Velvet Buzzsaw–Art Can Be Dangerous

In this grisly art-world satire, Velvet Buzzsaw opens with a renowned art critic, Morf Vandewalt (the sensational Jake Gyllenhaal), in his designer sunglasses, turning his pompous, gimlet eye on artwork at the highly hyped Art Basel Miami show. Pontificating about what he considers worthy or unworthy, Morf has the power to punish or reward.

Everything starts conventionally with the cocktail circuit of groveling artists’ representatives, but  soon it turns grisly.  Velvet Buzzsaw relishes in satirizing the pompous art-world,  blending horror  inside an artist’s disturbed mind.

The disturbed mind is that of a deceased elderly man, Vetril Dease, whose paintings are discovered by Josephina (Zawe Ashton) , a recently fired art gallery assistant.  Although Dease had instructed that his paintings be destroyed after his death, Josephina ambitiously appropriates them.  She sees an opportunity for profit, power, and status.  Partnering with her former boss (Rene Russo), the powerhouse owner of the Haze gallery, the two women form an unholy alliance to sell Dease’s “outsider art” for exorbitant sums of money.   Despite the fact that Rhodora Haze had humiliated Josephine previously, the young assistant soon becomes indispensable to Rhodora.

Art becomes personal, and Dease’s mysterious  paintings have a mind of their own.  What if the figures in his paintings reflect the artist’s past pain and suffering? Dease’s fear, melancholy, menace and agony?

Seemingly unfazed by growing concerns over Dease’s work and his past, Rhodora imperiously manipulates the profits from this windfall collection, creating more buzz as some paintings are destroyed. Josephina is her accomplice.

Velvet Buzzsaw’s pacing is skillful and adept with what-will-happen-next tension.  However, a few images are almost too far-fetched, even for the horror genre.  Part “Black Mirror” and part classic “The Red Violin”,  the viewer is left asking questions from the ambiguity of the ending:   Who is the perfect victim for a cursed object?  When is the punishment too extreme for the crime?  Velvet Buzzsaw is sharply rendered.

Note: This is a new release, a Netflix Original,  with grisly deaths and a few bloody scenes.   

 The Favourite–A Compelling Menage à Trois

 

 

The Favourite

Nominated for ten Academy Awards including best picture, The Favourite is perhaps one of the best revenge thrillers of 2018. Reminiscent of Downton Abbey with its opulent settings and costumes, The Favourite is also an historical drama.

In the early 18th century court of Queen Anne, we see a mentally fragile and damaged queen (the sublime Olivia Colman), facing the usual suspects vying to seize the growing power of an emerging empire. The queen’s closest advisor and friend, Lady Sarah Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), governs the country behind the scenes through manipulating Anne’s vulnerabilities, infantilizing her, and enabling the Queen’s weakened health to worsen.

When Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives, desolate and no longer considered aristocratic, Lady Sarah becomes indebted to her for assuaging the Queen’s episode of gout. Abigail sees a chance at a return to her aristocratic roots if she can become a trusted confidante of the queen. The plot thickens, as we see the two ladies-in-waiting wrestle for the queen’s attention and affection. Queen Anne seems to slip deeper into madness, while delighting in being fought over by Lady Sarah and Lady Abigail.

 

The Favourite movie

The Favourite is not only a thriller but a love triangle. Are Lady Sarah and Lady Abigail really in love with the Queen or simply ingratiating themselves in order to manipulate her for their own self interests? We’re never quite sure.

Colman, Weisz and Stone are fully in control in every scene, giving powerhouse performances. Their virtuoso acting is the engine that drives the subplots and unexpected twists and turns at Kensington Palace. (With subchapter titles like “I Dreamt I Stabbed You in the Eye”, the viewer is still left unprepared.) In the end, however, it is Colman who is unforgettable, whose eyes subtly water at hurtful comments, the gaze of one who hopes that no one notices the injury. Those eyes and the subtly of her acting, repeatedly holding this viewer’s undivided attention, are exceptional.

Through her mesmerizing performance as Queen Anne– broken, impulsive, lustful, needy and angry all at once, –Olivia Colman owns almost every iconic moment. All is communicated through her eyes. Few can rival that.

Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone give the performances of their lives too, with tantrums, furious raging, and sexual excesses. Uncomfortably intimate close-ups, with a wide range of emotions richly displayed, reveal their desperate loneliness and despair.

While the wicked schemes and betrayals make The Favourite a very strong contender for an Academy Award for best picture, the historical setting was puzzling at times. It is the early 18th century and England is at war with the French, but The Favourite does little to inform the audience that the war is known as Queen Anne’s War and foreshadows the Napoleonic  Wars so this is a critical time for building an empire. The addition of a little historical context would have put the crowning touch on The Favourite.