Bad Sisters (TV series)

on Apple TV, based on the Belgian series, Clan, written by Malin-Sarah Gozin.

with Sharon Horgan, Eva Birthistle, Anne-Marie Duff, Claes Bang.

Sisters in front row at the funeral: Grace, with her daughter Bailin, Eve, Ursula, Bibi, and Becka

Beginning with the opening credits, Bad Sisters had me in its thrall. The Leonard Cohen song, “Who By Fire,” signals the show’s subject, followed by beautiful landscapes of Ireland, and five sisters whose bonds are tighter than their marriages.

The plot has a film noir bend to it, with the sisters wanting to murder the evil brother in law married to sister Grace, whose self esteem suffers under her husband’s withering disdain. Every sister it turns out has a personal reason to want to be rid of JP, played perfectly as the detestable creep he is, or “the prick” as he is called, by Claes Bang.

Three sisters, with Grace in the middle, and JP

Each episode leaves you hungry for more, since as Becka, the youngest sister declares, “He’s harder to kill than a cockroach.” There are so many ways to kill a dude, and they are all tried, until finally a twist at the end shows why there is a funeral in the first episode.

The show is also about families, how blood is thicker than water, and what we will do to keep our siblings going. Another family, a pair of brothers, who run the insurance agency that Grace is supposed to receive the settlement from, are determined to find out what really happened to JP. The older brother, Timothy, is sure there was foul play. Besides, his agency is in bad shape financially, and honoring the payout would ruin his business.

The Claffin brothers’ (Daryl McCormack as Matt, Brian Gleeson as Timothy) insurance agency, have most to gain by proving there was foul play

Along the way, there are other people who would not mind if JP came to a bad end, including his next door neighbor, Roger. JP has sent in smearing information that indicates Roger is a pedophile.

Michael Smiley plays JP’s unfortunate neighbor, Roger

Mostly, the show has a sense of fun, if murder can ever be considered fun, the way Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity were fun to watch as they tried to kill her wicked husband and reap the insurance payout.

I challenge you not to root for the bad sisters, who attempt to commit a perfect crime, when the real villain of the piece is the victim.

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Triangle of Sadness, directed by Ruben Ostland, 2022.

With Harris Dickerson, Charlbi Dean, Donna De Leon.

Just wondering, how many times do we have to watch people vomiting before we get the message that they are sick? How often must we see a couple humiliated by a powerful person treating one of them as a sex toy before we think it isn’t really very funny?

The sensibility of Ruben Ostlund borders on sadism towards his viewers. There are moments of wit, and a narrative that reflects how corrupting power is, especially in the hands of the wealthy. But I found the movie hard to watch, and after two hours, my internal alarm clock went off, telling me I had spent too much time with this.

The one bit I enjoyed, even though it was meant to make me very uneasy, was when the captain of a luxury yacht, in the face of a near shipwreck, where the passengers were all getting sick, sat in his private room, surrounded by whiskey bottles, drinking, and sparring with a passenger who is also good at holding his liquor. The conversation was a battle of quotes each pulled out of their phone, to demonstrate the superiority of capitalism versus socialism. Two clueless men, completely drunk, ignore the situation at hand which affects hundreds of people about to die, in favor of their ability to outwit the other.

Yaya (Charlbi Dean), formerly an influencer, Abigail (Donna De Leon), the toilet manager on the luxury yacht, and Paula (Vicki Berlin), the staff manager, are unable to maintain their status from the yacht, and switch places when shipwrecked on an island with no food or water.

Yaya (Dean), Abigail (Donna De Leon), and Paula (Vicki Berlin), whose positions are reversed once shipwrecked

Abigail is the one character whose story we care about. She is skilled, and undervalued when on cleaning detail on the yacht. We first encounter her when she knocks on the door of the two lovers, Yaya and Carl, who are asleep, and want to sleep more. She asks when she can come back to clean their room. Later, not an hour, just later.

There are several closed doors like that. You aren’t allowed to enter the captain’s room, even when he is drunk, and absent from the whole cruise, even when the ship is about to go down and doesn’t a captain get to steer, and avoid the dangers at sea? The whole movie reads like a fable, with an overt message that too much privilege, too much money, too much power, is unfair to the people without. The laborers on the bottom of the boat hear the white collar workers upstairs pounding on the floor as they are led through a cheer about how to get more tips, more money, money money!

