Films this month

The Dig

Directed by Simon Stone
(U.K., 2021)

Review by Lois Siegel

Sometimes a film surprises you and takes the shape of a different format. The Dig is one of those films. It revolves around a hole in the ground.

It is set in England, just before the Second World War. People listen to the radio for news that war is coming. Air raid warnings add to the foreboding of what lies ahead.

The subject is archaeology. Some material has been burned on the land of Mrs. Pretty, played by Carey Mulligan, who also stars in a current and darker film, Promising Young Woman. Pretty believes some articles of value – artifacts – may be hidden on her land. She would like to leave a legacy. Mrs. Pretty is a smart lady, despite the fact her father said no when she asked to go to university. She is a wealthy widow and lives with Robert, her young son.

She hires Mr. Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to investigate. He studied Latin and geology but left school at age 12. Brown is a working-class man and an amateur archaeologist. The land is marked by a series of mounds. In 1939, the excavation begins on what Brown believes is the most promising one.

To everyone’s surprise, the digging reveals the skeletal remains of a ship. It may be the grave of a great man, perhaps a Viking, though Brown suspects the ship is from an even earlier era, which would make the find even more important.

The villagers are invited to watch the dig. They sit on the grass, overlooking the site. Mrs. Pretty invites Mr. Brown to dinner. He reads on weekends. This part of life is simple.

Conflict begins when Phillips, a Cambridge archaeologist, arrives and says he wants to take charge and contact the British Museum about the ship and the ancient treasures found in the grave. His interest is in culture and art, but he is also thinking of the money and fame these artifacts might bring. The story turns on whether Mrs. Pretty will support Phillips or Brown.

There are all kinds of challenges involved in digging out the mound and excavating the ship, like rainy weather that floods the hole, unstable soil that causes a cave-in and the possibility of bombing. Sandbags are positioned for extra support and protection.

As the country prepares for the inevitable, we see and hear bomber planes overhead. If there is a war, the excavation will stop.

It’s a race against time. There are warnings to evacuate: women, children and the disabled. Germany invades Poland. Warsaw is bombed. In contrast, as the dig proceeds in the English countryside, we hear a cello playing and the song of a nightingale.

Eventually, we learn what happens to the artifacts. Without spoiling the end, it can be said they are hidden during the war in a London Underground station.

The Dig was shot primarily in Surrey and Suffolk. It is beautifully filmed. The story emphasizes that life is very fleeting. There are moments you should seize on.

It has been nominated for nine British Academy Film Awards, including best film, outstanding British film, director, leading actor, cinematographer and adapted screenplay.

The Dig is definitely worth a look.

Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes
Available on Netflix


Palm Springs eternal

Directed by Max Barbakow
(US, 2020)

Review by Kate Roberts

What a perfect movie for the most never-ending year.

“Are you talking about Groundhog Day?” you ask. “Because they made that like forever ago.” I hear you. But no. I don’t mean a wholesome movie about a lonely jerk who spends a week in a time loop learning how to respect humanity. I mean a lonely-island movie about two jackasses who spend an eternity in a time loop figuring out which suicides are the most efficient. Same concept, vastly different execution. Palm Springs is Groundhog Day for 2020. Heck, it’s Edge of Tomorrow for 2020. Things couldn’t possibly get any worse because things never, ever change. It’s a comedy.

November 9 is wedding day for Abe (Tyler Hoechlin) and Tala (Camila Mendes). The weather is beautiful at their desert venue in Palm Springs and all the guests are excited to be there. All except for Nyles (Andy Samberg), who doesn’t seem to care about anything and Sarah (Cristin Milioti), the sister of the bride, who would rather be anywhere else drowning her feelings. Still, it’s a wedding, so naturally these two miserable souls find each other and hook up. No surprises there. What is surprising, however, is the guy in stealth gear who steps out of the shadows and starts pelting Nyles with arrows. Sarah follows Nyles as he seeks refuge in a glowing cave and the next thing she knows, she’s waking up in bed – on the morning of November 9. What follows are stages of denial, acceptance, rebellion and apathy as Sarah comes to terms with the fact that she will relive the day of her sister’s wedding again and again for all of eternity. At least she’s not alone; Nyles has been trapped in the loop for an unimaginably long time and is happy to guide her through the various emotional stages and the small cast of locals that they will spend every day with, forever.

One problem with time travel is that when you write a story in a loop, you run out of places to go. Fast. The first half of Palm Springs trips on the treadmill and flies into the wall behind. Sarah tries everything to break free of the loop – being a good person, being a terrible person, doing nothing at all, running away, suicides, trying not to sleep. Eventually she surrenders to her forever home in limbo. Sarah settles into Nyles’ speed, living every day like it’s their last or, rather, living every day like there are no consequences, and there will always be a do-over. The result is tonnes of meaningless hangouts and fun montages. Nyles and Sarah make a perfect forever couple – literally. They burst into dive bars with synchronized dance numbers and then breeze out leaving nothing behind but broken chairs and memories. They look like they’re having so much fun and we reap the benefits of a good show.

Still, forever is a very long time. There is no way to keep track of time, but Nyles’ attitude has us believing that he’s been there for decades if not centuries. There are only a few things that can interrupt the monotony. One is J.K. Simmons. His character, Roy, knows how to have a great time but only when you’re on his good side. Otherwise, he is out for blood and pops up in the most unexpected places. Nyles and Sarah have become masters of chill, but they always have one eye on the horizon for Roy.

He is one reason among many why Palm Springs is so funny. Roy and everything that Nyles and Sarah do to pass the time results in some impressively seasoned swearing. Palm Springs likes to mix it up and pass the swear stick to unexpected characters. My personal favourite is Misty (Meredith Hagner), Nyles’ clueless girlfriend who exists to overreact and enrich our lives in the process. It’s impossible to feel sorry for Misty, so when Nyles regularly leaves her hanging to go spend the day with Sarah, the effect is always hilarious.

Palm Springs is a great summer comedy. If you’re tired of winter movies that romanticize blizzards and Christmases where all can find their prince, then reach for purgatory in a desert instead. It’s profane, it’s simple, it has feelings but not crushingly deep ones, and it asks one very important question: what kind of person would you become if your actions had no consequences? Palm Springs is a light comedy that commits, hardcore, to the time-loop concept. It’s a 7/10.

 Available on Prime Video

Kate Roberts grew up in the Glebe and is a movie addict who has been writing reviews since 2013. Her reviews can be found at plentyofpopcorn.wordpress.com.

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