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Wednesday, May 11, 2022

At RogerEbert.com, Carlos Aguilar asks Gaspar Noé, "Can you trace your interest in using split screen to a particular film or piece of art that you encountered before you started working on Lux Æterna in 2019? Or was this an aesthetic choice that was born specifically for this premise?"
As everybody else, I had seen many movies with the split screen effects. Movies from the seventies, like the ones of Richard Fleischer, like “The Boston Strangler.” I had also seen movies by Brian De Palma with split screen since, but probably the movie that impressed me the most about the use of split screen is a movie that was not released in the states, but it was released in France, although it was an American movie. In France it was called “New York 42nd Street,” but in America the name it had was “Forty Deuce.” It was a theater play that Paul Morrissey adapted into a film with two cameras. I guess it was for legal rights that it was not released here. You can barely find it on a bootleg DVD with French subtitles.

I was a film student when I saw that feature film that was shot from the beginning to the end with the split screen and I said, “Wow, that looks great. It's a great idea.” Unfortunately, they didn't really think how to make it more powerful. And so, I’ve had that movie in mind all my life. When I started shooting my previous movie “Climax,” the [fashion] brand Saint Laurent proposed to give money to make a short film. They said, “It can be five minutes long or it can be 70 minutes long. Whatever you want, but just use actors that are icons of our brand and use our clothing.”

I had an idea to do with Béatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg, but we had a limited budget, so we decided we could shoot this short film in five days. The first day of shooting, I tried to film it as I had I shot “Climax,” which means I wanted to shoot it with long master shots and we were so unprepared that at the end of the day, I had like a six-minute shot that wasn't working. And I said, “Well, now I have four days left. I cannot keep on working this way because I'm not prepared enough and there are too many people around.” I decided that from the second day on, I would shoot with many different cameras.

We had two cameras on the set and the guy who was playing the director of the making-of in the movie had a small video camera. I said, "Let shoot every single with two or three cameras and I'll see how to edit the movie, but it will not be a movie with just master shots." In the editing process I decided to use the split screen or the triple screen. I really enjoyed doing a very playful edit with one, two, or three screens inside the screen. One year after doing this short film that became at 52-minute movie and was shown theatrically in many countries as a feature film, I did another short film for the same brand called “Summer of ‘21.It's on YouTube and Vimeo. Once again, I filmed that with two cameras and it's a split screen fashion film that I am really proud of.

After those experiences with fashion short films, why did you feel that this formal choice could also work for “Vortex”?

Last year in the month of January, I came back from seeing my father in Argentina and my French producers suggested I do a confinement movie. Confinement movies are those kinds of productions in which you have one or two actors in one single apartment because we could not shoot in the streets. I said, “I have an idea. It's about an old couple. We could make it using split screen. We would see the lives of the two members of the couple. It would be shot with two cameras.” In my head, because I was already used to the split screen, I thought it would make even more sense than for the two shorts I had done before.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Monday, May 9, 2022

"The Norwegian screenwriter and filmmaker Eskil Vogt has long been one of the most intriguing and innovative writer-directors of the Scandi new wave," writes Vogue's Erik Morse in a profile interview article about Vogt. "Last year’s Cannes Film Festival screened not one but two of Vogt’s recent projects—The Worst Person in the World, written with longtime collaborator Joachim Trier (for which both men were nominated for best original screenplay at the Academy Awards) and his own film The Innocents. Part supernatural fable and part familial melodrama, The Innocents peeks into the enchanting and sometimes sinister world of children when parents are not watching."

During the interview portion of the article, Morse asks Vogt about the influence of other such films:

There was a glut of child-possession and telekinesis films during the late 1970s and early ’80s, like The Omen, The Fury, Carrie, The Shining, and The Twilight Zone film. Were these films and that period of filmmaking important to you?

I was, and still am, a big Brian De Palma fan. Carrie and The Fury—I don’t think The Fury is his best movie, but there are some really interesting sequences in it. At that time, as a teenager, I also read a lot of Stephen King, and that’s very much a part of what you are describing. When I started to work on The Innocents, I didn’t think much about it in that context until I was quite far along, and I was ready to speak about it to my collaborators and my producer. I said, “Well, it’s about these kids who have these powers…,” and suddenly, at that moment, I realized: “Oh, no, am I making one of those films?” Because there are so many movies and television series being made now about young people with supernatural powers. But then I started to think about it, and I realized that my movie was about childhood with a capital C. It’s really about being very young—about the magic of childhood and that secret parallel world kids live in. And there are those feelings of imagination that you lose as you get older. Most of those other movies and series are about puberty; instead, I watched a lot of classic movies about childhood because what I felt I was doing more than making a scary movie or a supernatural movie was making a movie about how it felt to be a child.

What sorts of childhood films?

