“Frank & Lola” (2016) starring Michael Shannon & Imogen Poots

A psychosexual noir love story, set in Las Vegas and Paris, about love, obsession, sex, betrayal, revenge and, ultimately, the search for redemption. -Synopsis

Frank (Michael Shannon- in his 1st romantic leading role) works as a chef in a classy/high-end restaurant in Vegas. One night, he meets a young student who wants a career in fashion, Lola (Imogen Poots- a petite/blonde British actress). Frank’s (calm/routine) life is changed by Lola, who may NOT be as uncomplicated as she seems! I saw Shannon (6’3″ w/ large/wide-set eyes) a few yrs. ago in the indie drama 99 Homes (starring Andrew Garfield); I was impressed b/c he had such a commanding screen presence. In they stylish Nocturnal Animals, he made a fine impression as a small-town cop. Shannon is the lead in Midnight Special co-starring Adam Driver (my current fave actor). To add some (needed) lightness/comedy to the story, we have Justin Long. Rosanna Arquette has a small role as Lola’s mother. Michael Nyquist (a famed Swedish actor/fluent French speaker) has an important supporting role; he passed away in 2017. Writer/director Matthew Ross had been trying to make this film for 10 yrs prior to its release in 2016- wow! It was shot in less than one month on location in Vegas and Paris. The film was well-received at Sundance.

Beware, my Lord, of jealousy, it is the green-eyed monster that doth mock the meat it feeds on. -Iago in Othello

I was reminded of the (above) line from my fave Shakespearean tragedy while watching this movie. Like Othello and Desdemona, Frank and Lola are opposites when it comes to age, looks, and personalities. Frank is of a different generation than Lola. They don’t know much about each other before they become involved; Lola is new in town and Frank (w/ a no-nonsense attitude) says he doesn’t fall in love easily. Lola says she was attracted to Frank b/c he’s a “real man.” We realize that Frank has insecurities when it comes to romance, though he is V experienced/confident in his career.

The look (visual style) sometimes reminded me of the movies of director Michael Mann. I liked how the filmmakers shot the Vegas and Paris scenes quite differently. Most of the movie was filmed at night; Vegas is depicted as modern, steely, and cold (isolating). We see some daytime in Paris; the look is softer and warmer (more inviting). Shannon speaks some French, too. If you’re a fan of the noir genre (like me), you may like this movie. As one viewer noted: “rarely do contemporary movies go as deep into the male psyche of obsession as this one.” You can watch it on Netflix.

“Lady Macbeth” (2016) starring Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, & Naomi Ackie

Rural England, 1865. Katherine is stifled by her loveless marriage to a bitter man twice her age, whose family are cold and unforgiving. When she embarks on a passionate affair with a young worker on her husband’s estate, a force is unleashed inside her, so powerful that she will stop at nothing to get what she wants. -Synopsis

In the north of England, a young woman named Katherine (Florence Pugh) is sold into marriage (along w/ some land) to a middle-aged man, Alexander Lester (Paul Hilton- a character/theater actor). Sadly, there is no love or even common kindness involved here; this marriage was arranged by Boris Lester (Christopher Fairbank), Alexander’s domineering father. Katherine is prevented from leaving the house. Boris scolds her for not giving Alexander a son, but her husband doesn’t even touch her! One day, both men have to leave the estate for separate business matters, leaving Katherine alone with the housemaid, Anna (Naomi Ackie- also in an early role). Finally, Katherine is free to explore the area to alleviate her boredom!

This indie film (streaming on MUBI) is based on the Russian book Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov. I learned that iFeatures is a collab btwn the BBC and the BFI; every year, they produce 3 feature films for £350,000 as a stepping stone for 1st time directors. Lady Macbeth (directed by William Oldroyd) was chosen out of over 300 applicants- wow! It was filmed over 24 days on location at Lambton Castle, County Durham and Northumberland, UK. Shaheen Baig was the casting director on Florence Pugh’s 1st film, The Falling (2014); when the script came her way, she suggested Pugh (then just 19 y.o) to Oldroyd.

