Thursday, January 28, 2021

Review: "Supernova"


Simple and sweet as can be, "Supernova" is a heartfelt love story that will make you ache with sorrow and empathy.

Is this movie a bit of a cliche? It is. Two lovers, one of whom is dying, dance around each other in a sort of long goodbye. The one that's going has to convince the other to let them go, and the one staying clings stubbornly to what they had.

The only difference from gosh knows how many other iterations we've had of this tale -- "Love Story," "Me Without You," "Our Friend" -- is that in this case the couple is older, probably in their early 60s, and both are men. They decide to go on a road trip together... their last.

I think about a time, not so terribly long ago, when a story like this would seem bold or challenging. Now this romantic drama starring Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci is utterly conventional. I mean that as a compliment.

Having two gifted actors tackling this material is a gift. I loved the fact that they don't go for big showy moments, but give us the tender in-between stuff where the real meat of the relationship lives.

This movie is pensive, sad, and not a little whimsical. Sam (Firth) and Tusker (Tucci) share plenty of tender moments, motoring around the Lake District in northwest England in their aged little RV. There is much mirth and teasing. They don't seem to have much of a destination, other than a couple of stop-ins to stay with Sam's sister (Pippa Haywood) and a concert performance by Sam, a pianist and composer.

They just have their dog -- fairly new to the family, and we guess an intended replacement for Tusker -- a few odds and ends, and lots of memories. They putter around the countryside, which gives cinematographer Dick Pope ample opportunity to photograph the gorgeous countryside of hills and lakes. 

Tusker is a novelist with mid-stage dementia. He's at the point where he seems fully functional, but he tends to wander off and forget where he is, misplace simple words like "triangle," and -- worst of all -- struggles to put any words on paper. At a dinner gathering he wants to read a letter but finds he can't, so Sam reads it for him. We can sense how much effort and love went into this bit of prose.

There really isn't any more to the movie than that. Just one development, which I'll not divulge. Though this is a movie less about "what happens" than the moments and moods these two characters share together. They seem as real to us as our neighbors or friends. Thanks to writer/director Harry Macqueen for introducing us.

It's often been said that love is not something that just appears and disappears, but a living that is born, grows, sometimes decays, and eventually ceases to live. But, like the people who are connected through it, even the memory of it has a power over us that lingers. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Review: "Palmer"


It's always interesting that wherever someone's creative talents first bring them notice -- music, stand-up comedy, voice actors, writers, TV -- how so many eventually find their way to film acting. Any kind of ability as a storyteller can be solid grooming for performing in a movie. 

The crossover between singers and the movies is surprisingly strong, going back to the early days of cinema where they largely recruited talent from song-and-dance men and women of vaudeville. Barbra Streisand, Bing Crosby, Elvis, Bette Midler, Beyonce and Frank Sinatra are just a few.

I'm still deciding where Justin Timberlake will land in that pantheon. I haven't been terribly impressed with his onscreen work thus far, and aside from voice work on the "Trolls" movies and such, he hasn't appeared in a feature film for eight years. 

(Remember "Runner Runner?" I didn't.)

His new film, "Palmer," is a solid move in the right direction. It's a deliberately gritty, non-showy role -- the sort of low-budget thing someone of Timberlake's stature makes to announce that he wants to be taken seriously as an actor. It's not a great film, but it's a solid turn for him and the problems I had with the movie weren't centered on his performance.

He plays Eddie Palmer, an ex-con who is just being released from prison after 12 years for attempted murder. He moves back to his sleepy Louisiana town, where he used to be a big wheel as a star quarterback who got a scholarship to play at LSU. But he got hurt, got hooked on pills, did some terrible deeds and got pegged as the "golden boy gone bad."

Palmer, as he likes to be known, doesn't have a lot of prospects as he returns home. His parents lit out when he was a kid, and the grandmother who raised him, Vivian (the great June Squibb), is getting on in years now. He hooks up with his old loser buddies, drinks a lot of beer at the local dive, and lands the only job he can as an elementary school janitor. 

