There’s a slew of worthy of mention films coming out this week, so we’ll jump right into it, starting with a pair of stills that attempt to capture cinephilia at its extreme.
Think you like movies? Never miss the latest local arthouse critical darling? Well, that’s great, but it doesn’t come close to the witty, sultry, and all-around fervor for the film brought to you by the creators and characters of two equally bizarre elements playing out this weekend at the Hollywood Theater.
1979 film by Spanish filmmaker Iván Zulueta Arrebato (which translates to Rapture) is one of Pedro Almodóvar’s favorite films, and it’s not hard to see why. It focuses on a director trying to finish his latest horror film who receives a mysterious package from a bizarre young man he has known in the past. The package contains a reel of super-8 film, a cassette and a key. As the film goes back and forth between their previous relationship and the present, it appears the precocious youngster had embarked on a project to capture his own consciousness on a film – or something like that. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of heroin use (apparently both on and off screen) and other transgressions, as well as a notable performance by Cecilia Roth in her film debut. Roth would appear in Almodóvar’s first feature film the following year and become a mainstay of his regular cast.
Arrebato is a ragged, unruly thing clearly done by disturbed and dangerous people. Zulueta, in fact, would never complete another feature. But it speaks, especially in its masterful final act, about the dangerous and intoxicating allure of cinema in a way few other films can.
One of those that can, however, is the latest film by Japanese author Nobuhiko Ôbayashi, Cinema labyrinth, completed while the director was undergoing treatment for lung cancer. It’s an utterly surreal farewell to the movies and an urgent, serious plea for world peace, all wrapped up in a three-hour package brimming with invention, wit and nostalgia.
The plot, as it stands, centers around a movie theater in Ôbayashi’s hometown of Onimishi, near Hiroshima, during its last night of activity. The program is a marathon of Japanese war films, and when lightning strikes the theater, three crazed moviegoers find themselves transported to the worlds on screen. They weave their way through depictions of historical conflict from the samurai era to the bombing of Hiroshima, confronting the ways that films can both propagate and inspire.
Ôbayashi remains best known in this country for his first feature film, the cult horror film of 1977 Hausu, but he produced extensive independent filmography over the decades that followed, supporting his vision by directing thousands of television commercials. This allowed him almost complete aesthetic freedom, and Cinema labyrinth make the most of freedom. It’s shot almost entirely against green screen backgrounds and uses a hyperactive and crazy editing style that makes Oliver Stone look like Bela Tarr. (If you understand this joke, you are probably one of the target audience for this movie.)
The linear storytelling largely gives way to an almost fugue-like structure, with recurring motifs and repeated dialogues reinforcing the feeling that cinema is life, and vice versa, or, as bayashi tells us time and time again, ” A lie can be the truth. (“Arrebato” screens Friday and Saturday November 5 and 6 at the Hollywood Theater; “Labyrinth of Cinema” screens on Sunday November 7 at the Hollywood Theater)
THE CONCEPT THAT FICTION can often apprehend reality more clearly than facts (such as Werner Herzog’s quote from “ecstatic truth”) is highlighted in Spencer, in which Kristin Stewart stars as Princess Diana for director Pablo Larraín. The opening title card reads “A Fable of a True Tragedy,” and the film imagines how things might have turned out during one of the nightmarish Christmas vacations Diana endured with the royals in Sandringham. (It appears to be 1991, although the exact year is never given in the movie.)
Larraín, the Chilean author who once steered Natalie Portman to an Oscar nomination as Jackie Kennedy in Jackie, might just do the same for Stewart as another iconic, glamorous and grieving mother trapped in a world she never created. It’s not the most instinctive cast, but Stewart’s sharper features and strained demeanor do capture the side of Diana that audiences rarely, if ever, see. Here she is physically and psychologically on the brink, her excruciatingly thin body and mind on the brink as she tries to negotiate the stifling rituals of the Windsor clan. And, yes, she pretty much nails the accent.
Claire Mathon’s lackluster expressionist cinematography and Johnny Greenwood’s edgy score, which alternates between baroque strings and confusing free jazz, combine to give the viewer an idea of what it might have been inside Diana’s head. Aside from a memorable scene in a billiard room where she confronts Charles, the royal family only exists in her peripheral vision. His virtual prison guard is the composite character Major Alastair Gregory (Timothy Spall), who watches his every move, and his only confidant is one of his dressers (Sally Hawkins).
The idea that being a member of the British royal family isn’t all you say you are is in itself a cliché, thanks to Netflix The crown well reality. But Larraín, Stewart and screenwriter Steven Knight (Locke) are not only aimed at another dismantling of the archaic and suffocating institution. Instead, the title ostensibly Spencer is an austere and insightful character study of a woman who has always been more and less than herself in public. (Opens Friday, November 5 at Regal Fox Tower and other area theaters)
IF YOU THINK THE HOUSE OF WINDSOR is an isolated clan of rights holders who bear the burden of too much power, then you should meet The Eternals. The latest, and perhaps the strangest, entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is about a group (as the name suggests) of non-aging cosmic beings who have secretly lived among us Earthlings for millennia, helping to stimulate key advances in human civilization. “Chariots of the Gods” meets the Illuminati, in a way.
The film is based on a series written and drawn by the great Jack Kirby, who was at his most unleashed when creating these mythologies spanning the galaxy and eternity. An interesting facet of Marvel cosmology is that it dispenses with any kind of benevolent Judeo-Christian deity in favor of things like the floating space realm of Asgard or the interventions of the divine celestials, one of which sends the Eternals on a mission. down.
The typically star-studded and pleasantly diverse cast includes Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Gemma Chan, Brian Tyree-Smith, Kumail Nanjiani, and not one but two. Game Of Thrones alumni, Richard Madden and Kit Harington. The director is Chloe Zhao, whose two previous films, The horseman and Oscar winner Nomadic country, focused on people on the fringes of society. This kind of goes for The Eternals, too, except that these aliens can shoot laser beams from their eyes or turn water into boulders or run really fast.
The film is too long at over two and a half hours, and the revealing nature of the long exposure passages can be startling. But I found the performances engaging and the expertly staged action scenes, and the fact that these aren’t Marvel stalwarts like Spider-Man or Thormeans means, (a) there’s a lot less pre-existing baggage for fans to overcome, and, (b) there are real stakes because, despite their tenacity, these characters can die (and at least one does) without disrupting the inevitable sequel shots or merchandising patterns. (Opens Friday, November 5 across the galaxy, and possibly beyond)
FINALLY, if all this talk about the love of cinema and aristocratic power doesn’t do it for you, there is always The beta test. This black Hollywood insider comedy stars indie film mainstay Jim Cummings as an amoral talent agent named Jorden who receives a mysterious invitation to an anonymous one-night stand and decides to go. .
Understandably, that turns out to be a terrible decision, despite the incredible blindfolded sex it leads to. Jordan has two options: go mad trying to find out who the woman he met in the hotel room was, or get back to planning his wedding, knowing that he will never see such an experience again. Add in a cup full of Jordan’s justified insecurity about his working life (he’s a complete setter slowly realizing that fact), and you have the ingredients for an almost Lynchian deconstruction of his once-orderly life.
Cummings and co-writer / director PJ McCabe (who also plays Jordan’s best friend) make casual and scabrous references to the #MeToo movement, Harvey Weinstein, and other handy fruits, but they make it one way that knows enough to hit home. And like The beta test becomes a real madness, it becomes a quite memorable ride. PS If you’ve never seen the Cummings short Thunder road, Check it out here. (Opening on Friday, November 5 in Living Room Theaters and various streaming services).