Saturday, May 21, 2022


Alex Garland's films (Ex Machina, Annihilation) and scripts (28 Days Later...) are usually effective at painting a splotchy universe of the cryptic follies of humankind and technology. Sometimes, like the film adaptation of his novel The Beach as well, the films of Garland take a sweeping swerve in their second half to something more harshly toned and obliterating. His Men follows Harper (Jessie Buckley) as she escapes alone to a cottage in the English countryside in the wake of tragedy. What's to come seems under the influence of a hazy hybrid of Robert Altman's Images and Polanski's Repulsion, with Harper perturbed by the awkwardly chummy estate keeper (Rory Kinnear playing his chewy role(s) with pizzazz) and encountering strange creeps out in the verdant wilds. The film moves slowly into an abrupt finale of garish horror, with pretty good gore effects, that as in The Howling, a character can only seem to stare and gawk at. Many have written about Garland's overt symbolism (yes, Harper munches on an apple as soon as she gets out of a car and sets foot on the estate's yard) and overt stab at "toxic masculinity." Yet, any sense of the politic, doused in a mix of religious gobbledygook, doesn't come through in an effective way. I left with a weird sense that the film was depicting Harper as unfeeling of mental illness and one deserving to be punished and tormented for her guilt; none of this seems like the message Garland was so hammering in trying to convey. Sometimes films like this linger in the mind, and welcome re-investigation, but the movie doesn't feel vigorous enough to want to return to. So the overall effort ends up muddled and a bit flat, despite some moody moments. I was particularly enraptured by Harper roaming the cozy house and traipsing the tranquil, green countryside; the hallmark scene for me is Harper amused at the echo of her voice in an abandoned train tunnel (the sound design and Rob Hardy's cinematography helps). Buckley is best in these quieter moments. Is that sense of comfort, wanderlust, and isolation deceiving? Is it only effective on certain people like loners and introverts? Men is praiseworthy for those careful creations of atmosphere, less so for its attempt at commentary, paranoia and horror. **1/2

-Jeffery Berg

Thursday, May 19, 2022

in front of your face

If I can think immediately of what has been in front of my face (and people on the city streets and trains) for many hours in this era, it would be... screens. That's why the title of  Hong Sang-soo's latest film, the cinematic equivalent of a "short story" or a fleeting novella, is slyly humorous, especially in these screen-ridden times. What can be marvelous about Sang-soo's work is how stripped-down and modest the films are--long scenes of chit-chat, social awkwardness, and simmered-down tension that often barely rises to a boiling point. This is the exact opposite of a lot of current American film and, especially, popular episodic television--where amplified conflict thwacks through every scene. This is especially a testament to Sang-soo's direction and writing--that his scenes can remain so introspective and compelling, even when nothing much (and yet so much) is happening. The structure of In Front of Your Face is well-drawn too--a morning into a morning after--a satisfyingly cyclical feel, with a haunting musical composition by Sang-soo bookending the piece.

A former actress, Sangok (Lee Hye-young), returns to Seoul from America and stays with her sister Jeongok (Cho Yunhee) in a sleepy, bland high-rise condo. We learn more about Sangok and her past as she breakfasts and takes a walk with her sister. Later Sangok returns to her childhood home, visibly moved, and stunned by how "small" the garden she used to play in now appears. And then she engages in a maundering dinner with a film director (Kwon Haehyo). It's there, in this space of a table, scattered with bottles and food, that a monumental secret is revealed. It feels like a leaden weight suddenly thrown into a delicately constructed tale that it almost feels humorous. But the philosophical musings Sangok utters (and also thinks about internally) are graceful muddles of regret, pain, and joy. Later, the reaction of keeled-over laughter at what could have been a devastating voicemail is one of the crowning moments in the movie. Hye-young, thin and often cloaked in her beige Burberry trench, is visually captivating amongst the city spaces (in stores and shops that are in times of after-hours) and landscapes and the occasionally vibrant green gardens and natural backdrops that emerge. She slips through the picture, sometimes with a cigarette, like the lost, faded star her character is or perhaps, imagines herself to be. ***

-Jeffery Berg

high priestess


Yay. New single / video from Santigold.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

petite maman

After the ravishing Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Céline Sciamma hones in on an equally intimate, but less visually flashy tale in the quiet and exquisite Petite Maman. It harkens back to Sciamma's excellent Tomboy, which carefully and sensitively examined the perspective of a child. Petite Maman is almost like a fable, a film that could be played in any year as allegorical to one's own life, its power perhaps residing in how one is able to respond to its quaintness. 

