A midway state of affairs on cinema in 2018 - Silver Screen Beat
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From ‘First Reformed’ to ‘Sorry to Bother You’: A midway state of affairs on cinema in 2018

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First Reformed
A24

“Maybe it won’t be OK.”

The world is hell right now. My life is hell right now. So talking about art, let alone participating in such an insular and silly in-fighting realm as film journalism, can feel futile, let alone irrelevant. But out of ritual, or obsession, or survival, we continue to do it anyway. By some weird sort of coincidence of thought, a collision of confirmation bias and larger anthropological forces invisible without hindsight, 2018’s cinematic output thus far has echoed these fears and frustrations. This is either a gift or an overgeneralized lens through which to view contemporary art. Likely, it’s both.

Paul Schrader’s First Reformed is perhaps the most direct and obvious film to tackle this sort of fiery personal apocalypse; Ethan Hawke’s grieving pastor in Upstate New York reckoning with eco-radical terrorism. It’s a fittingly preachy, obsessively Catholic baby boomer descent into the almost mythic purgatory of the very real, very mundane world—a tribute to Bresson’s coarse neo-realism and a necessary referendum on Taxi Driver’s existential bullshit. Hawke gives his first performance to appear distinctly un-theatrical, blending in with the ashes at a toxic waste dump. It is an old man’s film, the sum of its influences, and an aggressively uncomplacent staring contest with global deterioration and communal apathy.

The only other film to match that fury would be Sorry to Bother You, Boots Riley’s authentic, imperfect surrealist deep-dive into racial tensions under late capitalism. Yet, for all its political voracity and infectious wit, I wish the film had been equally as ambitious in its comedic stylings. There should be more memes, more Vines, more Twitter. Despite being miles above pretty much every comedy in recent years, and carrying an undeniably distinctive visual vernacular, the humor feels discordantly grouchy. It is urgent, radical, and exhilarating, but it lacks a certain vitality.

If it feels odd to draw comparisons between such an anti-establishment battle cry and a movie borne from Pepsi commercials, so be it. The excellent Uncle Drew is unapologetically branded content and also a personal, golden-age romp, pragmatic and dumb and oddly affecting. The two films each welcome the audience into their world with ease and clarity of vision. Listen, late capitalism and eccentric, goofy passion projects are weird but fun—just like basketball.

Further radical visions of blackness come to life in essay films like Khalik Allah’s revolutionary, jaw-dropping Black Mother, or the black queer nightclubs of Leilah Weinraub’s Shakedown, to the sprawling and ever-elusive rhythms and livelihood of Donald Glover’s Atlanta. Even Zama, Lucretia Martel’s grimly funny, shell-shocked revisionist epic deconstruction of colonialist literature offers something totally separate from the traditional historical visions that so often dominate the multiplex.

Yet the most exciting work I’ve come across this year is Josephine Decker’s Madeline’s Madeline, her first bonafide masterpiece. Comparisons to Rivette are easy to view shallowly (potentially obtuse, kinetic, theatrically self-consumers), but this goes deeper; Decker is genuinely the first of his descendants, so to speak, to carry on a double-barreled head-trip into aesthetics and dramatics equally. This is as much about performance as it is cinema’s bastard child status as a medium as it is about the state of indie cinema, a first wave of Generation Z, and, above all, a grand bildungsroman. I have genuinely never seen anything like what Helena Howard does here, willing to hone in with a specificity not even granted to the best sociologists on her identity. Through all the film’s engaging with Greek Tragedy (including Caroline Shaw’s mystically composed score), the battles of authorship, exploitation, maternity, and madness, there is a sensitivity and openness, an unmistakable modernity. Madeline’s Madeline is remarkable not just for the facts of what it does, but for how it teaches you to view its slipperiness, how its vibrancy manifest temporally, how it takes those most sensual and concrete pleasures and pushes them towards a work that argues for itself through an intense love and belief into and coming from every single person involved. I’ve rarely seen something so confident and smart and multifaceted and essential out of American cinema.

Paddington 2 and Black Panther are two excellent, classically-minded slices of entertainment, both conservative in their soothing reaffirmations of the troubling and fucked systems of government and societal standards, while still providing deeply progressive, optimistic, and rigorously anti-oppressive sentiment. On top of all that, a portion of Black Panther is set in Oakland, and Paddington 2 has a finale that recalls silent Lubitsch, and those two facts are absolute magic.  

If the aforementioned films are given more leeway in their politik because they so delightfully fulfill their role as pop escapism, the horror genre cannot be afforded that same luxury. Horror is so built on distortions, on the beyond-natural, that it’s rare that a work can be built on that. Something like Hereditary offers a level of disconnect with the real world—as if it exists in old horror movie posters, and no sense of terror, of dread, of inescapable trauma. The First Purge derives all its catharsis from distressingly omnipresent concerns over fascism, liberal passivity, divergence within progressive groups. It’s a “black body genre” film, almost radically militant and still cynically exploitative and messy.

