Saturday, September 29, 2018

Lee Chang-dong's Burning: The Stories We Tell Ourselves about Telling Ourselves Stories

Yoo Ah-in in Lee Chang-dong's Burning (2018).

We’ve never seen a metafictional film quite like this before. Beyond the knowingness of Deadpool (2016) and reticent where Adaptation (2002) is giddy, Burning (Beoning/버닝, 2018) is a silk-smooth character study from acclaimed South Korean director Lee Chang-dong (who co-wrote it) that morphs midway through into a Hitchcockian thriller, before ending in the realm of social commentary – if you can figure it out, that is. The filmmaking is assured to the point where long takes go unnoticed, and the impeccable pace makes the 148-minute running time feel all too short, especially given how tight the plot is, as you’ll see from the length of the plot summary below.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Operation Finale: Ben Kingsley’s Eichmann

Ben Kingsley as Adolf Eichmann in Operation Finale (2018).

Ben Kingsley’s portrayal of Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Nazis’ Final Solution, in Operation Finale – which tells the tale of his 1960 capture in Buenos Aires at the hands of Mossad and Shin Bet – showcases the virtues of the British classical approach to acting. It’s a marvel. His line readings have a shivering preciseness, but there’s an exquisitely layered richness to them, too, like plucked strings that release a multitude of embedded sounds, many of them surprising, some of them mysterious. It’s like a concert by a musical genius who constantly scrambles your expectations by shifting tempo and articulating passages in ways no has thought of before. When, imprisoned in a safe house on the outskirts of the city while his flight to Jerusalem to stand trial is delayed, Eichmann asks Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac), the Shin Bet agent who effected the kidnaping, for information on the well-being of his family, you don’t know how to read what sounds like pleading in his tone, because he’s such a master manipulator that he could be softening up the man he refers to as “Herr Captor” – appealing to his humanity in order to get concessions out of him. Even the inflection he gives to that phrase, “Herr Captor,” is hard to interpret: its respectfulness, its acknowledgement of who has the power, is complicated with slivers of wit and something that sounds like it’s just on the edge of derisiveness.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: Our Endless Blind Date with Mary Shelley

Elle Fanning as an imaginary Mary lost in dreams, in Mary Shelley (2017).

Just in time for the 200th anniversary of the publication of this exotic, bizarre, thought-provoking and psychologically complex concoction by a precocious teenager, a new biography of Mary Shelley arrives to tantalize us further with her tangled web of masculine mythology and proto-feminism writ large. In addition to being timely, In Search of Mary Shelley, from Pegasus and authored by renowned poet Fiona Sampson, has the added virtue of admitting that the search goes on for the true essence of this strange girl, and that it’s unlikely anyone will ever know the real core of this scarily prescient modernist daughter of two radical parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Macabre Mary lived from 1797 to 1851.