Sole Man

Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams

by George Wolf

Have you ever seen a high-end shoe being assembled?

Director Luca Guadagnino makes it an oddly transfixing experience in the opening moments of Salvatore, Shoemaker of Dreams. We watch the construction silently, priming us for Salvatore Farragamo’s proud admission.

“I love feet, they talk to me.”

Guadagnino (Bones and All, Call Me By Your Name, Suspiria) may not have much audio or video of the celebrated shoemaker to help tell his story, but what he has is used wisely. Hearing from the actual Salvatore provides the needed personal insight to support the remembrances from family and friends, still photos, and narration from Michael Stuhlbarg.

And even if don’t share Salvatore’s skill as a foot whisperer, his is a truly compelling story of determination, celebrity and arch support.

Salvatore opened his first shop in his native Italy at the age of 12. He came to the U.S. as a teenager in 1915, settled in Santa Barbara, California and soon was outfitting the most famous feet in silent films. When the film business moved to Hollywood, so did Salvatore, also finding time to study anatomy at USC so he might understand how shoes could be made more comfortable.

“Fashion with comfort, that’s what I give.”

He applied for thousands of patents, got rich, went bankrupt and got rich again, forever changing society’s expectations of footwear style and comfort in the process.

Guadagnino’s inclusion of Martin Scorsese in the interview parade only underscores how Salvatore’s journey unveils like a classic American drama. It becomes a sprawling family legacy built on immigration, dreams and a solemn vow to never give up.

Shoemaker of Dreams is a fitting tribute to the fascinating life of a man ahead of his time. And while the focus on the earlier part of Salvatore’s story is more inherently interesting, Guadagnino crafts a sweet warmth for the film’s final act, complete with a surprise chef’s kiss.

The closing moments find Guadagnino collaborating with stop-motion animator Pes for a mesmerizing “shoe ballet” that sits perfectly poles apart from the no-frills intro.

These dancing shoes rival the synchronized shopping in White Noise for can’t-look-away sequence of the year, so keep your own feet right where they and don’t miss it.

Mirror Mirror

The Eternal Daughter

by Hope Madden

Joanna Hogg makes movies about making movies about her life. This should not be confused with making movies about her life, that would be too straightforward. What she captures is the act of creating something from the strands of her experience. But somehow, in her hands, this added layer of artifice allows for increased intimacy, or at least introspection.

Hogg’s latest follows a middle-aged filmmaker named Julie (Tilda Swinton) who, with her mother (Swinton again), revisits a grand old English manor that was once a family estate but is now a lovely if mysteriously empty inn.

Hogg draws attention to The Eternal Daughter’s movie-ness from the opening shot of headlights in rolling fog, a score reminiscent of classic British hillside horror drawing attention to itself. Here are the genre tropes, Hogg seems to say. This will be a ghost story.

The Eternal Daughter reunites the filmmaker and Swinton, who played mother opposite her own daughter, Honor Swinton Byrne, in Hogg’s The Souvenir, parts 1 and 2. Byrne’s character, a filmmaker named Julie, was a clear stand-in for Hogg. An actual mother and daughter played mother and daughter, although the daughter was simultaneously playing the film’s director as a budding film director. That’s a lot of overlapping whatnot. But it worked, partly because Julie’s relationship with her mother – perhaps reflecting Byrne’s relationship with Swinton – brimmed with tenderness.

In The Eternal Daughter, Swinton plays the Hogg stand-in as she reprises her role as Julie’s now aged mother. It sounds like a lot to keep track of, but there’s really no need. The film boils down to an opportunity to watch Tilda Swinton play multiple roles, which – as Guadagnino’s 2018 Suspiria proved – is always a good idea. Here she delivers two distinct characters, each spilling with love and bristling with disappointment for the other.

All of it sounds like a gimmick: Swinton playing two roles, Swinton playing the director, the director working out issues with her own mother in a film about a filmmaker working out issues with her mother. But none of it feels gimmicky. Rather, it all creates the space for Hogg to rework facts in order to tell difficult, universal truths.

The film’s deliberate pace and overtly reflective nature will irritate impatient moviegoers, and its plot turns are sure to disappoint true genre fans. But what Hogg’s crafted is a film that haunts, whether the specter is supernatural or not.

Semper Fi

The Inspection

by Hope Madden

We’ve seen it so many times, often very effectively. A sloppy recruit, someone with nothing to lose but himself, does just that during boot camp. Maybe it ends in ambivalence and horror (Full Metal Jacket), maybe it ends in heroism and an unwitting invasion of Czechoslovakia (Stripes), maybe it ends in romance (An Officer and a Gentleman).

