Tag Archives: 5/5


The cultural conversation around “separating the art from the artist” has been around for decades but the public discourse surrounding the philosophy has been especially fervent over the past few years. How much of the messiness of one’s personal life is permissible to spill into their professional creative work? At what point do we deem their improprieties too great a liability to continue to support one’s art, no matter how essential it may seem to be? Does a pattern of ostracism or vigilantism create a chilling effect for creators to speak openly and honestly in public forum and stifle artistic expression? Should the works of those artists whose misdeeds reach criminal level be expunged? The new film Tár doesn’t just wrestle with these questions; it deepens their meaning and gives us a new narrative upon which to consider our answers.

Tár tells the story of Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett), the chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic with an unparalleled résumé so voluminous that it would likely spill off the bookplate of a sheet music stand. She’s led her orchestra through all of Mahler’s symphonies, save his sweeping number 5, which will be recorded live before an audience and pressed to vinyl. Tár’s day-to-day is guided by her personal assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant) and her nights are spent in a spacious apartment with her wife Sharon (Nina Hoss), who is also the principal first violin player in the Philharmonic. The addition of young Russian cellist Olga (Sophie Kauer) to the orchestra and the emergence of incriminating allegations against Tár from a former conducting apprentice lead to mounting pressures that threaten to knock the renowned maestro off her raised podium.

Lydia Tár is not a real person but from the opening moments of his first film in 16 years, writer/director Todd Field presents a profile so precise that some may be fooled into thinking this is a biopic. Tár throws a lot at its audience from the outset — even aside from the full set of opening credits and acknowledgements — but that’s by design. Tár is a larger-than-life figure whose body of work is meant to be as intimidating as her physical body is in the tight low angle shots where her arms span the frame. This is masterful filmmaking covering a gargantuan figure that is told through a symphony of moments so small, they can sometimes be easy to miss on the first pass. These carefully orchestrated phrases and movements lead to a breathtaking finale as salient and satisfying as any conclusion I’ve seen for a film so far this year.

In an opening interview, Tár speaks on the grave importance of time to her work and the same can be said for the way that Field chooses to arrange and pace this fall from grace story about assiduous ambition and accrued arrogance. Some scenes, like a mesmerizing one-take during a teaching session at Juilliard, flow gracefully for minutes at a time, while the sequences of the orchestra playing tend to be cut at a quicker tempo to match the dynamics of the pieces they’re performing. With editor Monika Willi, Field establishes a storytelling method that is pensive and patient, more indicative of masters from East Asian cinema than any modern American filmmakers I can recall. The ambiguity and subtext that Field leaves for his audience to parse over reminded me of the way Lee Chang-dong or Wong Kar-wai trust their viewers to unpack the complexities of their stories.

Cate Blanchett has won two Academy Awards, the first for portraying chatty screen legend Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator and the second for her work as the manic protagonist of Blue Jasmine. While both are fine performances, they showcase more surface-level delights as opposed to the more considered and nuanced roles Blanchett has taken at other points in her career. Her work in Tár is truly the entire package and calling it the finest performance in her filmography doesn’t feel like a stretch at this point. Field says that he not only wrote his script with Blanchett in mind for the title character but that if she had turned down the project, he never would have made the movie. It’s certainly not every actor who has screenplays tailor-made for them but when directors and performers are working harmoniously at the highest levels, the results can be transcendent.

Score – 5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Opening in theaters is Armageddon Time, a coming-of-age story starring Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong about a teenager living in 1980s New York who is sent to his older brother’s private school after being caught using drugs with his friend.
Premiering on Netflix is Enola Holmes 2, a mystery sequel starring Millie Bobby Brown and Henry Cavill continuing the adventures of Sherlock Holmes’s now detective-for-hire sister as she takes her first official case to find a missing girl.
Streaming on Apple TV+ is Causeway, a psychological drama starring Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry about a soldier who suffers a traumatic brain injury while deployed in Afghanistan and struggles to adjust to life back home.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup


For Pixar, past success has frequently stemmed from asking simple questions and providing answers in the most creative and entertaining ways imaginable. What if toys moved and talked when you weren’t in the room? What if the monsters in your closet were not only real but scaring you was their day job? What if a rat was the head chef of a five-star restaurant? Almost immediately, their abundantly ambitious and utterly absorbing new film Soul eschews these modest jumping-off points and tackles biggies like “why are we the way that we are?” and “what is the meaning of life?” Though the scope of this story and the avenues that it explores are deeper than some of the more elementary entries in the Pixar canon, it’s ultimately as fun and life-affirming as any entertainment you’re likely to find this year.

We meet beleaguered jazz pianist Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) as he toils at his day gig, struggling to imprint his passion for music to a hapless bunch of middle school band students. A beacon of light shines as he gets a call from a former student (Questlove) to come sit in on a gig with sax diva Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). While excitedly running home through bustling streets of New York City, he falls down a manhole and we follow the blue-blobbed personification of his soul as it makes its way to The Great Beyond. Unwilling to accept his untimely fate, Joe breaks through to The Great Before, a world of pre-existence where those not-yet born develop their personalities before dropping down to Earth. It’s here that Joe gets paired with 22 (Tina Fey), a stubborn soul who refuses to acquire the necessary traits to move onto the next state of being.

