Director Joachim Trier once said that he associates “the last day of summer with the end of things, the collapse of things, departure that is unavoidable. Falling into melancholy is a way to cope with death, it helps with working it out.” And now that our summer days have technically come to a close, it’s time to prepare for the inevitable sinking into the melancholy of fall by escaping into a world far from our own. With Telluride and Venice premiering some of our most anticipated films of the coming season, and TIFF and NYFF to follow, in the meantime, what better way enjoy a some of the best films of both the past and present from the comfort of your bed? With an incredible amount of quality cinema readily available at your fingertips, the option can prove overwhelming. So we’ve narrowed down a few of our favorites to enjoy this week from under the sheets. Peruse our list, get cozy, and enjoy.
House of Pleasures
L’Apollonide hosts all but two scenes of relative brevity, keeping the viewer just as locked away from the outside world as the women for whom it is both workplace and home. “To be free? In a house of tolerance?” asks the incredulous madam to an aspiring prostitute who conceives of the position as a liberating experience, “freedom’s outside, not here.” Even so, the transactional nature of these women’s lives isn’t overemphasized, and, with the exception of the Girl Who Laughs, neither is their degradation. They’re treated instead as facts of life to grin and bear. To lament their fate would, after all, smear their makeup and potentially add to their debts. Madeleine and the other working girls are not unlike indentured servants to their madam; their frequent medical exams, clothing, and perfume are recurring expenses which must be perpetually paid off. They’ve neither freedom nor independence, only the bonds forged by common dolor. [view more]
When you’re angry with the world and yourself to the same degree, you’re running in place. It takes a great deal of energy. It can be exhausting. You lash out at people. You’re hard on yourself. It all takes place in your head. After a time people give up on you. They think you don’t give a damn and don’t care about yourself. If they only knew. That’s Roger Greenberg
….The important relationship is the one between Greenberg and Florence. We look upon her and see wholesome health and abundant energy. She’s happy when she has a purpose. She wishes she had a direction in life but can be happy enough in the moment. It’s as if when Greenberg moves a little in the direction of happiness, it gets jealous because that draws attention away from his miserable uniqueness. People driven to be constantly unique can be a real pain in the ass. This is an intriguing film, shifting directions, considering Greenberg’s impossibility in one light and then another. If he’s stuck like this at 40, is he stuck for good? What Ben Stiller does with the role is fascinating. We can’t stand Greenberg. But we begin to care about him. Without ever overtly evoking sympathy, Stiller inspires identification. You don’t have to like the hero of a movie. But you have to understand him — better than he does himself, in some cases. [view more]
This is Martin Bonner
Stylistically, Hartigan favors clean, modestly composed setups, with a penchant for subtly deployed panning shots adding to the aforementioned sense of anxiety in Martin and Travis’s converging and corresponding activities. At its best, with its quiet, ominous pace in the early going and its economical distribution of information throughout, the film is reminiscent of Todd Haynes’s Safe. And while, in the end, Hartigan may forgo building on such suggestive atmosphere, opting not to concern himself with psychological issues of a magnitude such as Haynes’s deconstruction of the female psyche, he does offer an equally pleasing emotional payoff. Indeed, the film is structured on just such contrasts, between form and content, tone and exposition. Austere but not cold, serene yet never dull, moving without resorting to dramatic histrionics, This Is Martin Bonner is instead something altogether different: a generous portrait of genuine people attempting to live authentic lives. [view more]
Oslo, August 31st
As much a love letter to Oslo as it is a story of one man’s struggle, the film opens with incredibly moving and nostalgic footage of the city paired with a wistful voiceover recalling early memories of entering the city and the thoughts evoked: "I remember thinking, I’ll remember this." The film then transitions to a modern, more bustling version of Oslo, allowing us to better understand Anders’s alienation. The eerie sense of aloneness that comes from being surrounded by people yet completely unable to connect—a very urban sense of loneliness—plagues him. He feels alone even when he is with those closest to him, and although he engages with them, he is resolute that this is how he will always be.