While the story that writer/director Elegance Bratton (Pier Kids) tells with The Inspection follows those familiar beats, it’s messier, more frustrating, more honest and more human than all the others together. As it should be, since it is his own story.

Jeremy Pope delivers an astonishing, raw performance as Ellis French, a 25-year-old homeless gay Black man. His mother Inez (Gabrielle Union in the finest performance of her career) cast him out at 16. We meet Ellis on the day he enlists in the Marines.

And you thought Bill Murray was going to have a tough time.

While the steps in the screenplay are familiar – the recruit has much to escape in his day-to-day; he joins and gets to know a group of men of different backgrounds, each of whom will be tested alongside him; he comes out the other side a different man. But Ellis French’s stakes are higher, his difficulties are more dangerous, and the lessons learned along the way probably affect those around him more profoundly than they affect him.

Bratton also pulls away from audience expectation by avoiding the cliché of one-dimensional recruit characters. There’s good and bad, heroism and cowardice, in everyone on the screen. In this way Bratton allows a certain moral ambiguity to seep into the film. That gray area becomes the space for forgiveness to take shape.

What Bratton brings to this well-worn story is an idea perfectly realized by Pope. The Inspection is a showcase for the idea that resilience comes from a balance of strength and forgiveness. French finds ways to forgive what to most would be unforgivable. This is how he perseveres. It’s a beautiful, difficult lesson to learn, even for a viewer. But thanks to that resilience, we have this exceptional film.



by Hope Madden

Senegalese transplant Aisha (a transfixing Anna Diop) cares for a little girl whose mother works too much and whose father is often away. Aisha’s care is tinged with her own deep well of sadness and guilt at handing the care of her own son Lamine over to a friend back in Senegal. But this job will allow her to finally pay for the flight to bring Lamine to NYC, and just in time for his birthday.

Writer/director Nikyatu Jusu’s feature debut employs fantastical elements, but her Nanny is never an outright horror film. Aisha’s visions, though thoroughly spooky and potentially dangerous, speak to the fear, powerlessness and profound sadness facing a woman forever making impossible choices, regardless of the country.

Jusu gives these folklore-rooted images purpose as Aisha awakens to the real nightmare that the American Dream so often becomes. As self-pitying employer Amy (Michelle Monaghan) works long hours to compete in a man’s world, she shorts Aisya’s pay while taking advantage of her time. Reuniting with Lamine feels less and less likely. Helplessness, hopelessness and anger grow.

Jusu’s lighthanded with true horror, a choice that benefits the film because its honesty is horror enough. Diop conveys more with a glance or a sigh than any scaly monster or hairy spider could ever display. Her command of this character’s melancholy and rage is extraordinary.

The addition of Leslie Uggams as Aisha’s love interest Malik’s (Singua Walls) grandmother introduces exposition and explanations that feel slightly forced, particularly compared to the nuance defining the rest of the film. But it’s a slight fault in an otherwise beautiful, devastating movie.

Like Jenna Cato Bass’s Good Madam, Nanny identifies the uneasy social structure that guarantees inequity, and all the accompanying horror it produces. Jusu’s tale sidesteps the true genre punch, though, which may leave some viewers unsatisfied. But, even for its diabolical sirens and eight-legged tricksters, it’s Nanny’s naked honesty that makes it so scary.

Friends to the End


by Hope Madden

Friends are the family we choose.

Yeah, that’s all well and good until one of them turns into Annie Wilkes from Misery.

But it looks like Javi (Javier Botet) has chosen well in David (David Pareja). Director Óscar Martín’s film Amigo, co-written with both Botet and Pareja, opens on David carrying Javi from his car, across a snowy lawn, into an old farmhouse, and to a comfortable bed. That’s not all. David will sit up all night in the chair next to Javi’s bed, just in case his friend-in-need needs anything. That’s devotion.

As the next 80 minutes crawl past, we’re alone with the pair in their isolation. They’re far from town. Snow and ice have made the streets impassable. David’s low on his own medication, and that scar on his forehead marks the throbbing pain he can’t control without it. Plus, shouldn’t Javi be in a hospital?

Slowly but surely, Martín’s film descends with its characters into a nightmare, kind of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane without the egos or lipstick.

To develop palpable tension, Martín takes full advantage of Javier Botet’s physical presence. The actor’s made a name for himself playing silent, nightmare images in REC (Nina Medeiros), Mama (Mama), The Conjuring 2 (Crooked Man), Insidious: The Last Key (Key Face), Slender Man (Slender Man) and more. While he put his physical performance to use doing creature work for Guillermo del Toro, Álex de la Iglesia and other filmmakers, Amigo changes that perspective. Botet’s long, gaunt frame is webbed with the scars of an auto accident, his gangle of bones a macabre reminder of his vulnerability.

