North Texas Film Festival: ‘The Laundromat’ and ‘The Lodge’

Kicking things off with a bit of star power, Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat injected the inaugural North Texas Film Festival’s Opening Night with a unique energy. As an entity largely sponsored by the financial institution Capital One, it seemed a bit daring to open the festival with a film such as The Laundromat that skewers the financial system around the world with bristling humor. Then again, I suppose Capital One isn’t a purveyor of tax avoidance or shell company creation, so it’s all in jest.

Still firmly planted in the breezy, jazz-tinged vein of his previous films since hitting the mainstream with Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and Logan Lucky (2017), The Laundromat finds Soderbergh in full-on arch mode. Cresting from one stomach churning vignette of voracious wealth to the next, there’s only two constants in the film — the first is grandmother Meryl Streep in a wonderfully comedic role as a middle-class widow hoping for someone to pay for the tragic loss sustained by her husband in a boating accident. The second is the Greek chorus of financiers played by Gary Oldman (doing his best Udo Kier impersonation) and Antonio Banderas, who pop in from time to time to mordantly comment on the film’s machinations, which are ironically of their own Machiavellian doing.

In between these two, The Laundromat is a cameo-infested comedy of broad intentions and globe-trotting excess. Matthias Schoenaerts, Sharon Stone, Jeffrey Wright, David Schwimmer and Larry Wilmore all show up at some point as multi-faceted pawns in a corrupt and predatory chessboard of avarice and greed. It’s all funny as hell, even when people are dying or left broke and miserable.

Although comedies built around the black hole of financial corruption in the past two decades seems quite easy to pull off these days (just ask Adam McKay), there’s also an undertone of humanity that’s more striking in The Laundromat than those others. Perhaps it’s the performance of Meryl Streep … or Scott Burn’s caustic screenplay … or the carefully tinged cloak of anger that hovers around every scene, no matter how straightforwardly enamored it appears to be over the golden lifestyles envisioned. Rightfully so, the anger comes into full fruition in the final scene when Soderbergh and Streep step outside the lines of fiction and cast a direct plea to the audience, challenging the whole process we’ve just witnessed. It may not land quite as galvanizing as they want it, but it’s still a timely message that needs to be heard.

The Laundromat will premier on Netflix in mid-October.

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With atmosphere to burn and a shadowy aesthetic lit mostly by natural light and the halos of flashlights, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s The Lodge establishes an eerie aura right from the outset. Add in Riley Keogh as a woman slowly going mad in the confines of a frigid landscape with two younger children (Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh) in her care and the ingredients are tailor made for something special.

Unfortunately, The Lodge missteps fairly often. Extremely hollow in its cruelty and repetitive in its narrative, the film is a sort of companion piece to the filmmakers’ previous psychological horror film Goodnight Mommy (2014). Both films portray the decomposition of trust and familial bond between the nuclear family in a single environment. Both films ratchet up the atmosphere to, at times, unbearable tension and both films are torturous in the way they expand and contract the usual horror movie tropes. The Lodge, however, is less successful because it neglects any tangible connection to its characters. A shocking suicide … the rigors of guilt and loss … religious suppression … all of this is introduced in one way or another throughout the film to explain the very-horrible-things-going-on. None of it resonates outside of the filmmakers’ own commitment in crafting a very repulsive and suffocating effort in which not even the dog escapes unscathed.

The North Texas Film Festival was held at the Cinemark West Plano. For more information, visit http://www.ntxff.com

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