There is a French film called Ponette, which has a four- or five-year-old lead. Jacques Doillon made it. I think [Victoire Thivisol] won best actress in Venice. It was so inspiring to see how difficult it was and how great the result was. Also, some of those Spanish classics like The Spirit of the Beehive. I watched the Peter Brook adaptation of Lord of the Flies. I was very impressed by the acting in that movie. These films just gave me confidence that I could pull off the child acting. There is nothing more cinematic than seeing the transparent face of a child going through emotions and thinking things. It’s such a wonderful thing to capture with a camera.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Saturday, March 19, 2022

Joachim Trier's latest film, The Worst Person In The World, is essentially a character study. Although he jokes to Tara Brady at The Irish Times that after film school, "I forgot all about making formal and experimental films," one of the things that makes the new film stand out are the daring formal flourishes, such as when the world around his main character, Julie (Renate Reinsve), seems to freeze for nearly an entire day -- long enough for her to make a bold decision during the split-second that her boyfriend moves to pour a cup of coffee. With a moment such as this one, and others, it seems that Trier long ago embedded formal experimentation into his intuitive cinematic mindscape. Here are the final few paragraphs of the Irish Times article:
“I don’t believe in genres really,” says the director. “But I do believe in them as playful guardrails or support wheels along the way. And yes, we did look at The Philadelphia Story by George Cukor. And I do love Notting Hill. And I do love the fact that even in these very light, romantic films, you can find some sort of existential pondering. And so I’m not against calling our film a romcom if that’s how one defines those films. But I do admit that we go somewhere slightly darker with this one after a while. Maybe dark is the wrong word, but perhaps more melancholic.”

When The Worst Person in the World premiered in the Official Competition at the Cannes Film Festival last July, Trier was following in the footsteps of grandfather Erik Løchen, artistic director of Norsk Film from 1981 to 1983 and a filmmaker whose drama The Hunt was nominated for the Palme d’Or in 1959. His co-writer Vogt’s second feature as a director, The Innocents, premiered in the same line-up.

“My grandfather was in the Resistance during the second World War,” says the filmmaker. “And he was captured and barely survived. He was very traumatised. And he played jazz music, I think, to try to get it out of his mind and to live his life. And he started making movies around that notion, and reading experimental literature. And in 1959 they invited him to Cannes and said: Oh, this is New Wave. For him, it was a jazz movie. It was a great thing. And it mattered a lot to our family. And in a strange way, my grandfather helped make the support system that I’m now privileged enough to make movies through. So going to Cannes was a big deal for me.”

Trier has, accordingly, been around the film industry his entire life. His mother was a documentarian and his father was a sound technician; both, he notes, were anomalies in Norway, where the film industry was comparatively tiny. As a teenager, Trier became a skateboarding champion who shot and produced his own daredevil skateboarding videos. He was still surprised when he found himself enrolled in Denmark’s European Film College and then London’s National Film and Television School.

“It’s weird, because as a kid, you realise those kids who cannot shut up cannot be allowed on set,” recalls Trier. “So you learn this great respect for silence, especially around film, especially around my father, who was a sound recordist. My mom primarily did documentaries, but I was also on set sometimes with her and it was just like seeing grown-ups play.

“What’s even weirder is, when I was 18 I finally told my friends, you know what, I want to try and make a living as a film director. And I felt that it was like a coming out moment. And all my friends went, yeah, we knew that. Because I’d been filming all along, making weird super-eight movies. I guess I’m not as gifted as Julie. I didn’t have options. I had only one thing I could do.”

Trier cites the work of Robert Bresson, Alain Resnais, and Andrei Tarkovsky among his primary influences. Studying in London, however, proved equally impactful.

“The National Film and TV School was really, really important,” says Trier. “I was rebelling against it most of the time because I came from a formal background and I wanted to make films like Brian De Palma and Antonioni did. I wanted to have complete control and they wanted us to collaborate. I found that difficult. But we had such great teachers. Stephen Frears taught us and he’s brought so many great actors – like Daniel Day Lewis, and Uma Thurman and John Malkovich – to prominence. And he taught us that you can’t fake great casting. We had talks from Mike Leigh and from Robert Altman.”

He laughs: “And they must have all brainwashed me, because I forgot all about making formal and experimental films and became a humanist filmmaker who’s interested in observational drama and collaborating.”

Joachim Trier on Louder Than Bombs - Fan of De Palma, Roeg - works intuitively "in what I call dirty formalism, or pop formalism"

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Sunday, March 20, 2022 12:39 AM CDT
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Sunday, February 27, 2022

Tonight is the season two finale of HBO's Euphoria. Each episode this season has been directed by Sam Levinson, who has also written or co-written the entire series so far (and also directed most of season one, as well). Last week's episode (episode 7) ended with the image above as its final shot, before a "To Be Continued..." was added to the right of the shocked face of Cassie, her eyes wide, looking into the school theater as she breathes, audibly, onto the window of the door in front of her. A Sissy Spacek-as-Carrie vibe is unmistakable, as viewers have just seen Cassie subjected to what she surely feels is the most shocking rejection she could possibly experience at the moment, and she turns her attention to the person she holds responsible.

A poster for Brian De Palma's Carrie appeared way back in episode two of season one, on the apartment wall of a character named Tyler, who gets an unexpected (and unwelcomed) visit from Nate:

That same episode featured a poster from another De Palma film, Scarface, on the wall of the drug dealer Fezco:

Episode four of season one found Levinson staging a carnival in which all of the series' main characters attend in one form or another, with a bit of a Bates High/prom-like tension to the various proceedings. That same episode ends with Rue and Jules on a bed that rotates into flashes of their relationship, set to a Pino Donaggio cue from Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now, "Laura's Theme". IndieWire's Steve Greene mentioned it in an article from 2020 about the music in Euphoria, for which he talked with Labrinth, who composes music for each episode, and music supervisor Jen Malone:

Finding that synergistic energy between music and picture doesn’t happen by accident. The shifting nature of TV refinement meant that it was never one clear-cut task after another. Labrinth said work on the carnival sequence came while he was juggling 20 other cues. Clearing part of Pino Donaggio’s score from “Don’t Look Now” for the show’s breathtaking rotating bed scene meant that Malone had to make calls to Italy in the middle of the night on a 48-hour deadline.

