(On Cable TV, July 2016) Let me tell you how little I cared about Carol: After renting it via video on-demand, I fell asleep midway through and didn’t come back to it before its 48-hour availability period expired. Six months later, I happened to catch its second half on Cable TV just to say I’d seen it to the end. To be fair, it’s a good film. Competently directed by Todd Haynes, it convincingly re-creates wintry 1950s New York in presenting the then-scandalous love affair between a high-class wife and a humble shopgirl/photographer. Strikingly enough, Carol manages to avoid the aren’t-we-better-now back-patting, or the tragic-forbidden-romance angle in which so many historical same-sex romances run aground. Even though it features stars such as the always-exceptional Cate Blanchett and It Girl Rooney Mara, it doesn’t shy away from explicit love scenes. As such, it’s a quiet triumph. Still, movie viewers with shorter attention spans will fiddle a long time while the film glacially moves through its story, rarely surprising or exciting. While there’s a bit of a thriller-ish subplot later on, Carol otherwise behaves almost exactly as it would have had it been put together in the 1950s. It would, of course, have been far more scandalous then, but that’s sort of the point of the film. I don’t think Carol will mind all that much if it leaves me cold: other reviewers have liked it a lot more than I did, and that’s good enough—it’s a big movie universe, and there’s a place for everything.
(Netflix Streaming, January 2016) I would have gotten a lot more out of Velvet Goldmine had I had more than a cursory knowledge of the glam-rock scene. As it is, I’m left to wonder how deep the parallels run to David Bowie and his contemporaries, and how to appreciate writer/director Todd Haynes’s somewhat free-form approach to the film. There’s a lot of stuff packed in Velvet Goldmine, almost too much so: The story takes place in an alternate reality where the United States have quickly turned fascistic, for instance, but very little is actually made of this framing device. The highlight is placed on a period ten years earlier, in tracing the rise and fall of a rock icon and his troubled relationships. I’m not sure how much of it is a film-a-clef, but it plays reasonably well to ignorant audiences such as myself. The music isn’t bad (and I say this as someone who doesn’t particularly like progressive rock), the cinematography is often spectacular, and actors such as Evan McGregor and Toni Collette get to show their wild sides as uninhibited rock stars. (Christian Bale, not so much—but it’s a different kind of role.) Almost twenty years later, Velvet Goldmine has aged pretty well as a twice-removed period piece. Watching it days after Bowie’s death is enough to give the film a sentimental value than I wasn’t expecting when I placed it on my Netflix queue.