Felix Van Groenigen‘s Beautiful Boy (Amazon, 10.12), a drama about a dad (Steve Carell) grappling with a meth-addicted son (Timothee Chalamet), probably won’t screen at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. A person who attended a late January research screening says that Chalamet “acts circles” around Carell (“He’s got so much raw talent…we see him go from a well-adjusted kid through addiction to rehab and then relapse…he’s given a lot to do and he really makes it seem easy”) but that’s all I’ll share. I’ll only say that it doesn’t seem likely to screen a few weeks hence on the Cote d’Azur. The costars are Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan, Timothy Hutton and Kaitlyn Dever.
As mentioned, a friend and his wife are bound next week for Hong Kong, Cambodia and Vietnam. I’ve sent him a couple of suggestions about Hanoi (it’s simpler and cheaper to buy a Vietnamese SIM card when you arrive) and two restaurant recommendations — lunch at Bun Cha Dak Kim for the spring rolls, and dinner at Pho Thin, where they only serve bowls of clear stock, boiled beef, rice noodles, herbs, green onions and garlic.
Posted on 3.19.16: “Yesterday was one long bike-riding orgasm through the streets of Hanoi. It was heaven. There’s something rhapsodic about being one of hundreds of scooter riders, bicyclers, car, bus and truck drivers making their way down a major boulevard. There are no bike lanes — you’re just pedaling your way through it all, everyone making it up as they go along, and I’m telling you it’s like you’re part of some glorious, brass-band holiday parade.
“The difference here is that Hanoi pedestrians aren’t standing on the curbside and going ‘wow, look at that!’ They’re just shrugging it off, the usual rumble of daily life. But to me (and, I’m sure, to Jett and Cait) it was like being part of a huge skilled orchestra playing a great improvised symphony, and being part of it yesterday was absolutely one of the most delightful experiences of my life.”
Wes Anderson‘s Isle of Dogs opens on Thursday night. Several critics reviewed it yesterday (95% Rotten Tomatoes rating, 83% Metacritic), but I haven’t been invited to a single screening. Today I asked to be afforded that privilege. “Hi, guys…sorry to bother you, heh-heh, but any chance I could, you know, attend a last-minute screening of a film by a major-league guy whose stylistic signature is known worldwide, and whom I’ve personally known for close to a quarter-century?”
Wes and I have had a couple of spats, but not for several years. He’s always been polite and responsive whenever I’ve reached out. He’s never not wanted me to see Isle of Dogs, or at least he didn’t indicate this today. I don’t think this is on him. Okay, I’m not a great lover of animation, but I was cool with and fully respectful of old-fashioned stop-motion and the way this technique was used for Fantastic Mr. Fox so what’s the big issue? What critic goes invite-less if he’s been mixed or mildly negative about a couple of films by a certain director in the past?
Tuesday evening update: FS finally invited me to a screening — tomorrow night at the West L.A. Landmark.
I’ve known Wes for nearly 25 years. I wrote the first L.A. Times “Calendar” profile piece about Wes and Owen Wilson; it was published on 11.7.93. For over two decades I’ve been a respectful admirer (okay, with reservations) of his films. That respect has been reciprocated for many years. I attended Fox Searchlight’s Fantastic Mr. Fox junket in England in 2010, and their Grand Budapest Hotel junket in Berlin in ’14.
True, I’ve been nursing ambivalent reactions to Andersonville — i.e., that carefully tended, super-exacting realm of his — since The Royal Tenenbaums, which popped at the N.Y. Film Festival 16 and 1/2 years ago. On one hand I love (as always) the Anderson stamp…that feeling of dry but immaculate control of each and every element. And of wry humor. And of atmosphere and attitude. Andersonville is a place as distinct and precisely ordered and unto itself as Tati-land or Kubricktown or Capraburgh. And on the other hand I’ve sometimes felt frustrated by it.
Over the last 22 years my only serious Anderson loves have been Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and The Grand Budapest Hotel. The rest I’ve been mixed-positive or mixed on. But at least there were those three, and tomorrow’s another day.
Last night I saw Steven Soderbergh‘s Unsane (Bleecker Street, 3.23), an intriguingly creepy, Shock Corridor-like psychodrama about a smart, blunt-spoken businesswoman (The Crown‘s Claire Foy) coping with a sudden, bizarre imprisonment in a private medical facility in Pennsylvania. It also has to do with stalking, delusion and what I saw as mounting insanity.
Unsane is fairly pulpy — a genre wallow — but as a spooky and claustrophobic portrait of institutional oppression and psychological upending it isn’t half bad. It’s shocking, unnerving and…I don’t know, eerily nightmarish and drearily suffocating at the same time?
As with any Soderbergh film you’re always aware of a fine intelligence behind each and every creative impulse or decision — every shot, cut and line says “smarthouse.” Ditto the oppressively dark lighting and brownish-greenish colors. And at no time are you saying to yourself “oh for God’s sake, lemme outta here, this is awful”…as I’ve said in the midst of
most many horror thrillers.
There’s a place in the realm for films like Unsane. I didn’t hate it. I was mildly intrigued. It’s a tolerable sit.
But with all due respect to Soderbergh and the Bleecker Street guys, I can’t honestly say that the story — what happens to Foy’s Sawyer Valentin once she realizes she’s been imprisoned by employees of the private clinic, and what she does when she realizes that a deranged fellow (Joshua Leonard) who’s been stalking her is strangely working at this clinic and continuing with the crazy — is all that satisfying. I’m not going to reveal it, but it doesn’t leave you with much. My whispered words as Unsane ended with a freeze-frame: “That’s it?”
My basic reaction as I shuffled out of the screening room was “why did Soderbergh go to such an effort to make this film look ugly?” He shot it on an iPhone 7 Plus in 4K, but that’s no excuse — you can make an iPhone movie look like Technicolor VistaVision if you want. Start to finish Unsane looks drained and murky and heavily shadowed, almost in a shitty shot-in-the-’70s-on-16mm way. The two main colors are a muddy dispiriting brown and a kind of sickly institutional green, along with some buttermilk walls and the occasional haze of bluish gray.
I get it, I get it — Soderbergh wants you to feel as turned around and psychologically tormented and forcibly sedated as Foy, and the color scheme is intended to reflect her states of mind. But I was two or three steps ahead of Soderbergh in this respect. The bottom line is that, yes, I was feeling Foy’s pain and disorientation, but I was also coping with my own lethargy and displeasure. I respect Soderbergh’s decision to cover Unsane in brown murk, but I hated the palette. Sorry but I did.