Gugliemi (Bald Rob), Loren Dean (DEA Agent Brown), Ignacio Serricchio (Julio), Katie Gill (Sarah), Daniel Moncada (Eduardo), Victor Rasuk (Rico).
Ten years ago, Gran Torino was supposed to be the then 78-year old Clint Eastwood’s acting swansong – and it was a fitting one, where the veteran actor played a Korean war veteran, who has to confront his own violent past, and his own racism – and like a number of Eastwood films before, make way for the younger generation as his character had become a man who has outlived his time. Four years later, Eastwood acted in Trouble with the Curve (he didn’t direct that one) – and for a while, that looked to be his final onscreen working – far less fitting, as while that film is kind of fun and charming, it’s also largely forgettable, and has the exact opposite message – where Eastwood’s baseball scout can still tell better than any phony math who can play baseball, and who can’t. I’m glad then that Eastwood decided to star in this one last film – The Mule – which shows that the old guy still has it, and is a fitting send off for his onscreen career – that is if the now 88-year-old doesn’t have something else up his sleeve for 2028.
The film itself is a bit of an odd duck. It is loosely based on a true story, that found a 90-year-old man become the go to drug mule for a Mexican Cartel – hauling hundreds of kilos from Texas to Chicago in the back of his pickup. The money is good – and for Earl that is enough. He was once one of the more celebrated members of the Day Lily Community – we see him in an early scene in 2005 winning member of the year at a convention (that he skipped his daughter’s wedding to attend) – but also in that scene recognize what will be his downfall there – his failure to embrace the internet. 12 years later, his farm is foreclosed on, and he has no money and nowhere to go. That daughter, Iris (Allison Eastwood – Clint’s daughter) won’t speak to him, and neither will his ex-wife, Mary (Dianne Wiest). His granddaughter, Ginny (Taissa Farmiga) still loves Grandpa Earl – and is now getting married herself – and Earl has promised to pay for the open bar. So when the opportunity to make thousands of dollars for driving comes up, Earl takes it – thinking it will be a one-time thing. It won’t be.
When you hear that Clint Eastwood has made a film about Mexican drug cartels, you are probably thinking you’re in for an exciting action movie – maybe a film with mounting tension. The Mule is decidedly not that. Earl has a blast on the road – through Middle America – and he’s able to win over just about everyone. The cartel members who load up his truck at first glare at him – trying to intimidate him, but soon they’re all laughing and joking together. He has a couple of strange run-ins along the way that show his age – first with an all-female motorcycle group – “Dykes on Bikes” and then with an African American family with a flat tire – in both cases Earl uses decidedly non-PC language – and gets politely, if firmly, rebuffed. He smiles and laughs it off. He is casually racist – not as much as his Gran Torino character, but they’re certainly from the same generation – but he means no one any harm.
The Mule isn’t quite a comedy, and it isn’t quite a drama, and it isn’t quite a thriller, so honestly, I’m not quite sure what it is. Whatever it is, it works – gliding mostly on Eastwood’s charms in front of the camera, and his minimalist approach to directing behind it. You cannot say this is a vanity free performance by Eastwood – he has two three ways in the film, so yes, there is some ego stroking going on here – but even in one of those sequences, Eastwood undercuts that somewhat by showing us his rail thin, seemingly frail body. Eastwood isn’t afraid to look old here – and it’s a treat to see him play that old, and then in other scenes, overplay how old he is to distract various cops into thinking he’s a doddering old fool. That’s what makes him such a good drug mule – because who would think they would entrust that much money to this guy?
There is some political undercurrent here as well. Eastwood paints a portrait of modern day America where it doesn’t matter if you’re a DEA agent, a Cartel member or anyone else – the big guy will always have his foot on the neck of the little guy, keeping him down, demanding more from him. But mainly, this is a portrait of a man who is coming near the end of his life, and looks back at everything he has done, and wonders if he mucked it all up. The fact that film is released around the time of Sondra Locke’s death is a strange coincidence – the end of that chapter in Eastwood’s life is perhaps the ugliest side of Eastwood’s own personal life, which he has always tried to keep private.
The Mule doesn’t hit the heights of Eastwood’s best work – this is no Outlaw Josey Wales or Unforgiven – but it’s a treat to see Eastwood onscreen again, and carrying this strange little movie.

