Monthly Archives: April 2021

At Eternity’s Gate

I’d probably watch anything with Willem Dafoe in it. However, I probably would not watch a film about the life of Vincent van Gogh. But when I saw that Willem took this role, I decided it was worthy of a mental note — I’ll watch this some day!

That some day was yesterday.

Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh

My feelings about Van Gogh are generally not very positive. Based on the anecdotes from my high school art education, and passing mentions of him in various other bits of information that I’ve been exposed to, Van Gogh was a weirdo that was likely suffering from the affects of lead poisoning as a consequence of the practice of mixing oil paints in his mouth. It’s no wonder that he was in and out of mental institutions and prone to doing bizarre things, such as cutting off his ear as a gift to a prostitute.

I have to say that Willem’s portrayal gives Van Gogh some depth and relatability that I didn’t expect. It might be a mistake to just accept this movie as a documentary. However, in my opinion, it is a mistake that this film did not include anything about lead poisoning, which is very likely a real part of the story that could explain some of Van Gogh’s odd behavior. Naturally, I was watching for the gore after the ear cutting scene. Instead, I caught glimpses of an unharmed ear on Dafoe’s head. I’m not sure if this technical shortcoming spoils the the suspension of belief anymore than a well done severed ear makeup job, which I was eagerly awaiting. Also in the category of technical criticism, I am a little put off by movies where all the characters speak fluent English, when they are clearly portrayals of characters that never spoke English. (Van Gogh was known to have spoken English. But it was unlikely he spoke English to everyone he interacted with while living in France.)

Despite my technical complainery, it is a believable and interesting portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh.

This movie tells a story about an artist who feels driven to paint, and do nothing else even if it means a life lived in poverty, as an outcast. Van Gogh felt compelled to capture images that had not been captured before. He wanted to highlight the beauty in forms that are generally ignored. He was compelled to capture images as fast as he could get the paint onto the canvas. These features became the foundation of his unique style, which many people of his time regarded as just plain ugly and absurd.

At one point in the movie Van Gogh is questioned about having given his severed ear to a prostitute, and Van Gogh simply replies “Gabby is not a prostitute.” I think this moment captures the full essence of the story. Van Gogh was not a madman any more than his friend at the tavern was a prostitute. Today we might think an artist finding the beauty in the mundane is a normal part of art. But there was a time this seemed ridiculous.

Whether your a fan of Van Gogh, a fan of Dafoe, or perhaps just a fan of the strange, this is a movie for you. Check it out on Amazon Prime.

https://amzn.to/3gqDAa1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_of_Vincent_van_Gogh

Them

I skimmed the trailer and made sure I got my watching partner’s thumbs up. There were elements of some supernatural, and some elements of American racism. I was kind of expecting a horror suspense flick. But I wasn’t sure, really.

Allison Pill as Elizabeth “Betty” Wendell and Deborah Ayorinde as Livia “Lucky” Emory

After a few episodes it was clear that I was watching something unlike anything else. There have been many productions that tell the story of racism in America. But this is done in a truly new way. The supernatural elements, that make the trailer seem like it might be a horror flick, are actually used in a very unusual way. The ghosts, and the elements that haunt the characters, are the specters of PTSD presented to the viewer in ways that deliver the raw emotions they way they should be experienced. This unique style and aesthetic are very effective in bringing these stories to life in a new way.

I am honestly blown away.

The performance that Allison Pill delivers as the evil cliche of a suburban white housewife Betty, is chilling. Given how toxic this character is, I imagine an actress might hesitate to take this role. But she plays this character with true gusto, in a way that is authentic and credible. Bravo Allison.

Deborah Ayorinde is no less courageous in her portrayal of “Lucky” Emory. This character is deeply traumatized in a brutal racist attack, and is haunted from then on by visions that are difficult to differentiate from what is real. Hey, go to California where everything is better! However, this story illustrates that the things that haunt you will inhabit you, wherever you are.

I don’t just recommend this series. I urge you to check “Them” out. This series is excellent.

https://amzn.to/3sei8XV

Into the Labyrinth

We stumbled on the trailer for this movie while browsing Prime video the other night. We were intrigued by the dark and mysterious ambiance of it. It seems tacky to say it, but seeing Dustin Hoffman’s face elevated the perceived production value. We decided to check it out.

For awhile it seems like you’re watching two different movies. One one hand you’re watching a foreign film, an Italian thriller, about a private investigator who has a serious heart condition, and he’s on the final case of his life. Simultaneously, you’re watching a domestic film about an investigator debriefing a kidnapping victim. All the while you’re laboring to connect the dots, wondering how is this victim related to the case in Italy?

As you think the pieces are coming together, you might ask, “Wait, why his he discarding an important lead?” Or you might be asking yourself, “Wait, wasn’t that character dead?”

By the time the story comes to its conclusion you might even be asking, “That’s the ending?”

The acting, the cinematography, and the overall production value for this film are top notch. But honestly, it took me about thirty minutes to realize that this movie is also brilliantly written, and I might need to watch it again.

I recommend that you also check it out on Amazon Prime Video.

https://amzn.to/3dzSrfo