His boss (Lance E. Nichols), doesn't even give him his own set of keys.

With his hair buzzed to nothing, beefy physique and sullen expression etched on his face -- finally showing some creases after decades of fame -- Timberlake is miles away from his days as an NSYNC boy band star.

The story (screenplay by Cheryl Guerriero) goes in a direction we don't expect. Vivian has a tenant at the trailer home on her property, Shelly (Juno Palmer), who lives with her young son, Sam (Ryder Allen). Shelly is barely a mom, often lighting out to party and drug for days at a time, leaving her kid in Vivian's care. Soon after Palmer returns Shelly disappears, seemingly for good this time, and he suddenly finds himself responsible for watching out for Sam.

Sam is utterly irrepressible, a kid of pure heart and endless optimism. He also prefers "girl" stuff like princesses and barrettes and tea parties, and is not at all ashamed of it. Needless to say, this buys him a lot of teasing, and worse, from the kids at school.

Palmer isn't quite sure what to make of this. Let's face it, back in his day he probably would've been one of the boys bullying Sam. But he finds some surprising measure of self-worth in his new role as protector and father figure.

It's a terrifically self-confident performance for Allen, in his very first feature film role. I wish the movie could've done a little more to get inside his head and see what makes Sam tick. I don't think director Fisher Stevens wanted to make Sam explicitly trans or gay, just different. The focus isn't on Sam's gender issues, but how Palmer reacts to them.

Alisha Wainwright turns up as Maggie, Sam's school teacher who soon takes a shine to Palmer -- first to check him out as a suitable guardian for Sam, and later out of genuine interest as a fellow fractured person. 

It's the sort of role that's basically obligatory in a movie like this, but she puts subtle spins and flavors into the role.

Temple is also very good as Shelly, who makes a return late in the story that's somewhat predictable but still lands with a solid emotional smack. Early on the movie portrays her as heartless and hopeless, and Temple gives us small notes of redemptive qualities.

There are also some nice supporting performances in the background, such as Jesse C. Boyd as one of Palmer's buddies, stuck in an eternal rut he has no interest in climbing out of. Dean Winters has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it turn as Shelly's abusive boyfriend.

"Palmer" is one of those movies that has a lot of admirable things going on, though it seems like it's missing some of the connective tissue that would bind it together more coherently. It does give Timberlake a platform to show off some non-musical chops I hadn't expected out of him -- and a wish to see more.

Review: "The Little Things"


Another serial killer movie, with a pair of detectives on the hunt who keep letting it seep into their personal lives -- I know, right? Seems like we’ve had a lot of these over the years.

And yet, “The Little Things” manages to fall back on the conventions of the genre while also cleverly sidestepping them. And it boasts a trifecta of Oscar winners in Denzel Washington, Jared Leto and Rami Malek, along with an able hand in writer/director John Lee Hancock (“The Blind Side,” “The Founder”).

While clearly inheriting a lot of the DNA of “Se7en,” this film is like an intricately wrought piece of clockworks, ticking along as interlocking pieces of storytelling machinery quietly snap into place. It knows just when to tease information out, when to withhold it, and when to let it drop right when it can have the deepest reverberation.

We first meet Joe Deacon (Washington) as he’s coming off a shift as a lowly deputy in dusty Kern County, Calif. He’s given a trash assignment to go down to Los Angeles to pick up a pair of boots for evidence in a court hearing, the sort of thing you hand off to a rookie, which Deacon decidedly is not. He accepts it without complaint, even meekly.

Down in L.A., they’re dealing with a killer who hunts young women, tortures them and take a bite out of their torso. (Shades of “The Silence of the Lambs.”) Jim Baxter (Malek) is the hotshot young detective on the case, a clean-cut sort who fits the mold of a department that’s gotten a little “churchy,” to quote one of the old hands. The story is set in 1990.

Deacon’s trip gets extended a little longer, and he drops in on some old friends. Turns out he’s something of a legend in L.A., both for cracking cases and for cracking up five years back in spectacular fashion -- losing his badge and his marriage, and undergoing heart surgery, all within six months.

