Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,
Polter-Cow
spectralbovine

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Wong and Todd and Bollywood

Apparently I now watch as many movies in two months as I used to in four to five months? At least most of them are good!

I'm Not There: I had been intrigued by the premise of I'm Not There for a while, but after finally listening to Blood on the Tracks and caring about Bob Dylan more, I gave it a whirl, and DAMN. Inspired "by the songs and many lives of Bob Dylan," this film is not technically a biopic, but it does create a portrait of the many facets of Dylan by casting six different actors to play characters inspired by different stages of his life (including a black boy named Woody Guthrie, a rather brilliant way of acknowledging the influences of blues and folk on his music). The execution of this concept is pretty fantastic and fascinating, as it not only makes a statement about Bob Dylan himself but also addresses the way we all, in a sense, are different people throughout our lives. The manifestation of a fragmented identity allows for contemplation as to how that unity is truly achieved. Cate Blanchett is especially great, but I think my favorite Bob Dylan may actually be Ben Whishaw, who spends the whole movie as like the distillation of Dylan, delivering cryptic poetry against a white backdrop like a cosmic narrator. This is an ambitious piece of work, stylistically diverse—color and black-and-white, documentary and Western—with some surreal elements as well, and it didn't all work for me, losing some steam in the second half with Richard Gere's perplexing section. But gosh, it's a marvelously compelling thing to watch and think about, and also the Beatles make a cameo as hyperactive pixies. B+

Stoker: I had been curious about Park Chan-wook's English-language debut, but I never noticed it was written by Wentworth Miller what the fuck. Michael Scofield isn't bad, it turns out! Taking inspiration from Shadow of a Doubt, he introduces a new kind of Uncle Charlie in the form of Matthew Goode, who mysteriously appears after his brother dies even though his niece, Mia Wasikowska, never knew he existed. Goode is creepy and ominous as hell, and the first half hour or so of the movie is a slow burn as you wonder whether this movie is just going to be about a grieving family or whether some shit is going to happen. Oh boy, shit starts to happen, both what you expect and also what you don't expect, and either way, Park Chan-wook stages everything well, frequently intercutting flashbacks or using quick cuts to leave certain events implied to stoke—oh ho!—the shadow of a doubt. Nicole Kidman is cold as chocolate and vanilla ice cream throughout, and her best scene is one I watched and immediately thought, "This was absolutely in the trailer," and sure enough, it's literally how the trailer starts. But this is Mia Wasikowska's film through and through. This movie is fun, fucked up, occasionally creepy-sexy times, and although it doesn't break new ground, it's worth a watch if you're interested in it for any reason. B+

Across the Universe: I first watched Across the Universe before I really knew any Beatles songs, so now that I know ALL the Beatles songs, I rewatched it and...oh my, what a glorious, preposterous, incoherent mess of a film. It takes about half an hour to figure out what the hell is going on, and it takes another twenty minutes or so before it goes FULL TAYMOR—so yeah, this movie is way too long at 133 minutes, Jesus—but from the perspective of SUPER DUPER BEATLES EXTRAVAGANZA, this film is hard to top. In general the arrangements and vocals are strong, it's occasionally clever in its recontexualizations (like taking inspiration from the Uncle Sam "I Want You" posters for "I Want You/She's So Heavy"), and the eye-popping visuals and vibrant choreography consistently dazzle when they're employed to full acid-trip effect. Like half of this movie is pretty incredible and it's just plain fun to spot random cameos from...is that Salma Hayek??? Yes, that was Salma Hayek. But in between all the songs, oh boy. The love story is dull as diapers, not to mention hard to follow at times. And then the movie also tries to paint a picture of Vietnam-era America and anti-war protests and it's so embarrassingly unsubtle that moments that should clearly be emotional and powerful fall super flat. Still, when it shines, it SHINES, and I need Evan Rachel Wood to record an album of Beatles covers right now. B/B+

