Vampires, Assassins, and Romantic Angst by the Seaside: Takoma Reviews

→ in
Tools    





Time to update the film challenge btw.
Also, I’m sure you’re waaaaay behind on your reviews.
I've only watched a handful of films since February, so I haven't really made any progress on the film challenge. I'm pretty far behind, lol. I do have quite a few reviews to write, but they're all from stuff I watched months ago, so I'm looking at my notes like, "What was The Burial?"

Welcome back Takoma! It’s good to see you posting again.
Thank you!





Rosetta, 1999

Rosetta (Emilie Dequenne) lives on the fringe of untenable poverty along with her alcoholic mother (Anne Yernaux). Frantic to find a steady job after being let go from her previous workplace, Rosetta is hired to work at a waffle stand, where she forms a tentative friendship with Riquet (Fabrizio Rongione). But the emotional weight of her mother’s behavior and her desperation to make a living for herself threaten to upend everything.

A strong synthesis of style and content, this is a compelling and intense look at a life on the margin.

The idiom “a slow motion car crash” seems very appropriate to both the film and Rosetta’s life itself, and over the course of 90-some minutes we can only watch as Rosetta makes decisions in fight-or-flight mode.

Rosetta is a fascinating protagonist. She does not want to take charity. She is determined not to follow her mother’s path of accepting “favors” from men and then escaping into an altered state of oblivion. She wants to work. She wants to earn an honest living. She reacts passionately, and sometimes with physical resistance, when she runs up against heartless policies and nepotism.

There is something particularly harrowing about films where you have to honestly admit that, even though the protagonist doesn’t always make the best choices, the cards are clearly stacked against them. It doesn’t matter how well Rosetta performs at her job when the boss’s son flunks out of school and needs a job. When you consider the way that Rosetta is stranded between being a teenager and being an adult, the weight on her shoulders seems impossible. In one heartbreaking scene, Rosetta gives herself a self-affirming pep talk, trying to assure herself that she is on the right path. It’s a pep talk that should be coming from her mother or any other trusted adult figure, yet Rosetta has neither biological nor found family to support her in this way.

The style of the film perfectly fits Rosetta’s constant heightened emotional state, the camera circling her and bluntly regarding her with an intimacy and an immediacy that adds a degree of claustrophobia to her story. The colors are drained and everything has the energy of a cloudy day.

An interesting touch to the film is the way that Rosetta is constantly dealing with stomach pains that seem to be period cramps. First, it adds an understanding to her emotional, volatile, and often impulsive actions over the course of the days that we spend with her. It also serves as a reminder of how close Rosetta could be to having a baby of her own---something that would significantly worsen her circumstances. Finally, it adds this element of physical discomfort that might just be the final straw for a young woman who is already on the edge.

The performances across the board are very strong, especially Dequenne’s starring turn as Rosetta. The characters feel lived-in, and their desires, fears, and motivations are all there to grasp from just a few moments and conversations.

A heartbreaking, but compelling, slice-of-life.






Terms of Endearment, 1983

Over the course of several years, we follow the tumultuous, emotional relationship between Aurora (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter Emma (Debra Winger). We watch the highs and lows of Emma’s marriage to college professor Flap (Jeff Daniels), as well as the contentious romance between Aurora and her womanizing, former astronaut neighbor Garrett (Jack Nicholson).

Full of some iconic sequences, as a whole this one failed to move me.

I’m not saying I come from a perfect family, but it took me a long time to understand just how unhealthy/toxic/manipulative/etc some relationships can be between parents and children. (I remember being at a sleepover at a friend’s house and being just sort of baffled that my friend’s dad seemed not only uninterested in her, but also kind of mean to her for no reason). Maybe for people who grew up in families like the one in this film, there’s more to get out of it.

But for me, well, not so much. The movie opens with Aurora deciding that out of protest over her daughter’s choice of partner, she will simply not attend the wedding. Like . . . yikes. I mean, yes, Flap is a turd, but Emma loves him and he clearly also loves her. And from this jumping off point, the movie mostly felt like a greatest hits of people who were a total mess and just not that fun to spend time around.

Messy families are the bread and butter of a certain subset of drama-comedies, but I find that there has to be a balance between the quirky eccentricities and the actually messed up stuff to work. For me, the ratio was seriously off. Aurora is manipulative. Emma’s kind of whiny and bland. Flap, as mentioned, is a turd, and their family follows the classic arc of bending their lives to his career, only for him to commit the most predictable of domestic betrayals.

