InRO Monthly — December 2023

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INTERVIEW WITH FREDERICK WISEMAN <strong>—</strong> 1<br />

SHATTERED CAMARADERIE: Revisiting Michael<br />

Roemer’s Vengeance is Mine <strong>—</strong> 9<br />

MOVIES FOR A FREE PERSON: A Conversation<br />

with the Cast & Crew of The Sweet East <strong>—</strong> 11<br />


THE COUNSELOR <strong>—</strong> 15<br />

INTERVIEW WITH FERNANDO FRIAS <strong>—</strong> 18<br />

RED SEA FILM FESTIVAL <strong>—</strong> 21<br />

HALLMARK AND BEYOND <strong>—</strong> 22<br />


MILLENIUM MAMBO <strong>—</strong> 23<br />

LOTR: THE RETURN OF THE KING <strong>—</strong> 25<br />


IN WATER <strong>—</strong> 27<br />

GODZILLA MINUS ONE <strong>—</strong> 27<br />

EILEEN <strong>—</strong> 27<br />

THE DAUGHTERS OF FIRE <strong>—</strong> 27<br />

WHITE RIVER <strong>—</strong> 27<br />

SILENT NIGHT <strong>—</strong> 27<br />

A MALE <strong>—</strong> 27<br />

RAGING GRACE <strong>—</strong> 27<br />

LAST SUSPECT <strong>—</strong> 27<br />

POOR THINGS <strong>—</strong> 28<br />

LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND <strong>—</strong> 28<br />

THE PEASANTS <strong>—</strong> 28<br />

LA CHIMERA <strong>—</strong> 28<br />

TOTAL TRUST <strong>—</strong> 28<br />

CHICKEN RUN: DAWN OF THE NUGGET <strong>—</strong> 29<br />

ORIGINS <strong>—</strong> 29<br />

THE THREE MUSKETEERS: PART I <strong>—</strong> 29<br />

CONCRETE UTOPIA <strong>—</strong> 29<br />

THE BOY AND THE HERON <strong>—</strong> 29<br />

MR. MONK’S LAST CASE <strong>—</strong> 30<br />

THE LAST WIFE <strong>—</strong> 30<br />

REBEL MOON <strong>—</strong> PART ONE: CHILD OF FIRE <strong>—</strong> 30<br />

THE ZONE OF INTEREST <strong>—</strong> 30<br />

AMERICAN FICTION <strong>—</strong> 30<br />


“PHONY WARS” <strong>—</strong> 30<br />

FINESTKIND <strong>—</strong> 30<br />

WONKA <strong>—</strong> 31<br />

GODARD CINEMA <strong>—</strong> 31<br />

TIME BOMB Y2K <strong>—</strong> 31<br />

AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM <strong>—</strong> 31<br />

THE IRON CLAW <strong>—</strong> 31<br />

ALL OF US STRANGERS <strong>—</strong> 31<br />

MEMORY <strong>—</strong> 31<br />

SOCIETY OF THE SNOW <strong>—</strong> 31<br />

A MURDER AT THE END OF THE WORLD <strong>—</strong> 31<br />

FERRARI <strong>—</strong> 32<br />

THE COLOR PURPLE <strong>—</strong> 32<br />

THE TEACHERS’ LOUNGE <strong>—</strong> 32<br />

FREUD’S LAST SESSION <strong>—</strong> 32<br />

THE CRIME IS MINE <strong>—</strong> 32<br />

DECEMBER <strong>2023</strong>


An Interview with Frederick Wiseman<br />

1<br />

In 1993, when the third edition of Japan’s biannually held Yamagata<br />

International Documentary Film Festival took place, no one could<br />

have foreseen the seismic impact that this event would have, has<br />

really continued to have, on another country’s national cinema.<br />

That story isn’t exactly obscure anymore, at least for those with<br />

some knowledge of the minutiae of modern Chinese film history: A<br />

handful of young mainland Chinese documentary filmmakers, all<br />

invited to YIDFF ’93 to screen either their first or second features,<br />

by chance attended a festival showing of Frederick Wiseman’s Zoo<br />

and found themselves enthralled with the American documentary<br />

giant’s use of what they’d soon recognize as direct cinema.<br />

Various interviews and oral histories have been published about<br />

this encounter <strong>—</strong> notably, a recent piece for Chinese Independent<br />

Film Observer by Akiyama Tamako, a translator at Yamagata,<br />

sketches out not only the excited conversations that she overheard<br />

taking place between the young Chinese filmmakers after that<br />

fateful Zoo screening, but also details how the most well-known<br />

member of this group, Bumming in Beijing director Wu Wenguang,<br />

managed to bring back from Yamagata bootlegged VHS tapes of<br />

many of Wiseman’s other films with him to China, where he held<br />

screenings for peers who were not able to travel abroad.<br />

Through my own research on this subject, I discovered that these<br />

VHS tapes were not only screened at Wu’s home, but also copied, at<br />

a CCTV studio nonetheless, and distributed, serving to further the<br />

reach of their influence <strong>—</strong> and going some ways toward explaining<br />

why so much of the so-called New Documentary Movement in<br />

China bears a striking resemblance to Wiseman’s cinema.<br />

There’s one person, though, who hasn’t commented all that<br />

extensively on this subject, and that’s Wiseman himself. And so,<br />

when afforded the immense privilege to speak with the 93-year-old<br />

filmmaker, I couldn’t resist but take a sizeable detour from the<br />

subject at hand <strong>—</strong> the release of his 44th documentary, on the<br />

family-run operation of three high-end restaurants in the pastoral<br />

French countryside <strong>—</strong> to explore his awareness of, and his<br />

apprehension toward, the use of his films in China, from the impact<br />

that he had on that first generation of filmmakers in the early<br />

1990s to the evidence of his influence on Wang Bing, one of the<br />

most prominent documentarians on the film festival circuit today,<br />

Chinese or otherwise.<br />

This interview was edited for clarity and concision.

Sam C. Mac: Thanks so much for doing this with me. You’re in Paris<br />

now, right?<br />

Frederick Wiseman: Yeah.<br />

SCM: I’m really excited to do this interview. I hope you'll indulge me<br />

a little bit of a sidetrack conversation. My research is focused<br />

specifically on Chinese film and Chinese independent film<br />

specifically. And I'm really, really interested to talk to you about<br />

that. We will definitely talk about your new film as well. But I'd like<br />

to talk to you about the influence that you had on young Chinese<br />

documentary filmmakers coming out of the Yamagata<br />

Documentary Film Festival in 1993. Is that okay if we talk about that<br />

first?<br />

FW: Yeah, sure.<br />

SCM: Great. I really appreciate that. So I've looked for other<br />

interviews that you might have conducted on this subject, and I<br />

haven't found that many…<br />

FW: I don't know of any. The whole question of influence is hard for<br />

me to comment on because I haven't seen their films.<br />

SCM: It's more just about understanding that period in time. I'm<br />

aware of at least some of the minutiae of this history, and I wanted<br />

to talk to you about it to see how much of it you're aware of and<br />

how much of it maybe you haven't heard. But obviously, in 1993, at<br />

the Yamagata Documentary Film Festival, you showed Zoo…<br />

FW: Right.<br />

SCM: …And there were three filmmakers that were there at that<br />

festival from mainland China. One was Wu Wenguang, who I believe<br />

you know personally…<br />

FW: Right.<br />

SCM: …and the other two were Duan Jinchuan and Hao Zhiqiang.<br />

Do those other names ring a bell?<br />

FW: No.<br />

SCM: That's fine <strong>—</strong> one out of three is enough. When Wu Wenguang<br />

came back from Yamagata after seeing your films, he brought VHS<br />

tapes with him back to China. And Hao Zhiqiang, who worked at<br />

CCTV at the time, used his studio at CCTV to make copies of VHS<br />

tapes of your films and circulate them to a number of other young<br />

Chinese documentary filmmakers. When I interviewed Hao this<br />

year, he told me the story about making these copies and<br />

distributing them. And if you'll forgive me a bit of an analogy here,<br />

but you have to understand from talking to these filmmakers, from<br />

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------<br />


my perspective anyway <strong>—</strong> and I think from their perspective as well<br />

<strong>—</strong> in a sense you're kind of like the Beatles to them at that time.<br />

There's this huge explosion of interest in your work and you see it<br />

reflected in the films from that time as well. But before I talk too<br />

much <strong>—</strong> can you tell me a little about your recollection of meeting<br />

some of these filmmakers in 1993, and just what it was like being at<br />

Yamagata that year, based on your own memory?<br />

throttled for a long time and suddenly, and for a period of time, the<br />

possibility of working independently without any government<br />

control or minimum government control may have opened up. I can<br />

see why people would like this technique. You can make a film<br />

about anything as long as there's available light.<br />

SCM: (Laughs) True.<br />

3<br />

FW: I can't remember when I first met Wu Wenguang, whether it<br />

was Yamagata or if he called me up when he was in the States and<br />

came to visit me. I'd have to go over my records, because I don't<br />

remember which came first. [Ed: It would have been at Yamagata<br />

first.] But Wu and I got along very well, and we talked; he came to<br />

visit me up in Maine when I was editing something or other, I don't<br />

remember what I was editing… And I'm a bit ambivalent about the<br />

use of my films in China, because I would've preferred that they<br />

had asked my permission to make copies. I understand <strong>—</strong> they<br />

probably didn't make too many copies <strong>—</strong> but my films are very<br />

popular in China, and I think I've only arranged for the sale of one<br />

there. And one thing I share in common with Chinese filmmakers is<br />

that I like to eat. So I understand all the arguments <strong>—</strong> they didn’t<br />

have much money <strong>—</strong> but I probably would have given them to them<br />

had they asked. I don't like the idea of just making copies and<br />

circulating.<br />

SCM: I completely understand that concern. The thing I'm<br />

interested in now is talking just about why they were so popular in<br />

China, because I think you understand to a certain extent, but also<br />

because I've talked to these filmmakers… Anyway, what's your<br />

impression of why they were so popular in China?<br />

FW: Well, I don't really know. I've heard they were popular in China,<br />

but I've never…that's about as far as it goes. Nobody’s ever told me<br />

the use they were put to or how they might have influenced them,<br />

and I can't make any judgment about that, not having seen their<br />

work.<br />

SCM: Sure. I understand.<br />

FW: So obviously I'm pleased that they liked my films and the<br />

technique that I use. I know from the one short visit I made to<br />

China [that the technique] is very adaptable to life there. It's<br />

adaptable to life anywhere, but… you know, I'm troubled by talking<br />

about anything that's unique to China. But if I'm correct in thinking<br />

that filmmakers’ <strong>—</strong> independent filmmakers’ <strong>—</strong> activity was<br />

--------------------------------------------------------------------------<br />

FW: And you don't need much money if you've got the equipment.<br />

SCM: My takeaway from talking to these filmmakers about why<br />

your approach resonated so much with them is interesting<br />

because I think it actually cuts against what you use that approach<br />

for a lot in your own work. And what I mean by that is these<br />

filmmakers… you have to realize, at the end of the 1980s, which<br />

basically you're about a 10-plus-year period into being able to even<br />

see documentaries, because of the Cultural Revolution. And, at that<br />

time, the only documentaries that they were seeing really were<br />

State propaganda, State TV. But there was starting to be a bit of a<br />

development away from that. And filmmakers, especially because<br />

of the change in technology and the more accessible filmmaking<br />

technologies, were trying to do things differently. But what's<br />

interesting to me is I think what resonated with them when they<br />

saw specifically Zoo in 1993 [at Yamagata] is they saw in direct<br />

cinema this ability to make films that are not propaganda, but that<br />

are instead in this observational mode, and in a sense even a<br />

passive observation. Or at least it doesn't have to be read as<br />

politically antagonistic.<br />

FW: I don't think that's accurate. No, passive observation is not an<br />

accurate description of what I do. Because it's passive in the sense<br />

that there's no intervention, but it is not passive in the actual way<br />

the films were made.<br />

SCM: Absolutely.<br />

FW: Because they require thousands of choices.<br />

SCM: Well, I think what's so interesting is that their experience with<br />

it bore this out. So, there's a film called The Square, from 1994. It<br />

was one of the first films that was made in China that was really<br />

clearly influenced by your work, and it was only a year after they<br />

had that exposure to your films. It's an observational portrait of<br />

Tiananmen Square in 1994, and they're trying to just observe what<br />

it's like to see the police presence there and to see the reporters<br />


there. And they tried to think of this as being not politically<br />

antagonistic. But the State clearly did not see it that way. [Ed: It<br />

was banned.] And so, I think they had this feeling they could use<br />

the aesthetic as a way to not be politically controversial, and the<br />

exact opposite happened. And then you see a change throughout<br />

Chinese documentaries over the course of the 1990s.<br />

The next point I wanted to touch on, and this is really an oral<br />

history question, but you did go to China in 1997, and you gave a<br />

keynote address at a film festival there, and also did an interview<br />

with CCTV. Can you tell me a little bit about what you remember<br />

from that visit?<br />

comments, except insofar as the way I work is, by implication,<br />

contrary to what was usually acceptable in a totalitarian state.<br />

SCM: Do you remember any of the questions or what you talked<br />

about in the interview that you gave on TV?<br />

FW: I have no idea.<br />

SCM: I'd love to find that interview somewhere, but I haven't been<br />

able to.<br />

FW: I know I never had a copy of it.<br />

FW: I hadn't thought about my trip to China for a long time, but I<br />

remember I got off the plane and they had a meeting arranged<br />

already, and I think Wu Wenguang was there, but some high<br />

Chinese official also, they were waiting for me. They waited a<br />

couple hours for me to arrive from the airport and go to the hotel<br />

and take a shower, et cetera, because it was a long trip. I didn't<br />

know in advance that this meeting was to take place. And, it was<br />

naive of me, but I was struck by the sort of obvious hierarchical<br />

nature of the relationship of the people in the room to each other.<br />

But I don't think I had anything startling to say. I talked about the<br />

way I make films, and I responded to their questions, as I would<br />

respond to yours. There was nothing obviously ideological in my<br />

-------------------------------------------------------------------------<br />

SCM: And were you able to see… I think I've read some interviews<br />

with you where you have said that you've seen some of the Chinese<br />

documentaries from that time.<br />

FW: I've seen some work by Wang Bing. But only in the last year or<br />

two. And I met with him in Paris. We've met a couple of times.<br />

SCM: That's actually where I was steering this conversation,<br />

because I talked to Wang Bing a couple months ago. He was giving<br />

a workshop at Harvard [Ed: This interviewer works at the Fairbank<br />

Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University, where Wang Bing<br />

recently taught a workshop on documentary filmmaking]. So I have<br />


to say that I have a book project, it spans from 1989 to 2002, and<br />

Wang Bing made his first film [West of the Tracks] in 2002, which<br />

was a real departure from a lot of other documentary films that<br />

were being made in China prior to that time. And actually, it's a<br />

departure in the sense that it's probably the film that’s the most<br />

like your work than anything else that came before.<br />

FW: The shooting is very much like my work. It's not as highly<br />

edited.<br />

SCM: He uses long takes in a different way, but there’s one thing<br />

that makes it more similar to your work, compared to Wu<br />

Wenguang’s films. Wu did sort of gradually move away from this,<br />

but Wu’s early work <strong>—</strong> which he says was influenced by you <strong>—</strong> is<br />

actually more cinema verité than direct cinema, because it<br />

intersperses these very intentional, on-camera interviews. Wang<br />

Bing, though, really moved away from that entirely when he started,<br />

and instead embraced the direct cinema mode.<br />

So I want to transition a bit to how Wang Bing thinks about direct<br />

cinema <strong>—</strong> since he’s really an endpoint for me in the evolution of<br />

