‘The Lighthouse’ is a Terrifying Portrayal of Isolation That May Just Be Too Much to Bear

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CREDIT: A24

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe

Director: Robert Eggers

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: R for Sexual Content and Violence Covered in Mud and Seawater, and Uniquely Accented Profanity

Release Date: October 18, 2019 (Limited)

Very scary quite contrary. Ooey gooey muddy yucky.

Movies like The Lighthouse make me wonder if it should be standard practice to hand out programs to filmgoers as they enter the theater. While there is no shortage of assets in 2019 to consult to help with any cinematic confusion, there’s a big difference between visiting Wikipedia or Reddit afterwards and actually having a booklet in hand while watching. (It might be too dark to read during the actual show, but there’s something to be said for the security blanket quality of its mere presence.) Director Robert Eggers’ last film, The Witch, had the very helpful tone-setting subtitle “A New England Folktale,” which calibrated my filmgoing faculties exactly where they needed to be. Meanwhile, The Lighthouse, featuring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as a couple of lighthouse keepers struggling with isolation and their growing antagonism twoards each other, is a much more throw-you-over-the-edge-without-a-life-preserver affair.

That’s not to say that I need, or even want, my hand held throughout The Lighthouse. It’s fine, and probably better, that certain things remain a mystery. Like the mermaid that Pattinson gets it on with that’s probably just a vision, though it’s hard to tell for sure in this landscape. Also, why is that seagull so angry? These are discussions I’m happy to have after watching a sensorially pummeling movie like this one! But while watching, I’d prefer it if I wasn’t constantly asking myself, “Where am I?” If Eggers had just given us one little crumb, like a subtitle along the lines of, for example, “A Sea Shanty,” I think I would have been able to digest this one a little more properly.

But despite this major reservation, I cannot dismiss The Lighthouse entirely. I will always encourage visionary cinema, even if I’m not a fan of the particular vision. And this black-and-white freakout about the horrors of isolation, presented in a claustrophobic 4:3 boxy aspect ratio, certainly qualifies as a vision. So I’ll remain open-minded to re-evaluating this ish in the future, but for now it feels like a silly slosh through the mud and an overindulgent assault on our senses.

The Lighthouse is Recommended If You Like: You Were Never Really Here, Mandy, The Witch

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Seagulls

‘The King’ is a Slog Through Shakespearean Henriad History

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CREDIT: Netflix

Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Robert Pattinson, Ben Mendelsohn, Sean Harris, Lily-Rose Depp, Tom Glynn-Carney

Director: David Michôd

Running Time: 133 Minutes

Rating: R for Messy War Combat

Release Date: October 11, 2019 (Limited Theatrically)/November 1, 2019 (Streaming on Netflix)

Once more unto the breach, dear friends? It’s awfully muddy in that breach. That seems to be the big advantage of turning Shakespeare’s Henry IV (Parts 1 and 2!) and Henry V into a movie in 2019: you can make it as muddy as you need it to be! And director David Michôd sure wanted that breach to be muddy. And Falstaff (Joel Edgerton, who co-wrote the script with Michôd) won’t let us forget it. Not that we would have been able to miss it anyway.

I majored in English literature in my undergraduate days, so watching The King is like revisiting old friends for me, but excessively grim versions. I know right from the get-go that wary-of-the-crown Prince Hal will soon enough become King Henry V, Beloved War Hero. But even if I’d never read one verse of Shakespeare, I would have been able to figure that out easily enough. That’s how these narratives tend to play out after all, and also Timothée Chalamet is so hot right now. But that predictability is not necessarily a problem. Shakespeare did not establish his reputation on twisty plots, but rather on wonderfully poetic language. Alas, The King does not have the wit to match. I of course do not demand nor expect that every new Shakespeare adaptation feature iambic pentameter, but if there is going to be as much dialogue as there is in The King, it would be nice if it were at least somewhat exciting. But alas, it seems that war is not only hell, it’s also boring.