Movie Review: All About Nina

All About Nina *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Eva Vives.
Written by: Eva Vives.
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Nina Geld), Common (Rafe), Chace Crawford (Joe), Camryn Manheim (Debora), Jay Mohr (Mike), Mindy Sterling (Amy), Angelique Cabral (Carrie), Clea DuVall (Paula), Kate del Castillo (Lake), Beau Bridges (Larry Michaels). 
I’m not quite sure why it seems like Hollywood has never quite known what to do with Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Almost every time I see her in a movie – or TV show – she is fantastic, and yet it seems like we don’t see her enough – and when we do see her, like in the brilliant, blistering performance she delivers in All About Nina, no one seems to notice. So I guess you can add this to her excellent work in Smashed or the third season of Fargo or 10 Cloverfield Lane – as another excellent performance by one of Hollywood’s most talented, but underutilized actresses.
Her character in All About Nina is a mess – if the Amy Schumer movie hadn’t already used the title Trainwreck, it would have been appropriate here – Schumer’s character in that movie has it all together compared to Nina here. She is a New York standup comic – who has an angry, aggressive persona on stage (one of the things I don’t know is if we’re supposed to find her normal standup funny or not – I didn’t really, although I think Winstead delivers the material brilliantly). After years in New York, she decides to head to L.A. – she tells herself it’s to audition for Comedy Prime (a SNL clone) – but it’s at least as much to get away from Joe (Chace Crawford), the married cop who hits her that she is currently fucking. To call him a boyfriend would be too generous – Nina says she never has never had a boyfriend, and you believe her.
When she gets to L.A., there is a little bit of culture shock. She moves in with what could be a L.A. cliché – a Mexican American writer or New Age mumbo jumbo, who talks about her “energy” and has healing parties in her backyard where people are encouraged to feel their “truth”. Nina feels her truth onstage – but off it, she has her guard constantly up. She has to fend off the advances of male comics and, just men in general – she wants to be in control – which means a lot of anonymous one night stands. When she is approached by Rafe (Common) in a club, she doesn’t know what to do with him. He’s nice and kind, calm and confident. When she tells him she isn’t going to fuck him, it doesn’t faze him – he asks her out anyway. He just wants to take things one step at a time and see where things go.
The plot of All About Nina is, admittedly, riddled with clichés. In almost any movie about a stand-up comedian, you know you’re going to get to a scene where the main character flips out on stage – revealing the “truth” that they have hidden the whole movie to the audience that shocked and silent. That happens here – and the “truth” that Winstead reveals is fairly shocking (and, mostly, comes out of left field). As brilliant as Winstead is in this sequence – and it is her most show-offy moment, but still feels real, I almost wonder if it wasn’t needed at all. I’m not sure we really need to assign a reason to Nina’s anger the way the film seems to feel the need to.
I also think that Common is another reason why the film works. While Winstead’s Nina is all raw edges and emotions, Common is a calming force in the movie – and for Nina. He’s a good guy – not a perfect one as the film makes clear, but a guy who knows who he is, and is confident in that. It’s also refreshing to see Common take on a role that does burden him with being some moral, upstanding guy – like he seems to be most often. Here, he’s a nice guy.
The film was the debut for writer/director Eva Vives, and it’s a fine debut for her. Yes, it indulges in clichés, but she also gets such wonderful performances from her actors, and taps into a kind of deep, dark pit of anger that so many women feel right now. It’s not perfect – but it’s very good. And it should serve as a reminder of how great Winstead can be.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Movie Review: The House That Jack Built

The House That Jack Built *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Lars von Trier.
Written by: Lars von Trier and Jenle Hallund.
Starring: Matt Dillon (Jack), Bruno Ganz (Verge), Uma Thurman (Lady 1), Siobhan Fallon Hogan (Lady 2), Sofie Gråbøl (Lady 3), Riley Keough (Simple), Jeremy Davies (Al), Ed Speleers (Ed - Police officer 2), David Bailie (S.P.), Cohen Day (George), Rocco Day (Grumpy), Robert G. Slade (Rob). 
It’s really saying something to note that in a year where we finally saw Orson Welles’ final vision in The Other Side of the Wind, a film where Welles undeniably is interrogating himself as a filmmaker, that Lars von Trier’s The House That Jack Built is the film most closely connected to its creators in its willingness to interrogate the man who made it. The film is two-and-a-half hours of Von Trier responding to his critic’s claims of his misanthropy and misogyny, basically by proving them right. He is deliberately trying to be provocative here – and your mileage will vary on how much of this you’re willing to sit through. The film is full of violence against women and children – all of it hard to watch – as well as long conversations comparing artists to murderers, some of which is insightful, and some of which sounds like an insufferable undergrad who goes on long rants in class as the rest of the class either rolls their eyes, or fall asleep. This isn’t a great film by Von Trier – a director who has undeniable made some great films – Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark, Dogville, Antichrist, Nymphomaniac, the first half of Melancholia – but it is something to behold. It is almost as if Von Trier is saying to his critics that while they may hate him, he hates himself even more. After all, by the end of the film, his surrogate is literally in hell.
That surrogate is Jack (Matt Dillon), a prolific serial killer, who is telling his story to Verge (Bruno Ganz – a faceless voice until the epilogue of the film) about five of his killings. He has so little regard for his victims that they are never given names – except for one, who he has dubbed Simple, because that is precisely how he sees her. So there is the first lady, played by Uma Thurman, who Jack picks up on the side of the road when she gets a flat tire, and her Jack breaks. He drives her to a repair shop, back to her car, and is driving her back again, when tired of her screeching into his ear, joking that he is a serial killer, and laughing about that because he’s obviously too weak to be that, he smashes the jack into her face. He kills another woman by strangling her in her room, he takes a woman and her two young sons on a hunting trip, and then uses them as the game. The most infamous sequence has to do with Simple, of course, a woman he was involved with romantically, before the extended torture sequence which involves him cutting off her breasts. It was at this point at Cannes that many who made it that far had had enough, and walked out. But Von Trier just keeps on going and going and going. We only see a few of Jack’s crimes – but we see the bodies of his victims, which he keeps stacked up in a walk in freezer – and will occasionally move them around, the photograph them in weird positions. Jack is a failed architect, and the title seems to be about the house he always wanted to build – that he planned for years – but the last act, he literally does build a house out of those bodies – and then walks through to hell.
What you make of the film is up to you. I cannot tell you to sit through the film and its violence because the payoff is something terribly profound, because to be frank, it isn’t. If you don’t want to put yourself through all of that vile violence, fair enough – it is hard to take. It’s also hard to take the endless conversations between Jack and Verge – which most often plays over images of historical atrocities – although in one telling sequence, it’s over clips of Von Trier’s other films. As with the violence, Von Trier repeats himself again and again in this dialogue, belaboring his point. You may disagree with his ideas about art, and the similarities between artists and murderers, but at least some of it is interesting to listen to. Much of it isn’t though.
In a way, simply by watching the film, you make Von Trier into the winner here. Much like Jack, as he details his thoughts to Verge, he isn’t actually trying to convince you of anything – he just doesn’t want to be ignored. This not really a film where Von Trier bandies about ideas as much as one where he talks to you directly, and you have to sit there and take it. And then take it some more.
And if all that sounds insufferable to you, then you shouldn’t see The House That Jack Built – although, you probably already know that since you’ve probably never much liked Von Trier – a completely valid stance, as he is at times too much to take. For me, as a fan of Von Trier, I found much of it fascinating and sad and infuriating and repulsive and vile. The filmmaking is at times among the best things Von Trier has ever put on screen – the epilogue in hell is visually stunning. I cannot tell you to watch The House That Jack Built – most audiences will either be repulsed or bored (or, more likely, both) by the film. And it certainly isn’t the film to watch if you’ve never seen a Von Trier film before. But if you’ve made it this far in the review, and you want to see it – then go ahead. It is everything that people who hated it said it was – it’s also everything that people who loved it said it was.