…In the end, when Anders returns to his family’s home and decides to end it all, we’re not left emotionally gutted as one might expect. Trier works his magic to allow us to feel something much grander than that. The film portrays a character who represents anyone who has been in the depths of something dark and asked themselves, "What the fuck am I even doing here? Will any of this ever matter?" That knot that forms in your stomach begins to loosen, as we realize, this is what he wanted. In the end, as he lies there, it’s almost like the audience can breathe a sigh of relief. Trier does not try to condone or chastise Anders’s decision; he is not speaking to everyone or the nature of suicide in general, simply showing one man’s life. But somehow, through the tenderly beautiful, sweeping way in which the film is shot, we’re able to grasp onto the beauty of life, gaining something about the ways in which we live from the way in which Anders chooses to not to. Oslo, August 31st is a mindset—like a shot to the arm of melancholy—and we’re left examining our own condition and just why we all continue on.
There Will Be Blood
I’m not quite sure how it happened, but after making “Magnolia” (1999) and “Punch-Drunk Love” (2002)—skillful but whimsical movies, with many whims that went nowhere—the young writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has now done work that bears comparison to the greatest achievements of Griffith and Ford. The movie is a loose adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel “Oil!,” but Anderson has taken Sinclair’s bluff, genial oilman and turned him into a demonic character who bears more than a passing resemblance to Melville’s Ahab. Stumping around on that bad leg, which was never properly set, Daniel Plainview—obsessed, brilliant, both warm-hearted and vicious—has Ahab’s egotism and command.
…As for Daniel Day-Lewis, his performance makes one think of Laurence Olivier at his most physically and spiritually audacious. Anderson does retain Sinclair’s portrait of an unctuous young man who thinks he has the word of God within him: Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), who creates, in the oil fields, the revivalist Church of the Third Revelation. Dano, who was the silent, philosophy-reading boy in “Little Miss Sunshine,” has a tiny mouth and dead eyes. He looks like a mushroom on a long stem, and he talks with a humble piety that gives way, in church, to a strangled cry of ecstatic fervor. He’s repulsive yet electrifying. Anderson has set up a kind of allegory of American development in which two overwhelming forces—entrepreneurial capitalism and evangelism—both operate on the border of fraudulence; together, they will build Southern California, though the two men representing them are so belligerent that they fall into combat. The movie becomes an increasingly violent (and comical) struggle in which each man humiliates the other, leading to the murderous final scene, which gushes as far over the top as one of Daniel’s wells. The scene is a mistake, but I think I know why it happened. Anderson started out as an independent filmmaker, with “Hard Eight” (1996) and “Boogie Nights” (1997). In “Blood,” he has taken on central American themes and established a style of prodigious grandeur. Yet some part of him must have rebelled against canonization. The last scene is a blast of defiance—or perhaps of despair. But, like almost everything else in the movie, it’s astonishing. [view more]
Kiss of the Damned
Inspired by European cinema from Bertolucci to Visconti and with a lust-filled saturation of color and texture, Xan Cassavete’s Kiss of the Damned is not your standard undead fare. Her bloodthirsty debut harkens back to old-school horror with a psychosexual tale and that’s both visceral and decadent. Mixing eroticism and terror, Cassavetes thrusts you into a story filled with high-society vampires and a struggle for controlling your most primal instincts and desires in a world where human blood is the finest delicacy. Like a dark and sultry ride, you become entranced in the world of the film through its stunningly beautiful actors—Josephine de la Baume, Roxane Mesquida, Anna Mouglalis, and Milo Ventimigli—that embody it’s essence with vigor. Kiss of the Damned centers on an ethereal and haunting vampire, Djuna (de la Baume), who tries to resist the advances of handsome and assertive screenwriter, Paulo (Ventimiglia) after the two are inescapably drawn to one another. Eventually she gives into her temptation, giving over the lust and love and changing both of their lives in the course. But when her reckless and dark-tempered sister Mimi (Mesquida) comes to stay with the couple, their love becomes threaded and the entirety of the vampire community finds themselves endangered, ensnared by the allurement of impulse.
By definition, a virus is a small infectious agent that can replicate only inside the living cells of an organism. It may be a far-removed thought from your mind when you’re in the throws of sickness, but those tiny agents attacking your healthy cells once lived inside of someone else—be it a stranger or someone in close contact. "These physical little virons have travelled into your body and infected your cells, and that’s why you’re sick," says director Brandon Cronenberg, whose nauseatingly great debut feature Antiviral investigates the idea of disease as a marketable and desirable product for consumption.
