Surreal times call for surreal films. Three recent films screening in movie theaters are a walk on the surreal side. Each of the directors was hoping their films would be enjoyed on the big screen. Indeed, people have ventured back to cinemas, but with the new Delta variant spreading through the unvaccinated masses, many are still less inclined to venture out. But cinemas had some record attendance with big blockbuster action films. “Black Widow,” “Suicide Squad,” “F9” and “Jungle Cruise” were all given theatrical release and did reasonably well. Horror films continue to attract an audience. Whether film lovers will seek out these more esoteric films remain to be seen. “Pig,” “The Green Knight” and “Annette” are not popcorn fare. I'd say they were made by auteurs for those who crave something beyond the sequel. These are films for those who want a cinema experience that pushes the boundaries and supplies more unique stories. These are films that celebrate creativity and challenge an audience.
A sleeper hit of the summer is “Pig.” In a year that saw the release of the gentle “Truffle Hunters” and the cinematic feast of “Gunda,” did we really need a film about a truffle pig? Watching the preview and noting that it looked like another crazy film starring Nicholas Cage, I was not planning to see “Pig.” Then various Twitter friends started to mention how much they'd enjoyed it and another friend raved about it. I convinced a couple of my friends to pay to stream and watch it together. If you haven’t streamed a film with friends for a watch party on one of the many platforms (YouTube, Amazon, Netflix), you've really missed out. We do a Google Chat before and after, but it's the comments in the sidebar as the film streams that are priceless. I highly recommend it.
Are you looking for a slightly less unhinged Nicholas Cage performance? Will you believe there's a gangster kingpin controlling the truffle trade in Portland, Oregon, and an underground “Fight Club” for restaurant workers in an abandoned hotel? The cinematography is beautiful, but the plot is a stretch. One friend kept vouching for Cage and his return to form, but the fact that his character spends the entire film covered in blood but still manages to wash his hands to prepare a meal and is a professional chef, was such a stretch that I was left in observer mode. I was watching the film to see what other nonsense I was going to have to swallow, but I relaxed into the narrative. I found myself rooting for this anti-hero in his unwashed, unkempt state and appreciating the bravado of a screenwriter and director willing to create this unusual film.
Drinks With Films rating: 2 glasses of exclusive French wine out of 5
‘THE GREEN KNIGHT’
Are you an Arthurian legend fanatic? Have you studied the 14th century Middle English poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight?” Well, here's a film for you! You won't need subtitles to understand the garbled auto-tuned voice intoning the poem at the start of this film or title cards to point out who the characters are on screen. A surreal morality tale with nods to Monty Python (but serious) and a mushroom trip that conjures a talking fox, naked giants and seductive maidens (portrayed by the same actress, just to add to the confusion). Dev Patel portrays the untested sycophant, a nephew seeking knighthood on a quest that reveals his lack of courage.
Full of whimsy and mysterious characters, “The Green Knight” is a film that begs discussion. Much is lost by not knowing the context and characters, but the cinematography is immersive and surprising. There's a wonderful time loop that serves the films message about bravery and believing in yourself and your mission. The Green Knight is made of wood but the knight, who's “green” or untested, must earn his place at the round table.
Drinks With Films rating: 3 glasses of mead out of 5
How much do you enjoy musicals with actors mainly speaking their songs? What if one of the stars is a puppet? This surreal film starts off amusingly enough with the musicians and co-creators (French avant-garde filmmaker Leos Carax and the Sparks Brothers) joined by the key actors singing a catchy song as they leave the sound stage to walk into their movie roles. Sadly, Marion Cotillard is saddled with an awful chopped pixie wig but soon gets to don one of many lovely, flowing manes as a beloved opera singer. Our romantic leads are both performers with Adam Driver’s character on stage as an audience-baiting comedian. They celebrate their love by singing an inane song even while they’re copulating.
There’s an amusing news flash to announce the stages of their relationship and an interlude to introduce our third star, Simon Helberg. He’s playing an ambitious pianist who’s also in love with Cotillard’s character. As the story of this tumultuous romance unfolds, our bad boy comic faces accusations of sexual misconduct and abuse. All of the actors play their roles as if they’re in a Spanish soap opera. Once the magical puppet child enters the film, the staging gets more surreal and there’s death and an even more dramatic wig for Cotillard. If you’ve stayed this long, and many will have left the theater (there were walk outs the night I went), there’s a dramatic conclusion. Staged with fake glycerin tears and dramatic make up on Driver, we close with him singing in his prison cell lamenting his choices.
Drinks With Films rating: 1 bottle of mezcal out of 5
Of the three films, “Pig” is the least surreal. I found “The Green Knight” amusing and thought-provoking. And Dev Patel and Adam Driver both give incredible performances in their respective roles. They serve the stories that their directors are trying to tell in a bold and nuanced way. Sometimes I want to go to a movie to see something unique and to marvel that so much money and talent were poured into an enterprise that one might not consider entertaining.