THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN: Colin Farrell gets unfriended.

When a friend gives you the finger, take a hint.

    At some point, we’ve all considered a Facebook purge. Those grammar school mates you haven’t seen since grammar school. Some stranger who showed you a meme at a party. People you never even met but friended because you agreed with their post about Gavin Newsome 2024. Basically, all those hundreds of near-or-total-stranger ‘friends’ whom the FB algorithm puts in your face 20 times a day to waste your precious scrolling time with inspirational quotes or photos of a curious slug in their garden (“Can anyone tell me what this is? It’s eating my cucumbers!”)

    But we rarely go through with the purge, do we? We don’t want to hurt their feelings. Who knows what delicate emotional state they may be in? Facebook friends may be the only friends they have.

    Well, in The Banshees of Inisherin, Colm (Brendan Gleeson) has no such concerns. (And it’s 1923, so he doesn’t have Facebook anyway.) He wakes up one day and decides his buddy Pádraic (Colin Farrell) is too much of a dullard to waste any more time with. No drifting apart over a few months, no pretending he has other plans at pub time. Cold turkey. Friendship over.

    Poor dull Pádraic has no idea how to process this. His days consist of three things: milking his cow; taking the milk to market; having a pint with Colm. He lives with his supportive sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon), but she’s a woman, and wouldn’t appreciate his scintillating conversation about what he found in his donkey’s shit that day.

    The plot follows Pádraic’s increasingly pathetic attempts to pull Colm back, and the drastic measures Colm takes to convince Pádraic to leave him alone, including self-mutilation. Even after Colm throws his finger he has cut off at Pádraic, Pádraic cannot give up, and their war of attrition escalates to ever more drastic actions.

    Sporadic cannon fire from the Irish civil war across the water on the mainland serves as a backdrop to the proceedings, but it’s really more of a textural layer. Banshees, in the end, seems to be about despair, how we handle it and how much burden we take on to help those we love handle it. Set on an island of steep cliffs, the film places its main characters at various distances from the edge of that despair, and has them move toward or away from it.

    Colm, a fiddle player, is right on the edge, and has come to realize that it’s his music that calls him away from the precipice. Daily interactions with tedious Pádraic have become too much of a drag on him, so he drops the weight. Stripped of the friendship that kept him cushioned in his simple world, Pádraic now sees what despair is, and is terrified. Colm sees his behavior as self-preservation, Pádraic sees it as cruel and selfish. Yet he can’t recognize his own cruel dismissiveness of the simpleton Dominic (a fantastic Barry Keoghan), who seeks Pádraic’s friendship.

    It’s only Siobhan who eventually escapes this isolated land of miserable, stubborn men intact, by walking up to the edge of her cliff and leaping over it, to a job far away. In doing so, she too is abandoning Pádraic to save her soul.

    Even for someone like me who appreciates heavy stories as long as the acting is brilliant – which it is beyond here – this would be a lot. You need a sense of humor to get through it, and writer/director Martin McDonagh weaves this throughout, keeping a spark lit in his characters no matter how dark they get on the outside.

    Come to think of it, humor is the reason I don’t do that Facebook purge of ‘friends’ whose posts make me want to jump off a cliff. Show me enough clips from Family Guy and kidsgettinghurt and I’ll keep scrolling through the soul-crushing dullness.

    Predicted Oscar nominations: 9

    Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor x 2, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Editing

    TÁR: Kate Blanchett gets stuck in it.

    Ah, the sweet freedom of playing a character with absolutely no redeemable qualities.

    Tar would have been a great name for Kate Blanchett’s character in that Thor movie. She was oily and black and hot and definitely not good for the planet (Asgard in that case).

    But that was a superhero movie, a silly lark they’ll likely exclude from the reel that plays when Blanchett receives her lifetime achievement Oscar. You could argue that she plays some version of an all-powerful being in 90% of her roles, so Todd Field, the writer and director of Tár, lets her pave her relentless path through a narrative more fitting to a real-life Hela.

    She is Lydia Tár, a symphony conductor of such astronomical talent that it takes the movie’s entire opening to list her accomplishments (she even has an EGOT!) via an interview on stage at a New Yorker forum. Blanchett’s characters almost always have a whiff of arrogance, but there’s never been a script that’s allowed her to lean into this to the extent she does here, and her all-in embrace of the pretentious, dismissive and completely unlikeable Lydia is mesmerizing.

    This opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the film, which surrounds Lydia’s cutting intelligence with a world so haughty and culturally rarified that it often becomes a parody of itself. Whether that parody is intentional or not is one question of many that makes this film’s point hard to understand.

