This epic about the early days of the film industry that nobody saw and only a few people have heard about is a mixed bag, but it’s still worthy of your time and attention.

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle the man behind La La Land, this film is a jazz infused kaleidoscope of the highs and lows early cinema. It follows a fictional silent super star named Jack Conrad played by Brad Pitt, a brash and sexy upstart named Nellie LaRoy, played with ferocity by Margot Robbie, and the young go getter desperate to enter the industry Manuel Torres played by Diego Calva. These three characters navigate the film industry as it shifts from the silent epics of the 20’s into the modern sound era.

The film is a little bit hit or miss, but on the whole it has lingered in my mind, and it’s the first film in a long time I’ve wanted to watch twice.

The first hit is the absolutely passionate filmmaking on display. There are sequences of visceral storytelling that are completely riveting. An early sequence takes place over the course of one chaotic day of filming. It’s a big battle scene in which explosions go off, cameras get smashed, and one extra ends up impaled. The sequence is cut to the rhythms of Chazelle’s favorite musical style, jazz. It gives the sequence life and energy in a way that few scenes have matched. The storytelling is clear and compelling with little dramas introduced in each moment and over come in exciting and entertaining ways.

The first miss of the film is its scatological and nasty sensibility. It really leans into the sex, and debauchery of the time period. Hollywood in the 20’s was a bacchanal, a literal Babylon. And the film relishes in showing all of the hedonism it cram into every frame. This is just my personal taste, but I don’t enjoy watching people get peed on, or grotesque sex acts, or people eating live rats. It’s all there to paint a picture of the debauched times, but the way the film relishes in it was too much for me.

Another hit is the incredibly tense sequence in which they film with sound for the first time. Sound filmmaking presented some intense challenges to production. This sequence highlights all of these and creates one of the most tense scenes in recent years. As little mistakes like hitting a mark or speaking at the correct volume build up the characters are pushed to their breaking point. The sequence is riveting and suspenseful and I recommend the movie for that scene alone.

A big miss is the runtime. This movie is 3 hours and 8 minutes long. Who has time for that? I sincerely believe that an hour and a half could be cut out, and Chazelle would have a stronger movie. There are a lot of long self indulgent shots that look amazing but don’t add enough to justify their substantial addition to the runtime.

The performances here are top notch. Brad Pitt brings boozy swagger and confidence to the role of the super star watching his light dim with the transition to sound. Margot Robbie gives her all to every role and here she is fierce and wild. She is exploding with passion in each moment on screen. Diego Calva anchors the piece without becoming a boring point of view character. He is charming and passionate and carries the movie.

The last miss is the ending. The very ending. The last few minutes of the film are another self-indulgent bit of filmmaking that adds little except showing off Chazelle’s film knowledge. It feels like a pretentious film student was given 80 million dollars to play with and he came up with this dissertation on cinema. It just doesn’t work for me. Settle down Chazelle, you’ve only made four films. It’s a little late to carve your name in the pantheon of film history.

Overall I really enjoyed this movie. It’s weird. It’s powerful. It’s a little pretentious. It’s wildly entertaining. For a three hour movie, you will not be bored. It’s not perfect, but it is my cup of tea, and I think you’ll have fun watching it.

The Banshees of Inisherin

Anchored by a trio of great performances this meditation on depression and the Irish civil war has stayed with me over time despite never rising to greatness in my mind.

The film follows two lifelong friends on the fictional island of Inisherin off the coast of Ireland. The two men are affable Padraic played by Colin Farrell, and stoic moody Colm played by Brendan Gleeson. One day Colm decides to break off their friendship without a word. When Padraic pushes back Colm threatens great violence if Padraic doesn’t leave him alone. What follows is a series of unfortunate events that forever change these men’s lives.

My initial impression of the film was “is that all? It’s just a metaphor for the Irish civil war?” The metaphor just seemed so obvious and ham fisted. I was expecting something deeper and more profound than the Irish Civil War played out between two men.

