Colm and the price of greatness.
I saw Banshees of Inisherin and Causeway on the same night. I thought they were similar, thematically. Both films were about friendship. I wrote that while one friendship was ending in a world with too little, the other was beginning in a world with too much.
Banshees of Inisherin is a tragicomedy set in imaginary Inisherin, a remote island in Ireland. Inisherin is a small island with a few people and little activity. It is 1923. The story, the conflict that runs through 114 minutes of screen time, begins when Colm Doherty, a folk musician, suddenly begins to ignore his lifelong friend, Padraic Suilleabhain. Padraic is curious, distressed; he apologizes for unknown wrongdoings.
However, Colm is not ignoring Padraic because of some offence. Colm explains that he has become aware of how rapidly life passes and he wishes to devote his time to making music and doing things he will be remembered for. Colm does not want to spend more time with Padraic, who, although considered nice by everyone, is quite dull. Padraic is determined to reconcile but Colm is determined to be done with Padraic.
The story takes a dark turn when Colm imposes an ultimatum: he threatens to cut one of his fingers every time Pardraic speaks to him. Padraic and I believe Colm must be kidding, he is not. Surely, every time Padriac troubles him, Colm cuts his own finger with a shear knife and tosses it at Padraic’s door. The curious tragedy continues until Colm removes all the fingers on his left hand. In the end, Padraic’s pet donkey chokes on a hurled finger and an infuriated Colm revenges by setting fire to Colm’s house.
Although humorous and casual, Banshees of Inisherin is profound in striking ways. During one of his many attempts to win Colm back, Padriac says to him, “Do you know what you used to be? Nice.” Colm replies with, “I suppose niceness doesn’t last, does it? Do you know what lasts? Music lasts, and painting lasts, and poetry lasts. Do you know who we remember for how nice they were in the 17th century? Absolutely no one! Yet we remember the music of the time”.
The film therefore presents an important debate which left me haunted, conflicted: is it better to be remembered or liked? Is it more important to create or to be nice? Do we want to be admired, celebrated by many, or do we want to be loved by a few dear people? Are these options mutually exclusive? In pursuing our grand goals, do we have to do away, or underachieve, with friends and family so we can focus? There are many stories of celebrated public figures with failed private lives? Is it a price all must pay? Is it a proper price?
Causeway and friends with benefits.
Around Tonight, I am Obongjayar in Sweetness, I theorized the final days of a failing romantic relationship, even though I could not relate. These days, I theorize friendships — how they should work, how they evolve, how they end, how focal they are to happiness. This time, I can relate. I am at a momentous point myself.
Like Swan Song which I discuss in Notes on Cinema 01, Causeway is an Apple Original. Apple is up to something. I liked Cherry, critics liked Macbeth. Then there’s CODA and Cha Cha Real Smooth.
Unlike Banshees of Inisherin, Causeway is set in present day New Orleans, United States. Lynsey, a U.S. soldier who toured in Afghanistan, returns home with a traumatic brain injury following an IED explosion. I know, I know. I too am tired of the “I did a tour in Afghan so feel sorry for me” trope. As she struggles with rehabilitation, she becomes friends with James, an auto mechanic who suffers trauma as well, after a car accident that killed his nephew.
They form a wholesome, supportive friendship. James fixes Lynsey’s car, he buys her ice-cream, they have fun conversations; they learn to understand each other, they spend time doing ordinary, intimate things. He is patient and she is trusting. The lazy mind of the average viewer begins to root for a grand romantic climax. Well, until Lynsey reveals that she is into women. My heart is broken. I raise my hands. What is the point of this then? Isn’t it a romance movie? It is not. And I learn to be fine with it.
James is immediately fine with the discovery, he would like to be friends. They spend more time together. He tells her more about his pain, he invites her to his house and asks that she come live with him. It is a good proposition — Lynsey does not enjoy living with her mother, their house reminds her of old tragedies. Since his nephew died and his sister abandoned him (long story), James would just like to have someone else around.
Only after Good Luck To You, Leo Grande, Causeway was the most important film of 2022. I thought it was quite instructive. First, the relationship between a white woman and a large black man was refreshing to watch. Second, it portrays the power of bonding over trauma (to be distinguished from trauma bonding). The people we find most compelling, endearing are those who know the depth and texture of our pain.
