Kenneth Lonergan’s contemplative post-9/11 emotional epic Margaret begins with a statement of purpose. On a busy NYC corner, a bus charges through an intersection, the light changes, and dozens of pedestrians pour into the street. Lives might have ended or been irrevocably changed if one of those people stepped into the street a few seconds earlier, whether through absent-mindedness or jostling or a loss of balance. So much of living on top of each other in cramped quarters fills the average day with heightened stakes that nonetheless become so commonplace, that they blend into the background. The events of Lonergan’s long-delayed film disrupt that equilibrium and expose the precariousness of life to Margaret’s teenage protagonist. Radiating with meaning and dense with rich themes, Margaret never feels overstuffed or under-considered. Its considerable goals are met, making it one of those movies that one wants to discuss for hours after the end credits roll.
In The Report, Scott Z. Burns’ adaptation of the Senate investigation of the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program, the lead investigator glances over at a TV to take in a news segment about Zero Dark Thirty. Under the withering gaze of Adam Driver, and with the knowledge of everything that’s been depicted in The Report up to that point, Burns’ cinematic language implies how badly that film’s creators were taken for a ride by the CIA. The various war criminals still entrenched in America’s spy agency, having spent their country’s credibility on nothing more than a revenge trip dressed up in fake urgency, aren’t content to just slink away and avoid punishment. They want to be thought of as stoic heroes who did what had to be done in pursuit of the ultimate prize, namely the ocean burial of Osama bin Laden. However, the journalistic shortcomings of Zero Dark Thirty don’t stop it from being a cinematic tour de force that’s more complex than some kind of flag-waving apotheosis. Kathryn Bigelow doesn’t exalt her characters, but portrays them similarly to Robert Eggers’ characters in The Witch. Zero Dark Thirty indulges in the moral fantasies of its characters and turns them into anti-heroes, both in the eyes of the viewer and in the creeping suspicion the characters’ own minds.
Martin Scorsese was all over 2019, from the release of his latest introspective masterpiece The Irishman to his editorial about the role of superhero movies on the cinematic landscape. His influence could be felt in films he had nothing to do with, with Joker borrowing wholesale from Taxi Driver and King of Comedy and Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers imitating Scorsese’s delirious crime epics. Of these two homages, Hustlers is the more successful because it has Scorsese’s transgressive allure, that particular sensation of watching people do bad things and being snowed into hoping they get away with it. Scafaria’s scammers, with their targets of heavy-walleted Wall Streeters, are easy to root for as they drug and manipulate their way through post-recession New York.
Demonstrating that it’s never too late for a big break, English director Joanna Hogg waits until her late 50’s to land on the radar of arthouse American audiences in her semi-autobiographical film The Souvenir. Powered by not one, but two Swintons, and a look and tone that could place the film’s production anywhere within the last 50 years, The Souvenir arrives on screens feeling like it’s been hiding on video store shelves or streaming catalogues and has just now been discovered.
Stephen King adaptation and horror blockbuster It came out right in the thick of a nostalgic Spielbergian trend towards kids having an adventure, preferably sometime in the past. The conclusion to It has the difficult task of aging its tween protagonists into theoretically more emotionally mature and physically capable adults. It’s not difficult for Pennywise the Dancing Clown to loom over a whimpering child. The same effect might not be achieved when it’s Bill Hader on the receiving end. It: Chapter Two reunites much of the creative cast in director Andy Muschietti and writer Gary Dauberman, but after the considerable appeal of the original, the sequel cannot replicate whatever magic existed back in the Derry, Maine of the 80’s, much like all those Spielberg ripoff artists can’t make their own ET.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.