It is all too obvious. I longed for a character to come through. And finally, when the boat is lost, and a few survivors wash up on an island, Abigail, the maid who was used to cleaning rooms, arrives, declares herself as captain now. She knows how to catch fish, how to start a fire, how to survive with nothing but her wits. Promises are made from those with money. And rolex watches. But then she latches on to the cute guy, the model, Carl, who is determined to make Yaya love him.

Yaya (Charlbi Dean) and Carl (Harris Dickerson) on the yacht, sunbathing

Okay, I thought, now she is abusing her power, the way the rich people did on the boat. And I felt as if I were being taken though a moral exercise with a brow beating teacher. The whole movie made me squirm, and it wasn’t just the scenes of people getting sick. If only the director gave me credit for having half a brain.

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Woman at War, directed by Benedikt Erlingsson, 2018.

With Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir.

On HBO, Hulu, Kanopy

Halla aims her bow and arrow at the electrical massive pylon, the shape of her bow elegant and curved, compared to the strict straight lines and acute triangles of the pylon. She is not aiming to puncture it with an arrow, but to sling a rope over the top that will enable her to pull down the structure.

When she is not engaged in taking down the over zealous electrical industry that fuels aluminum business worldwide, Halla is a middle aged chorus director, with a devoted group of singers she ably leads in exquisite harmonies.

Besides the sung choral music, director Erlingsson has music played at key dramatic moments by a small band, setting a tone for the action. The first time we hear the band they are sitting in the middle of the highlands where Halla just completed her mission of taking down one of the electrical pylons. These appearances of musicians provide not just the soundtrack and mood, as only music can. They also seem to anticipate the action in a very stylized way, reminding us that this is a story we need to pay attention to.

The musicians keep us focused on the action

Halla is opposed to the ever increasing use of electricity that is partly to blame for climate change. We see in the background, as her tv plays at home, scenes of environmental catastrophes in nations that had nothing to do with why it is happening. Her actions get people thinking.

While we only see her acting alone, her allies include a man in her chorus who begs her to write the manifesto, and then stop her acts of sabotage. Her twin sister is unaware of what she is doing politically, but supports her mission of adopting a child from Ukraine. A farmer on the terrain where the pylons are loans her a car. He thinks they may be distant cousins. At another point, he hides her in a cold place, until she can safely go out, and then brings her to a hot spring where she can warm up.

Halla warming up after a cold hideout

The timing of the movie’s release predates the action in Ukraine at present, but seems right up to date in tackling another world wide problem, like climate change while rescuing a child from war ravaged Ukraine. How Halla manages this and other twists and turns in her life, with the help of her sister and her distant cousin, is an engaging, inspiring story of how one woman braces for the most difficult upsets.

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The Quiet Girl written and directed by Colm Bairéad, 2022.

with Catherine Clinch, Carrie Crowley, Andrew Bennett, Michael Patric, Kate Nic Chonaonaigh.

Based on the book, Foster, by Claire Keegan. Available in theaters.

This movie is not the antidote to Everything Everywhere, but it has a completely different sensibility, with a straightforward narrative in a single line. A sensitive girl longs for love in a careless, even cruel household, and finds it by moving to a cousin’s house for the summer. There, a kind couple treat Cait, a girl around ten years old, with the respect and kindness she deserves, if only for a short time.

The movie opens with Cait hiding from the disgrace of wetting her bed yet again. We see a field of grass in wide angle, with only her legs showing. Then she stands, but goes into the house, where she hides under the bed. At school, she is afraid if someone sees her milk stained dress, they will know about her bed wetting habit. She is called pisspants by her sisters, who treat her with disdain. Her mother is exhausted and pregnant with their sixth child. Her father drives her to a distant cousin and her husband, who agree to take the girl for the summer until the baby is born.

Michael Patric plays Cait’s dad as a ne’er do well

Cait is observant. It is puzzling why her father lets her witness the relationship between him and his girlfriend; his other flaws, like gambling, which put the family in debt, are already known.

When she arrives at the cousins’, in Waterford, she is cared for with gentle concern from the start. Eibhlin (Carrie Crowley) and Sean (Andrew Bennett) preside over a beautiful house, well maintained, in stark contrast to Cait’s home.

When there is an emergency with a neighbor at her cousins’, they immediately go to help. When they are given a bunch of rhubarb, they make pots of jam which they give back. These acts of courtesy and generosity are alien to Cait.

