Sometimes life gets in the way, but we are back and continuing our look at this year's cinema.
dir: Josephine Decker
pr: Sarah Gubbins / David Hinojosa / Simon Horsman / Elisabeth Moss / Sue Neagle / Jeffrey Soros / Christine Vachon
scr: Sarah Gubbins
cin: Sturla Brandth Grøvlen
In which a young TA and his pregnant wife come to stay with his boss, Professor Stanley Hyman, and Hyman's volatile wife, the author Shirley Jackson. As the young wife and Shirley Jackson, respectively, Odessa Young and Elisabeth Moss are just...wow! The ever-changing dance between symbiotic co-habitation and parasitic manipulation, the mutual highs of sexual thrill and romantic jealousy, the orgasmic simplicity of soil or swinging...it's suffocating, life-giving, wonderful, alarming. Michael Stuhlbarg matches them with an affable imperiousness: is he a friend, an abuser, a conspirator, an enabler? One thing for certain, he and Moss are convincing in their portrayal of a long marriage whose mutual sniping is also part of the fun. Josephine Decker is...so good.
Blow the Man Down
dir/scr: Bridget Savage Cole / Danielle Krudy
pr: Drew P. Houpt / Alex Scharfman
cin: Todd Banhazi
In which death and murder both deal a blow to a small fishing village in Maine. It's not reinventing the wheel re: small town crime stories, with its cavalcade of criminal activity unearthing secret histories of quiet corruption, but gosh, it's engrossing! It never over-explains, its characters avoid obvious quirky affects, and it delivers its wit without winking, nimbly navigating the line between bleak drama and dark comedy. God, and it looks freezing there, cinematography, costuming and sound design all conspiring to make you want to put on a coat. You believe it, every moment. An Amazon Original.
dir: Hur Jin-ho
pr: Kim Cheol-yong / Kim Won-guk
scr: Jung Bum-sik / Lee Ji-min
cin: Lee Mo-gae
In which King Sejong alarms the Joseon Court and the Ming Empire through his friendship with slave-turned-astronomer Jang Yeong-sil. One of the best scenes of the year is in this film, and it's so simple: pressured to cease their outdoor star-gazing, Jang instead paints the king's screen with black ink, pin-pricks the constellations on to it, and lights it from behind with a candle so that they can still look at the stars together. It's wondrous and beautiful and oddly romantic, in the way that even the most platonic of friendships can be, emphasizing what these men mean to each other, their shared vision of what they can give the country. The rest of the film balances such moments of intimacy with measured dramatizations of throne room debates and melodramatic portrayals of violent rivalries. I wept.
Selah and the Spades
dir/scr: Tayarsiha Poe
pr: Jill Ahrens / Drew P. Houpt / Lucas Joaquin / Lauren McBride / Tayarisha Poe
cin: Jomo Fray
In which prep school senior Selah, leader of a faction called The Spades, looks to secure her and her gang's legacy by grooming a worthy successor. A mixed bag: direly-paced, and not all the elements of the power struggle between factions are as interesting as the story of Selah and Paloma, but there's no denying the talent behind and in front of the camera; it's a hell of a calling card for all involved. The interlude where Selah goes home is terrific: the rest of the film is a darkly colorful, Brick-esque high school crime drama full of double dealings and violence, with Selah a disarming crime boss who wields power with an unbending confidence. In her mom's kitchen, though, she's just another high school senior trying to meet her parents' expectations, her blacklight confidence diminished by the beige menace of "normalcy." An Amazon Original.
Gretel & Hansel
dir: Osgood Perkins
pr: Fred Berger / Brian Kavanaugh-Jones
scr: Rob Hayes
cin: Galo Olivares
In which Gretel and her younger brother escape their broken home, come upon a mysterious old woman's cabin, and awaken a darkness. Sometimes it's too self-conscious in its artistic pretensions and subversions - haha, bet you didn't expect to see these children tripping on mushrooms, oh-ho, and what about powerful paedophiles, how does that grab ya? - but at least that kind of swing is a choice. what works: the chillingly simple production design, the death-club score, the perfectly pitched performance from Alice Krige, the amount of blood and gristle and flies...whew! A nightmare!
Best of the Bunch: Blow the Man Down, Forbidden Dream