Who appears on the cast of an ensemble feature is just as much a reason to view as the plot or those in the directing chair are reasons. It sounds unreasonable, but it is true. Many have suffered through the slog of catching up with the unknown, shadowy parts of their favourite filmographies. There is a reason, naturally, that people have watched Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. Whether that is because their father marks it as their favourite film or because it is a feature that J.K. Simmons featured in is beyond the reasoning. Take refuge in the ensemble feature, good or bad. Burn After Reading happens to be good. Just good, mind. Not more than that.
From the premise alone, Memoria screams for those that like a bit of freakish fear underlining their love of very niche prose and digestible drama. Methodical and brooding for much of its running time, Memoria takes hold of attention through its lingering pace and the emptiness that comes from it. An intentional emptiness, mind. Not an accidental problem Tilda Swinton must hurdle but one she can rely on to paint a picture with actions rather than speech. It is neither methodical nor abrasive, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul pools such slow-burning skill out of contemplative and smartly-staged sequences throughout Memoria with a lingering fascination over what it means for the character and how that can reflect onto the audience.
Heartthrobs are not usually correlated with former Ghostbusters stars. Chris Hemsworth bucked the trend on that with his appearance in 2016’s Ghostbusters remake, but Bill Murray gave it a go. There was a small window of opportunity for the Academy Award-less star to make his mark and nab a golden statue. Lost in Translation preceded the perfect work he provides on Broken Flowers, possibly the most deserving and intimate performance of his career. For a man that brought so many classic characters to life, it is intensely heart-warming to see that his greatest peak was actually his most recent. The full circle of an actor, the cycle of coming back over on yourself and feeling the comfort of a vulnerable role. Murray relies on that throughout this Jim Jarmusch feature.
“Try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose.” – Arthur Howitzer Jr.
Still cameras, black and white cinematography and a colourful explosion of artistic variety. Wes Anderson has a unique and refined style. His work will continue in this manner for the remainder of his career, and rightly so. His stunning and expressive features have waned in recent years though. It is the ineffective discovery of the commercial viability or the hope of such in the future. The French Dispatch raked in its cut of the budget and then some, but it is a rare sight to see an Anderson feature pulling in a profit. Perhaps it is the remarkable self-parody on display. The culmination of twenty years in the business of directing, eventually repetition looks commercial, and commerciality is on the agenda for Anderson.
Visual anthologies are hit or miss. There is, undoubtedly, going to be a segment that doesn’t work as well. It will feel bulky or slower. Rare it may be to find much balance; The French Dispatch at least tries to. Director Wes Anderson’s collection of fictional works of great journalism are the ensemble-heavy notes of love to the boundary-pushing journalists at the heart of great stories. Anderson’s sickly, Mr. Kipling French-Fancy variation of colour, technique and cinematography is abruptly halted. His stylistic dependency is changed. Most surprising of all for The French Dispatch is its reliance on drab tones. Black and white cinematography is the common treatment for these three stories. Reflect on the past, the simplicity of the times. That is the point, but in practice, it makes this latest feature from the distinct visual creator a bit run of the mill.
How far would the audience go to save the life of an innocent creature? Some would not go all that far, as they would be chowing down on some greasy meat product as they slam their way through Okja. That is the beauty of home entertainment, we can eat and drink whatever we like as we passively engage with this environmental warning from Bong Joon-ho. Okja is the calm before the storm that was Parasite. For that, then, we can see where the social message of Okja comes to life, and the reason for it. Environmentalism is a great pop to feature in a Netflix original, and as Joon-ho makes the rounds with this ensemble, the sketch marks of his commentary-driven Oscar-winner can be seen.
I do think that, for many, The Grand Budapest Hotel will have marked an introduction to film. It did for me, it feels like only days ago that I first watched this Wes Anderson piece, one of the films that started such an unequivocal, feverish interest in the arts. I remember studying this for an A-Level exam some years ago, between this, Reservoir Dogs, and, oddly enough, The Imitation Game, I found an appreciation for a form of art I had only engaged with in passing. It’s a tad embarrassing, to some degree, that this was the film that got me into a wider world of creativity, but there’ll always be a soft spot for this film in my heart.
When Tilda Swinton is cast in just about any film, you can be rest assured that you’re in for a great performance. She has her fair share of duds, Constantine and The Dead Don’t Die being the most notable of those, but even there she has interesting roles that bring about a great range. Orlando does the same for her career, but its consistencies as a film on the whole are meritable. Finally, a film that gets the balance between the talent of Swinton and the success of a strong and engaging story as perfect as possible.
For the most part, Orlando is a thoroughly enjoyable film. Swinton’s leading performance as the eponymous character is a well-rounded role. The strengths of her unique performing style are on full display here. With cocky glances toward the camera, consistently addressing the audience under the talented eye of director Sally Potter. Potter’s direction and Swinton’s performance work hand in hand throughout the film. On the whole, the most engaging aspect of Orlando is in fact the direction. It’s no small feat to feature so many different parts of history, and in such detail, it becomes a real treat to lose yourself in the many different periods the film picks apart.
Somehow the novelty of the storyline and chirpy awkwardness of the characters throughout make for a resoundingly thrilling film. A drama that follows the life of Orlando, who cannot die. We work our way through the many different centuries that occupy the time of our titular hero. A somewhat forgettable supporting cast litter the many decades we bear witness to, and for the most part their performances are resoundingly harmless. Completely uneventful and lacking the impact of Swinton’s powerhouse role, but strong enough to hold their own and bolster her leading work.
Aside from the leading performance and the strengths of the direction, Orlando doesn’t provide much else. As far as the storyline goes, it follows a somewhat similar format to other period pieces. If you took away the never-ageing character then Orlando could easily be mistaken for yet another regular product of the genre. Nothing sticks out as all that memorable, and while the costume designs are certainly a marvellous addition, they feel far too similar to that of irredeemably boring and generally mediocre films that linger around the edges of the same genre.
Still, Orlando certainly has its moments, and the eventual culmination of this story is such a frankly understated and enjoyable end. Potter and Swinton work together with such a feverish tenacity for their craft and it certainly shows when they put their best work together. An excellent piece of work, one that leaves me wanting a lot more out of a product that only just manages to separate itself from the negative aspects of the period piece genre thanks to a thoroughly intriguing storyline. Orlando is well worth the watch, solely for its puzzling story and the exceptional leading performance Swinton brings to the table.