As we make our way through the muck into the Battle of Agincourt, The King eventually comes alive somewhat in the form of Robert Pattinson as the Dauphin, the French side’s secret weapon, at least in terms of charisma. He seems to have been warped by the warring status quo between France and England into some sort of almost inhuman, devious little sprite. He is less interested in victory or survival than he is into sucking out the life force of his rivals. I haven’t seen any of those Twilight movies, so for me, this feels like the first time Pattinson has ever played a vampire on screen. If only the other combatants had the verve to match.

The King is Recommended If You Like: Shakespeare minus the poetry

Grade: 2 out of 5 Chainmail Suits

Super-Duper Movie Review: High Life

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© 2013 ALCATRAZ FILMS/WILD BUNCH/ARTE FRANCE CINEMA/PANDORA PRODUKTION

At the beginning of High Life, I was inspired to be wonderstruck by the cosmos, asking the eternal questions like, “How vast is the vastness of space?” and “What existed before existence?” These queries are terrifying in their unanswerability, but also comforting in how they remind us that the construct of the universe is so much bigger than everything we know. But then the rest of High Life is just about living and getting on. And that’s all well and good, and it’s worth exploring that routine in outer space, whether or not it’s populated by convicted criminals. It’s an unstructured viewing experience, and you’ll struggle to care if you’re not especially tuned in to director Claire Denis’ wavelength, though you might occasionally be thrilled by the daring approach. I appreciate High Life for staking out a unique place in cinema, but I don’t particularly ever want to experience it again (at least not most of it).

I give High Life A Medium Lack of Gravity.

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Damsel’ is a Gonzo Western With an Important Message on Its Mind

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CREDIT: Magnolia Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in June 2018.

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, Joseph Billingiere, Robert Forster

Directors: David Zellner and Nathan Zellner

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Rating: R for Sharpshooting Violence and Occasional Graphic Nudity, Often Mixed Together

Release Date: June 22, 2018 (Limited)

I would call Damsel a revisionist Western, except that the Western genre is not really popular enough anymore to really need revising. Nevertheless, co-directing brothers David and Nathan Zellner have plenty of revising on their minds, though their ideas do not apply exclusively to frontier America. Ultimately, I don’t how else to classify it, so let’s stick with “revisionist Western” and maybe throw in a “wacky” and “iconoclastic” in there for good measure.

Robert Pattinson strolls merrily into town as Samuel Alabaster, a man out of place and out of time. His stomach does not agree with the saloon he walks into (or any saloon really), his spirit is more poetic than cowboy, and his vocabulary is a bit too 21st Century, though it does not really fit in any era. Actually, none of the characters particularly speak they are from any recognizable time in American history. The Zellners have crafted a fantasy world that might be too bizarre for some audiences, but it is just delightful to my tastes, and Pattinson subsumes himself into this environment unforgettably.

There is one way that Samuel fits into the Wild West mold, and that is his instinct to rescue the damsel in distress. His beloved Penelope (Mia Wasikowska) has been kidnapped, and he is on his way to free her and make her his wife. But eventually it becomes clear that Samuel may not have the most trustworthy of perspectives and that Damsel is actually an indictment of a certain strain of toxic, entitled masculinity that is insidious in today’s society. It makes me wonder if willful misinterpretation regarding attempted romantic coercion was just as much of a problem hundreds of years ago as it is today. It certainly seems possible, as miscommunication has been causing conflicts throughout human history. Those struggles are not always as strange as the one portrayed in Damsel, but the stranger the example, the more memorable the movie.

Damsel is Recommended If You Like: Irreverent Westerns like Django Unchained, but with a defiantly feminist twist

Grade: 4 out of 5 Outhouse Explosions

This Is a Movie Review: Robert Pattinson is a Low-Level Bank Robber and Devoted Brother in the Grainy, Queens-Set ‘Good Time’

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in August 2017.