After the death of her mother, a young woman (referred in the credits as simply La mère, played by Nina Meurisse) cleans out her childhood home with her partner (Le père, played by Stéphane Varupenne) with her loving, inquisitive daughter Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) in tow. Curious about her mother's childhood, and grieving quietly for her grandmother, Nelly goes to the woods where her mother used to play. There she falls into a parallel existence, meeting Marion (Gabrielle Sanz) who ends up being an eight-year old version of Nelly's own mother. One can imagine the magical realism of films like The Enchanted Cottage or even Back to the Future. Robert Zemeckis' film is a flashy, comical sci-fi quest into wistfully altering the fate of a white middle-class America family; the movie is soaked with wall-to-wall music and consumerism of the 1950s and the 1980s. 

Sciamma's film does not particularly have strong markers of any particular era. Even a hidden patch of "dated" wallpaper could be from the 70s, 80s, or 90s or even an attempt at a sort of vintage chic in the 2000s. The film also thrives not on music or bombast, but on the minutiae of tiny sounds of interactions of things with the body--eating crunchy snacks, drinking milk out of chocolate cereal, spreading shaving cream on the face with a brush, the rustling of sheets on a couch. These smacks and wisps of sounds pepper the film with a seemingly acute purpose of portraying closeness--almost ghostliness--the traces of sounds we leave behind when we interact with the physical world. When music suddenly hits the film, it does so broadly, with a child's perspective of an island pyramid given a particularly dreamy heightened power. The music is almost like a simultaneously satisfying and queasy sugar rush after a long bout of going without carbs. Sciamma's 72-minute film often feels egg shell-fragile, as if it's constantly tip-toeing around in quietness--resisting pushing the viewer's emotions in any particular direction. It's also gently playful and assured. An inside-out sweater made right-side-out and an edit of "transporting to tomorrow" may symbolize the "passing over" to a new plane; shaven faces and put-upon costumes suggest the trickeries of age and identity. Claire Mathon, whose cinematography recently showed prowess with the fuzzed memories of the past in Spencer--particularly when Diana physically and psychologically crawled into the ruins of her childhood home--lenses Petite Maman deftly. The atmosphere of hushed houses at night (shadows playing on the floor like a "black panther") and in the afternoon light, and the damp, leafy autumnal forest where Nelly and Marion play are all striking visual worlds to linger in. ***   

-Jeffery Berg

Sunday, May 8, 2022

the heart part 5

Kendrick Lamar's video for "The Heart Part 5." 

An artist that's always reflective and moving things forward. 

Directed by Dave Free & Kendrick Lamar


Director of Photography: Christopher Ripley

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

retro movie love podcast: the films of march & april 1992

My dive into 1992 films continued with Meep (Michael Ferrari) on his Retro Movie Love Podcast!

It's sometimes a challenge to remember everything when discussing so many movies! Especially some pretty, detailed, complex ones (like the amazing films Deep Cover, The PlayerHowards End and Raise the Red Lantern).

Different trends emerged... Indie desert movies! Road movies! And a mishmash of sports movies (GladiatorThe Cutting Edge, Ladybugs (!), The Babe,  and White Men Can't Jump).

Many of these films faltered, an inconsistent time for box office in Spring of '92, but some soared (like the still iconic Basic Instinct). But nonetheless all--hit or miss--high or low, in the words of a hit 1991 song, gave us something to talk about.