Cait is treated to a hot bath for the first time. Eibhlin brushes her hair, 100 strokes, a sign of affection absent from her life with her immediate family. She slowly adjusts to life in her new home, with clothes loaned to her because her father failed to leave her suitcase when he drove away.

Cait is looked after conscientiously by Eiblhin while her relationship with Sean takes on a more workmanlike aspect. He brings her to the barn and begins sweeping the floor where the cows will return to after grazing. Cait goes off in search of a broom to help him, but true to her nature, she says nothing, and as a result when Sean notices her missing, he panics and hunts her down. One of the more tender scenes in the film has the two of them sweeping together, showing how actions are more important than words.

The movie is about the longing humans have for love. It is in actions, not what is said or unsaid, that we feel it. As Sean says, “You don’t have to say anything. Many’s the person who’s lost much by losing the opportunity to say nothing.”

Cait (Clinch) with Eibhlin (Carrie Crowley)

Cait’s parents lack the wherewithal to provide any kind of comfort. Da’s gambling and drinking and carrying on with other women deprive the family of essential needs.

The movie is extremely moving in showing how love works. Catherine Clinch as Cait is extraordinary, but so are the rest of the cast. The photography shows the beauty and harshness of the Irish countryside, and the order of the cousins’ home and farmstead. The movie includes subtitles for the Irish language used by most of the cast, except for the father, whose English is just one more strike against him.

Sean (Andrew Bennet) with Cait (Catherine Clinch)
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Everything Everywhere All At Once, written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, 2022.

with Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong, Stephanie Hsu, and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Available in theaters, and on Showtime and other streaming channels.

I wanted to see this movie because I try to watch what has been nominated for Oscars. This movie has the most nominations, for not only picture, directing, and screenplay, but also actress, supporting actor and actress, costume design, editing, and music. It is also a money maker in theaters, a rarity. I did not know what to expect. I knew there were fantastic elements, and fighting, but I had no idea how much it would tap into my ADHD as the scenes cut back and forth at lightning speed.

The movie begins on a realistic plane. A Chinese couple, Evelyn and Waymond Quan (Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan), own a laundromat under review by the IRS for having failed to use a receipt correctly in filing their taxes. The family is about to celebrate Evelyn’s very old and controlling father’s birthday (Hong) which means shepherding him in his wheel chair. The daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), brings her girlfriend, knowing that her parents are not used to same sex couples. Then Waymond shows Evelyn the divorce filing he is preparing to give her. All of these stresses seem to flip out Evelyn, from whose point of view we watch the swirling chaos ensue.

Note earphone on Evelyn’s ear.

There is universe jumping, and an evil character from one of the multiverses named Jobu Topaki. Jamie Lee Curtis plays the IRS agent, Deirdre, with all of the officiousness you can bring to that part. She is the most obvious villain. But once the universes begin to explode– and the chaos of life reveals itself, other comic villains appear. There is a troupe of military attackers. There are kung fu fighters that Evelyn handles with aplomb.

Waymond in his Alphaverse mode is very bad. Jobu is the worst, especially when she wants Evelyn to end it all in a giant bagel universe — which as a New Yorker in love with bagels, struck me as too ridiculous to even be funny– and borders on melodrama.

Joy as Juju Tobootie, or is it Jobu Tobaki? threatening to end it all by entering a giant bagel

So not only are the scenes shifting at lightning speed, and the personas– Evelyn becomes a master chef, a kung fu fighter, a glamorous actress, and who knows what else I might have missed, since I had trouble focusing after a while, but the actions of the characters spin around so that you are constantly in a state of disorientation.

Evelyn as a chef

A magic button Evelyn presses on her ear lets her instantly shift to another universe. This new universe gives her powers to evade the imminent death or catastrophe she faced in the last one.

I confess that I had to turn it off after an hour, because I found watching it too exhausting. Several days later, I came back to it, and finished, spurred on by the excellence in acting, and the ambition of the form.

There are moments of humor, mostly provided by Jamie Lee Curtis

Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan are excellent. In a way, the movie is a love letter to Michelle Yeoh, who manages the many variations on the character of Evelyn. Jamie Lee Curtis provides much needed comic relief. The character of GongGong, the older father, is acted perfectly by Hong in all of his manifestations. He is especially good when he has power and uses it with relish.

The story’s subject, the power of the IRS, treats a real problem, and the scenes in the laundromat point to the struggles of a working class family that can be completely undone by the bureaucracy and its unfair rules.