Antiviral exists in a world where biotech firms see bodies as a commodities and patients pour into their clinics to have themselves injected with the infections of their favorite celebrities. And although modification allows for the diseases to not be contagious, it’s the mania surrounding celebrity that proves to be the real illness here. Besides the stark and sterile sets in juxtaposition with the thick red blood and microscopic details, the visceral and trance-inducing music, and a story that keeps unfolding bit by painful bit, the best part of the film lies in the performances of its talented young actors. Jones, a pale, freckled, and handsome man, plays Syd with an incredible intensity as if he was physically in pain every moment in front of the camera. With his translucent skin, fiery red hair, and menacing look behind his eyes, he barely has to say a word—the way he moves his body and tenor of his voice says it all. He’s fantastic alongside Gadon, whom you’ve seen before in both Cosmopolis and A Dangerous Method, who now brings a humanity and softness to a woman that people are literally dying to be close to.
With Upstream Color, Carruth has created a tactile film in which the sounds and textures engulf you in its layered and complex narrative that’s as much about the interdependence and madness of love as it is about our inescapable connection to nature and the world around us. There’s a poeticism to the film despite its rich sense of structure and science that allows it to possess a spiritual quality that hits the heart more so than the mind.
Upstream Color is a fractured story about broken people, shattering your notion of love’s conventions and what draws one person to another. It forces you to let go and immerse yourself in their world and the story Carruth has created in a way that you rarely feel compelled to with most contemporary cinema. You sink into the story and allow it to ripple over you with its subtle yet absolute approach, and although it may fall into the realm of the metaphysical, it remains emotionally tangible. And I will freely admit that this is not simply one of my favorite films of the year thus far, but perhaps one of the most incredible films I have ever seen. [view more]
Saturday Night Fever
The Brooklyn we see in "Saturday Night Fever"reminds us a lot of New York’s Little Italy as Martin Scorsese saw it in "Who’s That Knocking at My Door?" and "Mean Streets." The characters are similar: They have few aims or ambitions and little hope of breaking out to the larger world of success — a world symbolized for them by Manhattan, and the Brooklyn Bridge reaching out powerfully toward it. But "Saturday Night Fever" isn’t as serious as the Scorsese films. It does, after all, have almost wall-to-wall music in it (mostly by the Bee Gees, but including even "Disco Duck"). And there are the funny scenes (like the one where Travolta shouts at his father: "You hit my hair!") to balance the tragic and self-destructive ones. There’s also a hint of "Rocky," whose poster Travolta’s character has on his bedroom wall. Travolta meets a Brooklyn girl (Karen Gorney) who’s made it in Manhattan, sort of, as a secretary. She comes back to Brooklyn to dance, and they team up to enter a $500 disco contest. They win it, too, but not before winning has become meaningless to Travolta. Their relationship is interesting because Travolta sees Miss Gorney not so much as a girl (although he thinks she’s beautiful) but as an example of how he might escape Brooklyn.
…The movie’s musical and dancing sequences are dazzling. Travolta and Miss Gorney are great together, and Travolta does one solo (in an unbroken shot) that the audiences cheered for. The movie was directed by John Badham ("The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings"), and his camera occupies the dance floor so well that we really do understand the lure of the disco world, for all of the emptiness and cruelty the characters find there. [view more]
In the 1970s, "Samsara" would have been known as a head trip. The critic Matt Zoller Seitz calls it "a trance movie." For Fricke and his producer and collaborator Mark Magidson, it is a continuation of the meditative imagery they used in "Baraka" (1992), which intensely regarded the strangeness and wonder of our planet. Both films draw a sharp contract between the awe of nature and the sometimes ruthless imposition of man’s will. I learn from Wikipedia that "samsara," literally meaning "continuous flow," is "the repeating cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth" within such Indian religions as Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. "Baraka" can refer to God’s blessing. On this ancient and miraculous world, where such beautiful natural and living things have evolved, something has gone wrong when life itself is used as a manufacturing process. I read that in 50 years, we must adopt a largely vegetarian diet or die, and forgive me if I take that as good news. Something is out of balance, and "Samsara" regards the sides of the equation. I fear I haven’t communicated what an uplifting experience the film is. In its grand sweep, the chickens play a tiny role. If you see it as a trance movie, a meditation, a head trip or whatever, it may cause you to become more thankful for what we have here. It is a rather noble film. [view more]
