Netflix sometimes will roll out auteur directors with a rapidity that defies description. The theatrical experience was in part fueled by appreciation of directors even more than actors.
This era of movie-going was 60 to 40 years ago. Yet to that demographic the fact that in the period of the next few months you can enjoy cinema by Wes Anderson, Pablo Larraín, David Fincher, and Todd Haynes, just to name the cream of the crop, irrefutably attests to the popularity of streamers
In reality there are more than 27,000 categories that Netflix demographics juggle using algorithms and “name directors I want to see what they’ve got next” is just a category that happens to be high on my list.
HENRY SUGAR, ET AL.
Wes Anderson mixes stage technique with movie tricks to great effect in a series of four short subject, all adapted from short stories by Roald Dahl. Like all stunningly beautiful cinema these shorts will never know how stunningly beautiful they really are.
The short stories adapted are: The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar (written in 1977); The Swan (1977); The Ratcatcher (published posthumously in 2012); and my personal favorite “Poison,” (first published in 1950 in Collier’s National Weekly, a magazine that thrived from the late 19th century until 1957).
Entire sets seems built for specific camera movies. Whether a swish-pan or a rapid dolly roll and pull the shots enhance the premise of the plot more than they call attention to themselves.
Anderson has a way of making the mechanics of a live play twirl to cinematic ends. Each vignette has something that makes it special. But for me, even as wowed as I was by the previous installments, it was short number four. Poison.
Cumberbatch lies sweating in bed because a highly poisonous snake has crawled into his bunk. He can only lie there in complete compliance with his existential situation.
A neighbor (Dev Patel) fetches a doctor (Ben Kingsley) with the anecdote.
Holy shit, my favorite ever episode of The Rifleman (Season 5, Episode 19) is this very same plot; Lucas is transporting a prisoner and in the middle of the night a rattlesnake has crawled into his sleeping bag.
Dahl’s story was written in 1950, 13 years before The Rifleman episode, incidentally helmed by Joseph H. Lewis (Gun Crazy).
Pablo Larraín never ceases to amaze. El Conde is a vampire flick told from the perspective of the undead, who happen to be world leaders.
The story perhaps not surprisingly starts during the late 18th century at the height of of the French revolution. A common man, a revolutionary becomes a vampire and evolves into Augusto Pinochet the one-time dictator of Chile.
Most of the gore happen in the first reel. Throughout the movie there are decapitations, and the young Count digs up Marie Antoinette and takes her head, replacing it with another head he also dug up. At one point there’s a horse that gets its head loped off, maybe a sly reference to The Godfather. Or maybe just another excuse for Larraín to explore visual imagery.
In any case the Count keeps a refrigerated unit in his lair that has frozen hearts and tchotchkes like the head of the one time queen of France. It’s a vampire thing.
Family intrigue consumes the five children of Pinochet and they along with a nun posing as a kind of biographer whose sole intent is to exorcize Pinochet form the basis of much of the plot.
Black and white landscapes with a guillotine arching tall in the background are hauntingly beautiful in a creepy way. It’s just another of the film’s visual highlights.
Larraín operates the A camera and Ed Lachman’s cinematography speaks volumes about the horror we cannot see. It’s a kind of black-and-white lensing only reserved for the best movies.
Benicio del Toro stars as a detective investigating a murder.
Intriguing procedural with winning performances and the requisite tension that push it above the borderline of salience.
Even when in the middle of the movie when a primary suspect shoots it out with police there’s still a modicum of doubt as to who the killer really is.
My favorite part was del Toro being married to Alicia Silverstone. They have dynamite chemistry. Both starred in the 1997 Excess Baggage when Silverstone’s star loomed large and del Toro was just coming into his own.
First time director Grant Singer is a talent to watch. Technically there is an abandoned snake skin seen in an early sequence so yes there was an actual reptile per se.