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Arabia Actress Apocalypse

In some ways, my viewing follows from my previous viewing. In others, it does not. Film is an adventure!

2046: After I really liked In the Mood for Love, I was so hyped to watch 2046, but I'm very glad I went a circuitous route and watched more Wong Kar-wai films including Days of Being Wild so that I could catch the references and recognize actresses. This film takes the Get Over That Relationship vibe of Days and mashes it up with the You Will Always Be Lonely vibe of Mood and spins it around in a science fiction centrifuge, so I should have loved this ambitious piece of work. But as much as I could intellectually appreciate many elements of the film and what it was saying about love and human connection, this human was not feeling a connection. Tony Leung falling in love with his neighbors AGAIN! How could I not enjoy that? A writer working out his issues through storytelling! How could I not enjoy that? A man imparting significance to numbers and chasing deliberate echoes of his past! How could I not enjoy that? I DON'T KNOW. After a dizzying narrative mélange of an opening, the film settles down into a romance with Zhang Ziyi that just seems to last forever and focuses solely on sex, and it did noooooooooot do it for me, and the film makes a slight recovery later, and then I thought the movie ended like eight times before it actually did. I've been able to accept the non-Western narrative structure of Wong Kar-wai films before, but I wasn't along for the ride this time, sadly. There's a lot going on in here, and it feels like a movie that could gel for me on a second viewing with some intangible life changes, but for now, it's a miss. B

Marjorie Prime: Jordan Harrison's play, Marjorie Prime, does what the best science fiction does: use a speculative tool to explore humanity. Here, it's a technological advancement that allows the dead to go on living as robots who only understand who they are by what the living tell them about themselves. I love how the nature of this technology examines the relationship between memory and identity and the fact that not only is our personal memory unreliable but our identities can be constructed from other people's memories and impressions of us. Michael Almereyda never makes a strong case for his film adaptation, however, apart from the excellent performances from his cast (Jon Hamm, Geena Davis, Tim Robbins, Lori Smith). Perhaps the first warning sign was the fact that he changed the core concept from robots to holograms for no good reason apart from a couple special effects shots because, well, it's a science fiction movie, you need some special effects shots. But the strongest material in the film is always just dialogue scenes that aren't shot interestingly. The story took on a much larger scope than I expected from the opening scene, which made me think the entire movie would focus on Marjorie, an elderly woman with Alzheimer's, and Walter Prime, her dead husband who tells her stories about their time together, and as it progresses, it does raise a lot of interesting questions about how we deal with love and loss and lies. Not a lot of answers, of course, and it's not fully satisfying as a narrative, but still. The stubbornly elegiac tone failed to draw me in, but I suspect this tale would be more powerful on stage, when it's trying to be a movie. B/B+

A History of Violence: Viggo Mortensen is a small-town family man whose life gets turned upside down when he foils a diner robbery. Because it turns out he has, uh, a history of violence. Director David Cronenberg, working off Josh Olson's adaptation of the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, crafts a sober meditation on violent men and the scars that violence leaves on them. Like John Wick and Barry, the film posits that a history of violence is never simply a history. It is always there, ready to be released no matter how much you want to leave it behind. On top of that, it comments on how this violence is passed down from father to son. It's a tense film with occasional explosions of violence, and these acts of violence are brutal and gruesome and horrifying, never heroic and cool. You understand why his family would react as they do to the discovery that this man is not who they thought he was. From the premise, you kind of know how things will go, but the experience of following Mortensen on his journey gives a sense of satisfying unease that lasts until the final shot. B+

The Vanishing: All I knew about this Dutch thriller was that it was about a man searching for his wife after she goes missing at a rest stop. From that information, I expected a very different movie from what I got. The movie I got was BETTER. George Sluizer bucks convention brilliantly by showing us the goddamn kidnapper before the titular vanishing even occurs but still keeping the audience as in the dark as the husband as to what happened to his wife. So instead of a movie where we spend half the movie with a man investigating a mystery until the MYSTERIOUS VILLAIN is finally revealed, we, uh, spend like half the movie with the MYSTERIOUS VILLAIN. It pays off incredibly well, as a streak of black comedy only serves to underscore the banality of this evil (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu is one of the great movie villains). Much of the terror occurs in broad daylight, heightening the fear that This Could Happen to You. I love that the husband's obsessive quest to find out what happened is mirrored by the audience's obsessive quest to find out what happened, even though we fucking know who did it. This movie is fucked up, and I love this narrative twist on what could have been a straight suspense tale that is still suspenseful up until the infamous ending. B+/A-

