THE SOUVENIR: PART II (2021)

November 12, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. We tend to think of ‘coming-of-age’ movies as centered on teenagers as they face the challenges of transitioning into adulthood. The reality is that folks come of age during different phases of life (and some seemingly never do). Filmmaker Joanna Hogg continues her autobiographical look back with the follow-up to her exceptional 2019 arthouse film. Is it a sequel? Technically, yes; but it’s more of a continuation, and the two parts actually function best as a single 4-hour story.

Starting off shortly after the first movie ended, part two finds Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) in bed at her parents’ house. They try to comfort her as she grieves the death of Anthony (played so well in the first by Tom Burke). For those who have not seen the 2019 film, I’ll tread lightly as it should be seen prior to this one due to the continuing story line and numerous references. Despite her confusion and despondency, Julie heads back to film school. Using art to deal with her emotions, she starts all over with the script for her graduation film. The Film School committee of like-minded middle-aged men thrash her idea of dealing with her situation on film. Despite their harsh words, she persists.

For such a ‘quiet’ movie, it’s astonishing how many things are going on in Ms. Hogg’s film and in Julie’s world. The jealousies of film school students are noted, as are the discrepancies between overly confident young filmmakers (a brilliant Richard Ayoade) and those still trying to find their voice (Julie). Ayoade’s arrogant Patrick is recognizable to us as a big production filmmaker in the vein of many who have come before him. On the other hand, Julie stumbles over how best to convey the emotions for the actors in her film … a film that is so personal she’s dealing with memories even while setting up scenes.

Honor Swinton Byrne (Tilda Swinton’s daughter) excels at relaying a certain sadness in Julie as she pushes onward. Anthony’s ghost hovers everywhere for her. She bravely visits his parents. The confusion over Anthony’s story, and her shock at not having recognized the signs, are exemplified as she presents the common façade of appearing OK while struggling inside. Julie’s parents, played by (the always great) Tilda Swinton and James Spencer Ashworth walk on egg shells around her, while trying to offer support, despite their detachment – not just from the relationship, but from Julie’s life in general (other than lending her money in times of need).

Supporting work comes from Charlie Heaton, Harris Dickinson, and Ariane Labed, as student actors. In Julie’s film, Ms. Labed plays the role of Julie, which in reality, is the role of Ms. Hogg as a young aspiring filmmaker. Joe Alwyn has a terrific cameo as Julie’s editor in one of the most awkward and tender scenes. Ms. Hogg did not film the two parts simultaneously, but her style is so unique (as an example, songs cut off abruptly mid-scene) that it’s a challenge not to rave about the look and feel. Her talented collaborators include Film Editor Helle le Fevre, who serves up some creative transitions; Production Designer Stephane Collonge, whose sets are crucial in a film with minimal dialogue; and Cinematographer David Radeker whose lensing gives the film the perfect look for its time. Tilda Swinton stars in Ms. Hogg’s upcoming film, THE ETERNAL DAUGHTER; however, we will have to be patient to see if Honor Swinton Byrne continues to pursue acting, a profession to which she seems destined.

In theaters beginning November 12, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER

*link to my review of THE SOUVENIR (2019)


THE SOUVENIR (2019)

May 30, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Viewers of writer-director Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical feature will likely be divided into two distinct groups: those who find it to be a beautifully artistic psychological study, and those who find it to be a painfully slow watch. Fortunately, most who would fall into the latter group will likely skip it altogether, and we can only hope those in the first group will seek it out and encourage similar-minded film fans to attend. Surely both groups can agree that it features a terrific breakout lead performance from Honor Swinton Byrne (daughter of Tilda Swinton).

Ms. Swinton-Byrne stars as Julie, a young London film school student. She’s soon drawn to Anthony (Tom Burke), an odd man who is somehow simultaneously laid back and condescending. Their relationship builds as he works some vague job at the Foreign Office, and giving every indication that something’s not quite right. Many moments of normal life are shown; however we soon learn that Anthony is a master manipulator, and his off-handed requests for ‘a tenner’ or sticking Julie with a restaurant tab go deeper than being a simple jerk. We know heartbreak is coming for her; we just don’t know how when or how hard.

