The lost, final Maysles film appeared online for a week during the Great Quarantine, was recommended by True/False enthusiast Alissa Wilkinson, so we watched. Filmed on eastbound and westbound legs of the Empire Builder railway route, so I had that Aesop Rock song in my head (“hi-ho silver, high-pass filter, live from an empire builder”). The movie picks up stories from several regular characters, with one-off scenes of riders in between, gradually building several cross-cut/cross-country journies – a woman going home to give birth, a woman returning to her family after years away, a couple of young men fleeing North Dakota to be with their loves, an aged photographer seeing the country for the last time… somehow all these people and more opened up to a camera crew on their train ride.
The five members of the Sudanese Film Group in Khartoum reenact scenes from classic movies, pretend to film each other, hold public screenings of Chaplin’s Modern Times – and almost Django Unchained, until the authorities find out.
A warm little movie, slow-paced but engrossing. Played this year’s True/False with director in attendance, but it didn’t fit into our schedule.
We held a miniature Jane Austen film festival at home the week all the movie theaters closed and first-release films started coming out to (expensively) stream… tried one of those, plus three standard-def classics.
Persuasion (1995, Roger Michell)
Better of the two Persuasions. Anne is an old maid (by classic brit-lit standards) who rarely smiles. When her dad and snob-ass sisters retreat to Bath, Anne encounters old flame Captain Wentworth, whom she turned down before he became rich and acclaimed. She follows like a mouse while he’s aggressively courted by a neighboring family with ridiculous daughters, then when a “rich” (not at all rich) cousin shows interest in Anne, Wentworth reveals that he still likes her, and all is settled nicely.
Amanda Root followed up with a Jane Eyre, Ciaran Hinds with Cold Lazarus. The fluffy-haired, not-rich-after-all cousin is Samuel West (Dr. Frankenstein in that jacked-up Van Helsing). Complainy sister Mary is Sophie Thompson of the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma. Susan Fleetwood, Anne’s substitute mom who wears great hats, died of cancer the year this came out.
Emma (2020, Autumn de Wilde)
Radiant looking movie, with high color and production design, and I do love Anya Taylor-Joy and Bill Nighy. Unfortunately the editing was all over the place. It turns out we watched the two Emmas in the wrong order – you’re supposed to watch the one that makes dramatic sense first, then the one that’s super stylized. Persuasion followed Anne, who was persuaded to reject her love, and now we follow Emma, who persuades her friend Mia Goth (of Suspiria Remake) to reject her farmer suitor. Both girls end up with their rightful guys in the end.
Persuasion (2007, Adrian Shergold)
Oh wow, somebody got a digital HD camera and is very excited about it. Sally Hawkins is a more naturally emotive Anne, at least, and we enjoyed that Giles plays her dad. Shergold had previously filmed Dennis Potter’s Christabel and a Timothy Spall hangman movie.
Emma (1996, Douglas McGrath)
A proper version of the story, and highly enjoyable, with the title character as played by Gwyneth Paltrow seeming more foolish and less cruel. Toni Collette played the Mia Goth role, Alan Cumming as the minister who Emma tries to hook up with Toni, and Jeremy Northam as the man both Harriet and Emma fall for, before Harriet goes back to her farmer. Ewan McGregor is briefly a love interest before it’s revealed that he’s secretly marrying Emma’s rival. The music beat Randy Newman and Hans Zimmer at the oscars, and The English Patient beat this for costumes. Confusingly, between the two versions of Persuasion, Paltrow and Northam and Jennifer Ehle starred in a non-Austen movie called Possession.
Every 15 min an eye-rolling line, usually a Jennifer Lawrence scene, until she’s killed, which breaks up the gang into defenders and revengers. Jean should’ve died in space, instead absorbs incredible alien solar-flare virus powers. Bad call casting Jessica Chastain as an emotionless alien, and letting Sophie Turner carry the film. A really promising first half hour before it gets bad… either that, or the global pandemic that swept the country between when I started this movie and finished it affected my mood.
Real Star Wars 3 energy, dutifully connecting the dots between the original and the last prequel… haha, this was Kinberg’s attempted redemption for writing X-Men 3, also based on the Dark Phoenix books, and he botched it again. Generic dialogue, feels first-drafty, even though wikipedia says the last act was reshot after test screenings.
Jean vs. Chastain:
Series creator Singer was off winning oscars for Bohemian Rhapsody while having his production credits erased from this over child abuse charges. Still good, despite everything: Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee: Let Me In, voice of ParaNorman), Quicksilver (Evan Peters, in 100 episodes of American Horror Story), Magneto (Fassbender!) and Storm (Alexandra Shipp was in Love Simon between the last movie and this one).
