Three seen at the Edinburgh Film Festival 2018:
Cold War: Paweł Pawlikowski uses his square black-and-white tall-ceiling frames to loom over a sprawling 15-year political love story going on in the bottom of them, in which Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) loses his mind over Zula (Joanna Kulig) while the Iron Curtain closes. Ms. Kulig sings and dances and looks a bit like Jennifer Lawrence singing and dancing, and the chemistry between her and Mr. Kot is so minimal I assumed it was a deliberate comment on the nature of frustrated men being blasted sideways by mysterious women. In which light Cold War is pretty wicked and I’m surprised the Current Mood has been so accommodating of it. Terrific film.
Papillon: In which we see not only how Papillon gets sent to prison, but also how he wrote the book of the film you’re now watching. Because everything has to be an origin story, even though not everything is Batman. Rami Malek is a decent Dustin Hoffman, Charlie Hunnam really is not Steve McQueen, and everybody’s teeth remain distractingly perfect. Pointless.
The Parting Glass: A bunch of alumni from True Blood make a film that’s several light years from True Blood, but camaraderie counts for a lot when it shows through on screen. Not quite a weepy but certainly a bit of a teary, its view of the necessary banalities that follow bereavement will chime with anyone who has been there which is more or less everyone, and the film has a go at telling some of its story visually rather than verbally, which is something else that counts for a lot. Anna Paquin remains miraculous, a screen face like no other.
Sicario 2 Soldado: Having spotted that Josh Brolin now looks like Kurt Russell in the right light, it’s tough to see Sicario Too as anything beyond a 1980s Cannon production, before the film itself made several very obvious moves of its own in that direction. By the end Benicio del Toro is as indestructible as John Rambo. Emily Blunt is much missed, but since her character spurred some of the duffest film criticism of 2015, maybe not missed entirely. A different film than Sicario made for different reasons, all of them worth frowning at. Will be reviewed by me in the September 2018 Sight & Sound magazine, so more to follow.
Solo: A Star Wars Story: Form versus content, big screen edition. Production kerfuffle gives Ron Howard, a traditionalist’s traditionalist, $275 million and all the current buttons to press and the result is…traditional. But how refreshing is traditional right now. No shakycam overdose, fight scenes in which who exactly is punching whom and from where remains dangerously clear, a script by (traditionalist) Lawrence Kasdan, and photography by Bradford Young who is not necessarily a traditionalist but knows how to massage his muted colours in service of those that are. John Powell’s music always makes live actors seem about to clout each other with shovels in an Aardman production, but the energy imparted is as if someone plugged Rogue One into a defibrillator. And the film is wonkily cast from top to bottom, everyone a misfire, but let’s assume the original directors were culpable there.
Ocean’s 8: Charm-free film making by flow chart with the soul of an accountant. But not as much as…
Avengers Infinity War: Reviewers using the word “culmination” about a film with a sequel date already set in stone was another bad day for the language, but there aren’t many stress-free ways to discuss a product of pure 21st Century Media, a knot of marketing and logistics so densely packed that it feels like storytelling squashed at the heart of some neutron star. Infinity War is hermetically sealed, no doorway provided for anyone ignorant of who, say, that talking racoon is—except that the droll asides of Bradley Cooper in a dubbing booth and the ever-better digitally-twitching whiskers of Rocket Racoon are designed by experts to be enticing enough to take the place of whatever groundwork characters were expected to lay, back in the far off days of ten years ago. This is the big change from Transformers, which couldn’t care less about ways in, and indeed from the DC movies too, which have opted not to dabble in warm characterisations as a tactic, wisely or otherwise. Somewhere between Bradley Cooper’s sarcasm and Gal Gadot’s sweet tussles with the English language lies a key to 21st Century entertainment. We have always been at Infinity War.
The Sense8 Finale: Form versus content, Netflix edition. Sad to report that the two-and-a-half-hour finale of Sense8, willed into existence by the wish of the series’ creators to do justice to a dozen characters, was a misfire. Letting it be made was an honourable instinct beyond the usual venal instincts of television, but the sheer volume of plot that had to be hauled from A to B to C left the finale beached like a whale. The whole point of Sense8 was pulpy content plus form to die for, twenty different location shoots that the great John Toll must have corralled with one of those wall charts covered in pins and string, creating a thing that looked like nothing else on TV. It was a massive parable of love and tolerance and forgiveness expressed in colour and framing and editing, interrupted now and again by lengthy bouts of far and away the most sex-positive sex available on any non-porno screen anywhere. The finale had bits of this but also none of it, the breakneck pace of plot emphasising all of its genre banalities rather than its holistic instincts, and its formal daring seemed to have become just acres of slow motion without point or reason; not an evolution of the series’ style but a devolution. The bad guys, once cartoonish for a purpose, are now just cartoonish, especially Valeria Bilello’s Lila Facchini—to say that it’s a shame she kept her clothes on is to risk misunderstanding, but having created a femme fatale on a dreamscape scale in the second series, the character is now passive and inert, and not the least bit sexy. There’s also the screen violence, copious and stupid, gouts of blood spurting and pooling on the floor. Having machine-gunned a few faceless individuals, the nominal hero ends the series and fixes his problems by firing a rocket launcher at a helicopter, another Cannon hero. Of all the series that could have forged a path forward without tripping over the myth of redemptive violence, Sense8 felt like it might be the one. The entire series was a landmark in screen erotica anyway, though, and more proof that the Wachowskis know the score.