Ralph Waldo Emerson once wryly said that ‘a cynic can chill and dishearten with a single word.’ I would like to think that I haven’t been such a pessimistic cynic in my film critic life, but that the overarching objective really is not critiquing or being overly cynical for the sake of it, it makes things better and strives for a higher order. In the last few weeks however, I have attended a number of movies simply as a viewer, an audience member in a new city looking for a new way of seeing the world. I left the pen and paper, (and the virtual replacement), at home and thoroughly enjoyed what the omniplex has to offer these days. It’s prime time as all the winners and standouts from Cannes and Venice are available to the general public so it really is a sweetspot time for viewing the best of the best. Because old habits die hard, here is a part-time cynics’ take on the latest films out there and why they are (mostly) worth seeing.
Banshees of Inisherin
Cinema: Curzon, Hoxton
The optimist: ‘I don’t like yih no more,’ Brendan Gleason eerily proclaims to doe-eyed Colin Farrell, his best friend of years. That’s how Banshees start, right off the bat, upending the traditional screenwriting tropes and opting to begin the median conflict point at the very beginning. Set against the background of an aimless Civil War on the mainland, the fictional island of Inisherin and its inhabitants are at war with themselves, with the battles replicated internally in both the main characters. It’s all an excellent turn from Martin McDonagh, who having been born and raised in London, albeit to Irish parents, seems to know more about the Irish than the Irish themselves. Maybe this outsider perspective is a unique way of truly capturing the tortured psyche of a troubled nation. One in which a cruel, inward-looking critique is at the heart of our frustrations.
The cynic: The lack of laughs is really the only fault and even at that it couldn’t be considered such as the subject matter is so brutal and dark too much laughter would have made a mockery of it. There is just the mild disappointment that comes with missing an opportunity to experience McDonagh’s dry, razor-sharp wit, but it was all worth it for this fantastic film.
Don’t Worry Darling
Cinema: Rich Mix, Shoreditch
The optimist: There was a lot of ridiculous palaver around this film that has really taken from the artistic endeavour at the centre of it. The Truman Show meets the Stepford Wives is probably the most accurate way of putting it. Olivia Wilde played a strong hand with this film, with a keen eye for shot set up and overall colour palette with her stylistic approach. Many lambasted screen newcomer Harry Styles for his turn here, as he is distinctly weaker than professionally trained actress Florence Pugh – big surprise. But I would defend his turn as perfectly attune to the narrative of the film where Florence takes centre stage and Harry has to sit there and act pretty, a complete inverse of the 1950’s societal roles they act out on screen. He lets Pugh flourish, and as she has demonstrated in this and Midsommer, she is a master of the girl trapped in a world she wants to get out of.
The cynic: There are three specific points that I largely disregarded in favour of praising the film overall. 1) Chris Pine’s role did not hit the mark, he comes across as the most uncharismatic cult leader. 2) When the ‘project’ is uncovered by Pugh to be a scam in which incels turn their bored and lethargic girlfriends into 1950’s housewives, the narrative fails to recall that by their very nature incels (involuntary celibate) tend to not have girlfriends. 3) The woke commentary seen primarily in the cult-like scenes were vacuous and empty, the recitals of the group that they must control through order is at odds with Jordan Peterson’s philosophy (who Wilde claimed to have based it on). In reality, he advocates for the perfect balance between order and chaos – ie. a stable world where you are constantly challenged.
Triangle of Sadness
Cinema: Curzon, Soho
The optimist: Ruben Ostlund offers up an excellent, largely impartial observations on the modern discourse around class, wealth and humanity. Beginning with the beautiful model couple, Karl and Yaya, both epitomising superficiality in the modern day, swapping their online cache for a free luxury cruise that goes awry, their self proclaimed outlooks gradually unravel as needs must. It toes the line well between both extremes of our vapid culture wars, demonstrated comically at the half way point when the drunken ship captain and passionate communist played by uproariously funny Woody Harrelson, while Zlatko Buric is the capitalism-obsessed Russian oligarch. Both are inebriated, shouting their respective mantras and groupthink statements into the ships PA system to the horror of startled passengers. It gently prods at the complete pointlessness of extreme point of views, as they do little to service you when it comes down to it and you’re quaking in your lifevest.
The cynic: Even the biggest supporters of this film will 100% agree that it lost its way in the final act, the disbanded set of misfits find themselves on a desert island in a different environment they are used and this part should have worked better than it did. The contrast was not believable as they didn’t act like people who had just been hoofed off a $250 million dollar yacht.
Cinema: Rich Mix, Shoreditch
The optimist: Perhaps it’s rich coming from a David Bowie fan to compliment this film so enthusiastically, but let the record be shown that it has wormed its way into the mainstream very easily with non-fans equally enjoying this trip. It has a wonderful stream of consciousness approach that takes you on a windy journey through Bowie’s troubled life and eclectic catalogue, whilst giving you an insight into his excellent mind that was well beyond his years. You get the sense that he has been here before.
The cynic: It seems like the director was trying to reach something approximating a film actually directed by Bowie himself. I didn’t parcel through the footage so who am I to say what way you would be influenced after, but it is something I picked up on.