But the old fires still burn, and Deacon starts helping out with this case, and for a while he and Baxter are conducting parallel investigations, circling each other as much as the guy they’re seeking.

Now, in movies of this sort they would be instant antagonists, the young buck being resentful of the older, cagier colleague. And that dynamic is there to some extent. But Baxter is also wise enough to accept help wherever he can get it. He figures if Deacon is trying to work out some of his old hangups, that’s fine as long as it helps save lives.

Gradually, Deacon starts to regain some of his old edge -- along with reawakening sleeping ghosts. And Baxter stops thinking he’s the smartest kid in class and realizes that being mentored is good for his soul, as well as his clearance rate.

I don’t think I’m giving much away when I say that Leto plays the guy they start looking at for the murders. Decked out in long, greasy hair, a ghastly pallor impressive for L.A., a pot belly and a hitch in his gait, Leto’s Albert Sparma -- could anybody with that name be a nice guy? -- looks like he’s got to be guilty of something.

It’s a truly eerie performance, a loser who seems to be brimming with self-satisfaction, a guy holding a series of dead-end jobs who’s wily enough he even manages to give an old fox like Deacon the slip while tailing him. He also has this unsettling way of pointing at whoever he’s talking to.

Great work also for Washington, the epitome of the cinematic alpha male who here is pensive, regretful and broken. There’ a scene where Deacon confronts Sparma in an interrogation, and we think it’s going to be the usual snappy verbal fencing thing, but instead it plays out in a way that’s unexpected but likely truer to form.

“The Little Things” may not be the most original film to come down the pike, but it puts plenty of spins and twists into the mix to make the familiar seem fresh again. 

Monday, January 25, 2021

Reeling Backward: "Sudden Fear" (1952)


Everyone loves the story of Jack Palance winning an Academy Award at the end of his career for "City Slickers," nearly 40 years after losing the Oscar for his previous nomination as the menacing villain in "Shane." The one-armed stage pushups, Billy Crystal's endless host quips thereafter, and the redemptive story of a not-quite-star finally getting his golden recognition have officially entered Hollywood lore.

What most people don't realize is "Shane" wasn't Palance's first Academy Award nomination. It actually came a year before "Shane" for his role opposite the great Joan Crawford in "Sudden Fear," a largely forgotten film noir. Crawford received her own nomination, along with nods for the excellent black-and-white cinematography by Charles Lang and costumes by Sheila O'Brien.

It's a great-looking though middling picture that falls somewhere between the gritty realism of film noir and the family/romance melodramas of Douglas Sirk and his ilk. It's basically a woman-in-distress star vehicle for Crawford as a famous, wealthy playwright who falls hard for a young actor whom she marries before realizing he's a conniving cad who wants to off her for her fortune.

The age differential between the two characters is never overtly stated or discussed, though it seems clear she's supposed to be significantly older than him. Palance was 32 when the film came out, in the full bloom of vibrant manhood. He looked almost like an entirely different person as a young man, simultaneously handsome and frightening with his hard-angled features. 

Palance looked like a devil they'd plucked out of hell and wrapped some skin around.

The exact year of Crawford's birth is somewhat obscured in mystery, though using the most commonly accepted timeframe she was nearly 50 when "Sudden Fear" debuted. She was one of the rare Golden Age actresses who got by more on raw talent and her powerful screen presence than her looks.

A lot of people don't know Crawford broke into showbiz as a chorus line girl. She used to attend every party in town she could to show off her dance moves in hopes of getting better parts. Her famous queen's eyebrows were ferociously plucked and/or dyed during her ingenue years, to the point that like Palance she was barely recognizable between her younger and older self.

I have to admit to being a little disappointed in "Sudden Fear." Director David Miller was a journeyman who seems not to grasp the dark mood and rhythms of the noir genre. The screenplay by Lenore J. Coffee and Robert Smith (with uncredited contributions by Crawford), based on the story by Edna Sherry, is rather overlong and poorly paced.

