Amazon Prime review: Yorgos Lanthimos’s “The Favourite” (2018)

One of the greatest films of its year features this scene.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite (2018) is available on Amazon Prime. The period black comedy was nominated for ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. Olivia Colman won for Best Actress.

Set in 1704 England, Anne, Queen of Great Britain (Colman), is an invalid and incompetent monarch. Her “favourite,” Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Best Supporting Actress nominee Rachel Weisz) – yes, that Churchill – is the de facto ruler of the empire.

But when Sarah’s younger, impoverished cousin, Abigail Hill (Best Supporting Actress nominee Emma Stone), shows up looking for a job, a bitter rivalry ensues between these two ambitious women for the queen’s “favour.”

Lanthimos is the leading absurdist of his craft, and The Favourite is his most commercial effort without losing any of his voice, which is how it was showered with such attention from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Compared to his The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), this satire, though just as alienating to audiences on Rotten Tomatoes, is still more laugh-out-loud anachronistic than it is chuckle-to-yourself uncomfortable.

But it balances these more ridiculous themes against such subtextual social commentary as the desperation of the lower class to climb out of their plight as well as the blind eye the upper class turns to that plight so they can race ducks and lobsters instead.

And the auteur directs out of his three leading ladies equally tragicomic tours de force, but none more so than Colman. She caricaturizes Queen Anne hysterically, but also sensitively.

It would not come as a surprise to this critic if the performer studied up on borderline personality disorder in preparation for this role.

In addition, Robbie Ryan’s cinematography aestheticizes the film with its signature photography. The wide-angle lenses are like watching the subjects through a fishbowl.

Not only is it visually unique, but it is also artistically eloquent; time may distance us from this cast of characters, but we can still see their conflicts reflected back at us as if they are our own, even as history warps it.

While The Favourite does not presume to be historically accurate, its source material is still a character assassination. It is loosely based upon Sarah Churchill’s memoir, which is (understandably) biased against Queen Anne.

All parties involved are long dead, but still, is it ethical to knowingly and purposefully misrepresent historical figures?

Or maybe The Favourite is meant to be read as a parody of this hyperbolically bitter artifact of poison-pen revenge – either way, it is a treat for those who acquire the taste for it.

A piano crashing to the ground 120 years ago this month inspires a Laurel and Hardy movie

James Parrott’s The Music Box (1932), a half-hour Laurel and Hardy short, premiered April 16, 1932, according to The Post-Standard. In the slapstick duo’s masterpiece, Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel play a couple of bumbling furniture movers who deliver a player-piano to a wealthy man’s house (Professor Theodore von Schwartzenhoffen, M.D., A.D., D.D.S., F.L.D., F-F-F-and-F (Billy Gilbert)). The film earned Stan and Ollie their first Academy Award, and it debuted almost thirty-two years to the day when a pair of Syracuse deliverymen brought down a chimney with the weight of their pulleys while delivering a piano on April 22, 1900.

Netflix review: David Fincher’s “Panic Room” (2002)

David Fincher’s Gone Girl (2014) is one of the masterpieces of its decade. But it was nominated for only one Academy Award, which it didn’t even win. It attests to its auteur’s Hitchcockian themes on the human condition as well as his Kubrickian manifestation of them.

With his Panic Room (2002), he tightens this style into a single setting with a two-hour runtime, and the final product is an artisanal entertainment.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Panic Room is available to stream on Netflix. The thriller stars Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto, and Dwight Yoakam. Scriptwriter David Koepp also coproduced.

Recently divorced Meg Altman (Foster) and her eleven-year-old diabetic daughter, Sarah (Stewart), move into a four-story Upper West Side New York City brownstone.

The house’s previous owner, a reclusive millionaire, had a “panic room” built in to hide from home invaders, complete with concrete, steel, surveillance cameras, a PA system, and a separate phone line.

The night the Altmans move in, Junior (Leto), the millionaire’s grandson, along with Burnham (Whitaker), an employee for the house’s security company, and Raoul (Yoakam), a hired gun, break in to steal three million dollars of bearer bonds locked in a floor safe under the panic room.

The claustrophobic mise-en-scene is redolent of the obvious influences, most notably Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), Dial M for Murder (1954), and Rear Window (1954).

If good artists borrow and great artists steal, then a filmmaker could do much worse for a source of inspiration than the greatest director ever.

But it’s so much more than the generic tropes alone that makes Fincher a top contender for the Hitchcock of our time – it’s the ways in which he suspends our everyday mundanity as we recognize it outside of the film with as much tension as he does the mirrors of it inside the film.

And, for many Americans the year after the September 11 attacks, suspicion and surveillance became their reality. At times, Fincher rearranges the board so that Meg and Sarah are the predators in this cat-and-mouse game.

Do the ends truly justify the means, as the United States government claimed when they abducted and tortured Arabs and Muslims throughout human rights “black sites” across the globe, or are the ends only there to satiate the sadistic survival instinct within us all?