Barking Dogs Never Bite: Before Bong Joon-ho took cinema by storm with more serious fare that contained a substantial dose of offbeat humor, he gave himself completely to offbeat humor in his directorial debut, in which an aspiring college professor is so annoyed by a barking dog that he, uh, kidnaps it. Hijinks ensue! This movie begins with the "No Animals Were Harmed in the Making of This Film" disclaimer because many fictional animals are harmed in the course of this film, okay, do not watch this movie if you are sensitive to Bad Things Happening to Dogs. If you are not, however, this movie is hilarious. It gets even funnier once Doona Bae gets involved, as she is the only decent person in this movie, wide-eyed and adorable. I enjoyed how well the script wove in minor characters and callbacks to give everything a sense of cohesiveness, even if the ending is somewhat unsatisfying. And yet the rest of the film is so entertaining that it's still a satisfying watch overall. What a bizarre movie, Bong Joon-ho, what is wrong with you. B+

Memories of Murder: Song Kang-ho is a local country boy who detectives by EYE CONTACT. Kim Sang-kyung is a visiting city boy who detectives by DOCUMENTS. They fight crime! Or at least they try to catch Korea's first serial killer. "Try" being the operative word here, as they go down so many wrong paths they seem practically incompetent, but I did love how well the film showed their obsessive need to find an answer, any answer, at any cost. It's a long film, and usually a slow one, with occasional moments of excitement like a great chase scene and every time they find a CLUE. The last half hour is particularly strong, though I wish the visiting detective's character arc were more gradual than it comes off. Something about the pacing kept me from being fully engaged, which is unfortunate because all the elements are here for a knockout film. It just didn't knock me out. B/B+

Medicine for Melancholy: Wyatt Cenac and Tracey Heggins drunkenly hook up at a party, and then they spend the next day getting to know each other. As you do. While Barry Jenkins's later films were clearly influenced by Wong Kar-wai, this debut feature seems heavily influenced by Richard Linklater, as it simply follows this man and this woman as they engage in ideological debate about race and housing issues in San Francisco—and at one point the film straight-up cuts to actual San Franciscans at a Housing Rights Committee meeting. The film is almost completely desaturated, making it almost black-and-white except for a few splashes of color, a stark contrast to Jenkins's later more vibrant films but also a sign that he was always interested in the use of color in film. As well as music! Cenac is more into the hipster/indie scene, so it's got a soundtrack I can jam to. It's a pleasant watch largely because of Cenac's charm (Heggins comes off as far more prickly, and it was often hard for me to see why he was so into her), but it ended without leaving me feeling fully satisfied. B/B+

The Perfection: What the fucking fuck did I just watch? Allison Williams is a cello prodigy who forsook her music career to take care of her mother, Logan Browning is the cello prodigy who had the music career she always wanted, and Steven Weber is the mentor who taught them both. Their paths all collide in Shanghai, and I hesitate to say any more about what happens next because this gloriously trashy movie is so full of surprises I was basically in a continuous state of WTF for most of its ninety minutes. Suffice it to say that it goes to wildly unexpected places while tackling the expected themes that come from the premise as laid out in the opening section. Also there's a lot of vomit and body horror and blood. Williams and Browning give extremely committed performances in the midst of all this mayhem. As befits a story about musicians, the music is great, but the cinematography is great as well, with some wonderful deep-focus shots and also the most yellow hallway you've ever seen. It's a fun movie that is clearly having fun with itself. B+

A Vigilante: Behind the camera, Olivia Wilde delivers a raucous teen girl comedy. In front of the camera, Olivia Wilde delivers an intense performance as the titular vigilante, Sadie, who, like Angel Investigations, helps the helpless. The first act shows her at work, visiting various households and getting people out of domestic abuse situations. The second act continues but also offers more of her origin story via support group flashbacks. And then in the third act the movie suddenly gets a plot, and even though I had been waiting the whole movie for the movie to get a plot, maybe I didn't actually want this movie to get a plot? It felt out of place, even though the place it goes is a natural and predictable place for it to go. The film works better as a quiet character study and statement of purpose than a cohesive movie. It is still a pretty satisfying outing for debut filmmaker Sarah Dagger-Nickson, and like ten percent of this movie is Olivia Wilde crying or screaming or dancing to Yeah Yeah Yeahs. B/B+