Jean starts turning people to dust, just like in part 3, which I thought we all agreed was bad:
Opening musician was Ada Lea, a mumbly solo acoustic guitarist, who may have been missing some instruments or equipment in transit. Opening short was Distancing by Miko Revereza… talking with family about flying direct to Philippines on a one-way ticket, after the events of No Data Plan, which I tried to watch on the flight to Columbia, but it’s hard watching a slow film about transit, while in transit, while on dramamine. In prep for the move, Revereza makes a show of ripping his discs of Casablanca, Chungking Express, a Chantal Akerman, while film clips play on the soundtrack. When the picture glitches out and the A-G tendencies take over, the sound succumbs to the standard practice of taking ugly electric noise and letting it buzz and fuzz for way too long. After this, I was delighted to discover that our feature had the best sound design of anything we saw this week.
Our final screening so we stayed for the Q&A… Hopinka was not trying to manage equal representation and balance between all genders and types of people, but not not doing that either. He’s being opaque about his intentions on purpose, for instance telling us there’s more to the fable he quotes, but he cut it off on purpose, because this is as much of the story as should be told in regular circumstances. “People think that just because knowledge exists, they have the right to know it.” Fighting back against anthropological history with his storytelling methods, long takes as unprivileged participant, brightly saturated colors. I got exhausted with some shots/scenes, but unlike the rest of today’s movies, I felt like I could live inside it for a while, and never wanted to nap. Instead, the Ben Russell-ish handheld camera made me want to go shoot something while playing with the contrast setting… I thought of Katy and drawers, Jonas Mekas (mentioned a couple times this week, including in this film), Shorts Club, diary films, haiku video. Someone lend me a gimbal.
I took no notes on this one, and am starting to forget it, but I take exception to the stills and description playing up the connection to recycled Bollywood film reels, incorporated into the toys produced by the village where this film is set, and into the film itself in quick colorful segments, since this accounts for about a minute of the runtime. Besides producing toys, they prepare for an eclipse, and make a sort of viewing tower. Lovely to sit in Big Ragtag again, beer in hand, happy flashbacks to The Grand Bizarre and Distant Constellation. James Tillman opened, on keyboard, guitar, and dying laptop.
Denoise (2017, Giorgio Ferrero & Federico Biasin)
After the feature, we finally visited the VR-cade, dodged the Kevin Lee thing about terrorist propaganda, and slipped into the dark room where I got randomly assigned this experience, a 360+ degree but position-locked, fixed-duration selection of scenes about industrial work. My first-ever VR experience – I was impressed by the overall feel, but not by the resolution of the goggles, which felt not at all like real life, but like a video, sitting too close to the screen. Impressive sensations: after a scene cut, a man on a catwalk talking to me, and I wondered “if he’s on the catwalk where am I,” so I look straight down and I’m hovering in space. Our physical selves are standing in the dark room at retro arcade consoles – I’ve got a steering wheel to orient myself in the real world, and at one point I look down at my hands, expecting to see them grasping a steering wheel, but visually, my hands don’t exist.
Another observational doc, no interviews, though the subjects address the cameraman asking if they’ve seen any more mice around the house – all very Grey Gardens. Backstory comes in the form of archival TV coverage of the now-aging artists’ works – his outdoor rhino sculpture, her teaching art to kids. A few conversations between the lead couple, and twice she goes out and talks to others, but mostly it’s action, not talk. Our screening at the Blue Note was mainly memorable for the ending being interrupted by a medical emergency, and the very great Axon Orchestra as opening band.
Very observational doc of exams week at a university in Argentina – the same school Solaas attended. Some students do alright, some completely space on the works they were supposed to study or memorize, and some get caught trying to bullshit their way through a debate, their better-prepared colleagues caught on camera smirking at their attempts. A few perfectly opportune shots, students having an emotional moment, or swaying in and out of frame while calling parents on cellphones. Opening short Partial Differential Equation (Kevin Jerome Everson) was well suited to the feature – straightforward doc in a higher learning facility, observational to the point that you start focusing on the mathematician’s fingernails instead of the work. A morning screening, so the very ambient 3-piece Saltbreaker opened.
The new fantasy/doc from the director of Cameraperson was obviously a must-see at the fest. A semi-sequel since Johnson’s debut covered her mother’s loss to alzheimer’s, so this one has a mild case of sequelitis – more focused and bigger in every way, but somehow less resonant. That said, it’s still a more fun and resonant sequel than Thor 3 Ragnarok, and I look forward to watching again. Loose Loose opened, without the lead male vocalist from last time – an improvement!