Invasion of the Body Snatchers: All I remember from the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers is that iconic "They're already here!" scene, which the 1978 remake pays homage to. While being A FANTASTIC FUCKING FILM. Holy goddamn fucking shit, this is up there with The Thing and The Fly when it comes to incredible sci-fi/horror remakes. From its opening sequence, which asks the audience to follow transparent gelatinous alien creatures on their journey to Earth, it's near perfect in its execution, with off-kilter camera shots to heighten the sense that things aren't quite right and an unnerving score that rarely goes over the top. It takes its time building tension, but beginning with the aliens is brilliant because it immediately puts the audience on edge since we know what the characters don't...but once they catch up to us, the film rarely goes back to the alien POV, keeping us just as in the dark as the characters. This means anyone onscreen could potentially be a pod person, so the danger is omnipresent. The movie is so effective at creating this paranoid tension that halfway through I grabbed a pillow to clutch because I could barely take it, there didn't seem to be any way for Our Heroes to prevail against this growing threat. God, this movie manages to play on several horror tropes all at once—duplicates, zombies, DON'T GO TO SLEEP—and it all works together beautifully, somehow congealing into a potent metaphor that never needs explication because it effectively uses the inherent terror of people changing into someone unrecognizable and being the only sane person in an insane world. And just like in The Thing and The Fly, the practical effects are viscerally gooey and nightmarishly creeptastic; no matter how good CGI gets it will never be able to match the sight and sound of pod people emerging from pods in this movie. Holy shit, the sound design in this movie. And I haven't even mentioned Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, and Leonard friggin' Nimoy! I'm still decompressing from this fucking movie. That ending is going to keep me up at night. A-

Velvet Goldmine: This movie begins with a spaceship delivering alien baby Oscar Wilde to planet Earth, which made me literally exclaim, "WHAT?!" While I do love the small thread this opening offers to the film, it does set a pretty damn high bar for WTFery that the film never hits again (apart from possibly my favorite scene in the movie, in which Jonathan Rhys Meyers's David Bowie-inspired Brian Slade has hearts in his eyes and then his manager Eddie Izzard has dollar signs in his eyes). Still, I was definitely along for the ride for this glam rock Citizen Kane, which follows journalist Christian Bale as he interviews people in an attempt to uncover the mystery of Brian Slade. It's an ode to the glam rock era and bisexual pride, a paean to the transformative power of music both for the artist and the audience. The music is great, and the costumes are vibrant, but I found the storytelling a bit too meandering in the middle especially, and it doesn't fully explore the questions of identity that are just as appropriate to tackle here as they are in I'm Not There. I ended up glomming on to Bale as a narrative throughline, as his personal story became just as compelling as those of rock stars Rhys Meyers and Ewan McGregor, whose Curt Wild is modeled after Iggy Pop and Lou Reed but sometimes looks like he's auditioning for a Kurt Cobain biopic. Overall, it didn't enthrall me start to finish, but I really dig what it's doing for the most part. B/B+

Fashion: Priyanka Chopra is just a small town girl living in a lonely world, and she takes the midnight train going any—to Mumbai. She goes to Mumbai because she wants to be a supermodel. For some reason. We never learn why she has this dream, but I didn't care because I like my protagonists to have goals and at least she has one. The story follows a fairly predictable "rise to stardom" path, complete with the requisite Corruption of the Innocent, but it's pretty well executed, clichés aside. The cast is strong across the board, and Priyanka Chopra sells her character's transformation even though the script forces her to deliver voiceover monologues in place of character development. I grew to appreciate the way the film used Kangana Ranaut as a cautionary tale, the supermodel Chopra aspires to be but is also afraid of becoming, but the wonky pacing does her a huge disservice, as the film attempts to cram way too much into the last half hour after you thought the story was already over like two or three times. While it's a bit overstuffed, it's an entertaining look at the fashion world and its DARK SIDE, with colorful supporting characters and, of course, outfits. B/B+

