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Part 1: The Sounding, L’Autre (The Other), The Last Blockbuster
Part 2: Wonder Woman 1984, Soul
Part 3: Wheelchair Werewolf
w/ The Ringmaster, Wander, 10 Faves of 2020 bonus
Oh, to be an aging scholar, living off the coast of Maine, answering life’s questions through the words of William Shakespeare. That is no takedown mind you, but a jealous curiosity. Something or somethings may in fact be missing from our lives, and that could be found in the whimsical exploration of the unknown that is right in front of us. In books. Off the coast of Maine.
Again, this is not a knock against The Sounding. Not a total one, anyway.
Actress Catherine Eaton’s feature directorial debut is certainly a beautiful look at life lived on our own terms, no matter how others try to force conformity upon it. Eaton plays Olivia, a woman who hasn’t spoken since childhood. She’s immensely intelligent, social, and even playful; just no speaking. Her grandfather requests the aid of a young man who he wants as her advocate upon his death. Almost immediately upon meeting, Olivia and her potential guardian are smitten with one another, though physical affection only comes about during a play performance on her grandfather’s birthday - a simple but surprising kiss. Without warning, his relationship to her is compromised. But maybe, this intervention of sorts was at the hand of something divine.
Stunningly, Olivia speaks, but only through lines of Shakespeare. Eaton does amazing work here, finding the right passages to match the right circumstances to strengthen the right movements of both acting and photography. When Olivia is committed to a psychiatric facility, her trauma manifests in such brilliantly designed ways, taking iconic words with their old context and embuing them with something altogether new. Taking on the duties of lead actor and first-time feature director must’ve been a challenge, but Eaton makes it feel oh so easy, even at its most stressful.
Her depiction of a woman who may or may not have a unique form of obsessive compulsive disorder is pretty spot on, though the message is iffy and skewed some. Olivia carefully chooses her language through torn pages and scribbled on skin dialogue, and desperately seeks respite when all is taken away. It’s all in an effort to get her to talk by herself and thus get her out of the facility - a mistake her new advocate admits to shamefully and races to correct with the gusto of a man on horseback.
The Sounding at times tries to have its cake and eat it too, in suggesting that plenty of disabilities could potentially be their own whimsical journeys from which more “normal” people can learn from… while also showing how these personal issues can have severe detriments. Olivia can live independently and well, but is also not a device for what has been labeled as inspiration porn. Sounding teeters uncomfortably on this ledge, only to balance itself just barely at the end with some interesting revelations and consequences.
That early scene with the kiss during a play is replicated a bit minus the kiss towards the end, when the young man confronts and challenges Olivia with his own Shakespeare, which reaches such an emotional if almost tacky crescendo when he finally begins to understand her. It took about ninety minutes just to get back to the beginning, but Catherine Eaton makes it all so worth it with just a few gestures and some excellent compositions.
The Sounding is impressive in its performances and emotional maturity, but does flail ever so carefully when it tries to express its own meaning. Sometimes, if you have nothing good or thought-out to say, don’t speak. Not everything needs explanation. The final shot of our leads walking passed the corner of the far distance said it all without a single word. That’s impressive and all we needed.
Oh, to live in Maine and talk in Shakespeare. Oh, to circle back to where you started.
L’Autre (The Other) is described as “an intimate portrait,” suggesting a close relationship to paintings and photographs. Indeed, if every frame of film is a painting, then this sentiment is true with this movie. The compositions throughout its dreary depiction of Paris - as seen from a creaky and suspiciously secluded home - leave one with the sensation of sadness without the hanging cloud overhead. That cloud is firmly positioned within the story, thankfully for the audience’s sake.
It’s the story of Marie who, after the sudden death of her beloved father, quits her passion of dance to become a haunted wanderer of sorts, at least for a time. Upon meeting the photographer who was the last to interact with her father, she falls in love and lives a life sprung from trauma. From here, things swerve.
Greatly swerve, but never unnaturally.
