The Velvet Underground (15) ****
John and the Hole (15) ****
Steven Soderbergh’s latest movie No sudden movement sees the mercurial director put his own spin on hard-dark noir with a playful, violent story about criminals who double-cross amid a larger story of real-life corporate malfeasance. The setting is Detroit, circa 1954, a time when fluctuations in the auto industry intensified racial divisions, which Soderbergh sketches out by introducing us to the film’s main protagonist, Curt Goynes (Don Cheadle), as he deliberately paces the old streets of his neighborhood. while black-and-white photographs from more promising times appear intermittently on the screen like Proustian memories.
We soon learn that Curt is an ex-con whose need for a payday brings him into the sphere of the mysterious Jones (Brendan Fraser), a host willing to pay him $5,000 to “keep” the family from a General Motors pen pusher (David Harbour) as he retrieves a document from his boss’ safe. It’s a sign of widespread racial inequality that even in the criminal fraternity, Curt’s fees are significantly lower than those offered to Ronald (Benicio del Toro), whose services Jones has also retained. Yet when they’re forced to team up with another low-level criminal (Kieran Culkin’s live wire Charley), it’s Curt who suspects a set-up, which turns very quickly.
As the stakes rise and more people take an interest – among them FBI agent John Hamm and various rival gangsters and femme fatales – the maze-like plot that unfolds can be a bit difficult to follow (and may not always stand up to scrutiny). But Soderbergh is moving things along at such a rapid pace that all “huh?” the moments feel like deliberate homages to classic noir like The Big Sleep and other scrappier B-movies from the heyday of Warner Bros. crime movie catalog. Bolstered by meaty supporting roles from Ray Liotta, Bill Duke, Julia Fox and Amy Seimetz (not to mention an uncredited cameo from a regular A-lister from Soderbergh), it all makes for an entertaining genre exercise.
Music documentaries rarely reflect their subjects in the way they’re made, but Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, I’m Not There) takes a radically appropriate approach to The Velvet Underground with this self-titled film about the avant-garde 1960s rock band that brought together the disparate talents of Lou Reed, John Cale, Nico, drummer Mo Tucker, guitarist Sterling Morrison and pop art guru Andy Warhol.
Making intriguing use of Warhol’s vast archive of experimental films, he creates a kind of pop art multimedia collage, using split screens to contrast contemporary talking head interviews, audio interviews and archival footage with his own portraits. films of Warhol from the group he joined at the time. manage and direct the art (famous phallic “Banana” cover design for their debut album).
As the creative driving forces of the Velvet Underground, Reed and Cale naturally dominate the film, with Haynes finding wonderfully expressionistic ways to convey the intersection between the queer underground Reed was immersed in and the classic avant-garde scene of ‘where Cale’s buzzing soundscapes emerged. But with the addition of Morrison and Tucker, the band’s ability to improvise live and create a sound that merges “R&B with Wagner” (as Cale puts it) became evident and the film does a great job of conveying what point the revolutionary Venus in Furs S&M theme must have sounded to the few people who noticed it.
Warhol’s rise as a manager and the recruitment of Nico (one of the stars of La Dolce Vita) brought their own creative tensions, good and bad. But Haynes doesn’t feed us a spoon-fed narrative, instead providing a kaleidoscopic portrait of a chaotic time that the look, sound and aura of the Velvet Underground helped reflect, shape and define.
A coming-of-age film made as an abstract horror film, the feature debut of visual artist Pascual Sisto John and the hole spells out its ominous stall early with a drone shot of trees swaying in the wind suddenly interrupted by said drone falling from the sky. The drone’s operator is the titular John (Charlie Shotwell), a lanky, introverted 13-year-old whose decision to violently smash his new toy to the ground functions as an ominous sign of the nightmare he’s about to descend into. his unsuspecting family.
Drugging his parents (Jennifer Ehle and Michael C Hall) and older sister Laurie (Taissa Farmiga), he imprisons them in an abandoned concrete bunker in the woods near their lavish home and continues to take more control over his own life. Written by Nicolás Giacobone (the Oscar-winning co-author of Birdman), what follows is an intriguing and structured exploration of the psychological desperation of adolescence, with John’s confusion with the pervasive realities of the adult world manifesting as a sort of disturbing existential experience. he cannot begin to understand.
That John examines what he has done with a kind of entomological coldness is reinforced by the different ways Sisto frames the film, and while he also veers into arthouse cliché by equating emotional distance to the architectural richness (the bourgeois trappings of John’s family home rival those of Funny Games and Parasite), the performances help transcend those stereotypes. So does the filmmaker’s decision to introduce a side-narrative, which seems to come out of nowhere but subtly reframes what we’re looking at as a very dark fairy tale.
No Sudden Move is shown on Sky Cinema and NowTV from 8 October and available for digital download from 10 October; The Velvet Underground will be screened at the BFI London Film Festival on October 8 and 9 and will be released in theaters and streaming on AppleTV+ from October 15; John and the Hole is available as a featured version and as a digital download starting October 8.
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