I loved the fact she was naked all the time. At that point in my life, I had been made to feel sh*t about what I looked like and that film was perfect. There was no room for me to feel insecure. -Florence Pugh, in an interview (ES Magazine)

This is a V dark tale; the first 35 mins. are quite slow and NOT much happens (w/ little dialogue); the next 45 mins. is an unbridled (and often) violent trip! There is almost no music to be heard. The setting is oppressive, the tone is foreboding, and there are bursts of violence (which will be quite jarring esp. to sensitive viewers). Unlike most period dramas you may be familiar w/, this film uses colorblind casting. Ackie is a Black woman from the UK w/ Caribbean roots, Cosmo Jarvis (Sebastian- the horse groomer) is of British/Armenian heritage from the US, and Golda Rosheuvel (most recently Queen Charlotte in Bridgerton) is a British biracial woman. The acting is quite effective, esp. from Pugh (mature beyond her years); I wanted to see more of Ackie’s character (as she does a fine job also). Ackie (only early 30s) went on to work on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. She plays the lead in Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody.

[1] The film seems to be a pre-feminism manifesto for women’s rights. […]

The interesting thing is how Katherine evolves from victim to culprit. She seems to have learned from her husband how to use and misuse power. The lack of social conscience of which she at first is a victim, becomes a driving force for her own behaviour.

[2] Lady Macbeth features a mesmerising and beguiling performance from Florence Pugh. It is far away from these slushy chocolate box romantic period dramas. Katherine is steel edged and deadly.

[3] Several archetypal themes arise in this somber, artfully-photographed drama. For instance, one that emphasizes the wages of sin is prominent; another about the subjugated rising against the oppressor; and another about the danger of socially imprisoning smart women in a paternalistic society. A leitmotif also surfaces about the dangers of debilitating class distinctions, which are never a good thing in the long haul.

Ari Wegner’s cinematography is portrait-like if considering only the recurring shot of Katherine sitting on her Victorian couch in a consuming dress that seems to deteriorate with each similar shot. Underneath the dress is the corset, so long a symbol of the era’s tight hold on women.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“Paterson” (2016) starring Adam Driver & Golshifteh Farahani

Beauty is often found in the smallest details. -A tag line for the movie

This indie film by writer/director Jim Jarmusch shows us a week in the life of a young man, Paterson (Adam Driver), living in Paterson, NJ. He lives a routine life, even waking up at exactly the same time almost every day w/o an alarm. He eats Cheerios for breakfast, walks to work (carrying a lunchbox packed by his gf), has a chat w/ co-worker Donny (Rizwan Manji- an Indian-American character actor), then starts his shift driving the #23 bus. After work, Paterson eats dinner w/ gf Laura (Golshifteh Farahani- an Iranian actress now based in Paris) and listens to the things she has done in her day. He takes Laura’s English bulldog (Marvin) out for a walk to the neighborhood bar; he has one beer and chats w/ the barkeeper, Doc (veteran character actor Barry Shabaka Henley). Two other regulars at the bar are going through a break-up; Marie (Chasten Harmon- in her film debut) says it is over, but her ex-bf Everett (William Jackson Harper from Midsommar) says he wants her back. Laura mentions a dream in which she had twins; Paterson encounters twins throughout his week. Paterson’s keen observances are the basis for the poems he writes (in his secret notebook) whenever he has a spare moment. Something that happens this week has the potential to knock his world into a tailspin.

Laura: Did you ever hear of the old Italian poet called… Petrarch? Is that it?

Paterson: Mmm, Petrarch. He perfected the sonnet.

Laura: I read online that one of his early books of poems was called The Secret Book, just like yours.

Paterson: I didn’t know that! You read that. You just happened upon it online.

Laura: And also that he wrote all his love poems to a beautiful girl called… ta da! Laura!

A woman named Laura was the muse of Petrarch, BUT she wasn’t his wife and they had limited contact, if any at all. The poems here came from Ron Padgett, one of Jarmusch’s favorite contemporary poets, who agreed to write the poems for the film and let Jarmusch use some of his pre-existing work as well. Driver underwent training to get the commercial driver’s license (CDL)! He wanted to be able to be on “auto pilot” while driving the bus; this also meant the film could feature more authentic footage, opening up for a variety of shots. He was taught over a period of 3 mos. on the busy streets of Queens, passing the test a week before filming. On the bed stand, there is a photo of a younger Paterson, during his military service; this is an actual picture of Driver from his time in the Marines. The man working out a rap song in the laundromat is Cliff Smith (AKA Method Man), a member of Wu Tang Clan. Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman both made their debuts in the Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom (2012); they’re the college kids on the bus discussing anarchy.