Botet’s performance, much of it nearly silent, aches with rage, melancholy and helplessness. Javi’s quiet, burning anger could simply be the natural result of his situation. And his best friend David counters the hostility with buoyant, devoted energy and an unflagging smile.

Pareja’s depiction of David’s gradual decline unsettles. Martín rushes nothing, and though he leaves breadcrumbs, you’ll never know for sure where he’s leading you. The result is a somber, unnervingly realistic punch to the gut and a reminder that friendship does not have to be forever.

Spy vs. Spy


by Matt Weiner

If Squid Game was Lee Jung-jae’s international coming out party, his directorial debut Hunt is a confident and original statement that the engaging actor isn’t slowing down anytime soon.

Loosely inspired by real-world events during the waning days of South Korea’s military dictatorship, Hunt (written by Lee and Jo Seung-Hee) follows a cat-and-mouse game between the heads of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency’s Foreign Unit, Park Pyong-ho (Lee), and the Domestic Unit, Kim Jung-do (Jung Woo-sung).

The agency is grappling with a student uprising against the president, ever-present North Korean belligerence, and of course, meddling American intelligence agencies. When an assassination attempt on the South Korean president comes dangerously close to succeeding, the KCIA suspects a mole. Park and Kim are pitted against each other, and no agent is above suspicion.

Lee stuffs his debut with impressive action set pieces. But this is not the most nuanced of spy thrillers. Lee tends to paint his arterial spatter with a firehose rather than a brush—and it’s a bright, busy canvas by the time Park and Kim are done rooting out the mole.

And then there are the frequent (and graphic) torture sequences perpetrated by the South Korean security forces, carried out almost unthinkingly on friend and “foe” alike. While Lee doesn’t shy away from over-the-top action, he also takes care to shade his characters with enough moral ambiguity that after the umpteenth double cross it’s no longer clear which outcome anyone is rooting for—including the characters themselves.

There’s not much downtime from start to finish. If anything, the story ultimately suffers from the relentless action, especially as the cold war paranoia turns hot. They might not be the quiet tragic heroes of le Carré, but Park and Kim’s deadly game plays so well that it excuses any number of absurd plot twists.

Hunt sticks to the hits with its dueling double (or triple?) agents, but Lee directs with a flourish for action. There’s enough here for action fans, and it’s even more promising as the start of a new phase in Lee’s prolific career.

The Unusual Suspects

The Four Samosas

by Tori Hanes

A stew of early aughts comedies, Wes Anderson stylistic aspirations, and a refreshingly silly story, Four Samosas by director Ravi Kapoor is 80 minutes of numbing comfort. Following a rag-tag team of perpetual underachievers through a hilariously low-stakes heist, the film does little to garner a reaction – a trait that serves the goofy atmosphere well, but fails to earn genuine interest. 

Perhaps the most delightful aspect of Four Samosas is its incredibly linear plot. There is something palpably refreshing about allowing a film to happen to you as opposed dedicating intense brain power to it. There are no opinions to be formed, no intellectual thoughts to force… just relaxing silliness unfolding easily and inconsequentially. In a climate of 2.5-hour movie minimums, sometimes an 80-minute flick sprinkled with Bollywood-inspired gags is a welcome change. 

Of course, pure enjoyability does come at a narrative cost. The story is largely uncompelling, often sacrificing potential moments of emotional catharsis for gags. This comes back to bite in the third act, where the film attempts to cash in on a handful of undercooked themes. For example, protagonist Vinny (Venk Potula) has a briefly explored strained relationship with his newly religious father. Their introductory scene leans more humorous than expository, making their eventual dramatic blowout feel awkwardly unearned. If the film had dedicated more time to being genuine, the resulting payoffs would be more robust. Instead, anything past skin-level emotion becomes Four Samosas’s weakest point.

It’s a shame Vinny’s emotions aren’t explored further, as Potula shows a capable range of expression. His performance shines brightest when compared to his other, more obviously layman co-stars. While Potula delivers a largely authentic, strong character, the supporting cast are more over-the-top, endearing amateurs. This feels like the result of mismatched talent levels and directing concentration.

Though Four Samosas has all the charm and little of the wit of its retro inspirations, the 80-minute pure comedy is a refreshingly light treat for audience palates.

Cabin of Curiosities

A Wounded Fawn

by Hope Madden

In 2019, Travis Stevens directed his first feature, Girl on the Third Floor, a haunted house film in which the house is the protagonist. It not only looked amazing, but the unusual POV shots did more than break up the monotony of a film set almost exclusively inside one building. Those peculiar shots gave the impression of the house’s own point of view – a fresh and beguiling choice.