Chinese documentary <strong>—</strong> to how you think about it. Wang had a<br />

quote from a recent event here at Harvard that I thought was really<br />

interesting, and when I was watching your new film, I was thinking<br />

------------------------------------------------------------------------<br />

about it, and how you might feel about it. It's a bit esoteric. He said,<br />

“in cinema, there's no composition, only time and space.” Now I<br />

know that composition is important to you, but I do wonder, how<br />

important it is in terms of hierarchical considerations. Where does<br />

composition sit exactly?<br />

FW: Well, I care about it a lot. I'm making a movie and I like the<br />

picture to be as good as possible. I mean, whatever my definition<br />

of “good” is. I'm very aware of composition, both during the<br />

shooting and in the choice of shots in the editing.<br />

SCM: On the topic of composition, it has to be a very different way<br />

of thinking when you're shooting in 16:9 as opposed to 4:3. How do<br />

you approach composition when it comes to framing different<br />

aspect ratios?<br />

FW: I mean, it's just the way it looks to me. It's not any kind of<br />

formal process. A Couple was shot in 16:9, but for the<br />

documentaries, I prefer the 4:3.<br />

SCM: Obviously a lot of your films are focused on institutions, but<br />

recent ones have also been pretty focused on the sort of space of<br />

the institution. For this film, though, it does wander, it wanders<br />

outside the institution, or maybe you consider these other spaces<br />

that it goes to an extension of that institution?<br />


FW: I don't have the precise definition of institution that I originally<br />

conformed to. So that's not an issue for me. I don't say an<br />

institution has to be a four-story building with 22 rooms. It's more<br />

the feel of the people. City Hall, I mean, I call it City Hall, but it takes<br />

place in Roxbury and Dorchester and Brighton, et cetera. But it's<br />

focused around the activities of the people who work out of City<br />

Hall. And Belfast, Maine is… there's 6,000 people, and it covers quite<br />

a large area. So I'm not wedded to the precise definition of<br />

institution. And I went outside the physical confines of the<br />

restaurants because I thought I wanted to show a sense of the<br />

system, it was important to show the suppliers and the relationship<br />

to those suppliers. And also the manufacturers of the products that<br />

they use, like the cheese or the wine.<br />

SCM: I think it's interesting how it goes outside and then it comes<br />

back inside the restaurant at the end. When you were shooting all<br />

this footage, did you have any sense… I know you often find the<br />

film in the edit, I think that’s what you've said. But did you have any<br />

sense of the structure that you wanted here? Did you always want<br />

to go outside and then come back inside? Or was that something<br />

that came to you when you were putting the film together?<br />

FW: Well, obviously, when I shot the outside stuff, I thought I was<br />

going to use it. I had no idea how I would use it, or where I was<br />

going to use it, but I thought it was important to collect it and<br />

make the decision on how it was going to be used later. Because I<br />

never make, as you just said, I never make any decision. I mean, I<br />

don't really think about structure in any precise way during the<br />

shooting.<br />

SCM I think, in general, you've often said that you don't like to have<br />

a lot of preconceptions going in, you don't want to do research<br />

about the subjects to a certain extent. You want to be able to<br />

discover the subjects of the film by filming the subjects. In this<br />

case, for this film, on a somewhat sliding scale, did you have more<br />

preconceptions or less preconceptions than you've had compared<br />

to your other films?<br />

FW: No, I had no preconceptions, because I think I had eaten at a<br />

three-star restaurant only a couple of times.<br />

SCM: You're ahead of me, then.<br />

FW: I made the original visit and then one other time. But I was<br />

basically completely ignorant.<br />

SCM: Since you were ignorant going into this, what were the<br />

conversations like with the restaurateurs when you said you<br />

wanted to make this film? What were the things you talked about<br />

and the guidelines?<br />

FW: The whole thing came up by chance because I took some<br />

friends of mine there for lunch one day to thank them for putting<br />

me up in their house (which is about an hour away from Troisgros)<br />

during the month of August, in 2020. And when César came over to<br />

the table after lunch, just as part of the routine meet-and-greet, I<br />

blurted out “I make documentary movies.” We considered making a<br />

movie about the restaurant. I hadn't planned to ask, actually; my<br />

documentary spirit was aroused. And he said, let me talk to my<br />

father. He came back half an hour later and said, “Why not?” I<br />

discovered, a year later when I showed him the film, that his father<br />

wasn't there that day <strong>—</strong> what he'd done, he told me, was look me up<br />

on Wikipedia. And I've never read what Wikipedia says about me,<br />

but I guess he liked it, so he said, “okay.” And then we corresponded<br />

a couple of times, and I went there and I met [the family], and we<br />

exchanged some letters; I waited until the spring of ‘22 to make the<br />

movie. But to go back, to be more precise about the<br />

preconceptions, I had been to the restaurant twice. I knew nothing<br />

about restaurants as I know nothing about most of these subjects<br />

before I start [making films about them]. And maybe even people<br />

think they know nothing about them when it's finished. But what I<br />

learned is what you see in the film.<br />

SCM: I've read you say something to the effect of “the lens doesn't<br />

change the people's behavior.” That interview was from many years<br />

ago, so I wonder if you still feel like that's the case? Do you still feel<br />

like, especially now <strong>—</strong> your notoriety and prestige has only risen in<br />

the decades since whenever that interview was <strong>—</strong> do you still feel<br />

like you can make these films and be behind a camera and be who<br />

you are and not have it affect the people in front of the camera<br />

and how they're behaving?<br />

FW: Well, you see the result. I made Troisgros in ’22, and while I like<br />

to think that everybody's heard of me, that's not true. And I think<br />

the explanation is more rooted in human behavior. First of all,<br />

people like the idea that somebody's sufficiently interested to want<br />

to make a movie. Secondly, people aren't good enough actors to<br />

change their behavior <strong>—</strong> if they don't want the sequence shot or if<br />

they don't want the movie made, they say no. In my experience, it's<br />

extremely rare that anybody says no, either to the getting of<br />

permission, or to the particular sequence. And as to whether<br />

-------------------------------------------------------------------------<br />


7<br />

people act for the camera, most people are not really good enough<br />

actors to suddenly change their behavior because their picture is<br />

being taken. The level of acting in Hollywood and Broadway would<br />

be much higher than it is, because you would have a vast pool to<br />

choose from. I think the issue is the same as, I don't know whether<br />

you interview a lot of people, but anybody who meets a lot of<br />

people, in order to survive, has to have a good bullshit meter.<br />

Because if you don't, you're going to get conned. And certainly,<br />

when you make one of these movies, if you think somebody's<br />

putting it on for the movie, you stop shooting.<br />

SCM: Yeah, that's what I was getting at basically: Whether or not<br />

you're still looking for those moments when people are sort of<br />

crossing into performance, demonstrating more of an awareness<br />

of the camera. Were there times on this shoot where you were<br />

conscious of that and you had to stop the camera?<br />

FW: No. It's very rare that it happens, but it has happened.<br />

SCM: There were a couple scenes [in Troisgros]… the scene when<br />

they were talking about bullying at the restaurant and having to be<br />

aware of how they talk to each other and things like that; to me<br />

that was an example of where I wondered, "Is that a kind of<br />

conversation that they would be having in the same earnest terms<br />

that they were having it if they weren't on camera?"<br />

FW: That was stimulated by a letter they received from one of the<br />

restaurant associations. They had a big meeting about that letter,<br />

but it was too long to include in the film, so I used the<br />

consequence of the letter, which was the talk of the head waiter<br />

to the staff, because it was more specific. But the restaurant<br />

association circulated a letter among, I guess, lots of restaurants<br />

in France, saying this harassment is a problem. It's worse in some<br />

places than others, but you've got to be aware of it, and you've got<br />

to report back to us what you're doing to deal with it. So, in no way<br />

<strong>—</strong> it was stimulated by the letter, not provoked by me.<br />

SCM: That's interesting context. The other thing I wanted to ask<br />

about is the last part of the film. Obviously, every part of the film is<br />

intentionally edited by you and you care about what you're<br />

communicating. But for the last part, I really kind of took notice of<br />

how you edited together these sequences where a lot of things that<br />

hadn't been talked about throughout the film are now coming to<br />

the fore: The oral history of the restaurant, the awareness of the<br />

younger generation <strong>—</strong> there's the speech that the chef gives about<br />

--------------------------------------------------------------------<br />

younger winemakers and being so impressed by the new<br />

techniques that they're using <strong>—</strong> just this marrying of different<br />

discussions that are taking place. Were you trying to, and I know<br />

you don't like to talk about the statement that you're trying to<br />

make, but if you just maybe talk a little bit about editing that last<br />

part of the film, and whether or not you feel like there were any<br />

different considerations taking place there?<br />

FW: It was shot on different nights.<br />

SCM: Yeah. So it was conscious to put those things together, is<br />

what I was saying.<br />

FW: It was very conscious. From my point of view, every aspect of<br />

the editing is conscious. Or an effort to be conscious.<br />

SCM: But did you feel like, for that section, there were certain<br />

considerations different from the rest of the film?<br />

FW: Well, because I wanted those kinds of…I dunno if “issue” is the<br />

right word, but one of the things the film is dealing with is the<br />

transition from one generation to another. And several of those<br />

conversations that Michel has, you've seen illustrations of that<br />

earlier in the film. For example, where they're talking about the<br />

kidneys and the fruit de la passion, or whether there was enough<br />

sriracha in the fruit de la passion and the preparation of the<br />

kidneys… Michel is giving a masterclass in taste, and César is<br />

there. César makes a face because he's his father. But the face he<br />

makes, he's also saying, “You know, I know all this. You don't need<br />

to tell me this.” And so you get a slight sense of generational<br />

conflict there, but not a serious one, because they got along<br />

extremely well. And in the scene with the guy from the vineyard<br />

who’s turned over complete control of the vineyard to his sons,<br />

Michel then talks about how he was in the process of doing that,<br />

but he hadn't done it yet. And now it's been done. That conversation<br />

was related to the early one about the kidneys, and related to the<br />

one that follows it, where Michel talks about the history of the<br />

restaurant and his father and his grandfather, who in turn passed<br />

it on to him.<br />

SCM: Yeah, that makes sense.<br />

FW: It's a little way of saying all that's very deliberate.<br />

SCM: One quote that resonated with me was when Michel says:<br />

“When you have such a beautiful workspace, you can manage the<br />


kitchen without raising your voice.” Obviously a lot of people, a lot<br />

of Americans who come to watch a documentary about chefs and<br />

cooking in the kitchen, will have that Gordon Ramsey thing on their<br />

mind, and that kind of stigmatism or thinking about how kitchens<br />

are usually run. What was your impression, in terms of why the way<br />

that this establishment is run is so different than that perception<br />

that a lot of people have about how kitchens are run?<br />

FW: Well, I haven't seen any of those other films. I'd heard that<br />

there was a lot of yelling and screaming in some of them. Not here,<br />

and not because I was present, but because they were very well<br />

organized. The people knew how to work together. Michel, at some<br />

point when there was some visitors in the kitchen, says we don't<br />

have to talk very much because we know how we work together.<br />

And he says that César can convey what he wants by a gesture or<br />

the wink of an eye. So, I mean, I'd been told about cooking shows<br />

and the yelling and screaming, but I hadn't seen them. And what<br />

you see in the film is what I found.<br />

SCM: When he says It's easy to not have to raise your voice when<br />

you're in such a beautiful place <strong>—</strong> do you take that as a certain<br />