Myra Hudson (Crawford) finds out that her new husband, Lester Blaine (Palance), is conspiring to kill her around the 45-minute mark, leaving more than an hour for her to fret and scheme and run from danger. What we end up is a whole lot of closeup reaction shots of Crawford and Palance just becomes this guy on the sidelines going in and out of doors.

It may seem sacrilegious to say, given his Oscar nomination and subsequent iconography, but Palance doesn't come across as particularly scary in this movie. He actually seems to be a straight-arrow type who has genuinely fallen for Myra until his old flame, Irene (Gloria Grahame), wanders into town and threatens to expose his sordid past unless he goes along with her plans to fleece his new wife. 

In a lot of ways, she's the real villain of the piece -- and an unexplored one at that.

I found it strange that he film never talked much about Myra's work as a playwright, other than she's independently wealthy as a result of it aside from the estate she inherited from her father. Upon first meeting on a train to San Francisco, she knows Lester because he was turned down recently for a role in her new play. She wants to explain to him why to reassure him it had nothing to do with his acting ability, but he refuses in a gentlemanly way.

It would have been more interesting if Myra primarily wrote mystery plays so we could see how she functions as one of her characters might in a similar plight. Alas.

Interestingly, the script keeps dropping all sorts of hints of ways that Myra might die that never come to fruition. There is the perilous stone staircase from her mansion down to the sea, which Lester makes out to be terrified of for her safety. We also uncover a bottle of poison, a revolver and other methods for death, and she has nightmares about falling or being smothered by a pillow.

I suppose the filmmakers' idea was to keep teasing the audience with the possibility of her murder, but to me it didn't heighten the sense of danger so much as keep stretching things out longer than they needed to be.

There is a nice gimmick using a recording machine in Myra's office that she uses to dictate her plays and other business. At one point her friend and attorney, Steve Kearney (Bruce Bennett), presents her with an update to her will that makes a meagerly allowance for Lester should she die or they divorce, and Myra instead dictates a much more generous version.

We think Lester will stumble across this information -- Myra had shown him how the machine works, including the fact it turns on automatically whenever someone starts to speak -- but instead he and Irene blab out their entire plan while hiding out in the office during a party. Then Myra hears the recording and realizes they're going to kill her.

Of course, one wonders why Myra doesn't immediately go to the police, or call her attorney, or simply jump on a train to anywhere. It's never sufficiently explained, though she accidentally breaks the disc recording of Lester and Irene's plotting, so I guess the idea is supposed to be she has no proof. But surely a woman of Myra's intelligence and resources would've thought of something better.

For awhile she tries to turn the tables on them, planting false letters and luring them to Irene's apartment so Myra can kill Lester and frame Irene for it. It all seems overly complicated and unlikely.

Crawford is her usual terrific self, playing a character who's a little more reserved and less self-assured than her normal commanding performances as a strong woman up against bitter circumstance. I just wish the movie could've cooked up a better part for Palance, who's more dimwit than devilish. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Review: "Our Friend"


If just a few years ago you would've said to me, "Jason Segel deserves an Oscar nomination," I'd have laughed right in your face. He's done a lot of goofball humor that's not my bag. But after his incredibly sensitive, layered performance in "Our Friend," that's exactly what I'm saying myself.

Casey Affleck, too, who stars along with Segel and Dakota Johnson in this unapologetic weepie based on article by journalist Matthew Teague. It's about how when his wife came down with terminal cancer, their best friend, Dane, essentially put his life on hold to move in with them and help care for her and their two children -- for a year.

Imagine "Love Story," except there's a third member of the couple dynamic. 

Dane is that well-meaning but wayward friend we all have -- they guy who can't seem to hold a relationship together for very long or find meaningful work that speaks to his talents. We feel sorry for him but also a little annoyed at his string of screw-ups.