Movie Review: The Favourite

The Favourite **** ½ / *****
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos.
Written by: Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara.
Starring: Olivia Colman (Queen Anne), Rachel Weisz (Lady Sarah), Emma Stone (Abigail), Nicholas Hoult (Harley), Joe Alwyn (Masham), Jennifer White (Mrs Meg), LillyRose Stevens (Sally), James Smith (Godolphin), Mark Gatiss (Lord Marlborough).
As someone who has been an admirer of Yorgos Lanthimos since seeing Dogtooth nearly a decade ago, it’s nice to finally be able to wholeheartedly recommend one of his films that practically everyone. The formalism on display in masterworks like Dogtooth, The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer were always going to rub some (most?) audience the wrong way, and when you recommend his films to some, they are liable to come back and kick you. Not so with The Favourite – which is the first film of his he did not co-write, which allows the dialogue to be looser than normal for Lanthimos – and that extends to the performances as well, which Lanthimos allows to not at all monotone, as is his usual style. And yet while the film is less outwardly what we have come to think of as a Lanthimos film, it is still very much the work of the same director – with the same jaundiced view of the world.
It is 18th Century England, and monarch is Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), a childless widow, who behaves like a spoiled child, and has the understanding of one as well. Her closer adviser – and lover – is Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), who is married to the leader of the English military, who is currently at war with France (over what? who cares – the movie doesn’t). Anne and Sarah were childhood friends, but Sarah is grown up to be smart and cunning and strong – and she basically makes all the decisions for the Queen, using her wiles and flattery to convince her. This little arrangement is upended with the arrival of Abigail (Emma Stone) – Sarah’s distant cousin, whose family has lost their name, and their money, and now Abigail is on the palace steps begging Sarah for a job. She starts as a scullery maid – but works her way up to be one of Sarah’s trusted maids – and then sets her sites on the Queen. What follows is something out of All About Eve or Mean Girls, with Abigail and Sarah fighting with each for favor with the Queen. All three of them are trapped by their gender in roles they don’t much like – only two of them realize this, at least at first (Queen Anne will figure it out by the end).
The men in The Favourite are secondary characters – made at all times to look ridiculous and silly. This is evident in the costuming (the great Sandy Powell – outdoing herself here) – that allows the women to look sleek, stylish and sophisticated – and goes over the top in making the men, like Nicolas Hoult or Joe Alwyn, look like idiots with powdered faces, and massive wigs. The women wield sex as a weapon – with each other, with the men – because they know they must. They don’t have the option men have of failing upwards. They have to be constantly planning, constantly on guard. You fall out of favor, you’re in trouble.
The Favourite is, it must be said, one of the most entertaining movies of the year. It is hilarious, but in a bitter, acid-tongued way – and it is anchored by three of the very best performances of the year. Olivia Colman is one of those actresses who has been brilliant in everything for years (including Lanthimos’ The Lobster) – and has finally been given the kind of big show-offy role that she can make iconic. The performance would be grand by itself – if it was just a comedic tour-de-force, but what’s remarkable is throughout the film, Colman is able to bring a human side of Queen Anne out. When we first meet all of her rabbits, it’s something to laugh at her about – to mock her. But when she describes why she has them, it breaks your heart. This is also perhaps the best performance of Rachel Weisz’s career. I have never been a huge fan of hers – I find her to be a cold actress – but that’s precisely what makes her fit with Lanthimos so well (so was also in The Lobster). Here, she is always the smartest person in the room –in part, because she knows being the smartest person in the room isn’t enough for her. She is cold and calculated, and downright cruel at times. And on top of those, you also have the best work of Emma Stone’s career so far. Abigail is perhaps the most likable of the characters – at least at first, because unlike the other two, who have money and security, she has nothing. Her scheming is purely out of self-interest sure – but the alternative is prostitution, so you know, it’s understandable. What’s impressive about her, is that you don’t see it coming – she is as cunning and cruel as Lady Sarah – but with a much softer exterior. She does what she has to.
Lanthimos lets this all play out in grand style – in a palace with great art direction, and cinematography by Robbie Ryan that, sure, shows off a bit with the fish eye lens’ - but mostly works brilliantly. I have seen The Favourite described as #MeToo movie – mostly by lazy critics, who seem to use #MeToo as short hand for anything about women, because it really is not that. It is about the place women have always been in – a place where being smart and capable were not enough, you had to do more to have any sort of say over your own life, or any power. By the end of the movie, the three women are not destroyed – not quite – but they have all had a comeuppance of sorts. They get the ending they deserve based on their actions – but they shouldn’t have had to take those actions at all, should they?