3 Idiots: The title, cover, and DVD description comparing the movie to Ferris Bueller's Day Off all make this movie sound like some silly comedy about three idiots pranking their dastardly dean, har har har. And that is a huge disservice to this movie! 3 Idiots follows the titular idiots at the Imperial College of Engineering (a better ICE), which subscribes to a very rigorous and defined teaching style, whereas the free-spirited Aamir Khan believes it's more useful to LEARN than to MEMORIZE. His two pals aren't very good at either, since one doesn't even want to be an engineer and the other feels too much pressure from his father. The film has a strong social agenda on its mind, as it explores the parental, societal, and institutional pressures to succeed in a particular way, and it invokes suicide multiple times to show the consequences of these pressures. But there is also so much joy and friendship in this movie, plus a wacky road trip in the present-day timeline. This movie packs in a lot, but it also pays off SO MUCH in ways that made me laugh AND cry. I was not expecting to get emotional at certain parts! I even came around on the unnecessary romance—although if you took it out, there would be, like, no female characters at all—and by the end I didn't want to have cut anything, definitely not the hilarious scenes made to look like an old black-and-white film and absolutely not the amazing jokes about Gujarati food names. What a delightful film. B+/A-

Paterson: Adam Driver is a bus driver who writes poetry, and Golshifteh Farahani is his wife who bakes cupcakes and plays the guitar. That's it, that's the movie. We follow Driver on his daily routine for a week—the week his wife decides to pick up the guitar—and the majority of this film is, in a sense, inconsequential. Passengers' conversations. A lovers' spat. A boss's woes. But where both of these characters find meaning and purpose is in their art, mediocre as it is, and they fucking support each other unconditionally and it's so goddamn sweet. I love how Driver keeps coming across kindred spirits in this town of Paterson, which spawned poets like William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg (at least in the world of the film, though they were both born in New Jersey). I don't tend to love movies with no plot, but the repetitive structure and tiny throughlines kept me from ever being bored. It's an EXTREMELY PLEASANT movie that's nice to spend time with, and the last ten minutes clarified the narrative/character/emotional arc I always search for to get a sense of satisfaction in my storytelling. The ending is lovely, and it makes a beautiful statement about art and artists. This is a warm hug of a film. B+

Thirst: Park Chan-wook mashes up a controversial Émile Zola novel with vampire tropes, and the results are...mixed! Largely because this movie keeps changing what kind of movie it is, and so it's hard to find your footing on what it's even doing. At first, it's just about Catholic priest Song Kang-ho accidentally becoming a vampire and wrestling with sinful urges, but when those sinful urges lead him to Kim Ok-vin, wife of a childhood friend, things get SEXY and COMPLICATED and BLOODY. Halfway through, these sexy complications have consequences that fuel the rest of the story, which goes to wild but also expected places for a story like this. It's more linear and less twisty than a lot of Park Chan-wook's other work, but Song and Kim's strong performances and their changing dynamic keep it compelling and interesting. I enjoyed the vampire action, especially the visuals of vampiric leaping and superstrength, and Park definitely leans into the tragedy of the situation. The ending is just right. B/B+

Only Lovers Left Alive: Jim Jarmusch is here to answer the question "What if you made a movie about vampires but...slow and contemplative?" Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton play Adam and Eve (come on), immortal bloodsucking lovers currently living on different continents. Adam is a rock musician, and Eve is...uh...a bibliophile? Anyway, Adam is super depressed and tragic, and she visits him in Detroit to cheer him up. Hijinks ensue. It's a typically langurous ride bolstered by Jozef van Wissem's hypnotic lute score and Hiddleston's and Swinton's performances. Everyone's performances really, as they're perfectly calibrated to their characters and avoid the overwrought hyperromantic melodrama that could come of this premise, the sort of thing What We Do in the Shadows outwardly mocks. Without a lot of plot to latch onto, I gravitated toward the themes, which reminded me of the more compelling Ghost Dog, another film about a man out of time, living in a world he barely recognizes, a world that has lost sight of the old ways. I enjoyed the mournful musings on art and science across centuries and what it must be like for immortals to watch the world become what it's become. And it is, of course, a love story at its core. While it wasn't completely my jam, I do think it offers a unique and offbeat perspective on vampires, plus it has vampire Christopher Marlowe. B/B+