kind of class commentary too, or not class commentary, but<br />

obviously it's a high-end restaurant. Do you think that if you went<br />

to a much less classy restaurant in France, basically, that you<br />

would have experienced something like this? Or do you think it<br />

really is about…<br />

which is just about people. I think you have observed people in a<br />

real-life context, but through a lens, through a camera, more than<br />

probably almost anybody at this point. Just the amount of people<br />

and the amount of films that you've made and the amount of time<br />

that you've been making these films. Are there certain types of<br />

people that you recognize that you gravitate toward? And of those<br />

types of people, do you see yourself in them, or do you see them<br />

more as someone very different than yourself? A very different<br />

type of person?<br />

FW: Well, I mean, I resist any generalizations, obviously, about<br />

people, but I think I probably gravitate toward people whose work I<br />

think is similar to my own, whether it's actors or dancers or the<br />

Troisgros family, because I think they're artists in every aspect of<br />

their work. But it's not only concerned with the taste, but the look.<br />

[The chefs here were] very concerned about plating. One of them<br />

always inspected the plate before it left the kitchen to go to the<br />

dining room, and if a strawberry was a 25th of an inch off place,<br />

they had tweezers and moved it, so that the design on the plate<br />

was as attractive as possible. And at one point, Michel says to one<br />

of the sous chefs, you have to think you're arranging flowers. And<br />

he's talking about arranging John Dory fish.<br />

SCM :I left the film really craving John Dory fish.<br />

FW: I don't have much experience, not at a restaurant. But for<br />

instance, Leo, one of the sons you see in another restaurant, he<br />

didn't [inaudible] me<br />

either. And I don't think<br />

there was a class thing.<br />

He was just simply<br />

saying, it's a great<br />

workspace, and the<br />

countryside surrounding<br />

it was beautiful, which it<br />

is. You see it outside the<br />

windows of the kitchen<br />

and you see it in the<br />

shots of the neighboring<br />

countryside that I used.<br />

SCM: Okay, I only have<br />

one more question,<br />

-----------------<br />



9<br />

Before the colonization of<br />

New England by the<br />

forebears of the American<br />

empire, what would come<br />

to be known as Rhode<br />

Island today was principally inhabited by several Native tribes <strong>—</strong><br />

among them, the Wampanoag. For the Wampanoag, death was to<br />

be understood not only as a loss, but also as a form of<br />

transference, an exchange to the cyclical nature of the world.<br />

Bodies buried in the earth could be compared to seeds that would<br />

come to bloom in the next season of regeneration. The very ground<br />

which gave birth to all that would rise from the forest floor was<br />

possessed, in this sense, by the spirits of the dead. Every flower,<br />

tree, and blade of grass, haunted.<br />

Michael Roemer’s New England-set film Vengeance is Mine,<br />

originally titled Haunted, tells the story of Jo (Brooke Adams) as she<br />

makes a pilgrimage back home to confront head-on her miseries<br />

on the East Coast before moving to Seattle. Included in<br />

------------------------------------------------------------------------<br />

Revisiting Michael Roemer's<br />

Vengeance Is Mine<br />

this list are her long-lost<br />

biological mother, a<br />

vituperative, dying<br />

adoptive mother, and an<br />

abusive former husband,<br />

Steve (Mark Arnott). In her lowest moments, Jo meets an<br />

unexpected friend in neighbor Donna (Trish Van Devere), her<br />

husband Tom (Jon DeVries), and their teenage daughter Jackie (Ari<br />

Meyers). Donna, initially a welcome mirror to Jo’s own neurotic<br />

tendencies, becomes increasingly unwell as the film progresses.<br />

This ultimately crystallizes as a duel between the two women, each<br />

battling the other in the midst of their own individual gravitations<br />

toward emotional destruction.<br />

Haunted premiered in 1984 as a television movie, in some sense<br />

dooming it to be lost to the annals of history. It was not received<br />

with anything resembling critical praise, nor was it an immediate<br />

candidate for a physical release. In part due to the lackluster<br />

reception, it was also Roemer’s last feature. Only in 2022, when The

Film Desk moved to restore the film and give Haunted its first wide<br />

theatrical run, was it brought back to life in the public<br />

consciousness with a new title <strong>—</strong> Vengeance is Mine. This year has<br />

brought that very same restoration to a proper Blu-ray courtesy of<br />

The Film Desk and Vinegar Syndrome.<br />

The film’s first half extends an understanding eye to the plights of<br />

both Jo and Donna as burdened women, disgraced and allied by<br />

childhood trauma that has lived out into their present lives. Both<br />

women are tormented by their pasts. For Jo, this return home was<br />

an attempt to reckon with the gnawing wound that’s troubled her.<br />

Conversely, we meet Donna as she is ready to unravel, as if one<br />

pulled string might collapse her completely. It’s at the halfway mark<br />

that Jo’s attention shifts to Jackie, who suffers greatly at the<br />

hands of her mother. Where once she found a girl, she now sees a<br />

reflection of her own distraught upbringing. Jo’s mirror, and so her<br />

attention, has shifted. But Vengeance is Mine’s latter section<br />

shatters this camaraderie, bringing down a hammer on the film’s<br />

established rhythms, as both Jo and Donna frantically scramble<br />

against each other for the affections of Tom and Jackie.<br />

Jackie’s abuse acts as an echo of Jo’s, down to the acts<br />

committed. Early in the film, Steve viciously cuts Jo’s hair in anger,<br />

and the same is done to Jackie by Donna. Poetically, Jackie echoes<br />

Jo’s words literally. In a motel room, Steve tells Jo he loves her. Jo<br />

replies, “I know.” Donna’s declaration of love for Jackie, delivered<br />

after a hailstorm of putrid insults, is met with the same. Without<br />

any real force bonding them, Jo and Jackie have forged a spiritual<br />

connection that is as maternal as it is desperate. Jo says as much<br />

to Tom earlier: “Just so you know, when I was sixteen I had a child,<br />

a girl. I never saw her. When I woke up, she was gone, adopted.<br />

That’s why I want to see Jackie.” Donna can only watch as her<br />

family is stolen by this stranger whom she once considered a<br />

friend, propelling her self-sabotaging behaviors. In short, it’s a film<br />

full of contradictions, resting on uneasy ground occupied by two<br />

volatile forces constantly crashing into one another. These<br />

frequent clashes buckle the foundations of suburbia and wring out<br />

the haunted nature of the roles these women occupy; both victims<br />

to their personal histories, the narratives drawn into these homes<br />

reverberating in misshapen reiterations even decades later. Try as<br />

they might, they are powerless to the “spirits” present in the<br />

neighborhoods and familial structures that birthed their pain.<br />

Palestinian filmmaker and radical film educator Saeed Taji Farouky<br />

speaks on this very challenging aspect of Roemer’s narratives,<br />

---------------------------------------------------------------------------<br />

drawing on Roemer's own book, Telling Stories: “To adequately<br />

reflect the chaos of our world, a film must be constantly on the<br />

verge of collapse.” This notion is best characterized by the erratic<br />

behavior of Donna as she descends further into her interior world<br />

and puts at risk everything Jo, and the audience, have come to<br />

care for. But for as heavy as Vengeance is Mine is, the film does<br />

float, its deceptive simplicity hiding a vision all too rare in today’s<br />

cinema. Every landscape, refraction, and close-up has the integrity<br />

of a film earnest to earn its beauty. The images are not showy, but<br />

rather, Roemer’s eye drifts toward the outer bounds of New<br />

England’s allure and the magnetic draw of nature's defiance to the<br />

malignancy at the heart of the suburbs. Driving the film are the<br />

nuanced, intimate performances from the women at its center.<br />

Adams is peerless, hiding a biting distress well, only amplified by<br />

the understated, captivating blocking that feels like a revelation all<br />

these years later. Devere occupies the harder role, convincing us at<br />

once of her humanity and her terror, standing both enormously<br />

over the family and, in a turn, cowering to her own cruelty.<br />

Both women act in inappropriate and callous ways, but what’s most<br />

telling about Roemer’s film is the startling empathy with which<br />

every party is rendered. In an interview with Mubi’s Brandon<br />

Kaufman, Roemer states: “I was always afraid of the melodramatic<br />

aspect of the whole thing. I'm so afraid of melodrama, but I think<br />

I've accepted that it was valid. In Vengeance is Mine, nobody wants<br />

to do what they did. Everybody had to do it.” This fated spiraling<br />

toward chaos is in many ways reflective of Roemer’s philosophy of<br />

stories and life. Roemer, a Jew born in Germany just five years<br />

before Hitler’s ascent, was catapulted into a barbaric and unjust<br />

society. He is frequently critical of the notion that humanity could<br />

have any grasp over their lives; in his mind, people are beholden to<br />

powers beyond them, acts of a god they don’t believe in.<br />

Roemer’s view of death does not easily map onto the beliefs of the<br />

Wampanoag. In fact, his secular approach to the frenzied order of<br />

the world would stand in stark opposition to the former’s view on<br />

the matter <strong>—</strong> Roemer would hardly stand to characterize the world<br />

as full of spirits. But still, he’s haunted. And in his pursuit of an<br />

emotional truth, Roemer demonstrates the power of these ghost<br />

stories we inhabit in our day-to-day lives. Vengeance is Mine ends<br />

how it begins: in a symphony of emotions running across Jo’s face.<br />

There’s a melancholic radiance to her in this moment, something<br />

that has played out partly as a ghost story and inevitably as a<br />

return. <strong>—</strong> JOSHUA PEINADO<br />


MOVIES<br />

FOR A FREE<br />

PERSON<br />

A Conversation<br />

with the Cast &<br />

Crew of The<br />

Sweet East<br />

11<br />

In Sean Price Williams’ directorial debut The Sweet East, Lillian<br />

(Talia Ryder) snaps to Ian (Jacob Elordi), “I believe that you’re more<br />

enamored in basking in your supposed infamy than winning a<br />

convert to your cause, which to my understanding has to do with<br />

creating a better cause.” A few scenes later, a group of white<br />

nationalists storm a film shoot in one of the many displays of<br />

electrifying absurdity that composes The Sweet East’s<br />

genre-defying send-up of modern-day social stratification and<br />

neuroses.<br />

Broadly-speaking, The Sweet East is a Northeastern picaresque<br />

that employs film critic Nick Pinkerton’s cutting wit to tell the story<br />

of Lillian, a high schooler on a class trip to D.C. who absconds when<br />

a gun-wielding conspiracist starts firing rounds into the ceiling of<br />

Comet Ping Pong, the locus of the 2016 Pizzagate conspiracy. What<br />

follows is a down-and-outwardly spiraling series of vignettes that<br />

takes Lillian through America’s concentric communities (or cults),<br />

pushing her, in the pace of her centripetal acceleration, toward the<br />

fringes of the country’s crumbling constitution. Among those she<br />

encounters are Caleb (Earl Cave), a pseudo-punk “artivist” with a<br />

trust fund and questionable mixed-media abilities; Lawrence<br />

(Simon Rex), a white-Nationalist professor with the romantic<br />

sensibilities of Humbert Humbert and the literary sensibilities of a<br />

goth undergrad; Molly (Ayo Edibri) and Matthew (Jeremy O. Harris),<br />

navel-gazing filmmakers; and Mo, a<br />

---------------------------------------------------------------------<br />

hyper-masculine pseudo-militant that likes to pray until sundown<br />

and dance to EDM in the woods. With The Sweet East, Sean Price<br />

Williams and Nick Pinkerton offer something that breathes new life<br />

into indie filmmaking, by refusing to cater to the need for inherent<br />

meaning or tidy categorization that pervades art today.<br />

Fortunately, we had the opportunity to speak with Sean and Nick,<br />

alongside actors Talia Ryder, Simon Rex, and Earl Cave, ahead of<br />

the film’s theatrical release.<br />

Conor Truax: I had the privilege of seeing the movie a few days<br />

ago and really enjoyed it. Nick, you fittingly played a film critic in Al<br />

Warren’s Dogleg earlier this year. One of my favorite lines in that<br />

movie is near the end when Al’s character asks you if his movie has<br />

a pervading thought or idea. And you're like, “no, there's no<br />

pervading thought.” I'm curious what your pervading thoughts were<br />

as you all went about making the film?<br />

Nick Pinkerton: In certain reviews of the film and the way it's been<br />

talked about in some circles, people are like, “what's it trying to<br />

say?”Or, “it's confused about what it's trying to say.” Anytime I see<br />

this, I’m like, if I wanted to say something, I would open my mouth<br />

and say it.<br />

You don't make a movie to express a simple idea. I hope that the<br />

movie is expressing several ideas in any given shot. And that, more

than anything else, our impulse wasn’t to give a sermon, but to<br />

explore many facets of the contemporary world.<br />

You need to give somebody watching the movie room to draw their<br />

own conclusions and make their own decisions. A lot of people are<br />

browbeating Talia’s character and impressing their own worldviews<br />

upon her. And if there's any single idea to come away from it with,<br />

it's that people who impose their worldviews on you extremely<br />

bluntly don't often have your best interests at heart.<br />

Sean Price Williams: We get upset with the gossip. We thought we<br />

made a movie that had some relevance, hopefully, and that's about<br />

it. We're not telling you what to think, we're telling you that you<br />

never know.<br />

NP: As a critic, the films that I respond to are the films that give<br />

me space to reflect on my own life, the world I live in, the way I live<br />

in the world. I think that's a cool, democratic way of making art<br />

rather than coming from some elevated position where you're<br />

lecturing to a viewer, reader, etc.<br />

SPW: We love Spielberg, he's a big hero and a master. But his<br />

movies don't let you think. Serge Daney said something like, “these<br />

are not movies for a free person.” You don't get any time to think<br />

about anything. You're completely manipulated.<br />

CT: And avoiding that gives movies space to grow independent of<br />

their creators with time. To your point about relevance, Sean, the<br />

film is very much a survey of Northeastern culture, and all the<br />

concentric cults or communities there. With<br />

a lot of characters in the movie, I felt a<br />

certain level of recognition in different ways.<br />

I was curious whether there were any<br />

characters in the film that felt very familiar<br />

to people you've encountered, or resonant to<br />

you all.<br />

me so much when I was 17, 18 <strong>—</strong> this punk that got me into all the<br />