How families deal with sexuality choices is treated here with respect.

But the massive resolutions at the end seem like a reward to the viewers for putting up with some brutal attacks on our attention. The movie is creative, at turns ridiculous, funny and brilliant, but I found the pacing inhuman. Could a hummingbird’s beating wings match the speed with which scenes are thrown at us, sometime willy nilly? One of the most important elements of a movie is its rhythm. This one has none. I consumed it like a piece of cake I was supposed to like, but that was missing the ingredient of being allowed to take my time in digesting it.

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Women Talking, directed by Sarah Polley, 2022.

with Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Ben Whishaw, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Frances McDormand.

Available in theaters (as of February 2023)

Women Talking is a well titled film. The whole movie centers on a cluster of women, victims of sexual violence, in a strict religious colony somewhere in a remote farm, talking. They meet in a barn over several days in order to determine what to do about the constance abuse they suffer from the men. They talk. They enlist a sympathetic man, August, played by Ben Whishaw, to take notes on what is spoken during their debate about what to do next: do nothing, stay and fight, or leave. The ones who want to leave have the simple enough reason, to protect their children from what they have suffered.

Jessie Buckley plays the role of Mariche, a disagreeable woman with two young sons she would rather not leave behind

One of the women, Mariche (Jessie Buckley), would rather not leave, since she has two boys she wants to keep with her. The dialogue is earnest and compelling for the first hour of the movie. August is the only literate member of the cast, so even as he writes posters that show the choices, the women cannot read what they say.

At one point, a man is apprehended by the police for what he has done, but we don’t learn what the outcome is of his criminal charges. What makes the movie compelling for that first hour is the saintly nature of the women, their earnest belief in their god, their wish for justice, and their desire to forgive the men who have violated them.

Ben Whishaw, Rooney Mara, Claire Foy

“If we did not forgive them, we would be denied the kingdom of heaven,” one of them declares. At odd moments, the group converges into prayer, or sings hymns, which calms them. We know how distant this sect is from the real world by the intrusion of a truck playing a pop song, requesting people to come out and be counted for the census. The fact that only two of the young girls, but none of the adults, comply, is a sign that they do not consider themselves part of the population at large. In fact, some of the scenes are so extreme, the whole movie feels more allegorical than historical. Yet the title explains that the movie is based on a real story, something that happened in 2009 to a Mennonite group in Bolivia.

Sexual violence seems not unknown in extreme religious groups where men hold all power for themselves. The only man to participate in the discussions of the women is August, a teacher who had been excommunicated, and who as a result became educated enough to return to teach the boys only since girls were not allowed to learn how to read.

As the discussions sometimes turn to arguments, depending on how deeply wounded the victim feels about being raped, the movie begins to lose momentum. The rumination, the consideration of how to move forward, the genuine arguments back and forth, take up the lion’s share of the movie, but they are all in service to a decision that has to be made. Once that decision is made, the audience expects the characters to act.

Sadly they do not, for what seems an inordinate amount of time. Here is where a could-have-been love story is milked, and Ben Whishaw is in the unenviable position of acting a man who can never have what he wants, that is, the woman who is about to leave for good. I am not sure that it works, but the movie spends a lot of energy and effort trying to convince us.

Sheila McCarthy with Jessie Buckley

The photography captures the landscape’s feeling of endless space filled with nothing but crops. The costumes, cut from the same huge bolt of cloth, demonstrate how constricted the women’s lives are. The acting, especially from the older women, Judith Ivey and Sheila McCarthy and a brief star turn from Frances McDormand with a huge scar on her cheek, is a cut above. The movie expresses the feeling of injustice that women face not just in religious colonies, but anywhere they are not believed when they have been raped.

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Poker Face, created by Rian Johnson, 2023.

on Peacock.

with Natasha Lyonne as Charlie Cale, and a host of other actors.

Charlie Cale is a woman with a supernatural power–she knows when people are lying. As someone who works in a casino, that is a very valuable asset.

In the first episode of this 10 episode miniseries, Adrien Brody plays the casino director, trying to prove to his father, the owner, that he has what it takes to manage.

Adrien Brody as casino manager

Charlie’s friend who is fleeing her abusive husband has a job in the casino’s hotel as part of the cleaning crew. In the course of her rounds, she comes upon something singularly dangerous, and immediately brings it to the attention of the management. Result: Death for cleaning personnel, not the person doing the evil deed.