Everett: You love somebody, more than anything in the whole damn world. You… worship her. You don’t wanna be alive without her, and… she says she doesn’t want you. You’re just… dirt.

Doc: Damn brother! You should be an actor.

Everett: [nods] I am… an actor.

[Paterson turns his head away and tries not to laugh.]

Paterson is a character-driven film; the theme (as Jarmusch commented) is the “poetry in everyday life.” The first thing I noticed was the gentle/loving/respectful relationship between Paterson and Laura. We don’t know how long they’ve been together, BUT they’re a warm and compatible couple. There is great chemistry between Driver and Farahani (who has been acting since she was a teen in Iran); you feel like they’re in love! Paterson is a good listener, while Laura is more of a talker. She has many interests: decorating/painting (esp. the black/white aesthetic), playing guitar (so maybe she could be a country singer), and baking cupcakes (to sell at the farmers market). Laura wants Paterson to share his poems w/ the world, BUT he’s hesitant. As Jarmusch noted at Cannes Film Festival, he put aspects of the actors into their characters. Also, he wanted to show that ordinary people (w/ 9-5 jobs) can choose to be creative. I liked the ending scene between Paterson and the visiting Japanese poet. If you need a quiet, low stakes, and unique film to watch- check this out!

Independent cinema is more thoughtful, delicate. While Western blockbusters can have their own kind of delicateness, it’s not delicate enough. You have to be ready to compromise to enter that field. I will do so only if it’s worth it. -Farahani on her preference for indie films

I had to tell people I was not born with a scarf because I came out of Iran. People think you came out of your mother with a scarf; they can’t imagine that the scarf is not stuck to your head. -Farahani on assumptions re: women from Muslim countries

Farahani is the 1st star (after the 1979 Iranian revolution) to act in a major Hollywood production: Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies (2008) w/ Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. After the role of Aisha (a nurse/love interest of DiCaprio’s character), she was banned from leaving Iran in February 2008, on her way to London to make a screen test for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010). This was only reported 6 mos later when Farahani could leave the country. She has been based in Paris for many years and speaks fluent English, French, and Farsi. At the Cannes press events, Farahani spoke French when journos weren’t comfortable w/ English. I noticed that several of her films are available on Amazon Prime; I may check out soon.

[1] The movie is just a character study of a gentle and honest man just finding his own path through life, one week at a time. The script and situations also provide an appropriate amount of humor.

[2] The movie is meditative, contemplative, and soothing. An offbeat treat, as per usual, for Jarmusch, and lovers of art, poetry, and low-key expressionism are likely to like this diversion from the cinema of the everyday.

Others, will need patience and acquire an appreciation for the minimal.

[3] Driver was a really good casting choice. …I quite like him as an actor and he has that whole subtlety thing going for him as he really shines when playing rather quiet characters.

[4] Paterson is one of those movies that I think captures something inherently true about the discontentment present in most everyone’s life, whether or not they want to admit it’s there. Routines aren’t necessarily bad, and one can build a quite content and even intermittently happy life out of simple pleasures, but it’s the rare person who doesn’t spend a good portion of his/her life wondering how much happier he/she might have been if she had taken it in a different direction.

-Excerpts from IMBD reviews

“Midnight Special” (2016) starring Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kristen Dunst, & Adam Driver

From a local Texas news story, we learn that 8 y.o. Alton Meyer (Jaeden Martell) was been kidnapped by Roy Tomlin (Michael Shannon). Alton (who doesn’t look hurt/scared) wears goggles over his eyes, headphones over his ears, and reads comic books. Roy has a friend, Lucas (Aussie actor Joel Edgerton), who is along on the road trip to Florida. Alton’s adopted father, Pastor Calvin Meyer (actor/playwright Sam Shepard; he passed away in 2017), is the leader of a religious cult (The Ranch). He sends two of his loyal followers, Doak (Bill Camp) and Levi (Scott Haze), to find and bring back the boy. Agent Miller (Paul Sparks) is on the case; The Ranch has raised the suspicion of the FBI in recent mos. (after members purchased many firearms). A young NSA agent, Paul Sevier, (Adam Driver), is flown in to lead the investigation. We will also meet Sarah (Kristen Dunst- understated w/ no make-up), a woman who left the cult.

This film (written/directed) by Jeff Nichols was shot in 40 days on a budget of just $18M. It still has the look (aside from the special effects) and feel of an indie, BUT was produced by Warner Bros. This is the 4th film where Nichols collaborated w/ Shannon (who came up from the Chicago theater world). I was quite impressed w/ Shannon when I saw him in Ramin Bahrani’s indie, 99 Homes (2014), co-starring Andrew Garfield. Before quarantine, I’d sometimes attend free/press screenings of films in/around DC. I’ve also seen him as the villain (Gen. Zod) in Man of Steel (2013) and as a sheriff in Nocturnal Animals (2016). He is tall w/ big/wide-set eyes and projects a lot of intensity.

I heard about this movie on a few podcasts (when it first came out); many critics praised it and referred to Nichols as an auteur (a filmmaker whose individual style and complete control over all elements of production give a film its personal and unique stamp). This film is moody, atmospheric, mysterious, and the characters usually express themselves (w/o saying much). Spielberg is (obviously) a big influence on Nichols, who wrote the screenplay after becoming a father for the first time. I learned that Nichols turned doing directing Aquaman– wow- b/c he prefers to work on his own (small) projects!

If you’re a fan of Driver, you’ll enjoy this movie. He looks youthful, cute in a relatable way (wears glasses and the clothes are a bit nerdy), and projects intelligence and open-mindedness. Yes, this is before he made it big as Kylo Ren. Nichols said that Sevier was influenced by Hopper (Richard Dreyfuss) in Jaws (1975) and Lacombe (Francois Truffaut) in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)- a movie I haven’t seen. Nichols had never seen HBO’s Girls; Driver was recommended to him by his casting director.

We took a character that could’ve been the most clichéd in the whole movie, and maybe still is, but I think it was Adam who started to ask the right questions about that character. […] I remember in one of the first scenes we did, he sat down at this desk and banged his leg on the table and dropped his bookbag. And I remember thinking, “Oh, that’s terrible, should I call cut?” And I realized, “Oh no, he’s being Paul Sevier. That’s how Paul Sevier enters a room.” And it just made it better and I’m quite impressed with Adam Driver. …I think he’s probably gonna be one of the most important actors of our generation.

-Jeff Nichols (from March 22, 2016 interview in Indiewire)

This has a great sense of sci-fi realism… Shannon simply has intensity.

A beautiful, touching story. Nice performances. Fascinating subject.

– Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Silence” (2016) starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, & Liam Neeson

In 1633, a Portuguese Jesuit priest, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), witnesses the torture/death of 5 fellow missionaries. He’s helpless (in the presence of Japanese inquisitors) to assist them in any way. In 1640, at St. Paul’s College in Macau (China), an Italian Jesuit priest, Father Valignano (Ciaran Hinds), receives news that Ferreira renounced his faith (became an apostate) after being tortured. In disbelief, Ferreira’s young Portuguese pupils, Father Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver), set off to find him. Valignano explains that they “will be the last priests sent to Japan.” Rodrigues and Garupe find a guide, Kichijiro (Yosuke Kobuzuka), an alcoholic fisherman who lost his family (after they failed to renounce Christianity). When they arrive in Japan, they witness first-hand the incredibly difficult lives of those who live as Christians (of course- in secret).

Rodrigues: I feel so tempted. I feel so tempted to despair. I’m afraid. The weight of your silence is terrible. I pray, but I’m lost. Or am I just praying to nothing? Nothing. Because you are not there.

The story is based on historical fact; while keeping the name of the hero’s mentor, author Shusaku Endo changed the nationality of the hero (an Italian named Giuseppe Cara) to Portuguese. Endo gave him the fictional name of Sebastian Rodrigo (translated as Sebastiao Rodrigues). Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Jay Cocks had written an early draft of the film in the 1990s w/ the intention of Scorsese directing it after Gangs of New York (2002). But when Scorsese couldn’t get financing, he decided instead to do The Aviator (2004). When the project was announced, Daniel Day-Lewis was set to play Ferreira, Gael García Bernal was set to play Rodrigues, and Benicio Del Toro was set to play Garupe. They dropped out of the project after MANY development delays.

Interpreter: But everyone knows a tree which flourishes in one kind of earth may decay and die in another. It is the same with the tree of Christianity. The leaves decay here. The buds die.