Sketching a social and spiritual void, Quadrophenia maintains an incorrigibly bleak, existentially forlorn, and purely dissociative worldview, balanced with a degree of grungy humor. Estrangement and dread go hand in hand with slippery spurts of miscreant mishaps and aberrant behavior gone awry—Jimmy and his mates robbing a chemist’s shop with Stooge-like inefficiency, Jimmy tearing up a cozy flower bed with his scooter, or bemoaning his beloved bike’s premature demise under the wheels of a postal lorry: “You’ve killed me scooter!” There is one priceless bit in his room where the camera pans over the bedside wall, which he has covered with a makeshift collage of newspaper headlines about mod-versus-rocker clashes and tawdry cheesecake pinups. Jimmy leans back contentedly against the wall, and there is a black-and-white head shot of Pete Townshend perched right beside his ear, as if whispering antisocial thoughts into his little speed-fried head. (He and his pals gobble pills the way trick-or-treaters gobble M&M’s: “If we go down to Brighton, we’re gonna need bloody millions of ’em, ain’t we?”) [view more]
Take This Waltz
The movie proceeds by parallel events that echo each other – jokily conducted sex with Lou, for instance, is followed shortly thereafter by truly arousing virtual sex with Daniel who sits in a bar describing in erotic detail his desire for Margot. The reality of modern Toronto is contrasted with the romanticism of the idyllic recreated Nova Scotia, and the allure of the latter provokes Margot into taking the momentous decision to follow the compass of her uncertain heart. The movie cleverly builds up to an extended coda in two parts that reflects on the wisdom or otherwise of that old Sinatra standard, The Second Time Around. One part is realistic, as Lou and Margot quietly, ruefully consider what has happened to them. The other is an elaborate montage of Margot’s transformed life, which may be going on in her mind: uninhibited sex, sometimes involving threesomes, in a grand open apartment that resembles a ballroom, through which the camera makes waltz-like swirling, 360-degree movements encompassing several seasons. This is accompanied byLeonard Cohen singing Take This Waltz, his mysterious version of Federico García Lorca’s Little Viennese Waltz, a surreal, erotic poem of love, death, longing and desire. Take This Waltz is so truthful and honest a film that on the rare occasions it hits a false note or becomes over-explicit or sentimental, it really jars. Like the Cohen song, Polley’s movie touches on familiar feelings and evokes common experiences in a way that goes beyond what can be explained or paraphrased. [view more]
Though Electrick Children is her first film, Thomas is already an exceptional stylist, reminiscent of Monte Hellman, who conjures an atmosphere, characterized by surreal color saturation and hovering, otherworldly camera movements, that elegantly affirms the characters’ feelings of melancholic displacement. The Mormons and the wandering skaters who eventually appear aren’t pitted against one another in a reductive metaphorical cage match, as Thomas understands, bracingly, that both cultures are reacting to similar existential fears in differing fashions. The ending is somewhat pat for a film this haunting and well-observed, but that’s splitting hairs, as Electrick Children is one of the most sensible and humane explorations of youthful curiosity and alienation I’ve seen in some time. [view more]
Far From Heaven
The movie benefits enormously from its cinematography by Ed Lachman, who faithfully reproduces the lush 1950s studio style; the opening downward crane shot of autumn leaves is matched by the closing upward crane shot of spring blossoms, and every shot has the studied artifice of 1950s "set decoration," which was not so different, after all, from 1950s "interior decoration." The musical score, by Elmer Bernstein, is true to the time, with its underlining of points and its punching-up of emotions. Haynes said in an interview that "every element" of his film has been "drawn from and filtered through film grammar." One detail is particularly true to the time: Interracial love and homosexual love are treated as being on different moral planes. The civil rights revolution predated gay liberation by about 10 years, and you can see that here: The movie doesn’t believe Raymond and Cathy have a plausible future together, but there is bittersweet regret that they do not. When Frank meets a young man and falls in love, however, the affair is not ennobled but treated as a matter of motel rooms and furtive meetings.
