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A Lot Of A GHOST, Not Much STORY

Opening today at a few theaters near me:

A GHOST STORY (Dir. David Lowery, 2017)


I walked out of this extremely weird movie in a daze. I wasn’t sure what the hell it was that I just watched. I mean it’s a movie about a ghost who appears as a guy in a children’s Halloween costume – that is, seriously, a white bed sheet with eye holes.

Let me backtrack – the film begins with Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara as a couple living in a house in semi-rural Texas who appear to be preparing to move. Affleck gets killed in an automobile accident and we cut to Mara identifying his body at the hospital. After she places the sheet back over his head and leaves, Affleck sits up and then walks through the building’s halls unseen by anybody because, you know, he’s a ghost now.

He makes the journey back to their house and stands there motionless watching Mara as she mourns. He watches her eat a pie. A whole pie. This scene feels like it goes on forever. Mara eats until she goes to the bathroom to throw up in the background.

Time passes and the ghost stands motionless watching Mara pack up and move away. A new family made up of a single mother and her two kids move in and he watches them. One night in a fit of anger (I guess) he throws and smashes dishes in the kitchen which scares them and they move out shortly after.

Then the house appears to be taken over by hipsters who have impromptu parties with pretentious discussions. Singer/songwriter, and friend of director Lowery, Will Oldham delivers a speech about mortality and the futility of time (I think) that perhaps spells out the movie’s meaning but I dunno.

At some point, the ghost waves to another ghost (identical bed sheet situation) through the window of the house next door and they speak in subtitles with no sound (the ghosts get subtitles but the Spanish-speaking mother and her kids don’t). The other ghost says he’s waiting for someone, but he forgets who. All through this, Affleck’s ghost scratches at one of the walls trying to retrieve a tiny note that Mara’s character wrote and left in a crack.

More time passes, and the house gets demolished by bulldozers, and a shiny, modern building is built in its place where the ghost stalks the glass halls. Then we go back in time two hundred years to when European settlers were taking over the land. He stands and watches as history repeats and ends up watching Affleck and Mara again, then he watches as Affleck becomes a ghost, who he watches from behind.

I wonder how much Affleck actually visited the set because for the bulk of the movie it could’ve been anybody under that sheet. Especially since you can’t see eyes behind the holes – just darkness.

The self conscious artsiness of this film, which is all told in long, stationary shots in a square aspect ratio, makes me think that Lowery is trying to get as far away from the commerciality of his last project, PETE’S DRAGON, as he possibly can. Horror fans will likely be baffled by it because, except for the moment the bulldozer comes crashing through the wall, it’s not a scary experience. Haunting is more what Lowery was going for, but while it does indeed have some effective eeriness, it just goes on and on without a truly meaningful point to be made.

There’s maybe a good 20-minute or so short film that could’ve been made with these elements that would spare us all the existential tedium. The only story here is the passing of time, and that wasnt enough to keep me engaged.


But it is a gutsy move for A24 to release a film such as A GHOST STORY during the overcrowded dog days of summer – I admire that – but I can only recommend this picture to people who like being weirded out – very slowly.


More later…

Todd Haynes’ CAROL: Cate Blanchett & Rooney Mara Find Forbidden Love

Now playing at an indie art house, and maybe a multiplex or two, near you:


CAROL (Dir. Todd Haynes, 2015)

Todd Haynes sixth film, CAROL, his follow-up to his masterful 2007 Dylan deconstruction I’M NOT THERE, has been drawing comparisons to John Crowley’s BROOKLYN, which was released earlier in the prestige picture/Oscar bait season of fall 2015.


Both are New York City-set period pieces concerning young women who work in Macy’s-style department stores, both illustrate the coming-of-age experiences of these women in the restrictive society of the early 1950s, and both are based on bestselling, award-winning novels.

And there’s the fact that BROOKLYN director Crowley was once even attached to direct CAROL.

But while BROOKLYN is a well made, and very good looking drama, Haynes’ CAROL is something else entirely – a much more sophisticated, complicated, and immaculately artful work, which is stunningly gorgeous while BROOKLYN is merely pretty.

An adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 book “The Price of Salt” (later re-named “Carol”), the film is told through the eyes of Rooney Mara as 20-something aged shopgirl Therese Belivet, who becomes intrigued by Cate Blanchett as the much older (40-something) Carol Aird, a wealthy New Jersey housewife, when they meet over a counter at Frankenberg’s department store.

Carol is Christmas shopping and asks for Therese’s help looking for a doll for her daughter. The two converse pleasantly, then Carol forgets her gloves on the counter when she leaves. Therese arranges for the gloves to be sent to Carol’s home. Carol calls Therese at work to thank her for sending the gloves, and invites her out to lunch where they hit it off further.

In the meantime, we learn that Carol is going through what could become a messy divorce from her angry husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler), while Therese, who dreams of being a photographer, has a boyfriend, Richard (Jake Lacy), who wants to marry her, and live together in France. We also meet Sarah Paulson as Carol’s bestfriend/former lover, who’s relationship is a source of Harge’s chargrin.

Carol invites Therese over for dinner, but the night, and their budding romance, is interrupted by Harge, who demands that his wife go with him and their daughter Rindy (Kk Heim) to Florida for Christmas, but she refuses.

Later, Harge’s lawyer cites a “morality clause” against Carol that would grant him sole custody of Rindy.

Despite this situation, or because of it, Carol and Therese embark on a road trip out west, before which Therese breaks up with the increasingly frustrated Richard.

On the road, the pair gets closer but things go askew when they find out that a P.I. (Cory Michael Smith) that Harge hired to get incriminating evidence on Carol, has been recording their lovemaking (tastefully shot, of course) through their hotel wall.

To fight for custody of Rindy, Carol departs back to New York, leaving Therese behind and their relationship up in the air.

Of all of Haynes’ fine films, CAROL most resembles his 2002 Douglas Sirkian-inspired drama FAR FROM HEAVEN, which also dealt with the taboo of homosexuality in the McCarthy era. But while HEAVEN had a high gloss to its look, CAROL, shot by the same cinematographer, Edward Lachman, has more of a subtle, darker grain. Many shots echo Life Magazine photography in their muted yet still vivid colors.

The always reliable composer (and long-time Coen brothers collaborator) Carter Burwell’s score is a beautiful embellishment to the proceedings. It swoons and swells effectively throughout, never calling too much attention to itself. Mixed into the soundtrack are a well picked batch of ‘40s and ‘50s songs, mostly Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks tracks).

But it’s the performances by Blanchett (yes, there will be an Oscar nomination) and Mara (maybe) that stand out the strongest. Both women bring to nervous life the dialogue in the sharp screenplay by Phyllis Nagy (another nomination, I bet), with Mara’s story arc of a woman blooming finding confidence after years of shadowy confliction, nicely blending with Blanchett’s worried perseverance.

CAROL is another late year addition to my top 10 of 2015 (coming soon!). From the absorbing aura of its near perfect period design and visuals, to its tense yet tender handling of its love story, along, of course, with the terrific turns by Blanchett and Mara – it all made a very poignant impression on me.

More later…