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My other sociopolitical horror film of choice from the year came out of nowhere. The wonderfully electric stupidity coursing through Gaspar Noe’s Cannes barnburner Climax comes as one of the more unexpected treats of the year’s festival circuit. Dizzying and dull in equal measure, Noe’s pansexual nightmare treatise on the dissolution of France’s multicultural dream is just smart enough to be both authentically avant-garde and authentically exploitative, an exhausting and trippy dance party that has no right being anywhere near as good as it is. Get woke, fuckers, or the blood will flood the cold wintry streets and blockade the raves inside.

An apocalyptic doom is even echoed in the worst film I’ve seen this year, let alone this decade. Avengers: Infinity War is excruciating, demoralizing, nihilistic, senseless, completely without stakes, basic competence, or a semblance of humanity. I cannot recall the last time I left the theater fuming. The first half of a supposed cumulation of the mostly bland Marvel Cinematic Universe, rarely has a picture been produced with so little internal logic, or a comic book project carried such flagrant disregard for the saga on which it is built. There is not one moment, not one plot point or character arc, not one gesture or shot, with any close to grace or mere functionality. It goes from unpleasant, to baffling, to infuriating, to deflatingly numb, with a climax without gravity or consequence. It is a film that conditions the viewer to feel nothing when presenting the ostensible end of the world. I have rarely seen a crueler picture.

Hong Sang-Soo is experiencing something of a renaissance in the public eye—or as much the prolific Korean writer-director has ever seen in the Western art world. Following the scandalous affair with Kim Min-Hee and last year’s scraggly and ravaging travel opus On the Beach at Night Alone, sandwiched between Grass and Claire’s Camera (both of which are wonderful if minor), The Day After is a film of swirling perspective and internal purgatory. With only a tinny, haunting motif to offer relief on the wonderfully dynamic black and white photography, Hong offers a post-Rohmerian melodrama that avoids self-deprecation and hagiography. Though its conceits are perhaps less explicitly fantastical than, say, the bifurcated dishonesty of Right Now Wrong Then, the slippery timeline creeps through, as characters shift in and out of focus, and parallels within relationships multiply and fracture, infidelity shifting from a classic moral conundrum to a sobering frisson between internal and public perception.

On the other end of the spectrum lies Lars von Trier’s bombastic The House That Jack Built. A cinematic exorcism and gloriously self-indulgent and at least a good bit phony discourse on art as personal violence, the film is meticulously constructed and a total scorcher. Perhaps von Trier is too giddily self-loathing to allow for anything beyond an ego trip, or so unwilling to change—in his art or persona—that this interrogation of von Trier’s filmic grammar plays shallow and tedious. This is to say nothing of the fact that von Trier’s miserabilism, corny humor, and proto-externalist philosophy plays better on a dramatic level than an abstract argument, his body-genre-cum-melodrama power trip. Whatever, though, I still loved it. I found its anguish deeply resonant even more for its irony, its structure continuously evolving and almost meditative, if it weren’t for the amorphous and galvanizing rhythms, a total re-sensitization watch and a fitting eulogy/celebration of the toxic tradition in whose footsteps von Trier has walked, and the shit he’s carried smeared on his shoes.

The male gaze in power, violence, sex, and trauma receives a blow to an already fractured skull with Lynne Ramsay’s razor-thin You Were Never Really Here, an increasingly abstracted deep dive into the dissolution of a culture’s seedy underbelly. Nothing here is empty or fetishistic. Ramsay’s anger fuels a worldview that doesn’t provide moral scolds as much as an inditement of our failure to reckon with pain as a cyclical tragedy. The impressionistic editing hacks the narrative down to only the essential pieces as if you’re witnessing the wake of a film-cum-hurricane. The physicality and abstraction here align nicely with the hyperviolence, creating an experience something close to dissociation. Just to hear “Angel Baby” from Rosie & the Originals cut out with the security cameras, one realizes that You Were Never Really Here is the first of Ramsay’s films to fully encapsulate her full artistic manifesto. Joaquin Phoenix’s central hero, his walk, his torso, his body willing towards sleep. The refusal of present tense and the collateral damage of genre trappings. This is a film that collapses in on itself from practically the first frame.

For all this, the best film I’ve seen is Leave No TraceDebra Granik’s return to cinema after eight years is quietly a perfect movie. Not a moment loses its touch with humanity, even as it becomes a. The ghosts of Kelly Reichardt and Monte Hellman populate the sparse cross-section between the natural world, childhood development, and class-consciousness as Granik’s gentle warm subjective document on the details of parental relationships tessellates outwards into nothing less than a monumental eulogy to how girls learn the world through men, and so much more. Leave No Trace provides neither respite nor release. It is simple here, and now, in a world of a billion little windows with not enough binoculars. We sure as hell don’t need nice right now, or contentment, but a moment of transitory serenity and strength doesn’t hurt.