Movie Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse **** ½ / *****
Directed by: Bob Persichetti and Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman.
Written by: Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman based on comics and characters created by Steve Ditko and David Hine and Stan Lee and Brian Michael Bendis and Fabrice Sapolsky and Sara Pichelli.
Starring: Shameik Moore (Miles Morales / Spider-Man), Hailee Steinfeld (Gwen Stacy), Liev Schreiber (The Kingpin), Nicolas Cage (Spider-Man Noir), Mahershala Ali (Aaron Davis), Jake Johnson (Peter Parker / Spider-Man), Kimiko Glenn (Peni Parker), Brian Tyree Henry (Jefferson Davis), John Mulaney (Spider-Ham), Luna Lauren Velez (Rio Morales), Lily Tomlin (Aunt May).
2018 has already been a good year for superhero movies – even to someone like me, who has grown somewhat weary of the constant barrage the genre has subjected viewers to in the last few years, and how they have overtaken movie culture in general. The reason for that weariness is mostly because most superhero movies – even the good ones – operate as if on rails. Ryan Coogler can make Black Panther arguably the best Marvel movie ever yet, but he can only make it so much his own film, because it has to satisfy the requirements of Marvel. Avengers: Infinity War is probably about as good as a movie of that tremendous bulk can be – given its dozens of characters, but that’s still only pretty good. Deadpool 2 can be refreshing and funny for a while – but it runs out of steam at some point. Incredibles 2 is inventive and fun from start to finish – but the plot is perhaps a little too old fashioned. Truly, the most original superhero movie of the years was Teen Titans Go the Movies – a film I adored, but too few people saw. Still, for the most part – this was a good year for superhero movies, as far as things go. And then, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse comes along, and really does blow the doors off. This is the best superhero movie of the year, the best animated film of the year, and the best Spider-Man movie ever. It may sound like hyperbole to say this, but I do believe it ranks with the best super hero films ever made. And most refreshingly, it is a blast of something truly original and unique.
The smartest thing the filmmakers involved with the film did was decide to make it animated. This frees them up from having to create another mess of CGI soup that most superhero movies eventually fall into, which all looks the same from film to film – here, they are able to craft truly innovative visuals. The second smartest thing they did was decide to focus on a different Spider-Man than Peter Parker – Miles Morales. Morales is a black teenager in Brooklyn in a different dimension than ours – although it looks almost identical. The origin story he has in becoming Spider-Man is similar to Peter Parker’s – bitten by a radioactive spider of course, and then movie has great fun with how it rolls that out (and then has to do so again and again and again). He doesn’t even really realize he has powers until he meets Parker himself – as Spider-Man, as Parker tries (and fails) to stop Kingpin and Doc Ock from running a super collider of some kind. In the process, this dimension’s Peter Parker is killed. But, the collider opens portals to other dimensions – and another Peter Parker – older, maybe wiser, certainly fatter – walks in. And he’s not the only Spider-person who does so.
In many ways, of course, this Spider-Man is similar to the other Spider-Man movies we’ve seen. The good news here is that we don’t need to suffer through another story of poor Uncle Ben and the line “with great power comes great responsibility” – two things this movie brings up, just so they can mock it a little, and move on. There is still a complicated relationship with Miles’ father – a cop, who wants what’s best for Miles, and is hard on him, and his Uncle – who his father doesn’t like at all. So the film is still grounded in recognizable emotional territory, without feeling like a retread.
But the story itself is bonkers in the best way – it is the type of story that only makes sense on the comic’s pages, or in an animated film like this, where anything is possible. Every frame of the film is packed with information – Easter eggs and cookies all around. But mainly, it just looks great – and so unlike any other animated film I have seen before, or like any superhero film I have seen before. They lean into the look of comics, without overdoing it. The action sequences are brilliant – and even when we get to a chaotic finale, everything is clear eyed and makes sense.
In short, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the best kind of surprise – a movie in a genre that feels like its overdone and boring, but is actually a true breath of fresh air. This films has a vision all of its own – and while the stakes here are still universe altering, the film never forgets to have fun. Truly, this is a great superhero film – and more than that, just a great film.