I think what I found most upsetting about the film was the way that we watch the damaged dynamics of Aurora and Emma’s relationship filter down into the relationship between Emma and her own children. For a movie that’s billed as a comedy, there sure was a lot of emotional, mental, and physical child abuse on display! The film plays these moments as if smacking your kids around on the sidewalk is just a natural part of the ups and downs of parenthood, and it made me incredibly uncomfortable.

The most palatable parts of the film involve the romance between Aurora and Garrett, and a subplot about Emma becoming attracted to a man named Sam (John Lithgow) after she finds out Flap has been unfaithful. I wasn’t exactly swept away by either of these plots, but at least I didn’t find them actively aggravating.

I can definitely see how certain moments in this film really grab people. There’s an epic sequence of Aurora and Garrett driving along a beach. There’s a very quotable sequence where a distraught Aurora goes toe-to-toe with hospital staff when she doesn’t think Emma is getting sufficient care.

Ultimately, my distaste for the characters was not outweighed by its notable moments.




A system of cells interlinked
I watched Terms of Endearment a year or two ago. I think my rating would have landed right around a
also...
__________________
“It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.” ― Thomas Sowell





Style Wars, 1983

This documentary follows players from multiple sides in the ongoing battle between graffiti artists and the various officials trying to keep their tags off of public property.

Exit Through the Gift Shop has probably established itself as the ultimate film about street art, but this documentary has a lot of heart and an appealing range of interview subjects that makes it a must-see.

There are a lot of people to like in this film---on both sides of the “war” over graffiti---but a young graffiti artist named Skeme and his weary mother are the absolute beating heart of this movie. It’s perhaps one of the most endearing relationships I’ve seen in a documentary. Skeme’s mother realizes the futility of trying to keep her son in the apartment, and can only give him epic motherly looks of disapproval as he talks about how he will never be caught/arrested. For his part, Skeme always tells his mother when he’s going out to spray paint, and that detail is incredibly winning.

So yes, everything involving Skeme and his mom is precious. (Precious, but obviously underscored by the fear his mother feels knowing what might happen if her son encounters the wrong kind of person---cop or criminal---while out adventuring). But the rest of the film is also very engaging. It’s pretty obvious that the filmmakers are largely sympathetic to the graffiti artists, highlighting the effort and artistry that goes into their work. Despite this, the film gives plenty of screen time and a sympathetic ear to the people on the other side of the conflict.

If you’ve ever had a job (or lived in a household) where cleaning up after others was a regular part of your routine, you will sympathize with the men whose jobs require keeping the New York subway cars in clean condition. You can endlessly debate the degree to which the graffiti looks nice/is art/is pleasing to the eye/etc, but whether its a stylish abstract print of a crude penis outline, these workers spend hours cleaning the cars only to repeatedly see them defaced.

Something that I wish the film had explored more is the range of graffiti. All of what we see created is, to my eye, pretty neat looking. One of my favorite sequences is watching one of the artists sketch out his ideas on a notepad. But we all know that for every abstract or signature, there are hastily sketched profanities or sexually explicit images. The question of what to do about graffiti on public property is a bit complicated. I wouldn’t particularly like commuting to work every day having to look at porn-ish images of topless women, racial slurs, etc.

Overall this is a very engaging documentary with an enjoyable cast of personalities.




I watched Terms of Endearment a year or two ago. I think my rating would have landed right around a
also...
It's always interesting when there's a movie whose title (and maybe some catchphrases) you've known for decades, and then you watch it and you're like, "Yes, that was . . . an okay movie."



A system of cells interlinked
It's always interesting when there's a movie whose title (and maybe some catchphrases) you've known for decades, and then you watch it and you're like, "Yes, that was . . . an okay movie."
I chalked it up to being something I wouldn't normally be interested in. These days, I have a bit more interest in stuff like this, but aside from the performances being pretty great across the board, I was just sort of bored by it.



I chalked it up to being something I wouldn't normally be interested in. These days, I have a bit more interest in stuff like this, but aside from the performances being pretty great across the board, I was just sort of bored by it.
It's not really my type of film either. I watched it for the 2024 Film Challenge and also maybe a little because it checked that box of a film I feel like I "should" have watched.



