With many of Sofia Coppola’s movies, they are stories, simply told, with a degree of texture. They are not exceptional stories but perhaps in the aspect that they are exceptional for some people. As she has become more mature in her directing, the scenes and the way she directs them has a lighter touch while still contextualizing a darkness beneath. A person who did this in a similar situation but with slightly more jazz to it was Alexander Payne with the Hawaii set “The Descendants” which still holds up well many years later. “On The Rocks” is a tale of perspective but also misdirects. It is pretty much a two-hander between Rashida Jones as a daughter whose husband may or may not be straying and her father, a relentless charmer who sometimes is misled in the form of Bill Murray. Murray has always been the bright light in the younger Coppola’s films because she knows how to highlight his strengths without crowding him in. Murray is jazz but only some directors can find this, Harold Ramis and perhaps Jim Jarmusch among them. But he is never so likable or empathetic as Coppola can make him.
The story and its thrust are not important (though its trajectory does feel similar in certain ways again to “The Descendants” but from a younger point-of-view). It is set in beautiful places such as the dark shadowy but elegant old lounges of New York but this father/daughter tale in an essence of both love and miscommunication, even though these characters are close. This is not necessarily a reflection of Sofia’s father at all but the character Rashida plays is a writer nonetheless juggling two kids with a husband that is gone…and her father jet sets around the world Sofia herself is married to a musician who tours and has two kids as well. But her father is now happy making wine in Northern California. One needs to write what is surrounding even as a superstructure. There is a sweetness to Jones but yet a sadness, again an interesting dichotomy considering her father is very famous too. So in this basis, “On The Rocks” works on a very human level. The dialogue is biting and full of meaning (again written by the younger Coppola) and yet never overtly critical to the point of anger. It is an interesting balance. And with Murray stirring the pot in the background, there is a lyricism to the film, which may not work for all but feels beautiful at times here.
The intention of period piece is to understand the impact on its characters and their reaction to stimuli. In this way, “I’m Your Woman” which stars Rachel Brosnahan of “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” fame, is an interesting move. It is a film from a first time female director and there is a sense of intention but one where the lead character basks almost in her ignorance until she is confronted not to. Like Karen in “Goodfellas” but much less worldly, Jeane’s life seem stilted but comfortable. Her husband loves her yet she knows that he is a criminal. We are never given a full view of what he is up to but by placing Jean at the center and adding a baby to the mix, it becomes an interesting mix of genres. The only issue is that at times it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Like “the Kitchen”, there are stylistic flourishes at different points in the film that are borderline brilliant but aren’t thoroughly consistent. Brosnahan works herself different in the role on purpose to show the difference in a character from “Maisel”. Jean doesn’t talk fast. She pointedly asks question but rarely and with trepidation. She is not brazen and she is not methodical but her instincts get better. She is not a person used to taking care of herself. She ends up embroiled with another person who worked with her husband who protects her and yet more goes on below the surface. His wife shows up which adds another layer. But it is when Jean needs to peel back the blinders that the film starts to work. One specific scene through a hallway back and forth from a specific POV gives the harrowing feeling and being in the 70s you can guess the texture of the club. That said, even though Amazon is known for having the money to license music, the filmmaker decided to use two very specific Aretha Franklin songs and there is one soul instrumental where one can’t tell if it was written today or then. What it does do is completely set the pace at one point which is where the movie gets part of its flow. Director Julie Hart also has enough confidence to let the camera sit on her actors, especially Brosnahan. Though the performance is not absolutely out of the park, it is effective and nuanced though at times you can see the cracks and the effort being made. The blonde hair and 70s era outfits completely the idea of transformation in Brosnahan. This is not “Fargo” but it does reflect the mid-range pictures that used to be commonplace in Hollywood. And the streamers know that can be its bread and butter. Pittsburgh too takes a great role in the film creating that 70s angle and vibe without saying “Here I am!” That said as “I’m Your Woman” moves towards its conclusion, it does take risks creating a brutal but riveting sequence at the end that although budgetarily constrained does relate a grittiness. The title itself is an odd one as it means different things but doesn’t truly explain the intent of the film. “I’m your Woman” though seems to know what it is and doesn’t shy away from its identity.