Tilda Swinton (a long-time friend of director Hogg) appears in a few scenes as Julie’s mom, and as you would expect, she perfectly captures the mother-daughter dynamics. Of course Julie is a film student struggling to make ends meet, but with her frequent requests for ‘mom loans’ coinciding with the Anthony relationship, mother knows best. Jean-Honore Fragonard’s 18th century painting gives the film its title, and provides a terrific scene with Julie and Anthony.

Later, when Anthony tells Julie, “You’re inviting me to do this to you”, we recognize this is an abusive relationship similar to those many women have endured. Set in the 1980’s, a doomed relationship looks eerily similar regardless of the era. The film serves as an example of how we sit in judgment of the love lives of others, while often remaining blind (or is it hopelessly optimistic) to our own relationship issues.

Ms. Hogg shot on film and there are some memorable shots throughout – especially within Julie’s apartment. There is a recurring split-screen shot where a wall divides what we see in the kitchen with what’s happening in the living area – we see characters on each side. This is the anti-Marvel movie. No special effects. No superheroes. And the only worlds in peril are those of average, flawed people like us.

There is a segment involving an analysis of Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, and it’s clear director Hogg learned lessons about what not to show. There is also a reference to another Hitchcock classic with the tailored grey suit Tom buys for Julie and their trip to Venice. Alfonso Cuaron scored big with ROMA, a very intimate look at his personal life, and filmmaker Hogg’s film is in that same vein. It’s extremely well made and beautiful to look at, and is likely to be quite challenging for viewers. The payoff comes after much patience and effort and investment into figuring out these characters. It’s an arthouse film with improvised dialogue (bonus points for Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out with Him?”). This was a grand jury prize winner at Sundance, and the sequel is already in production … good news for some of us, while inexplicable to others.

watch the trailer:


Best of 2019

December 24, 2019

Best of 2019

Every year I put together a recap of the movies I loved, those I liked, and those that disappointed. It’s always an eclectic and diverse listing of movies. You and I are likely to agree on some, while surely disagreeing on others. You’ll find some blockbusters, plenty of indies, a few foreign language gems, and my favorite documentaries of the year.

 For 2019, I reviewed 259 new releases (this includes 4 film festivals), and for me, it was a remarkable movie year in that there were so many quality movies that entertained and educated. Each year I try to include movies from various genres in hopes that you’ll give a look to something you might not have been previously inclined to watch. An oddity worth mentioning about 2019 movies is that music and musicians were at the center of an inordinate number of projects. For the year, I watched no less than 41 movies that were either a profile of a musician, substantially about music, or some combination of the two. The best are included below.

I have categorized the year in movies by “The Best”, “Just Missed”, “Indie Gems”, “World Cinema”, and “Documentaries”. I don’t dwell on movies that I didn’t much care for, but for the past few years, I have included a “Most Disappointing” category for films that simply didn’t meet my expectations … expectations that may or may not have been fair going in. I never limit my list to the “Top 10”, as I let the movies dictate where the break should be. This year, my “best” includes 11 movies that I believe were a notch above. Of course, the actual rankings will vary, depending on what mood I’m in when you ask!

Annual Reminder: As always, this has nothing to do with predictions for Academy Awards, or any other awards. This is simply a recap of my movie-watching year by personal preference. For convenience, I have linked my review to each title.

 

The Best of 2019 

THE IRISHMAN

 Martin Scorsese’s latest masterpiece is available on Netflix. It’s three-and-a-half hours of cinematic bliss for movie lovers who appreciate terrific acting, technical expertise, and exceptional storytelling. It tells the (somewhat) true story of mob hitman Frank Sheeran, and his relationship with Jimmy Hoffa. The film also features the return of Joe Pesci, who delivers the most understated performance of his career. It’s unfortunate that so few had the chance to see this one in a theatre.

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/12/01/the-irishman-2019/

 

MARRIAGE STORY

A searing look at what happens when a love story goes bad and divorce morphs into war. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson capture the essence of two people whose lives drifted from their singular path. Filmmaker Noah Baumbach’s semi-autobiographical film packs an emotional wallop as the heart strings don’t cut cleanly or quickly. This is certainly no scream-fest, but one gut-wrenching spill-the-guts segment is more than enough.

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/12/06/marriage-story-2019/

 

JOJO RABBIT

A youngster having Adolph Hitler as his imaginary friend made writer-director-actor Taika Waititi’s brilliant film one of the more divisive films of the year. How dare he? In actuality, it’s a tender story of that young man, his brave mother, and a hidden Jewish girl … and how the combination leads to better understanding of just how similar we all are in our distaste for hatred. While it’s understandable that some might not appreciate Hitler in a comedy, it has been almost 75 years. Perhaps it’s time.

