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.

The Offer, The Innocents, We Own This City

THE OFFER (Paramount +)

When I heard about The Offer I couldn’t believe it: had someone made a TV show just for me? Of course, I’m not the only one obsessed with The Godfather, and not the only one who’s read many, many books and articles about its making. But the idea that someone would produce an entire TV show about the production of your favourite movie… well, wow.

Trouble is, the script feels directly lifted from those books and articles, giving rise to that dreaded ‘illustrated wikipedia entry’ feeling. But it’s fun to see spiritual heroes like Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Evans come to life (Dan Fogler and Matthew Goode, respectively) and the story itself, for those who haven’t obsessively read about it, is a good one. The show errs on spoon-feeding the mechanics of movie-making, but thats its nature and its flaw: it tries to serve the novice and the nerd.

THE INNOCENTS (Cinemas)

* * *

Likewise, The Innocents, a Norwegian supernatural creeper about kids gradually becoming aware of their telekinetic powers, may scare the bejesus out of you, and I may have been less affected purely by having been exposed to so much of this kind of stuff before. Certainly to get performances like this from a cast this young is no small achievement. There are some pacing problems, and the autism of one of the main characters feels, unfortunately, exploitative at worst and misguided at best. But it’s strong on tone and vibe and features some genuinely creepy moments.

WE OWN THIS CITY (HBO / Foxtel)

David Simon and George Pelecanos, who created The Wire, return with a spiritual sequel, the real-life tale of police corruption, brutality and criminality in Baltimore in the 2000s. Featuring some returning cast members from The Wire (in different roles), and many more of those astonishingly authentic performances that made that show feel almost like a documentary, We Own This City is typically gritty, robust and never less than totally engaging. Exceptional.