Eugene Kang: Fall movie season is truly upon us with this month’s titles. Several well-established auteurs are making their return to movie screens after some years of relative inactivity. One such auteur is Robert Eggers with The Lighthouse. Eggers’ previous film The Witch was critically acclaimed but struggled to reach a wider audience, largely because of a misleading trailer that sold it as a straightforward horror movie. It seems A24 has learned its lesson because the trailers for The Lighthouse have not shied away from the film’s strangeness. In fact, even after seeing two trailers for this film, if I were asked what this film was about, I wouldn’t quite know how to respond. I do know that Eggers is a good enough director that overtly unusual techniques such as shooting in Academy ratio and in black-and-white are not mere gimmicks, but important elements of the craft of this film.
Henry Baime: I’ve seen the plot described as two lighthouse keepers losing their sanity in their isolation, which is certainly something that could lend itself to a bit of strangeness, but the early reactions have seemed to indicate that the film doesn’t hold back at all on the weird, with things like profuse farting being mentioned often in discussions on the film. Despite, or perhaps because of such weirdness, The Lighthouse has been a festival favorite at both Cannes and TIFF. Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe are both among the most talented actors working today and, though they haven’t always gotten the recognition I think they’ve deserved, the praise for their performances in this film has been widespread and I’m looking forward to seeing what all the talk has been about.
Another of this month’s releases that has been making waves on the festival circuit is Pedro Almodóvar‘s Pain and Glory. Almodóvar drew on his own experiences to make a film about a director (played by Antonio Banderas who won the award for Best Actor at Cannes for the role) who faces his own physical decline and reflects on his life. Though Almodóvar has had a long career and has received widespread praise, this film has been noted by many as one of his best.
Eugene: As outrageous and intensely creative as Almódovar’s best films have been, most of them are about people outside of his lived experience, such as women, transgender people, etc. Bad Education is the notable exception, and the script for that film took nearly a decade to write according to him, perhaps because delving into one’s identity is usually a long and arduous process, especially through such a transparent medium as film. I am excited to see Almódovar return to that well, but also to tackle relatively new themes about aging and obsolescence, and I know that Pain and Glory will be uniquely his vision.
Henry: A different movie coming out this month that urges reflecting on one’s past, though in a very different way, is Ang Lee‘s Gemini Man. After spending decades in development hell and being attached to such names as Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Nicolas Cage, and Sean Connery, it finally found its star in Will Smith, playing the dual role of an assassin and a younger clone of himself who are forced to hunt each other. Ang Lee’s films haven’t always been for me, but when he’s succeeded, he’s made some of the best films in recent memory. This looks to be a film that has some potential for his brand of elevation of the material.
Eugene: Ang Lee had previously experimented with high framerate photography in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. That film was also in 3D and at 4K resolution. Apparently, the effect was so disorienting that critics and audiences did not quite know how to process what they saw, physically or intellectually. For example, when the camera showed someone talking, it felt like you were peering at a giant head through a window rather than an image on screen. It also didn’t help that the film’s subject matter, about an Iraq War veteran dealing with PTSD, was not inherently cinematic. That movie predictably bombed, but rather than being discouraged, Ang Lee seems to have doubled down on the technology with Gemini Man. I will admit that most of my curiosity about this movie is to see this technology in action rather than the content of the movie itself, but it should be interesting to see if Lee can connect with audiences in a big way again, since his last big hit, Life of Pi, was back in 2012.
Unlike Ang Lee in recent years, Taika Waititi seems to be unstoppable after the critical success of films like What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and the critical and financial success of Thor: Ragnarok. His upcoming feature, Jojo Rabbit, won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. whose recipients have almost invariably been nominated for Academy Awards. Clearly the reception has been quite positive, but the film has also received some backlash about how it minimizes the Holocaust at the expense of entertainment. I am curious to see how Jojo Rabbit will be received by a wider audience, and whether Waititi does successfully pull off a satire about a controversial topic.
Henry: It seems to be the case with all satires that there will be backlash from one camp or else the satire probably wasn’t terribly effective in making its criticisms but this one seems to have drawn both praise and backlash from all sides. With the concept being a Hitler Youth member who has an imaginary friend in the form of Adolf Hitler, it certainly seems like something that could understandably rub some people the wrong way, but it also seems to have been done with the best intentions and to have really charmed many people – like Waititi’s earlier films.
Winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes and coming in third at the Toronto Film Festival this year, Bong Joon-ho‘s newest film Parasite has been among the most talked about films this year and seems poised to be the first Korean film to get nominations (and maybe even win) at the Academy Awards. I was lucky enough to catch this one at Cannes and I have to say, the talk surrounding it isn’t for nothing, and it easily stands as one of the year’s best. Bong Joon-ho has had a great track record but Parasite sees him in complete control of his craft like never before, with every aspect of the film being tightly calculated to deliver something searing and entertaining. I cannot wait to see how it’s received by the general public.