coolest music. Rish's character is not someone I'm familiar with,<br />

but in fact I feel like he’s the character I feel closest to myself.<br />

Then, you know, the crew is all friends. So yeah, it was familiar.<br />

That's what made it so easy to make.<br />

Simon Rex: I took from a few people who are the ones who are the<br />

most outspoken, on their soapbox, sanctimoniously preaching their<br />

belief system without listening at all and just talking, talking,<br />

talking, which I think is what's going on right now in the country.<br />

A lot of people are just talking and not listening and just yelling. So<br />

I just took from several of those and made it my version of that<br />

because I think we all know that archetype of that person who's<br />

just talking a lot. And maybe they're right about some of the facts,<br />

but they're just spewing out statistics and facts and it’s exhausting.<br />

SPW: And that's the problem, and that's what annoys me in general.<br />

Everyone knows the right way, and everyone is right. Even with this<br />

current conflict, all of a sudden everyone is so passionate. But<br />

where have you been? Where did this passion come from for this<br />

thing? I wish everyone didn’t have to be right. Because when you’re<br />

right, you don’t learn anything.<br />

SR: You're not open to being wrong or listening.<br />

SPW: You’re never going to learn.<br />

CT: To the point about everyone being right, one thing that I found<br />

SPW: Yeah, I think all the characters are<br />

familiar. I mean, maybe not entirely. I had a<br />

guy like Simon’s character Lawrence, who at<br />

one point in my life was the most cultured,<br />

intelligent person I ever met. He would bring<br />

me to New York from Delaware and take me<br />

to the opera and things like that. Then Earl's<br />

character was based on a guy that taught<br />

--------------------------------------------<br />


interesting was how the characters all have an idealistic or almost<br />

romantic sensibility to them in terms of their beliefs, even if it's<br />

totally extreme. Do you think the U.S. is a romantic place, and more<br />

specifically, what is unique about American romance?<br />

NP: I think one of the pervading ideas in the movie was this<br />

utopian tendency. Because America is quite unusual in that it is<br />

based on an idea.<br />

Meaning, it is essentially an idealistic country. It's not a bunch of<br />

people who happen to speak the same language, who live in the<br />

same region. It is trying to build something out of thin air. A castle<br />

on a hill. And I think that's still very much pervasive in the country<br />

today, this utopian thinking.<br />

What's disturbing about that is that a lot of people's utopias involve<br />

not having people who don't share that vision of utopia around.<br />

SPW: I think it's a super romantic place for this reason.The<br />

passionate and fiery people that we have. Of course, there's going<br />

to be conflicts because of that. But in general, I think it's such a<br />

healthy approach, conceptually.<br />

I get so proud of America when I watch How To With John Wilson<br />

because when I see all the crazy people that he finds, I'm like, this<br />

is the only place on earth and the only time on earth when these<br />

people exist.<br />

CT: The film also mentions multiple conspiracies, which are a very<br />

American thing. There’s a quote I really like by Walter Kirn about<br />

QAnon that says “people on the internet don't want to read, they<br />

-----------------------------------------------------------------<br />

want to write.” I'm wondering what you guys think about<br />

conspiracies as a creative medium.<br />

SPW: It’s the imagination of American people without jobs on the<br />

Internet. I love conspiracies when they're great, but I don't think we<br />

should be living by them or anything like that. Whether or not we<br />

went to the moon or not for real, what difference does it make to<br />

any of our lives?<br />

Stories can be really great. Pizzagate is what jumpstarts our movie.<br />

It’s just such an outrageous idea that these people concocted on<br />

the internet with details from John Podesta's living room. The<br />

imagination that it takes for that is amazing. And I think if that’s an<br />

American thing, that's something to be kind of proud of.<br />

NP: Well, I think it's ticked up considerably in the last 20 years.<br />

SR: Americans have magical thinking a lot. I live in California<br />

where there's a lot of magical thinking. But I think it’s a byproduct<br />

of the freedom Americans have over here. Hundreds of years later<br />

and people just can believe whatever crazy shit they want. And, you<br />

know, it does make it what is amazing about America. But also<br />

scary. Like, is it going to be greed that takes human beings out? Or<br />

is it going to be our beliefs that take us out?<br />

This movie seems so relevant to what's happening in the world<br />

right now. The belief systems, and how passionate people are<br />

about them. And it’s like what I said earlier, people are just talking<br />

and not listening. That's what you just said about the QAnon.<br />

They’re writing and not reading, you know. It's the same thing.<br />

NP: An interesting byproduct of the Internet<br />

age is that you can adopt any completely<br />

whack-a-doodle belief system and, if you<br />

want to, find a community that will<br />

reinforce it. If you want to find scholarly<br />

papers that will tell you the Holocaust didn't<br />

happen, you can find that stuff at a click of<br />

a button and you can then enmesh yourself<br />

in this very curated worldview and<br />

immediately have people who will back you<br />

up.<br />

13<br />

CT: One thing that I noticed in the film or<br />

that resonated as well was the fact that<br />


Lawrence and Mo and a bunch of other characters confront Lillian<br />

for being sarcastic or ironic. In the ‘90s, a bunch of authors<br />

complained about irony and pushed for a new sincerity. Now,<br />

especially with the Internet, everything is hyper-ironic, particularly<br />

on social media. Talia and Earl, you guys grew up on the Internet.<br />

Sean, Simon, Nick, you guys grew alongside the Internet. I'm just<br />

curious how you think about irony as a rhetorical device,<br />

particularly because there is irony in the movie. But there is also<br />

sincerity and beauty.<br />

or his beliefs is interesting to watch. He’s fighting every fiber of his<br />

biological being because he doesn't believe that it's appropriate<br />

and he would think less of her even though he wants to.<br />

NP: He's just not comfortable with his body. He's not a comfortable<br />

physical being. At one point, you told me you played him<br />

prematurely ejaculating.<br />

SR: I forgot about that.<br />

SPW: We’re children of the ‘90s where that was that way. And I<br />

hated it. I hated it then. I just don't jive with irony and sarcasm. I<br />

don't like sarcastic jokes. But it is a thing again.<br />

SPW: That scene is interesting because I just want to know what<br />

Lillian actually wants. I don't know. I get Lawrence’s psychology. But<br />

then at the end, I'm like what was she actually doing there?<br />

Earl Cave: It's just armor. It’s an easy form of a shield.<br />

Talia Ryder: I find irony and sarcasm very funny though. But I<br />

definitely think it’s a form of armor. Especially if you're not using it<br />

for comedic purposes. A little irony sprinkled here and there never<br />

hurts anyone.<br />

NP: It’s a confusion that pops up all the time now with movies. The<br />

fact that the character has a tendency not to take things seriously<br />

and to keep a certain ironic distance is the character. I don't think<br />

that's the position of the film itself. I don't think it's an ironic or<br />

cynical film at all.<br />

CT: Nick, you brought up people responding to the movie and<br />

projecting their own beliefs onto Lillian. Throughout the film, Lillian<br />

finds herself in vulnerable situations with older men on multiple<br />

occasions. But she's able to navigate their desire to her advantage.<br />

Do you consider Lillian empowered? And how do you think about<br />

her being in control versus not being in control?<br />

TR: I think the only time in the film that Lillian doesn't feel in<br />

control, or like she has any power, is when she decides to leave the<br />

school. At the beginning, I think she feels powerless and invisible in<br />

the setting [of the school trip]. I also think at the end with Mo, she<br />

starts to feel trapped. But I think those are the only two times<br />

where she feels like she's not the one in power. And in both<br />

situations, she flips the script to be back in the position of power<br />

again. But I think, at least with Simon and those characters, she<br />

uses her seeming vulnerability and innocence to her advantage in<br />

a cool way. I like that the audience, and Sean, have no idea what<br />

she wants or what she's trying to do at any given moment.<br />

SR: I think the most powerful thing in the world is a beautiful<br />

woman. And you see what happens in this movie. In real life, that<br />

happens. A beautiful woman will just come in and make wars. I just<br />

watched that movie, Napoleon, [and] the whole movie is about him<br />

being pussy-whipped for this younger girl. He comes back from<br />

winning a battle, and he's just like, “where is she?” The most<br />

powerful thing in the world is a young, beautiful woman.<br />

EC: I guess the idea that they don't know that she is in control<br />

makes it more powerful. It makes her able to manipulate the<br />

characters more. My character, Caleb, is more naïve, and she can<br />

easily manipulate him because he doesn't really know that she's<br />

being manipulative.<br />

SR: In the original script, it was insinuated that my character has<br />

sex with Lillian, or could have? We changed it to where it saves her<br />

and makes her a little bit more redeemable as a person. And it<br />

strengthens my character’s moral compass. The fact that he fights<br />

every urge as a man and doesn't do anything because of his values<br />

NP: It's true. Even when I was in high school, it always fascinated<br />

me to see how the dynamic would shift. I could be hanging out with<br />

my idiot buddies, saying the dumbest shit imaginable, then a girl<br />

comes in, and everybody changes.<br />

SPW: The way your friend might talk to a girl on the phone.<br />

SR: You hear that little change in the pitch.<br />

SPW: Those are brutal moments. And now women know that. I don't<br />

think they always knew that. But now they know.<br />




15<br />

Any discussion of the 20th century’s most brutal novels in<br />

American literature must include Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian<br />

(1985) and Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho (1991). McCarthy’s<br />

novel mines its 19th-century American frontier history (and<br />

mythology) for visceral horror; Ellis’ markedly contemporary satire<br />

transcribes psychopathic Wall Street yuppie Patrick Bateman’s<br />

digressive, reality-blurring musings on murder, sexual conquest,<br />

expensive dining, grooming routines, and Whitney Houston’s<br />

artistic merits. The self-evident tonal and stylistic differences<br />

between these two novels are largely representative of the authors’<br />

respective oeuvres. McCarthy’s voice owes as much to canonical<br />

19th-century American writers like Herman Melville and Nathaniel<br />

Hawthorne as it does to southern Gothic fiction à la William<br />

Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. By contrast, Ellis mixes the crisp<br />

minimalism of Joan Didion and Ernest Hemingway with Stephen<br />

King’s horror-infected realism to offer a chillingly neutral gaze at<br />

modern milieus of privilege and cruelty.<br />

In 2013, veteran auteurs directed original screenplays by both<br />

writers: Ridley Scott helmed McCarthy’s The Counselor and Paul<br />

Schrader took on Ellis’ The Canyons. These digitally shot,<br />

postmodern noirs are substantially different in many respects <strong>—</strong><br />

not least because Scott’s picture boasts a much larger budget and<br />

canvas than Schrader’s <strong>—</strong> but their nearly simultaneous releases<br />

and thematic overlaps warrant critical discussion. Although<br />

---------------------------------------------------------------<br />

Schrader and Scott’s career paths diverged, it’s worth noting the<br />

proximity of their late-’70s directorial debuts: Scott’s Napoleonic<br />

Joseph Conrad adaptation The Duelists was released in 1977, and<br />

Schrader’s labor union drama Blue Collar came out the following<br />

year. Born in 1946, Schrader is less than a decade younger than<br />

Scott, and while the former cut his teeth on academic film theory,<br />

penning Transcendental Style: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer (1972), the latter<br />

found his voice through practice, training as a set designer and<br />

prolific commercial filmmaker for nearly a decade before moving<br />

into feature filmmaking.<br />

Both directors leave their fingerprints all over their films <strong>—</strong> The<br />

Canyons is rife with Bressonisms and perverted scraps of<br />

transcendental style, and The Counselor shows Scott’s pessimism<br />

alongside his obsessions with visual design and environment. Both<br />

films also loudly bear their screenwriters’ trademarks, evidencing<br />

Ellis and McCarthy’s close involvement in development and<br />

production. Scott states that he expected McCarthy to pay a visit to<br />

set, but was surprised when the author lingered throughout the<br />

entire production, with the director’s intuitions sometimes at odds<br />

with the writer’s, which led to occasionally heated conflict. A<br />

similar dynamic exists in The Canyons: Schrader attests that Ellis<br />

sees “too much Schrader” in it, while Schrader sees the film as “all<br />


“Both directors leave their fingerprints all over<br />

their films… Both films also loudly bear their<br />

screenwriters’ trademarks.<br />

Without doubt, both pictures contain distinctly literary impulses.<br />

Their mutually philosophical focuses are transmuted into the<br />

updated cinematic grammar of film noir, both using genre-codified<br />

signifiers (e.g. the patsy, the femme fatale, the harbinger of death)<br />

to navigate contemporary environments characterized by<br />

transactionality and spiritual emptiness. The Canyons and The<br />

Counselor represent an America unmoored from its own<br />

self-aggrandizing mythologies <strong>—</strong> the capitalist dream as nightmare<br />

of anxiety and violence. The films are haunted by symbols rather<br />

than subjects, made nowhere clearer than in McCarthy’s naming<br />

The Counselor’s title protagonist (played by Michael Fassbender)<br />

after his profession <strong>—</strong> he is a nameless intermediary, a metaphor.<br />