I think I enjoyed Terms of Endearment a bit more than you did, but I somewhat agree that the characters were a mixed bag. Emma and Flip didn't leave much of an impression on me, but I did find Aurora compelling as an overly protective mother whose version of care came off as excessive control and manipulation. I didn't see this characterization as a flaw but as the central premise of her. I also loved Nicholson's character and felt he overshadowed everyone else in the film.



I did find Aurora compelling as an overly protective mother whose version of care came off as excessive control and manipulation. I didn't see this characterization as a flaw but as the central premise of her.
It's definitely a kind of parent who exists. But I found it really painful to watch and just not very funny. Especially as you see that manipulation filter down into how her daughter deals with her own family. And I felt as if in the last act it gets sort of hand waved like "but of course they loved each other deep down".



It's definitely a kind of parent who exists. But I found it really painful to watch and just not very funny. Especially as you see that manipulation filter down into how her daughter deals with her own family. And I felt as if in the last act it gets sort of hand waved like "but of course they loved each other deep down".
Not sure I remember their relationship being intended as comedy, but I may be misrepresenting. I agree their conflict ultimately didn't adhere to much in the final act and that Emma's
WARNING: spoilers below
cancer diagnosis
didn't help the film find a proper resolution, but I did find Aurora compelling throughout what came before.



The value of a movie like Terms of Endearment is how it acts as a balm for those who recognize the kind of family dysfunction it depicts. The humor in it works because it neither plays towards parody or pulls punches by making their behavior acceptable. The film hopes to make light and ultimately find understanding in who these people actually are.


But the element that makes it actually a great movie, is that in its dramatic moments we still can recognize the tragedy that lies at the heart of this family. The potential of what they all could have been if they weren't all so deeply broken.


And it's the uncomfortable balance between these two elements that make the film as well loved as it is. We see our mothers in Shirley MacLaine. We see ourselves in Debra Winger. And we realize we can sometimes laugh at where we have come from and what it has done to us. But all at the same time, we never lose sight of the sadness that is still always there and probably always will be.



The value of a movie like Terms of Endearment is how it acts as a balm for those who recognize the kind of family dysfunction it depicts. The humor in it works because it neither plays towards parody or pulls punches by making their behavior acceptable. The film hopes to make light and ultimately find understanding in who these people actually are.

But the element that makes it actually a great movie, is that in its dramatic moments we still can recognize the tragedy that lies at the heart of this family. The potential of what they all could have been if they weren't all so deeply broken.

And it's the uncomfortable balance between these two elements that make the film as well loved as it is. We see our mothers in Shirley MacLaine. We see ourselves in Debra Winger. And we realize we can sometimes laugh at where we have come from and what it has done to us. But all at the same time, we never lose sight of the sadness that is still always there and probably always will be.
What you are describing is exactly what I felt the film reaching for, and I totally understand that balance. I also fully understand that reflecting on a childhood----whether that childhood was a bit quirky or downright abusive---can pull in a sense of humor and a retrospective acknowledgment of the craziness that families engage in, even when dealing with pretty serious aspects of growing up.

My personal reaction to the film was that I didn't think it pulled it off and especially in the last act. I felt like it was all a bit rushed and the leaps in time were unwieldy. Despite recognizing some of the relationship dynamics, I didn't really click or identify with the characters in the way I think you'd need to in order to love this movie.



What you are describing is exactly what I felt the film reaching for, and I totally understand that balance. I also fully understand that reflecting on a childhood----whether that childhood was a bit quirky or downright abusive---can pull in a sense of humor and a retrospective acknowledgment of the craziness that families engage in, even when dealing with pretty serious aspects of growing up.

My personal reaction to the film was that I didn't think it pulled it off and especially in the last act. I felt like it was all a bit rushed and the leaps in time were unwieldy. Despite recognizing some of the relationship dynamics, I didn't really click or identify with the characters in the way I think you'd need to in order to love this movie.

I haven't seen it in a long time, and I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't entirely hold up, but at the time it felt like a breath of fresh air having what is essentially a film that is marketed towards mainstream audiences depicting dysfunction in such a honest and (mostly) lighthearted way.


