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Monday, January 27, 2020

The Rise of Skywalker

A funny thing happened when I heard his voice – I welled up. “His” voice is Han Solo’s. And if you think that’s a spoiler, what movie do you think you’re watching? If the Skywalker Trilogy, wrapping up with this dead fish, has proven anything, it’s that it can’t and won’t let go of the past. The opening scrawl’s first words are “THE DEAD SPEAK”, referring to Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), whom I’m positive was thrown down a shaft situated aboard The Death Star which consequently was blown to smithereens as 1983’s “Return of the Jedi” concluded but, nope, who is apparently alive, if barely, and in control and now about to crush the Resistance just like he was about to crush the Rebellion. It all felt achingly familiar, which was the whole point, not quoting the original movies in its aesthetic but in its story points, an entire film as a John Williams leitmotif, sentimental repetition masquerading as innovation. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), though, chief heavy, to his credit, in confronting his dad’s ghost, says aloud, “You’re just a memory.” At that, my eyes dried up and I realized whatever relationship I had with “Star Wars”, which once, a long time ago, in a lifetime far, far away, was substantial and important, was now just a memory too.

As “Rise of Skywalker” opens, Rey (Daisy Ridley), ex-Jakku scavenger turned Resistance rock star, is furthering her Jedi training by hovering in the air, guiding various also airborne stones around her. It’s a moment demanding patience, as Yoda used to preach, a faculty which “The Rise of Skywalker” hardly possesses, evoked in how the camera rapidly presses in on her, as if telling her to hurry up and get this meditation over with so the movie can get going. Sure enough, her concentration’s broken and the stones fall out of the sky. There is this new threat from the old Emperor, after all, deep in some uncharted Sith system, and Old Man Palpatine tells the trilogy’s chief baddie Kylo Ren to go find Rey and kill her so the First Order can blossom into the Final Order. That means Rey and the gang – Resistance fighter pilot (Oscar Issac), heroic turncoat Finn (John Boyega), and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) – need to find the Emperor first and, I thought, throw him down the shaft a second time though I suspected he’d survive that fall too and turn up in the fourth trilogy.

This is merely the MacGuffin, the meaningless element on which the plot hangs to engineer the adventure and point Rey toward her self-actualization and showdown with Kylo Ren. What’s strange, though, is how Abrams is as devoted to the MacGuffin as the adventure, never mind the characters, spinning it off into sub-MacGuffins, an endless series of plants and payoffs that keep the movie churning relentlessly forward without imaginatively filling in the space around them, a virtually craft-less story, the elegant adventure movie of the first “Star Wars” with rising and falling action abandoned to simply tie a brick to the accelerator. In the 1977 original, breaking out of an Imperial stronghold took nearly the entire second act whereas in “The Rise of Skywalker” it takes, what, five minutes, a whir of laser bolts and one double cross gone in the blink of an eye before the Millennium Falcon makes its escape in the background, ending not with a bang but a blip over someone’s shoulder.

Abrams’s chosen pace forsakes world-building, again and again, even when he shows promise, like the planet Kijimi, briefly emitting “Odd Man Out” vibes before quickly moving on while the movie only briefly revels in The Festival of the Ancestors. This celebration might only, as the eternally intrepid C-3PO explains, happen once every forty-two years, but even as Rey’s body language indicates a desire to participate, the characters and, consequently, the movie keeps her on schedule. The rest of the time, as her past comes into view and she has recurring dreamlike conversations with Kylo across time and space, she’s usually just agonized. For the most part, Abrams recounts this agony in close-up, meaning Ridley can’t do much but clench her teeth and squint, which, to her credit, she does with ferocious aplomb, never more than the lightsaber duel where, despite lackluster choreography, the manner in which she slams her lightsaber against Kylo’s harmonizes with the cacophony of the crashing waves.

The preceding “Last Jedi” seemed to suggest an almost history-free arc for Rey, but “The Rise of Skywalker” tacks hard back toward the series’ familiar narrative flourishes, epitomized in those blue Force Ghosts, which going back to “Jedi” inadvertently foreshadowed the franchise’s unfortunate future. It might not be so eye-rolling if this deference to the past was reckoned with in any real way, like a possible opportunity in C-3PO’s memory being wiped. That, though, like so much else, is just played for a laugh and forgotten, Abrams content to proffer myriad Easter eggs shouting out movies gone by, like Wedge Antilles (Denis Lawson), the famed X-Wing pilot making his return, which isn’t a scene, just a shot, a moment so visually unimaginative that it could well have been filmed post-production, who knows. And a movie that in its new faces and names might have boldly pointed toward the future instead, once again, in its final line, retreats to the past. I left the ending of the latest saga thinking it would never ever be the end.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Friday's Old Fashioned: Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

Sidney Lumet’s 1974 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” is notable for its frequent exterior shots of the eponymous long-distance passenger train rattling along its scenic railway and of the introductory moments where everyone boards said train, the camera tracking down the walkway to revel in the locomotive and the impressive set design surrounding it. By far, though, the most striking practical effect in “Murder on the Orient Express” is not the Orient Express itself but one of its passengers – that is, Hercule Poroit (Albert Finney), In the books Christie described this “detective of international fame and distinction” as “egg-shaped” and, by God, as played by Finney and costumed by Tony Walton, he really does look like an ovoidal person, like if he accidentally fell on his side in the cramped train quarters he would go rolling down the aisle. And yet, that natural appearance is juxtaposed against a peculiarly vain man, his hair drowned in so much Brilliantine that despite the 1974 aesthetic it still stands out like modern-day high-definition and a moustache so finely honed he slips on a moustache guard at night to keep it in place. Finney, meanwhile, merely plays up this preening nature to the hilt, delightfully eschewing any need to be traditionally likable.

His one-of-a-kind nature comes through when an American businessman, Samuel Ratchett (Richard Widmark), complaining of threats against his life, tries to avail himself of Poirot’s services as a bodyguard for a hefty sum and the detective churlishly declines. As Christie would have it, though, Ratchett winds up dead overnight, apparently not long after taking the sleeping draught brought to him by a valet (Sir John Gielgud), the same valet who finds him the ensuing morning, dead. Upon finding the bloody corpse, the valet expresses understandable shock, dropping his tray, falling back, though the previous evening, just after dropping off the draught, the camera lingers in close-up on the valet’s face, an expression decidedly communicating that Something Bad Is About To Happen. Lumet repeats this device later when passengers undergo Poirot’s interrogations, after the train becomes stranded due to an avalanche, to get to the bottom of things, like the Count (Michael York) and Countess (Jacqueline Bisset), who in answering the detective’s queries exchange looks throughout of two people having just memorized lines for a play and each one trying to mentally guide the other. Lumet, in other words, is not trying to feign the characters’ innocence but finger every one of them, which isn’t just subterfuge to distract us, the viewers, but ultimately the point.

Then again, much of the point is just watching Poirot’s interrogations which is why Lumet assembled an all-star cast, from Bisset and York to Anthony Perkins, whose guilt seems embodied simply in his endlessly twitching forehead, and Lauren Bacall as the American widow Mrs. Hubbard. In Cinema Romantico’s 2018 overview of cinematic gum-chewing we regretfully failed to include Ms. Bacall, who in one scene snaps at gum with a patented Bacall-esque fury, not only bringing the Stupid American stereotype to comic life but embodying her entire turn. If everyone else is trying to play it cool, she’s all up in Poirot’s face, walking right up with him the murder weapon when she happens upon it and playing her character’s ultimate reveal with all kinds of “Yeah, so?” pizazz. Her train passenger, Ingrid Bergman, won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar but I’d like to retroactively nominate Lauren Bacall for 1974 Achievement in Attitude.

The resolution to the stabbing, given the conspicuous 12 stab wounds and the number of passengers might well be foregone, though that did not bother me as much as the resolution’s shift in tone. That tonal shift doesn’t come out of nowhere, set up by the eerie prologue, a prologue correlates directly to the resolution. It’s dark, this resolution, though it’s also something more than dark, something like vengefully emphatic, even empathetic, in its way, an empathy that Poirot is forced to consider. The Whodunit becomes more about Whytheydidit and the Whytheydidit winds up playing at an emotional level the Whodunit can’t fulfill.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Report

“Have you read the report?” This is what Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver), a Senate staff member, asks President Obama’s Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough (Jon Hamm). The report to which he’s referring was a big damn deal, the largest investigative review in Senate history, a thorough reckoning with the CIA’s activities during America’s so-called War on Terror. But no, McDonough says, he hasn’t read the report because, he explains, it’s longer than the Bible. And therein lies writer/director Scott Z. Burns’s challenge and purpose, to take a report as long as the Bible and not render it merely coherent for viewers but entertaining. In that way, his task is akin to dramatizing the thoroughly un-entertaining Mueller Report, which was literally assumed by some of Hollywood’s best in June. They gave life to that massive document as a table read, however, which is a far cry from a film, and “The Report” just sort of is a moving table read – solid acting but visually inert.

Granted, some of this detachment deliberately stems from Driver’s performance. When his character is tasked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) to compile the report, she makes clear the necessity of his remaining unbiased. In these moments, Driver does not maintain a poker face, not at all, but seems to genuinely let all feeling evaporate from his face. He’s not hell bent, like Jessica Chastain in “Zero Dark Thirty”, just tireless, to a fault, turning his recurring exchanges with a security guard about “Do you ever sleep, bro?” less into the responses of a burned-out workaholic than amusing recurring comedy. He’s not a cipher, exactly, more like a blank slate, which is what the drab basement office he is more or less imprisoned and its equally drab walls come to represent, a chance to dig into the information and see what comes up, letting the evidence take him to the simple if difficult truth, the altar boy for everyone’s wistful non-partisan dreams, a government employee who believes, to a fault, in government diligence

Feinstein is his partner in ferreting out war crimes, so to speak, and if Driver lets Daniel’s righteous indignation gradually flow to the top the more he uncovers until it’s practically bursting, sometimes standing in meetings and gesticulating with his hands, Bening maintains an even keel even in the face of the nigh unspeakable. It’s not so much a hardened shell from a life in politics, or something, that Bening is playing to as the need for her to be the buffer between Congress and that righteous indignation. Of course, she’s a Senator on Capitol Hill, not Hal Holbrook skulking around a parking garage, and so if there are occasional undertones of “All the President’s Men”, Burns pointedly eschews conspiracy for something more high-minded, even bringing the movie to the precipice of Pentagon Papers-ish twist a la “The Post” and then saying no. Sen. Feinstein, after all, believes in government diligence and, as she says, doesn’t care for Edward Snowden. “Citizenfour”, this isn’t.

It’s not “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012) either. That’s not just me being flip. There is a scene where Daniel watches a trailer for “Zero Dark Thirty”, making the point of “The Report” as rejoinder to that criticized 2012 film explicit. And fair enough. One movie critiquing another is fine. Still, in “Zero Dark Thirty”, faulty facts or politics aside, Kathryn Bigelow proved, once again, that she’s a filmmaker while in “The Report” Scott Z. Burns mostly just proves himself a correspondent. Switching film stock between past and present to underline the stark clarity of the Daniel’s investigation and the ethical queasiness of what he’s investigating only goes so far while the most interesting visual in the movie isn’t really a visual at all – the government-employed torturers explaining their methodology for some government muckety-mucks by way of Power Point. What’s the saying about the banality of evil? “The Report” may or may not traffic in the truth more than its 2012 counterpart but as the esteemed Roger Ebert noted about his infamous run-in with Walter Cronkite, the movies are not a medium where the truth overrides aesthetic.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Little Women

Greta Gerwig emerged from Mumblecore, which, whatever you thought of the movement, was about auteurs leaving their actors plenty of space to improvise, to invent. No one did it better than Gerwig and she brought that singular talent to the mainstream. In her performances, yes, but now, with her adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”, to a movie too. Her version never feels like a remote retelling of a familiar text but an immediate unveiling, a sensation Gerwig achieves by taking the two-part story and merging it into one, jumping back and forth in time, flashbacks to when the March girls are young and under the care of their mother Marmee (Laura Dern) and flash-forwards to when they have grown up. This creates a freewheeling forward momentum, even when looking back, that only further illuminates Gerwig’s second and most consequential revision – that is, transforming “Little Women” the movie into a telling of Jo March writing “Little Women” the book.

