“Widows”: a Pulp Fiction with Class

Steve McQueen’s work has always been weighty and dour, but with a distinct sense of purpose. Viewers are probably most familiar with the Best Picture-winning 12 Years a Slave, but McQueen’s other features depict a sex addict (Shame) and the Irish hunger strikes during The Trouble (Hunger). Widows, McQueen’s newest feature shares some of the dour coloring of his previous work, but is much more suited for general audiences. McQueen draws potent performances from a rich ensemble that features Viola Davis, another Oscar winner. The story, penned by McQueen and Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl, is interesting from both the perspective of plot and its peculiar, non-linear structure. Eminently more approachable that the rest of Steve McQueen’s oeuvre, Widows is that rare concoction of pulpy action and piquant social commentary.

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Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled” Expresses Intrigue with Quiet Sexuality

Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, a remake of a 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood, was a bit of a darling at Cannes this year. Coppola took home Best Director at the festival, which was only the second time a woman won the award. The film itself is a peculiar kind of Civil War era drama charged with the flavor of an erotic thriller or mystery. There’s a deep sexuality to the unraveling of the plot, as a single wounded male character navigates a school of isolated and curious women. The result is a tight tale of empowerment and intrigue, presented in a quiet and classical aesthetic.

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“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” – a Chimera of Whimsy and Doldrums

Like many of the wondrous animals that inhabit its world, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an amalgamation.  Except, unlike the hippogriff, which capitalizes on the strengths of both the eagle and the horse, David Yates’s film compromises the adventures of Newt Scamander with a plodding police procedural.  The result is less like the streamlined elegance of the hippogriff, and more like whatever happened to Jeff Goldblum at the very end of The Fly.  Every time Newt and his compatriots are on screen, the film is an absolute delight that reminds us why we fell in love with the wizarding world in the first place.  And every time they’re not, we’re reminded that David Yates is responsible for two of the three worst Harry Potter films to date.  Fantastic Beasts ends up somewhere in the middle, with no time-turner available to right the wrong and spare the life of this innocent little hippogriff.

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“The Lobster”: A Sardonic Defense of Individual Choice in Romance

The very best satire establishes absurdity as commonplace, and Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ first English-language feature film The Lobster is a fascinating example.  Winner of the Jury Prize at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, this dark romantic comedy imagines a dystopia where single people are sent to a hotel and given 45 days to find a new partner.  Should they fail, they are transformed into an animal of their choosing and released into the wild.  Some attendees don’t wait that long, and escape into the bordering forest to live in a kind of fugitive singleness.  The Lobster viciously jests through this dichotomy, exploring the nature of relationships and how societal pressures can paradoxically be the cause of both settling and celibacy.

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