Alex Sitaras: With October and a number of its great films behind us, we turn to November which looks to be just as promising of a month. First up is Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Licorice Pizza. The film takes place in the 70s, as did Inherent Vice, and follows the love story of Alana Kane (Alana Haim) and Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) within the San Fernando Valley, the setting of Magnolia. Apart from working in his wheelhouse, what immediately stands out to me about the film is its cast. Paul Thomas Anderson has directed a number of Haim’s music videos over the past few years, so his collaboration with Alana does not come as a surprise. Likewise, Cooper Hoffman is Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s son, the late Hoffman appearing in several of Anderson’s films. Licorice Pizza is both Haim and Hoffman’s first acting roles, and there wouldn’t be a more fitting first performance than in this film. Also of note are the supporting roles and cameos that will occur over the course of film, including appearances from Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie, Ben Stiller, John C. Reilly, and more. There’s also a part of me curious if the film’s prior title, ‘Soggy Bottom’, has anything to do with the final version of the film. Ben, what do you make of Licorice Pizza? I know you’re looking forward to seeing the film as well.
Ben McDonald: I’m honestly just still in mild shock we’re getting a new Paul Thomas Anderson film already. Although his excellent, perverse romance Phantom Thread came out nearly four years ago, it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long to me despite everything that’s happened in the last four years. I’ve seen and loved every one of Anderson’s fictional features and think he’s one of the best working American directors, so by this point I’m totally sold on anything he makes. From Boogie Nights to Magnolia to Inherent Vice, obviously the setting of California is Anderson’s most revisited and comfortable setting, and as someone who once lived in southern California I love to watch him film its sun-soaked deserts and roads and cities. One thing about Licorice Pizza I’m particularly excited to see, however, is Benny Safdie in an acting role again. I thought Safdie was absolutely incredible co-starring next to Robert Pattinson as his mentally handicapped brother in Good Time, and I’m delighted that he’s decided to continue acting in addition to his more well-known role of directing with his brother Josh.
Last month around this time Henry Baime and I talked about how we were looking forward to Ridley Scott‘s The Last Duel, and this month we already have another Scott film to anticipate. The English director’s House of Gucci will premiere this month, a biographical crime drama about the murder of Maurizio Gucci by his ex-wife Patrizia Reggiani. The film will star Adam Driver and Lady Gaga in the two aforementioned roles, and will co-star Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons, Salma Hayek, and Al Pacino. I gotta say, I know absolutely nothing about this movie’s backstory or the people it is portraying, but scrolling through the movie’s Wikipedia page apparently Patrizia Reggiani has publicly approved of Lady Gaga starring as her, which is intriguing to say the least. I still have not had a chance to catch The Last Duel yet, but if the glowing reception on Twitter is to be believed, I will be curious to see if Scott manages to release two critical hits in a row. What do you make of House of Gucci, Alex, and have you seen The Last Duel?
Alex: I have not seen The Last Duel yet, though Kevin’s review for the film makes me all the more eager to see it. Like The Last Duel, Adam Driver’s appearance in the House of Gucci draws me to the film, as well as Lady Gaga’s role in the film. Since A Star is Born, I’ve been waiting for Gaga to take on her next big role and House of Gucci is it. Apart from the appeal of the cast, I have a vague interest in fashion and its characters, so the film appeals to me in that regard as well. No doubt House of Gucci will be controversial (it already is) upon theatrical release for its casting and take on the Gucci family, but Scott serves a very good chance of being able to make a film with acclaim that surpasses any notoriety.
Next up and the last of theatrical releases discussed in this month’s Most Anticipated is Ryusuke Hamaguchi‘s Drive My Car. The film’s success at Cannes drew me to explore Hamaguchi’s work and see a few of his films during the past month or two. I found that I thoroughly enjoy the director’s films and in particular I admire his written dialogue. His characters’ dialogue, and even monologues, come off as very natural in terms of speech patterns and authenticity to characters’ perspectives and motivations. Drive My Car centers on a stage actor and director who hires a driver following the disappearance of his wife. Sharing the same vehicle prompts driver and passenger to develop a close bond and discussions to take a personal turn as the two begin to open up to each other. I expect Drive My Car to be a very cathartic film to watch, especially with its 3 hour runtime, as we see characters come to term with their lives and circumstances over the course of discussions occurring during car rides. Also of note is the film is an adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story and I know you very much enjoyed Lee Chang-dong’s Burning, also an adaptation of a Murakami short story.