    For example, while teaching a seminar, Lydia cuts down a student’s work with a remark along the lines of “God, that’s worse than the venison sausage at L’Auberge.” Is this pretentious screenwriting meant to comment on Lydia’s affectations, or is it writer/director Field showing off that he has a library of insidery tidbits in his head bigger than all of Wikipedia.

    The thrust of the drama follows a #metoo theme, with the twist being a powerful woman using and abusing other women, emotionally and sexually. The ballsier question to ask concerning this subject matter – what exactly constitutes sexual abuse when both parties are consenting adults – is not explored. We are given no details of Lydia’s relationship with the young woman whose suicide results in Lydia’s professional blackballing, other than that Lydia blackballed her when the woman started to expect Lydia to help her career in exchange for their sexual relationship.

    Lots of works, from The Fountainhead to Whiplash, have looked at the idea of genius excusing questionable behavior (separating the art from the artist), and forced us to really think about it. At the start of the film, Field teases that he’s going to do the same. When Lydia is teaching the seminar at Juilliard, a non-binary BIPOC student expresses disdain for Bach’s music because they claim the man was a misogynist. Lydia argues with forceful intelligence against dismissing great historical and artistic achievements because the author’s past behavior has been deemed unacceptable under contemporary standards. When the student storms out and calls Lydia a bitch, the message is that the student’s wokeness is both immature and performative.

    What follows this is a slow and relentless take down of Lydia for, again, an act of abuse we are given little detail about. This turns a narrative that was introduced as a legitimate debate into a one-sided argument that Lydia’s type of person – a brilliant and arrogant artist who draws in sycophants and takes advantage of opportunists – deserves to have their legacy wiped away.

    ‘What goes around comes around’ may be a satisfying storyline to some, but it’s a pretty lame take-away when you have an amazing performer like Blanchett at your disposal. And a real wasted opportunity when we so need to explore how to move through the fraught cultural and political climate around wokeness.

    Predicted Oscar nominations: 4

    Actress, Original Screenplay, Score, Sound

    WOMEN TALKING: Men. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t access the kingdom of heaven without ‘em.

    When the cat’s away, the mice will vote to kill it.

    If it wasn’t already evident by the deft touch she shows in her films, Sarah Polley, the director and screenwriter of Women Talking, has great timing. The movie is rolling out into theaters just after American women voters have turned out en masse to tell conservative lawmakers to fuck off. Which is exactly what the women in Women Talking have to do, only they don’t say the fuck off part out loud, because God.

    The violence that underpins this story – a group of men in a Mennonite community are habitually drugging and raping the young women in the middle of the night – may sound like a handmaid dystopia, but we all know the gaslighting over and excusing of extreme misogyny is all too real in a strict and primitive patriarchal society like this one, and the one our own conservative leaders envision.

    Polley wisely chooses not to depict any of the violent incidences, instead focusing on the aftermath as the community’s women come together in a hayloft to hash out what they should do about the abuse they and their daughters have been forced to endure.

    As these women can’t read or write, drawings represent the three choices they can scratch their X next to: forgive and forget; stay and fight; leave. What’s at stake is nothing less than the afterlife, as the religion the women were indoctrinated with teaches them that they cannot get into heaven without the blessing of their men.

    Following the novel on which it’s based, Polley’s script makes sure every position is given equal time. Frances McDormand is the Ginny Thomas/Amy Coney Barrett of the group, falling on religious doctrine to excuse the abuse. Rooney Mara, Judith Ivey and others represent the steady center, while Claire Foy is the revolutionary, arguing to kill the rapists. Jessie Buckley gets the toughest role, an abused mother of an abused daughter whose anger flies everywhere but where it should.

    This all might sound heavy-handed and stagey, and could have been with a different director. But Polley knows how to use her medium to take the story beyond a filmed essay. As in the book, the men are away to the city to bail out the arrested rapists, and Polley uses light, camera angles and sound design to heighten the threat of violence upon their return that hangs over the women’s deliberations. The shadowy hayloft where they gather feels dangerous, its high, isolated position leaving no easy escape, and the discussion taking place there is kept engrossing as Polley shifts the mood in erratic spurts. The talking is broken up with scenes depicting the few moments of peace the women have in their lives, interacting with nature, friends and their children. These are the things they can still have after they leave the men, and realizing this seems to get them past the last fears holding them back.

    Women Talking opens with the title “An act of female imagination”. Along with the narration by one of the characters relating the story to her daughter from a better future, the phrase keeps a light on at the end of the dark tunnel these women must traverse. Yet it’s also gutting that ‘imagination’ suggests that what these women end up doing is a fantasy, a film fantasy and by inference, a real world one.

    “An act of female imagination” could also describe the midterm elections, though, so in our world maybe the fantasy just inched a little closer to reality.