Dane (Segel) worked as a backstage guy in local theater and dreams of doing stand-up comedy. But he wound up as the assistant manager of some little retail outlet and unable to commit to a string of girlfriends. When during one visit he offers Matt (Affleck) a little advice on his relationship with Nicole (Johnson), he finds his concerns dismissed because his own life is such as chaotic mess.

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite and screenwriter Brand Igelsby ("The Way Back"), adapting Teague's magazine article, take the risky but effective choice of having the story jump around in time. So we'll see these three back when they were still youngsters fresh from college, cutting to deep into Nicole's long campaign against cancer, to some years earlier, and so on.

Each section is introduced with a typed title in relation to the cancer: "One year after diagnosis," etc. Rather than breaking the narrative up into confusing bits, it becomes more like a prism that we can turn and inspect from different angles and different points in time.

Early on Matt is a journalist working in New Orleans -- I appreciated the authentic dialogue referring to his newspaper as the "Times Pic" -- who dreams of working for bigger outlets, doing more important stories. When we transition years later we learn that's exactly what has come to pass, but now it's a thorn in the marriage as he's always gallivanting from one international locale to another while she's stuck home with the kids.

Nicole was an actress who loved singing on stage and being the center of attention, but traded it in for domestic bliss as mother of two daughters (Violet McGraw and Isabella Kai) and gadfly, the unofficial mayor of their small Alabama town. She's the sort of woman men follow around, and other women want to be friends with.

Why would a guy like Dane essentially put his life on hold for a year to essentially become nurse, therapist, housemaid and nanny for his two best friends? The film charts not just the time of the three of them together but also provides glimpses at his personal life and private moments. There's Kat (Mariella Scott), his girlfriend back in New Orleans who can't understand why he would abandon her to help care for another woman.

Most affecting is the recollection of a hiking trip he took, spontaneously, some years earlier. Gwendoline Christie plays Teresa, a German woman also hiking alone who joins him for a way, sensing someone walking down the same dark path she once faced herself. 

If there's a central theme of this story, it's about how each of us is alone and afraid, but strive to find the courage to reach out to others -- even when that hand is sometimes slapped away. The details of Nicole's descent can be hard to watch, but Dane is the sort of guy who wouldn't think of walking away when his closest friends are in need.

In the strange world of movie releases these days, the film actually debuted at the Toronto Film Festival to great acclaim in fall of 2019, and only just now is seeing wide release via theaters and VOD.

Somehow its arrival at this precise moment seems perfectly fitting. In a world of division and alienation, "Our Friend" is a beautiful and heartfelt story of loss and generosity of spirit. Bring hankies.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Review: "The White Tiger"


"The White Tiger" stands as something of a self-conscious counterpoint to "Slumdog Millionaire," the Oscar-winning drama set in India that told the story of the chasm between the prospering new elite and the tradition-bound culture mired in poverty and class divisions. Though thematically similar, they couldn't be further apart in tone.

In fact, there's even a moment where it takes a swipe at the earlier film, snidely saying your problems aren't going to be solved by a million-dollar game show. Snort.

Whereas "Slumdog" was hopeful and humanistic, this new piece from writer/director Ramin Bahrani, based on the book by Aravind Adiga, is a slow descent into, if not cynicism, then at least grim-eyed realism.

We identify with our propagandist, Balram, an ambitious young man from a squalid village who charms his way into being the driver for a wealthy family. And yet, over time, even as he morphs from bright-eyed striver into disillusioned businessman and palm-greaser, our understanding for why he does what he does never diminishes. 

If it's possible to make a movie where the main character loses in the audience's admiration but gains in our estimation, then this is it.

It's a revelatory performance by Adarsh Gourav, who should get as much notice in Hollywood as Dev Patel did. His Balram is utterly subservient to his masters -- a word he openly uses to address them -- and yet understands resentment in his bones. A bright child on the way to a scholarship, he was forced to leave school and break charcoal for a living after his father, a rickshaw cyclist, died of tuberculosis.

Bahrani employs the parable of the roosters who are kept in pens, watching as one after another of their fellows are beheaded and torn into pieces of meat, knowing their turn will come. This is likened to the lower caste members like Balram, instilled at birth with the understanding they must not rise up against their landlords and betters.