And I don't remember how the final act entirely plays out, but you mention the idea that suddenly it's established that everyone actually loves eachother in the end, like it was something that was ever really in doubt. Now admittedly familiarity goes a long way with these sorts of things, but coming from a family where affection and support is always obscured and denied and abstracted and never directly shown, my default position when seeing characters like this is to recongize the love that is always sort of there, but that no one is ever going to be capable of being expressed due to all manner of excuses. And the rare moments it does appear somewhat unguarded are usually abruptly out of nowhere, often forced out by tragedy, and also frequently poorly articulated even then (let's not pretend that Shirley MacLaines big Oscar moment in the hospital isn't her still behaving terribly, only this time to the staff). Yes, her emotions are understandable, but she is still ultimately a woman who can't deal with her emotions or other people properly.



the love that is always sort of there, but that no one is ever going to be capable of being expressed due to all manner of excuses. And the rare moments it does appear somewhat unguarded are usually abruptly out of nowhere, often forced out by tragedy, and also frequently poorly articulated even then (let's not pretend that Shirley MacLaines big Oscar moment in the hospital isn't her still behaving terribly, only this time to the staff). Yes, her emotions are understandable, but she is still ultimately a woman who can't deal with her emotions or other people properly.
I agree that the dynamic is really realistic and that Aurora is the kind of person who expresses even the kindest of emotions in a flawed, erratic way.

I think that where I have a problem is with the tone that is set in literally the final scene. At this point in the story (MAJOR SPOILERS)
WARNING: spoilers below
Emma is dead and Aurora has convinced her husband that he should totally give up custody of the kids to her. The family and friends gather together in the yard, and the overall tone and mood is a really positive one, like "And it's working out as best it could!".


I just . . . really couldn't vibe with that. I could not escape the fact that
WARNING: spoilers below
Aurora is now raising three children. Children whose mother has died and whose father has given them up with barely one minute of consideration.
And she still is who she is. She has not actually grown in the film. For the movie to end on the note it did felt disingenuous to me and almost like a denial of the unhealthy things we've seen up to that point.



I agree that the dynamic is really realistic and that Aurora is the kind of person who expresses even the kindest of emotions in a flawed, erratic way.

I think that where I have a problem is with the tone that is set in literally the final scene. At this point in the story (MAJOR SPOILERS)
WARNING: spoilers below
Emma is dead and Aurora has convinced her husband that he should totally give up custody of the kids to her. The family and friends gather together in the yard, and the overall tone and mood is a really positive one, like "And it's working out as best it could!".


I just . . . really couldn't vibe with that. I could not escape the fact that
WARNING: spoilers below
Aurora is now raising three children. Children whose mother has died and whose father has given them up with barely one minute of consideration.
And she still is who she is. She has not actually grown in the film. For the movie to end on the note it did felt disingenuous to me and almost like a denial of the unhealthy things we've seen up to that point.

I honestly don't even remember the end. As stated here, it sounds fairly bad, and I imagine I would have thought so at the time as well.


But I also don't hold films that sort of aim for the middle of the road to particularly high standards, so it was probably pretty easy for me to overlook. Unlike a movie like Aftersun, where I actually do find myself invested in what will or has happened to these characters when out of frame or the movie is over, Terms is the kind of film that I don't concern myself with anything that happens after the cameras stop rolling. Its a movie of shining little moments and performances, and I don't really expect it to add up to anything bigger. So if it totally flubs the ending, which it sounds like it very well may have, I can shrug it off with ease. I was just happy to have a poppy bit of dramatic and comedic fluff at least resonate a little bit for once. Prove to me that it can actually be done, and not be completely pandering.



I honestly don't even remember the end. As stated here, it sounds fairly bad, and I imagine I would have thought so at the time as well.


But I also don't hold films that sort of aim for the middle of the road to particularly high standards, so it was probably pretty easy for me to overlook. Unlike a movie like Aftersun, where I actually do find myself invested in what will or has happened to these characters when out of frame or the movie is over, Terms is the kind of film that I don't concern myself with anything that happens after the cameras stop rolling. Its a movie of shining little moments and performances, and I don't really expect it to add up to anything bigger. So if it totally flubs the ending, which it sounds like it very well may have, I can shrug it off with ease. I was just happy to have a poppy bit of dramatic and comedic fluff at least resonate a little bit for once. Prove to me that it can actually be done, and not be completely pandering.
Yeah, I mean, it's fine. I get why it's popular. But it's not the kind of film I imagine revisiting.