“If Bach’s talent can be reduced to his gender, birth country, religion, sexuality, and so on, then so can yours.”
Todd Field’s third film, after 15 years of unrealised projects, is an astonishing work of psychological intrigue and majestic musical performance that never speaks down to its audience, instead trusting the viewer to engage and form an opinion. Blanchett is perfect as the troubled maestro, fictional conductor-composer Lydia Tár, internationally renowned yet manipulative and domineering. From the marketing, one would be forgiven for believing Tár is a biopic, and some female conductors have bemoaned the choice not to shine a light on the rare women at international-level conducting. From the interview that opens the film, it is clear that Field’s focus is not on Tár as a female conductor but on the dynamics of identity and power. She wants to be judged on her skills in isolation, berating a Juilliard student’s identity politics in expressing distaste for composers with problematic pasts, yet her hypocrisy emerges a few scenes later when she adopts the same approach in discussing Schopenhauer. The central use of Mahler’s work is deliberate, given his own abuse of power in restricting his wife’s work as a composer. By writing Tár as a lesbian, making both the perpetrator and potential victims female, Field forces the viewer to remove misogyny from the equation (notwithstanding the overtly masculine traits conveyed through Blanchett’s body language and her wardrobe). Field deliberately obscures the facts of Tár’s past indiscretions, and it is unclear whether her latest protégé is a matter of lust, an exercise of control over her orchestra, or powerlessness before the effect of her music. As allegations of impropriety undermine Tár’s position (some have reductively labelled Tár a film about “cancel culture”), Field examines the fragility of power in the current climate when pitted against the greater power of public perception. The final act subverts climactic expectations but leaves an indelible impression.
“They’re walking into a trap. Your orders are to deliver a message calling off tomorrow morning’s attack. If you fail, it will be a massacre.”
An unconventional approach to a war movie, 1917 follows two young soldiers in near realtime as they journey across no man’s land and through enemy territory to deliver a vital message. Sam Mendes’ directorial conceit is a faux unbroken continuous shot, like Birdman but serving greater narrative purpose here. The first half hour is intentionally slow, swiftly setting up the plot but allowing us time to understand the two soldiers through simple conversation that reveals one as fresh and idealistic, the other as disillusioned by his experience of combat. The isolation punctuated by limited combat is reminiscent of Enemy at the Gates at least in atmosphere. Roger Deakins’ cinematography keeps the camera moving around the actors through long takes (although nothing so densely choreographed as Atonement‘s Dunkirk sequence), creating a real sense of space and often acting almost as an additional character through whom the audience observes. The grim depiction of corpse-littered battlefields — and the men’s ambivalence to such sights — leave no pretence at glorification of war. However, 1917 is still beautifully shot, particularly the stunning lighting in its night time sequences. Recognisable actors play only brief roles as commanding officers; the rank and file are a sea of unfamiliar faces, aiding the immersion. It is ultimately George MacKay who carries the film, desperation and weariness etched into his face.
“If a superhero can’t save his family, he’s not much of a hero.”
DC’s struggling attempts to mirror the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have left me wanting them to shelve the shared dark and gritty Snyderverse in favour of individual movies with wildly different tones to reflect their vast stable of characters. Shazam! shines for just that reason, a self-aware exploration of how a child would respond to superpowers that has more in common with Kick-Ass or Deadpool (albeit with violence toned down for a teen rating) than any recent DC film. Zachery Levi is a perfect choice for Billy Batson’s alter ego, bringing childlike exuberance to his physical performance and drawing heavily from Tom Hanks in Big. The supervillain conflict is formulaic and the film runs out of steam by the end, but genuine humour keeps this a light-hearted entertainment experience that hopefully encourages DC to greater variety.
“We’ve kind of got a bit of a “save the world” situation here.”
A bloated sequel that tries to recapture its anarchic satire of the Bond franchise’s excesses with muted success and decidedly less charisma from its leads, I actually enjoyed this far more than I feared from its critical reception. Arguably the story’s chief sin is swiftly to sideline its female cast, leaving once again a field of exclusively male agents. It makes the film’s direct references to equality and loyalty feel somewhat crass. Seeing the British Kingsmen working alongside their US counterparts, The Statesmen, is perhaps tailored to me (pun intended) but the creative design throughout both the Statesman HQ and the villain’s lair is wonderful. Whilst nothing matches the first film’s church brawl, there is still substantial creativity to the action set pieces.
“We all like a bit of the good life — some the money, some the drugs, others the sex game, the glamour, or the fame. But a RocknRolla, oh, he’s different. Why? Because a real RocknRolla wants the fucking lot.”
RocknRolla feels more like a tribute to (or parody of) old school Guy Ritchie films than a genuine Guy Ritchie film. It features the trademark rapidfire banter, convoluted plot and East End gangster action, but they fail to form a cohesive whole, seeming more like a response to his critics. There are some standout kinetically shot action sequences and a few fun edits, but this does little to restore Ritchie’s directorial credibility. The film cockily touts its own sequel but there is little wonder that it has never emerged.