Shirley (Josephine Decker – 2020) C-

Elizabeth Moss playing Shirley Jackson? Great. Her husband is played by the always excellent Michael Stuhlbarg? Excellent. The plot involves Jackson writing her new novel as a young couple move in with them and there is a university student who’s gone missing in the backdrop? Sign me up. Well, the best word I can find to describe this movie is “interesting”. I cannot really say I enjoyed it or got much out of it beyond the excellent work the cast is putting on.

Funny Games (Michael Haneke – 1997) B

While most of the violence happens off-screen it is still a deeply unsettling film. A family (dad, mom and their young son) arrive at their vacation home on a nice lake in the Austrian countryside. Shortly after that they get a harmless looking young man called Peter asking to borrow some eggs and it escalates wildly from there after his buddy Paul joins him. Very often when we watch a film like this we are – as Roger Ebert would say- voyeurs. We have nothing to do with what’s going on. We root for the family to overtake their captors and escape with a few cuts and bruises maybe. That knife that was left on the boat will sure come handy later on. Right? Pretty early on we are brought in to what is happening (why are we still watching this horrible incident?) when Paul directly looks at us. By the end of it it is clear that this is a commentary on violent movies, why we watch them and how complicit are we in what is going on. I think it works and the very few times we are taken off guard it works even better. Haneke remade this with English speaking actors in 2007. I might see that too. Curious if he had more to add or just that he felt so strongly about the original and made it beat for beat.

Motherless Brooklyn (Edward Norton – 2019) C

I so wanted to love this, but at the end of the day I just liked it. It looks great, has an amazing score and Norton delivers a very good performance as does the whole cast really. Somehow, it felt a bit dull. Not exactly boring but tough to hang on to and care too much about.

Paterson (Jim Jarmusch- 2016) A-

Paterson (Adam Driver) lives in Paterson, NJ. He is a metro bus driver/poet. He is married to the eccentric Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). They have an English bulldog. Laura likes to have everything in monochrome black and white. She also wants to be a country singer or maybe a cup cake maker. Paterson drives his bus, listens to conversations of his passengers, has a beer at the bar at night while walking the dog and writes poetry. He also loves William Carlos Williams who is a poet native to Paterson, NJ. This really is more or less the movie, a series of days, repetition and conversations and I enjoyed it very much. Is it about nothing? Maybe. Like all of Jarmusch’s work it either works for you or it really really does not.

Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki – 2001) A

Beautifully illustrated and magical this one. This is the story of Chihiru who gets trapped in a fantastical world of horror and myth when she walks into a tunnel with her parents on their way to their new home. I have a lack of exposure to the excellent works of this master of Japanese animation. This is a good start to fix that. There is nothing quiet like his style in its detail and rich story telling.

Doctor Sleep: Director’s Cut (Mike flanagan – 2019) A

Good adaptations of Stephen King’s work are few and far between, especially the horror ones. This, the sequel to his novel The Shining, is an excellent one! The extended director’s cut is really worth the extra 20-30 minutes. I love the time it takes with the story, the way it divides it into chapters and how the extent of the horror is right there on the screen. It definitely does not shy away from the more gruesome plot points. The performance that Rebecca Ferguson, as the “steam” sucking evil queen Rose the Hat, delivers is weird, sexy and very dark and horrific. She is great as is Ewan McGregor as the adult Dan Torrance. Then we have the tone of the film and how Flanagan portrays such fantastical aspects in the book like the “telepathy”, “steam”, “shining” or that amazing sequence when one characters is caught in a trap in another’s head. I know! sounds like it should not work but it so does.

The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci – 2017) A-

When Stalin dies who will succeed him? His top ministers are played by the likes of Jeffrey Tambor and Steve Buscemi among others. They are darkly funny in the only way a black comedy about dictatorship can be. They go about backstabbing each other, gathering supporters, arguing about who should organize Stalin’s funeral, issuing conflicting assassination orders and just being all around slime balls. It is so damn good, funny and kind of informative. Not sure the same can be said for most “biopics”.

Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas – 2008) A-

As much as they might love their childhood home in the French country side, Adrienne (Juliet Binoche), Frederic (Charles Berling) and Jeremie (Jeremie Renier) are grown up now. They have their own families and goals. One of them is based in China, the other is a journalist in New York. The third sibling is based in France, wants to stay there and preserve their family home. The movie opens with a summer lunch gathering with their mom (Edith Scob) at the house. They discuss inheritance questions while their kids play and goof off in the surrounding fields. Their long term maid/nanny prepares a nice leg of lamb. In a few months their mom passes away and we are along with the siblings as they try to make things work between the three of them. They are all caring and not out to back stab each other. They want to take care of themselves and families without tramping on each other. They also want to make sure their beloved maid is not left with nothing. It is clear the estate will have to be sold and as time passes on the things that where cherished and loved must be left on the past. I loved this movie, possibly because of or in spite of hitting a bit close to home for me. It is another of Assayas lovely and deftly made quiet portraits.

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