Garfield took a year off, grew out his head/facial hair, and studied w/ Father James Martin (who is now editor of The National Catholic Review). Garfield (who was raised w/ no religion) and Driver (who was raised in Baptist churches) spent a week at St. Beuno’s, a Jesuit retreat in Wales. They didn’t speak for a week, as that was the rule, so they could get a feel for the spirituality needed for the roles. The most noticeable change is the weight: Garfield lost 40 lbs. (down to 130 lbs), Driver lost 50 lbs (30 lbs. before filming and 20 lbs. during), and Neeson lost 20 lbs. Scorsese noted that there was a nutritionist on location w/ them, but I’m sure it was tough to subsist on such little food. I also learned that Ang Lee advised Scorsese on which locations to use while filming in Taiwan.

This film is quite impressive (esp. the cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto); he worked on some great-looking movies, incl. Frida; Alexander; Brokeback Mountain; Lust, Caution; and State of Play. Silence was tough for me to relate to (until Neeson’s character appeared late in the 2nd act). I think I’ve been agnostic (or skeptical of all religions) since age 7. My family also comes from a faith tradition which does NOT include proselytizing (the act or process of converting or attempting to convert someone to a religion or other belief system).

I’ve watched Driver’s work in the past month; this was on the list (BUT I wasn’t excited to see it). I thought Driver did a great job (as usual); Garupe appears in the 1st hour, then we learn about his fate in the 2nd hour. Scorsese commented that he chose Driver b/c “he looks like he stepped out of a Flemish painting.” Driver said (in several interviews) that one of his “dreams” was to work w/ Scorsese; I’m sure this is true of many actors. At the Telluride Film Festival, the director called the actor “one of the best, if not THE best, of his generation.”

But for all the torments they inflict, the Japanese inquisitors are no generic movie villains. They truly believe that Christianity is incompatible with the Japanese spirit, an alien pathogen imported by arrogant and incurious Europeans. […]

…one of the chief weaknesses of Silence is that so many of the characters in orbit around Rodrigues convey more narrative gravity than he does himself: Asano’s translator, Ogata’s inquisitor, Kubozuka’s fickle Kichijiro, Driver’s Father Garupe, a village elder played by Yoshi Oida. Andrew Garfield is a fine actor, but his calling card has always been a kind of boyish ingenuousness, and here it is tested beyond its limits.

-Christopher Orr (The Atlantic)

In the lead roles, Garfield and Driver (respectively graduates of the Spider-Man and Star Wars franchises) bring mainstream appeal, although wobbly Portuguese accents threaten to undercut the solemnity of their English-language dialogue. With his angular features Driver catches the eye, but it is to Garfield’s leonine locks that Scorsese is drawn, the handsome face of Rodrigues evoking beatific images of Christ in whose likeness the padre presumes to style himself. No wonder he sees a vision of Jesus when gazing at his own reflection in a stream. As for Neeson, he played a Jesuit priest in The Mission, but his late-in-the-day reappearance here is more evocative of his turn as Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace…

-Mark Kermode (The Guardian)

…one of the things that impressed me most about it was the care it devotes to understanding the position of the Japanese authorities. Without condoning their brutality, it lets a major character—Inoue Masashige (Issei Ogata), one of the officials in charge of eradicating Christianity from Japan, and the supervisor of the hero’s suffering—explain the official point-of-view on Western religion. He doesn’t just consider it a corrupting influence on Japanese culture, he doubts that Christianity can truly take root in the “swamp” (his word) of his home country.

-Matt Zoller Seitz (rogertebert.com)

…judged in broadly cinematic terms, “Silence” is not a great movie, despite having been directed by one of the medium’s greatest masters at a point of great maturity… […]

Still, viewed through the narrow prism of films about faith, “Silence” is a remarkable achievement, tackling as it does a number of Big Questions in a medium that, owing to its commercial nature, so often shies away from Christianity altogether. […]

For non-believers in particular, when Neeson resurfaces, his arguments, intended as the cruelest temptation, will instead sound perfectly logical.

– Peter Debruge (Variety.com)

[1] All the acting is exceptional, helped by strong writing and sharply drawn characters. Andrew Garfield is subdued but still splendid, while Adam Driver is powerfully moody. Liam Neeson is on fearless form…

[2] I will talk about the major flaw I had with the picture and it’s during the first 90 mins. I honestly thought 20 of these minutes could have been edited out, because I thought it took the film way too long to move forward and get to the real meat of the story, which is the Priest [Rodrigues] and Father Ferreira having a battle of wills.

…I really loved the fact that it didn’t treat the subject lightly or take on that mentality that you can’t question your faith.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews