Then Playing — Triangle of Sadness; The Whale; Black Adam

Triangle of Sadness (Ruben Östlund, 2022). Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund’s initial inspiration for the film Triangle of Sadness was the world of fashion, as reflected by the title’s reference to the furrowed brow that earns a male model (Harris Dickinson) a mild chastisement during a go-see. It doesn’t really stay there long, though. Instead, Östlund goes romping through all manner of moneyed entitlement, taking broad satiric swipes at the upper classes’ obliviousness as their souls curdle. Partially undone by his own sense of excess, with the famed and infamous captain’s dinner aboard a super-yacht as the central infraction of amusement that drones into indulgence, Östlund can’t quite sustain the energy of the film. Even the satisfying turnabout of the third act stretches long enough to become predictable.

The Whale (Darren Aronofsky, 2022). It’s an ill marker of the totality of Darren Aronofsky’s cinematic output that my main impression of The Whale is relief that it’s not as offensively bad as it could have been. Yes, the director can’t help but depict the obese central character, Charlie (Brendan Fraser), with a visual luridness that he might argue is meant to challenge the audience to reconsider their unkind reaction but that really betrays a creative cruelty. Even so, he brings a more measured approach than can be reasonable expected of an auteur following up the nightmarish balderdash of mother! The highly contained nature of Samuel D. Hunter’s script (adapting his own stage play) helps blunt Aronofsky’s penchant for the unhinged. Of course, Fraser won an Oscar for his performance in the film, but that seems a classic case of Academy voters supporting an actor’s personal story more than the work on screen. He’s fine in role, but at best he’s the third strongest performer in the film, outdone by Hong Chau’s precise naturalism as a codependent caregiver and Samantha Morton’s emotive combination of fury and sympathy as Charlie’s ex-wife.

Black Adam (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2022). Now here’s a dismal film, kinda-sorta spun off from Shazam!, one of the better offerings in DC Comics’ stumbling, bumbling attempts to bring their superhero characters to the big screen. Director Jaume Collet-Serra and his collaborators take the ebullient spirit of that earlier feature and stamp all over it with their own version of the hideous, deadened visuals and self-conscious slow motion of Zach Snyder’s toxic-plume aesthetic. Dwayne Johnson plays the title antihero with a grueling grimness that’s incredibly boring. Black Adam makes a feint towards consider with the actual repercussions of super-powered being who wields his strength with amoral abandon, but it finally settles on the smug, baffling conclusions that ultra-violence is a-okay after all. As a ragtag version of the Justice Society, a whole crew of actors, Pierce Brosnan and Aldis Hodge among them, operate at different levels of barely concealed embarrassment. I’ve rarely seen a major actor less engaged in their role than Viola Davis is here, returning as government hard ass Amanda Waller for a couple of wearying scenes of beamed-in, snarled exposition.

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