    Predicted Oscar nominations: 5

    Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor

    DON’T WORRY DARLING: Olivia Wilde chooses Styles over substance

    We all have questions, Flo. Like ‘didn’t you read the script?’

    “Don’t worry darling,” Olivia Wilde said to Harry Styles, speaking in her endearing punctuation-free manner. “I’ll layer my movie in so much disingenuous feminist commentary – just like you on the red carpet! – that no one will notice you’re no Marlon Brando.”

    Harry stared back at her blankly, straightening the pussy bow on his blouse. “Will I get to sing?”

    “Don’t worry darling. You’re going to make me sing. With your tongue. While a massively talented actress waits around getting pissed off.” Olivia smiled, more to herself, really. “How many Hollywood norms am I upending, vright? And showing this town that I’m not a one-trick pony that’s always going to churn out insightful, perfectly-toned films like Booksmart.”

    Harry put the script down on the table. A stack of paper can get heavy for a man who fits in a ladies size 1. “I’m a slow reader. Can you just tell me what the movie’s about?”

    “You play a handsome 50s businessman with a beautiful housewife who’s willing to be careless with her fancy china to get her pussy eaten. That’s called feminism, and there’s a lot more to come.”

    “Cool so far. Who’s the lucky actress?”

    “Florence Pugh. You know you only pretend to eat her pussy, right? That’s how acting works.”

    “Oh, ok. I had to give my co-star a real blow-job in the fag movie I just did. The cameras were hidden so I would feel more comfortable.” Harry paused to think, but his thoughts were like his music, a waft of pleasant background sound that had the courtesy to never settle enough to be a distraction. “Florence Pugh is the girl from Midsommar? She has little boobs.”

    “That’s feminism. I could have cast Kim Kardashian, which would have made more sense with you. Anyway, you and Florence live in Palm Springs but I call it Victory. Everything is orderly and perfect and scripted, like The Truman Show. All the wives are totally obedient to their husbands and seem brainless, like The Stepford Wives. But all is not as it seems, like Get Out. This world is actually a computer simulation, like The Matrix.”

    “Ooh, is Keanu Reeves running the matrix?”

    “No, Chris Pine. I need everyone around you to be a really good actor.” Olivia caught herself. She was a sharp woman, inclined to quick answers, without giving adequate time to contemplate the other party’s reaction. Slighting both her new pop star lover and a huge action hero was a potential headache she did not need on the heels of dumping a man who’d recently gone from SNL filler to the Television Academy’s favorite chuckle-getter. “It’s a quality thing,” she added.

    “I’ve always wanted to spit on Chris Pine,” Harry said.

    “Wait until we finish filming.”

    Harry began flipping randomly through the pages. “Which character am I?”

    “Jack.”

    “I don’t have a lot of lines.”

    “To paraphrase Norma Desmond, great actors don’t need words. They have faces.”

    Harry had no idea what this meant. “I think I’ll do my Cockney-meets-Scottish-by-way-of-Don Draper accent.” He was now poking around in the final act section. “Wait, you said my character was handsome. That’s what my fans want. Here it says ‘Jack, unshaven, pock-marked, with greasy hair and smudgy eye-glasses, turns to face his tired wife’.

    “That’s because we find out at the end that you’re actually this unemployed loser jealous of his successful wife, who has no time for him and doesn’t want to be eaten out by a greasy slacker. So you drug her and hook her up to this computer simulation where she becomes your devoted wife in this misogynistic world. How you keep her alive when she’s lying motionless trapped in your device 24/7 or for that matter how the simulated world is physical enough that when someone dies there they die in real life too isn’t important.” Olivia had made this argument to her screenwriter, so felt Harry might need it as well. “Don’t worry darling, you look hot in 7/8 of the movie.”

    “Maybe I flip her over every now and then to keep her from getting bedsores.”

    “Good build.” Olivia smiled. Harry was sometimes capable of surprising her with more than his finger. “I think an incisive commentary on the pervasiveness of a misogynistic worldview wrapped in mid-century luxury, ironically-placed needledrops and six other film plots, held together for two acts solely by the talent of a great actress, then dissolving into muck with a purposely unsatisfying ending is exactly what fans of Watermelon Sugar will love!”

    Harry nervously fingered his House of Chalamet pearl choker. “What if they don’t?”

    “Then they’re anti-feminist.”

    THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING: I dream of Idris, with the pointy ears

    “How about I open your bottle?”

    Like any gay man, if I rubbed a genie bottle and Idris Elba came out, my first wish would be “do me now!”

    And though it may surprise some people who’ve only seen her on the red carpet, Tilda Swinton is not a gay man, so when she first releases genie Idris Elba, she just wants to talk.