Delhi Belly: Three roommates find themselves caught up in gangster mayhem after a delivery mix-up. It's a solid premise for a comedy, but after the initial setup, the film largely forgets about it for like half the movie, instead focusing on all sorts of other antics like diarrhea and...whatever is happening with Poorna Jagannathan. It certainly revels in being a bit crass, but that's not really where its strengths lie, as its funniest moments are when it gets a bit weird and surreal (but not silly, the silliness doesn't land either). It's got a good sense of visual style, but I wish the script were more focused, as there are plenty of elements here that could have made for a hilarious movie. As it is, it's still popular with people who DO find it a hilarious movie, so at least it found its audience. It's generally fun, and now I have "I Hate You (Like I Love You)" stuck in my head. B/B+

Queen: Shy sweets seller Kangana Ranaut is about to get married when her fiancé abruptly calls off the wedding because apparently he's "changed," and she hasn't. She decides to go on their planned honeymoon to Paris and Amsterdam anyway and embarks on a lovely journey of self-discovery. Queen wallows in sadness for the first twenty minutes or so, but once Ranaut leaves India, the film really begins to pop, as she first meets free-spirited Frenchwoman Lisa Haydon, who gets her to embrace her wild side, and later three male roommates, also fellow travelers, who go from strangers to friends. This movie captures the feeling of traveling alone in a foreign country and making new friends so well, better than any movie I can recall. It's light on its feet, with moments of hilarity, and Ranaut—playing the complete opposite of her character in Fashion—is relentlessly endearing (plus she improvised enough of her dialogue that she's credited as an additional dialogue writer). The cinematography and lighting are real standouts here too, and you will absolutely want to travel to Paris or Amsterdam or literally anywhere after this movie. It's got a bangin' soundtrack, with songs used really well in brief, energetic montages and an emotional climax. Though it may be a little rough around the edges, Queen made me smile and laugh and tear up, a journey I enjoyed sharing with its titular character. B+

Dear Zindagi: "A young woman goes to therapy" doesn't sound like the most compelling film, but when the young woman is played by Alia Bhatt, gifted with an expressive face and an emotional range from snarky to heartbreaking, and the therapist is played by fucking Shah Rukh Khan, you might have something special on your hands, especially when the therapy sessions feel incredibly authentic to what it's actually like to look inside yourself and examine the world from different points of view. The film—like a lot of Bollywood films, apparently—takes a little too long to get to the real story, first establishing Bhatt's life as a cinematographer who dreams of shooting a feature but also has romantic issues. She's definitely a firecracker, almost offputtingly so at times, but we still feel for her. And it's those initial scenes that make her gradual transformation that much more dramatic. Writer-director Gauri Shinde has a gentle hand, and she doesn't force drama. I wish the major breakthrough had been built up to a little more, but it's pretty solid, if maybe a little pat. The music is sentimental and bleh, but, thankfully, for a film about a cinematographer, it looks good. This is such a lovely film. B+

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai: Jim Jarmusch is here to answer the question "What if you made a movie about the Mafia trying to kill a perfect hitman but...slow and contemplative?" The first fifteen minutes or so worried me greatly, as they are steeped with Great Meaning and Jarmusch's just having discovered that dissolves are a thing, but then the film developed an offbeat sense of humor and lightness that I found rather charming, especially the friendship between the English-speaking Ghost Dog and a French-speaking ice cream man who do not understand each other. Forest Whitaker gives a subdued, compelling performance of an enigmatic character who clings tightly to ancient ways in a rapidly changing modern world; the movie never explains what drew this man to adopt The Way of the Samurai but his constant (frequently quite on-the-nose) quotations do give the viewer something to ponder about life and how to live it, especially if you are a hitman. And oh boy, there is actually some good hitman action here; it's fun to watch Ghost Dog work. But also oh boy, this movie is surprisingly weird, sometimes in ways that feel off, as if the film is either reaching for Great Meaning or slapping you in the face with Great Meaning. Why is everyone in this movie watching cartoons?? I think it relates to the overarching theme of old vs. new, but there's a lot I don't quite get here. Yet I appreciated the thoughtfulness that came through, and I was never truly bored (how can you be, when you've got RZA's sick beats). Also an old white dude gleefully sings Flava Flav and it's an oddball delight. B/B+