Only once in a great while does a "white tiger" come along, one who can break out of poverty and become a rich person with a fat belly. Balram is determined that he is to be one of these tigers.

The story starts with the ending, in which Balram is already a well-to-do entrepreneur of some sort, narrating his tale as an email to a Chinese consul who is coming to India to promote business between the nations. It almost gives the narrative a fable-like quality.

Balram convinces his strict grandmother to pay for driving lessons so he can become a driver to the family of The Stork (Mahesh Manjrekar), the landlord of their village who collects one-third of every rupee made. 

He fears the elder son, known as The Mongoose (Vijay Maurya), who cuffs him like an errant slave, but manages to worm his way into the service of the younger son, Ashok (Rajkummar Rao), who is progressive after having lived in New York City, advocating for investments in technology rather than coal and graft of government officials.

(The story is set in the early Aughts, before smartphones and apps were ubiquitous.)

Balram is thrilled to move to the bright lights of New Delhi with Ashok and his similarly minded wife, Pinky (Priyanka Chopra), even if it means sleeping in the garage of their high-rise luxury condo building. 

Pinky and Ashok are emblematic of the new Indian generation, wishing for a more egalitarian system but unwilling to give up any of their inherited luxury to make it happen. Like Balram, we're charmed by them but come to see they're much like Ashok's brother and father, who are at least open about keeping their thumb on the poor.

Things go on, with Balram genuinely happy to be of the most service to his employers. Until a terrible deed occurs, and his faith in a flawed but reliable system is shattered.

Is "The White Tiger" a depressing movie? I don't think so. It takes a young man who is trod upon by virtually everyone in his life and evolves him into an anti-hero eager to turn the tables. 

It's a harsh but penetrating look at how people in Indian, or any, culture line themselves up into predetermined strata they're not supposed to try break out of. Even when someone does so in a less than moral way, it's still an audacious and compelling journey.


Monday, January 11, 2021

Reeling Backward: "That Obscure Object of Desire" (1977)


I've adored much of Luis Buñuel's filmography, from his early days of silent film surrealism with partner Salvador Dali to his mid-century work on everything from little Spanish-language art films to a writer of Hollywood mainstream fare like "Robinson Crusoe." But I can't say I have any great ardor for his final film, "That Obscure Object of Desire," which I'd been meaning to catch up with for years.

It's now pretty universally hailed as a masterpiece with a 100% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes (though not for long after I link this review).

If this was a comedy -- which it is in some ways -- I'd call it a one-joke movie. It's a pretty good joke, but it's hard to stretch that out to almost two hours. After about the third repetition of the same  dynamic, I no longer felt sympathy or anger for the characters but simply wanted to throw things at them. 

In a lot of ways it feels like the parable of the frog and the scorpion, with the lesson being that people are unable to change their intrinsic nature. This is true for beasts but not men, who can at least recognize their quandary and take steps to alter course before it results in their destruction.

You may know the basic story: a rich older French man falls for an 18-year-old Spanish dancer, who strings him along with protestations of her love but refuses to have sex with him. Many descriptions and reviews of the movie have incorrectly stated this is because of her religious beliefs, but Conchita states quite clearly on a number of occasions that she does not share her mother's faith.

She's just a terrible person, or a clueless one, or possibly deranged. Buñuel, who wrote the script with Jean-Claude Carrière, inspired by a book by Pierre Louÿs, goes out of his way to tease us with varying interpretations of her motivations. Her moods seem to shift abruptly with no reasoning behind it, like a capricious zephyr that has blown through the story.

This extends to the casting of two different actresses, Carole Bouquet and Ángela Molina, in the role of Conchita. There doesn't appear to be any rhyme or reason to who will show up -- sometimes one actresses carries a whole sequence, but on a few occasions they will actually swap in the middle of a scene.