A movie that constantly approaches and asks “who am I?” or “who was I?” revels in its sense of space. “Apples”, a Polish film about a man separated from his mind supposedly is something a bit alien maybe to Westerners. Many people in a local urban area seems to be suffering from amnesia. They are taken in by local government via hospitals. Some of their families find them. Others are left on their own. The lead character is a simple man who wanders out one day and ends up at the end of a bus route and unable to remember his name. He never quite speaks and yet he does. He follows the path the doctors set out for him and follows it usually fairly close like a rat stuck in a maze. This might sound dark but it is not. It is fable of sorts and yet an example of brainwashing amid an idea of utopia. The state is trying to fix its people but the process is very interesting. He is given a series of tapes with instructions for social interactions. Most of them are simple but get more complicated and almost moral ambiguous as time goes. There is also an essence of classic cinema especially when the character of Anna who has a similar condition crosses paths with him. One of the constructs of the movie is based on the fact that Polaroids need to be taken of their daily life. Much of the humor and lyricism of the film lies in these sequences whether it be riding a bike too small or going to a strip cub. The performance of Anis is played so close to the vest that the viewer begins to debate if the lead character is not faking and taking advantage of the system versus actually operating in this way. One sequence in a dance club (not an electronic one) but a more laid back almost jazz/pop open air venue has Anis dancing and the perspective between and behind him and Anna is palpable but not defined. “Apples” refers to the fact of that Anis as a character loves apples. it is the one constant that relates back to his old life. And it is the first thing the doctors give him at the hospital. The double meaning is brought into line with a produce seller eventually say that it is supposed to help the memory. This makes Anis put them back as if he doesn’t want to confront the past. It is done and humorous way and the film never feels stilted. This character and a few others exist in this in-between word, much like “Amelie” but with less vibrancy and the rhythm and texture of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Still “Apples” is a beautiful little film that is just what it is but bordering on being more.
Werner Herzog always has an interesting way of looking at things where it is never one thing but perhaps another. After his stunt on “The Mandalorian”, perhaps his stint into alien worlds provided a slightly different perspective. While “Fireball: Visitors From Other Worlds” in many ways is straightforward, its unconventional narrator gives the ideas its push. Apple backed this film which is equal parts at times indulgence versus metaphysical voyage with an idea of how existential it really could be. Herzog examines the idea of organisms and the intermingling of history and art. It is not done in an obtuse way but rather in a roundabout way of examining the human spirit. Herzog sees people in a different way. It is hard to say if he is operating at times as we only see him jump in once (yet his voice narrates the entire process and was written by him so the voice is inherently of that bent). The perspective goes away from norms. His camera lingers on the subjects not asking for quotes most of the time but taking in their faces. That says so much more than any of the talking heads that interact with Clive Oppenheimer (who co-directed). Oppenheimer is himself a documentary filmmaker and volcanologist who worked with Herzog on the different “Volcanos” (so they obviously get along). Oppenheimer has less presence than perhaps some of his interview subjects whom Herzog perhaps stays on a bit too long. It is not about what they are saying per se though the details are there. It is about how they are acting when it is being said. There are textures of obsessive compulsive elements in many of the subjects or just a jitteriness like a professor in India who sits in the belly of a crater. Some just can’t stop moving either out of nature of excitement. One of the more interesting is a Jesuit Brother that works for The Vatican and is also a planetary scientist. His discussion of the paradox of science and God is not contradictory per se and yet explains the right balance. Herzog seems to see these elements and adds to the slight undercurrent of beautiful madness. The ending sequence takes this to a visual extreme but examines and reamplifies the nature of the meteors and the history they both create and tell.