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/10/31/jojo-rabbit-2019/

 

ONCE UPON A TIME … IN HOLLYWOOD

Quentin Tarantino’s ninth and evidently penultimate feature film is his tribute to the town and industry he so adores. He upset some people (doesn’t he always) with his twist on history and the Mason murders, while in fact, he exposed the fine line between reality and fiction. Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Margot Robbie lead an impressive cast in one of QT’s finest. It’s also lends itself to a game – identifying all the pop culture references.

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/07/25/once-upon-a-time-in-hollywood-2019/

 

1917

Oscar winning director Sam Mendes and Oscar winning cinematographer Roger Deakins collaborated to deliver a start-to-finish World War I thriller that appears to be filmed in one shot and in real time. It’s a unique viewing experience, and anyone interested is encouraged to catch it at the theatre for full impact. It’s a technical marvel and one of the most immersive viewing experiences of the year. The approach and the intensity of the story offer very little chance to exhale … it’s exhausting.

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/12/23/1917-2019/

 

PAIN AND GLORY (Spain)

 Another semi-autobiographical story – this one from Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, who examines the process of aging and looking back on life. We see how life and art, and past and present, can converge as one questions their own choices. We also see Antonio Banderas in one of his deepest and most profound performances. He and Almodovar (and Penelope Cruz) always bring out the best in each other.

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/10/17/pain-glory-2019/

 

KNIVES OUT

This talented and deep ensemble cast was responsible for one of the most fun to watch movies of the year. James Bond (Daniel Craig) with a southern drawl is not to be missed. It’s a wild ride as the Agatha Christie-style murder mystery unfolds within the walls of a dark mansion filled with deceit and greed, and folks you best stay clear of. The film was written and directed by Rian Johnson, who seems to enjoy teasing us with ‘main’ suspects throughout.

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/11/27/knives-out-2019/

 

THE FAREWELL (China)

Yes, it’s yet another semi-autobiographical film – this time from filmmaker Lulu Wang. Fast rising star Awkwafina helps bridge cultures and family dynamics in a way that is both heart-warming and comical. Sometimes the best intentions backfire a bit, and here, that feels very personal … and funny. On a remarkable note, the lovely Nai Nai is played by Shuhzen Zhao, in what is somehow her first appearance in a movie. It surely won’t be her last.

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/07/26/the-farewell-2019/

 

LITTLE WOMEN

 In what I believe is the 8th film version of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, Greta Gerwig proves her LADY BIRD was no fluke, as she adds a contemporary tone to the classic tale of the Marsh sisters. The film is perfectly cast and the stories draw you in, but it’s the heart and spirit of the sisters that make this something special. Great Gerwig may very likely end up being one of the most important filmmakers in cinematic history, and if so, it’s these last two films we will view as the catalyst.

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/12/23/little-women-2019/

 

TOY STORY 4

25 years ago, Pixar introduced us to Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang. We know and love these characters. Is it sad to say goodbye?  Well, yes it is … but this saga ends with a terrific final chapter – and an oddball new character in Forky. Some complained that the new characters were featured too much, and the familiar ones were short-changed. Maybe the point is that, faces come and go, and it’s up to us to decide which ones stick around.

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/06/17/toy-story-4-2019/

 

PARASITE (South Korea)

In a year that featured several bizarre films, this one from South Korea’s Bong Joon Ho is truly one of the strangest. Is it comedy? Is it horror? Yes it is. Class differences are exploded through a style of social commentary new to us. It’s rare for a film to work on so many levels, and the post-viewing discussions are sure to provide hours of entertainment. To say this one is filled with surprises and twists would be an understatement. Shock and awe would be more fitting.