Push: After Chris Evans was iconic superhero Johnny Storm but before Chris Evans was iconic superhero Steve Rogers, Chris Evans was iconic superhero, uh, Nick Gant? I had fond memories of seeing this movie in a theater and was sad that it got trashed and forgotten. I love that it creates a whole original (if derivative) lived-in world populated with people with different types of psychic powers, and you've got your requisitive government agents chasing your requisite SUPER POWERFUL TEST SUBJECT while your requisite Chris Evans is aided by your requisite precog (I, too, have seen Minority Report). There are a lot of familiar ingredients in this cocktail but it's mixed so well it tastes like something new. Hell, it's shot on location in Hong Kong, and it looks it, as both the exterior shots and interior shots are more visually interesting than your typical big-budget CGI extravaganza. I love how stylish it is, and it may take itself a little too seriously, but it's just FUN and COOL with creative uses of powers. Things get a bit too convoluted in the third act, and I could barely follow some of the twists and turns, but I got the gist, so that was fine. I can recognize some of the flaws—like Camilla Belle's weak performance—but I still think this is an underrated film that's absolutely worth your time if you're into this kinda shit. Look, I'm just saying that at one point in this movie two telekinetics have a shoot-out with flying guns, okay. B+

Faults: I do enjoy a good cult film, by which I mean a film about a cult, but this is the first one I've seen where you don't actually see the cult, which is a cool take on the subject. Leland Orser—who is fantastic—plays a cult expert who's hired by a couple to deprogram their daughter, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead—who is also fantastic, although it takes a while for the strength of her performance to truly shine. The opening scenes are rife with black comedy, and other reviews seem to feel that this vibe pervades the whole film, but for me the film got more and more serious as it went along, though it did have the occasional burst of dark humor. Things get a bit weird and confusing for a while, and it didn't hold my attention throughout the whole deprogramming process, but goddamn, what a great payoff. It's a fucked-up little film, an understated mindfuck held together by two strong performances. B/B+

School Daze: A college-set exploration of conflict within black communities that addresses issues specific to those communities? Is this Dear White People? No, it's School Daze, the movie Spike Lee made right before Do the Right Thing, and geez, what a leap that was because this movie is not even half as engaging. Despite strong performances by Laurence Fishburne and Giancarlo Esposito as two men on opposing sides of...something, I was mostly bored throughout this entire movie because it was just a collection of scenes with hardly any plot. And even without a plot, there was nothing that really tied it together beyond "conflict" and "these musical sequences are going on way too long and I do not understand their purpose apart from the first delightful one." This might be a film that was especially notable and powerful for its time, but it doesn't do much for me now. There's some fun choreography though, some scattered enjoyment to be found. B

Piercing: Christoper Abbott decides to curb his murderous impulses by killing a sex worker. In a delightful sequence, we watch him plan the perfect murder. It...does not go as planned, have you ever seen a movie before. His intended victim, Mia Wasikowska, is a wonderfully unpredictable character, and she quickly throws things off track, though not in the way you expect. The twists and turns keep on coming until the bizarre third act that isn't completely satisfying but certainly...comes to an end? Nicolas Pesce certainly has STYLE; I loved the use of splitscreen and miniatures for exteriors, not to mention the synth score. Plus the film has a dark sense of humor. It doesn't all hold together, but it's a fun ride for sure with a charming retro aesthetic. B/B+

The Eyes of My Mother: Nicolas Pesce made waves with his debut horror film, shot in beautifully stark black-and-white. It follows a girl who experiences a childhood trauma so powerful that the rest of the movie is watching her grow up and do very disturbing things. What the fuck is this movie, my God. It feels so...depraved, and yet I believe there is a sense of purpose to its structured story. Notably, much of the worst shit actually happens offscreen; the viewer must do a lot of work here to comprehend how disturbed this woman is. It's definitely a nightmarish journey enhanced by excellent sound design, but I couldn't connect with her and thus found the film very off-putting, though never boring. B

