Archive for February, 2022

Oscars 2022: Licorice Pizza and Drive My Car

Posted on February 27th, 2022 in At the cinema, Culture | No Comments »

Licorice Pizza

I blow hot-and-cold on Paul Thomas Anderson, with only Magnolia really ringing my bell (Boogie Nights is fine, Punch Drunk Love is fine, There Will Be Blood doesn’t seem to be aware of how silly much of it is, The Master is good but gets locked into a repetitive cycle, Inherent Vice is fun but insubstantial and Phantom Thread is reviewed here). I also can quickly tire of “hang-out” films where we just pass the time with some characters until it’s time for the closing credits, so this doesn’t exactly feel tailor-made to my preferences.

Reader, I loved it. There’s something so beguiling about Cooper Hoffman (in his film debut, but man, those Hoffman genes are strong) as whizz-kid entrepreneur and child star Gary Valentine pinballing from press tours to water beds to – well, pinball machines; while at the same time pursuing Alana Haim’s 25-year-old photographer’s assistant who has started to give up on her dreams. It’s such a fresh, novel, endlessly fascinating relationship that I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the screen.

And lucky I didn’t, as there’s a delightful parade of cameos, many of them evoking or just playing real people from the period, whether it’s faux-Lucille Ball, actual Jon Peters or if-you-squint William Holden.

True, the ending is never in doubt, and if you told me you got restless waiting for it, then I would totally understand why, but if this were to win Best Picture (and I don’t think it stands much of a chance), then I would practically skip upstairs in order to sit down and watch it again. I don’t think it will change the world, and I don’t think it has anything very profound to say about Age, The Past, Men and Women or The Human Condition but it’s blazingly original, beautifully played, with an exceptional score and a faultless period feel.

Drive My Car

Drive My Car is a harder film to love. Featuring an emotionally closed-off central character which only adds to the barriers erected in front of an English-speaking audience watching a story told mainly in Japanese (plus some Korean and some sign language) about a Russian play written in 1899. If Licorice Pizza feels long at two hours and ten minutes, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film feels glacial at three hours, and if one was so minded, one could certainly make a case for axing most of the first hour, since all the key events depicted are later recounted by other characters, and often have more power the second time around.

I think I would have struggled with this far more if I hadn’t already seen Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy by the same director, which taught me something about his rhythms and his interests in a more digestible version – it’s three short films together running for less time than Licorice Pizza. And as I watched, gradually my restlessness began to subside as firstly the characters began to blossom and bloom and secondly, the architecture of the story began to reveal itself.

Of particular interest to me was the relationship between director Kafuku and his driver Misaki Watari, whose fierce stoicism is brilliantly evoked by Tōko Miura. In the end, this is a story about loss, set in – of all places – Hiroshima (although the bombing is scarcely mentioned). Loss of a loved one, loss of dignity, loss of autonomy and loss of control. The all-powerful director who is king of the rehearsal room but can no longer steer his own vehicle is just one potent image among many.

Again, I don’t think this stands a chance of winning Best Picture, but unlike Licorice Pizza, that’s not because it’s in any way flimsy or insubstantial. But The Power of the Dog feels just as daring while giving Academy voters a more familiar structure and setting to guide them through. I think I’d have to see both again to be absolutely sure, but possibly – just possibly – I might prefer the Russo-Japanese story over the New Zealand-American one.

Trekaday 010: Patterns of Force, By Any Other Name, The Omega Glory, The Ultimate Computer, Bread and Circuses, Assignment: Earth

Posted on February 24th, 2022 in Culture | Enter your password to view comments.

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Trekaday 009: Wolf in the Fold, The Trouble With Tribbles, The Gamesters of Triskelion, A Piece of the Action, The Immunity Syndrome, A Private Little War, Return to Tomorrow

Posted on February 18th, 2022 in Culture | Enter your password to view comments.

To encourage people to buy the book based on these blog posts, the orginal posts are now password protected. To continue reading the blog, enter the first word on page 6 of the book.

Oscar Nominations 2022

Posted on February 11th, 2022 in At the cinema, Culture | No Comments »

It’s Oscar time again and the Academy has voted. We have a full roster of ten Best Picture nominees and a full five nominations in every other category. I don’t remember that happening before. Oscar’s favourite is Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog with 12 nominations – Campion also becoming the first woman to receive two nominations as Best Director. Behind that is Dune with ten and then Belfast and West Side Story with six. Here are some thoughts on Best Picture and some of the other interesting categories. Firstly, here are the ten Best Picture nominees.