Stevens’s 2021 film Jakob’s Wife waded more successfully into feminist territory, benefitted from brilliant, veteran performances, and turned out to be one of the best horror shows of the year. In many ways, the filmmaker’s latest, A Wounded Fawn, picks up where those left off – which does not mean you’ll see where it’s heading.

Josh Ruben is Bruce. Marshall Taylor Thurman is the giant Red Owl Bruce sees, a manifestation of that part of Bruce that compels him to murder women. The next in line seems to be Meredith (Sarah Lind). After finally getting past the trauma of a long-term abusive relationship, Meredith is taking a leap with a nice new guy, heading for an intimate weekend at his cabin.

This sort of sounds like Donnie Darko meets about 100 movies you’ve seen, but it is not. Not at all. Bruce bids on high-end art at auctions, Meredith curates a museum, and Stevens’s film is awash in the most gorgeous, surreal imagery – odes to Leonora Carrington, among others. And, like the POV shots from Girl on the Third Floor, these visual choices do more than give the movie its peculiar and effective look.

At the center of Bruce’s personal journey is a sculpture he stole from his last victim, a piece depicting the Furies attacking Orestes, who was driven mad by their torture for his crimes against his mother. It’s a great visual, an excellent metaphor for a serial killer comeuppance movie. It’s also an excellent reminder that art has a millennia-long history of depicting women’s vengeance upon toxic men – in case anyone is tired of this “woke” trend.

Lind more than convinces in the character’s tricky spot of being open to new romance and guarding against red flags. We’ve seen Ruben play the nice guy who’s not really as nice as he thinks, but his sinister streak and sincere narcissism here are startling.

The film does an about-face at nearly its halfway mark, not only changing from Bruce’s perspective to Meredith’s, but evolving from straightforward narrative to something hallucinatory and fascinating.

The final image – unblinking, lengthy, horrible and fantastic – cements A Wounded Fawn as an audacious success.

Screening Room: Glass Onion, Fabelmans, Strange World, Bones & All, White Noise, Devotion, Blood Relatives

How Much I Peel

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

by George Wolf

A good set of knives is always welcome around the holiday season. And while the new set from Rian Johnson is not quite as pointed, it’s still sharp, just as much fun, and even a good bit funnier.

2019’s Knives Out showed Johnson to be a new master of the whodunit. He skewered the 1% with wonderfully wry humor as he kept us engrossed in the deconstruction of a twisty murder mystery led by the fascinating Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig).

Craig is back as the world’s greatest detective, one who’s suffering from a pandemic funk. The 2020 lockdown has Blanc itching for a new challenge. A strange puzzle box delivered to his door is the first step toward a satisfying scratch.

It’s an invite to the private Greek island of tech wizard Miles Bron (Edward Norton, a perfect billionaire man baby). Musk – er, I mean Miles – has gathered his old gang of buddies, who call themselves “The Disruptors,” for a lavish murder party. Can anyone hope to solve the mystery the brilliant Miles has concocted?

Blanc probably can. So why was he invited?

Good question. But the real joy of Glass Onion isn’t just finding the answers, it’s Johnson’s skill at peeling back all the layers of doubt and suspicion along the way.

But there’s another party guest who’s even more of a surprise. Andi (Janelle Monáe) had a serious falling out with Miles years ago, so the financial ties that bind the rest of The Disrupters to his ego-driven whims no longer apply.

But for fashion model Birdie (Kate Hudson), politician Claire (Kathryn Hahn), “alpha bro” blogger Duke (Dave Bautista) and scientist Lionel (Leslie Odom, Jr.), kissing Miles’s ring has long been part of the job description.

And that allows Johnson plenty of space to sink his blades into some perfect poster children for the vapid, self-important, privileged and clueless class. Admittedly, Glass Onion‘s fruit seems to hang a little lower than the original film, but the fun is still contagious.

Some well-placed cameos (including sweet farewells to both Stephen Sondheim and Angela Lansbury), obnoxious name-dropping (“Jeremy Renner’s small batch hot sauce!”) and one “I’m not here” live-in slacker named Derol (Noah Segan) add to the madcap zest. Craig puts all of it in his expertly tailored breast pocket while he steals the whole show.

Blanc is more flamboyant and fascinating this time, and Craig doesn’t waste one delicious chance to sell it. Blanc’s growing disgust with the worship of ignorant dickishness may not be especially original but it is tremendously rewarding to watch – almost as much as the case solving itself.

And man, Johnson has mad mystery skills. His script is funny, smart and intricate, always staying one step ahead of your questions while he builds the layers of whos and dunnits, only to tear them down and build anew.

No one’s claiming he invented this genre, but two mysteries down, you could say he’s well on his way to perfecting it.

Who is? Rian Johnson or Benoit Blanc?