Friday, January 6, 2023

Weekend Screen Scene: A Man Called Otto, Women Talking, The Pale Blue Eye

At first glance, A Man Called Otto feels like a predictably lovable story about a cantankerous old man who Learns to Live Again with the Help of an Unlikely Friend™, especially when you see that ultimate nice guy Tom Hanks is playing that cantankerous old man. But the story actually gets pretty dark pretty quickly, giving what appears to be a predictable story an uneasy edge.

Casting Hanks as a grumpy old man may seem like an odd choice, but it works. Otto is a grieving widower who's decided he's had enough of the idiots that seem to be taking over the world, and isn't quiet about it. Quite bluntly, he's an asshole, and watching an asshole for two hours would likely be intolerable. Tom Hanks knows how to balance the sweet and the sour. Mariana TreviƱo is also an absolute delight as that Unlikely Friend™ who gets under Otto's skin.

 A Man Called Otto is now playing in theaters.

Sarah Polley's Women Talking, based on the novel by Miriam Toews, feels very much like a stage play; instead of Twelve Angry Men, we have Eight Angry Mennonites. These eight angry women live in a religious colony and are coming to grips with the knowledge that for years, men in the colony have been drugging them and raping them in their sleep. They gather together to discuss their options: Leave. Stay and fight. Or stay and do nothing. 

Women Talking is indeed a talky movie, but what talking! And what women! The key thing Polley does to remove the film from the confines of its inherent staginess is to focus closely and intently on the faces of the women doing all of that talking. It feels as if all of the actresses, devoid of obvious makeup, hair under scarves, are able to convey the truth of their characters instantly. All of the cast is excellent, but Claire Foy as the angry Salome and Rooney Mara as the beatific Ona stand out. If I have one complaint it's with the distracting choice to completely wash out the film of any real color, without going full on black and white.

Women Talking is now playing in theaters.

At this point I'm not sure it's possible for Christian Bale to make a movie where he doesn't look like complete hell and The Pale Blue Eye is no exception. Set in 1830, Bale plays a detective who is hired to investigate a murder at the West Point Military academy. His grizzled and grieving sleuth pairs up with an academy student named Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling), and at this point you can probably guess that things get weird. The film's eerie and atmospheric setting and cinematography does a lot of the heavy lifting until the ultimate twists that you will either go with, or roll your eyes at. Gillian Anderson and Toby Jones also star.

The Pale Blue is now streaming on Netflix.