Belfast. Pure hand-milled Oscar bait. Famous theatre-types. Black-and-white. Poverty porn. I haven’t seen it yet, but despite that snark I am keen to. Also in the running for Director, Screenplay and Ciaran Hinds and Judi Dench in the acting categories.

CODA. Again, I haven’t seen it, but good on Apple for making more of an impact on this year’s race, even if this does feel just a smidge like The Sound of Metal 2: Sounds Metaller.

Don’t Look Up. Why is it only Adam McKay who gets to make goofy comedies and have them nominated for Oscars. After the near-brilliance of The Big Short and the intermittently amazing Vice, this was a major disappointment – the cinematic equivalent of a small child picking lots of low-hanging fruit and then screaming “Look at all the fruit I picked!” at top volume for two hours.

Drive My Car. I recently had the chance to see Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, another Ryusuke Hamaguchi joint, which I thought was marvellous and this apparently is even better. Hamaguchi is also nominated as Best Director, but that doesn’t (quite) mean that Best International Feature is a forgone conclusion.

Dune. Masterly evocation of half of a classic novel, which only occasionally falls into the trap of people in funny clothes standing in theatrical postures, declaiming space dialogue at each other. More frequently, it manages to combine the epic and the personal in a very engrossing fashion, but it clearly doesn’t stand a chance of winning Best Picture, not least because Part II is on the way.

King Richard. It’s an odd way to approach a biopic about the two top tennis players in the world. It’s rather as if the recent Stan and Ollie biopic focused on James Finlayson. But Will Smith is usually worth a look, even if this is mainly here to make up numbers.

Licorice Pizza is the “small” movie, this year’s Brooklyn, Lady Bird, Room or Manchester by the Sea. I like all of those, but I often find Paul Thomas Anderson’s stuff hard to swallow. I am keen to see it, but at the same time, I’m approaching with caution.

Nightmare Alley. Guillermo del Toro is back for more gothic thrills and spills, with what is apparently an epic performance from Bradley Cooper, who missed out on a Best Actor nomination. With only four nominations total, none in major categories outside Best Picture, again I don’t think this one is a real contender.

The Power of the Dog. It’s entirely predictable that Jane Campion’s return to the big screen should be so completely surprising and beguiling. This fascinating movie never tips its hand, leaving you with plenty of questions even as the credits roll, but without denying you a cathartic resolution. Masterful stuff from a true artist.

West Side Story. Brilliant reworking of the 1957 play and 1961 movie, itself a Best Picture winner, this more than holds its own, even if not every choice worked for me. However, poor box office will have hurt its chances, and it didn’t get a nod for its screenplay, although it may do well in other categories.

Speaking of which – Best Director I think will likely go to Campion along with The Power of the Dog winning Best Picture. It’s about time the Academy made up for not giving The Piano its top prize. Likewise Benedict Cumberbatch must be in the running for Best Actor, but Andrew Garfield is magnificent in Tick Tick Boom and having Spider-Man out at the same time helps to demonstrate his versatility as well as keeping him front-of-mind.

None of the performers nominated for Best Actress are in films nominated for Best Picture, which is disappointing. Some people love Kristen Stewart’s performance as Princess Diana, and others hate it, but the Academy loves a biopic and this seems like a more realistic option than Nicole Kidman – although it’s always possible Jessica Chastain will pinch it.

Kodi Smit-McPhee and Jesse Plemons are head-to-head for Best Supporting Actor which probably hurts both their chances. Ciaran Hinds makes sense to me here, far more than Judi Dench for Best Supporting Actress which seems almost guaranteed to go to Ariana DeBose. Original Screenplay seems wide open to me, but Branagh probably has a good shot at it, whereas I think Adapted is between Dune and Dog.

I’ll put up reviews of more Best Picture nominees as my Star Trek schedule allows.

Trekaday 008: Catspaw, I Mudd, Metamorphosis, Journey to Babel, Friday’s Child, The Deadly Years, Obsession

Posted on February 11th, 2022 in Culture | Enter your password to view comments.

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Trekaday 007: Amok Time, Who Mourns for Adonais, The Changeling, Mirror Mirror, The Apple, The Doomsday Machine

Posted on February 4th, 2022 in Culture | Enter your password to view comments.

To encourage people to buy the book based on these blog posts, the orginal posts are now password protected. To continue reading the blog, enter the first word on page 6 of the book.