The Skeleton Twins: I've enjoyed Kristen Wiig's dramatic performances in movies, and I'm enjoying Bill Hader's dramatic performance in Barry, so I thought a movie in which they both give dramatic performances would be worth watching. And, well, they do give good dramatic performances as estranged siblings who reconnect after a suicide attempt, but...gosh, this is a listless and meandering indie drama. Within the first half hour I had basically checked out, and when it hit the hour mark, I couldn't believe there was still a whole other half hour left. Basically the film is good—sometimes great—whenever Hader and Wiig are interacting as brother and sister, but it's far less compelling when dealing with their individual stories, both of which are baffling and just feel plucked out of a hat full of Indie Drama Storylines. That poignant score sure wants you to feel things!! There are some intriguing elements here and some funny moments, but meh. Though it does have the best use of "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" in cinema. B

Miss Stevens: After really liking Fast Color and then discovering it was not, in fact, the first movie Julia Hart had directed and co-written with Jordan Horowitz, I wanted to watch said first movie, which is QUITE DIFFERENT. Lily Rabe plays a high school English teacher who takes a few kids to a drama competition, and one of those kids is Timothée Chalamet. She's dealing with some cryptic shit we don't understand initially, and he's got an unnamed behavioral disorder, so these two lost souls collide over one weekend. It's a DRAMA about DRAMA! It's a small, simple film anchored by a strong performance by Lily Rabe, who's been so great in all the supporting roles I've seen her in and deserves more lead roles like this. Even though we don't spend a lot of time with the characters, by the end, I did like those kids, and it was a nice little character journey. The editing in the last few seconds is a thing of beauty. B+

Andhadhun: Ayushman Khurrana is a piano player who pretends to be blind. After a chance encounter with Radhika Apte, he gets a gig that gets him noticed by retired film star Anil Dhawan and his younger wife, Tabu. Like a lot of Bollywood films, apparently, the first twenty minutes are so dedicated to setup that they don't even accurately represent the rest of the movie, which kicks off once Khurrana witnesses a murder scene. But, well, he's supposed to be blind, and he'd better keep pretending to be blind, because as long as the culprits think he didn't actually see anything, he's safe. From this delicious premise, director and co-writer Sriram Raghavan could have gone anywhere. And he does. He goes all the wheres. This movie twists and turns in ridiculous fashion, a thriller that's light on its feet with a keen sense of black comedy that never leans too far in that direction. It's a weird and delicate tone, but it mostly works, with committed performances by Khurrana and Tabu in particular (Apte has a smaller role than I'd hoped, but she's good too, of course). What a wild, fun ride. B+

Lars and the Real Girl: Ryan Gosling is the titular Lars, who lives in the kind of small town where everyone is all up in your business. In this case, his business is being single, which he stubbornly remains, even ignoring the cute human co-worker who is totally into him. Everything changes when he orders Bianca, the titular Real Girl. There are so many ways for this premise to go horribly wrong and this movie eschews all of them. Nancy Wilson's smart, subtle script tackles a variety of issues at once—societal pressure to couple up, the accommodations you make when you don't approve of your friend's new girlfriend, objectification of women, expectations of masculinity—all wrapped up in a mélange of metaphor manifested as a sex doll. The film requires some suspension of disbelief in the lengths people go to accept Bianca as a "person," but Craig Gillespie navigates this tricky topic by never ever treating her like a joke. Initially, sure, it's impossible not to laugh at what's happening, but as it becomes clear this is not a comedy but a sensitive portrayal of mental illness, it all just...works. And once the entire community decides to play along, I pretty much had tears in my eyes for the rest of the movie because I just can't deal with that level of human kindness. Ryan Gosling sells the hell out of a difficult character, Emily Mortimer is terribly endearing as the sister-in-law who tries the hardest, and Patricia Clarkson brings such warmth to the doctor cleverly treating Lars by "treating" Bianca. This film is just so lovely, and it's saying so many things without actually saying them, the kind of movie that reaches into your soul and has a conversation with it. B+/A-