The film was written and directed by Martin McDonagh who wrote and directed the darkly entertaining In Bruges, the self indulgent Seven Psychopaths, and the insufferable Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. He’s never been subtle. He doesn’t handle metaphor well. He mostly states his metaphors outright in spite of them being obvious. Here he’s once again screaming his messages at the top of his voice so they can be understood in the cheap seats.

I like his sharp dialogue and dark sense of humor, but I wish there was more in his work.

The Banshees of Inisherin mostly rises above its creators worst habits. The civil war metaphor is obvious and disappointing, but his character work is probably the best he’s ever done.

Colin Farrell’s Padraic is a nice man who just wants life and everyone in it to be pleasant. He is pleasant to everyone and has an affable quality that makes him seem like a good guy. But the film draws a distinction between good and nice. Padraic might seem pleasant and affable, but he’s also selfish. He thinks only of himself and he refuses to acknowledge the pain of others. He rejects others feelings when they don’t line up with his nice view of the world. Farrell is so good in this role. He accidentally became a really good actor after his superstar heartthrob status wore off. He brings nuance and depth to this flawed but nice man.

Brendan Gleeson is wonderfully gruff as Colm who is ostensibly the villain of the piece. However looking deeper at Colm he’s s man facing the end of life and trying to find honesty and meaning in the face of niceness. He is a man wrestling with depression and nihilism in a world that doesn’t want to believe those things exist.

The real heart of the movie is Padraic’s sister Siobhan, played by Kerry Condon. She is the bridge between the two. She understands both the depression of Colm and Padraic’s need to keep everything nice. She has her own dreams and challenges though and watching her grow and change as a result of the story is the best part of the narrative. Finally Martin McDonagh wrote a realistic and compelling woman.

It has more going on than the obvious. It has a dark sense of humor. It has interesting ideas about how humans interact and the nature of depression. The actors are wonderful. A disappointing initial viewing grew into a fondness that I feel will only grow stronger with age.

It’s a good movie. I recommend. It’s a cup of tea for me.

I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

This is a classic piece of pre code social problem film making. What shocked me watching it in 2022 was how well it held up. 

The pacing and superb craft on display make this film feel incredibly relevant and modern. 

Based on the true story of a WWI veteran sentenced to hard labor in Georgia, the film doesn’t need to embellish as the true account is stranger than any fictional narrative could concoct. James Allen is a man lost after the war who tried to find engineering work only to be turned away in the midst of the depression. He ends up an unwilling accomplice in a robbery and sent to work on the chain gang. He escapes and builds a respectable life only to have his past come back to haunt him. 

Few scenes in the film last longer than 2 minutes. The script is ruthlessly efficient. It conveys all the emotion and plot in as few lines as possible. This is backed up by the filmmaking. James is stuck in a factory job, but he yearns to be an engineer. He works at his factory desk underneath a giant window. Outside the window he can see a major construction project. The job he wants is looming over him as he files paperwork. The visuals use a shorthand to reinforce the minimal dialogue. 

I loved the sound design which is unique among films of this time period. Sound design as a concept wasn’t really defined until the 70’s. This film from 1932 incorporates a rich sound design to bombard the viewer with the relentless noise of the chains as James Allen suffers on the chain gang. 

The performances usually trip up older movies. They’re often too showy and theatrical. Some verge on theatrics, but they are anchored by Paul Muni who brings a naturalism to his portrayal. 

The characters aren’t deep, but they all serve the narrative. That narrative proved life changing. This film and the true story it’s based on helped influence public opinion and abolish the chain gang system in America. 

The film has maybe my final line in any movie. The final scene is haunting and riveting. It’s a little melodramatic, but it packs a punch. I love this movie.

This movie is my cup of tea. A+

Battlefield Earth

We’ve watched a lot of bad movies. We thought we’d seen it all. But this week our special guest Rich Horecki brought us something that redefined our definition of bad.

In this sci fi epic, based upon the works of L. Ron Hubbard earth has been colonized by a race of aliens known as psychlos. When one human learns their language he leads an uprising against the Psychlos and their terrible teeth.