Scott’s entire film is folkloric in its simplicity: when the<br />

well-intentioned lawyer protagonist, the titular Counselor, gets<br />

involved in a drug deal to address some personal financial issues,<br />

he sets off a series of unexpected contingencies that result in<br />

several deaths. Schrader’s film is similarly contained: when<br />

-------------------------------------------------------------------------<br />

sociopathic, grownup trust-fund kid Christian<br />

(James Deen) learns that his girlfriend Tara<br />

(Lindsay Lohan) is having an affair with the<br />

star of a low-budget horror film he’s producing<br />

<strong>—</strong> a struggling actor and model named Ryan<br />

(Nolan Funk) <strong>—</strong> he orchestrates intensifying<br />

psychological games with emotionally devastating and eventually<br />

lethal consequences.<br />

Considering McCarthy and Ellis’ confrontational novels, it’s worth<br />

noting that while both The Canyons and The Counselor contain brief<br />

explosions of violence, they are primarily cerebral exercises in<br />

semiotics. This is key to what the films are: expressions of ideas.<br />

(Granted, The Counselor includes one of McCarthy’s most terrifying<br />

creations in a fictional execution device called a bolito.) Above all,<br />

though, The Canyons and The Counselor are nihilistic abstractions<br />

whose violences emerge from moral and emotional absences. In<br />

films whose fundamental elements are their dialogue and<br />

environments, Schrader and Scott direct with shared emphases on<br />

deep-focus compositions, capturing the vast spaces that dwarf<br />

their archetypal players. The characters are ciphers of moral ruin<br />

veiled by physical allure, with The Counselor’s darkly sultry<br />

puppeteer Malkina (Cameron Diaz) playing the mirror to Deen’s<br />

sexually confident, power-driven Christian in The Canyons.<br />


The Counselor’s spiky-haired<br />

patsy, Reiner (Javier Bardem),<br />

leads the Counselor through<br />

crowds of sexy partygoers into<br />

his opulent Texas estate while<br />

his sociopathic girlfriend<br />

Malkina coolly plans his demise.<br />

Similarly, the arrogant Christian<br />

asserts that “nobody has a<br />

private life anymore” as he<br />

swaggers through his<br />

high-windowed palace,<br />

monitoring his partner Tara’s<br />

movements, all the while<br />

arranging hookups for her via a<br />

fictional phone app called<br />

Amore.<br />

17<br />

The films overlap in their visions of existence as economy under<br />

21st-century America’s digital capitalism. The Counselor was the<br />

second film Scott shot using the Red digital camera after<br />

Prometheus (the director enjoyed the convenience of color<br />

correction this new technology affords), and the film’s lush<br />

classicism contrasts with The Canyons’ harshly contemporary, Arri<br />

Alexa-lensed images, digital photography is a key aesthetic<br />

element in both films. Both present their contemporary landscapes<br />

as defined by metaphoric ruin and detritus: The Canyons opens<br />

with a montage of derelict movie theaters; The Counselor depicts<br />

cocaine transported across the sun-cooked border in a sewage<br />

truck and <strong>—</strong> in what might be its bleakest moment <strong>—</strong> shows a snuff<br />

film victim disposed of in a landfill. Both narratives hinge on the<br />

transactionality of individuals and relationships, their worlds<br />

populated by characters representing units of currency such as<br />

business acumen (The Counselor’s title protagonist), industry<br />

connections (Christian in The Canyons, Westray [Brad Pitt] in The<br />

Counselor), sex (Tara and Ryan in The Canyons), and<br />

deal-gone-wrong collateral.<br />

Further, both films chart their relationships’ currency-tinged<br />

dynamics within the ubiquitous paranoia of digital communication<br />

surveillance and the eroding privacy therein. Scott and Schrader<br />

signal this theme with wealthy characters’ mid-century modern<br />

mansions whose glassy bodies commingle exteriors with interiors.<br />

Amore plays a central role in The<br />

Canyons’ opening scene, which<br />

outlines the plot’s pervading fixations on sex, commerce, duplicity,<br />

surface-selves, and the digital. While out for a bougie dinner with<br />

his assistant Gina (Amanda Brooks) and her partner Ryan, Christian<br />

flippantly proposes Amore candidates to Tara. Given that Ryan, who<br />

has been hired to act in a film Christian is producing, is having a<br />

secret affair with Tara, the scene finds the illicit lovers enacting<br />

two levels of duplicity: faking respect for Christian while also<br />

feigning indifference to each other. This scene immediately<br />

reveals The Canyons’ connections with Ellis’ Chandler-tinted<br />

Imperial Bedrooms (2010), the Hollywood-set meta-sequel to his<br />

debut novel, Less Than Zero (1985): both works envision Hollywood<br />

as a fading illusion defined by deception and exploitation. In one of<br />

The Canyons’ tensest scenes, Tara’s bedroom smart TV<br />

disseminates text messages from one of Christian’s exes, warning<br />

her of his abusive past. The Counselor also finds its grimmest<br />

moment in a menacing message from an anonymous sender <strong>—</strong> the<br />

title character sees his traumatized reflection on a<br />

sharpie-scrawled snuff DVD.<br />

As demonstrations of strong literary voices filtered through equally<br />

pronounced cinematic perspectives, The Canyons and The<br />

Counselor present a fascinatingly specific 2013 double-feature.<br />

Over a decade later, both films signal prophetic visions of<br />

breakdown <strong>—</strong> in empathetic corporeality, in cinema genre legacies,<br />