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl: I am a sucker for movies where the main character is telling the audience a story so when this movie began with the main character unsure of how to even tell this story, I was hooked, and then the random stop-motion animation was a cherry on top. The first fifteen or twenty minutes of this movie are a bit hyperkinetic in their high school moviedom, but once director Alfonso Gómez-Rejón settles into the actual plot, in which loner Thomas Mann is urged to befriend dying girl Olivia Cooke, it becomes a very sweet story of friendship. It's not without its quirkiness, but I found every bit of it endearing, up to and including the charmingly terrible movie parodies he and RJ Cyler make. Jesse Alexander's screenplay (adapted from his own novel) is designed to make you feel emotions, as it continually reminds you that this is a Doomed Friendship. And yet, it's a friendship worth making. This film is a lovely testament to the power of friendship and the power of art. B+

Terminator Genisys: Look, I remember liking Terminator Salvation when no one else did, so I thought, hey, maybe Terminator Genisys isn't as bad as everyone said it was. Oh boy. This movie spends nearly an hour on mindless action and references to the James Cameron films, and it revels in playing "Gotcha!" with franchise fans who think they know what's going to happen, a sensibility that culminates in an utterly offensive plot twist I can't believe anyone thought would be received well. The best thing about the film by far is Arnold Schwarzenegger as "Pops," the T-800 tasked with guarding Sarah Connor; he is a consistent bright spot and delight throughout the movie, even if his relationship with Sarah isn't as poignant as the relationship with John in T2. I also love the conception of Sarah's character here, as a woman struggling with her knowledge of a foretold path, but it's barely touched on because this movie is more concerned with blowing shit up than developing characters. Emilia Clarke is no Linda Hamilton or Lena Headey; she doesn't even have the right initials to play Sarah Connor. Jason Clarke fares a bit better as John Connor, and Jai Courtney, who apparently had the right initials to play John Connor, has so little presence he is practically invisible. J.K. Simmons is entertaining in a pointless role, and Matt Smith is fun in a small role. This movie makes no sense but it does have killer robots and explosions, so there's that. C+/B-

Murder Party: Chris is the kind of guy who will stumble across an invitation to something called a MURDER PARTY and decide, yeah, that is what he's gonna do on Halloween night. From the get-go, Jeremy Saulnier wants you to feel like you're watching a trashy horror movie, down to the title font and the creepy score, but the utter banality of our erstwhile hero flies in the face of any attempt to treat this seriously. Especially once Chris discovers that the MURDER PARTY is, well, a murder party, and he's the one being murdered, but not by garden-variety psychopaths, oh no, much worse: ART STUDENTS. Years later, Saulnier would take the premise of a regular guy trapped in a confined space with people who are trying to kill him to terrifying heights in Green Room, but here he displays a lot of the same skill in kinetic camerawork and sustained tension...that deliberately do not make you feel very tense because it's all so fucking absurd. Case in point: one character's first line is "I didn't sign on for Second-Degree Assault Party." I don't even know how to describe this movie. It's a bizarre hyperviolent dark comedy that manages a delicate tonal balance for so long until it just explodes. At times, it feels like it's trying very hard to become a Cult Film, going so over-the-top it high-fives So Bad It's Good territory, but I was having so much fun I didn't care. Plus I was impressed with how much I ended up caring about these ridiculous characters and how tight the script ended up being. What a weird little gem of a film. B+/A-

Guardians of the Galaxy: I watched Guardians of the Galaxy for the first time in a few years and returned to a time when Groot was taller and Nebula was more villainous. My, how things have changed! While my initial reaction to the film was a bit tempered in reaction to the massive hype, I now recognize what a startling achievement this damn film was, given that it had to introduce five brand-new characters and make you care about them individually AND as a team (Avengers was playing on Easy Mode by comparison), plus take the MCU into friggin' SPACE. It's colorful as hell with some of the most spectacular visuals in the MCU, and its use of pop music as Star-Lord's one connection to the home he left behind has deep emotional resonance. It's rough around the edges for sure, mostly in the fanatical villain and the Chase-the-MacGuffin plot mechanics that drive the first half, but, goddamn, the second half is fantastic. That Power Stone climax is fuckin' beautiful. It truly is a wonder this film works as well it does given how much it's doing. B+/A-