However, with two white women in trouble occupying the titular panic room, is this really a narrative we needed during the War on Terror?

Fincher would go on to subvert this template expertly in Gone Girl, but here, he promotes the ideology that justifies authoritarian breaches of privacy to begin with. Additionally, violence against women is too frequently used to sensationalize and titillate in conspiracy thrillers.

All in all, Panic Room is Fincher before his masterwork, which is powerful cinema nonetheless. It is a paranoid, high-concept thrill ride. Its ensemble also elevates the pulp fiction.

Amazon Prime review: Netflix’s “House of Cards” (2013-2018)

Perhaps because of Donald Trump’s years in Hollywood, Beau Willimon anticipated his presidency with Netflix’s House of Cards (2013-2018).

He shares so many traits with Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and Claire Hale Underwood (Robin Wright), it’s barely even hyperbolic anymore.

Or maybe it takes a specific cluster of narcissistic, antisocial personalities to chase power over others.

Either way, it makes for good TV.

If you don’t know what to watch next, House of Cards is available on Amazon Prime. The political thriller is a remake of BBC’s House of Cards (1990), which, in turn, is an adaptation of the 1989 Michael Dobbs novel of the same name.

It is the first original online-only web television series to be nominated for major Primetime Emmy Awards.

Set in Washington, D.C., President Garrett Walker (Michael Gill) and White House Chief of Staff Linda Vasquez (Sakina Jaffrey) renege on a promise to appoint Democratic Congressman and House Majority Whip Frank Underwood of South Carolina to Secretary of State.

Together with his equally power-hungry wife, Claire, and right-hand henchman, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), an incensed Frank blackmails Democratic Congressman Peter Russo (Corey Stoll) of Pennsylvania and seduces ambitious young reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara).

Through manipulation, betrayal, and murder, Frank and Claire climb all the way up to the White House.

Frank and Claire Underwood are two of the greatest antiheroes in the Golden Age of TV, and the way they hijack our democracy predicts what the current administration is up to today.

The inevitable parallels can be drawn between the Underwoods and Bill and Hillary Clinton, what with Frank’s Southern Democratic charm and Claire’s haircut.

But this only underscores the brokenness not of a political party, but an entire system where public figures like Donald Trump and Frank Underwood can scheme their way to the top, not because it’s what the American people want, but because it’s what they want.

What begins as a deceptively dry (though realistically written) dispute over an education bill slow-burns its way into the Underwood political machine threatening a proxy nuclear war against Russia in the Middle East.

The metamorphosis from the world in House of Cards to our own world is a psychological rollercoaster ride.

And Frank may be the star, but it’s Claire who steals the show. Lady Macbeth reborn, Claire’s aloof, Hitchcock blonde persona is her own proverbial house of cards behind which slithers a reptile even more apocalyptically cold-blooded than her husband.

She is a femme fatale, a conqueror, a usurper who waits for her husband to lose the games men play so she can inherit the oligarchy to which Frank auctioned off America to the highest bidder.

Except for this thematic turn of events is purely accidental. The accusations to come to light against Spacey as part of the #MeToo movement, (some of which were made by crewmembers on the House of Cards set), forced Willimon to write Frank out between the fifth and sixth seasons.

The penultimate cliffhanger, therefore, amounts to nothing, and the unplanned loss of the series lead could be alienating to some – the finale feels like something out of another show altogether.

But they call it “movie magic” for a reason, because Spacey’s firing was divine intervention. It was the best thing to happen to this series, since it casts Spacey as a Hitchcockian false protagonist for Claire.

If an antihero has to get his comeuppance for his character arc to be ethically written, then Frank deserves to know his story was Claire’s story all along.

Darren Aronofsky’s “Batman” movie canceled because he wanted to cast Joaquin Phoenix

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The outbreak of COVID-19 has halted production for Matt Reeves’s The Batman. (Image Courtesy: New Music Express).

In an interview with Empire, Darren Aronofsky said Warner Bros. dismissed him from directing a Batman film in the early 2000s because he would have cast Joaquin Phoenix as Bruce Wayne whereas the studio wanted Freddie Prinze, Junior, according to New Music Express. Christopher Nolan ended up being hired to reboot the DC Comics franchise, while Phoenix would later go on to play the Caped Crusader’s archnemesis in Todd Phillips’s Joker (2019). Meanwhile, Matt Reeves’s The Batman (2021), starring Robert Pattinson, is currently in the works, with a release date scheduled for next summer (unless impacted by the coronavirus pandemic).

TCM Classic Film Festival will broadcast a “Special Home Edition” on Turner Classic Movies

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Clips of interviews between TCM on-air host Ben Mankiewicz, the late Robert Osborne, and Eva Marie Saint, Tony Curtis, Debbie Reynolds, as well as the cast and director of John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972), will play during the festival. (Image Courtesy: The Los Angeles Times).

