Tag: Robert Pattinson

The Lighthouse

tlhVerdict: An unnerving and claustrophobic monochrome nightmare at sea.

You will never look at seagulls the same after watching Robert Eggers latest film, The Lighthouse, a tale of nautical superstitions and closely guarded secrets set in the late nineteenth-century. His first film, The Witch, was among other things a feminist film. The Lighthouse, similarly is a cold-hard stare at toxic masculinity, exploring what happens when two mismatched men are forced to cohabit in a lighthouse, on a rock in the middle of the sea, farting, drinking, masturbating, and beating on seagulls. It’s unsettling at times, yes, but also utterly mesmerising.

As Eggers once quipped “nothing good happens when two men are trapped in a giant phallus.” And he’s right, but before you dismiss The Lighthouse as some sort of ugly stew of perverted male squalor, think again, because this well-considered journey into the mental abyss has been meticulously crafted by a director at the top of his game.

At its centre is Thomas Wake (Dafoe), a salty-sea-dog-turned-lighthouse-keeper and his new assistant, the quiet and guarded Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson), who have four weeks to go about their duties on the weather-beaten island before relief arrives. But when a storm delays the impending relief, it tests their mental resilience. Wake becomes jealously protective of his lighthouse and his insistence that only he “tend to the light!” leads Winslow to become curious about its attraction. The film cleverly flirts with magic realism, as the mystery of the “tended light” is slowly revealed.

Shot in black and white with an aspect ratio of 1.19:1, which is to say, almost completely square, The Lighthouse is a claustrophobic and suffocating experience. Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke’s who also worked with Eggers on The Witch, and his brooding camera evokes photography from the period, which is hauntingly complimented by the unceasing cry of the island’s foghorn, moaning as if in labour with Eggers’ new film.

Add to Eggers’ formal brilliance two highly committed performances from Pattinson and Dafoe and you have a thrilling gothic vision of madness that may well be an oppressive experience, yet is something to be admired.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

High Life

hlMovies from the enigmatic French director, Claire Denis (Beau Travail), are often described as elliptical in nature—a cinematic version of those three provocative dots at the end of a sentence prompting an “and?” response, where more is denoted by what isn’t said. High Life is one of those films—a smouldering question mark that casts a giant shadow over the film’s other concerns.

Set in an undefined future, Monte (played by a detached but oddly warm Robert Pattinson) is one of eight prisoners in a ship hurtling through space towards a black hole, all of whom have elected to give their lives to science rather than undergo an earth-bound sentence.  The ship’s resident scientist, a prisoner herself, is a femme-fatale styled matriarch (played by Juliet Binoche) whose motherly gaze cautiously watches over the crew with one eye and keeps tabs on her reproductive experiments with the other.

The film takes pleasure in showing us a cocktail of bodily fluids pumping through the film’s industrial retro-chic production design. Aesthetically, High Life owes much to films that have gone before; the plastic-wrapped grime of Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys, the damp biological machinations of Scott’s original Alien (along with Mother’s built-in DOS prompt), the syrupy darkness of Glazer’s Under the Skin and finally the the organic hope of Boyle’s Sunshine.  And while Denis doesn’t inject much originality into her production design, High Life is still an evocative sensory feast for the senses.

Although the dark and foreboding palette may not be to everyone’s taste, it’s the perfect companion to Denis’ angry take on humanity’s self-destructive nature. Make no mistake, High Life is cold, bitter, perverse and very violent in parts—unsurprising, I suppose, for a film about a bunch of violent criminals cooped up in a shoe-box.

However, my biggest reservation rests with High Life‘s seemingly impenetrable wall of final ambiguities. It leaves you floating in a seething broth of questions, tasking you to fill in the gaps—a rewarding process for some, but I suspect many will balk at the film’s final vagaries. Simply put, Denis’ deliberately obtuse and elliptical style keeps you at arm’s length for too long and offers an ending that feels about as complete as this senten…

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

The Lost City of Z

lostcityIs it perhaps too much of a coincidence that Amazon Studios have backed a film about exploring the Amazon?  Surely not, although in the words of the film’s protagonist “So much of life is a mystery, my boy, we know so little of this world.” So, I guess we’ll never know.  What I do know is that I’m glad Amazon did open their wallet for this production, otherwise we’d have missed out on a fantastic re-telling of explorer Major Percy Fawcett’s true story.

The New Yorker staff writer David Grann has a penchant for uncovering true stories that have remained little known by the general public (Side note; keep an eye out for Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon to be directed by Martin Scorsese). Here, director James Gray has taken Grann’s book, The Lost City of Z, and crafted an impeccably balanced film that dramatises Fawcett’s intriguing exploration into the unknown.

It is a journey into the unchartered jungles of what was then labelled by England as Amazonia, an unforgiving region that guardedly held many secrets, which as the title suggests, may also be the possible location of a fabled lost city.  On the surface it doesn’t seem the most original story to tell—you could be forgiven for assuming this might be a pulpy romp through the jungle swinging from vines in search for hidden treasure. Instead, we are treated to an emotionally charged film that is very much grounded in reality and in touch with its factual beginnings.  The Lost City of Z is an exploration into one man’s fortitude and an introspective investigation into his obsession with the journey up a remote river.  Many parallels can be made with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and in light of Apocalypse Now’s connections to Conrad’s book, it is no surprise that Gray has settled on a style straight out of the Francis Ford-Coppola handbook of filmmaking … with perhaps a hint of Aronofsky’s The Fountain.

It is 1905 and Major Percy Fawcett (played by Charlie Hunnam) is commissioned to Bolivia on a cartography assignment.  Despite being hungry for action, he reluctantly leaves his wife, Nina (Sienna Miller) and newborn child behind and sets off, naively proclaiming “mankind awaits our discoveries”. With help from Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson) and a small team of intrepid explorers they cautiously make their way up the Amazon towards the river’s source.  The film provides some thrilling moments and ratchets tension superbly by employing a brooding and eerily discordant musical score that evokes a palpable sense of dread. It is by pure chance that Fawcett happens upon some pottery and other mysterious remnants of a long lost civilisation that prompts his return to England to prepare for another more thorough search.

The lavish production values elevate this film beyond the ordinary and demonstrates many well-considered cinematic moments.  But for all its technical proficiencies, the film’s true triumph is its ability to get under the skin like an Amazonian leech. This story could have been told in the staid traditions of so many period dramas.  Here James Gray subtly balances a heady mix of conventional filmmaking with a hint of magical realism that constantly threatens to send us adrift in Todorov’s The Fantastic without a paddle.  The result is a genuinely thrilling film that is laced with just enough intrigue to prompt a post viewing google about the man and his expeditions.

See my reviews here at Witchdoctor.