Meanwhile, that Scarface poster has continued to show up throughout season two:

Reviews of Sam Levinson's Assassination Nation mention De Palma's Scarface and Blow Out

See also:
Euphoria stamps its intro to Season 2 finale with John Williams' theme from The Fury
After appearing in Euphoria, RCA Records releases digital soundtrack from The Fury

Posted by Geoff at 8:31 PM CST
Updated: Sunday, March 6, 2022 12:59 PM CST
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Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Premiering on HBO Max tomorrow, Steven Soderbergh's new film, Kimi, was written by David Koepp, and stars Zoë Kravitz. Reviews for the film have been popping up today:

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

Full disclosure — nothing makes me dread a review assignment right now like the knowledge that a film shot during the pandemic also uses it as a plot point. But what in lesser hands might have been just another tiresome COVID-19 quickie, locking us into a reality we’re all desperate to escape, becomes a tautly suspenseful nail-biter in Kimi, thanks to tirelessly eclectic director Steven Soderbergh and seasoned screenwriter David Koepp. Lean, mean and enlivened by the filmmakers’ love letter to both Hitchcock and Brian De Palma, this HBO Max premiere riffs knowingly on Rear Window and Blow Out in the age of virtual assistants, all-seeing algorithms, invasive surveillance and snaky tech magnates.

At a time when Facebook guru Mark Zuckerberg’s ambivalence about privacy issues and his ambitious Metaverse plans have cast him in a dubious light, it feels appropriate to make a villain out of a tech conglomerate CEO eyeing a squillion-dollar personal profit from an IPO. And it’s a sly inside joke to cast neo-illusionist Derek DelGaudio in the role of Amygdala Corporation chief Bradley Hasling, taking his company public on the strength of a virtual assistant called Kimi.

In a TV news interview that opens the film — and exemplifies Koepp’s tidy way of dispensing with exposition — we learn that Kimi has the edge over competitors like Siri and Alexa because the AI brain relies on human excellence to resolve issues on data miscommunications. Kimi’s capabilities are always growing.

A tech analyst working for the company, Angela Childs (Zoë Kravitz) lives alone in a converted Seattle industrial loft. She receives occasional role-play booty calls from Terry (Byron Bowers), a neighbor from across the street, but never leaves her apartment. Angela is agoraphobic, and like Terry, both her mother (Robin Givens) and therapist (Emily Kuroda) — seen only in Zoom calls — are growing impatient with her lack of progress. She acknowledges that while she was improving, COVID has been a setback. The trauma that sparked Angela’s condition is hinted at, though withheld until relatively late in the action.

Terry is not the only neighbor Angela observes across the way. There’s also a creepy-looking guy with a set of binoculars, who appears never to leave his apartment either, and seems far too interested in what’s going on in the surrounding buildings and on the street below. Later revealed to be named Kevin (Devin Ratray), he will play an unexpected role when Angela finds herself in extreme danger.

While reviewing flagged data streams, Angela hears the sounds of someone screaming in distress beneath blaring techno music. Like John Travolta in Blow Out, she breaks down the audio elements and forms a vivid mental picture of a woman (Erika Christensen) experiencing sexual assault. With the help of a flirtatious tech problem-solver in Romania, Darius (Alex Dobrenko), Angela traces the stream to a user and accesses her entire Kimi history, exposing the full extent of nefarious crimes that possibly include premeditated murder and go right to the top of Amygdala.

There’s little sustained mystery in Koepp’s screenplay but considerable ingenuity in the resourcefulness of Angela once she lands in a life-threatening situation and paradoxically turns to Kimi for a way out. Clever touches include making Chekhov’s gun a construction-site nail gun.

Editing under his regular Mary Ann Bernard pseudonym, Soderbergh always excels at pacing, eliminating any flab in a tight feature that runs just a brisk 89 minutes. Likewise his camerawork, as usual signed under the alias Peter Andrews, which maintains visual interest and propels the story with its probing surveillance angles, then nervously tracks Angela once she overcomes her fear enough to step outside her apartment.

Owen Gleiberman, Variety
In case you were wondering, yes, we have been here before. Not specifically in a Soderbergh film, but in “The Conversation” (where Gene Hackman played a solitary surveillance snoop who realizes he may have recorded a murder), and in a handful of other cinematic references that Soderbergh does winking homage to: “Blow-Up,” “Rear Window,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” — and, in a funny way, the recycling spirit of Brian De Palma, who’s evoked through the film’s voluptuous old-fashioned musical score, by Cliff Martinez, which sounds like an homage to the Hitchcock/Herrmann homages of Pino Donaggio.

Zoë Kravitz holds the screen with her cool austerity, her impassive façade hinting at heavy anxieties just beneath. When Angela uncovers video footage, through Kimi, of what those noises were, it’s disturbing in the extreme, the way that the homicides in “Michael Clayton” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors” were. We see murder in the movies almost every day, but it’s the rare film that’s grounded in the real world enough to remind us that murder is something ordinary people commit. Strung out with fear, Angela is, at long last, driven out of her apartment by the order to share her discovery with the authorities at work, who have promised to call the FBI. The lobby floor of the Amygdala office is out of a technocratic sci-fi movie (the future is here! At least in elevator banks), but it may be less scary than the people she’s reporting to.

