Here are two films indelibly stamped by the masterful work of their directors. There’s the return of Jane Campion and her latest, The Power of the Dog, and from Edgar Wright, his Last Night In Soho.
The Power of the Dog (Netflix) – Jane Campion has captured an Oscar and a Palme D’or (Cannes) for directing The Piano, and just earlier this year, she copped a Silver Lion (Venice) for this film – her first directing work in 12 years. On the surface, it may seem an unusual choice for her to tackle, a Western set in 1925 Montana; but we’ll soon see just what drew her to this cult novel, and it’s potent psychological drama. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons as brothers Phil & George, they’re supported by Kirsten Dunst as Rose, who George takes as his wife, and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Rose’s son, Peter, who has a lisp and is effeminate. In a milieu marked by toxic masculinity, the elements are thee for Campion to create cinema magic. This was actually filmed in New Zealand, and it’s amazing how the rough landscape and stunning vistas becomes a character in itself.
This early, there’s talk of Cumberbatch possibly earning Best Actor nominations for his Phil. There’s an arc to his role that will be a surprise to people watching the film. Campion’s handling of the material will also make her a strong contender for Best Director honors in the coming award season. This drops on Netflix December 1st, and trust me, it won’t make a dent in the Most Watched list – Power of the Dog is part of the streaming giant’s yearly quest to figure in the award season. Think Roma of a few years back, and The Irishman and Marriage Story, more recently. This falls in the same category of the high brow, prestige projects that earns accolades from the critics and cinema cognoscenti; but get ignored by the mainstream audience who’ll prefer output like Red Notice. Campion earns a welcome return with this film, and I hope we don’t have to wait 12 years for her next film.
Last Night In Soho (Video on Demand) – Edgar Wright has been one of my favorite directors, dating back to Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and his 2017 action/crime thriller Baby Driver. There’s always been a dark-ish but hilarious sense of humor at play in his films, and the first thing you’ll have to accept about this new twisted psychological drama of his is that in stretching his mastery of different genres, he has basically jettisoned this trademark comedy. What we get instead is a steady tightening of the screws, as we join his female protagonist down a rabbit hole of inhabiting someone else’s persona, and reliving the 1960’s. In lesser hands, our suspension of disbelief would not have been as willing – for from the outset, this could be considered a ludicrous premise, and could just as easily have ended up in unintentional comedy.
But from the very opening sequence, as Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) sashays around her bedroom to Peter & Gordon’s World Without Love, I was hooked and surrendered. An aspiring fashion designer, this small town Cornwall girl gets a scholarship to London, and we learn that these same ambitions were held by her late mother, who took her own life. Eloise has the gift of a third eye, seeing the dead. It’s isn’t long before the room where she boards carries a deep secret – that of Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy), an ingenue singer in the Swinging 60’s of Carnaby St./Biba London, who was being exploited by her boyfriend/manager/pimp. That’s enough plot one needs to know, as what the film is really about is Wright taking firm control of the material, his actors, the cinematography and blocking, and making us believers of this wild tale.