Ben McDonald: Though festival season will start to pick up in a little over a month, there are still several releases from last year’s circuit that have yet to reach US theaters. The first of such films is French auteur Claire Denis‘ High Life, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival back in September. Denis’ English-language debut finds itself in the outer reaches of space, in a distant future where criminals are promised freedom if they travel to a black hole. High Life centers on two of the convicts, played by the always wonderful Juliette Binoche and recent indie star Robert Pattinson, and from what I’ve heard there seems to be a bizarre erotic component to the film. A24 has thankfully picked up the film for distribution, and is slated to release it early this month.
Kevin Jones: The first thing I heard about High Life was that erotic component you referenced, especially the apparent “F*ckbox” that appears in the film. Even if one was expecting a typical science fiction film, that side should assure that High Life will be anything but. I am really looking forward to the film overall, especially to see how different it is for Denis. Until now, my only experience with her has come via White Material, which was quite removed from the high-tech of outer space. Plus, the cast with Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche makes this a must-watch.
Ben: Agreed. I’m very excited to see the two of them together as they’re both phenomenal actors. I too have only seen one Denis film (Let the Sunshine In, which I admittedly didn’t care much for), but good science fiction seems all too rare a genre nowadays.
Kevin: On the topic of films that premiered last year that are just now getting a theatrical release, Her Smell is another film I am anticipating this month. Directed by Alex Ross Perry, the film also debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival and stars Elisabeth Moss as a punk rocker who is struggling with sobriety and her career.
I saw Perry and Moss’ last collaboration, Queen of Earth, a few years ago. It was more of a psychological thriller, but required a similarly intense performance from Moss that seems to be present in the trailer for Her Smell. Even though this one is more of a drama, I am curious to see what similarities, if any, there are between the two films.
Ben: This film hasn’t actually been on my radar at all until it came up as a release this month. I haven’t seen anything by Alex Ross Perry, but I’m relatively familiar with Elisabeth Moss from Mad Men, along with a few films (most recently in Jordan Peele‘s Us). Moss seems to be getting more and more roles lately, which is great because she seems to deliver exceptionally diverse performances. Despite the odd title, Her Smell seems to be fairly intriguing from the trailer, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Moss brings to the table.
Up next are two films I managed to see at Cannes last year. The first is Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone‘s Dogman, which was the very first film I saw at Cannes but never got around to reviewing. Dogman is a succinct crime thriller about a pushover dog groomer (played by Marcello Fonte) that “breaks bad” in the pursuit of revenge. Without spoiling too much, the film is a kind of like a hybrid between the harshness of 1940s Italian neorealism and the gritty pulp of a western. Despite traveling down the increasingly saturated road of stories about weak antiheroes that assert themselves through violence (mostly seen in TV like Breaking Bad and Fargo), Marcello Fonte delivers a very compelling performance, and he actually won Best Actor at Cannes.
Kevin: Italian neorealism and western sounds like an incredibly interesting blend of influences. Though I am unfamiliar with Matteo Garrone, hearing a description such as that makes Dogman seem even more enticing than it did before. It seems to be an incredibly intense film, one that promises a quite bleak story, I’m sure. With all the hype around his performance, it will be interesting to see Marcello Fonte in the role that has earned him so much notoriety, as well as how Garrone’s approach differs with some of those similarly themed series you mentioned. It especially sounds so familiar to Breaking Bad, so those divergences and stylistic touches Garrone brings will be interesting to see.
It is rather shocking to think about the fact that the next film we are going to discuss is actually being released. The film, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, has been in the works from director Terry Gilliam since 1989 with the initial production starting in 1998. Unfortunately, that production would only lead to the documentary Lost in La Mancha, all about the troubles that plagued the film before it was cancelled. Now, finally, the film has been released with Gilliam able to overcome the demons that had haunted his attempts to adapt ‘Don Quixote’.
Starring Jonathan Pryce as Quixote, Gilliam adds a twist to the story by not having him accompanied by Sancho Panza. Instead, joining him in this journey is an advertising executive, portrayed by Adam Driver, who Quixote merely thinks is Sancho Panza. The novel, even with this alteration, should be a perfect fit for Gilliam. His films are so creative and imaginative- even manifesting in his excellent “Trilogy of Imagination” in the 1980s- that a story of a man who imagines himself to be a knight seems to be right in his wheelhouse. How he handles the story and capturing the essence of this classic story should prove interesting.
Ben: I honestly knew almost nothing about The Man Who Killed Don Quixote before seeing it at Cannes. I think someone might have briefed me on the fact that it had been in production hell for decades, but other than that, I went in completely blind. To be completely frank, I’ve never really connected with Terry Gilliam’s sense of humor or even style in any of the handful of films I’ve seen from him (Time Bandits, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 12 Monkeys). I’d probably put Don Quixote as my favorite film from him, but I didn’t love it. The performances from everyone are great- Adam Driver is particularly entertaining as an increasingly frustrated director- and from what I can recall the aesthetic is deliriously eccentric at times. I’ve heard that quite a few Gilliam fans have come out disappointed (I would imagine that’s inevitable for any film whose wait has been this long), so I’ll be interested to see what you think of it whenever you get a chance to see it.
The last film we’d like to talk about this month is a Criterion release that both you and I watched fairly recently as part of our internal film club we run here at Cineccentric. The film is Elia Kazan‘s 1957 A Face in the Crowd, an electric satire about a drunken drifter (played by Andy Griffith) who gets picked up and given a platform by a local radio station because of his charisma. The drifter, Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, is a rather nasty character, but nevertheless gains incredulous popularity for his bluntness. The film watches as he skyrockets to stardom, inserting himself into everything from male vitality pill advertisements to politics.
Kevin: It is great that this film is finally getting a release from Criterion. I know we both enjoyed it a good deal when we saw it a few weeks ago and it does not hurt that the film is incredibly timely. Andy Griffith is terrific in the role, capturing that charisma and energy necessary to make a believable rise while also showing that duplicitous side, a willingness to do whatever he needs to in order to get ahead. It is great to see the Criterion release include some extras focused upon him- including a new one with his biographer- as well as some enticing pieces on director Elia Kazan.