Ben: Ever since reading your review of Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy I’ve been very intrigued by Hamaguchi’s work and plan to explore some of it this coming month. And you’re right, I very much enjoyed Lee Chang-dong’s Burning, which I felt did an excellent job of adapting the spirit of Murakami’s prose to the screen, so I will be curious to see how Hamaguchi handles the material. I completely forgot until this discussion but back in 2018 I actually read the short story compilation ‘Men Without Women’ that this film pulls a story from, so I will have to reread it before I see the film. Not sure how many Murakami adaptations exist, but I believe I’ve only seen Burning and Norwegian Wood, and I have to say that the lyrical ambiguity of Murakami’s short stories seems to serve translation to the screen much better.
The last two films we would like to talk about this month are among the first 4K Blu-ray releases put out by The Criterion Collection. Up first is Josh and Benny Safdie‘s monumental Uncut Gems, their follow-up to Good Time that follows a Jewish jewelry store owner played by Adam Sandler as he struggles to pay off gambling debts and hit a big score. I’ve gotta say, I enjoyed Uncut Gems when I first saw it in theaters, but the film has only grown in my estimation since that time, so much so that it’s gone on to become my favorite film of 2019 and one of my all-time favorites in general. While I also consider Good Time to be an absolute masterpiece, there’s something genuinely breathtaking to me about the stylish (and also highly entertaining) anxiety level Gems maintains throughout its entire 2+ hour runtime, and I personally can’t wait to own this on 4K so I can watch it again and again. I don’t think I recall your reaction to Uncut Gems when it came out, Alex, but I know you were a big fan of Good Time. What do you think of Uncut Gems and the Safdies in general?
Alex: I very much enjoyed Uncut Gems as well. I do think Good Time might be the better film to some extent; however, Uncut Gems is very re-watchable in a way that Good Time isn’t. For me, as a fan of the NBA, The Weeknd, and the persona of Kevin Garnett, Uncut Gems was a blast to the relatively recent past and captured what it felt like to be in 2012. One thing that the Safdie Brothers do that is almost unparalleled is their portrayal of frenzy and desperation. The worst enemy of both Connie (Good Time) and Howard (Uncut Gems) is their own mind, and in the case of Howard, his gambling addiction is an ever-present itch he can’t seem to scratch no matter how much he tries. The Safdie Brothers portray this excellently in Howard’s “This Is How I Win” monologue. “You wanna win by 1 point or, fucking, 30 points, KG?”. Most anyone wants to win by 30, and part of the mark of an excellent film is when the director(s) can get us to root for such a flawed and damaged protagonist such as Howard and have us believe his final gamble will pay off. The Criterion release of the film comes with a variety of special features. Most notably it comes with the directors’ commentary that should be insightful as well as the screen test between Adam Sandler and Julia Fox, and various audition tapes. These are probably the special features I most look forward to seeing. The deleted and extended scenes should also be of interest. I’m curious what didn’t make the final film.
Ben: Agree on the special features. I’ve become more interested in director’s commentaries lately and I’m certain that listening to the Safdies narrate Uncut Gems will be thrilling, if not equally as anxiety-inducing (based on the manic energy of past interviews I’ve seen with them) as the film itself.
Last up this month is David Lynch‘s iconic failed-TV-pilot-turned-standalone-film-masterpiece Mulholland Drive. Any avid fans of Criterion collecting may know that the company has already put out a stellar Mulholland Drive release several years ago, but this month will be the first that the company will be releasing the film on 4K UHD. For those who may have not seen Mulholland Drive, the film is the story of a naive actress named Betty (Naomi Watts), who comes to LA with big dreams of becoming an actress, only to embark on a dreamlike and at many points nightmarish odyssey through Hollywood. The film is interspersed with surreal, at first seemingly unrelated vignettes that in the end all tie into the film’s central story of a young woman coming to terms with the dark underbelly of Hollywood. Mulholland Drive was one of the very first if not the very first film I saw from David Lynch, and I will be happy to upgrade the Blu-ray I currently own of it to 4K sometime in the future.
Alex: If there’s a film that deserves a 4K UHD release, it’s Mulholland Drive. Lynch’s classic film is one of the most renowned films to be released in recent decades, and the film consistently appears on actors’, directors’, and critics’ Top 10 lists. The film has a number of scenes that are memorable years after seeing, particularly the introduction of The Cowboy (Monty Montgomery) and the theater scene. I’m due for a revisit of Mulholland Drive, the film certainly one that offers much on repeat viewings, and this restoration might be the occasion for it.
Overall, November looks to be just as good of a month for movies, if not better than, October. We have a new Scott film, Hamaguchi, Paul Thomas Anderson, … What’s not to like?