Unicorn Store: Unicorn Store dares to ask the question "What if a Manic Pixie Dream Girl used her whimsical nature to teach HERSELF an important life lesson?" Brie Larson plays Kit, a twentysomething artist living with her parents (the always welcome Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford) who has trouble Growing Up. So she gets a temp job but also she meets Samuel L. Jackson, who says he'll give her a unicorn free if she passes his challenges three. I could never get a handle on what tone this movie was going for, as it swings wildly between satirical, sincerely twee, and...something in the middle, but occasionally the humor landed and I just went with it. It felt like maybe director/actor Brie Larson and writer Samantha McIntyre weren't on the same wavelength and neither was on the same wavelength as I was. Regardless, it's a cute movie, and even if it didn't hit as hard as it could have, I really liked what the story was trying to do with regards to the eternal conflict between Having Dreams and Having to Live in the Real World. Even if the message also seems kind of mixed and muddled? Anyway, the ending is lovely and just right. B/B+

Ibiza: Love Drunk: Ibiza: Love Drunk is a terrible title for a very fun movie that tells you what it is about in the first five seconds, when you see a woman abruptly stop doing her job and declare, "Fuck it." Gillian Jacobs is about to do the same thing, as she's sent to Barcelona on a business trip and instead chases a DJ (Richard Madden aka Robb Stark) to Ibiza (where she gets LOVE DRUNK, I guess). Along for the ride are her two best friends, Vanessa Bayer, who is a goddamn riot and steals the whole fucking movie, and Phoebe Robinson, who is the middle ground between Jacobs's straight woman and Bayer's chaos magic. Lauryn Kahn's script is hilarious, and the friendship feels completely authentic without needing much backstory. Director Alex Richanbach moves things along with a lot of energy, though he is a bit in love with scenes of people dancing in clubs. Yet that's kind of what the movie is about, after all, that escape from professionalism to just enjoy being alive for a while. The romantic story actually ends up being pretty sweet and adorable, and overall it feels like a late coming-of-age story, a transformative weekend for this woman. B+

Chungking Express: After unexpectedly digging In the Mood for Love, I knew I wanted to watch more Wong Kar-wai, so I came into Chungking Express thinking it was about people falling in love on a train. IT WAS NOT. It has a totally different vibe, charming and quirky, with a kinetic visual style. The camera almost never sits fucking still in this movie, darting around the scene and mimicking character movement to the extent that you barely notice how long a shot is because it feels like it's cutting even though it's not. And occasionally Kar-wai busts out with aggressively blurry visuals like a live-action comic book, and it's like nothing I've ever seen. All this visual energy is in service of two stories about heartbroken male cops. The first follows an endearing doof who has a run-in with a drug smuggler whose tale I couldn't quite follow but, hey, there are Indians! This sad sack was my favorite character in the movie, and I will think fondly of him whenever I eat pineapple. It was slightly disappointing to switch to a new guy halfway through, but I grew to enjoy the story of him and the adorable creepy weirdo who takes a liking to him. Of course, they're both weirdos; he talks to his soap. This section features a lot of musical repetition, and it's clear Wong Kar-wai knows how to use music in love stories. While I'm not quite sure how much the narrative structure of two basically unrelated stories works for me, I did end up enjoying them both, and they're connected enough that that juxtaposition is still satisfying in its own way. B+

Belle: Before Gugu Mbatha-Raw stole our hearts in "San Junipero" and single-handedly kept The Cloverfield Paradox from being an utter disaster, she starred in the rare period piece that acknowledges that black people existed! Not only that, they were rich, complex characters, and I mean "rich" in both ways because this movie is about the daughter of a British captain and a slave (he says they were in love so we're meant to accept their coupling to be as consensual as such couplings could be) who is raised in the lap of luxury. So much so that Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay actually ends up being more financially secure than her white sister-cousin. I love how this film explores the intersection between class and race, and how one trumps the other in varying circumstances. Dido is desirable because of her station but undesirable because of her race, and only one of those is fluid. While much of the film focuses on getting the two women married off, a background thread about the Zong massacre—a historical incident I knew nothing about, a horrific tragedy wherein slavers drowned slaves for insurance money—weaves into the proceedings, affecting Dido in many ways, personally and in her relationships. I felt a bit of sag in the second half, but for the most part, it's an incredibly compelling, refreshing story. B+

