Crimes of the Future and Nope

CRIMES OF THE FUTURE

***

David Cronenberg’s first feature since 2014’s Maps to the Stars is, depending on your outlook, a return to his roots, a return to his classic period, a return to form, or a step backward. Either way, you would not say it implies a bold new direction: if you’re a Cronenberg fan, this is very, very familiar territory. Indeed, it felt to me like a retread of his own Crash (1996) combined with eXistenZ (1999); those two films followed each other, and this is their perverse, belated baby. Like Crash, the characters here are so consumed with consummating their fetishistic sexual drives that they’re willing to sacrifice their bodies to their desires; like eXistenZ, grim fleshy imagery prevails. Cronenberg’s dialogue here is typically ludicrous but once you get lulled into it, the film becomes a little like a perverse warm bath, sweeping you into its bonkers world, aided by perfectly cast Cronenbergian regular Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux and, especially, Kristen Stewart, who completely understands the lurid universe she’s in. Unfortunately, it’s all a bit cartoony – out-of-kilter from this most adult of auteurs – and ultimately unsatisfying.

NOPE

***

Jordan Peele’s third feature is my biggest disappointment of 2022 so far, which is not to say it’s bad; perhaps my expectations were far too high. The best part – the sitcom ape – is far more interesting than the rest. There’s obviously a lot of ideas going on, references, all that jazz, but it’s a frustrating experience, a film of diminishing interest as it plods along.

The Conference, Emergency, What Josiah Saw

THE CONFERENCE

Cinemas from 11 August

* * * *

Compelling – indeed, riveting – staging of the Wannsee Conference, the Berlin lakeside gathering on 20 January 1942 where leading members of the Nazi regime including SS, Reich Chancellery, ministries, police and administration met to discuss the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”. The screenplay is derived from the minutes of this meeting as recorded by Adolf Eichmann.

The film’s success lies in the fact that it never forgets that it’s the soberest, darkest of history lessons, while being just cinematic enough to be, for want of a better word, an ‘entertainment.’ It’s never dry, but it’s completely sober, and while the subject matter is of the world’s greatest abomination, the telling is tasteful, respectful and suffused with artistic integrity. Wrongly handled, this could have been exploitative or downright abominable in its own right; instead, it’s vital, important and true.

EMERGENCY

Amazon

* * * 1/2

Solid direction, strong performances and excellent writing in a college comedy thriller about the dangers young Black American men face from police officers. The central conceit – which I won’t spoil here – is treated matter-of-factly, which is itself the shocking thing, especially to those who live outside the United States. I read a lot about these issues and hope I have some understanding of them; this film certainly contributed to that, viscerally.

WHAT JOSIAH SAW

Shudder from 4 August

* * * 1/2

In Texas, adult children of a charismatic God-fearing patriarch must deal with his traumatic impact on their lives.

Pure, raw, undiluted American Gothic with all the trimmings. Here is a vibe, a voice, a style and a mood, all of a piece, managing to wear its influences proudly yet roll them into something original and fresh. Watch it late at night, in the dark, and get into its strange, strange vibe.

You can listen to CJ interview the writer of What Josiah Saw, Robert Alan Dilts, on CJ’s Movieland podcast:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/episode/038rjYUwYBxuyoi2WaGSVT?utm_source=generator

Compartment No. 6

Juho Kuosmanen’s COMPARTMENT NO. 6 is up there with Petite Maman as the best film thus far of 2022. I originally chose it at the Sydney Film Festival 2021 as armchair travel: when am I gonna take a train in the Arctic circle? As such it doesn’t disappoint: this is a film that really takes you places; the milieu is astonishing. But the characters are so richly drawn, and the performances so winning, I got a lot more than I bargained for. It’s rich, moving, funny and charming. It’s the kind of film cinemas are made for: watching it at home alone simply would not be the same. The visuals demand the big screen, the sound demands the big audio, and the story demands an audience: one falls for these characters collectively, incrementally, tangibly, audibly. It’s an experience. Don’t miss it.

My friend and colleague Octavia Barron Martin loved it too. Listen to us rave about it, and be a little more critical about episode 5 of HBO’s IRMA VEP, here on the Movieland podcast:

IRMA VEP (Movieland Podcast Episode with Octavia Barron Martin).

The HBO / Foxtel / Binge 8 episode film industry satire IRMA VEP is a funhouse of mirrors. It is a remake, by Olivier Assayas, of his own 1996 film, which was in itself a meta-take on the famous 1915 French silent film serial Les Vampires. CJ and Octavia gleefully go down the rabbit hole after viewing the first four episodes of the new show and the 1996 original film.

Movieland Podcast Update

After a hiatus, my podcast Movieland is back up and running, with three episodes so far dropped in Season Two. I’m exicted that my friend and colleague Octavia Barron Martin will be joining me to discuss, on a weekly basis as the episodes drop, the new HBO series Irma Vep. To catch up and get into it, we discussed the big fizzle that was The Many Saints of Newark, a film Octavia, a huge Sopranos fan, was greatly looking forward to. Here’s the link on Spotify; otherwise search for Movieland within your favourite podcast app or service. Make sure you subscribe (to the podcast) too.

A Hero, The Staircase, Angelyne

A HERO

* * * *

Asghar Farhadi’s latest feature A Hero continues his trademark examination of the stresses of everyday life in Iranian society, constructed as suspenseful, captivating social thrillers. This one focuses on a twenty-something man who’s found himself in ‘debtor’s prison’; allowed out on two-day leave, he tries to take up an opportunity to rid himself of his debt, only – of course – to find himself getting deeper and deeper into trouble. Farhadi’s typical themes of responsibility, morality, personal ethics and the law all get a full workout here; once again his schematic script is tight as a drum. Involving, challenging, and a terrific after-movie conversation starter.

ANGELYNE and THE STAIRCASE

Two new shows dip into the ways we display ourselves in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Angelyne, a real Los Angeles ‘character’ played here in an astonishingly entertaining performance by Emmy Rossum, has displayed herself on billboards throughout Los Angeles for decades; her only product is herself. Meanwhile (in The Staircase), Michael Petersen (played beautifully by Colin Firth) allowed a documentary crew to follow him while he was on trial for his wife’s murder in 2001; the original resulting TV series of the same name essentially gave birth to the modern true-crime docuseries. Both shows are compelling; Angelyne is witty while The Staircase is thematically ambitious and very well directed by Antonio Campos.