What to Watch This Weekend 1/14/22

"The Tragedy of Macbeth," a French foodie drama, and more come to VOD

What to Watch This Weekend 1/14/22

The Nut Graf1: Joel Coen, sans Ethan, turns “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (on Apple TV+, *** stars out of ****) into a stark minimalist battlefield of ambition and bloodshed. “Delicious” (in theaters and on Vudu, **1/2 out of ****) is a predictable but tasty bit of period-film food porn from France. “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” (available on VOD, **** out of ****) spins three elliptical tales of modern Japan.

Bertie Carvel as Banquo and Denzel Washington as Macbeth in “The Tragedy of Macbeth

“The Tragedy of Macbeth” comes to Apple TV+ today, and that’s a shame, because if ever a movie needed to be seen on a big screen, it’s this one. Joel Coen’s first directorial effort without brother Ethan is Shakespeare scraped down to the absolute bone, with sets that are both minimalist and brutalist and with the black-and-white camerawork’s contrasts sharp enough to leave paper cuts. The art director is Stefan Dechant and the cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, and they are the true stars of this muscular but curiously dispassionate version of “the Scottish play.”

The nominal stars, of course, are Denzel Washington as the ambitious Thane of Cawdor and Frances McDormand as his bloodthirsty wife, Lady Macbeth. Washington gives a cerebral, interior cast to his monologues, with the result that this Macbeth comes to seem nearly as neurotic as Hamlet. It’s a superbly subtle reading but one that ends up cutting the character off from everyone around him, which leaves his co-star without much to work with. This results, unfortunately, in McDormand’s most mannered performance, a Lady Macbeth too vicious to ever feel guilty about blood-spotted hands. (And if there’s no guilt, there ain’t no tragedy.)

Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in “The Tragedy of Macbeth

Still, the movie’s a welcome addition to the ranks of “Macbeth” movie adaptations – more focused than Orson Welles’ 1948 version and less nihilistic than Roman Polanski’s 1971 “Macbeth,” the first movie that director made after the Manson family killed his wife and a bloody cinematic cry of fury. (The best movie version of the play as a movie remains Kurosawa’s 1957 “Throne of Blood,” which splits the difference between Shakespeare, Nōh theater, and bravura filmmaking. Then there’s 2001’s “Scotland, Pa.,” which relocates “Macbeth” to a Pennsylvania hamburger stand and is nowhere as bad as that sounds.)

Brendan Gleeson makes a wise, doomed Duncan, and Corey Hawkins, last seen dancing around Lin-Manuel Miranda’s New York in “In the Heights,” is a seething Macduff. Coen plays fast and loose with the minor character Ross (Alex Hassell), whose loyalties become a source of suspense as the drama unfolds. The great Stephen Root pops up for one scene as the Porter and for two minutes this “Macbeth” becomes slapstick Beckett. But it’s Moses Ingram (Jolene in “The Queen’s Gambit”) who truly pierces a viewer’s heart in her one scene as Lady Macduff, and it’s Kathryn Hunter of the Royal Academy of the Dramatic Arts who cuts the most terrifying figure as all three of the Weird Sisters, her limbs bending themselves into impossible and unholy angles. “The Tragedy of Macbeth” is worth seeing for Hunter alone, and for the way the camera renders her a figure out of nightmare.

Kathryn Hunter in “The Tragedy of Macbeth”

I don’t want to speculate on what goes into the chemistry when Joel and Ethan make a movie together, but I will say that something of their art goes missing here. The dark existentialist prankishness of fate that animates almost everything they’ve done (“No Country for Old Men” being a notable exception) has no place in “Macbeth,” and the director hasn’t tried to put it there. Destiny in this play is relentless and inescapable, pounding away on the soundtrack like a battering ram at the gates of Dunsinane. “This place is too cold for hell,” says the Porter, and Coen has made a chilly, beautiful fist of a movie.

Isabelle Carré and Grégory Gadebois in “Delicious”

Arriving on the online video store Vudu today, as well as to a smattering of theaters, is “Delicious,” a movie that’s just about the polar opposite of ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth” -- a lightweight French foodie period piece about what the opening credits claim was the first restaurant, an establishment outside Paris just before the guillotine got rolled out. How much of this is true or not is highly debatable, but the movie, directed and co-written by Éric Besnard, goes down nicely in a “Masterpiece Theatre” sort of way. Grégory Gadebois plays Manceron, a burly Duke’s chef who gets exiled from the estate when he dares to come up with his own dishes, one of which contains potatoes, which every pre-Revolutionary aristocrat knows are “bland, German, ugly, and poisonous.” Retreating to a country post-house by a major thoroughfare, he’s joined by his politically progressive son (Lorenzo Lefébvre) and Louise (Isabelle Carré), a former prostitute (she says) who apprentices herself to Manceron as sous-chef.

Complications ensue, some of which are convincing and a few where you may actually hear your suspension of disbelief snap like a frayed rubber band. (I enjoyed the scene where Louise invents French fries without buying it for a minute) But we’re here for the comfort food of watching a familiar institution coalesce from a radical new idea – that ordinary people might want to eat good, well-made, locally sourced food in a welcoming environment. “Delicious” delivers with lovely exteriors, likable leads, a pleasantly untaxing plot, and prep table close-ups that constitute food pornography at its finest. Seriously, there’s a shot of a shallot being sliced that just about gave me the vapors. (For the record, the film’s culinary consultants included Thierry Charrier, the chef for the French Foreign Ministry.) The movie’s classy and calorie-free, and sometimes that’s what you’re hungry for. If it’s stick-to-your-ribs cuisine cinema you want, I hereby direct you to “Babette’s Feast.”

Kiyohiko Shibukawa and Katsuke Mori in “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy”

Additional notes: “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy,” which was my top film of 2021, is now available for low-cost rental at Amazon, Apple TV, DirecTV, Google Play, and YouTube. It’s a trilogy of stories from Japan’s Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, each of which centers on a woman trying to control a situation only to find it slipping from her grasp through fate and her own pride. Elliptical and haunting, it features a trilogy of incandescent performances: Kotono Furukawa as a jilted lover deciding whether to settle scores; Katsuke Mori as a would-be seducer who somehow seduces herself; and Fusako Urabe as  woman seeking a lost love and finding a fleeting soulmate instead.

One more thing: The Last Duel,” one of last year’s more unfairly overlooked dramas, comes to HBO, HBO Max, and most rental platforms today. A stalwart, unexpected medieval “Rashomon,” it has a hilarious supporting turn from Ben Affleck and a subtle, heartbreaking performance by Jodie Comer (below) that you realize only in retrospect is the centerpiece of the entire movie. Recommended.

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