20th Century Women

txwAfter a well-received run at last year’s NZIFF, 20th Century Women finally gets some more big screen love. Brimming with warmth and wit, this enlightening if slightly meandering tale provides plenty of post-viewing conjecture to unpack.

Written and directed by Mike Mills (Beginners), one might ask how is it that a male is telling women’s stories—as the title suggests, this a film about 20th Century Women, right?  Well, not exclusively; it has a soft-natured feminist slant which develops further to show how female stories are often inextricably connected with male stories. 20th Century Women is loosely a biopic based on the real-life women who influenced Mills and is, in a sense, an ode to these women written by the man they helped shape.

Set in 1979, the film centres around a quintuplet of characters who all live in the same house. At the coalface of motherhood is Annette Bening who plays Dorothea; landlord, single mother, and compassionate matriarch who is struggling with what it means to bring up a son in a society bristling with cultural change. Likewise, her teenage son Jamie (played by Lucas Jade Zumann) has to endure the conflicting and bewildering world of advice and desires.

Dorothea’s large multi-story house is a do-up; boarder William (Billy Crudup) earns his keep by assisting with renovations. The other boarder is Abbie, played by the likeable Greta Gerwig whose free-spirited nature is pitted against her struggle with cancer.  And then there’s Julie (Elle Fanning), who doesn’t technically live in the house but comes and goes at her whim and sneaks in at night to sleep with Jamie. They don’t have sex, their relationship being purely platonic … at least according to her.

Despite being overly invested in life’s quandaries beyond its due, this earnest tale is liberally littered with enough existential insight and astute observations to be an enlightening and rewarding experience. And although it leans heavily on the performance of its superb ensemble cast there’s enough meat on its bones to be well-worth seeing on the big screen.
 

See my reviews for Witchdoctor here.

Kodachrome

3Digital giant Netflix’s bankrolling of a film that champions all things analogue is an anachronism that some might smirk at. Others will nostalgically nod at Netflix whose roots lay in the twilight of physical media.  But when Ed Harris says “We’re strictly analogue here” Kodachrome not only makes clear its belligerent stance on the world’s love-affair with all things digital but also underlines the 35mm celluloid that it was shot on—a rarity these days.

Directed by Mark Raso (Copenhagen) and based upon a New York Times article written by A.G. Sulzberger, Kodachrome explores father-son relations against the backdrop of the titular film stock’s death knell.  

It is a pleasantly predictable film that centres on Matt (Jason Sudeikis), a grumpy record exec, who is reluctantly coerced into joining his estranged father to drive cross-state.  His father, Ben (played by the superb Ed Harris), is a renowned photographer who has to reach Kansas before the doors shut for good on the last Kodachrome processing facility in the world.  What adds to the trip’s urgency is that Ben is terminally ill with only weeks to live. His last few cherished roles of undeveloped Kodachrome film provide narrative direction but at its heart, Kodachrome is more concerned with exploring the frail emotional bonds between Ben and Matt.  The always-engaging Elizabeth Olsen (Wind River) plays Zoe who comes along for the ride as Ben’s nurse, and for all the father-son bickering she becomes more a mediator than Ben’s medical attendant.

Ed Harris’s performance can best be described as “nuanced”.  Oh how I cringe at the overused word, but in this instance, it so aptly describes a masterful portrayal that is brimming with subtle shades of expression. Harris sublimely encapsulates Ben’s bitterly cynical demeanour that is fleetingly betrayed by moments of existential joy.

Kodachrome is a warm and beautiful film—Cinematographer, Alan Poon, having made the most of the media it was filmed on. And although it is a touch predictable at times Kodachrome remains an Ed Harris masterclass and worth seeing for his performance alone.
 

See my reviews for Witchdoctor here.