Haynes is pitch-perfect here in noting that homosexuality, in the 1950s, still dared not speak its name. Because the film deliberately lacks irony, it has a genuine dramatic impact; it plays like a powerful 1957 drama we’ve somehow never seen before. The effect is oddly jolting: Contemporary movies take so many subjects for granted that they never really look at them. Haynes, by moving back in time, is able to bring his issues into focus. We care about the characters in the way its period expected us to. (There is one time rupture; Frank uses the f-word to his wife and the fabric of the film breaks, only to be repaired when he apologizes.) Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid and Dennis Haysbert are called on to play characters whose instincts are wholly different from their own. By succeeding, they make their characters real, instead of stereotypes. The tenderness of Cathy and Raymond’s unrealized love is filled with regret that is all the more touching because they acknowledge that their society will not accept them as a couple. When Raymond and his daughter leave town, Cathy suggests may she could visit them sometimes, in Baltimore, but Raymond gently replies, "I’m not sure that would be a good idea." [view more]
4 Months 3 Weeks Two Days
The movie deliberately levels an unblinking gaze at its subjects. There are no fancy shots, no effects, no quick cuts, and Mungiu and his cinematographer, Oleg Mutu, adhere to a rule of one shot per scene. That makes camera placement and movement crucial, and suggests that every shot has been carefully prepared. Even shots where the ostensible subject of the action is half-visible, or not seen at all, serve a purpose, by insisting on the context and the frame. Visuals are everything here; the film has no music, only words or silences. Filmmakers in countries of the former Soviet bloc have been using their new freedom to tell at last the stories they couldn’t tell then. "The Lives of Others," for example, was about the East German secret police. And in Romania, the era has inspired a group of powerful films, including "Mr. Lazarescu" and "12:08 East of Bucharest" (2006) and "4 Months," which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes 2007, upsetting a lot of American critics who admired it but liked "No Country for Old Men" more. The film has inspired many words about how it reflects Romanian society, but obtaining an illegal abortion was much the same in this country until some years ago, and also in Britain, as we saw in Leigh’s "Vera Drake." The fascination of the film comes not so much from the experiences the friends have, however unspeakable, but in who they are, and how they behave and relate. Anamaria Marinca gives a masterful performance as Otilia, but don’t let my description of Gabita blind you to the brilliance of Laura Vasiliu’s acting. These are two of the more plausible characters I’ve seen in a while. [view more]
The Loneliest Planet
The allusively minimalistic yet hauntingly penerating feature takes you on a journey that explores the dynamic of one couple but speaks to the nature of men and woman on a broader scale. Set in the hills of Georgia, the film tells the story of Nica and Alex, a young couple engaged to be married. While on a backpacking trip (with only a guide as their accompaniment), their lives are dramatically altered when unknown truths between them are exposed and cause a schism in their foundation. The Loneliest Planet is played with an unapologetic rawness that’s evocative and bold—even from the opening scene of Nica bouncing naked and freezing in a wash bin waiting for Alex to douse her water. Played by Hani Furstenberg and Gael Garcia Bernal, the film is, according to Loktev, "so much about what does it mean to be a man, what does it mean to be a woman—what do we expect from them?" But although the story may seem far removed from your avergae couple, it asks the audience to engage their own emotions and experiences in understanding the universal rupture of its characters. [view more]
Requiem for a Dream
On the other hand, no matter how grim the film gets, it’s still an oddly palatable experience for those who can stomach it. Why? In part because of Clint Mansell’s magnificent score, which is more integral to the film’s success than perhaps any other single contribution—or, at the very least, it’s the unifying force that harmonizes every other element. A mesmerizing swirl of foreboding, neoclassical strings (courtesy of Kronos Quartet), the main theme, called “Lux Aeterna,” is a wellspring of urgency, beauty, and dramatic power that Aronofsky and his first-rate editor, Jay Rabinowitz, employ like a suite. As the four main characters are driven further into hopelessness and isolation, Mansell’s music makes their miserable destinies whole, even sparing them a little tenderness in the process. (The ubiquity of the score in film trailers, videogames, and sports-highlight packages still takes some getting used if you know its original context.)
With its grinding, mechanical repetition—in some respects, it could be mistaken for Philip Glass’ work—Mansell’s score also enforces the self-destructive routines at the heart of Requiem For A Dream. Working from Hubert Selby Jr.’s novel (Selby also co-scripted, with Aronofsky), the film obsesses over the daily rituals of addicts as they hit the peaks and valleys between one hit and the next. Set largely in the bleak ruins of Coney Island—exactly the sort of once-proud/now-faded site Aronofsky would return to later for Mickey Rourke’s big scene in The Wrestler—the story follows four fringe-dwellers in freefall. Three of them are heroin and cocaine addicts: Harry (Jared Leto) and his buddy Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) plot to use their drug connections to convert diluted smack into profit, provided they don’t shoot up too much of the inventory first. Harry talks of running away with his coke-crazy girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly), a rich-girl-gone-bad who aspires to be a designer. (Her access to money comes mostly through her relationship with a sleazy “therapist” who expects something in trade.) [view more]