DIRECTED BY

Sally Potter

 

STARRING

Patricia Clarkson

Bruno Ganz

Cherry Jones

Emily Mortimer

Cillian Murphy

Kristin Scott Thomas

Timothy Spall

 

RATED

R

 

RELEASED IN

2018

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 11 Mins.

The Party / Gemini  

Another movie called The Party, itself a British production, saw its U.S. release earlier this year. Aside from the matching namesake, it has little in common with the Edwards-headed screwball saga — except for its comparative anarchy. It runs a little over an hour, is shot in flaw-scrubbing black and white, and is terse. There seems a method to its madness, conflicting with the 1968 film’s dependence on improvisation and general looseness.

 

The Party was written and directed by Sally Potter, a filmmaker who often imperils herself in the name of risk-taking. Considering the mixed reception to some of her previous efforts, like the all-rhyming Yes, from 2004, or 1997’s The Tango Lesson, an autobiographical movie in which she played herself, Potter’s partiality for seeing where her whims might take her hasn’t always paid off.

 

But in The Party’s case, which makes for a departure from anything she’s made thus far, valor proves itself valuable. Suspenseful and winningly acerbic, it is a dinner-party-from-hell kind of gallows comedy where the food is never served and niceties are never traded. The main course — at least in this case — is watching embittered characters gather, size each other down, and come to realize things about themselves and their so-called friends in the process.

 

Given the film is 71 minutes, the movie doesn’t much have the time to be emotionally exploratory. It is, rather, invested in defining itself as a jamboree of acidic dialogue and gut-punching, scene-defining revelations, always mining for a laugh that also happens to bruise.

 

The Party circles around a small banquet celebrating the recent career triumphs of the idealistic Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas), an Opposition party-affiliated politician who has just been appointed as the shadow minister for health. She has invited her virulent, but funny, best friend, April (Patricia Clarkson, wonderful); the latter’s rather mercurial German lover (Bruno Ganz); Tom (Cillian Murphy), a cocaine-addicted financier; and Jinny and Martha (Emily Mortimer and Cherry Jones), in-crises spouses attempting to save their unsteady relationship by IVF-ing Jinny. Tom’s wife, Marianne, was invited, too, but she’ll be arriving later, for whatever reason. Janet’s vacant husband, Bill (Timothy Spall), won’t talk to anyone — at least at first.

 

Are any of these people really friends? Aside from Janet and April, whose respect for one another knows no bounds (the latter seems to revile everyone around her except for her brunette counterpart), most of these people likely only consider each other allies because they happen to go, as lifelong friends might say when talking to a stranger, way back. The Party finds those affinities loosening. It ends with a note-perfect, wonderfully misanthropic shot that just about epitomizes the type of noxious humor it projects.

 

The feature, despite being so structurally simplistic, is hardly simplistic inherently. As noted by Glenn Kenny, writing for Roger Ebert’s website, the movie intriguingly explores the way our personal political views can meddle with our friendships, and our commitment to social mores, in catastrophic ways. The Party is not conspicuous in the way it projects these missives, but it does feel intrinsically political. The subtle timeliness is fetching.

A

comedy film called The Party was released to little fanfare in the spring of 1968. It was co-written and directed by Blake Edwards, the chameleonic filmmaker best known for helming The Pink Panther franchise (1963-'93), and starred the prismatic comic actor Peter Sellers. It is scattered and dégagé — a certifiably messy comedy of manners. Mostly remembered is its featuring of Sellers in alarming brownface (he plays a fickle Indian actor named Hrundi V. Bakshi). Yet it is also considered one of Edwards’ overlooked quasi-masterworks — an impressive exercise in just-barely controlled chaos.

1/2

DIRECTED BY

Aaron Katz

 

STARRING

Lola Kirke

Zoë Kravitz

Greta Lee

Michelle Forbes

Nelson Franklin

Reeve Carney

Jessica Parker Kennedy

James Ransone

Ricki Lake

John Cho

 

RATED

R

 

RELEASED IN

2018

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 35 Mins.

B

gussied-up celebrity types, fetishistic camerawork silently regarding the city’s sights, and murder. I imagine this is what David Cronenberg’s little-seen Maps to the Stars, from 2014, might have looked like had it been made in the 1980s — and had it been less gory and ensemble-driven.

 

Gemini isn’t entirely a successful film — too down-to-earth to be convincingly abstract, too abstract to be becomingly straightforward— but it is engaging all the same. At least until we come to the climax, which bafflingly manages to be both underwhelmingly pragmatic and strangely oblique.

 

Gemini stars Lola Kirke, styled to look like a more clean-cut version of PJ Harvey circa 1998, as Jill, a young woman who acts as the personal assistant to Heather (Zoë Kravitz), among the entertainment industry’s hottest young starlets. Jill has to embody several roles — that of the best friend, the mother, the yes-woman, and the business representative (Heather makes Jill act in her place to back out of rigid movie deals) — and yet she never seems overwhelmed by her multifaceted, high-stakes role. She seems to relish it, and is usually forgiving when Heather is unreasonable. Friendship seems genuine.

 

Not far into the movie’s first act, though, Jill steps through Heather’s front door one morning and finds her employer crumpled on the ground, in a pool of blood. She has been shot five times, with Jill’s pistol, no less.

 

A couple of alarming events preceded the crime. Heather’s ex-boyfriend (Reeve Carney) said threatening things on the phone; Heather backed out of a movie, which left its writer and director (Nelson Franklin) apoplectic; and a stalker-fan (Jessica Parker Kennedy) had interrupted a dinner, asking unsettling personal questions. Jill, of course, becomes the prime suspect — her fingerprints were on the gun, after all.

 

Because she isn’t so sure what else to do with herself, and because she’s become so programmed to be loyal to the ever-capricious Heather, Jill decides to embody Torchy Blane — albeit in a less newsy way — and go about solving the mystery. She even dyes her hair a peroxide-blonde to show her dedication to the semi-investigation.

 

Most of Gemini is compelling. A lot of this has to do with how we’re led to believe that we’re moving toward a clever, herky-jerk twist ending that might encourage us to whisper, “I didn’t see that coming.” Catharsis is expected to come at the tail end of it all.

 

But we don’t receive this release. Instead, Katz provides us with a nonchalant, this-was-all-just-a-misunderstanding-styled finale that doesn’t complement the feature’s enigmatic streak. I presume the twist was supposed to be that the movie was never necessarily supposed to be a thriller at all — more a long-winded identity crisis of a film made to call into question how our environments, as well as our circumstances, can dictate who we are. It also wonders what might happen to us if, in the snap of a finger, everything were thrown off course if something all-important were mussed.

 

This approach might have worked if the film resembled the aforementioned Mulholland Dr., and inspired more of a visceral reaction than it did a narrative-driven one. Here, we’d like to see a tidy ending, not a lo-fi galaxy brain meme-baiting one. What is certain, though, is that Kirke and Kravitz are winsome leading ladies — and that they deserve to be in a movie as dedicated as they are.

 

The Party: B+

Gemini: B

y contrast, Gemini, the Portland-bred filmmaker Aaron Katz’s fifth feature film, is a throwback. It is a glossy, Los Angeles-based psychological thriller that takes cues from David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., from 2001, and classic L.A.-set dramas, from Star 80 (1983) to Boogie Nights (1997).

 

It makes for a motley collection of neon lights, decadent mansions,

September 13, 2018