2018 (alphabetical):

ATLANTA

THE DAY AFTER

FIRST REFORMED

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT

LEAVE NO TRACE

MADELINE’S MADELINE

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

ZAMA

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Timothée Chalamet is in final talks to play Paul Atreides in Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’ adaptation

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Timothee Chalamet Dune
CHRISTOPHER POLK/GETTY IMAGES

Timothée Chalamet is going from indie to blockbuster as the 21-year-old Oscar-nominee is in final talks to star in Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic Dune, an adaptation of the best-selling novel of the same name written by Frank Herbert, Silver Screen Beat has learned.

According to Deadline, Chalamet will be playing Paul Atreides, the son of a noble family trying to avenge his father’s death while also trying to save a spice planet that he is entrusted to protect with his life. Kyle MacLachlan played the character in the David Lynch-directed 1984 original.

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Villeneuve is directing the long-in-the-works project, which has been in development at Legendary since 2008, from a screenplay written by Oscar-winner Eric Roth. The director will also serve as a producer on the film alongside Mary Parent and Cale Boyter, while Brian Herbert, Byron Merritt, Thomas Tull, and Kim Herbert are executive producing.

For Chalamet, this is just another step in the right direction for the young actor, who picked up an Oscar-nomination for his outstanding breakout performance in Luca Guadagnino’s gay coming-of-age tale Call Me by Your Name back in January.

Chalamet is likely to garner some awards attention come this October when his latest film, Beautiful Boy, opens in theaters. Felix Van Groeningen directed the upcoming drama, which also stars Steve Carell, and chronicles the heartbreaking and inspiring experience of survival, relapse, and recovery in a family coping with addiction over many years.

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‘Boy Erased’ trailer finds an Oscar-bound Lucas Hedges attending gay conversion therapy

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Boy Erased
FOCUS FEATURES

Focus Features has released the first trailer for Boy Erased, the coming-of-age and coming-out drama from writer/director Joel Edgerton, based on the memoir of the same name written by Garrard Conley. The film features an impressive ensemble cast which includes Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, and Edgerton.

The story follows Jared (Hedges), the son of a Baptist pastor in a small American town who is outed to his parents (Kidman, Crowe) at age 19 and is faced with an ultimatum: attend a conversion therapy program – or be permanently exiled and shunned by his family, friends, and faith.

Boy Erased, which is Edgerton’s second feature film as director following the 2015 sleeper hit The Gift, also stars Cherry Jones, Michael “Flea” Balzary, Xavier Dolan, Troye Sivan, Joe Alwyn, Emily Hinkler, Jesse LaTourette, David Joseph Craig, Théodore Pellerin, Madelyn Cline, and Britton Sear.

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“I will always thank Garrard for trusting my passion for his life story,” Edgerton said in a statement last year when it was announced that Focus had acquired worldwide distribution rights to Boy Erased. “I can’t think of a better reason to get behind the camera again.”

Focus is set to release Boy Erased in select theaters just in time for the forthcoming awards season on November 2. You can check out the newly released trailer for the film below.

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‘Downton Abbey’ movie set to begin production in September with the original cast returning

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Downton Abbey
PBS

Focus Features chairman Peter Kujawski announced Friday morning that the long-awaited Downton Abbey movie is set to begin production this September with the original principal cast from the hit television series returning to reprise their respective roles.

According to a press release, Brian Percival, who directed the Downton Abbey pilot, is directing the film from a script written by Julian Fellowes, who created the award-winning series which picked up 15 Emmy Awards over the span of its six-season run.

Downton Abbey follows the lives of the elite Crawley family and the servants who worked for them at the turn of the 20th century in an Edwardian English country home. Michelle Dockery, Maggie Smith, and Hugh Bonneville all starred in the show.

“Since the series ended, fans of Downton have long been waiting for the Crawley family’s next chapter,” said in a statement. Kujawski.  “We’re thrilled to join this incredible group of filmmakers, actors and craftspeople, led by Julian Fellowes and Gareth Neame, in bringing back the world of Downton to the big screen.”

The film will be a Carnival Films production, with Focus Features and Universal Pictures International handling distribution.

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Adds Carnival’s executive chairman Gareth Neame, who is also producing the film: “When the television series drew to a close it was our dream to bring the millions of global fans a movie and now, after getting many stars aligned, we are shortly to go into production.  Julian’s script charms, thrills and entertains and in Brian Percival’s hands we aim to deliver everything that one would hope for as Downton comes to the big screen.”

A release date for the Downton Abbey movie has not been announced, though it seems likely that we’ll see the film hit the big screen towards the backend of next year if production does, in fact, begin this September.

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