It’s the old story: boy meets girl, girl and boy fall in love, boy and girl have a child. The boy, a cynical, self-loathing comedian, can’t handle the fact that the girl, an opera singer, is both beloved by her audience and more successful, so he… doesn’t exactly kill her, but, well. Their baby starts to sing in a haunting voice whenever she is exposed to starlight (real or fake), so her father turns her into an international sensation – and makes a nice buck in the process.
Oh, and the child is a wooden puppet. You know, that old story.
You may have heard about House of Gucci being really bad: lurid, cheesy soap opera. You may have read about Lady Gaga’s over-the-top accent and Jared Leto’s outlandish performance. You may have decided that the film is a disaster and definitely no reason to go out to the cinema and risk catching some C-word virus.
The thing is, you’re probably not wrong. House of Gucci isn’t a very good film. Even if The Last Duel wasn’t a surprisingly strong addition to Ridley Scott’s oeuvre, most likely it would still be the weaker Scott film coming out in 2021. But the reasons for this aren’t Lady Gaga’s accent or Jared Leto’s much-reviled performance. It’s true, the accent almost deserves a mention in the credits as a supporting character, and Leto’s performance of Paolo Gucci, son of Aldo Gucci (Al Pacino) and scion of the Gucci dynasty, is often grotesque. House of Gucci isn’t subtle or nuanced, and it isn’t The Godfather but with fashion substituting for organised crime. If anything, it’s the panto version of The Godfather.
No, arguably House of Gucci suffers from not being lurid and cheesy enough. It fails because it has several very different ideas of what kind of film it is – and therefore ending up particularly good at none of them.
I wasn’t sure what to expect of The Last Duel, Ridley Scott’s medieval drama about justice and gender. The trailer looked interesting (once I accepted that some of the hairstyles in the film took some getting used to, to say the least), I liked the actors, and Scott knows how to do a good-looking movie. At the same time, the director has been rather hit and miss for me, in particular in the last ten, fifteen years or so. Obviously Alien and Blade Runner are stone cold classics, and I’ve enjoyed quite a few of his later films, but while the likes of Prometheus and Alien: Covenant looked gorgeous, they were saddled with scripts that were uneven at best and weak at worst, which in turn wasted the usually solid, at times even great acting in these films. Scott and his collaborators have often been better at the cinematic craft than at picking material deserving of the craftsmanship.
We recently watched the Netflix-produced Marriage Story by Noah Baumbach. It’s a tough watch: you quickly develop sympathy for the two likeable main characters (played beautifully by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannson), and when a legal system that seems to prioritise making a buck over helping two people separate as amicably as possible starts working on them it hurts to see how they are twisted into nastier, pettier, crueler and more antagonistic versions of themselves, particularly when a child is involved.
Where Marriage Story is about the film’s leads becoming the people they never wanted to be due to the legal system, though, the two main characters of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage don’t need lawyers to become enemies: intimacy, fueled by insecurity and resentment, becomes a more cutting and more precise weapon than the sharpest scalpel.
And there goes another year and the ever more sci-fi sounding 2020 is just around the corner. We’ve had some good laughs, we cried, we watched the TV in terror, then disillusionment and then resignation, name-checking Kübler-Ross along the way – but that was just politics. In terms of media, 2019 hasn’t been a bad year at all, has it?
Silence is almost not a Scorsese movie. His camera watches from the middle distance; it doesn’t cut away, but keeps watching, standing still, but far from unmoved. There are no extra-long scenes, no musical cues, no freeze frames, no siren call for a life of crime. Every movement has its reason. This is a mostly quiet film. Nature sounds can be heard – the waves, the wind, footsteps, fire burning. There is some voiceover narration, and there are dialogues, all of them necessary, but silence is the point. The louder the movie gets, the more disquieting things are going on. Silence is not entertaining in any superficial way, but it’s definitely intriguing. Continue reading →