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Ben Safdie, Buddy Duress, Taliah Webster, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Barkhad Abdi

Director: Ben and Josh Safdie

Running Time: 99 Minutes

Rating: R for the Vices of a Night in the City

Release Date: August 11, 2017 (Limited)

How far would you go for a better life for yourself and your brother? If said brother is mentally handicapped and you are the lead character in a crime-on-the-streets movie, then chances are the answer is “pretty far.” Ergo, there is no surprise about the general forces that pushes Good Time along, but the details are quite unpredictable.

The majority of the plot follows Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) in a desperate night through Queens as he attempts to correct his mistakes and bust his brother Nick (co-director Ben Safdie) out of jail following a botched bank robbery. He first attempts to cover the bail money by turning to a friend/lover (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who is way too old for him and for her own lack of emotional maturity. But another snag pops up when it is revealed that Nick is under police supervision in the hospital. Connie plows forward with his improvisation, but it becomes more and more obvious that he is not going to pull off his scheme, what with law enforcement always nearby and the caprices of fate constantly messing with him. It all adds up to a night of drugs, mistaken identity, and an empty amusement park in a land where cliché need not apply.

The joys of Good Time – and its biggest weakness – are aesthetic. The Safdie brothers exclusively favor extreme close-ups for conversations and kinetic camera movement when characters go from here to there. The shot selection, combined with the grainy digital cinematography and bass-heavy synth score, create a sensorially overwhelming experience that too few films attempt. The photography does get into a bit of trouble whenever the action moves into especially dark corners, rendering it nearly impossible to make out anything that is happening. That is possibly intentional, but it is not advisable. But in a film with this much clarity and consistency of vision, that is only a minor quibble.

Good Time is Recommended If You Like: Robert Pattinson’s auteur collaborations, Miami Vice, The economic desperation of Don’t Breathe

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Dye Packs

This Is a Movie Review: The Lost City of Z

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This post was originally published on News Cult in April 2017.

Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Sienna Miller, Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland

Director: James Gray

Running Time: 140 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Bow and Arrow Violence, and Occasional Gunfire

Release Date: April 14, 2017 (Limited)

The Lost City of Z tells the story of a liberal-minded man’s dilemma. During Percival Fawcett’s (Charlie Hunnam) early 20th century explorations to South America, he becomes convinced of the existence of a mythical city deep within the jungles of the Amazon. His patrons back in England scoff at the idea, both because it is unrealistic but also because they are European white men who believe that their way of doing civilization is the only right way. Fawcett positions himself as an open-minded paragon who recognizes that the native peoples are not savages but in fact have plenty of value to offer the rest of the world. This is not posture. He genuinely believes all that he says – and Hunnam imbues every declaration with the urgency of the end of days – but idealizing a foreign culture introduces its own problems.

Fawcett does not fetishize the Amazonian peoples, but his single-mindedness can be blinding. The film’s structure is partly like that of a Möbius strip, with the end of each South American expedition only serving as a prologue to the next one. Supplies are depleted and conflicts break out within his crew, and then re-stocking and reconciling takes years. And you feel that passage of time, but Fawcett simply must get back. The strain is borne most acutely by his family, especially his wife Nina (Sienna Miller), who pleads to join one of the expeditions. The Fawcetts pride themselves on their equality, but here Percival marks a limit: they are intellectual, but not physical, equals.

Ultimately, this film is a detailed and heavy examination of the dangers of obsession. It turns out (spoiler alert) that Fawcett’s instincts are right, but that vindication is saved for an epilogue. The climax involves Fawcett and his eldest son (Tom Holland) entering the most nightmarish of the expeditions. For the most part, The Lost City of Z avoids mysticism in favor of realism. The cinematography generally focuses on weary faces instead of natural wonders. Thus, this journey is not transcendent until it starts becoming hellish.

The Lost City of Z is Recommended If You Like: Lawrence of Arabia, Apocalypse Now, Impassioned Speeches to Fusty Government Types

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Men Overboard