Movie Review: Hal

Hal **** / *****
Directed by: Amy Scott.
Hal Ashby had one of the most remarkable decades any filmmaker has ever had in the 1970s – a period of time in which he made seven films, all of which deserve to be seen, and several of which help define the era. And yet, until recently, I don’t think Ashby’s name was often mentioned in the same breath as filmmakers like Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola or Martin Scorsese – whose films are often seen as the defining films of that time, or even the likes of Peter Bogdanovich or William Friedkin who, fairly or not, are often seen as figures who had a great run of films in the 1970s, but whose careers kind of stalled after that decade. It would be fair to say the same thing happened to Ashby – who did make a few films in the 1980s, none of which are remembered fondly, and then died in 1988 – when he was only 59. Was it his death that made him overlooked – because he was prevented in speaking about that time in Hollywood that became romanticized at some point in the 1990s? Was it that his films were often quite different from each other, not because he was not an auteur, but because you have to dig deeper to find those signifiers? But while Ashby’s name was hardly ever mentioned alongside the giants of the 1970s – it would be unfair to say his films were ever really forgotten. I only gradually realized that there was a great director that wasn’t often talked about when you start stacking up the films of his I watched.
Those seven 1970s films were The Landlord, Harold & Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound for Glory, Coming Home and Being There – and while I don’t love all of them, I love most of them (I have never been a huge fan of Harold and Maude – although I have to admit that it is a film that sticks in your mind, and its influence is undeniable). By the time Ashby started directing, he was already an Oscar winner – for editing his good friend Norman Jewison’s In the Heat of the Night – and it was Jewison who handed over the directing reins of The Landlord to Ashby, because he felt Ashby was ready, and knew he really wanted to do it.
Amy Scott’s documentary Hal is half a tribute to those films, and half an exploration of the man himself. Ashby had problems with authority his whole life – growing up in Utah (never a Mormon, we hear him say at one point) – who ran away from a wife and child in his late teens, and made his way to Hollywood, where he kind of fell into moviemaking – and then fell in love with it. He was always a great editor – his strength lied in being able to put together the footage he shot in interesting, sometimes unexpected ways (one of the ironies about his 1980s work is that often the studio would take the film from him, and edit it themselves – thus taking away the aspect of filmmaking Ashby was best at).
You can argue that the film edges in hagiography at some points – but then again, the film doesn’t shy away from people who would have a legitimate beef with him – like that daughter he essentially abandoned early on (the film doesn’t get into child support issues or anything – but one assumes he did pay). It’s that everyone the film interviews really seemed to love Ashby. To his collaborators, he was a great guy – someone who allowed them to experiment and do their best work. It’s all those studio executives, who never believed in him, that he held in contempt – who probably did hate him. But standing up and swearing to studio executives is the type of thing Hollywood heroes do – and he certainly did, often in writing. This was probably not the smartest thing in the world for him to do – but it works wonders for this documentary, because it gives them a treasure trove of things to read out.
The film is also smart about the filmmakers it chooses to interview – it’s not the same talking heads you see in most films talking about old filmmakers. There’s no Scorsese or Bogdanovich. But it’s Alexander Payne, David O. Russell, Lisa Cholodenko, who can tell you how much Ashby’s films meant to them growing up – and how they influenced them.
I do think Ashby is getting more and more notice as the years go by – and that run of films is seen as the masterclass in filmmaking it was. My favorite will always be Being There – with Peter Sellers as a simpleton, who becomes a political genius to people for his simple sayings. That’s almost more relevant now than ever. But you cannot go wrong with any of those films. See Hal – and then watch them all.

Movie Review: Lizzie

Lizzie *** / *****
Directed by: Craig William Macneill.
Written by: Bryce Kass.
Starring: Kristen Stewart (Bridget Sullivan), Chloë Sevigny (Lizzie Borden), Kim Dickens (Emma Borden), Fiona Shaw (Abby Borden), Denis O'Hare (John Morse), Jeff Perry (Andrew Jennings), Jamey Sheridan (Andrew Borden), Tara Ochs (Susan Gilbert), Jay Huguley (William Henry Moody), Tom Thon (Prof. Wood), Daniel Wachs (Dr. Bowen), Roscoe Sandlin (Judge Blaisdell).
There have been many versions of Lizzie Borden’s story told before, probably because the case in many ways was a forerunner of the tabloid fascination with murder that continues to this day in America, and because the story itself is so malleable that you make whatever kind of film you want to out of it. Craig William Macneill’s Lizzie is the latest version, and it’s an odd little film. The material could very easily go over-the-top – this version has pigeon murder, lesbian love affairs, fainting spells and, when the infamous murders arrive, the film doesn’t spare the blood – and are committed when naked women. And yet, Macneill and company have made a film that feels restrained – muted in tone, presenting over-the-top material, in an understated fashion. I’m not sure it all quite works, but it’s an interesting film to watch.
Lizzie here is played by Chloe Sevigny – one of the great risk taking actresses of her generation. Her Lizzie is modern in many ways – she openly defies her father (Jamey Sheridan) and hates her stepmother (Fiona Shaw), who she thinks is a gold digger, she shows no interest in getting a husband, and can be quick witted when challenged in public by other members of her upper class. The problem, of course, is this is still 1892 – and as a woman, she has no rights or privileges herself, and has expectations put upon her. She worries her stepmother will get all the money, or that her uncle John (Denis O’Hare) will when her father dies. And she really, truly does hate her father – who is practically a mustache twirling villain here – as he kills all her pigeons (and then serves them for dinner) when she defies him. The thing that pushes her over-the-edge though is the arrival of Bridget (Kristen Stewart) – the family’s new maid. The two have an instant connection with each other – and that connection goes from furtive glances, to much more. When Lizzie discovers that her father has been raping Bridget repeatedly – and Bridget powerless to stop it (if she leaves, he will make it impossible to get a new job) – the pair of them hatch their plan, although Lizzie is more committed than Bridget.
Although in terms of story, the murders happen around the half way point in the story, we don’t actually see them until right near the end. There have been many theories over the years of just what happened and who did it – although that part seems pretty obvious. The more interesting question is the why Lizzie did it. This movie stacks the deck so far in Lizzie’s favor it almost seems reasonable that she would hack two people to death with an axe. Her father and stepmother are horrible – they are given no nuance, no inner life to speak of – and her uncle isn’t much better. Her sister (Kim Dickens) is barely in the film at all (a waste of a very talented actress). The “solution” to the murder here isn’t really based on fact – but makes sense in the context of the movie.
The heart of the movie is the chemistry between Sevigny and Stewart, which really is great. Stewart continues to be one of the best actresses around – she does so much, while seemingly doing so little. She is quiet here – she has an Irish accent (but fortunately, doesn’t sound like she’s going to start pitching Lucky Charms). This is the perfect kind of role for her – as she has to behave one way, and express emotions in another – and she pulls it off. Sevigny makes some bigger choices to be sure as Lizzie - she has expressed some disappointment in the movie – she wanted it to be bigger and more rousing – and that shows – but they work in context. Perhaps the movie Sevigny wanted this to be would have been better – perhaps a miniseries, which she initially envisioned, would have been even better than that (it feels like it could be a longer piece). What we have is a film that in some ways seems to be at war with itself – and that, in its own right, is very interesting.