This struck most observers as novel and amazing back in 1977, but to these eyes more than four decades on it just feels like a stunt... and one that doesn't work particularly well. It operates mainly for Conchita to seem remote and indecipherable to us, more a filmmaker's muse than a living, breathing woman.

Fernando Rey plays Mathieu, the frustrated lover, who keeps going back to Conchita over and over again so she can refuse him, like Lucy pulling the football on Charlie Brown. They first meet when she is hired as a maid in his Paris mansion, though it's soon clear she has no experience or enthusiasm at being a domestic. 

Instead, Mathieu essentially tries to buy his way into her graces, giving money and favors to her and her mother (María Asquerino), who are nearly penniless. Compounding the issue is that Conchita works itinerantly as a flamenco dancer, model or other odd jobs that she soon drops because, as she admits, she really doesn't like to work.

It seems like she's been waiting all her life for someone like Mathieu to come along, and now that he has she's determined to lure him in with promises of her flesh, only to refuse to close the deal. In several scenes she goes to bed with him and allows him to fondle her bare breasts, but even goes so far as to wear a chastity corset around her loins so he can only go so far. (Apparently, Mathieu doesn't keep any scissors in the house.)

Generally speaking, Bouquet plays Conchita as more mysterious and beguiling, while Molina's stretches of the character take place when she shows a more fiery and assertive attitude. I also noticed Molina takes over whenever the character is required to dance, including a stint in the nude for tourists that enrages Mathieu.

The film plays out with a framing story, which is that Mathieu is riding a train after having finally dumped Conchita for good (or so he thinks), even emptying a pail of water over her head as she tries to board the coach. He then relates the tale of his cursed romance with several of the other passengers, including a little person (dwarf, in the parlance of the day) who is a psychologist. 

(Buñuel's lifelong fascination with variations in the human form, including deformities and a fetish for freakishness, would probably be seen as "problematic" these days.)

Mathieu occasionally meets with his brother, a government magistrate, for fancy lunches where he relates his troubles with Conchita, and the brother -- who is an important man but appears to be spooging off his wealthy sibling for posh meals -- advises him to stop making a fool of himself, which of course he can't do.

Rey was about 60 when the movie came out, which I'm guessing is supposed to be about the same age as his character, a widower whose wife died seven years earlier. Rey is no great screen beauty -- short, a little on the stout side, with droopy basset hound eyes and half a head of kinky hair arranged in an obvious combover to cover the balding stretches. So it's hard to understand what Conchita sees in him other than his money.

Rey is probably best remembered by American audiences for his role as the slippery villain in "The French Connection" and its sequel, and seems to embody a certain French cultural archetype: the privileged gentleman poof.

The film also plays against a backdrop of terrorist attacks happening, executed by shadowy fictional groups of various ideological makeup. The encounters become increasing invasive in the story, starting as news stories to a shooting that happens right outside their apartment, to Mathieu's taxi being held up and stolen (with no attempt to rob the obviously wealthy man inside, for some reason) to the couple apparently dying in a marketplace bombing in the end.

I'm not sure what Buñuel is trying to say with this inclusion, other than a half-hearted commentary upon the chaotic times of the 1970s.

There's a scene late in the movie where Mathieu slaps Conchita around pretty hard, resulting in black eyes and a bloodied nose. Even if you feel like his anger toward her is warranted, it's hard to watch violence perpetrated against a woman in this context. When we first see her in the movie at the train station, she's wearing bandages on her face, and we already surmised that he was responsible.

Interestingly, it is while Mathieu is beating her that Conchita seems at her most desperate, saying that she only realizes now how much she loves him. Does she really mean this? Or is this just the nth iteration of her long con game of teasing and withholding?

"That Obscure Object of Desire" feels like it belongs to a time decades earlier, when sexuality was viewed as something that men experienced and women parried. I don't like it because Conchita isn't shown as a person, just a construct to frustrate the male protagonist's desires. Several times she accuses him of being incredibly naive, despite being four decades her senior. I found Mathieu more pathetic than interesting, and a whole movie is a long time to spend with someone like that.