That’s why “Little Women” opens with Jo (Saoirse Ronan), living in New York in the movie’s present, trying to convince an editor, Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts), to publish her story. Letts leans back in his chair, imperiously, as he reads, not looking noticeably different – aside from the mutton chops – than how he imperiously leaned back in his chair as Henry Ford II, a man’s world spread across the centuries. He buys her story, but with the gruff note that “people want to be amused”, a truism cutting across the ages too, flouted as much by Jo as Gerwig. Indeed, if Jo was an Alcott stand-in then here Jo is a stand-in for Gerwig, which is perhaps why she chose Ronan in the first place, who also played a version of the director’s teenage Sacramento self in “Lady Bird.” Granted, Ronan’s performing style is not an exact Greta match (whose is?), less unbound physically and verbally than constrained by the surrounding environment and pushing back, a frequently burning fire in her eyes manifesting itself in bursts of verbal insistence. When she comforts her sick middle sister Beth (Eliza Scanlen) on the beach, the force of her words – “I will stop the tide” – seems to fill the empty space above, as if giving the clouds their heavy hue.

This image speaks to Gerwig’s visual style, which she has discussed, taking great American painters as inspiration in composing meticulous frames, though not as portraitures but huge canvases in which the subjects are frequently caught in motion. These are, after all, little women, and so Gerwig demonstrates their kinesis, in the plays they put on for family and friends and the words they speak, the latter recounted conversationally, lines running right on top of each other, sometimes even over each other, the speed of the edits mimicking the words.

The scenes of the March girls as children are all cast in vivid golden hues, a deliberate contrast to the more stark lighting of them as adults, evincing in tandem how childhood exists in a warm cocoon and how Jo is taking these memories of a young woman’s life, so devalued by bloated bellyachers like Dashwood, and lifting them up. That’s true even of Beth, shy and withdrawn and fated to die. She plays piano and their next-door neighbor, Mr. Laurence (Chris Cooper), graciously encourages her to come over and play his, which in one scene she does as Mr. Laurence sits listening in the next room in an immaculate long shot allowing Beth’s melody to virtually fill the space.

The shot is typical of the movie’s men. That they fade into the background is no oversight but the point, duly noted by Cooper who gives a performance that’s something like a metaphorical tip of the cap, gracefully taking second billing in every scene. The casting of Bob Odenkirk, meanwhile, as father to the Marches seems designed wholly to subvert his typically eccentric personality, like even someone as comically indelible as him can’t quite keep up in the presence of these women. Only Laurie can. That’s Theodore “Laurie” Laurence ( Timothée Chalamet), Mr. Laurence’s nephew, Jo’s eventual suitor, and then little sister Amy’s (Florence Pugh) too. Chalamet evinces a loose-limbed amusement impeccably playing off Ronan’s determination, each of them maintaining an easy ability to parry, both verbally and physically. Their chemistry is not romantic, exactly, more two teenagers, whether dancing on the porch or roughhousing on the beach, overwhelmed by pheromones. But the movie’s emergent tension is less romantic than societal, the world’s idea of what a woman should be and how these women see themselves.

That causes Meg (Emma Watson), whose trajectory is more conventional, to wane, even if Gerwig treats her yearning for marriage and family with respect. Respect, on the other hand, is not always something Amy shows toward her siblings, Jo in particular, of whom her little sister is envious, manifesting itself in brattish behavior even as she metamorphoses into a worldly young woman living in Paris. Here Gerwig’s structure truly pays off, not only allowing us to see where our youthful selves both stay with us even as they melt away but how Pugh deftly alters her very air between time jumps, taking possession of herself as she goes, ultimately accepting and mastering the rules of the game.

Jo, on the other hand, continually seeks to upend those rules. So does Gerwig. The denouement, really, is is all about settling love’s loose ends, right down to a 19th Century version of running to the airport, feeling at odds with so many other progressive ideals bursting through. This, of course, was Alcott’s concession to constrictions of the era, which Gerwig, using her publishing framing device, calls out even as she faithfully conveys it, an ingenious metatextual twist that I don’t think would have the author rolling over in her grave but offering a clenched fist of from-the-great-beyond solidarity.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

20th Century Fox Is Dead. Long Live 20th Century Fox.

The liner notes for the release of the Special Edition “Star Wars” soundtrack noted now John Williams had composed his famous opening fanfare in the same key as Alfred Newman’s opening fanfare for 20th Century Fox so that when the movie segued from the studio logo to the opening title and scrawl it didn't miss a beat. It was a brilliant move, and is why, even now, the 20th Century Fox theme aurally conjures up visions of “Star Wars” much like Leo Arnaud’s Bugler’s Dream aurally conjures up visions of swimming and running and speed skating. Of course, Newman’s theme was a fanfare for a reason and functioned as an equally excellent introduction for any other movie, like the opening credits to “The Grapes of Wrath.”  And even the logo itself is so striking that when a motion picture does away with the fanfare, like my all-time favorite movie “Last of the Mohicans”, it still works as its own kind of figurative ceremonial flourish, where the propulsive drums of Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman’s score mirror the flow of the logo’s indelible searchlights.

20th Century Fox, like just about anything in business, did not begin as is but was born of a merger when in 1935 the independent Hollywood studio Twentieth Century Pictures merged with the foundering Fox Film Corporation founded in 1915 by William Fox. The irony was that by 1935 William Fox was no longer even in control of his film corporation, having been forced out, meaning that from the get-go, the name 20th Century Fox was something like a lie. Still, the name stuck and stuck around so that when, oh God, Rupert Murdoch appeared in the 1980s and gobbled the property up, the broadcasting company that Murdoch began on October 9, 1986 would take Fox for its name. And it’s that correlation to odious F*x News that caused Disney, having acquired 20th Century Fox in the late stages of the Twenty-Tens, to, just last Friday, drop Fox from the name, going back to its roots, in a sense, just 20th Century, even though it is, as many astute social media users noted, the 21st Century.

In one way, it’s odd that 20th Century Fox held on as a name this long. In another way, it shows how the name 20th Century Fox improbably metamorphosed over the years into something less about lame business interests and more about the cinematic experience. That theme, that logo, stopped representing just a movie studio and collectively, cosmically became ours, as much a signifier that, okay, shhhhh, settle down, the show is about to start as Please Silence Your Phones.

Disney, of course, has transmitted the predictable claptrap about how despite the renaming, the logo and theme will remain in place, don’t worry, everything’s cool. Of course, Disney, as exhaustively, invaluably reported by Matt Zoller Seitz, is quietly hiding classic Fox films in its vault, refusing to hand prints over to repertoire movie houses, seeming to try and erase real movie history right before our very eyes. Indeed, for the most recent “Star Wars”, Disney chose to remove the 20th Century Fox logo and theme, severing its most exalted connection, not so much signaling a new creative frontier as circling the wagons, mere corporate consolidation. Maybe it doesn’t sound like much now but who knows, maybe one day you’ll wake up and, like the city of Baltimore waking up March 29, 1984 to find their Colts suddenly gone, discover Disney has expunged something more precious to you than just a name.

Friday, January 17, 2020

a note

As Cinema Romantico’s most loyal frustrated followers might attest, aside from Keira Knightley memes and posts about Penelope Cruz’s hair, the blog’s most longtime recurring feature is Friday’s Old Fashioned, a review of an old(er) movie served with a figurative bourbon, bitters, sugar, and a maraschino cherry. And don’t get jumpy, classic film enthusiasts, because we are not cutting off the fifth day of the week beverage service. We still have old movies to watch! My in-laws graciously gifted me a subscription to The Criterion Channel over the holidays! My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife just curated a double feature of mysteries on a train just last weekend! I want to watch old movies! They’re great! And watching old movies only helps put new movies into perspective.

But, the bartender is busy these days. I’m absolutely not closing the bar, mind you, so it can turn into, like, a Verizon Store or a Bank of America, and I’m certainly not selling the bar for the 4 cents it’s worth to some content mill. No, the bar is staying open, though there will be some Fridays when Old Fashioneds might not be on the menu or when there will not be anything on the menu at all. Like a dive bar taking no pains to entice clientele, perhaps even actively trying to drive them away (see: Keira Knightley memes, above), we have always eschewed traffic and trends, preferring to go at our own chosen speed. And so, in an online world where at present everyone’s brand is to overwhelm you with content, it only makes sense that for Cinema Romantico to remain on brand we would pivot to something like slightly less content. Cheers.

