Mirrors are everywhere in The Neon Demon; Models constantly applying and removing makeup, fixing their hair, flashing looks back at themselves, only the best for the runway. The film’s opening scene is a conversation that takes place between two reflections: those of Jesse, 16 and new to L.A., and Ruby, a makeup artist who takes Jesse under her wing. The women speak without truly seeing one another, talking at an image rather than the real thing. It’s easy to call this shallow symbolism, that the lack of authenticity in Hollywood is thematically stale, so obvious at this point that it need not be addressed ever again. But to the filmmaker, this is of no concern.
“That’s the problem with kids today. They know too much,” laments Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), a paunchy, over-the-hill enforcer. When we meet Healy, he’s on the job, tracking the activities of a thirteen year-old girl at the request of her parents. In exchange for their money, Healy sends a brass-knuckled message to the man taking advantage of her: stay away. He is professional and efficient. His only real companions are the fish he keeps in his apartment.
The protagonist of The Lobster is named David. Most of the other characters have no name. They are instead identified by physical characteristics; examples include The Limping Man and The Lisping Man. These people are stilted and nearly joyless. They are sent to a hotel for forty-five days during which they must fall in love with a mate. If they fail, they will be turned into an animal. David’s animal of choice is the lobster because, as he explains to the hotel manager, “I’ve always loved to swim.” David’s brother accompanies him in the form of a dog—an omen.
Ah, the thrill of a punk concert: the passion, the blaring music, the stinging feedback, the murderous, machete-wielding skinheads–wait, what? Green Room heads for theaters soon and this adrenaline-fueled horror-thriller from Jeremy Saulnier (director of indie hit Blue Ruin) is a wonderful testament to the power of a talented filmmaker who is willing to cross over into the extreme.
“What went we out in this wilderness to find–leaving our country, kindred, our father’s houses–for what? For the kingdom of God.” Should have stayed home, bro. The Witch opens on February 19 and it’s been spooking the socks off critics since Sundance. The director, Robert Eggers, has previously directed only two shorts–one an adapation of a Grimm fairy tale and the other an adaptation of an Edgar Allan Poe story. This impressive feature debut combines the dark whimsy of a fairy tale with the gothic horror of Poe. Slight spoilers ahead:
“Hail, Caesar!” takes place in the Golden Age of Hollywood. We see the motion picture business through the eyes of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a “fixer,” employed by Capital Pictures to solve any and all problems that might stop production, lose money, or compromise the image of the studio’s biggest stars. The hours are long and irregular. He often eats meals alone, his kids already in bed. He smokes against his wife’s wishes. Every night, he confesses the previous day’s sins to a priest.
But Eddie Mannix is conflicted. He’s being courted by the Lockheed Corporation, which specializes in aerospace. They’re offering him a better title, better pay, and better hours so that he can see his kids more often. He meets secretly at lunch with a Lockheed representative. He shows Mannix a photo of a mushroom cloud over the Pacific Ocean, the detonation of the hydrogen bomb. “We’re invested in the future,” he says. At the film’s end, Mannix pens a response to the offer: “Thanks but no thanks.” He’s happy working for the movie industry. The camera lurches over the studio warehouses to give us a full, glorious view of Hollywood, California. It’s a moment of mock-triumph, but I didn’t feel the mocking and was left looking for the triumph.
At one point or another, everyone has cried during a film. A moment unexpectedly overcomes us as it becomes impossible to detach our emotions from the screen. It is, generally speaking, the mark of exceptional dramatic filmmaking. When I took my seat to to watch the Son of Saul, I fully expected this sort of reaction. After all, it captures the experience of a man named Saul Auslander as he is forced to assist Nazis exterminate Jews in Auschwitz, thus delaying his own death for a few months. Reading this description, or any others, one immediately creates a sequence in their mind of what events will unfold, emotions will be experienced, and story will be projected. I ask you to avoid this approach, for when I left the theater, I was still dry-eyed. It was then that I realized how easily first-time Hungarian director László Nemes could have made an overly sentimental picture with moving music and scenarios that tug at our heart strings. By not allowing the audience to experience these types of moments, he has reproduced the complex feeling that so many Holocaust survivors have explained: tears were not enough to express the horror.