Alex Sitaras: Like the two months before it, December continues to show that movies are back. First up I’d like to discuss Red Rocket from indie director Sean Baker. His films show a side of America that is unseen in Hollywood features, telling stories of underrepresented and occasionally marginalized Americans. Red Rocket takes Baker to Texas, my home state, and features Simon Rex as washed-up porn star Mikey who returns to his home town to… a little less than a positive reception from his community. Mikey attempts to settle back into the life he had before he left TX, and is searching for a job as well as a place to stay. Has Red Rocket piqued your interest as well Ian, or not as much?
Ian Floodgate: I haven’t seen much of Sean Baker’s work, apart from his 2015 film Tangerine, which gained attention for being shot on an iPhone. I find him quite inspirational due to that and his involvement in independent film. I think he’s someone who any aspiring filmmaker should be watching, so I think it’s time I watch his previous work and Red Rocket.
I agree Baker’s films often focus on marginalised stories, as you put it. It certainly is the case with Tangerine, which follows a transgender sex worker. His original stories should interest anyone craving to see something different; even if the initial concept of Baker’s films might sound bizarre, they clearly work.
One film I am looking forward to seeing this month is The Tragedy of Macbeth, which is the polar opposite of Red Rocket in that it’s an adaptation of a play that has previously been seen onscreen many a time. I understand the thought of another adaptation of one of Shakespeare‘s most well-known works might turn people off, however, director Joel Coen appears to be doing something new with the play, including his visual presentation of the story. Of course, early twentieth-century film versions would be in black and white, but from the trailer alone, there seems to be some excellent shot composition. Some reviews have stated that Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, who play the lead roles, bring a new dynamic to the text because of their age. Are you excited to see this latest adaption of the play, Alex?
Alex: The idea of adapting the play to the silver screen doesn’t have much appeal on its own; however, Joel Coen directing the film (his first without his brother) with the lead roles played by Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand deem the film as worthy of attention. So I am interested in the film and will be seeing it. Both Washington and McDormand are acting powerhouses, and I wouldn’t be surprised if their performances in the film become some of their highest praised. From the teaser trailer, it appears that The Tragedy of Macbeth is shot in a way to resemble old Hollywood or German Expressionistic films. The entirety of the film was shot on sound stages to provide a look “untethered from reality”, and I’d say Coen and the production design team achieved that goal.
Also in the realm of the eerie, Guillermo del Toro‘s next film Nightmare Alley hits theaters this month. The film is a little of a departure from his prior work in that the film does not directly relate to the supernatural; however, there seems to be more than enough mystery and intrigue in this early twentieth-century set drama. Nightmare Alley stars Bradley Cooper as Stan Carlisle, a manipulative carny, and it’s his first on-camera role (alongside Licorice Pizza) since A Star is Born. The film also stars Cate Blanchett as Dr. Lilith Ritter, a psychiatrist who partners with Carlisle to… I’m not exactly sure. But it can’t be good. What do you make of Nightmare Alley?
Ian: I am interested in Nightmare Alley for many reasons. It marks the return of much-loved director Guillermo Del Toro, four years after the success of The Shape of Water. As you said, he’s often known for including fantastical elements in his films, but here there does not appear to be any, or at least it’s not so obvious, which is very intriguing. However, what intrigues me the most is that it’s an adaption of a noir novel by William Lindsay Gresham. I know Del Toro has made films in period settings before, but with the look of Nightmare Alley, Del Toro seems to have captured an essence of noir, even though the film is in colour. I think the stylised elements in terms of shot composition that Del Toro films are known for will suit the neo-noir genre perfectly, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
Another renowned director returning to our screens this month with their latest project is Pedro Almodóvar with Parallel Mothers. It’s a story of two single women about to give birth who form a strong bond despite their differences. To me, it sounds like it has a connection with one of Almodóvar’s earlier films, Talk to Her, in that film focuses on two men who strike an odd friendship while they care for two women in deep comas. Perhaps, Parallel Mothers will focus on similar themes like love and communication that Talk to Her does. The film also sees Almodóvar working with Penelope Cruz, who has featured in many of his projects. Do you like Almodóvar’s work, Alex, and are you looking forward to this one?
Alex: Almodóvar’s work is consistently thoughtful and explores in detail the human condition, particularly through the eyes of women. He’s been on a tear lately with his recent films The Human Voice & Pain and Glory, and I’m thinking it’s very likely that Parallel Mothers will also become a beloved film of the talented director. As you mentioned, the film stars Penelope Cruz, a veteran of Almodóvar’s filmography, particularly his recent work. I think the connection you brought up with Talk to Her could be very evident, and Parallel Mothers has been in Almodóvar’s mind for a decade, a film that he’s been wanting to make for some time now.
Ian: Finally, I’d like to talk about the new Criterion restoration of Powell and Pressburger‘s The Red Shoes this month. For anyone unfamiliar with this film, The Red Shoes follows Victoria Page (Moira Shearer), a young ballet dancer torn between the man she loves and her pursuit to become a prima ballerina. It is a highly revered classic and one of my favourite films. Criterion has previously restored and released the film, but this is a 4K restoration, which I think is very exciting. The Red Shoes is a film known for its beautiful art direction, which it won an Oscar for in 1949, so a restoration of this quality will hopefully magnify the craftsmanship carried out in this film. What are your thoughts on this latest restoration, Alex?
Alex: I think it was inevitable that The Red Shoes would receive a 4K restoration from The Criterion Collection, so I’m definitely glad to see it come to fruition. I saw The Red Shoes for the first time earlier this year, and I’d say the film’s popularity amidst art house crowds is well deserved, the film’s visuals and story informing many contemporary films today and in many ways, still surpassing them in quality. As far as the extras that come with the release, there’s a definite Scorsese touch with the director appearing in the film’s commentary and memorabilia showcase (Scorsese’s longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker is Michael Powell’s widow). With 4K versions of Citizen Kane coming last month, The Red Shoes this month, and A Hard Day’s Night next month, the Criterion Collection is dipping into some excellent, longtime favorites to bring to home media.