Thursday, January 16, 2020


“Colewell” refers to a small town in Pennsylvania where the post office is about to be shuttered, a victim of cost-cutting, threatening to sever the community’s heart, not to mention the livelihood of its sole, multi-decade employee, Nora (Karen Allen). It suggests rural America left behind, and though that idea lingers on the periphery, writer/director Tom Quinn eschews topicality to filter the metaphysical through the kitchen sink settings. Indeed, “Colewell” might be far from Philadelphia, but it’s not that far off from “The Irishman”, in so much as it becomes a kind of meditation on time, how life is both “forever and not long enough”, the line functioning as a prologue before being repeated later, where you don’t even sense the years just slipping through your fingers until most of them are already gone.

The movie opens by lyrically recounting Nora’s morning: putting on coffee, making eggs, getting the paper, opening the post office that doubles as her home. And this post office doubles as the community’s beacon, where locals converse with Nora and with each other, Quinn allowing us to hear snippets of these conversations, an early indicator that he will let his characters talk, meaningfully, rather than reducing them to passing symbols in a montage. There is a benevolence to the rhythm of this routine suggesting Jim Jarmusch’s fabulous “Paterson.” Yet whereas routine in “Paterson” was treated with something close to reverence, Quinn honors it before not so much tearing it down as quietly challenging it, honoring the opening line’s paradox in portraying the routine as giving and taking away. And though another performer might have foreshadowed the curtain being pulled back in these early moments, Allen remains committed to the moment itself, even when she’s pulling on her uniform in the mirror. It renders her character’s unmooring from what sustains her extra powerful, where the way she simply smiles at a mother and her kids in an unfamiliar town where her job might go look like someone casting about for a life preserver.

Cleverly, if not a little cruelly, “Colewell” ties its challenging of Nora’s routine to the routine itself, a letter arriving by mail indicating her office’s impending closure. It’s a decision that cuts to the community, certainly, seen in a convincing moment of civic outrage suggesting an outtake from Frederick Wiseman’s documentary “In Jackson Heights”, correlating rural and urban, though the scene ends with the camera finding Nora and slowly zooming in on her, as if the moment is designed most to cut her heart out. Indeed, she might wonder aloud if that window between her and her customers is her only window into fellowship, but Quinn evokes this in more than mere dialogue, demonstrating how her only relationships center around work, right down to the delivery man (Kevin J. O’Connor) who shows up every morning, looking at Nora with concern sometimes threatening to shade into pity, not that Allen, in her subtle steeliness will accept it.

No, Nora’s only friend outside work is Ella (Hannah Gross), something of a drifter, though Quinn remains elusive about exactly who she is. That vagueness is not a flaw but a means to have Ella work as something like a youthful echo of Nora. She turns up midway through the movie for dinner, the camera cutting between close-ups of the two women, underscoring the intimacy of their conversation, Nora finally but conversationally revealing what brought her to Colewell and why she stayed. The close-ups, though, don’t just underscore that intimacy but deliberately feel apart from the visual scheme up to this moment, the camera mostly having maintained a polite distance from its characters. It suggests an instant bond between the two, also evoked in how Ella just walks right in the door, without knocking, exchanging a smile with Nora as she does.

Maybe this is a recurring moment between the two, Nora giving brief food and shelter to the itinerant Ella, though the dialogue hints at something closer to cosmic connection even as it refrains from spelling it out. If they eventually part ways, they never feel apart, the back half of “Colewell” alternating between them, as if they are leading parallel lives. They might be. A scene of Ella hitching a ride with a trucker, foreshadowed in that opening dialogue, never quite shows the trucker and mostly shows Ella through the trucker’s rear view mirror, alluding to her life as something like Nora’s past, which she is now reflecting on in this great upheaval. I honestly half-expected the closing credits to say Gross was playing Nora.

“Colewell”, given frequent poetically enigmatic shots of foggy bathroom mirrors and characters obscured by drapes, seems like one of those movies destined to dissolve rather than end. That’s not quite true, though. It doesn’t build to some climactic showdown between the citizens and the United States Postal Services, thankfully, but to something more muted and powerful, a close-up of Ella that Quinn holds for a long time as she just sort of settles in with a cup of coffee and tries to find something like inner peace before a cut to Nora leaving her coffee cup, steam rising, on the counter to walk out the door. The routine is severed.