Inhabiting the larger-than-life persona of all-American baton-botherer Leonard Bernstein has been a long-held passion project for Bradley Cooper. Speilberg (Steven) and Scorsese (Martin) have donned producer hats to help him bring his vision to the screen with Maestro, and it’s a stylized vision at that. Dialogue comes at you from all sides with minimal editing, a conversational, naturalistic choice that has divided critics. Bold staging and imaginative photography keep the biopic moving at an allegro pace, Cooper conducting Lenny’s unstoppable career and gossip-worthy personal life with relish. The scenes focus mainly on his love affair with his wife Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan), his family and his many indiscretions. The evocative music washes over the whole messy triumph, culminating in a concert at Ely Cathedral, England that is recreated with one of the year’s greatest single shots. Well worth seeing at the cinema for the score alone. High culture and the dalliances of the upper crust are fetishized and manipulated in Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn. It’s a campish romp through the English class system as working class scholarship boy Oliver (Barry Keoghan) lands at a Oxford University, becoming the token poor friend of posh Felix (Euphoria’s Jacob Elordi). Over the course of a summer, visiting Felix's intimidatingly-regal family home, Oliver is first seemingly exploited, but then begins to work his own machinations within the family. There’s hints of Parasite and The Talented Mr. Ripley and Brideshead Revisited, and while there are some fun twists, the plot melts into near-incoherence towards the third act. There are charismatic turns from the leads, as well as Richard E Grant and Rosamund Pike as Felix’s parents, but don’t think about the plausibility of the story too much. Believability is completely abandoned in the magical realism of Poor Things, the latest from Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite, The Lobster). Lanthimos creates alien worlds that are just familiar enough, with skewed conventions and edgy thought experiments as reality. Poor Things is no exception, Emma Stone’s Bella Baxter emerging as a kind of Frankenstein’s monster out of the laboratory of Dr Baxter (Willem Dafoe). Her social, moral and sexual education takes place amid lab assistants and test tubes, and then under the influence of a lascivious, globetrotting playboy (Mark Ruffalo). Surreal versions of Athens, Lisbon and Paris provide the backdrop for their saucy misadventures. There’s a joyful, dreamlike weirdness to the worlds, revealed to us via hyperreal landscapes and through strange fisheye lenses, and it’s a colorful, bawdy tale of exploitation and bourgeois sensibilities. Moving through elevated, rarified worlds could be a unifying theme, such as there is one between these three movies, but stylistically, aesthetically and tonally, they’re very different interpretations of that particular journey. (PO)
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