It also explores the imperativeness, supremacy of healthy, platonic friendships. Who are we when we are not after commitments and pleasures? What do men become when they hear that sex will not happen? How do these women see me when they realize that we will not be dating?
Finally, it does support the notion that some men crave intimacy more than sexual pleasure. The latter becomes a constant, albeit dissatisfactory means to the former because of rigid masculinity and ease. It is easier to reach for a nipple or sweat behind hairdo than it is to sit and explain your trauma. It is better to cum than cry. But I know that sometimes, men just want to be listened to, understood, held, nudged. James and Lynsey will not be having sex, they will be talking, drinking and laughing until midnight, bonding over depths few can relate to. They will be thankful to have each other.
Marvel’s Major mistakes.
Creed III exceeded my expectations. I am never at the cinema for sport movies but this one was done right. It had a valuable emotional core, great camera work and a plausible story. Surfacing a new villain from the protagonist’s past can always seem forced and silly. Beyond the stunts, the Fast and Furious franchise have become some joke for this reason. You wonder — just how many people did Dominic offend as a young man?
I thought Majors was majestic in Creed. In Notes on Cinema 01, I told you that Mahershala Ali was my favourite actor because he has “presence”. Majors has the same effect. He is always distinguished, powerful, but also devoted to the character. He is believable, compelling in The Harder They Fall, Creed III, and his appearances as The One Who Remains and Kang The Conqueror.
Speaking of Marvel, Loki, Moon Knight and What If…? are the only shows I have found tolerable. I have tried them all—Ms. Marvel, Hawkeye, WandaVision, SheHulk, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, I did not make it past a few episodes. Asides Spider-Man: No Way Home, the 2021 — 2023 movies have not offered any consolation or revival either. Unfortunately, Marvel peaked in Infinity War. Much has gone wrong ever since. The excitation in Captain America: Civil War and the fascination of Thor: Ragnarok seem like a long time ago. It is a curious thing. Even with the same actors and director, Thor: Love and Thunder was some disaster. I came out of the cinema thinking less of Taika Waititi.
I could not believe Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. I saw it with Taofeek. When I was not covering my eyes with my palms, we were exchanging glances and sighing. Like he said, it delivered zero punches, story wise. It is so underwhelming, there is nothing to spoil.
Peyton Reed’s great failure was the introduction of the villains. First, MODOK. Then, Kang the Conqueror — the supposed supervillain of Marvel’s Phase 5. The legendary Thanos of Marvel’s Phase 3 was teased in two movies before arriving in Infinity War and boy, did he meet expectations. He was as purposeful, ruthless and menacing as we expected the world splitting titan to be. He seemed indefatigable, unbeatable. The fidelity of his villainy was so strong that even when the Avengers returned to the past, he was present, as determined as ever, to forge the future.
In Quantumania, Kang seems promising in three scenes, before his fallibility is splattered across the screen for the rest of the runtime. By the time the showing is done, it is abundantly clear that introducing Kang the Conqueror, the big bad wolf of the entire franchise, in an Ant-man movie, was the horrible idea we all feared it would be. The Ant-man movies have been decent. Not waoh, decent. I don’t mind them. I don’t mind Paul Rudd and his theatrical ensemble. Ant-man’s superpower is that he can shrink or enlarge his size. He plays sidekick in Civil War and hopes to join the Avengers. Meh, we don’t mind it. Now, why does he have hand to hand combat with Kang? Why does he seem to win? Why show the audience that the progenitor of variants and timelines can be matched by Scott Lang and a few socialist ants?
Beyond the failure with villainy, the movie offers nothing new. It is set in a quantum realm we already knew of, it downplays a villain we already knew, Ant-man does not discover any new powers. Cassandra Lang is grown but Kathryn Newton’s portrayal is so superficial and cringe. She says to a dying MODOK (who was uninterestingly made to redeem himself), “it is never too late to stop being a dick”. Dear God. He is not a dick, is he? He’s literally a mechanized organism designed only for killing, “dick” should not matter to him, it should not be in his register.
Marvel’s Phase 5 must take itself seriously. With many universes, timelines and variants, there are infinite possibilities. Majors is talented. The next Kang we see better be worth the trouble, the assemblage of the new Avengers. It is imperative. Look, across the street, in an abandoned building with dim lighting, James Gunn is cooking!