and in the capitalist American psyche. <strong>—</strong> MIKE THORN

A gangster movie, a story of post-colonial alienation, a broad satire<br />

of academia, and a romantic comedy, Mexican director Fernando<br />

Frías’ latest film, I Don’t Expect Anyone to Believe Me, is many films<br />

in one. Told via a labyrinthian plot structure that juggles a handful<br />

of different epistolary narrators, it’s the story of a Mexican grad<br />

student, Juan Pablo (Dario Yazbek Bernal), who gets extorted into<br />

helping a group of international gangsters right before he leaves to<br />

study in Barcelona. Based on Juan Pablo Villalobo’s novel of the<br />

same name, the film is literary in all the best senses of the word:<br />

filled to the brim with sharp, humorous detail; powered by<br />

dynamic, multi-faceted characters; and narratively dexterous and<br />

inventive. I caught the film at the Black Nights Film Festival in<br />

Tallinn ahead of its Netflix premiere and spoke with Frías<br />

afterwards.<br />

Joshua Bogatin: So, how much of the narrative structure of the<br />

film and the constant playing with literary form was in the novel<br />

itself and how much did you expand on that?<br />

Fernando Frías: Well, the literary structure is completely different,<br />

but there was one key element I took, which is the meta-fiction<br />

aspect of it. Villalobos’ book is always in the first person and keeps<br />

losing narrators as it moves along, but in the film I couldn’t lose<br />

narrators because you need to have a vehicle for the narrative. I<br />

------------------------------------------------------------------------<br />



An Interview<br />

with Fernando<br />

Frias<br />

had somewhat of a<br />

passive protagonist who<br />

internalizes everything,<br />

but I wanted to keep him<br />

through almost the whole<br />

thing. So what I decided to<br />

keep was the absurdity<br />

and the storyline, but<br />

change the structure. I<br />

built a world in which<br />

these characters could<br />

resonate with each other<br />

at the same time, rather than having each episode occur distinctly<br />

like the way they’re spread across different chapters in the book.<br />

JB: It’s interesting that you talk about mixing all of these different<br />

first-person narratives into one story, because I think that, while<br />

there are multiple subjective perspectives in the film, visually you<br />

create a lot of objectivity and distance. Characters are always<br />

being framed inside surrounding details of the world and the<br />

reality of the space is very important. How did you develop the<br />

visual language of the film?<br />

FF: I am obsessed with the idea that sometimes we need to see<br />

less to feel more, and so I try to<br />

stay away from being too<br />

didactic. I don’t really like when<br />

logical information is served to<br />

you in the same narrative device<br />

or mechanism that serves you<br />

emotional information. I build<br />

the visual world of my films first<br />

by trying to obstruct visibility,<br />

but I don’t know quite why.<br />

Metaphorically it also works in<br />

this story because none of the<br />

characters have a full view of<br />

the situation, they all only have<br />

partial information. So the space<br />

is filled with frames within<br />

frames, which give you the<br />

pieces of the puzzle each<br />

character represents, framed by<br />

their own interest and situation.<br />


FF: Exactly. These<br />

limitations inspire me to<br />

interconnect spaces and<br />

have to be interesting in<br />

a way. It’s kind of like a<br />

childish mission I have:<br />

let’s find which space<br />

gives us the biggest<br />

challenge. It’s all about<br />

having fun and being<br />

playful, but also of<br />

course, first of all,<br />

serving the story.<br />

19<br />

JB: That’s interesting because I’ve been thinking a lot about that<br />

shot in Guadalajara where he’s at the party and the maid is framed<br />

in one half of the frame while the party guests in the other room<br />

are framed on the other half. It creates a very funny, ironic effect. I<br />

imagine it must feel very different in the novel because, if it’s all<br />

first person, how do you get that same play with objectivity and<br />

context?<br />

FF: Exactly. In that scene, for example, there’s nothing about class<br />

intrinsic to it. Working with my cinematographer Damián García,<br />

we both know that it’s important to tell where we are and the<br />

context of the place without spoon-feeding it or simply leaning on<br />

having bland extras just moving around. It’s a way of showing the<br />

world.<br />

Every time I’ve made a film, the producers tell me, “Why do you pick<br />

the most difficult locations?” With the apartment in Barcelona, they<br />

told me, “You can build it on a stage,” and I said, “No, I want to do it<br />

the real way.” Those limits inspire me, I like having to frame in a<br />

way where I have to live with the architecture. It works for me<br />

precisely because the limitations make me more creative. For<br />

example, there’s a shot in the apartment in Barcelona that<br />

Valentina moves into where she leaves the entrance, and there’s a<br />

pan, then she just reappears again in a neighboring window.<br />

JB: Yeah: she walks out of the shot, we pan, and right away she’s in<br />

her room. The apartment, which we’ve never seen before, suddenly<br />

feels incredibly tiny.<br />

scouting process like?<br />

JB: What is your<br />

shot-listing and location<br />

FF: I don’t even know how to describe it because it's different for<br />

each scene. Sometimes when I work with episodic television and<br />

they have a lot of VFX, I think it needs to be very storyboarded, but<br />

in this case there was no storyboard or shot-list. We rehearse a<br />

scene so we know what it looks like, and then I normally start with<br />

the frame that has the power to contain the whole scene; it can’t<br />

be too explicative and it’s got to be interesting, appealing, and have<br />

that range to become something different.<br />

JB: Did the novel have the same framing device as the film where<br />

the homeless man finds the manuscript in the trash?<br />

FF: No.<br />

JB: Where did that come from then?<br />

FF: Well, I wanted a certain circularity to the film with the<br />

beginning and end. Also, at the same time it’s an absurd film that<br />

literally throws itself to the garbage. I don’t know why I thought of<br />

the trash, but it made sense for me because the way I tell the story<br />

is purposefully confusing in a way. You are watching the first draft<br />

of a wannabe writer who’s living a ridiculous and dangerous<br />

situation, and also he’s not the best writer because it’s the first<br />

time he’s writing something. If I wanted the film to feel like that,<br />

but to also be perfectly clear, it would feel artificial in a way. So I<br />

wanted the film to honor the structure of what the character is<br />

able to communicate, but also to dance with the switching<br />


narratives. So when at the beginning the homeless man finds his<br />

manuscript and starts reading it, he gets bored and throws it up<br />

into the air. It’s not put together, so the pages fly away in a random<br />

order and they come flying in front of the lens, covering it up.<br />

That’s announcing: this is how I’m going to let you know the story,<br />

trust me that it will land somewhere. I’m balancing genres and<br />

tension, but also purposefully deflating the tension to indulge in<br />

humor when it feels flat. So I’ve already told you from the beginning<br />

that it’s going to be like that because the book ends up in the trash.<br />

JB: Yeah, for me it made the whole film feel like a giant joke<br />

because it gives the story this air of absurd futility. That also<br />

connected with me to his thesis on “the limits of humor in Latin<br />

American literature” and that question of what can we laugh at.<br />

From the beginning, the movie telegraphs its punchline, so the<br />

question lingers throughout: “Should we be laughing at this?” How<br />

did his thesis and the idea of the limits of Latin American humor<br />

connect with your understanding of the film?<br />

FF: Well, that’s the essence of the film: what are you able to laugh<br />

about and what aren’t you able to? And someone in the film says, “It<br />

depends.” Depends on what? It depends on who is telling the joke.<br />

If it's the victim, he might be allowed. In Mexico, we tend to laugh<br />

about ourselves; it’s inherent to our culture and in general to many<br />

Latin American cultures.<br />

In the film, I am touching upon violence in Mexico, people getting<br />

disappeared, and the clichés that come along with those. You know<br />

the bad guy is like coming out from… in Spanish I’d say malo de<br />

malolandia [translation: bad guy from bad guy land]. It’s the<br />

classical, cliché thing, but look at the world we live in today. If<br />

someone told us 20 years ago Trump was going to be President, I’d<br />

have a hard time buying it, yet it happens. Or look at the huge<br />

appetite for true crime documentaries now and the way it’s<br />

standardized the way we tell stories. We seem to be, as audiences,<br />

obsessed with finding the secrets and dark forces that lie behind<br />

everything. So I’m trying to comment on that and, at the same time,<br />

to say that there is this other moment in which we are living in<br />

which everything has to be relevant. It’s like with political<br />

correctness and the idea of who gets to represent whose story or<br />

the idea of quotas. I feel like it doesn’t come from values and<br />

truthful conviction; it’s more about wanting to be on the right side<br />

of the story and that it’s something marketable. You want to be able<br />

to say, “Oh, this film was made by this sort of person.”<br />

-------------------------------------------------------------------------<br />

Festivals work like that. If you come from Mexico, you’re expected<br />

to do misery porn or explicit violence without even much context.<br />

So I’m trying to comment on this and joke about it. This film is all<br />

about how we see the other, and that’s kind of infinite.<br />

JB: How important was it to you to have this satire of academia?<br />

FF: Yes, we wanted to make fun of academia, of how useless it is<br />

and this ridiculous idea about “how deep you can go.” There are<br />

subjects of study that are very interesting, but it just lives in its<br />

own world, hardly expanding outside that, contributing to anything,<br />

or changing anything. There are many institutions right now<br />

pushing for certain changes in the world, but with their hands tied<br />

just because of the way politics work. So there’s an absurdity there<br />

and a space for humor out of that ultra-specialization.<br />

JB: I also felt that he sort of Europeanizes himself a little bit as he<br />

moves through the academy, becoming a gender studies major and<br />

trading on his own identity more throughout the film.<br />

FF: Well, yes, because he’s forced to find angles to connect with the<br />

mission. And I don’t even understand that mission very well, but<br />

that’s the point.<br />

JB: Was it a struggle to get the pacing of the film right? I also<br />

admired how little time you spent introducing characters. Even<br />

very important characters seem to simply show up, caught in<br />

medias res, and you just discover who they are later.<br />

FF: I like arriving late and leaving early. It’s a cliche, but it’s true.<br />

The other thing is that I wanted the emotional information to go<br />

one step ahead of the logical information. The logical information<br />

is always there, but it’s catching up with you. I wanted the<br />

absurdity of making the audience keep asking who this person is,<br />

what am I looking at, and then only later connecting it together.<br />

That’s how real life is: I see you with someone else and I don’t know<br />

who it is, but maybe the next day I run into you again and you<br />

introduce me to that person and I connect it with you. I don’t like<br />

films when they’re just pure drama or tragedy. At the end of the<br />

day, you’ve experienced a lot of joy and maybe frustration, a whole<br />

spectrum of emotion, and I want films to feel like that. In order for<br />

them to land in a real way that’s connected more to our senses<br />

than our consciousness, I want that aspect of real life.<br />



Selman Nacar<br />

“Nacar shoots the trial through a series of long, unbroken handheld<br />

shots that move only slightly across their minutes-long<br />

compositions, switching from simply capturing the mundane bustle<br />

of the courtroom at one moment to tense, sustained close-ups of<br />

Canan as she gives her closing arguments in the next. Aided by<br />

some sharp work with shallow focus and an agile use of extras who<br />

always seem to be shuffling in the background or appearing from<br />

the edges of the frame at the tensest moments, Nacar builds a<br />

remarkable amount of tension in a very simple dramatic<br />

framework. What’s most effective about Hesitation Wound is also<br />

Nacar’s refusal to ever let this tension uncoil and the pressure<br />

subside. Eventually, we leave the courtroom again, the trial still<br />

underway, but with no more certainty as to its outcome or to the<br />

defendant’s possible innocence then when we first entered.<br />

Ultimately, when storm clouds appear in the film’s closing<br />

moments, arriving over a landscape shot filled with ambiguity, it’s<br />

obvious how little it matters that we’ll never find any resolution <strong>—</strong><br />

the end is coming, who cares how it gets here?” <strong>—</strong> JOSHUA<br />


HAJJAN<br />

Abu Bakr Shawky<br />

“Largely a routine melodrama treading familiar terrain, Bakr<br />

Shawky is able to imbue the film with a remarkable sense of<br />

pacing and character development that allows the whole thing feel<br />

genuinely lived-in, allowing for significantly more nuance and<br />

depth than expected for such material. Even Jasser, introduced in<br />

cartoonish villain mode sporting a vicious sneer and snake-like<br />

eyes, is allowed a significant amount of screen time to develop into<br />

someone much more complex. Long scenes of Jasser arguing with<br />

his wife about their “marriage of convenience” and his pursuit of<br />

social glory despite his lack of talent, humanize him and create a<br />

very rich world far from the Manichean order of most family<br />

movies. Bakr Shwaky shies away from overplaying the<br />

melodramatic aspects of the story throughout, encouraging<br />

performances from the child actors that are remarkable in how<br />

subtle and underplayed they are. First-time actor Omar Al Atawi is<br />

adept at affording Matar restraint, conveying depth simply through<br />

action and, at times, touching the Bressonian.” <strong>—</strong> JOSHUA BOGATIN<br />


Amjad Al-Rasheed<br />

“Ultimately, that’s the essential problem with the film. Inshallah A Boy is in many ways a very good movie that will certainly please its<br />

audience and that deserves to be seen widely for many reasons, but that begs a further question: why should a film so focused on<br />

conveying misery and social injustice be so eager to please viewers? It’s more than a little frustrating when at the end of the movie, after<br />

spending two hours watching Nawal’s situation spiral down into ever more dire circumstance, a happy ending is suddenly spun out of<br />

nowhere and Nawal becomes so flush with empowerment that she even slaps a catcaller on the street. Inshallah A Boy wants to mire in the<br />

dismal circumstances of women in Jordan, but doesn’t want to leave us feeling down. It asks us to root for the underdog, only to show us<br />

that they’re actually the home team. But no one wants to leave a movie feeling genuinely like crap; audiences don’t want it, festivals don’t<br />

want it, and filmmakers relying on government grants don’t want it. What they do want is to make you feel good about yourself and better<br />

about all the little bad parts of the world at the same time. According to these metrics, anyway, Inshallah A Boy definitely delivers.” <strong>—</strong><br />




Quick Takes on a Selection of <strong>2023</strong> Holiday Films<br />


“Here’s hoping [director Tim Story] scored a nice fat studio<br />

paycheck, because no one else is getting anything out of Dashing<br />

Through the Snow, least of all audiences looking for a yuletide good<br />

time.” <strong>—</strong> STEVEN WARNER<br />

DIRECTOR: Tim Story; CAST: Ludacris, Lil Rel Howery, Teyonah<br />

Parris, Madison Skye Validum; DISTRIBUTOR: Disney+;<br />

STREAMING: November 17; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 30 min.<br />


“Candy Cane Lane is so anonymous as a festive offering <strong>—</strong> a prefab<br />

assemblage of holiday parts at best, A.I. spittle at worst <strong>—</strong> that<br />

there’s no room for any directorial signature at all, despite the<br />

outrageously bloated… two-hour runtime.“ <strong>—</strong> LUKE GORHAM<br />

DIRECTOR: Reginald Hudlin; CAST: Eddie Murphy, Tracee Ellis Ross,<br />

Jillian Bell, David Alan Grier; DISTRIBUTOR: Amazon Studios; IN<br />

THEATERS: November 24; STREAMING: <strong>December</strong> 1; RUNTIME: 2<br />

hr.<br />

GENIE<br />

“Let it be said, though, that Genie does contain one of the most<br />

unhinged scenes featured in a motion picture this year... It’s<br />

damning that such foolhardy tomfoolery is a welcome respite from<br />

the one-note drudgery that entombs the rest of Genie. Everyone<br />

involved should have wished for a better movie.” <strong>—</strong> STEVEN<br />

WARNER<br />

DIRECTOR: Sam Boyd; CAST: Melissa McCarthy, Paapa Essiedu,<br />

Marc Maron; DISTRIBUTOR: Peacock; STREAMING: November 22;<br />

RUNTIME: 1 hr. 32 min.<br />


“Softley’s film is a deeply flat affair, and offers little of what viewers<br />

clammer or in their Christmas cinema. In the absence of any<br />

technical bravura and emotional foundation, The Shepherd lives and<br />

dies according to its supernatural tilt, which is met with<br />

baffling incuriosity; it’s the movie equivalent of an affectless<br />

monotone.” <strong>—</strong> LUKE GORHAM<br />

DIRECTOR: Iain Softley; CAST: Ben Radcliffe, Steven Mackintosh,<br />

John Travolta; DISTRIBUTOR: Disney+; STREAMING: <strong>December</strong> 1;<br />

RUNTIME: 38 min.<br />


“To put it in holiday terms, those who prefer their eggnog spiked<br />

would be wise to check out The Secret Gift of Christmas, a yuletide<br />

Hallmark concoction so self-aware of its own ridiculousness that it<br />

borders on parody… in a sea of sameness, The Secret Gift of<br />

Christmas arrives as a lifeboat of blissful self-awareness. A<br />

Hallmark holiday classic is born.” <strong>—</strong> STEVEN WARNER<br />

DIRECTOR: Christie Will; CAST: Meghan Ory, Christopher Russell,<br />

Aria Publiocover, Jenn Grant; DISTRIBUTOR: Hallmark;<br />

STREAMING: <strong>December</strong> 24; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 30 min.<br />


“Strangely, given its story, The Naughty Nine’s brand of whimsicality<br />

actually situates it more comfortably as a family-friendly watch<br />

than a pure Christmas movie.” <strong>—</strong> AYEEN FOROOTAN<br />

DIRECTOR: Alberto Belli; CAST: Winslow Fegley, Danny Glover,<br />

Camila Rodriguez, Clark Stack; DISTRIBUTOR: Disney+;<br />

STREAMING: November 23; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 30 min.<br />


“If Christmas by Design manages to be among the more convincing Hallmark flicks this year, it’s not only for the easy chemistry… its<br />

cheerful ambiance, or visual vibrancy, but rather for the relatable and homey warmth that can be felt in the local hangouts, including an<br />

aw-shucks diner, a cozy bar, and the Christmas market.” <strong>—</strong> AYEEN FOROOTAN<br />

DIRECTOR: Max McGuire; CAST: Rebecca Dalton, Jonathan Keltz, Joanna Douglas; DISTRIBUTOR: Hallmark; STREAMING: <strong>December</strong> 29;<br />

RUNTIME: 1 hr. 24 min.<br />



23<br />


Hou Hsiao-hsien<br />

Millennium Mambo, Hou Hsiao-hsien's 2001 romantic drama,<br />

premiered at that year's Cannes Film Festival where it received a<br />

rather muted response, even from admirers of the Taiwanese<br />

auteur who was coming off the 1998 period film Flowers of<br />

Shanghai. In an otherwise mildly positive review for the New York<br />

Times, Elvis Mitchell said the film "feels like an episode of The O.C.<br />

directed by Wong Kar-wai" <strong>—</strong> a sentiment which reflects the<br />

contemporaneous critical tenor fairly accurately, with many seeing<br />

the effort as a failed attempt at garnering a new, younger<br />

audience. Its reputation as a minor entry into Hou's body of work<br />

stuck around for a long time, with a 2008 Reverse Shot piece<br />

written by Chris Wisniewski bemoaning the "'minor' label so<br />

frequently applied to it."<br />

The film did, however, find an audience eventually, and looking<br />

back, it's somewhat perplexing that Hou's lush neon fantasia wasn't<br />

celebrated upon release. It's a rare film that succeeds at sinking its<br />

hooks into an audience from the very first reel: opening on a<br />

tracking shot of fluorescent lights that suggest a road tunnel, the<br />

camera glides down to reveal an illuminated overpass and a<br />

------------------------------------------------------------<br />

young woman, Vicky (Shu Qi), traversing its seemingly endless length<br />

in slow motion as gauzy electronica pulses in the background.<br />

Vicky's voiceover, delivered from the then-future of 2011, looks back<br />

at her life a decade prior as she outlines her tumultuous<br />

relationship with Hao-Hao (Tuan Chun-hao). "She broke up with<br />

Hao-Hao, but he always tracked her down," she recounts, her<br />

distance to the events emphasized by the third-person narration.<br />

While there is a gentle narrative pull to Millennium Mambo's<br />

recollections of parties, relationship drama, petty crime,<br />

lovemaking, and night-time car rides, the episodes of Vicky's life are<br />

fragmented <strong>—</strong> her narration by turn precedes, accompanies, and<br />

follows the events' depiction onscreen, for instance <strong>—</strong> which imbues<br />

the film with an ethereal quality that is further heightened by the<br />

pervasive techno soundtrack. Vicky is like a moth to the flame when<br />

it comes to shady boyfriends and nightclubs, and Hou lets her play<br />

out these moments again and again, the elliptical storytelling<br />

suggesting an endless cycle of bad decisions. When she eventually<br />

falls in with Jack (Jack Kao), an older mobster with a more<br />

benevolent aura than the unhinged Hao-Hao, one can't help but<br />

wonder whether or not something will cause that relationship to<br />

sour as well.

Especially to a younger audience, Vicky's taste for that particular<br />

type of lifestyle (and man) might be understandable since Hou is<br />

more than willing to acknowledge the glamour and sensual allure it<br />

holds. But the frequent repetition also renders them exhausting<br />

and ultimately hollow, a feeble attempt at staving off the malaise<br />

that life at the end of history has saddled the characters with.<br />

Millennium Mambo plays much like a music video from the era:<br />

beautiful to look at, light on plot, and heavy on vibes <strong>—</strong> although<br />

Hou's pop cinema wasn't without peer. As hinted at by Mitchell, the<br />

filmmaker looked to the neon-drenched likes of Chungking Express<br />

(1994) and Fallen Angels (1995) <strong>—</strong> both directed by Wong Kar-wai <strong>—</strong><br />

but also the lonely cityscapes of Edward Yang's Taipei Story (1985).<br />

There are also traces of Lin Cheng-sheng's 1997 drama Murmur of<br />

Youth, which itself took cues from Hou's own Daughter of the Nile<br />

(1987), making for an interesting intertextual exchange between the<br />

two filmmakers.<br />

Millennium Mambo's cinematographer, Mark Lee Ping-bin, who had<br />

lensed Wong's In the Mood for Love the year before, shot the film on<br />

35mm but deliberately gave it a soft digital sheen <strong>—</strong> José Luis<br />

Alcaine would repeat that trick when shooting Brian De Palma's<br />

Passion (2012) <strong>—</strong> which, coupled with the production design, has<br />

elevated the film into an aesthetic marker of the Y2K era. But<br />

unlike so much art and media from the time, it isn't mere nostalgia<br />

that has made it so enduring: coupled with Shu Qi's mesmerizing<br />

screen presence <strong>—</strong> her mysterious glances at the camera during<br />

the opening manage evoke romantic longing, freedom, and<br />

memories of long nights out <strong>—</strong> the film’s prime achievement lies in<br />