“Kimi” marks the first time that Soderbergh has collaborated with the screenwriter David Koepp, who has long been a rock-solid mainstream talent (“Jurassic Park,” “Carlito’s Way,” “Panic Room”), and the essential design of Koepp’s script — everything about it, really — is standard issue: the isolated hacker heroine, the discovery of a crime linked in shadowy ways to corporate malfeasance, her scheme to do an end run around the conspiracy, the whole thing culminating in a last-act action face-off.

So why did I say that “Kimi” shows us a way forward? Because the fun of the movie lies in the modestly budgeted sparkle and foreboding ingenuity of Soderbergh’s direction. He’s become the Samuel Fuller of minimalist indie kicks. His filmmaking joy comes through everywhere — in the way that as the (uncredited) cinematographer, he frames each shot like a sentence in a story; in the hypnotically cryptic exchanges between The Amygdala’s CEO (Derek DelGaudio) and a black-op associate (Jaime Camil); in Rita Wilson’s insinuating small performance as a “reassuring” office manager; in the way that the camera rushes up to Angela like a stalking demon during her existential dash through a Seattle of alienating streets and embracing protesters; and in how a nail gun becomes an immensely satisfying weapon. If we’re going to wind up watching anything in our movie theaters besides Marvel fantasies, we need a return to the spirit of this kind of filmmaking. The kind that can coax thrills out of something human.

Chris Evangelista, /Film
The minute Angela steps out of her safe haven the entire world changes via how Soderbergh, who once again serves as his own cinematographer, shoots it. The camera angles become tilted and disorienting, and Kravitz's movements seem to be slightly sped-up as if she's in a kind of semi-fast-motion. And then things get even weirder, allowing Soderbergh to shift from a somewhat simple "Rear Window"-style thriller into the world of elaborate corporate espionage and full-blown paranoia, complete with powerful, amoral people willing to do whatever it takes to stay ahead. It reminded me not just of Hitchcock's stylish work but also that of Hitchcock acolyte Brian De Palma; "Blow Out," with its main character listening in to sounds of murder, seems like a huge influence here. As does De Palma's earlier twisty horror pic "Sisters," a film fond of images of blank, non-descript apartment exteriors, and the potentially nefarious things going on behind the walls and windows.

"Kimi" almost never slows down at this point, with Kravitz sprinting from one location to another, growing more and more frantic by the minute. It leads to a dynamite chase sequence through a computer server room and builds towards a grand finale with bursts of violence and tension so thick it begins to grow suffocating. But most refreshing is how Soderbergh keeps this all relatively simple. Yes, the plot grows more elaborate and fantastical, but the film itself has its feet firmly on the ground, and Soderbergh seems solely committed to giving us a quick, mid-budget, ultra-sturdy thriller with no pretensions — the type Hollywood doesn't really make anymore. This isn't the best or even most-memorable film on Soderbergh's resume, but it is a film that does exactly what it sets out to do. Best of all, the filmmaker doesn't tack on a hacky message about how we should all unplug from our devices — because let's face it, we all know that's not happening at this point.

Amy Taubin, Filmmaker Magazine
Deftly written and directed, Kimi is joyously built around Kravitz’s tour de force performance, which is idiosyncratic without ever being mannered. Except for the prologue described above she is never off the screen, and until the action-packed third act, she is often alone. This is the first movie in which Soderbergh revels in color (Kimi’s fuchsia light, Angela’s blue hair, her puce sweater and burnt orange hoodie) – not primary colors as in Godard, but just as vibrant. The first time we see Kimi, she’s puttering around her loft, and Soderbergh’s camera swoops around her as Cliff Martinez’s full orchestral score suggests that there’s more going on than meets the eye, bringing a hint of Hitchcock’s Vertigo to the quotidian activities of coffee making and opening screens. A hint, that’s all, as there will be hints of Rear Window, Blow Out, The Conversation and Three Days of the Condor — just enough to remind us that the thriller genre has a pleasurable, twisty history, and also that something different is happening here because the protagonist is a woman. From the tall windows next to her desk, Angela sees two guys with eyes on her. One (Devin Ratray) might be a peeping tom; the other (Byron Bowers) is clearly a friend. Angela gestures that she’ll meet him on the street below and then rushes around scooping up her phone, keys, mask, prescription drugs and stuffing them into her purse. She gets as far as touching the lock on the front door before collapsing on the floor. The camera hovers above, like an adult bird, helplessly watching a fledgling that’s fallen from the nest. On the street, the BF shrugs and leaves for work. Later, he comes by, they have a fast fuck, and although Angela starts to strip the bed and throw the sheets in the wash even before he has time to sit up (remember when you wiped everything that came from the outside with bleach?), there’s just enough going on between them to suggest that there is hope for this relationship.

Most of Angela’s relationships, however, take place on screens — mother, girlfriend, shrink, a co-worker in Romania, who greets her with an enthusiastic “Hey, Hotness.” (He’s played by Alex Dobrenko, and he’s a real find.) Catching up with work, Angela listens to streams from the day before and hears what sounds to her — and to us – like a woman screaming as she is murdered. When her bosses refuse to take this seriously, telling her to erase the tape and forget about it, she’s forced to leave her house to confront them directly, and then to flee from them through downtown Seattle, where crowds of Black Lives Matter protesters become her temporary shield, until she arrives back home, which is now anything but a safe space. This extended chase sequence seems both precisely mapped and made up on the spot, and not only this sequence, but the entire movie. A year or so from now, I’ll watch Kimi again and remember not just the panic of the pandemic, but the pleasure of movies that dazzle the mind’s eye and ear, particularly this one.