Charlie, through her wiles and mysterious ability, susses out who is to blame, and gets the cops back on the right track. However, she has to flee for what she did in episode one. The series has her escape by the skin of her teeth at the end of each episode.

Lyonne’s acting, with her fuzzy voice and underlying confidence, convinces the viewer she has supernatural powers, as well as common sense and ability to survive the bad people in her path. Charlie is a charismatic character who seems full of surprises as if she were ad libbing when you know the screenplay is carefully written. Also appealing are the plots based on down to earth people getting in the way of slimy evil doers. The supporting cast especially in episode 2– is sort of brilliant. Hong Chau plays a truck driver, an Asian woman, when we are expecting standard issue white male redneck.

Hong Chau plays the truck driver accused of a murder she did not commit

My previous experience watching Natasha Lyonne was when I had watched Russian Doll and liked most of it but some of it felt a bit absurd especially the dying over and over again. It was a fantasy. Season two where the main character gets to travel in time on the number 6 line of the IRT subway was more appealing to me since I used to take that train regularly to work. So I loved the visual appeal that set designers and production crew made match eras and characters and situations with 1983 versus 1979 versus 2004 versus 2023. That series got a bit complicated when the action shifted between the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, Berlin, and then Hungary, Poland, etc.

Poker Face’s plots and narrative flow so far (have only watched through episode 3, and there are 10, with weekly drops after episode 4) don’t have that problem. The only fantastic element is Charlie’s ability as a human lie detector. In her case, no needle goes wildly swinging to let you know when she knows. It is much more subtle, and more thought provoking that such an alert can lead to such consequences.

Larry Brown plays George, the innocent victim, in episode 3

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Living directed by Oliver Hermanus, 2022.

Based on the movie, Ikiru, directed by Akira Kurosawa in 1952. Screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro

with Bill Nighy, Aimee Lou Wood.

Showing in theaters. (in NYC at Angelika)

Living begins as a story of extreme conformity, set in 1950s England. A group of men travel by train to the city to work in their bureaucratic positions, each of them dressed identically, wearing suits, ties, and bowler hats, shielded from talking to each other by newspapers spread out before them. One of the young men on the train, brilliantly named Wakeling (Alex Sharp), is new, and has not yet met their supervisor, Mr. Williams.

The movie is Williams’ story, as he questions what to do when told how short a time he has left to live. Instead of telling his son and daughter in law who he lives with, he goes on a bender and finds a sympathetic writer, Mr. Sutherland (Tom Burke) who shows him all the debauchery available to them, along with a hat that is not a bowler. But first, there is a touching scene with the two of them in a beachside diner where Williams, learning that Sutherland has trouble sleeping, gives him all of the sleeping potions he has hoarded. “I no longer need them,” he explains.

Tom Burke plays Sutherland, a writer willing to accompany Williams on a bender

Back at the office, his colleagues wonder what has become of him. Williams is never late, let alone absent. The remaining bureaucrats continue their work of shelving petitions made by earnest mothers in search of a playground to replace the cesspool outside their apartment complex. Wakeling learns the real work he is doing: Keep your skyscraper high, he was advised at first, referring to the pile of papers on his desk. “We can keep it here for now. No harm done” is a common remark made upon receiving a new request, filed in with the others gathering dust.

Wakeling (Alex Sharp) is new to the bureaucracy and must learn by doing
Nighy with Aimee Lou Wood, enjoying a movie

Only one of the crowd at work, Miss Harris, a young lively woman, befriends Williams as he continues to play hooky. We learn of Williams’ earlier life in a series of excellent if too short flashbacks which inform a song he tries to sing while very drunk, “Rowan Tree.”

Williams is drawn to Miss Harris, though, because it is clear that she enjoys life, and he sees that as the main purpose of the days left to him.

Whenever it seems the right moment to tell his son that he is dying, he thinks it would be a bore so doesn’t. When he was young, all he wanted was to be a a rank and file sort of gentleman, not knowing that it would lead to a career in a deadening bureaucracy. Finally he decides to break through the paperwork stopping the playground from being built, and comes to life.

The director tells a story of a bureaucrat whose life takes on meaning only at the end. The message is a bit heavy handed, with photography that shows trains winding through the countryside with the assistance of drone cameras, and myriad closeups of faces in the middle of thinking of the meaning of their lives. The acting is superb on all counts, especially Nighy and Wood whose chemistry lifts the sad story from dragging on. Production gets the details right with the offices a cramped bit of homogeneity, the costumes and hats just so.