    To go any further into Three Thousand Years of Longing, the new film by George Miller of Mad Max: Fury Road fame, you have to allow the director some latitude. He’s chosen to hew to traditional genie lore, dictating that his djinn (genie) be of dark-skinned origin and enslaved to whomever opens his bottle. And milky white Tilda Swinton is the bottle-opener here.

    Due to the cultural precedents, I don’t think this choice is problematic. What is more debatable in this visually rich and conceptually interesting film is character motivation. One of those characters is fantastical, so I guess anything goes there. But Swinton’s character Alithea is supposed to be a real flesh-and-blood person, and a highly intelligent and moral one at that. The choices she makes with regard to unexpectedly becoming a Djinn’s master are less about what makes sense for her character and more about what Miller wants to show us.

    But, hey, that’s almost always what you get with a famous director, and we don’t go to a George Miller film for My Dinner with Andre.

    That said, the dialogue scenes that bookend Djinn’s flashbacks are surprisingly still, set in Alithea’s blank hotel room and given no mood-enhancing music or fancy camerawork. We barely even glimpse the exotic Istanbul skyline just outside the room’s windows. Djinn shrinks down to human size, puts on a bathrobe, and the two converse like they’re in a capsule episode of White Lotus.

    Alithea is a ‘narratologist’, which sounds made up but is a real field that studies stories and the way they affect our perception. When offered her three wishes, Alithea claims she is perfectly content and there is nothing she desires, other than lofty ideals like world peace which Djinn can’t do. So she refuses to wish, meaning Djinn remains bound, and understandably frustrated. The moral thing to do would be to just wish for a cup of coffee, oat milk and a baguette in order to free him. But, no, Alithea is obsessed with stories, so instead of freeing a man imprisoned in a tiny bottle for thousands of years, she wants to chat. I guess it would be hard to resist this. I’d want to hear stories from a hot, 3000-year-old genie too, after the all-night sex I’d wished for.

    It does seem smart to structure this movie using the ‘flashback to origin story’ model we’ve become so used to in our fantasy-themed entertainment, and to indulge these scenes with all the visual opulence, quirky comical undertones, and Mad Max energy missing from the hotel room.

    According to Djinn, genies in bottles was not a thing 3000 years ago. Djinns were still magical, but free to do what they wanted, which in our Djinn’s first story is to have sex with the Queen of Sheba, whom he calls Sheba because if he doesn’t get a name, neither does she. They were in love until King Solomon came to visit and she waxed off her floor-length leg-hair which she only did for first-date sex. Sheba and Solomon became Old Testament legends, while Djinn was put in a bottle by his rival and tossed into the Red Sea.

    Djinn’s next chapter, set in 16th Century Istanbul during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, finds him bound to his first master, a dim-witted fangirl obsessed with a prince. When she doesn’t heed Djinn’s warnings about her impulsive wishes, she ends up dead before making her third wish, which leaves Djinn floating around the palace as an invisible spirit. He seems to feel this was worse than the bottle.

    By his final story, Djinn is in the hands of another young woman, now in 19th century Istanbul. This one, Zefir, is smart enough to know the first thing to do with this particular Djinn is hit the sheets, and they fall in love. It’s when she wishes for knowledge of all things that the affair goes off the rails. She turns into Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind and Djinn ends up in the ugly glass bottle that Alithea buys.

    Djinn claims he kept getting re-trapped in bottles because of his “weakness for women”, which the movie presents as him giving them too much deference when they act unfaithful, stupid or hysterical. Hmm. Anyway, will it be different with Alithea, his first master with freckles?

    It does makes sense that Djinn’s stories of passionate love would slowly open up the secretly lonely Alithea, but the lines Swinton is given, and the flatness with which she is directed to deliver them, make her interest in Djinn’s stories come off as more empirical than emotional, so when she finally makes a wish – for Djinn to fall in love with her – it will appear to some as abrupt. We just don’t witness enough love building between these two before we’re taken into a swooning affair complete with naked Idris wrapping what looks like a third scaly leg around naked Tilda.

    There is consolation in that everyone involved was smart enough to know not to end here. After taking Djinn back with her to London – in a room service salt shaker – and enjoying a few days of newlywed bliss, Alithea realizes that one can’t make something as intangible as love real by wishing for it, and that this unnatural wish is destroying Djinn. So she wishes him to be free, something she could have done in the first five minutes, but that would have deprived her, and us, of Djinn’s wonderful stories.

    Accepting how a narrative wants to manipulate you is necessary to enjoying any story, whether old, new, on page, recited, filmed. When the story asks you to do things like justify abject cruelty or laugh at instead of with, it’s cause for rejection. But all Three Thousand Years of Longing asks us to accept is that the ancient world had amazing production design, and that a single gal can quite suddenly realize she’s horny for Idris Elba, and I’m fine with that.