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/11/07/parasite-2019-korea/

 

Just Missed – these are the films that fell just outside of the top level for me this year:

 

A HIDDEN LIFE

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/12/20/a-hidden-life-2019/

AD ASTRA

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/09/19/ad-astra-2019/

AVENGERS: ENDGAME

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/04/24/avengers-endgame-2019/

BOOKSMART

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/05/23/booksmart-2019/

 DOLEMITE IS MY NAME

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/10/07/dolemite-is-my-name-2019/

FORD V FERRARI

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/11/19/ford-v-ferrari-2019/

ROCKETMAN

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/05/30/rocketman-2019/

THE LIGHTHOUSE

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/10/17/the-lighthouse-2019/

THE SOUVENIR

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/05/30/the-souvenir-2019/

THE TWO POPES

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/12/19/the-two-popes-2019/

UNCUT GEMS

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/12/23/uncut-gems-2019/

 

 

Indie Gems worth tracking down:

DIANE

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/03/31/diane-2019/

GLORIA BELL

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/03/21/gloria-bell-2019/

 HONEY BOY

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/11/18/honey-boy-2019/

THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/07/18/the-art-of-self-defense-2019/

THE NIGHTINGALE

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/08/02/the-nightingale-2019/

WAVES

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/11/29/waves-2019/

WILD ROSE

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/07/04/wild-rose-2019/

 

World Cinema (Foreign Language Films):

BIRDS OF PASSAGE (Columbia)

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/02/12/birds-of-passage-pajaros-de-verano-2019/

CAPERNAUM (Lebanon, Oscar nominated last year)

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/01/31/capernaum-2018-lebanon/

EVERYBODY KNOWS (Spain)

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/02/21/everybody-knows-2019-todos-lo-saben/

LES MISERABLES (France) – review coming in January 2020

NEVER LOOK AWAY (Germany)

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/02/13/never-look-away-2019-germany/

 NON-FICTION (France)

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/05/02/non-fiction-doubles-vies-france-2019/

THE HEIRESSES (Paraguay)

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/02/28/the-heiresses-2019-paraguay/

THE INVISIBLE LIFE (Brazil) – review coming in January 2020

THE MUSTANG (France, Belgium)

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/03/21/the-mustang-2019/

 

Documentaries:

AMERICAN FACTORY

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/08/22/american-factory-doc-2019/

 ASK DR RUTH

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/05/30/ask-dr-ruth-doc-2019/

BE NATURAL: THE UNTOLD STORY OF ALICE GUY-BLACHE

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/04/20/be-natural-the-untold-story-of-alice-guy-blache-2019-doc/

BRESLIN AND HAMILL: DEADLINE ARTISTS

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/01/27/breslin-and-hamill-deadline-artists-2019-doc/

DAVID CROSBY: REMEMBER ME

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/08/08/david-crosby-remember-my-name-2019-doc/

ECHO IN THE CANYON

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/06/06/echo-in-the-canyon-2019-doc/

FANTASTIC FUNGI

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/10/14/fantastic-fungi-doc-2019/

FYRE – did not review (Netflix)

JIM ALLISON: BREAKTHROUGH

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/09/26/jim-allison-breakthrough-doc-2019/

MAIDEN

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/06/27/maiden-2019-doc/

MAKING WAVES: THE ART OF CINEMATIC SOUND

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/10/24/making-waves-the-art-of-cinematic-sound-doc-2019/

MILES DAVIS: BIRTH OF COOL

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/09/26/miles-davis-birth-of-the-cool-2019-doc/

 ONE CHILD NATION

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/12/21/one-child-nation-doc-2019/

QT8: THE FIRST EIGHT

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/12/04/qt8-the-first-eight-doc-2019/

RAISE HELL: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MOLLY IVINS

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/08/29/raise-hell-the-life-and-times-of-molly-ivins-doc-2019/

RECORDER: THE MARION STOKES PROJECT

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/06/12/recorder-the-marion-stokes-project-2019-doc/

YOU ARE HERE: A COME FROM AWAY STORY

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/09/05/you-are-here-a-come-from-away-story-doc-2019/

 

3 Best Horror Movies (I have a very fluid definition of horror):

MIDSOMMAR

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/07/04/midsommar-2019/

READY OR NOT (the year’s most underrated movie)

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/08/21/ready-or-not-2019/

US

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/04/01/us-2019/

 

3 Most Divisive Films of the Year

JOJO RABBIT

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/10/31/jojo-rabbit-2019/

JOKER

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/10/03/joker-2019/

THE LION KING

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/07/16/the-lion-king-2019/

 

4 worth seeing for the Lead performances:

BOMBSHELL

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/12/19/bombshell-2019/

JOKER

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/10/03/joker-2019/

JUDY

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/09/26/judy-2019/

RICHARD JEWELL

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/12/13/richard-jewell-2019/

 

4 Film Festival sleepers:

GREENER GRASS

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/06/12/greener-grass-2019/

LIGHT FROM LIGHT

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/06/12/light-from-light-2019/

MS. PURPLE

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/09/26/ms-purple-2019/

SATANIC PANIC

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/06/12/satanic-panic-2019/

 

Most Disappointing (The Elder awards)

MIDWAY

Somehow one of the most fascinating historical war events became a lame movie offering little reason to watch. This is a lesson on how crucial casting – especially the lead actor – is to a film.