Richard Brody, The New Yorker
Steven Soderbergh, who has become admirably prolific in the age of streaming, is a director of paradox. He positions himself as a classical professional who can take on any subject and personalize it with his own style and range of obsessions. But, regardless of his manifest skills and pleasures, the quality of his work fluctuates widely, depending on his connection to the subject matter. Of all current Hollywood filmmakers, Soderbergh is the most physical, the one who comes the closest to the painterly ideal of touching the image. He has long been doing his own camera work (under the pseudonym of Peter Andrews) and also his own editing (as Mary Ann Bernard), and the way that he engages with his subject evokes a bodily music, something like dance—a cinematic swing. His new film, “Kimi,” which is coming to HBO Max on Thursday, has it. This comes as something of a pleasant surprise, because the movie’s substance isn’t apparent in its foreground—it’s built as an ordinary genre piece.

“Kimi,” written by David Koepp, is a killer thriller of industrial chicanery with a high-tech edge of menacing surveillance. With its focus on a cat-and-mouse game of suspicion and pursuit, it risks the impersonal efficiency of Soderbergh’s accomplished but inconsequential 2021 feature “No Sudden Move.” Instead, “Kimi,” set in the tech world of Seattle, takes its place as one of Soderbergh’s best recent films. Amid its tightly plotted action, it seethes with a rage that seems pressurized by the sealed-off grimness of the pandemic years. The title refers to a fictional new competitor to Siri and Alexa, a voice-activated domestic command device that is distinguished by the human touch—the presence of employees, rather than algorithms, ramps up the interactive system’s informational learning curve. Zoë Kravitz stars as Angela Childs, an employee of the tech firm, Amygdala, who works on correcting the “stream.” Parked at her computer in her large quasi-industrial loft, she listens to users’ flagged interactions with the device and inputs relevant information that will prevent future hiccups (the title of a Taylor Swift song, the interpretation of “kitchen paper” as “paper towel”). When Angela hears a woman’s scream on a voice stream, then listens closer and gathers evidence of a crime, she also stumbles on a misdeed within Amygdala; when she reports the event to her managers, they try to silence her—for good. In many respects, “Kimi” is a blatantly conventional thriller. Angela is set up with a convenient array of character traits, starting with the fact that she’s agoraphobic, as a result of an attack (followed by legal misconduct) that she endured. Her loft, in a big-windowed building across a narrow street from similarly bright and comfortable buildings, is seemingly devised to be both the source and the subject of surveillance. The movie’s “Rear Window”-like premise involves a mysterious man with a pair of binoculars and a boyfriend across the way, a prosecutor named Terry Hughes (Byron Bowers), whom she invites over for quick sexual encounters but can’t bring herself to go out with—because she can hardly go out at all.

In “Kimi,” the juice is in the metaphors, starting with agoraphobia as a representation of the social disturbance of life during the pandemic. When Angela does manage to go out, she wears a mask, but, oddly, she’s among the few in the film who do so—the movie is a paranoid vision on that basis alone. When she gets to Amygdala’s high-tech, high-design office, it seems sparsely populated, tamped down, and socially distanced. The awkward ubiquity of Zoom replacing in-person meetings comes through at the start: Bradley Hasling (Derek DelGaudio), the tech wizard behind Kimi, appears on TV from his garage, where he sits in front of a faux bookcase while wearing a jacket, tie, and pajama bottoms. Bradley is at the center of some underhanded business that’s hinted at early on, but it is only the first glimmer of a wide-ranging conspiracy—intended to boost the company’s I.P.O.—that Angela’s responsible actions threaten to uncover.

The nexus of tech and crime in “Kimi” packs a personal and a collective outrage at the ways in which tech companies have abandoned their civic responsibility and allowed, even fostered, propaganda—whether anti-vax or conspiracy-theorist or racist or misogynistic or anti-Semitic or xenophobic—that has got people killed. The depraved indifference in the name of stock prices finds its symbol in Kimi—not only in the way it’s managed but also in its seemingly innocent domestic presence. The blatant but forceful metaphorical condensation of world-spanning power in a conical gizmo energizes Soderbergh’s direction throughout; it appears inseparable from the physicality and the visual intensity that distinguish the movie from more routine storytelling.

Angela may be stuck in her loft and spending an inordinate amount of time at her computer, but she inhabits her domestic space with style. Soderbergh delights in the swoop and the twist of perspective as Angela sits confidently at her desk and her screen lights up with the familiar intricacies of her digital labor. He infuses the movie with space-grabbing pan shots that swivel through the loft and fill the screen with the ordinary complexity, the hidden places and tucked-away corners, the overlooked mystery of everyday gestures. Kravitz invests Angela with light-footed grace to balance the character’s principled determination. Angela struts and dances through the apartment while doing routine tasks or talking on the phone, and Soderbergh matches her vigor with shots from below or above, extreme closeups on physical contact with objects and optical connection with digital information that evoke both a passionate engagement with the world and a chilly alienation from it (in ways that are reminiscent of Brian De Palma’s “Blow Out”).

Mike D'Angelo, AV Club
Paranoia has come a long way since the analog age. Gene Hackman’s professional snoop in The Conversation methodically destroyed his entire apartment searching for a bug he believed had been planted there. Nowadays, we purchase the listening and tracking devices ourselves, in the form of virtual assistants and GPS-equipped smartphones.

