Friday, February 9, 2024

Weekend Screen Scene: The Taste of Things, Perfect Days

I watched the French film The Taste of Things on Thanksgiving morning. This was both a good and a bad thing. Good because it definitely made me hungry for the meal to come. Bad because nothing I was going to eat that day would ever taste as good as the food in this movie looks.

Juliette Binoche stars as Eugènie, a chef in 1885 rural France. She works with famed gourmand Dodin Bouffant (Benoît Magimel) and has for over 20 twenty years. The film opens with an extended and almost dialogue free sequence that watches them (and mainly her) preparing a feast, from picking the vegetables in the garden, to the chopping, stirring, cooking and baking required. By the end of this scene you'll be craving more than popcorn, as director Trần Anh Hùng photographs all of this food prep with a hungry and admiring eye.

Food in the film is many things. It's a tool for teaching. It's the center of gatherings and celebrations. And ultimately, it's an act of love. There's an  romance at the center of The Taste of Things, and how it plays out is much like a good meal, and life. A lot of prep, rapturous enjoyment, and it's all over way too quickly.

The days lived out in Perfect Days may not seem so perfect on the surface. Kōji Yakusho gives a calm and almost silent performance as Hirayama, a toilet cleaner in Tokyo. His daily life doesn't vary much. He wakes up, folds up his bed, tends to his plants, grabs a coffee from a vending machine, listens to his favorite music on cassettes on the drive to his job of cleaning a variety of public toilets in Tokyo. After work, he eats at the same food stall every night, and then reads before bed. Sometimes he'll grab a steam and a shower at a bath house. On weekends, he does laundry. But all through this he exhibits a genuine appreciation for his quiet life, and the simple pleasures and beauty around him.

And yes, on the surface this may sound exceedingly boring. But director Wim Wenders is no stranger to making the mundane and repetitive hypnotic and soothing. The calmness in Hirayama may remind you a bit of Harry Dean Stanton's Travis in Wenders's1984 film Paris, Texas. In both Travis and Hirayama, still waters run deep. There are hints of trauma and possible addiction in Hirayama's past, lending a possible explanation for his structured day-by-day life. The definition of a "perfect day" may be subjective. But when you realize that in an entire lifetime, the majority of your days are going to be filled with the mundane, it's a good idea to makes those days as perfect as possible.

Friday, February 2, 2024

Weekend Screen Scene: Argylle

The studios really want to keep the twists in the new spy thriller Argylle heavily guarded secrets, but here's one thing I will spoil, for those who, like me, go into certain kinds of movies with apprehension: the cat lives. (Also, for the vast majority of the movie, that cat is pure CGI, so don't be too concerned by the fact that it gets tossed around an awful lot.)

The marketing ploys surrounding the film--that the movie is adapted from a book by someone named Elly Conway, an author that doesn't really exist, and is actually the protagonist in the movie, unless, of course this whole thing really came from the mind of none other than TAYLOR SWIFT!--are ultimately more intriguing than the actual movie, which is not clever enough to support the multiple twists and turns of its plot.

Bryce Dallas Howard stars as Elly Conway, author of a series of popular novels centered on a spy named Agent Argylle. There appears to be a movie within the movie, in which Henry Cavill plays Argylle, although as with most things in Argylle, the logic of that conceit does not make a lot of sense. Sometimes Argylle appears to be a figment of Conway's imagination. But does he look like Henry Cavill because of a movie? Or is this just how Elly imagines him to be? And if its that, then why does the ending include --

Whoops, nope. No spoilers!

Sam Rockwell also stars as a real life spy (maybe!) out to help Elly when she finds herself embroiled in some real life espionage (MAYBE!). If the film has anything going for it, it's the cast that includes supporting roles and cameos from the likes of Catherine O'Hara, Samuel L. Jackson, Dua Lipa, and Bryan Cranston, amongst many others. And Sam Rockwell and Bryce Dallas Howard both make the film at least tolerable when they're on screen together. (Also, Sam Rockwell gets to dance, which is always a bonus.)

Matthew Vaughn movies can usually be counted on to at least have enough outrageous action and violence to keep you engaged, but Argylle feels phoned in, and is too long by at least 30 minutes; some parts are downright boring. Movies like this are only rewarding when, in the end, all the seemingly crazy parts fall into satisfying place, and in this one they most certainly do not. But at least that cat always lands on his feet.