Bought a couple of DVD, Anomalisa and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, and two books, China Miéville's Perdido Street Station, and Jonathan Franzen's Freedom.
At the movies: Woody Allen's latest, Café Society, a story that, through its romantic polygons, is about the dread of having made the wrong choice, and the wistful nostalgia that comes with it. Its Golden Age of Hollywood setting is thus well suited to the action, Allen's feelings about the era commenting on the same feeling. The film features a funny performance from Jesse Eisenberg (once again Allen's stand-in) and though about the Golden Age of Hollywood, some gangland murders played as effective punchlines, but it does seem overwritten to me. Allen himself provides prosaic narration that may provide a stylistic flourish, but his flat tone is rather tedious, and one may come to think the images told a better story. Likewise, the characters sometimes over-explain the way they look at relationships, when it's already clear from the action. Still pleasant, but perhaps his weakest since To Rome with Love.
Netflix: David Cronenberg is only really recognizable in Eastern Promises in the way violence is depicted, especially the prosthetics used, and only he would stage a brutal naked fight between tattooed Russian mobsters like that. In the film, one such mobster has two children who, in very different ways, cause chaos for his business, and we follow those two strands as they converge. In one, Naomi Watts is a midwife trying to find a dead mother's family; in the other, Viggo Mortensen is an ambitious made man asked to cover up the first-born's indiscretions. Both provide intriguing ambiguity, though in Watts' case, this may slip into her she having been underwritten. Nevertheless, these ambiguities makes the film one where audiences might actively discuss the characters' motivations after the fact. Cronenberg doesn't provide answers where he thinks his audience can do so without his help.
Even the Rain is about a film crew making a film about Columbus' exploitation of the Indies, when the Indians they themselves are exploiting as extras get involved in political protests over water rights, putting the film's completion in jeopardy. Every aspect of the film is a mirror extending back through history, and while that could all be too on the nose, I think the script avoids that by surprising us with which characters lose their way, and which find it again. And with that nice layer of satire about the movie industry as well, and how even "important" films like the one they're making is mired in corruption, financial, ethical, and creative. Based on actual water riots out in Bolivia, the film eventually lets that drama take over, at which point it might lose its exciting layering, I don't know, but still well worth seeing.
Two Days, One Night is a Belgian film starring Marion Cotillard as Sandra, a factory worker recovering from depression now required to save her job by convincing her co-workers to forgo their annual bonus so the company can pay her salary. Played for absolute realism, with no score, Sandra uses the same script over and over to talk to each in stead. What else is she going to do? It's the reactions that are different and worth exploring. It's the kind of film that lingers on reactions and on still moments, and that doesn't exclude an unhappy ending. There's tension in that even if the movie is generally quiet. In the end, this is less about difficult economic situations than it is about the struggle to get out from under clinical depression's thumb, and find something in the simple desire to fight for your rights, or for what is right. Real and touching.