“Sometimes they don’t really desire you. They desire the way you make them feel.”
Following Equals and Newness, director Drake Doremus continues his exploration of human relationships with Zoe, which largely falls into the same pitfalls of interesting concepts executed blandly and with musings more derivative than profound. His focus here is society’s use of technology as a solution for crumbling relationships and intimacy, explored through the story of a relationship between an engineer and a “synthetic” human. The material is more thought-provoking than Doremus’ past work, though much of the heavy lifting is left to the viewer — neither the story nor the engagement with its ideas is as deftly handled as Her (which was evidently an influence). Zoe suggests that human connection with a synthetic may break when confronted with their artificiality, but this makes little sense when applied to the creator of a synthetic, for whom every detail ought to be a reminder. This is no slight on the actors, who deliver understated and tender performances, including an underutilised Christina Aguilera as an older model of synthetic. The film’s most interesting aspect is recreational use of a new pharmaceutical drug that chemically simulates the experience of falling in love, though again the script fails to engage with the fundamental question of which experience is more real: a genuine internal reaction to an external artificiality, or an artificially synthesised internal reaction to another human. Instead, the audience is left to drift through this slow-moving sci-fi with increasing disengagement.
“People are sometimes afraid of things they don’t know.”
This is the second high-profile adaptation of Pinocchio in 2022 alone. Whilst Zemeckis continued Disney’s creatively barren attempts at live action remakes of its beloved animated features, Guillermo del Toro’s is a true retelling of the story in his own inimitable way. Within the framework of a family film, it feels as though del Toro has crafted a companion piece to Pan’s Labyrinth with shared themes of death and fascism. Pinocchio’s very creation is an act of grief — after Geppetto cuts down his dead son’s tree in a drunken fit of rage — and his early moments of life are reminiscent of Frankenstein’s monster, inspiring fear in both his creator and the villagers. Although the familiar story beats remain intact, del Toro’s sympathies have always lain with outsiders struggling to find their place in society, as everyone’s ideas for Pinocchio are exploitative — a father wishing to replace a lost son, Christoph Waltz’s wonderfully mercurial circus owner (“You may have no strings but I control you”) sensing profit, and the fascists who wish to turn him into an undying soldier. Stop motion is perhaps the perfect medium for Pinocchio since it turns all the characters into stringless puppets. There is a genuinely handcrafted feel to Pinocchio, roughly hewn with nails sticking out of his back, and the physical sets scale wonderfully with the puppetry. Although there is a slew of high profile actors, there is no stunt casting and only Ewan McGregor’s narration as Cricket was distractingly recognisable. The musical numbers are the film’s weakest aspect, interrupting the pacing and entirely forgettable. To explore what it means to be human, however, Pinocchio is a rich and satisfying adaptation.
“If you want boys to respect you, show them you’re serious. Shoot something, blow it up!”
The flippant tone of Birds of Prey is its greatest strength, a bright colour palette veering deliberately away from the dark tone of the DCEU with a story told, messily, by Harley Quinn. The script weaves a thin plot around the conceit that she is striking out on her own after years under the Joker’s sway, but for the most part it just strings together a series of acrobatic fight sequences. There is some creative choreography, with a few well-observed moments in the hands of a female director like Harley offering Black Canary a hair-tie during a fight, but it is shot predictably in chaotic quick cuts. We never see the level of audiovisual flair found in Harley’s prison breakout in the The Suicide Squad and, whilst comparing Birds of Prey to a later film may seem unfair, Gunn understood what we need to see and feel to get into the mind of one Harley Quinn, which is almost as important as Margot Robbie’s performance. Birds of Prey tries to do that through its use of voice over and colour palette, but it never quite succeeds.