I only wish the music were a bit less sweeping in its attempts to match the cinematography. However, the renditions of the “Rowan Tree,” the song that Williams tries to sing in a bar, fill in for the emotions he can’t express any other way.

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No Bears directed by Jafar Panahi, 2022.

in theaters (Film Forum in NYC for instance)

A man leaves his home and moves to a secret location in order to work. It appears that he is not allowed to make movies because he sees through the narrow minds of a restrictive regime. Still, this man, the filmmaker and hero, Jafar Panahi, an Iranian filming what is essentially the story of his life, thinks in images and drama and keeps working despite all obstacles. These include the customs, the elders, and the police of Iran.

The mood throughout is ominous. Setting is Iran/or Turkey where Panahi is holed up to direct a movie remotely. This requires wifi which is not always available. The issue never stated– the reason why his movements and filmmaking are not allowed- makes me wish I knew more. This leads to any audience member not familiar with Panahi’s stints in prison, his brushes with the law, his defiance of restrictions that would prohibit him from working, to google it, and find out how heroic he has been.

In No Bears, Panahi rents a room or rooms from a landlord — Ghanbar– who maintains a toadying attitude toward him, always bowing down, and referring to him as “My dear sir.” After a while, this hypocrisy becomes apparent, and Ghanbar is stuck following the rules of the police or losing his livelihood as well. It means that Ghanbar must collude with the police to arrest Panahi, or he will lose his business.

Pictures taken on rooftops cause an inordinate amount of trouble for the filmmaker
Panahi endears himself to the landlord’s mother in law who provides excellent meals

Something about the deadpan manners of Panahi appeals to the people who provide for him, including Ghanbar’s mother in law, who prepares beautiful meals he cannot resist, along with advice, such as to stop smoking, which he does resist.

It seems that the dead giveaway that signal Panahi’s whereabouts is his car, an SUV of a certain size considered luxurious. It designates his status as an outsider to the village elders who take it upon themselves to demand a meeting where Panahi is required to swear that he did not take a picture, or that he did, either way, it doesn’t matter as long as he swears to it in front of this group who are there to enforce a strict cultural norm centered on marriage, and how these couplings are arranged.

The village elders, the rituals, the customs, the language, all give an imminent sense of danger. If you slip off the tightrope you will fall. The tightrope encompasses the rules of the regime. All through this ordeal, where Panahi is accused of taking a picture that embarrasses a certain groom to be, he is still directing the film within the film, in a different location, about a couple trying to get passports to escape a country that is squashing them. The film opens with that film– and it is masterfully presented.

I admire Panahi, and am frustrated on his behalf. He can’t finish any of his work for fear of having to abscond in order to evade imprisonment by the police. It is amazing that he can get done as much as he does. I wish he had the freedom to finish, and to execute exactly what he wants to put on film. He is extremely clever at getting as much done as he does.

Update: Panahi freed from prison February 3, 2023

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Pale Blue Eye directed by Scott Cooper, 2023.

with Christian Bale, Harry Melling, Toby Jones, Gillian Anderson

Available on Netflix.

Christian Bale makes his way through the wintry landscape

1830s West Point. A young cadet is found hanging from a tree, dead. At first, the academy directors think it’s suicide until they discover the heart cut out from his chest, and a contusion on the back of his neck. It must be murder.

Landor (Bale), an experienced detective, is brought in to solve the crime. The academy does not need scandal, and wants to clear up the mess. Landor slowly develops leads as to who would have wanted the cadet dead. He enlists the help of Poe, as in Edgar Allan, an outsiderish student, to gather intelligence about the murder victim’s friends and associates.

Harry Melling plays Edgar Allan Poe

Based on a novel by Louis Bayard, the story is awkwardly told, but the cast is excellent, and who can resist Christian Bale in a top hat, wearing it as if he’d been born with it attached to his scalp. The atmosphere is thick with gorgeous shots of the Hudson Valley in winter, with snow lacing the bare branches of the trees, and the river in the near distance. Winter is beautifully photographed and framed in this creepy tale with an unexpected twist that made me recall that Poe was considered the inventor of the detective story. He wrote three tales featuring a man named August Dupin. Harry Melling brings just the right weight to his character. The movie made me want to reread Poe’s stories.

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