While most of us have made our peace with trading some degree of privacy for convenience, those curious about a worst-case scenario—or just seeking some enjoyably implausible excitement—should look no further than Kimi, a new tech-heavy thriller written by David Koepp (very much in his Panic Room mode) and directed by Steven Soderbergh (returning to Unsane territory, minus the fisheye lenses). When this film is over, viewers with voice-activated smart TVs are liable to look around for the long-dormant physical remote.

It’s not as if Angela Childs (Zoë Kravitz) doesn’t understand exactly how much information these devices vacuum up. A former Facebook content moderator, Angela now works as a “voicestream interpreter” for fictional Amygdala (cutely named after the part of the brain responsible for threat assessment), responding to issues with commands given to an Alexa-style assistant called Kimi. “I’m here!” chirps Kimi (in the voice of Betsy Brantley, Soderbergh’s ex-wife) when summoned, and there’s a very relatable running joke in which it constantly responds, unwanted, to casual mentions of its name during FaceTime conversations. Things get considerably less amusing, however, when one of the streams sent to Angela for analysis turns out to be a snatch of loud music (Massive Attack’s “Inertia Creeps,” another nice touch) beneath which a woman’s scream can be faintly heard.

Apart from a quick prologue, Kimi’s entire first half is set inside Angela’s cavernous fourth-floor Seattle apartment, from which she’s been working for some time—partly due to the pandemic, perhaps (brace yourself for masks), but mostly because she’s become agoraphobic after having been sexually assaulted. During the initial lockdown, she developed a flirtation with across-the-street neighbor Terry (Byron Bowers), but can’t even bring herself to meet him at the taco truck a few feet below.

Soderbergh responds to this challenge (itself likely pandemic-related) with cinema’s umpteenth homage to Rear Window, observing Angela monitor Terry from a distance even as another neighbor (Devin Ratray) constantly watches her. The sensation of déjà vu is compounded by Angela’s efforts to extract clearer audio from the recording and determine whether she’s hearing what she thinks she’s hearing, à la John Travolta in Brian De Palma’s Blow Out (which was already a riff on Antonioni’s Blow-Up).

Posted by Geoff at 11:27 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, February 9, 2022 11:30 PM CST
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Thursday, January 20, 2022

"Erin Vassilopoulos’s moody and stylish Sundance debut feature Superior is a spiritual sequel to her 2015 short film of the same name," states IndieWire's Ryan Lattanzio. "Both revolve around twin sisters trying to distinguish themselves from one another, and they’re played by Alessandra Mesa and Ani Mesa. This throwback thriller serves up ’80s vibes and Brian De Palma-esque thrills." According to Lattanzio, Superior was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize last year at Sundance 2021. "Factory 25 will release the film March 25 at BAM Cinemas in New York," Lattanzio informs, "followed by a nationwide expansion. A digital version of the film, as well as a limited edition Blu-ray, will be available later in the summer of this year."

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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Tuesday, January 11, 2022

At Hyperallergic, Nadine Smith reviews Pedro Almodóvar's Parallel Mothers:
Time passes, and the two collide again after Ana loses her child to SIDS. Janis takes her on as a live-in nanny, but something has begun to feel off to her about her child. Secrets fester as Janis and Ana’s relationship thickens and intensifies, with the film evolving into a beguilingly uncanny thriller. After the more contemplative autofiction of Pain and Glory, Parallel Mothers is a return to Almodóvar’s familiar sandbox of applying a tender touch to pulp and genre tropes. With shades of Brian De Palma, he even employs a nanny cam to inventive ends.

The tension between Janis and Ana might be emotional and sexual at heart, but there’s a historical rift as well. Janis is the child of a Republican stronghold from the time of the Spanish Civil War, and is all too aware of the hidden mass graves throughout the countryside. In contrast, Ana is disconnected from the past, and the daughter of the fascist upper class. Almodóvar has become such an established brand and an icon of cinematic queerness that the sociopolitical context he emerged from is often forgotten. But it’s impossible to separate the thorny sexuality or vibrant color in his films from post-Franco Spain’s explosion of cultural and personal expression. No nation is ever free of its genealogical trauma. The cotton swab of a DNA test is a double-edged sword in Parallel Mothers — it both cuts away the veil from uncomfortable secrets, but is also a scientific tool that connects Janis to the bodies of long-lost family members. Almodóvar reminds us that the sins and struggles of our mothers are never washed away.

Posted by Geoff at 11:57 PM CST
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Saturday, November 13, 2021

Editor Tom Eagles was interviewed by /Film's Shania Russell about working on Jeymes Samuel's The Harder They Fall:
There are some really great split screen moments, like in that final battle or when we see the death of RJ Cyler's character and we get to see everyone's reaction. Are those things that were in the script or when did you decide to use those?

Yeah, Jeymes always wanted to do those two split screen moments. The other one is on the train. That last one that you're talking about when RJ dies, he was very particular about what it was. So we worked really hard even in pre, we got to Santa Fe a couple of weeks early, we were cutting in Santa Fe, and I actually worked with the assistants just with stock pictures to try and get that right, to get the rhythm right.

So that was very specific and then the other one, which is Cherokee, LaKeith, talking through the wall to the General on the train, that was a little bit more like, "I want split screens here, you figure it out." I think he was specifically, he did want it to wipe on, and then I just had to figure out how to cut a scene where can see both sides. Which is a tricky thing for an editor because normally you're always directing the audience's gaze a little bit. With split screens you can suggest but you can't tell them exactly where to look.