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/11/07/midway-2019/

THE LAUNDROMAT

When filmmakers try to get too cute and clever in telling a story, even a talented cast can’t bail them out.

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/10/10/the-laundromat-2019/

THE KITCHEN

Let’s put two of the funniest women on the planet in a movie where they have to be all tough and serious. At least the producers didn’t get stuck having a mountain of profits to count.

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/08/08/the-kitchen-2019/

SERENITY

In a murder for hire story, it helps if we are rooting for someone. Beautiful people on a tropical island and we somehow don’t care … even if it references “Moby Dick”.

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2019/01/24/serenity-2019/

 

The movies I missed this year and hope to catch in 2020:

APOLLO 11 (doc)

CRAWL

DOCTOR SLEEP

HER SMELL

HUSTLERS

PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO

VARDA BY AGNES (doc)

 

The conversation continues about what the future of movies and movie theatres hold. Streaming outlets continue to be introduced and expanded, and now the immense power of Disney can’t be ignored. Disney became first studio with more than $10 billion global box office in a year (including 6 films that eclipsed $1 billion each), and that happened before STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER. Disney has 23 new movies scheduled for release in 2020 (including an original Pixar). Another interesting note is that China set its all-time box office record, so that market continues to grow.

For 2020, some of the high profile films on the slate include: the long awaited TOP GUN sequel, the next James Bond (Daniel Craig’s final film driving the Aston Martin), the next WONDER WOMAN film, a BLACK WIDOW standalone, an original Pixar film (always an event), and the next mindbender from Christopher Nolan. Of course, the list of sequels, re-makes, and re-treads is at least 25 movies long, but we have faith there will be plenty of original works that will amaze, teach, and entertain us.

You can always find my full reviews at www.MovieReviewsFromTheDark.com Feel free to pass this along to other movie lovers, and let me know what your favorites from the year were … and what movies you are looking forward to in 2020!

See you at the movies!

 


THE OUTSIDER (2021, doc)

August 23, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. September 11, 2001 was “a blue sky day” in New York City. Until it wasn’t. Co-directors Pamela Yoder and Steven Rosenbaum previously collaborated on 7 DAYS IN SEPTEMBER (2002), a documentary focusing on how the tragic events of that day impacted the lives of various folks. Their work on that film led the filmmakers directly to this project which examines the seven year process of opening the National 9/11 Museum at Ground Level. The result is as much a case study in personality clashes as it is a recording of artifacts.

Yes, we do see some of the archival video footage that deep down we always hope to never see again. The towers collapse, the air is clouded, and people are panicked. Soon after the attack, Michael Shulan converts his Soho storefront space into a crowd-sourced photo exhibit called “Here is New York. He invited people to bring their own photos for display. Shulan had instinctively created a shared space where people would come to pay tribute to lives lost and remember the day that should not be forgotten. A few years later, something strange happened … Michael Shulan was named Creative Director of the museum that was in the early planning stages.

Shulan’s vision conflicted at times with Museum Director Alice Greenwald’s vision. “What should the museum be?” Ms. Greenwald had run the Holocaust Museum in NYC, and had a definite idea of what this should be, while Shulan had zero museum experience and wondered if they were creating a memorial or a museum. He wanted to provoke questions, while she wanted to provide answers. A $500 million budget was at stake, and they couldn’t even agree on the approach.

We get a countdown to the museum’s opening, and even hear from the Construction Manager as work proceeds. ‘The Last Column’ provides for an interesting segment, and we see the flood that affected many of the collected artifacts. Michael Bloomberg’s influence is noted, and we see the ‘composite’ – the compacted floors on display. The documentary does focus on emotions, but it’s not the emotions we typically associate with 9/11. Instead, it’s Shulan’s disappointment and frustration. The film touches on the criticism received from the family in regards to the high ticket costs and souvenir shops, and it’s the posted quote that sticks with us: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”

Available now on VOD

WATCH THE TRAILER