Fallen Angels: After unexpectedly digging Chungking Express, I knew I wanted to watch its companion piece, expanded from a story intended to be part of Chungking Express. Like that film, it tells two basically unrelated stories (simultaneously this time) about lonely men and lonely women connecting in Hong Kong, a night vision to that film's day. In one story, we follow a contract killer and his "partner," who masturbates to pop songs. In the other, we follow an escaped prisoner who...takes over closed stores overnight? This doofy guy who once ate expired pineapple is more in line with the characters in Chungking Express, though the contract killers also feel like they're mirrors of the wig-wearing smuggler, especially since they get some brutally violent shoot-outs. I enjoyed the stark contrast between the two storylines, but I didn't always know what was going on in them. This is one of those movies where I read the Wikipedia plot summary to understand what I just watched even though I mostly enjoyed it despite apparently not fully grasping what was going on with the characters. A lot of it is just how fucking COOL this movie looks with its extreme wide-angle lens and colorful lights and dynamic visuals, plus Wong Kar-wai's consistently excellent use of music. The narrative(s) could be tighter, but I did dig the ending. B/B+

See You Yesterday: Two teenagers invent time travel in their garage—stay with me here—and gain the ability to go on ten-minute sojourns into the past! This is going to be a fun lit—oh, wait, they're black, which means they live in the specter of police brutality every day. This is not going to be a fun little movie, this is going to be a movie where two teenagers go back in time to prevent a young black man from being murdered. Eden Duncan-Smith carries the weight of the film on her shoulders, and I hope this gets her noticed in a big way. Director and co-writer Stefon Bristol blends teen time travel hijinks with socially relevant depictions of the impact of police brutality surprisingly well, if not perfectly, leading to a somewhat muted tone that nonetheless allows for a tense and compelling story. I loved how he showed the impact of these deaths on black communities, whether or not they personally knew the deceased, and the movie functions as a kind of wish fulfillment...except for the fact that there are complications. So many complications! The film explains the scientific gobbledygook of its time travel okay, though I wasn't entirely clear on some bit, but the salient part is, uh, they fuck up. A lot. Will they be able to set things right? Is that even possible? See You Yesterday doesn't always take the expected route, and I respect some of its bolder choices (maybe not its weird visual choices). B+

Days of Being Wild: Since I didn't end up watching 2046 right after In the Mood for Love, I figured I might as well watch the first film in the unofficial trilogy. It begins with Leslie Cheung handily seducing Maggie Cheung, and you think the movie is going to be their swoony love story, but, nope, he's actually a jerkface with mommy issues, so instead we follow him on another relationship and her trying to get over him with the help of adorable policeman Andy Lau (who also has mommy issues but is not a jerkface). I really did not like Leslie Cheung's character, and I thought that would sink the whole movie for me, but the trajectory of his story was actually kind of satisfying and ended up tying the movie together, as he's the man that connects Maggie Cheung and Andy Lau, the TRUE heart of the movie. Wong Kar-wai is so fucking good at cinematic loneliness and heartbreak it should be illegal. Visually, I didn't find it as WOWSERS as the other ones I've seen, but there are still some lovely shots here and there. I just love the way Wong Kar-wai views the interconnectedness of everyone, the way strangers flit in and out of other people's lives, sometimes having a profound effect. Love in this movie is friendship, family, and fucking, and he understands the importance of all three. B+