The eleventh annual TCM Classic Film Festival, a multi-venue Hollywood fan event, has been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Turner Classic Movies will broadcast a “Special Home Edition” of the festival from Thursday to Sunday, according to the Los Angeles Times. Lead programmer Charlie Tabesh says it would not have been possible to exhibit all the titles they had planned for the live festival over the same four days the festival was originally scheduled, so the “Special Home Edition,” with its highlight reels, will be a unique experience. Fans can win swag through Twitter giveaways under the hashtag #TCMFF.

Quentin Tarantino’s five best (and five worst) films, according to IMDb

Because Quentin Tarantino only has ten directorial credits to his name, ranking his films per their user ratings on IMDb divides the five “best” from the five “worst,” according to Screen Rant. Indeed, Dan Peeke writes that Tarantino fans tend to love his whole filmography, and the filmmaker has yet to release one “bad” movie. From lowest to highest, the IMDb scores for Tarantino’s pictures are as follows: Death Proof (2007), at seven-point-five out of ten; Jackie Brown (1997), at seven-point-five; Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), at seven-point-seven; The Hateful Eight (2015), at seven-point-eight; Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004), at eight-point-zero; Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003), at eight-point-one; Reservoir Dogs (1992), at eight-point-three; Inglourious Basterds (2009),  at eight-point-three; Django Unchained (2012), at eight-point-four; and Pulp Fiction (1994), at eight-point-nine.

Hulu review: Christopher McQuarrie’s “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” (2018)

Only a franchise with a set of rules written by Brian De Palma in 1996 could be this absurd and watchable at the same time.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018) is available to stream on Hulu.

The action spy film is a follow-up to the fifth installment in the series, McQuarrie’s own Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015), making him the first filmmaker to return and direct more than one of these movies.

McQuarrie also wrote the screenplay and co-produced alongside star Tom Cruise as well as Mission: Impossible III (2006) director J.J. Abrams.

Set two years after the events of Rogue Nation, Impossible Mission Force agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is tasked with buying three stolen plutonium cores in Berlin before a terrorist group known as the Apostles can on behalf of a mysterious client known as John Lark.

The mission goes awry, so CIA Director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) assigns Special Activities Division operative August Walker (Henry Cavill) to supervise Ethan as he tracks down the plutonium.

Meanwhile, former MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) is hellbent on assassinating Rogue Nation villain Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) to prove her loyalty to the intelligence agency, even though he is the key to finding the missing plutonium.

Ethan Hunt is the American answer to England’s James Bond, and, while Bond is the more classic hero, Ethan is the more consistent.

He is not the womanizer Bond is, and, though he finds himself in “exotic” locales, his adventures are not quite as colonizing as Bond’s are, in that he is genuinely a world-saving hero, not a blunt instrument of imperialization.

The continuity between the Mission: Impossible flicks also develop his arc more, and that Cruise is the only actor to play him also further humanizes him, whereas Bond is more of an icon than a character.

As with any action picture, the staging of the set-pieces is imperative, and, in Fallout, the choreography is balletic.

Cruise prides himself on performing his own stunt work, and so the spectacle on display is more ageless than an overreliance on CGI which would become dated, not if, but when. McQuarrie has earned the right to helm the next two sequels.

As much pure dumb fun as Mission: Impossible is, it may be more “dumb” than “fun” for some. Ethan’s increasingly convoluted mission reveals can be laughable, and the longer he survives his escalating stakes (such as nuclear apocalypse), the greater the suspension of disbelief.

Then again, the ridiculousness is all part of the entertainment value, and Mission: Impossible is anything but self-serious.

In fact, it is its sillier flourishes that attract its cult following, and if you “get” it, you’re in for a ride.

Andy Muschietti’s “The Flash” (2022) may be canceled

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The project was first announced in 2014 with a then release date for 2018 – team changes have repeatedly pushed it back. (Image Courtesy: Out).

Video footage surfaced earlier this week of actor Ezra Miller, star of Andy Muschietti’s ill-fated The Flash (2022), allegedly choking a woman in Iceland, according to Out. During a live stream, Lords of the Long Box reported Mikey Sutton, who is known among superhero movie aficionados as a reliable source of leaked information, posted that Warner Bros. may cancel the film as well as reboot the entire DCEU pending an investigation into the clip. After appearing in David Yates’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018), Miller confirmed they will be involved in a third installment of the series.

Library of Congress streaming preserved films online for free

Even though the Library of Congress is temporarily closed to the public, they are streaming more than seven thousand videos online for free, according to The New York Times. The largest library in the world was created in 1800 by the same act of Congress that moved the federal government to Washington, D.C., with President John Adams approving a five thousand-dollar budget for books. The library also invites the public to nominate titles for the National Film Registry, which adds “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” texts annually with the help of the advisory body that is the National Film Preservation Board.