Movie Review: Colette

Colette ** / *****
Directed by: Wash Westmoreland.
Written by: Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland & Rebecca Lenkiewicz.
Starring: Keira Knightley (Colette), Dominic West (Willy), Fiona Shaw (Sido), Denise Gough (Missy), Eleanor Tomlinson (Georgie Raoul-Duval), Aiysha Hart (Polaire), Dickie Beau (Wague), Al Weaver (Schwob), Robert Pugh (Jules), Ray Panthaki (Veber), Caroline Boulton (Flossy), Shannon Tarbet (Meg), Rebecca Root (Rachilde), Arabella Weir (Mme De Caillavet).
Ever since seeing Colette, I’ve been trying to figure out why the film didn’t work for me. The story of Colette, a writer in late 19th and early 20th Century is France is fascinating, as it involves intrigue and betrayal and love and lust and controversy. The film is handsomely produced – with gorgeous costumes and art direction. I’ve always loved Keira Knightley – and she looks stunning in this film, and her performance conjures up the right mixture of lust and rage. And yet the whole thing feels rather lifeless.
The story is about Colette (Knightley), who was a young girl from the French countryside, who meets and marries Willy (Dominic West), a writer, and something of a con artist and libertine, who brings her to Paris. He writes under that name – Willy – and he needs another book quick. So, Colette writes the first of four novels in the Claudine series – and it becomes a smash hit. Of course, he gets the credit – and the money – and he continues to press her to write more and more and more – sometimes even locking her in her room and forcing the novels to come. As the novels keep coming, the money keeps coming – but Colette also starts to see Willy for what he really is. And she has other ambitions – on the stage – and other interests off them, particularly in women.
All of this should make for a fascinating and entertaining costume drama. None of that stuffy stuff you usually see in English productions of old time-y writers, but something brimming with passion and anger and lust. And yet, somehow, it doesn’t. Perhaps it is the direction of Wash Westmoreland – who along with his late husband Richard Glatzer, made Still Alice (2014) – the film that finally won Julianne Moore an Oscar. But that film is deadly dull other than Moore’s admittedly great performance. And this film is deadly dull even with Knightley in fine form, and gorgeous costume and art direction. You just never really feel the film. Westmoreland is photographing all this wonderful stuff, but it never really comes alive.
All of that is a shame, because the story the movie is based on is fascinating – and you could probably make another three or four films about Colette about the time period after this film ended, and they would be equally fascinating. But in this film, the filmmakers never really found the right way to tell this story.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Movie Review: THe Little Stranger

The Little Stranger *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson.
Written by: Lucinda Coxon based on the novel by Sarah Waters.
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson (Faraday), Ruth Wilson (Caroline Ayres), Will Poulter (Roderick Ayres), Charlotte Rampling (Mrs. Ayres), Josh Dylan (Bland), Kate Phillips (Diana Baker-Hyde), Harry Hadden-Paton (Dr. David Granger), Anna Madeley (Anne Granger), Camilla Arfwedson (Young Mrs. Ayres), Amy Marston (Mrs. Blundell), Lorne MacFadyen (Dr. Calder), Dixie Egerickx (Gillian Baker-Hyde), Alison Pargeter (Maid), Sarah Crowden (Miss Dabney), Liv Hill (Betty), Kathryn O'Reilly (Elizabeth Faraday), Tipper Seifert-Cleveland (Young Susan).
Something is wrong with Hundreds Hall – the mansion where the once wealthy Ayres’ family lives. The family isn’t as wealthy as they once were – and the place is crumbling on the inside, even as the family struggles to keep up appearances. But it’s more than that – something in that house is infecting the three surviving members of the Ayres’ family – and anyone else who comes into contact with the house. In an interesting narrative choice, The Little Stranger is not told from within the Ayres family – but from the outside. Dr. Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) is the narrator of the story – and he’s long been obsessed with Hundreds Hall – since the days his mother used to work there as a maid. He returns when another maid is taken ill – and slowly integrates himself into the family. And that, perhaps, is what hastens everything that happens next.
There are three Ayres’ left – the matriarch Mrs. Ayres (Charlotte Rampling), haunted by the death of one of her daughter’s years before, tries to keep an icy, steely exterior. Roderick (Will Poulter) is a scarred WWII veteran, who has seemingly started to go crazy – thinking he smells things in the house. He’s smart enough to want to sell the place – but no one really takes him seriously. Caroline (Ruth Wilson) is the oldest daughter, and really the one trying to keep everything together. Faraday is attracted to her – says he wants to marry her – but both of them are so chilly on the outside, it becomes clear both are after something other than love. Faraday loves that house – and wants to be there always. Caroline wants just the opposite.
The Little Stranger is a slow (too slow) burn of a thriller in that it takes a long time for anything much to happen. It’s told from the point of view for Faraday, but he’s so obsessed with his own thoughts, he seems oblivious to what the others in the story want or think – and they aren’t vocal about it to begin with. The film is clearly about class – with Faraday being someone who has worked his up the social ladder, but still doesn’t entirely belong, and the Ayres who belong there because of their standing, but no longer really able to afford it. The people they know look through Faraday – he’s little more than the help, which is what his mother was, and what he doesn’t want to be. It’s an impressive performance by Gleeson, who keeps everything bottled up.
The film slowly starts to reveal its mysteries – but even then, not really. It does seem like director Abrahamson is at times more concerned with art direction and atmosphere than anything else. To be fair, he does that amazingly well. Like he did with his last film, Room, he takes a single house and makes it visually haunting – and that hangs over the entire film. When he finally does start to reveal his secrets, he still keeps things close to the vest – right up until the final shot of the film, which explains everything and nothing at the same time.
The Little Stranger probably deserved better than it got – it was basically dumped into theaters with no ads in the late summer, and predictably, didn’t find much of an audience. The studio undoubtedly (and to be fair, understandably) didn’t know how to market it. It is a challenging film, and an interesting one. It’s also probably too slow for its own good – and will alienate as many viewers as it in tranches. You probably know which one you are.

