Tár is perhaps not the most exciting title ever conceived for a film, but a character as narcissistic as Lydia Tár wouldn’t dare permit any confusion about who’s in charge here. This is her story, and in Tár’s mind that means she alone is the owner of that story. A story, a piece of music, a relationship, a marriage — these are not conversations or discussions, not malleable things that allow for multiple participants. These are possessions, shouldered entirely by their owner, and in a way those possessions define the identity of the owner herself. Any attempt by another to repossess those things, then, would be akin to destroying that identity.
If you’ve ever found yourself in contention with a true narcissist, you know how threatening that idea really is. Here, in Todd Field’s first film in sixteen years (his previous being the excellent Little Children), Cate Blanchett gives her all as the embattled and egomaniacal Tár, a decorated classical conductor on the verge of completing a massive cycle of Mahler’s symphonies. At first, the success Tár enjoys seems well-earned. She credits her mentors, gives back to the community and has amicable relationships with her assistant and her guest conductor. As the recording session for the final symphony approaches, though, we begin to see how Tár’s success has been built on a sinister foundation.
Continue reading Tár (2022) →
Early on in Phantom Thread I started thinking about the miniaturized nature of certain segments in the cinema of Paul Thomas Anderson. At the top of this latest film we see Reynolds Woodcock’s morning routine, clearly practiced to the point of automation, nearly mechanical, though the whole scene lasts less than thirty seconds. He shaves, he slicks his hair, he pulls on his big winecolored socks, his pants. And that’s it. The dressmaker is dressed. One might expect a little more extravagance from a film that’s ostensibly about high-end style and tailored beauty, no?
But Anderson has always employed this device throughout his films, these little nugget-sized glimpses that seem like — or sometimes actually are — improvised scraps rather than written scenes. In Inherent Vice this was sort of the entire movie, an assault of crisscrossing people and places and scenarios that rarely evolve into extended sequences. A better example is The Master, probably Anderson’s finest film, throughout which there’s more of a balance in the overall pacing. We meet Freddie Quell lounging on a battleship, then cut to him commiserating with a group of waylaid soldiers, then cut to him masturbating at the edge of the ocean. Later there’s a very quick scene in which he’s chased down after possibly poisoning someone with a stiff drink, and in this span of a minute or so we already know Freddie to be a scrappy rogue fending off all comers on the outskirts of society.
Continue reading Phantom Thread (2017) →
Casey Affleck presented a screening of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford at the Brattle Theatre in Boston last night, on hand for a Q&A following the film. Though Assassination is still sadly much more of an “obscure” offering – at least in terms of films starring Brad Pitt – it nonetheless remains a fascinating character study of both a young man and his mythical idol.
Robert Ford joins the James Gang alongside his brother Charlie at a time when Jesse James has already achieved infamy through his brazen robberies and brutal murders. Bob is only nineteen years old at this point (although he “feels older”), and his fascination with the gang is a mixture of childish wonder, starstruck glee, and perhaps a hint of inflated self-importance. He believes he’s destined for “great things”, by which he really means he believes himself to be a worthy follower of Jesse or even one who could take his place. As his place in the gang is solidified over the course of the film and his presence at Jesse’s side becomes more and more common, Bob’s perception of his onetime hero begins to deteriorate.
Continue reading The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) →