Because LaKeith was so magnetic, I would use cuts to sometimes try and draw your attention over to the other side, we needed to see what was going on there. And the other thing that was tricky about that is LaKeith is a very fluid performer, so he doesn't say the same thing twice ever. So those things were not shot at the same time, when he was doing the general side, he didn't do all that stuff about "Dred Scott free," he didn't do the countdown at the end. So I had to find bits and pieces that I could play on the general side that made it look like they were part of the same conversation.

And then there were just fun discoveries, I found that we could also wipe off with the movement of the door. So that was really fun and Jeymes told me to look at Brian De Palma for split screens. He's a big De Palma fan so I went back and looked at "Dressed To Kill" and a couple other De Palma's, and "Carrie," to see how those worked.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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Friday, November 5, 2021

The new Fall 2021 issue of Filmmaker is anchored by a great cover-story of Edgar Wright in conversation with none other than Bong Joon-ho, discussing Wright's great new film, Last Night In Soho:
Bong: Even though it’s really about Soho, I felt like Café de Paris was the prime location, where you see some of the key visual motifs. I thought you made some really bold choices in that location, where I saw a lot of your cinematic ambitions flow throughout. When Eloise first enters the Café, that was such an overwhelming sequence. While I was watching it, I kept trying to imagine your storyboard, because it was such an ambitious scene. I’d like to hear more about how you shot that sequence.

Wright: The interesting thing about Café de Paris is that it still actually exist[ed] as a club [editor’s note: still open during the shoot, the venue closed permanently in December 2020 as a result of the pandemic]. In fact, it’s quite a famous shooting location—tons of music videos have been done there and lots of British films, like Michael Caton-Jones’s Scandal or Julien Temple’s Absolute Beginners. But what we wanted to achieve in the sequence was quite challenging and required a bit more space than the location could offer. Also, it’s still a working club, and they needed it back at night. It was cheaper to build the set than shoot in the real one, so we built it and made it a little bigger than the original—I figured since it’s a dream sequence, we were allowed to do [that]. Because of that, it meant that we could design shots you just couldn’t do on location. For example, when Thomasin McKenzie first comes into the lobby and there’s the first mirror shot with Anya, that’s actually a double set. It’s a double lobby and there’s a mirror there, then when one of the maître d’s, who’s played by Oliver Phelps, takes [Thomasin’s] coat and walks in front of the camera, the mirror slides back revealing Anya and James Phelps, his identical twin brother, also in a maître d costume. It’s basically a Magic Circle shot. It’s also choreographed to the song [Cilla Black’s “You’re My World”] as well. Choreographing everything to a song might seem restrictive, but it isn’t really—we know [Thomasin] is going to walk out into the street to the first chorus, she’s going to see Anya on the second chorus, then she’s going to walk into the club on the third chorus, so you can choreograph movement to those specific moments. And when Anya and Thomasin come together opposite each other for real and touch their fingers on the glass, there’s no glass there at all. They are literally tapping their fingers.

Bong: How many times did you shoot this?

Wright: I can’t remember how many takes that was, but for some of those really complicated shots, we would have Saturday rehearsals. We’d be shooting a five-day week, then on a Saturday we’d ask the cast and a couple of key crew members, like choreographer Jen White, Chung Chung-hoon and especially the camera operator, Chris Bain, to rehearse in the afternoon. There’s no point doing those complicated shots if the camera operator isn’t there [at a rehearsal]. It’s always the mistake people make with choreography sequences—they do the choreography in the studio, and the director and dancers or actors know what they’re doing, but the key person to have there is the camera operator because he or she needs to be in exactly the right spot. The floor is taped up with [all these marks] and we rehearse over and over—“one, two, three.” Later in the sequence, when the actors are dancing on the floor, there’s a long Steadicam take that’s done without motion control. It’s all based on the actors and camera operator being in the right spots at the right time. With the exception of one section, which had a second pass on it, everything is done in-camera. Thomasin and Anya are hiding behind the Steadicam, then switching around. It took about 18 or 20 takes for that one. We rehearsed a lot.

There was also a funny thing that happened when we did that shot on the dance floor. Initially Chung had this little mirrored blade, and he liked to flash his torch into the lens so you get some real flares. During the first couple of takes of that dance floor sequence, Matt Smith [was] in the middle and then Anya and Thomasin were dancing around him, then the camera operator [was] moving around them in a bigger circumference, and Chung was trying to flash the lens, running around an even larger circumference to the Steadicam operator. [laughs] After a couple of takes, Chung goes, “Too difficult! Do the flare later. ” [laughs]

The real thrill for me with all those sequences was to try and figure out how to do as much of them in-camera as possible, so that the actors could really physically be there and act opposite each other, especially in scenes when Thomasin and Anya are playing each other’s reflections. There was lots of trickery where it’s half-practical, half-digital.

Bong: As filmmakers, more than anything else, we’re just huge cinephiles, and I think when we’re shooting an ambitious sequence like that, we’re always conscious of our predecessors. When I watched that Café de Paris sequence I felt that you might have thought of The Lady from Shanghai by Orson Welles or some of the Steadicam shots in Brian De Palma’s movies. Were there any sequences or directors you were paying homage to or maybe competing with? Were you conscious of any reference points?

