Cache (Michael Haneke – 2005) B

A tape shows up at the their doorstep. It shows their house from the outside. No explanation. Another one shows up too and another…each is a bit more revealing. This sends the couple George and Anne Laurent played by Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche into a spiral. It clearly points into some deep buried secrets in Daniel’s past and his family. We start discovering all those secrets as he starts recalling more and following the tapes. It’s a tightly wound and strange film that mostly worked for me. Although I am not sure what, if anything, it is trying to say. At face value it is an engaging thriller with excellent performances, but I think it is missing something that kept it from digging deeper…or maybe I need to watch it again.

High Life (Clair Denis – 2019) C

Just not sure what this is about. Looks great. Well acted (really good Robert Pattinson again) and Denis is a very good filmmaker who probably has a solid vision and she put it on the screen. It Just did not connect with me on almost any level. I was thinking it would be a mature and smart sci-fi film along the lines of Under the Skin, Annihilation, Stalker, or Solaris. While it is mature and deliberate in its pacing and story telling, this is not a movie I enjoyed much or took anything out of.

Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach – 2019) A+

This is brilliant film making and one of my favorites of 2019. The movie opens with Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johanssen) listing the small details that makes them love one another. They have decided to divorce and want to do it amicably through mediation. After all they are smart reasonable people. They live in Brooklyn, he’s a successful theater director, she’s his star and they have this wonderful artsy life going…with an 8 year old son too. The problem is at some point Nicole and Charlie got on different pages. He thought they are perfectly happy in NYC doing what he wants to do. She always wanted to at least live for some time in LA where she is from and perhaps pursue an acting career. Now, enter divorce and divorce lawyers and all civility -mostly- is gone to shit.

Her lawyer is played by Laura Dern and like everyone in this film is absolutely amazing. She’s a shark, she is good at her job and she is expensive. He engages with the kind fatherly-type lawyer played by Alan Alda (really everyone here is so good in their respective roles…). Pretty gradually we are travelling between LA and NY and watching these likable pair as the process of divorce wrecks their world. Driver and Johanssen have never been this good and there are several amazing scenes where they deliver their best performances in anything I have seen them in. This is not a fun movie but it can be pretty funny at times among all the heartbreak. It’s complex storytelling with complex scenes and really masterful direction. No one here is bad or all good. How we read the conclusion I think can vary based on out perspective or place in life or even age. I think it is an ordeal but it is a bit hopeful too.

After the Wedding (Susanne Bier – 2006) B+

Mads Mikkelsen plays Jacob, the manager of struggling orphanage in Kalkota. When a benefactor in Copenhagen offers him a lot of cash for his operation but he wants to meet him in person in Denmark first it of course seems to good to be true. Well, it is and it is not. Bier’s film is another one of those family drama where some buried secret is about to change the lives of all involved. It’s a well executed and smart film where there are no good or bad guys. It’s about people who over all seem to want to do what is right for their loved ones.

Midsommar (Ari Aster – 2019) B

I really admired the craft and style of this horror film. It manages to strike some really dreadful notes, tones and imagery all while mostly in the bright everlasting light of a little Swedish town inhabited by a cult all dressed in white. There are no dark long nights, gloomy moods or creatures walking on the ceiling here. Rather we have a brightly lit nightmare that mostly works for me. I might not have bought all the performances or really was into the plot but I’m glad Aster is making some interesting takes on horror.

Wuthering Hights (Andrea Arnold – 2011) A-

Wuthering Hights….I love it. I’m talking about the book by Emily Bronte that was assigned to us to read in High school. It was intense, rough and ragged, full of passion and brutality and love. It’s always been a favorite of mine. The film by Andrea Arnold is an excellent adaptation. It is dreamy and immediately captures the beauty and wildness of the house in the hights. She manages to make it both tender and brutal with close ups where the camera lingers so close to our characters that it feels like we can touch them. I think the casting, the sparse sharp dialogue and the location natural filming made for an amazing rich tapestry.

The Irishman (Martin Scorsese – 2019) A

I am so glad I got the chance to catch this in an actual theater before it finished its short run and dropped on Netflix. It’s a movie that spans decades starting in what seems like the 1950’s and ending mostly in 1975. It has an excellent cast playing real life mob and mob connected figures like Russ Bufalino (Joe Pesci), Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) and Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). We are introduced to Frank and Russ as they embark on a road trip from Philadelphia to Detroit for a wedding or a “peace mission”. That would be in 1975. They are accompanied in the car by their wives and we are off on a tale told from Frank’s perspective about how he met Russ, his mentor, how he became a trusted hit man to him and other mobsters of the time even though he is not Italian, he is the Irishman.

Through the second half of the movie we get to meet Jimmy Hoffa when Frank is introduced to him. The two become very good friends throughout the years and until Jimmy “disappears”. How he disappeared, I believe, is purely conjecture but more or less what we see is the most likely story. How much did Frank really have to do with it? who knows…All along the journey we also meet a ton of side characters (mostly real life personalities and mobsters), we focus a bit on the Kennedy assassination and the Bay of Pigs failed invasion and we learn a lot about the Teamsters Union.

As you can imagine there is so much here to unpack and go through and at over 3.5 hours Scorsese takes his time. Good for him and I love that he was allowed to do that. There are no shortcuts here and no character is minimized. Even Anna Paquin who plays Frank’s daughter Peggy says very very little but she feels real and seems to communicate so much with her purposeful silence.¬†As the road trip progresses from city to city, cigarette stops and money collections on the way, we slowly realize where this is going. Sure, there is a wedding in Detroit but there is much more there. De Niro plays Frank perfectly. He is a man who you want to like but really, he is a monster. His daughters know that and push him away. We see that happen gradually and from their early ages. It’s like we lived through it with him. The actors all due tremendous jobs and there are too many to mention. Pacino is incredible as the over the top and amazingly stubborn Hoffa and Ray Romano is so good as the mob/union attorney Bill Bufalino.

This is not the high energy fast cool film like GoodFellas and I feel it has a much more subdued portrayal of what it means to be a mobster. While films like Casino and GoodFellas can be criticized as romanticizing the gangster life, this one definitely does not. The “life” will not end well. It leaves you with no family, few friends that you care about or who care about you, and if they do they are probably already dead or in prison. You end up alone, praying to a God with a priest who feels sorry for you and with no one other than your guilt to share a meal with on Christmas.