--------------------------------------------------------------------------<br />


“But unlike so much art and media<br />

from the time, it isn’t mere<br />

nostalgia that has made<br />

[Millennium Mambo] so enduring.<br />

how it both captures and transcends its historical context.<br />

(Wisniewski's Reverse Shot piece smartly notes that the film "[tells] a<br />

story set in the present as a period piece.")<br />

It's extraordinary how much Hou's vividly rendered 2001 still<br />

captures the hangover from a promised future that never<br />

came,channeling the end-of-history melancholy also conjured by<br />

Ryū Murakami's Tokyo Decadence a decade earlier and the digital<br />

lo-fi of Jia Zhangke's Unknown Pleasures a year later. Loneliness,<br />

ennui, and spiritual emptiness run rampant in the gorgeous, glittery<br />

prison of the modern world that Millennium Mambo traps its<br />

characters in <strong>—</strong> toward the end, characters are even seen through<br />

the cold, omnipotent eye of a surveillance camera <strong>—</strong> and the<br />

detached style with which Hou approaches this hazy trip down<br />

memory lane forms a fascinating contrast with the emotional<br />

resonance its final moments nonetheless achieve.<br />

Vicky drifts from one moment to the next in an unceasing pattern of<br />

youthful thoughtlessness, a conceit which, in lesser hands, could've<br />

easily made for a trite cautionary tale or even a reactionary warning<br />

of societal decay. But the third-person<br />

perspective, which implies an ambiguous<br />

remove from her difficult past, also suggest<br />

the possibility of change while<br />

acknowledging the past selves we leave<br />

behind. During the film's final moments,<br />

Vicky looks back at her relationship with<br />

Hao-Hao one last time, remembering a tryst<br />

with her former beau during which she<br />

imagined him as a snowman, doomed to melt<br />

away when the sun comes up. "Making love<br />

was sad that day," she says. "Even years<br />

later, she still remembered it." And yet, as<br />

she moved on, the memories became the<br />

only thing tethering her to the sorrow she felt<br />

10 years ago. Hou's vision is bittersweet <strong>—</strong><br />

but it is not hopeless. <strong>—</strong> FRED BARRETT<br />

25 24





Peter Jackson<br />

25<br />

The great director Paul W.S. Anderson expressed irritation in his<br />

commentary track on Alien vs. Predator (2004) to the common<br />

descriptor used to label films with relentless energy and unceasing<br />

action as “roller coaster” rides. The description misses the source<br />

of the thrilling catharsis of amusement park rides: the anticipatory<br />

climb before the descent into action. A binary of action can be<br />

inferred from Anderson’s casual opining: those that synthesize the<br />

action with other artistic ambitions, and those that use action as<br />

both a means and an end. Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings:<br />

The Return of the King, one of the highest-grossing films ever made<br />

and the culminating entry of the modern epic, challenges that<br />

binary. It’s both a roller coaster in the more accurate description<br />

and an onslaught of what can only be called big filmmaking <strong>—</strong> the<br />

type we should resist applying the amusement ride analogy to in<br />

the first place. In this, The Return of the King is about as pure of a<br />

spectacle as Hollywood has ever produced: able to capitalize off<br />

two films of ascension only to offer pure thrill for nearly four hours<br />

(in the extended edition). For better and for worse, Jackson’s<br />

demonstration of episodic filmmaking’s ability to have its cake and<br />

eat it too has proved an artistic decision that continues to<br />

reverberate through 21st-century blockbuster filmmaking.<br />

Few movies have ever loomed so large over an era and type of<br />

filmmaking as Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. And like all multi-part<br />

films, no entry in the trilogy stands on its own <strong>—</strong> and this will<br />

always be their great bane. With that caveat aside, The Return of<br />

the King stands apart from The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two<br />

Towers not just by virtue of satisfactorily closing out the nine to<br />

----------------------------------------------------------------<br />

eleven hours (depending on which editions one prefers), but also<br />

for the complete pivot to pure spectacle. It also benefits from<br />

featuring several largely self-contained narrative and character<br />

arcs: the riff between Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin), the<br />

realization of Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) as the face of a<br />

monomyth, the development of Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and<br />

Pippin (Billy Boyd) into individual personalities instead of<br />

interchangeable comedic reliefs, the entirety of Denethor’s (John<br />

Noble) tragedy, and the best of Sméagol/Gollum (Andy Serkis). The<br />

strength of these individual threads are served well by the film's<br />

writing structure, which meets the climax of Jackson’s vision and<br />

helps establish the final film as a classic blockbuster.<br />

The Return of the King also carries over the best qualities of the<br />

two previous films <strong>—</strong> otherworldly production design and location,<br />

the exponential weight of the ring on Frodo, and, of course, the<br />

upscaled epic action <strong>—</strong> but sets aside or resolves the worst<br />

elements of its predecessors: tedious exposition, the entertaining<br />

though vacuous banter amongst the fellowship, and the fraught<br />

editing back and forth between the more important quest of the<br />

ring bearer and the comparatively weightless squabbles between<br />

the various kingdoms of Middle Earth. That latter dichotomy<br />

doesn’t disappear with the final film, but instead, the<br />

non-Frodo/Sam plots, at last, accumulate dramatic weight that not<br />

only complements but flows naturally from their ventures into<br />

Mordor. The large-scale abandonment of J.R.R Tolkien’s interlacing<br />

structure <strong>—</strong> an alternating tapestry of narrative threads across one<br />

chronology <strong>—</strong> simplifies the first two “books” but augments the<br />


final entry and ushers us into an astonishing Homeric climax as<br />

Jackson’s more traditional chronology reaches its finale.<br />

While the director is often credited for his prescience into the<br />

future of Hollywood (though, perhaps, he was just shaping it), less<br />

appraised is his appreciation and indebtedness to the past. In<br />

particular, The Lord of the Rings does not exist without Fritz Lang’s<br />

Die Nibelungen (1924), the first great multi-part operatic fantasy<br />

series. Most obviously, both are based on famous literary works set<br />

in Euro-normative medieval societies involving a magic ring that<br />

grants its wearer world dominion. Both are larger-than-life<br />

adaptations that swell through romance and death, kingmaking<br />

and regicide. Likewise, they both make liberal use of indiscrete<br />

symbolism and hyper-legible stylistic choices <strong>—</strong> the sort of<br />

directorial choices that are so obvious yet so effective that they<br />

democratize the decoding of their images. Jackson follows Lang’s<br />

lead in creating massive sets, a special dependency on special<br />

effects, and in emptying the source material of most of its<br />

spirituality and political ideology. They also both amounted to<br />

monster runtimes that forced serialization: Lang’s production was<br />

divided into two, while Jackson followed the tripartite structure of<br />

Tolkien’s saga. He even looks to the Austrian “Master of Darkness”<br />

for a lesson in the efficiency of dramatic lighting in creating a<br />

coherent fantasy world. Lang used bold contrasts that approached<br />

impressionism at times, whereas Jackson mostly uses hard key<br />

lighting and often innovatively combines it with various degrees of<br />

edge fill and backlighting to create an angelic or halo effect; this is<br />

especially common in his presentation of the elves, who are the<br />

most divine and sinless of the races of Middle Earth. A more<br />

meaningful distinction between Lang's and Jackson’s approach to<br />

fantasy filmmaking comes in their opposing impressions of<br />

modern life. Lang embraces it: having medieval castles resemble<br />

20th-century skylines and performing a kenosis of almost all<br />

things supernatural. Jackson’s general fidelity to Tolkien disdains<br />

all things about modernity <strong>—</strong> the utopia of the rural Shire with its<br />

neat family lives stands in contrast to the evil of the more urban<br />

landscapes of Mordor (for another example, see the green pastures<br />

of the former vs. Sauron's campaign of deforestation in The Two<br />

Towers). The collapse of these large, dark urban monuments of evil<br />

upon the ring’s destruction begins the process of land's renewal.<br />

And in one final lesson from Lang, the scale of the production<br />

design is among the most impressive found this century. The<br />

previous film’s high point in terms of the sets, art, and production<br />

design, and more specifically architectural ambition, was<br />

-------------------------------------------------------------<br />


emphatically located in Isengard, with its fantasy gothic exterior<br />

and skinny, phallic creepiness; its nadir, on the other hand, was<br />

found in the claustrophobic stronghold at Osgiliath where Jackson<br />

seems either unwilling or, more likely, unable to show more of the<br />

besieged castle than two or three small corners. But The Return of<br />

the King’s expression of the imposing and vast capital of Gondor,<br />

Minas Tirith, and the endless overpowering pit of Mordor minimize<br />

the greatness of Saruman the White's Isengard. (The aftermath<br />

early on of the watery destruction of the fort still impresses,<br />

though it’s nearly entirely omitted from the theatrical version.)<br />

Elsewhere, Shelob’s webby and cavernous lair, shot by<br />

cinematographer Andrew Lesnie in a blue-green tint, entrenches<br />

the camera as much as it does Frodo; the giant spider’s cave is<br />

claustrophobic and labyrinthine, yet also, contradictorily, the path<br />

of escape is always quite legible. The geometric interior takes<br />

inspiration from German Expressionism, an influence that<br />

reinforces Jackson’s bend for a spectacle of danger.<br />

Mordor, meanwhile, resembles Peter Paul Rubens’ poetic<br />

chiaroscuro and vertically structured painting The Fall of the<br />

Damned. Jackson builds off the black, red, and gray chalks of<br />

Rubens’ depiction of bodies being tossed and tumbling into hell and<br />

adds a volcanic center and two discernable faces, Sam and Frodo,<br />

to the visual. When the two wear orc disguises and pass through<br />

the horde on their way to Mount Doom, the crowd of orcs, from<br />

their lowly hobbit perspective, even retain a degree of the<br />

verticality from that artwork and its hellbound bodies. The feelings<br />

conjured simply through its artistic atmosphere are that of a<br />

soul-crushing apocalypse: both a personal scourging and collective<br />

expiration. The depth of texture <strong>—</strong> and depth of focus, something<br />

lost to many of the 21st-century CGI adventure films that take<br />

inspiration from Lord of the Rings <strong>—</strong> of Mordor presents an evil as<br />

boundless as the horizon line; at the same time, the color contrast<br />

with the earth tones of the shire folk makes its destruction into a<br />

red and black fiery abyss also feel personal. In retrospect, no<br />

alternative art designs of Sauron’s base of power would have been<br />

able to replicate the morally demanding and mythical milieu of<br />

Jackson’s Mordor. Indeed, we should count ourselves lucky that The<br />

Return of the King arrived when it did. Any earlier, and technological<br />

progress would have hindered ambition; any later, and the studio<br />

system would have likely squeezed any idiosyncratic vision dry,<br />

just as it did with Jackson’s subsequent The Hobbit trilogy. But it<br />

did come at the right moment, and big-budget filmmaking will<br />

never be the same because of it. <strong>—</strong> JOSHUA POLANSKI<br />


design is among the most impressive found this<br />

century. The previous film’s high point in terms of the<br />

sets, . art, and production<br />

IN WATER<br />

Hong Sang-soo<br />



“Even more so than in The Novelist’s Film, in water explicitly takes<br />

Hong’s way of artmaking as its raison d’être… So, it’s fascinating to<br />

see how, if not his mindset, then how his process is imparted onto<br />

someone on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of life and<br />

experience… unlike Introduction, there is no adult balance to<br />

counterbalance the faces of youth, but only the continually adrift<br />

director, reflective beyond his years, carving out a world-weary<br />

niche all the same.” <strong>—</strong> RYAN SWEN<br />

DIRECTOR: Hong sang-soo; CAST: Shin Seok-ho, Ha Seung-guk,<br />

Kim Min-hee, Kim Seung-yoon; DISTRIBUTOR: The Cinema Guild;<br />

IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 1; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 1 min.<br />

27<br />


REVIEW BY: Esmé Holden; DIRECTOR: Takashi Yamazaki; CAST:<br />

Ryûnosuke Kamiki, Minami Hamabe, Yuki Yamada, Munetaka Aoki;<br />

DISTRIBUTOR: Tôhô International; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 1;<br />

RUNTIME: 2 hr. 5 min.<br />

EILEEN<br />

REVIEW BY: Selina Lee; DIRECTOR: William Oldroyd; CAST:<br />

Thomasin McKenzie, Anne Hathaway, Shea Whigham, Marin Ireland;<br />

DISTRIBUTOR: NEON; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 1; RUNTIME: 1 hr.<br />

36 min.<br />


REVIEW BY: Daniel Gorman; DIRECTOR: Pedro Costa; CAST: Alice<br />

Costa, Karyna Gomes, Elizabeth Pinard; DISTRIBUTOR: The Cinema<br />

Guild; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 1; RUNTIME: 9 min.<br />


REVIEW BY: Joshua Polanski; DIRECTOR: Ma Xue; CAST: Yuan<br />

Tian, Xu Weihao, Song Ningfeng; DISTRIBUTOR: Film Movement;<br />

STREAMING: <strong>December</strong> 1; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 31 min.<br />


REVIEW BY: Matt Lynch; DIRECTOR: John Woo; CAST: Joel<br />

Kinnaman, Scott Mescudi, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Ha;<br />

DISTRIBUTOR: Lionsgate; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 1; RUNTIME: 1<br />

hr. 43 min.<br />

A MALE<br />

REVIEW BY: Steven Warner; DIRECTOR: Fabián Hernández; CAST:<br />

Dylan Felipe Ramírez Espitia, Jonathan Steven Rodriguez, Juanita<br />

Carrillo Ortiz; DISTRIBUTOR: ddd; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 8;<br />

RUNTIME: 1 hr. 22 min.<br />


REVIEW BY: Daniel Gorman; DIRECTOR: Paris Zarcilla; CAST: Max<br />

Eigenmann, Jaeden Paige Boadilla; DISTRIBUTOR: Brainstorm<br />

Media; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 1; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 39 min.<br />


REVIEW BY: Noel Oakshot; DIRECTOR: Zhang Mo; CAST: Zhang<br />

Xiaofei, Lee Hong-Chi, Kara Wai Ying-hung; DISTRIBUTOR: <strong>—</strong>; IN<br />

THEATERS: November 10; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 59 min.