Wright: I think all the things you mentioned are dead on. The entire film is inspired by a feeling that I get from some of those films, whether it’s De Palma or Lady from Shanghai, but also Hitchcock and Italian directors like Mario Bava and Dario Argento. Cocteau’s Orpheus inspired me in terms of finding a way to visualize dreams. Something I saw when I was a teenager that struck me in a very profound way was Buñuel’s last film, That Obscure Object of Desire, and the idea of two actresses alternating scenes. I would always have dreams where I knew I was somebody else—not looking in a mirror and seeing somebody else, but just the feeling that I’m experiencing a dream through somebody else’s body and face. So, it was bringing all of those things together. In the Buñuel film, they never have the actresses in the same shot, they just alternate scenes, but I thought, “Well, what if it’s almost as if the baton is being passed?” You see the other person in the mirror, then there’s a handoff. Now Thomasin is on the other side and Anya is the lead in these sequences.

Something I like in Hitchcock and De Palma films—this goes for some of the Italian filmmakers as well—is when things become operatic, in that they don’t really make sense in a physical way but make sense in some kind of dream logic. That was the feeling I wanted in the entire film: What if you had sequences that were clearly dreams, then at a certain point in the movie it all starts to feel like a waking dream? For the second half of the movie, Thomasin McKenzie is so sleep deprived that it’s similar to that manic state when you’re having a lucid waking nightmare.

One other filmmaker we didn’t mention who had a huge influence on me was Michael Powell, and two of his films specifically, Black Narcissus and Peeping Tom. In the former, I love how the use of color is so expressionistic and emotional. Then with the latter I was so inspired by Peeping Tom that I actually used two of its famous locations in Soho. The newsagent that Thomasin McKenzie goes into at the start of the movie is the same newsagent from Peeping Tom—still there, 60 years later. Then the pub they run past towards the end of the film is from the opening of that movie. Again, these locations are not far away from where I live. So, when I say I can’t escape it, I literally can’t escape it. It’s something I walk past every day.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Martin Girard, the co-screenwriter of Bruce LaBruce's Saint-Narcisse, tells De Palma a la Mod that the film "is profoundly influenced by the cinema of Brian De Palma (my all time favorite director, I worship him). Saint-Narcisse that I have co-written with Bruce (another big fan) is about twins (named Dominic and Daniel) and so much more... I'm very proud of the film, of its mix of satire, melodrama, horror, mystery, subversion... and numerous hommages to the master." Girard adds that yes, "the names are a direct reference to Sisters, but you’ll see that there are also many themes close to Obsession and Carrie. After all, it’s a story about double and religious fanatism, among many other things..."

This week, Armond White reviews the film for National Review:

Saint-Narcisse, a place of the imagination, is an ironic destination for LaBruce’s protagonist, who loves to take pictures of himself. Duval looks like a Marvel superhero: curly hair, curious eyes, gym-fit body (part Chris Evans, mostly Sebastian Stan). His arrival in Saint-Narcisse evokes certain gay cultural signposts, from Aubrey Beardsley–style ink-drawing flashbacks to the erotic-art film Pink Narcissus. It’s a combination of myths — from mother dominance to same-sex narcissism — once used to either explain or represent homosexuality. LaBruce adds his own mythology, evoking Brian De Palma’s 1973 thriller Sisters (which starred Canadian actress Margot Kidder as twins Dominique and Danielle), playing with the idea of split personality to further tease queer pathologies that are either inflicted or alleged.

“Everyone despised us for what we did and what we were — your grandmother, the church,” Dominic’s witch-artist mother explains, defending her own transgressions. LaBruce’s post-Stonewall, post-Warhol sensibility never shies away from transgression, which is why he has made the bravest, most emotional films about gay experience by any artist in the Western Hemisphere. His only rival is Mexico’s Julián Hernández. In the sequence where the two suedehead twins confront each other in the woods, they share curiosity, frustration, and desire. Their yin-yang postures in postcoital Last Tango stills are daringly cinematic — like the montage of Sebastian reclining against a tree, which dissolves to a rippling lake, leading to the classical mythological image of Narcissus seeing himself reflected in water. These beautiful contemplative moments, more sensitive and sensual than in LaBruce’s 2017 film The Misandrists, are unexpectedly classical.

But LaBruce must interrupt classicism with agitation in the form of institutional critique: Brother Daniel’s sexual identity is derailed by the rapacious priest (Andreas Apergis) in an order of eccentric monks whose seclusion (“Evil grows in the dark,” by the Poppy Family) features S-M rituals and manic self-flagellation. Scenes of monks disrobing and swimming at a pond are like Claire Denis’s Beau Travail finally directed by a gay man, while the corrupt priest’s death is the payback François Ozon tastefully avoided in By the Grace of God.

In Saint-Narcisse, LaBruce works through decadent sexual identity by confronting its corruption. Critic John Demetry pointed out a connection to De Palma’s Carrie (a great movie not generally appreciated for its profound satire of sexual-social-religious guilt) in the scene where an arrow-pierced Saint Sebastian statue (often a gay objet d’art) looks down, comically condemning a perverse supplicant. LaBruce matches that with his own pop-culture jest: Sly and the Family Stone’s “It’s a Family Affair” (“Blood’s thicker than the mud”) during the climax which clears away sorrow, confusion, and narcissism. Saint-Narcisse doesn’t show De Palma’s mastery of suspense tropes but moves from obsessive self-regard to open embrace. Brothers Dominic and Daniel escape the high-priest hypocrite whose lust is stronger than his love, just like LaBruce’s honest, gay-identity horror-satire triumphs over the political blasphemy of Buttigieg’s lust for power.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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