Queen of Earth: Elisabeth Moss gets dumped right after her father dies, and she does NOT take it well, so Katherine Waterston takes her for a relaxing vacation up at her family's cabin, like a good best friend. But is she a good best friend? Alex Ross Perry wants you to feel like you're in a horror movie, and Keegan DeWitt's creepily unnerving score and Sean Price Williams's intimate cinematography do a great job at evoking that atmosphere. Moss is unhinged and vicious, contrasting with Waterston's more subdued performance, and it's pretty compelling to just...watch them together, wondering when one of them is just gonna SNAP. Also contrasting are the two timelines, a series of flashbacks that allow us to see what Moss was like before she was consumed by grief. The dialogue alternates between barely audible mundane exchanges and Monologues That No One Would Allow to Go on This Long in Real Life, but the latter is kinda the best part. While I found the two main characters interesting, I didn't feel like the film was really going anywhere, and then it...didn't really go anywhere, it just kind of ended. But while it didn't satisfy me on a narrative level, I liked enough about it not to feel wholly unsatisfied. B/B+

Prospect: Tasha Robinson recommended this indie sci-fi flick as My Next Picture Show, and I tend to listen to Tasha Robinson. Lo, Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell's debut is certainly worth checking out, a space Western in the Firefly vein, with all the visual trappings of science fiction but all the plot and character and dialogue of Westerns. Nowhere is this more evident than in Pedro Pascal's high-falutin' way of speaking—if you want to hear Pedro Pascal say shit like "I have sustained a wound," this is your jam—but his performance is in stark contrast to newcomer Sophie Thatcher's more naturalistic style (she doesn't handle the dialogue as well as him, but she still gives a nice subdued performance that reflects her character's internal conflicts). The movie takes its time, but it's essentially plotted as a series of misadventures, a survival tale that nonetheless has a clear end goal. The minimal special effects are very effective—it turns out if you put sparkly floating things in a forest it looks like a space forest—and the film does well at suggesting a larger world without too much exposition. It's always nice to see people still doing these small sci-fi stories that can satisfy my hunger for both Cool Genre Shit and Quiet Character-Based Storytelling. B+

Jinn: Zoe Renee is preparing to dance for her high school talent show when her mom (Simone Missick, aka Misty Knight) converts to Islam...which means she has to convert to Islam. It's not long before she experiences the conflict between their spirituality and her sexuality. Nijla Mu'min tells a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale about an important and relatable issue, especially for black Muslim teenage girls, but I couldn't help but compare it to Hala, which I saw tackle the same issue (albeit with a Pakistani Muslim teenage girl) with more subtlety and specificity. The film hits familiar, predictable beats, and that's not a negative in and of itself, but it just never drew me in, its overt reaches for visual and aural beauty falling flat for me. On top of that, it resolves its conflicts by just...resolving them, pretty much, as if the movie wanted to wrap up in under ninety minutes so here's things sorted now. There's good stuff in here, and Zoe Renee is certainly a young actor to watch, but overall it wasn't my jam. B

Always Be My Maybe: God, I wanted to LOVE this movie. It's directed by Nahnatchka Khan! It's co-written by co-stars Ali Wong and Randall Park (along with Michael Golamco)! It's set and filmed in San Francisco! It's an Asian-American rom-com with representation in front of and behind the camera! But, alas, I only...kinda liked it? The premise of childhood best friends with a potential romantic spark who reconnect as adults when one is a celebrity chef and the other is, uh, a regular guy is solid. Randall Park is fucking great as always, and Ali Wong is...fine, and they are good together, but I just did not seem to be on this movie's wavelength. The comedy was very hit-or-miss, and when it hit, it was only good for a chuckle. The comic timing is so uneven, but it's most successful with the banter among the band members of Hello Peril, most scenes involving Michelle Buteau, and various things surrounding a certain extended cameo. The rom part of the rom-com worked a little better, as it doesn't feel formulaic even though it really kind of is (the Climactic Feelings Declaration is one of the best scenes, for sure). And, yeah, I do love that this film makes San Francisco seem just as hip and cool as Los Angeles and New York, the only two American cities that exist in cinema. It's enjoyable, it has some amusing songs, and it's ultimately satisfying as a rom-com, but it just feels...off the whole time. B/B+

Next up, maybe I just watch the movies I want to watch when I want to watch them, other people's opinions and/or suggestions be damned? What a concept!
Tags: making the grade, movies
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