Scott’s Movie Journal #4

On the Rocks (Sofia Coppola, 2020)

(second view; last seen two months ago)

Like…every(?) film she’s made, Coppola’s latest is deeper, richer, more nuanced and textured than most of its contemporaries, and the critical consensus is wildly undervaluing its virtues. Mostly, I’ll confess, I have a strong taste for films that just give characters an excuse to wander through their present and think about their lives and ultimately decide not to do anything drastic but just make minor changes to one’s outlook or behavior that can better suit them. Whom among us has not, after all. Coppola’s feel for this sort of material remains exquisite, the economy of her visual language – the quick opening montage alone is a masterclass in conveying the lost years – perfectly counterbalancing the luxury of her surroundings. And there aren’t a lot of performances – male or female, lead or supporting – more compelling and invigorating than Bill Murray is here. He and Rashida Jones have a terrific rapport, guided throughout by her almost confronting him and him trying to figure out a way to fend off the attack without engaging in battle, usually through his wit. The decisiveness of Jones’s blows is conveyed by how long it takes him to retort; sometimes he’s there right away, other times it takes a few moments, and Coppola is wise enough to know the difference.

This is also, pound for pound, one of the best-looking movies this year.

Somewhere (Sofia Coppola, 2010)

(second view; last seen January 2011)

One I’ve been meaning to revisit many times over the past ten years and just never got around to it, and one I very much undervalued when it came out. I’ll take the easy road out and blame the circumstances – I first saw this on a weekend trip to Seattle in the last few weeks I lived in Portland before moving down here to Los Angeles. A lot was changing, very fast, you see.

But now, I sit here almost crying (which is the closest I get to crying at the movies – almost crying), and it’s clear it’s not only one of Coppola’s best; it’s one of the best movies of the past ten years. Its sense of place, of people, of people who are non-people, of people who want to people, who need other people and don’t have them, and of the emotional vacuum that forms in these circumstances, is exceptionally well-wrought, conveying these traces of feeling just around the edges of the action and scenes with the precision and ruthlessness of a thriller where nothing’s at stake…y’know, only the lost years of your child’s life. Which is everything.

Tenet (Christopher Nolan, 2020)

(first view) – gonna mildly spoil stuff I guess

Eeeyyyyyyyyyy it’s on home video now. It costs a pretty penny, no rental option ‘til after the New Year, but given that it’d probably have been a cool $17-$25 per person at the IMAX, y’know, what’ll you do.

This is a weird one! Not just because of its conceit where people and objects can move backwards through time, which is itself pretty wild, but beat for beat, Nolan is waving his freak flag in a way he’s only hinted at before. Kenneth Branagh is playing to the hilt with his mostly-Russian accent and his threatening to make people suffocate on their own balls – there’s a scene midway through the film where he’s like talking backwards and there are all these insane lights just blaring and I’m like “this is a mood!”

Unfortunately, that scene comes about an hour(???? much like quarantine, time is meaningless inside of Tenet) into the film, and much of what precedes it is really dull and really choppy. Somewhere along the way, we decided that 150-155 minutes was the cap on commercial cinema, but this one’s really crying out for some length. Not that I really want more scenes of exposition and such that are buried in the most insanely-managed sound mix I’ve ever heard in a mainstream film, but it occasionally hits a sort of mood and rhythm amidst the nonsense that’s super intriguing, only to be undone by a series of edits that too quickly move us to the next scene or out of the current one – characters suddenly jump positions or expressions, and no, not in Thelma Schoonmaker’s “matching is for pussies” way, because the whole thing here is that the lack of matching wrecks the mood rather than invigorates it.

Anyway. Once John David Washington – who’s really good here, I gotta say – starts taking control of things, the film kicks into gear, and I’m onboard, even if I will completely confess that I had almost no idea what was happening at any given point. Not always needed! Stuff’s moving backwards and it looks cool! Done deal!

Amarcord (Federico Fellini, 1973)

(second view; last seen sometime in 2010)

I love Fellini’s nostalgic films because they’re all like “man those were the days, when people pissed themselves in public and fascism was on the rise and family members constantly threatened violence, what a time to be alive.” That his own past seems as fantastical as his most elaborate fantasies greatly informs the way his films came to be.

And the Ship Sails On (Federico Fellini, 1983)

(first view)

Not, I will say, one of my favorites, but it’s notably ambitious in its scope and realization. It just seems to lack a focal point. Despite having an overt narrator, it doesn’t seem to come from anyone’s point of view. This whole escalating scene, sort of a big-budget Buñuel, feels very much like a pointed fable with a clear moral than the unhinged self-explorations/-eviscerations that mark Fellini’s best work.

Intervista (Federico Fellini, 1987)

(first view)

Really fantastic, boldly experimental, and one that marries Fellini’s self-reflection with his imagination as well as anything he’d done before, charting new formal territory and – extremely unusually – casting himself as a genuine actor with performance marks to hit. Not one to watch right away if you don’t know your Fellini, as it gets very directly reflective and you’d be well-advised to know his history, but absolutely essential in ways I never could have anticipated.

Black Bear (Lawrence Michael Levine, 2020)

(first view)

Was hugely nervous about this at first, as it sort of unnaturally forces itself to be another in a long line of indie movies shot at their friend or relative’s super-cool house that uses the isolated setting to ramp up the psychological tension between a couple, and for the first 45 minutes, it absolutely is that. It’s occasionally stirring, but mostly just feels like it’s going way too fast, cutting too many corners to reach an inevitable bout of violence. Despite pretty fine work by Christopher Abbott and Sarah Gadon as the doomed couple, it’s their house guest – Aubrey Plaza – who keeps the movie relatively on track, playing to her somewhat-distanced, just-outside-of-it-all strengths as Abbott and Gadon are forced to have contrived arguments that are way too heavy for how little they know their guest.

Plaza seemed destined for a certain type of career playing variations on April Ludgate, her character on Parks and Recreation, in deepy dull films like dull films on the edge of studio and independent that wished they had an ounce of the integrity that even Levine, heretofore not one of his generations more notable talents, held naturally and unavoidably. But there was a certain boldness lurking just a bit around the edges with her, certain beats she would hit on Parks and Rec, that really started to flourish a few years ago with The Little Hours, Ingrid Goes West, An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn, and the TV show Legion. None were wholly successful projects, a little hemmed in around the edges, but they were opportunities for Plaza to start chipping away at her edges, towards an unseen core.

That core feels completely unvarnished, cut loose and laid bare in the second half of Levine’s surprising, fascinating, and uncompromising film, one that finally cuts him loose from his own hemmed-in edges as well. I’ve no real interest in revealing the shift that takes place after the 45-minute mark, except to note that it becomes much more self-reflective and – paradoxically for the independent world – less self-indulgent as well. It’s strikingly funny, much better-crafted than his prior work, more instinctive and incisive, and more honest. Plaza is key to this working, as though the two of them become locked in a cooperative challenge to draw the most from the other person. The film has the feel of one of those nights where your boundaries are pushed and you try not to talk about it the next day, but you’ve discovered something in yourself that makes it impossible to continue on as you have before.

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1 Response

  1. FictionIsntReal says:

    “Whom among us has not, after all”
    Me. No reflecting, no learning, no change. Sort of like an episode of Seinfeld.

    “deepy dull films”
    Did you mean to write “deeply”?

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