What To Watch: Express Lane

VOD recommendations: Something new ("Full Time"), something old ("Taste of Cherry"), something classy ("Anatomy of a Fall"), something trashy (the 1989 "Road House").

What To Watch: Express Lane
"Full Time"

It’s a been a busy work week for me, just not on the Watch List. I have a review of the new “Ghostbusters” sequel (⭐ ⭐) at the Washington Post, plus a review of a new book about John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and the making of “The Blues Brothers” (1980), which will go up on the WaPo site tomorrow. A long piece on Marlon Brando and the waning of his legacy will run next week in the Post, timed to the actor’s centenary, and I’ve been working on some long-form articles for other outlets as well, details TK. Old friends who ask me how I’m enjoying my post-Globe “retirement” are receiving a gentle snarl in response.

I should note, too, that starting in April, I’ll be writing regular film reviews for the Washington Post while their excellent staff film critic, Ann Hornaday, is away on book leave for a year. How that will impact my Watch List postings remain to be seen, but I expect to still land in your mailbox at least once a week with recommendations, warnings, and various maunderings, despite my wife’s advice to take a break every once in a while. So sue me, I like writing this stuff.

If it makes you feel better, I’ll be off next week, because a chance has come up to visit my friend Hardcore Jim on some faraway beach and look at a bunch of birds. I’ll be back by April 1st. Until then, a few recommendations.

On Max: “Taste of Cherry” (1997, ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐) Abbas Kiarostami’s existentialist masterpiece about a man (Homayoun Ershadi) who drives through the suburbs of Tehran trying to find someone to bury him after he kills himself. The responses fill a cross-section of human society, and the film backs slowly away from minimalist drama to acquire the sweep of a mystical emotional epic. Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Roger Ebert famously hated it. You should probably make up your own mind. (Also available on The Criterion Channel.)

On Hulu: “Anatomy of a Fall” (2023, ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐) The winner of this year’s Oscar for best original screenplay is now available as a cheap VOD rental on most services and streaming for no extra charge on Hulu. Featuring Sandra Hüller’s volcanic lead performance as a woman accused of pushing her husband out a window, a remarkable Milo Machado-Graner as her son, the Palm Dog-winning Messi, and Swann Arlaud as a character Mrs. Movie Critic refers to as “the hot lawyer friend.”  Get back to me if you ever figure out whether Hüller's character did it. (Hint: That’s not the point.)

Mubi: “Full Time” (⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2) A brilliantly exhausting French film that applies the high-anxiety approach of the Safdie brothers’ “Uncut Gems” to the daily life of a stressed-out Paris single mother (Laure Calamy, in a very different role than her ditz on the sitcom “Call My Agent”). Written and directed by Eric Gravel from a vantage point just enough removed to stand as a devastating chronicle of modern life in an inhuman work economy. (Also available for VOD rental on Amazon, Apple TV, and YouTube.)

On Amazon Prime: There’s a new version of “Road House” starring Jake Gyllenhaal that I haven’t yet seen but that is getting mixed reviews, including an enjoyably indulgent one from my old friend Glenn Kenny, writing for the Times. (“Though two hours long, the movie moves as swiftly as a greased ferret through a Habitrail and delivers hallucinatory action highs for its extended climax.”) I still would recommend the 1989 original (⭐ ⭐ 1/2, streaming on Amazon Prime, Max, and Showtime, for rent elsewhere), starring Patrick Swayze and Sam Elliott, both of whom look more blow-dried than romantic interest Kelly Lynch. It's a drive-in kitsch classic for those readers seeking a good, nasty guilty-pleasure wallow.

Also on Amazon – for $1.99! – as well as Kanopy and the Criterion Channel is Lynne Ramsay’s “Morvern Callar” (2002, ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2) with its spectral lead performance by Samantha Morton as a lost soul who takes on a dead boyfriend’s identity. Ramsay (“Ratcatcher,” “You Were Never Really Here,” “We Need to Talk About Kevin”) makes films about troubled and troubling characters in an electrifying filmmaking style that makes your eyes feel like they've been freshly squeegeed. Here’s my 2003 review from the Boston Globe:

      Is there a filmmaker more spookily gifted at beginnings and endings than the Scottish director Lynne Ramsay? The sunlit final images of her 1999 feature debut "Ratcatcher" have lodged in the memories of the few people who saw it, and her new film similarly opens with a stunningly disorienting bang. I won't spoil the scene other than to report that it's a moment of quiet intimacy in which the bottom suddenly falls out.
      Even if both films are about accidental sinners, "Morvern Callar" turns out to be a very different, and more difficult, film than "Ratcatcher." For starters: How do you understand a young woman who has no idea who she is? Morvern Callar (Samantha Morton) lives in the small town of Oban, on the west coast of Scotland. She works in a supermarket, has a best mate Lanna (Kathleen McDermott), and shares an apartment with a boyfriend who seems rather more driven than she is. Or seemed: His unexpected suicide leaves Morvern flailing without an identity to stand on.
      So she steals his. The boyfriend has left behind a novel, with instructions to send it to a publishing house and the dedication "I wrote it for you". Morvern takes this with numbed literalness, deleting his name from the manuscript and submitting it as her own. Then she goes out dancing, leaving the corpse on the kitchen floor.
      Sound callous? It is callous, yet as "Movern Callar" unspools, we come to see that its heroine is grieving mightily. She simply doesn't have the parameters to tell her how to act, other than in a state of unhappy self-interest. Morvern has no family that we can see -- only Lanna and an unceasing tide of twenty-somethings roaming from party to nightclub to vacation spot, with the blissful thump of electronica as the only connective tissue. The film's soundtrack, featuring such acts as Aphex Twin, Stereolab, and Boards of Canada, is astoundingly good, but Ramsay uses it to show the headphone generation desperately keeping reality at arm's length.
      After Morvern finally disposes of the body -- trust me, you don't want to know how -- she takes Lanna on a trip to Spain, and it's there that she starts assembling the pieces of herself into a coherent picture. The girls stay at a beachfront "Youth Med" hotel that's like a perpetual Spring Break orgy, and where the simpler Lanna wants to stay and kill a few brain cells, Morvern has an impulsive fling with a boy grieving for his dead mother -- a wrenching, scarily haphazard scene --and the experience unmoors her. What follows is an excursion into the Spanish countryside that becomes increasingly frightening and serene.
      At the end, Morvern Callar is a whole person, but she still may not be a person you understand, let alone warm to. That's hardly the point, Ramsay would say, yet there's only so long a movie can withhold judgement before the withholding turns willful and affected.
Against that is the sheer tightrope magic of the director's filmmaking style – she's that rare thing, a fresh eye – and the implosive depths of Samantha Morton's performance. As is obvious from "Sweet and Lowdown" and "Minority Report," the actress is able to use silence the way others use Stanislavksy, and she never pretties Morvern up. By turns maddening, heartbreaking, and banal, the title character is a heroine inside her own head, dancing to the rhythms of a dead boyfriend's mix tape. 

 See you in a week! Feel free to leave a comment or add to someone else's.

If you enjoyed this post, please forward it to friends. And if you’re not a paying subscriber and would like to sign up for additional postings and to join the discussions — or just help underwrite this enterprise, for which the author would be eternally grateful — here’s how.