Movie Review: Nico, 1988

Nico, 1988 *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Susanna Nicchiarelli.
Written by: Susanna Nicchiarelli.
Starring: Trine Dyrholm (Christa Päffgen a.k.a Nico), John Gordon Sinclair (Richard), Anamaria Marinca (Sylvia), Sandor Funtek (Ari), Thomas Trabacchi (Domenico), Karina Fernandez (Laura), Calvin Demba (Alex), Francesco Colella (Francesco).
“My life began after I left the Velvet Underground” – Christa Päffgen aka Nico tells an interviewer at one point in the unconventional biopic Nico, 1988. She wants to talk about her own music – the music she is making now – but throughout the film, we will see her during various interviews, and all anyone wants to talk about is her past. She had an interesting past in the 1960s after all – captured, in snippets of old footage, that are like glimpses of memory – working for directors like Fellini or Andy Warhol, and of course, being in The Velvet Underground – where she sang three songs - the rest of the time, she stood in the background and played tambourine – it was like when she was a model she says – she was there for her image. But all of that was 20 years in the past by this point, and she no longer really cares about it. She has her own music now. But no one asks about that.
Susanna Nicchiarelli’s Nico, 1988 (which is an odd title for a movie that spends an hour in 1986, about five minutes in 1987 and 25 minutes in 1988) is a film that is interested in everything those interviewers were not. Other than those snippets of footage, we don’t see anything from Nico when she was in the 1960s – and considered one of the most beautiful women in the world. She’s older now, a junkie, loves to eat and drink and doesn’t much care what anyone thinks of her. Her one regret is her relationship with her son – Ari – who was raised by his grandparents, because Nico wasn’t really that responsible at the time. The rest of what people say or think about her rolls off her back – the subject of her son stings – and are the moments where she seems to have nothing to say.
At the heart of the movie is a fine performance by Trine Dyrholm as Nico – who is able to nail Nico’s trademark low vocal on a number of her songs (and songs by other she will sing) over the course of this movie. But she gets to something deeper and darker here as well. Nico may not care what people think of her – may not care that her record sales have never been great (“I am very selective about my audience” – she tells an interviewer at one point) – but underneath that exterior, part of her does. It has to be frustrating to know that the reason you’re being interviewed – the reason she can support a tour, and record her albums – all has to do with a time in your life you no longer want to talk about.
The problem with the movie is that other than Nico, and Dyrholm’s performance, there isn’t much else here. The visual look of the film is quite good, but the rest of the characters are paper thin. Like Nico, many of them are junkies – although she handles it better than they do. Her relationship with her son is the emotional heart of the film, but doesn’t really work in that regard – he doesn’t appear until fairly late in the film, and he never really becomes a character in his own right.
Still, I appreciate this approach to the material. Most musical biopics (like, say Bohemian Rhapsody), play like basically a greatest hits collection – unconcerned with what happens later. Nico, 1988 is about what happens when that part of your life has faded. It’s a tragic film – but not in the way you may suspect it will be.

Movie Review: The World is Yours

The World Is Yours *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Romain Gavras.
Written by: Karim Boukercha and Noé Debré and Romain Gavras.
Starring: Karim Leklou (Farès), Isabelle Adjani (Danny), Vincent Cassel (Henri), Oulaya Amamra (Lamya), François Damiens (René), Philippe Katerine (Vincent, l'avocat), Sam Spruell (Bruce), Gabby Rose (Brittany), Sofian Khammes (Poutine), Mounir Amamra (Mohamed 1), Mahamadou Sangaré (Mohamed 2).
There was a time – probably the late 1990s – when a crime movie as stylish and fun as The World is Yours would have been a big art house hit with audiences. Nowadays, it ends up on Netflix, where most people will ignore it. But you shouldn’t ignore The World is Yours because it is so much fun – and also, because there is a little bit underneath all of that fun, all of that style, that makes the film a little different. This is the opposite of a nihilistic crime movie. What does that make it – and idealistic crime movie? Sure, why not?
The story centers on Fares (Karim Leklou), who is a low level criminal, working as a middle man for an idiot drug dealer in France. His entire life has been involved in crime – his mother, Danny (Isabelle Adjani) is a con artist and thief, who will use anyone – including her son – in her schemes if it will work (she loves him though – at least as much as she can). Fares doesn’t want to be a criminal his whole life though. He has modest dreams of selling frozen treats – and just needs some money to get started. He pretty much had it all – and then his mother lost it. Now, in order to get what he wants, he has to pull off a drug deal in Spain. He assembles his team – his father figure/right hand man/conspiracy theorist Henri (Vincent Cassel), the object of his affection, and potential femme fatale Lamya (Oulaya Amamra) and two idiots both named Mohamed head to Spain in order to buy drugs from a Scottish drug dealer (Sam Spruell) – but of course, everything goes wrong and they end up kidnapping his daughter (Gabby Rose) instead. There are more characters and subplots to the movie – but if I tried to diagram them all, we’d be here all day (plus, I’m not sure I could – the plot is needlessly complex by design, to keep your heading spinning – but none of it matters all that much).
Fares is a strange character to have at the center of a crime movie like this. He’s sweet and doughy and trusting – and really, he doesn’t have a bad bone in his body. He shouldn’t be a criminal, because as he says, he doesn’t want to fuck anyone over. He’s in a world where everyone is constantly looking to fuck everyone else over – including him. The interesting thing about his plan is that he will do his best to make sure that he fucks over the least amount of people he can – and only those who really deserve it. For the most part, people get what they want – and the one guy he doesn’t is an asshole, so who cares about him.
The film really is about the different alliances Fares has to build – across political, racial, religious and gender lines that make up modern Europe. The film never hits you over the head with any of them – there isn’t a single discussion about any of it – but it’s there in the background throughout the film, and at times is used as a joke (a boat raid is only successful because the guys on the boat being raided think the two Mohamed’s are migrants for example “from Spain?” the less stupid of the two asks – but by then it’s too late.
The style of the film recalls early Guy Ritchie – there is a lot of chaotic action throughout, and throwaway gags and moments (like the moment when we see each Mohamed’s vision of the future). But director Romain Gavras has more heart than Ritchie ever did. He pauses to allow some more tender moments – even at the strangest times. There is also more genuine, sweet natured humor here than we expect.
No, The World is Yours is in no way realistic – nor is it pretending to be. The ending of the film in particular is straight up fantasy. But it’s a fantasy you want to believe in – so you do. And it comes at the end of a wildly entertaining film.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Movie Review: Happy as Lazzaro

