Edgelord of ‘Babylon’

Robbie’s casting is as nail-on-the-head as it gets after her debut 10 years ago in Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, immediately becoming more famous and popular than the film she was starring in. Images courtesy Paramount Pictures.

7/10 About five minutes into Damien Chazelle’s Babylon, an elephant shits directly onto the camera.

It’s a point-of-view shot for our main character, Manny Torres (Diego Calva), who is tasked with getting this elephant to a gigantic, depraved party at a Hollywood executive’s mansion. The anus is in the high center of the frame, perhaps a little above the top third, with the split of the beast’s legs acting as a leading line drawing your eye straight toward it. The image is so well-composed that, as the watery shit spurts out, it seems to explode out of the frame and straight down right onto my large, mostly full popcorn in my dead-center front-row seat. I had just farted as this happened, so I got to smell it a bit too.

Bel Air, California, 1926- At the party, Torres sets himself up as a fixer and begins to quickly rise through the studio ranks. The film roughly follows him, screen legend Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) and Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie), a New Jersey runaway who’s decided she’ll take Hollywood by storm.

The film is a party, and it plays out through parties, first the opening party and then the debouched, day-long party that is the next day of production. Then things flash forward to sound’s arrival in 1932, and the music stops as all characters struggle with the new technology. The arrival of talkies is portrayed as driving a decay in Hollywood extremity.

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Another, sadder lens into the past in ‘Empire of Light’

Images courtesy Searchlight Pictures.

5/10 Empire of Light is a good, quiet little movie that’s sad, thoughtful and breathtakingly beautiful, and I liked it.

The Empire Cinema, Ballroom and Restaurant in Margate, England, December, 1980- Hilary Small (Olivia Colman), who works as the theater manager, lives alone, takes lithium to manage the wild mood swings for which she was recently hospitalized and seems to accept sexual abuse from her boss, Donald Ellis (Colin Firth), as part of her job. Things start to change with the arrival of a new employee, Stephen (Micheal Ward), with whom Small strikes up a relationship. Small sorts her life out while observing as Stephen, who is black, navigates skinheads emboldened by Thatcherism in the coastal English town.

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‘The Whale’ knows exactly what it’s doing

Fraser: 60% prosthetics, still 100% adorable. Images courtesy A24.

The Whale is a difficult film to watch, not because of its heavy subject matter, but because the movie’s bad. It’s got an unconventional story structure that’s difficult to enter, it’s designed to be unpleasant, and it’s really manipulative and tearjerky while also wearing its stunt casting and effects work proudly on its sleeve. Director/producer Darren Aronofsky has said he made the film with empathy for fat people and pushed back against critics, but the fact is everything in the film is built to exploit America’s unhealthy relationship with food and fear of being obese. It is a movie about a monster with a heart of gold, and you need to agree that Charlie, a 600 pound man, is a monster as an entry point.

In The Whale, Charlie (Brendan Fraser), a writing teacher in late-stage heart failure, secludes himself as his life nears its end. He is beset upon by his daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink), a callous, evil grifter; his loyal in-home nurse Liz (Hong Chau), who is bent on saving him; and a new face in Thomas (Ty Simpkins), who, as a missionary, believes he is bent on saving Charlie, but is actually a callous, evil grifter.

Charlie weighs 600 pounds and is so ashamed of his appearance that he deactivates his camera while he teaches remotely and will not allow his regular pizza delivery driver to lay eyes on him. He uses a walker, which he is shown hoisting his pendulous gut onto, and later a heavy-duty wheelchair, to get around his apartment, in which he has installed worn-out handles in the shower and above the bed. He has $120,000 in the bank from his days at university, but refuses to spend any of it on medical care beyond these mobility aids – Liz works out of loyalty. He also carries around his daughter’s eighth grade essay on “Moby-Dick,” which he frantically pulls out and re-reads in moments he thinks he’s about to die. The title ostensibly comes from this essay, but also happens to be what we called fat girls in middle school – I used to be a teenage boy, I’m sorry.

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Spielberg on Spielberg in autobiography only he could make

Spielberg’s first-hand memories of the technology he was using add another layer of authenticity, and it’s a lot like the rest of the film – there’s factual accuracy, but what’s more important is the realization of this tactile memory. Images courtesy Universal Pictures.

8/10 My first movie was Jurassic Park, the unimpeachable knockout that single-handedly changed the course of American culture and cinematic history by being so terrific. As I sit down for The Fabelmans and gather my cynicism for the tail end of the legendary filmmaker’s career, unjustified as I know he hasn’t lost his touch, I wonder – would I be sitting here if it weren’t for Steven Spielberg?

Jan. 10, 1952, Haddon Township, New Jersey- Mitzi and Burt Fabelman (Michelle Williams and Paul Dano) take their son, Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle and Mateo Zoryon Francis-Deford) to his first movie, Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth. Enraptured, Sammy Fabelman immediately becomes a camera and film junkie, spending his childhood and teenage years filming everything he can and diving head-first into ingenious, cheap special effects artistry. Through this lens, he documents his family’s move to Arizona and then California, his parents’ divorce and his high school experience.

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Gayness, cannibalism, ‘Bones and All’

Images courtesy United Artists Releasing.

8/10 I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that the team behind Suspiria is following it up with something described as “the cannibalism movie.”

1988- In Bones and All, an epic romantic cannibal road movie, Maren Yearly (Taylor Russell) is thrown out by her father because her compulsions to eat other people have become too frequent for him to cope with. Yearly drifts on what unfolds into an epic, life-long journey across the U.S., meeting others like her, delving into her own past and learning how to exist in the world.

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