Yorgos Lanthimos<br />

“Where Frankenstein; or, The Modern<br />

Prometheus saw modernity as fraught with<br />

the perils of rationalism outreaching itself,<br />

[author Alasdair] Gray’s postmodern<br />

interpretation imagines a stab at personal<br />

liberation precisely through rationalism<br />

reaching its logical end. Taking Gray’s text as<br />

its starting point, director Yorgos Lanthimos<br />

and screenwriter Tony McNamara further<br />

extirpate Frankenstein’s Gothic influence and<br />

fashion, in lieu of it, a whole other landscape<br />

of bubblegum unreality. Poor Things, winner of<br />

the Golden Lion at Venice this year, possibly<br />

marks Lanthimos’ most grandiloquent work to<br />

date and is all the better for it.” <strong>—</strong> MORRIS<br />

YANG<br />

DIRECTOR: Yorgos Lanthimos; CAST: Emma<br />

Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Ramy<br />

Youssef, Christopher Abbott; DISTRIBUTOR:<br />

Searchlight Pictures; IN THEATERS:<br />

<strong>December</strong> 8; RUNTIME: 2 hr. 21 min.<br />


REVIEW BY: Andrew Dignan; DIRECTOR: Sam Esmail; CAST: Julia<br />

Roberts, Ethan Hawke, Mahershala Ali, Myha'la Herrold, Kevin Bacon;<br />

DISTRIBUTOR: Netflix; STREAMING: <strong>December</strong> 8; RUNTIME: 2 hr.<br />

20 min.<br />


REVIEW BY: Ryan Swen; DIRECTOR: Alice Rohrwacher; CAST:<br />

Josh O’Connor, Alba Rohrwacher, Isabella Rossellini, Luca<br />

Chikovani; DISTRIBUTOR: NEON; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 8;<br />

RUNTIME: 2 hr. 10 min.<br />


REVIEW BY: Joshua Polanski; DIRECTOR: DK Welchman & Hugh<br />

Welchman; CAST: Kamila Urzedowska, Robert Gulaczyk, Mirosław<br />

Baka; DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures Classics; IN THEATERS:<br />

<strong>December</strong> 8; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 54 min.<br />


REVIEW BY: Noel Oakshot; DIRECTOR: Zhang Jialing; CAST: <strong>—</strong>;<br />

DISTRIBUTOR: Film Movement; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 8;<br />

RUNTIME: 1 hr. 37 min.<br />



REVIEW BY: Esmé Holden; DIRECTOR: Sam Fell; CAST: (voices)<br />

Zachary Levi, Thandiwe Newton, Imelda Staunton, Nick Mohammad,<br />

Bella Ramsey; DISTRIBUTOR: Netflix; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 8;<br />

STREAMING: <strong>December</strong> 15; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 37 min.<br />

ORIGIN<br />

REVIEW BY: Travis DeShong; DIRECTOR: Ava DuVernay; CAST:<br />

Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Jon Bernthal, Niecy Nash, Vera Farmiga;<br />

DISTRIBUTOR: NEON; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 8; RUNTIME: 2 hr.<br />

15 min.<br />

THE THREE MUSKETEERS: PART I <strong>—</strong> D’ARTAGNAN<br />

REVIEW BY: Joshua Peinado; DIRECTOR: Martin Bourboulon;<br />

CAST: François Civil, Vincent Cassel, Romain Duris, Pio Marmaï, Eva<br />

Green, Louis Garrel; DISTRIBUTOR: Samuel Goldwyn Films; IN<br />

THEATERS/STREAMING: <strong>December</strong> 8; RUNTIME: 2 hr. 1 min.<br />


REVIEW BY: Andrew Dignan; DIRECTOR: Um Tae-hwa; CAST: Lee<br />

Byung-hun, Park Seo-joon, Park Bo-young, Kim Sun-young;<br />

DISTRIBUTOR: 815 Pictures; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 8;<br />

RUNTIME: 2 hr. 10 min.<br />


Hayao Miyazaki<br />

“To close with a gambit, The Boy and the Heron may very well indeed be Miyazaki offering his own engagement with a spate of<br />

inter-dimensional and time-bending tendencies in Japanese animation that gained some prominence with Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name.,<br />

and in its own way closing a loop of influence that leads back to himself. These films have similarly explored questions of escaping<br />

repetitious cycles and balancing a sense of individualism with national and natural fate; and it may be that here we have a declarative<br />

statement with regard to the difficulty, joy, trepidation, and relief that come in sitting comfortably with one’s own answer to that question<br />

that places us between being and nothingness: how do you live?.” <strong>—</strong> MATT MCCRACKEN<br />

DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki; CAST: (voices) Luca Padovan, Christian Bale, Dave Bautista, Gemma Chan; DISTRIBUTOR: GKIDS; IN<br />

THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 8; RUNTIME: 2 hr. 4 min.<br />



REVIEW BY: Greg Cwik; DIRECTOR: Randy Zisk; CAST: Tony<br />

Shaloub, Melora Hardin, Ted Levine; DISTRIBUTOR: Peacock;<br />

STREAMING: <strong>December</strong> 8; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 37 min.<br />


REVIEW BY: Joshua Polanski; DIRECTOR: Victor Vu; CAST: Kaity<br />

Nguyễn, Thuan Nguyen, Quang Tháng, Kim Oanh; DISTRIBUTOR:<br />

3388 Films; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 8; RUNTIME: 2 hr. 12 min.<br />


REBEL MOON <strong>—</strong> PART ONE: CHILD OF FIRE<br />

Zack Snyder<br />

“At least all this plot is welcomely broken up by Snyder’s action,<br />

punctuated by his trademark speed-ramped tableaux. There’s a<br />

remarkable clarity to it as always, and he’s working as his own DP<br />

here… and he offers his cast the chance to finally shut their<br />

mouths and get to work doing what they were hired for: to look<br />

awesome posing. That said, it’s unclear that another hour of story<br />

will be worth slogging through to get some extra action.Rebel Moon<br />

is clearly full of enthusiasm and fueled by earnestness, but Snyder<br />

is totally lost in the weeds, especially regarding the needless<br />

promise of so, so much more of what already doesn’t work here.<br />

For all his sincerity, he’s poured his heart into something that’s<br />

just… air meat..” <strong>—</strong> MATT LYNCH<br />

DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder; CAST: Sofia Boutella, Djimon Hounsou,<br />

Ray Fisher, Bae Doo-na, Ed Skrein; DISTRIBUTOR: Netflix; IN<br />

THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 15; STREAMING: <strong>December</strong> 21; RUNTIME: 2<br />

hr. 15 min.<br />


REVIEW BY: Lawrence Garcia; DIRECTOR: Jonathan Glazer; CAST:<br />

Christian Friedel, Sandra Hüller, Medusa Knopf; DISTRIBUTOR: A24;<br />

IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 15; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 46 min.<br />



REVIEW BY: Daniel Gorman; DIRECTOR: Jean-Luc Godard; CAST: <strong>—</strong>;<br />

DISTRIBUTOR: Kino Lorber; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 15; RUNTIME:<br />

20 min.<br />


REVIEW BY: Andrew Dignan; DIRECTOR: Cord Jefferson; CAST:<br />

Jeffrey Wright, Tracee Ellis Ross, Issa Rae, Sterling K. Brown, Adam<br />

Brody; DISTRIBUTOR: Amazon MGM Studios; IN THEATERS:<br />

<strong>December</strong> 15; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 57 min.<br />


REVIEW BY: Zachary Goldkind; DIRECTOR: Brian Helgeland; CAST:<br />

Jenny Ortega, Tommy Lee Jones, Ben Foster, Toby Wallace;<br />

DISTRIBUTOR: Parmaount+; STREAMING: <strong>December</strong> 15; RUNTIME:<br />

2 hr. 6 min.<br />


WONKA<br />

Paul King<br />

“We’re aware we are watching Chalamet acting as Wonka rather<br />

than believing in the depth of the character in and of itself, though<br />

this likely won’t be as much of an issue for the children<br />

unacquainted with his mature, profile-building performances. So,<br />

while Wonka never reaches the level of genuine movie magic, like<br />

the best sweet treats, it offers a flavorful diversion substantive<br />

enough to not immediately melt in your mouth..” <strong>—</strong> TRAVIS<br />



REVIEW BY: Daniel Gorman; DIRECTOR: Cyril Leuthy; CAST: <strong>—</strong>;<br />

DISTRIBUTOR: Kino Lorber; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 15;<br />

RUNTIME: 1 hr. 40 min.<br />

DIRECTOR: Paul King; CASR: Timothée Chalamet, Hugh Grant,<br />

Keegan-Michael Key, Calah Lane; DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Bros.<br />

Pictures; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 15; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 56 min.<br />


REVIEW BY: Daniel Gorman; DIRECTOR: Marley Mcdonald & Brian<br />

Becker; CAST: <strong>—</strong>; DISTRIBUTOR: Max; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong><br />

15; STREAMING: <strong>December</strong> 30; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 24 min.<br />



REVIEW BY: Matt Lynch; DIRECTOR: James Wan; CAST: Jason<br />

Momoa, Patrick Wilson, Amber Heard, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole<br />

Kidman; DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Bros. Pictures; IN THEATERS:<br />

<strong>December</strong> 22; RUNTIME: 2 hr. 4 min.<br />


REVIEW BY: Andrew Dignan; DIRECTOR: Sean Durkin; CAST: Zac<br />

Efron, Holt McCallany, Jeremy Allen White, Harrison Dickinson;<br />

DISTRIBUTOR: A24; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 22; RUNTIME: 2 hr.<br />

10 min.<br />

MEMORY<br />

REVIEW BY: Conor Truax; DIRECTOR: Michel Franco; CAST:<br />

Jessica Chastain, Peter Sarsgaard, Josh Charles, Brooke Timber;<br />

DISTRIBUTOR: Ketchup Entertainment; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong><br />

22; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 40 min.<br />


REVIEW BY: Andrew Dignan; DIRECTOR: J.A. Bayona; CAST: Enzo<br />

Vogrincic, Esteban Bigliardi, Agustín Pardella; DISTRIBUTOR:<br />

Netflix; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 22; STREAMING: January 4;<br />

RUNTIME: 2 hr. 24 min.<br />

31<br />


REVIEW BY: Lawrence Garcia; DIRECTOR: Andrew Haigh; CAST:<br />

Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Claire Foy, Jamie Bell; DISTRIBUTOR:<br />

Searchlight Pictures; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 22; RUNTIME: 1 hr.<br />

45 min.<br />


REVIEW BY: Morris Yang; CREATOR: Brit Marling & Zal Batmanglij;<br />

CAST: Emma Corrin, Clive Owen, Harris Dickinson, Brit Marling,<br />

Joan Chen; DISTRIBUTOR: FX/Hulu; STREAMING: November 14



Michael Mann<br />

“There is no action without consequences in Mann’s cinema, and with Ferrari he asks us to consider them all <strong>—</strong> the glory and the tragedy,<br />

the beauty and the ugliness, what we make of ourselves and what we leave behind.” <strong>—</strong> BRAD HANFORD<br />

DIRECTOR: Michael Mann; CAST: Adam Driver, Penélope Cruz, Shailene Woodley, Patrick Dempsey, Gabriel Leone; DISTRIBUTOR: NEON;<br />

IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 25; RUNTIME: 2 hr. 10 min.<br />


REVIEW BY: Andrew Dignan; DIRECTOR: Blitz Bazawule; CAST:<br />

Fantasia Barrino, Taraji P. Henson, Danielle Brooks, Colman<br />

Domingo, Halle Bailey, Corey Hawkins; DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Bros.<br />

Pictures; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 25; RUNTIME: 2 hr. 20 min.<br />


REVIEW BY: Joshua Peinado; DIRECTOR: Matthew Brown; CAST:<br />

Anthony Hopkins, Matthew Goode, Liv Lisa Fries. Jodi Balfour;<br />

DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures Classics; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 22;<br />

RUNTIME: 1 hr. 48 min.<br />


REVIEW BY: Andrew Dignan; DIRECTOR: Ilker Çatak; CAST: Leonie<br />

Benesch, Leonard Stettnisch, Eva Löbau, Michael Klammer;<br />

DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures Classics; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong><br />

25; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 34 min.<br />


REVIEW BY: Andrew Reichel; DIRECTOR: François Ozon; CAST:<br />

Nadia Tereszkiewicz, Isabelle Huppert, Rebecca Marder, Dany Boon;<br />

DISTRIBUTOR: Music Box Films; IN THEATERS: <strong>December</strong> 25;<br />

RUNTIME: 1 hr. 42 min.<br />


Photo Credits:<br />

Cover - Warner Bros./DC Comics; Page 1 - Wolfgang Wesener; Page 2 - Zipporah Films; Page 4 -<br />

Zipporah Films; Page 5 - Zipporah Films; Page 8 - Zipporah Films; Page 9 - Vinegar Syndrome;<br />

Page 11 - Utopia; Page 12 - Leia Jospe; Page 13 - Utopia; Page 15 - IFC Films/Kerry Brown/All<br />

Star/20th Century Fox; Page 16 - 20th Century Fox; Page 17 - IFC Films; Page 18 - Delia<br />

Martinez/Netflix; Page 19 - Netflix; Page 21 - Red Sea International Film Festival; Page 23-24 -<br />

Palm Pictures; Page 25 - New Line Cinema; Page 27 - Jeonwonsa Film Co.; Page 28 - Searchlight<br />

Pictures; Page 29 - GKIDS; Page 30 - Clay Enos/Netflix; Page 31 - Warner Bros.; Page 32 -<br />

Lorenzo Sisti/Forward Pass; Back Cover - Kino Lorber

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