In L’Autre, living characters posses their environments almost as ghosts, slipping through the bonds of their time, appearing and even participating slightly in past and future moments. Marie’s family home becomes a vessel for this slippage and for her mind, where her life unfolds with every door she opens and walks through. Sometimes she’s barely visible in the background, sometimes she’s an older version of herself, sometimes she sees the lives of others, sometimes she’s speaking to herself through time itself.
This is no “odd for the sake of odd” kind of French film, as this structure does benefit Marie and her story of acceptance. This benefit doesn’t come in the end only; it’s throughout. L’Autre is several strokes of an inquisitive brush, allowing the guiding hand to find its own fate as it paints. That may be too lofty of a line, but it fits, I feel. What started as mostly just people smoking and looking annoyed, surely became something rich in atmosphere and creation, crafting a space for its characters to blend and bleed into its heightened but simple setting.
There’s nothing cavelier about the film, yet it’s also not loose. It’s tight, but not constricting. The style never becomes the centerpiece and never overwhelms whatsoever; it’s always at the service of Marie and her evolution through grief. Intimacy is maintained, through slick direction and slicker framing. Long hallways, staircases that appear to spiral upwards, slowly turning camera movements to convey a tense unraveling to come, and even horror-like pallette’s of color and height. It’s all so uneasy but oh so resourceful and welcome.
L’Autre is a tension-riddled haunted house film that’s surprising in many rewarding ways. Many paintings, but never too many.
(Currently on the film festival circuit)
We talk so often of Blockbuster when video stores are mentioned, but rarely of its destructive iron-fisted grasp on the lifeline of Mom & Pop shops. It was the Wal-Mart of movie rentals, and frankly needed to go away. Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman, anytime he’s interviewed on the subject, speaks in appropriately bitter and awfully correct tones, about how his films and those of other independents were muscled out and effectively blacklisted. When we feel nostalgic for video stores, maybe we feel for that era moreso than the corporate monster.
The Last Blockbuster covers so much ground, from fondness to facts, from context to character, from today to tomorrow. It’s a documentary of those last holdouts, those almost Don Quixote’s who live only as long as the windmill keeps spinning. It’s a massivive feel good film, and one that’s a truly happy surprise.
Celebrity talking heads who used to work at Blockbusters across the country speak truthfully of past video clerk shenanigans, from Jaime Kennedy to, of course, the ever so humble Kevin Smith. But these stars are no match for the true shining light that is Sandi Harding and her family. Sandi and crew operate the last remaining video store to continue on with the Blockbuster name. It’s the only one now, an independent franchise survivor in these on-demand streaming days. Sandi is a testament to customer service above and beyond, to human curation of media, to love of community. The Last Blockbuster, while sometimes obsessive over her store (as it should be), is really all about her, from her Bend, Oregon home to her childhood memory storefront.
A Bend film critic speaks here and there with grand enthusiasm for the days gone by and the maybe days left ahead, singing the praises of Sandi all the way. One such sequence involves a most creative performance of one such monologue, where he and Sandi perform a transaction and, more importantly, a one on one connection. And yes, in fact, many kindly chats about movies have happened from across a counter or in an aisle. There’s just something about the tangible. There’s just something about being there.
Netflix & Chill? Fine, but it’s a bit dirty. At least with physical media, wooing is part of the game. This is the conceit of the great Ron Funches, who gives some of the best insight in the film. We learn so much throughout, about the 2008 economic collapse deciding the fate of video stores as they were, about the trials and tribulations of family businesses, about customer service, about trust and honest, and about, well, love. For movies and for each other, even and especially when you’ve taken the last copy of Robocop for you and yours.
The Last Blockbuster will hold a special place in the hearts of many, and not simply for its use of the Blockbuster logo - a source of contention for the Lloyd’s of the world - but mostly for its depiction of community, its explanation of why physical media was/is important, and how we lose when algorithms and committees take over the employee recommendation shelves.
Save the tangible! Save the dream.
(Watch the film on VOD and order the blu ray here)