The New Yorker - USA (2022-01-31)

(Antfer) #1



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The celebrated touch that made the Berlin-born director Ernst Lubitsch
the blithe poet of shivery desire takes on a macabre tone in the silent melo-
drama “Three Women,” one of his first Hollywood films, from 1924. (It’s
streaming, in a sharp new restoration, on Kino Now.) This tale of the toxic
connection of lust and money involves a middle-aged high-society roué
named Edmund Lamont (Lew Cody), who’s broke, and a rich woman of
fading youth, Mabel Wilton (Pauline Frederick), who’s lonely. Her efforts
to snare Edmund, who’s fleecing her, involve concealing her eighteen-year-
old daughter, Jeanne (May McAvoy), from him. But, when Jeanne shows
up uninvited, Edmund—his lechery matching his venality—seduces her,
and turns his attention to a new conquest. The story’s dramatic subtleties
are curdled and grubby; Lubitsch fills the film with derisive panoramas
of the Roaring Twenties social whirl and seething closeups of material
things—glittering jewelry, desperate cosmetics, shimmering finery, telltale
letters. As the ruthless deceptions veer toward blackmail and violence, Lu-
bitsch’s images burst with hectic flamboyance, and Frederick’s performance
rises to a fury that anticipates Joan Crawford’s heyday.—Richard Brody




Golden Exits
The intersection of life and work bares hidden
conflicts and sparks new ones in the writer
and director Alex Ross Perry’s taut, intimate
melodrama, from 2017, of families and friends
in the confines of Cobble Hill. Nick (Adam
Horovitz), an archivist, is organizing the papers
of his late father-in-law, an acclaimed editor.
Nick is married to Alyssa (Chloë Sevigny), a
therapist, whose sister Gwen (Mary-Louise
Parker), the executor of the estate, makes Nick
a pawn in sibling rivalry. Meanwhile, Nick’s
young assistant, Naomi (Emily Browning),
makes Alyssa jealous and Gwen suspicious. The
group is linked with another family—Sam (Lily
Rabe), who’s Gwen’s assistant, and Sam’s sister

Jess (Analeigh Tipton), who’s married to Buddy
(Jason Schwartzman) and runs a recording
studio with him. Deftly juggling characters
and plotlines, and eliciting fierce emotions in
coolly controlled performances, Perry evokes
simmering frustrations and stifled furies, gall-
ing resentments and bitter self-recognitions.
Sean Price Williams’s cinematography is urgent
and confrontational; Robert Greene’s editing
keeps the mood swings sharp and swift. The
characters’ flayed vulnerability plays like Berg-
man in Brooklyn.—Richard Brody (Streaming on
Amazon, Vudu, and other services.)

Harlem Nights
This boldly original, boisterously idiosyncratic,
yet introspective drama—a gangland tale, set
briefly in 1918 and then mostly in the nine-
teen-thirties—is the only movie that Eddie
Murphy has directed to date. He also wrote
the elaborate story, about a night club run by
a gambling-ring operator named Sugar Ray
(Richard Pryor), whose adopted son, a trig-
ger-happy orphan (Desi Arnez Hines II), grows

up to become his right-hand man, an impetuous
troublemaker called Quick (Murphy). The
film is a whirlingly divergent romp, blending
agonizing violence with outrageous humor;
above all, it has the feel of oral history, of lives
and times rescued from oblivion. It spotlights
a host of extravagant, exciting performers (in-
cluding Della Reese and Redd Foxx), and the
plot involves some outlandish twists, but the
comedy is dead earnest. With a labyrinth of
brutal threats and subtle double crosses, fatal
misunderstandings and nimble evasions, Mur-
phy brings to life a teeming, fabled past that
undercuts nostalgia with authentic visions of
danger. Released in 1989.—R.B. (Streaming on
Amazon, HBO Max, and other services.)

Suzanne, Suzanne
This medium-length documentary by Camille
Billops and James V. Hatch, from 1982, is a
multigenerational story, centered on the death
of a man called Brownie. He was the father of
Suzanne, the husband of Billie, and the son-in-
law of Alma—and he was a domestic abuser.
Suzanne, a recovering heroin addict, details the
emotional and physical trauma of her childhood,
which led to her drug use; Billie speaks of the
liberation she felt after her husband’s death.
But, along with the participants’ frank and un-
sparing discussions, the filmmakers develop a
distinctive, stylistically original, and practically
effective framework of both image and staging
in order to unleash pent-up words and emotions.
One extraordinary sequence features a com-
position of Suzanne and Billie together, both
facing the camera, as Billie describes the horror
of the beatings that her husband administered
to Suzanne in a ritual that the family called
“death row,” and of the beatings that she herself
endured. It’s a scene of tragic confession and
commiseration, of a newfound mutual under-
standing born of agonies reimagined on cam-
era, by way of simple but profound directorial
imagination.—R.B. (Streaming on the Criterion
Channel and screening Jan. 26 at MOMA.)

The Wendell Baker Story
What is the collective noun for the Wilson
brothers? A relaxation of Wilsons? They’re all
here, clubbing together to create so blatant a
throwback to the nineteen-seventies that any
viewer not wearing a floral shirt may be refused
entry. Directed by Luke and Andrew Wilson, the
movie stars Luke as Wendell Baker, a groundless
optimist from Texas, who has an unsteady girl-
friend (Eva Mendes), a dog, and not much else.
After a spell in jail, he goes to work at a retire-
ment home, where the head nurse (Owen Wil-
son) is making life hell for some of the crusty
customers and is thus asking for revenge. The
residents include Skip Summers (Harry Dean
Stanton), Boyd Fullbright (Seymour Cassel),
and Nasher (Kris Kristofferson), who have faces
like dried-up riverbeds; they turn the movie into
an admiring study of oldster hipness. The film
is lazy, loose, inoffensive, shot through with
occasional sadness, and all but ruined by an
ending of spectacular wrongness. Will Ferrell
punctures the mood with a cameo of surprising
comic ferocity. Released in 2007.—Anthony Lane
(Reviewed in our issue of 5/21/07.) (Streaming on
Peacock, Tubi, and other services.)

sounds grand, but the text is disappointingly
obvious, with nary an unexpected incident or
rhyme.—Rollo Romig (59E59; through Feb. 6.)

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