Happy as Lazzaro **** / *****
Directed by: Alice Rohrwacher.
Written by: Alice Rohrwacher.
Starring: Adriano Tardiolo (Lazzaro), Agnese Graziani (Antonia bambina), Luca Chikovani (Tancredi bambino), Alba Rohrwacher (Antonia), Sergi López (Ultimo), Natalino Balasso (Nicola), Tommaso Ragno (Tancredi adulto), Nicoletta Braschi (Marchesa Alfonsina De Luna), Daria Pascal Attolini (Maria Grazia adulta), Maddalena Baiocco (Stefania bambina), Giulia Caccavello (Teresa giovane), Annunziata Capretto (Natalina anziana), Davide Denci (Appuntato), Alessandro Genovesi (Maresciallo), Carlo Massimino (Pippo), Edoardo Montalto (Pippo bambino), Gala Othero Winter (Stefania), Iris Pulvano (Natalina adulta), Ettore Scarpa (Maresciallo), Pasqualina Scuncia (Suora), Carlo Tarmati (Carletto).
Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy as Lazzaro is one of those tricky films that as soon as it ends, you want to go back to the start and watch it again – trying to unpack its layers, and just what exactly it does (in this way, while it’s a shame it isn’t much of a theatrical release, it’s okay that it’s on Netflix, so you can do just that – as I did). The film starts as a throwback of sorts to the Italian films of a few decades ago (a little Bertolucci or Taviani or Tornatore for example), but gradually becomes something wholly unique and different. It’s a strange, confounding film in many ways – and I am still not sure if it all works, but it’s such a fascinating film to watch, you almost don’t care.
The film begins in the kind of situation that used to be common in Italian films – a portrait of sharecroppers living on the vast estate of the landowner. In this case, that landowner is the Queen of Cigarettes – who along with her family work their workers to the bone, and keep them in debt in a way that they will never be able to get out of. And yet, while this seems like a scene out of, say Bertolucci’s 1900, it’s clear that this is much more recent than that – as Tancredi – the spoiled teenage son of the landowners, is using a flip phone for example. But this sort of thing has been illegal for years now, isn’t it? Are these people essentially slaves, cut off from society, and not knowing precisely what the world off of this plantation are? Yes, it turns out.
One among the workers is Lazzaro (Adrianao Tardiolo) is kind, innocent, sweet and more than a little blank. If the landowners are exploiting all the workers, then the workers themselves are exploiting Lazzaro in the same way – taking advantage of his limited knowledge, and sweet demeanor – but caring little for him. Even when he gets sick, no one really wants to help him out. This also allows Tancredi to take advantage of Lazzaro as well – using him to stage his own kidnapping, although he isn’t really prepared for what would happen when no one in his family really wants him back – or what happens when he calls the police himself to report himself missing – and the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.
All of this is simply the halfway point in the film, which takes a more surreal twist at this point – we flash forward years into the future, and yet not everyone has aged (and those who have aged, don’t seem to have aged at the same rate). Lazzaro is the constant here – the same guy, facing the same exploitation wherever he happens to be. The idyllic looking plantation, which hide the horrors of exploitation, has been traded for a bleaker, grayer cityscape this time around. But the same level of poverty exists – and those who Lazzaro once knew aren’t much better off being free than they ever were, and aren’t above exploiting him. Those who were once on top have been brought low – but they cannot see why that may be, and think of themselves as victims who have lost something.
The film heads towards its inevitable conclusion – things like never were never going to end well – and the result is more than a little heavy handed, but also emotional impactful. The acting in the film is excellent – probably best of all is the pair of actresses who play Antonia – one of the few people who are kind to Lazzaro (played in the first segment by Agnese Graziani, and the second by Alba Rohrwacher – the directors sister). As Lazzaro, Adriana Tardiolo has a fascinating role. He’s not a Holy fool or a simpleton – he isn’t Peter Sellers in Being There for instance – but rather he’s just a simple and decent person, a bit slow, but decent. And this is a world in being decent doesn’t count for very much.