Director Pete Docter, the mind behind other Pixar classics like Up and Inside Out, navigates the messy entanglements of the spiritual world and the existential quandaries that it presents with deftness of a master storyteller. He’s aided greatly by a top-tier screenplay — a joint work between Docter and screenwriters Mike Jones and Kemp Powers– which skillfully sets up the terms of The Great Before and conditions by which souls are to attain their idiosyncrasies. This sets up a running joke that is my favorite of any movie I’ve seen this year, in which the ornery 22 exasperates all manner of historical figures from Muhammad Ali to Carl Jung during their efforts to pass along worthwhile attributes.

Soul finds Pixar expanding their artistic palette even further than before, incorporating Picasso-like abstractionism and a storybook aesthetic seemingly inspired by the short films of Don Hertzfeldt. Docter and company retain Pixar’s trademark photorealistic qualities during the Earthbound parts of the story, specifically impressive when it captures the characters playing their instruments with musical precision. Like the piano-playing protagonist Sebastian in La La Land, Joe sees playing jazz as his life force and is bullheaded in his persistence to pursue it. But ultimately, Soul ends on a much different note than Damien Chazelle’s almost-Best Picture winner, presenting a moral as powerful and vital as anything that Pixar has offered up to this point.

The film’s vibrant and technically proficient jazz compositions come courtesy of Louisiana-based pianist Jon Batiste, who has also served as musical director for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for the past five years. Collaborating on their second music score of 2020 after the Netflix dud Mank, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross contribute an electronic-based arrangement that serves as the intellectual counterpart to Batiste’s more heartfelt pieces. Pixar’s most accomplished and satisfying work in over a decade, Soul beautifully marries the head and heart in a way that’s genuinely therapeutic in a year as challenging as this one.

Score – 5/5

Also coming to streaming over the next two weeks:
Debuting on Netflix December 18th is Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, an adaptation of the August Wilson play starring Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman about the titular blues singer and one of her explosive recording sessions in 1920s Chicago.
Available to stream in its entirety on Amazon Prime starting December 18th is Small Axe, a five film anthology series from 12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen which covers the lives of West Indian immigrants in London during the 1960s and 1970s.
Coming to HBO Max on Christmas Day is Wonder Woman 1984, the blockbuster superhero sequel starring Gal Gadot and Kristen Wiig that pits the titular heroine against a media businessman and a friend-turned-nemesis.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Favourite

Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos turns the costume drama genre on its head with The Favourite, a wickedly hilarious and delightfully idiosyncratic vision of royal life in early 18th century England. With lavish costume design and exquisite set design, the film excels in areas typical of period pieces but it goes beyond that by pairing those aspects with a thoroughly engaging and entertaining story. Lanthimos has channeled his mordant perspective on human behavior into a bracingly original tragicomedy which proves that not every movie with corsets has to be restrained by the trappings of its respective genre.

Olivia Colman gives a brilliant performance as the depressed and erratic Queen Anne, who has effectively relinquished most of her governing ability to her advisor and confidant Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz). Though the relationship between the two is strong, Sarah’s efforts to control the Queen are periodically disrupted by haughty Parliament member Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult). Upon the arrival of her cousin Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), Sarah’s political influence is undermined further as Abigail insinuates herself into the Queen’s daily life. Soon enough, a war of attrition develops between the two cousins as they vie for permanent power.

This marks the first time Lanthimos has worked with a script which he didn’t have a hand in writing himself but fortunately, his darkly comic sensibilities seem to be in lock-step with those of screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara. Loaded with biting wit and profane exchanges that will keep audience’s ears perked up, the screenplay also does a superb job at developing these three female characters in such a way that we can sympathize with them one minute and loathe them the next. Perhaps the film’s defining line is a self-aware and droll observation from Abigail: “as it turns out, I’m capable of much unpleasantness.”

Another audacious aspect of The Favourite is how many stylistic chances are taken from a visual standpoint. The camerawork by Robbie Ryan is boldly unconventional in its frequent use of low (extremely low, in some cases) angles and fish-eye lenses to throw the audience’s equilibrium off balance. He also adapts to the challenges of shooting in low light settings brilliantly — comparisons to Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon are both inevitable and deserved. The costume work from Oscar-winning designer Sandy Powell embraces all of the film’s eccentricities while also staying true to the film’s sense of time and place.

Bringing the entire production together are three outstanding performances calibrated perfectly with one another. Colman modulates layers of sadness for both comedic and dramatic effect while Weisz brings a calculating brilliance to Sarah as she weighs cruelty against compassion in nearly every conversation she has. Stone utilizes her deadpan and self-effacing abilities to masterful effect and also carries through a believable transformation in her character. The Favourite is a bold and distinctive work from a director at the pinnacle of his powers and perhaps it’s not a surprise that it’s my favorite film of the year.

Score – 5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Escape Room, starring Taylor Russell and Deborah Ann Woll, pits six teenagers against a trendy new escape room that they soon discover has deadly traps at every turn.
If Beale Street Could Talk, starring Stephan James and KiKi Layne, is the latest from Moonlight director Barry Jenkins about a young African-American woman looking to clear her husband’s name after he’s falsely convicted of a crime.
On the Basis of Sex, starring Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer, tells the life story of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg starting with a gender discrimination case that would pave the way for the rest of her career.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup