Tag Archives: Willem Dafoe

The Lighthouse (2019)

The ambition of Robert Eggers was apparent after his debut The Witch, a one-of-a-kind horror film steeped in deeply-felt folklore. The dialect, the costumes and settings, the sound design and the themes were all clearly the result of hard research and dedication to period accuracy rarely realized in modern film. Eggers himself, who presented a special IFFBoston screening of his follow-up The Lighthouse at Boston’s Brattle Theatre last night, acknowledged the explicit attempt to “commune with the folk culture of the region” in crafting his debut. But while that hard behind-the-scenes work was definitely still required by The Lighthouse, less of it shows in the final product, resulting in a more mature effort that still values the power of myth and lore.

Atmosphere is everything. In the lead-up to the film’s premiere at Cannes in May, much was made of the film’s unique aesthetic choices. Despite the popularity of Roma and Cold War last year, the mere concept of a black-and-white format remains alienating to many audiences (and financiers). Shooting on 35mm gives that black-and-white an extra characteristic, with the blacks bottoming out into nothingness. Additionally, A24 posted this snippet from the Lighthouse script in reference to the boxy, unpopular aspect ratio that’s been largely defunct since the early sound era:

Seemingly the most off-putting of these choices by Eggers is the one it shares with The Witch: dialogue comprised of archaic vernacular and dialect, delivered in an accent that also aims to fit the time and place. Eggers and his co-writer brother Max wrote “in-dialect,” rather than writing in plain English and then translating, and the effect — as was the case with Witch — takes a minute to groove once the dialogue begins. And there’s a lot of dialogue in The Lighthouse.

Continue reading The Lighthouse (2019)

Aquaman (2018)

The superhero genre is not, in fact, a genre. Adapting comics to film has become a billion-dollar industry in the past decade, and the movies comprising that industry have certainly been typified by a familiar formula. Marvel movies are with few exceptions fun but mostly mindless. DC movies are with few exceptions Marvel movies with all the fun wrung out. Those exceptions usually end up being the best of the bunch, but the point is that the “superhero genre” — while technically an applicable term for things grouped by subject matter — is more a “superhero formula” applied across genres. There’s action-thriller, action-comedy, action-adventure, sci-fi action…heck, when’s someone gonna make a superhero rom-com or a superhero road trip flick? Or a super-workplace melodrama devoid of any action whatsoever?

That ain’t Aquaman, an action movie that feels like someone took three of the other action movies we just described and crammed them into one package. Starring Jason Momoa as himself, Aquaman is DC’s most eye-popping blockbuster in quite some time, more reliant on world-building and flashy set-pieces than Wonder Woman or the feeble Justice League, which is sort of saying something. By and large this world-building is thorough and these set-pieces are inventive. If you’re sensing a big huge HOWEVER looming on the horizon, then this review is evidently as predictable as Aquaman.

Continue reading Aquaman (2018)

Netflix Picks #6

Shayna: I’ve been in a David Cronenberg frame of mind lately, and after watching Crash — a brutal, totally visceral film experience that you can somehow find on YouTube — I felt like slipping further down the rabbit hole with eXistenZ. While this 1999 film didn’t leave me curled up in the fetal position and near tears like Crash did, it does provide plenty of bleak takeaways about the state of human existence. Plus it stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, who pretty much owns in everything.

Set in a not-so-distant future where people can enter virtual realities and video-game designers are fawned over like rock stars (so perhaps not so unlike today), eXistenZ also stars a young Jude Law and features appearances from Willem Dafoe and Sarah Polley. Leigh is frosty and vaguely menacing here as Allegra, the designer of the not-yet-released game eXistenZ. After someone tries to kill her during a focus group session, Allegra is forced to go on the run with Ted (Law), a security guard/would-be “PR nerd” tasked with protecting her and helping ensure the survival of the game itself.

Admittedly, the plot gets Gordian-knot levels of convoluted very quickly, making it difficult to keep track of characters, corporate espionage subplots and even what reality the characters happen to be in most of the time. But the real attraction in eXistenZ is the atmosphere and the props that go along with it. There’s a gun made of bones, which fires teeth and is dripping with slimy viscera. The “bio-pods” used by players to access the game look like squishy embryos and mew contentedly when rubbed the right way. Once inside the game, Ted and Allegra are compelled by its power to follow game script, which at one point leads to an all-you-can-eat feast on mutated frog parts.

It’s wild. While the film feels very much like a product of its time, more aged and less visionary than earlier Cronenberg works like Videodrome and The Fly, eXistenZ is necessary viewing for body horror and sci-fi aficionados alike.

Continue reading Netflix Picks #6

A Most Wanted Man (2014)

There’s no doubt that the late Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of the most gifted American actors of our generation. The Oscar winner for Capote was equally at home playing lovable rogues and despicable villains, taking increasingly challenging roles as his career went on. One of his final complete roles was that of Günther Bachmann in Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man, and Hoffman is his usual dedicated self as the Hamburg-based anti-terrorism agent.

Unfortunately A Most Wanted Man is a colossally slow and unexciting film, for the most part. Hoffman is superbly sluggish as the unhappy and overworked Bachmann; Grigori Dobrygin is likewise effective, if a bit underwritten, in the part of the illegal migrant Issa Karpov; Willem Dafoe seems present simply to be a famous face; and Rachel McAdams, beautiful though she is, remains utterly unconvincing as a foreigner. The plot of the film revolves around Bachmann’s maneuvering of the players involved in the appearance of the young Karpov in Hamburg, as Bachmann’s colleagues suspect him to be a credible threat to national security.

The film starts on a promising note. The first shot is nearly brilliant, telling a simple story without giving away any details at all. Again, Hoffman is thoroughly great – one reviewer noted a resemblance between Bachmann and a hungover panda, a sentiment which could not be more on the mark. There is a long shot midway through the film of Bachmann walking from a helicopter pad into a building, and the effort the guy takes just to keep his pants from falling down tells so much about his character. He can’t manage to keep himself dressed, and yet he’s pretty damn good at protecting his city from terrorists.

So the fault I find with A Most Wanted Man isn’t at all with Hoffman. He’s expected to do what Daniel Day-Lewis did for Lincoln, another long politically-driven film devoid of anything remotely resembling an action sequence. The problem is that Anton Corbijn is a far cry from Steven Spielberg, and A Most Wanted Man really drags for long stretches at a time. The opening scenes are set to quick string riffs you’d find in a Bourne movie, and the stage is set for that spy action chase scene…which never happens. I’m all for a movie that can carry itself without a fight scene, but the pace has to support such a thing by finding “action” elsewhere.

The film also falls to multiple spy-movie cliches, including the obligatory “Do you ever ask yourself why it is we do what we do?” question posed by the main character. Do you ever ask yourself why every spy movie feels the need to delve into this life-from-the-shadows routine? The reply, which could have turned the cliche on its head, ends up being even more of a cliche: “To make the world a safer place. Isn’t that enough?” The characters then repeat this near the climax of the film, because, you know, someone thought that was poignant.

Ultimately, in spite of a fantastic turn from the indomitable Hoffman, the sense of urgency just isn’t present in A Most Wanted Man. Perhaps if the film had been titled A Somewhat Wanted Man or You Should Really Only See This for Philip Seymour Hoffman, at least there’d be some truth in advertising to fall back on.