Scotland, PA: Shakespeare told universal stories, so it's no surprise that transplanting Macbeth to a 1970s small town and making the central conflict occur in a...fast food restaurant works remarkably well! James Le Gros plays Joe McBeth as more of a bumbling loser than I'd like, but his choice does give Maura Tierney more room to shine as the Lady Macbeth analog. She absolutely steals the whole movie, bringing life to the screen every second she's on. Writer-director Billy Morrissette seems to be channeling the Coen Brothers for this dark comedy about a couple consumed by guilt, but he has his own sense of quirk in his clever adaptation choices (the witches are now stoner hippies haunting the fairgrounds) and cheeky nods (an inspirational radio station repurposes bits of the original dialogue). Plus the soundtrack, largely made up of Bad Company songs, give the film a strong sense of time and place. While not phenomenal, it's a very enjoyable Shakespeare adaptation worth watching for fans of the Scottish Play or Coen-y dark comedies. B+

The Magnificent Ambersons: The opening of the film heralds a potentially interesting epic, as it introduces the titular Ambersons via the gossip-y townspeople, building the wealthy family up to mythic proportions as Orson Welles narrates their saga. It was a lot being thrown at me, and I found it hard to find my footing, but eventually the film settled into having some kind of story and characters, largely focusing on George, the town horror, who's grown up to be a guy who's TOO GOOD FOR JOBS but still thinks he's good enough for Anne Baxter. Anne Baxter will walk all over you, GEORGE. Anyway I did not care about George and his romance and I did not care about George's mom and her romance and I vaguely cared about the introduction of automobiles in America. While I appreciated the cinematography and shot compositions at points—there are some great moments where the camera uses the big space of the Amberson mansion and its massive stairs—I was never engaged in the story at hand. There were kernels of profound statements being made occasionally, but overall, I think I much prefer Orson Welles in noir mode. B

Hardcore Henry: Writer-director Ilya Naishuller had the bold idea to shoot a film entirely in first-person POV using GoPro cameras, putting the audience in the protagonist's shoes as if they were in an extremely violent video game. Having now watched Hardcore Henry, I can state...this was a bad idea. Despite sounding kind of cool in theory, it turns out to be a terrible way to shoot an action movie because you can barely tell what's going on half the time, it's so chaotic. I think there are directors who could use this technique creatively to play with the frame and the POV, staging surprise kills and placing action away from the central focus, but Naishuller is not that director. Which is fine, because Naishuller just wants to have a ridiculously bloody good time, and I kind of admire the relentlessness of this thing, how it really never lets up. Plus Sharlto Copley has a fucking BALL and is consistently entertaining, and the villain has telekinetic powers for some reason. It's absolutely video game-y, but it's leaning into that, like you're watching someone play an FPS version of Crank. And like a good video game, it's got a pumping soundtrack. While it's not a complete disaster, it's not something I'd actually recommend. B

13th: Ava DuVernay's excellent, powerful documentary takes its title from its central thesis—the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, led to modern slavery in the form of the prison industrial complex. While it's generally a traditional documentary in the sense that it's a combination of talking heads and archival footage, I appreciated the visually appealing backgrounds for the talking heads and the use of onscreen graphics to deliver trenchant hip hop lyrics and sobering statistics. It presents a compelling narrative, moving through several decades as the prison population continues to grow, showing how culture and politics continued to criminalize black people. Some of it, like the true purpose of the War on Drugs, I already knew, but some of it, like the role of ALEC, was new to me. It follows this story all the way to how it dovetails into immigration detention facilities and increasingly visible police brutality. While it was abundantly clear how much injustice had occurred, I did wish the narrative had room to address people who actually did commit violent crimes. There's quite a bit about how the public's perception of black and brown people was unfairly shaped—and I agree—but any time there's a mention of actual violence, it's not really acknowledged. I kept waiting for something about rehabilitation over punitive measures and other alternative methods or philosophies to consider to keep society safe in a more humane manner, which would have offered some ways forward. Regardless, it's hard not to watch this and not be convinced that the current system is fucking awful and needs to be overhauled. B+/A-

Punisher: War Zone: The opening twenty minutes of this film are fucking dire. The soon-to-be-disfigured villain admires himself in the mirror constantly, the mob boss talks with a ridiculously exaggerated accent, the erstwhile hero murders a bunch of dudes hard-fucking-core before we even know anything about him, it's a LOT. But once it settles down and allows Frank Castle to be a person, I was able to go along with it, especially once I accepted that director Lexi Alexander was going for pure comic book pulp. As villain Jigsaw, Dominic West chews up all the scenery and then spits it out and then chews it up again, and his attempt at an Italian accent deserves an honorary Razzie. But thanks to the surprisingly excellent use of lighting and color, this film does frequently look like it's just ripped out of the pages of Marvel MAX, the comic book where you can say the F-word and people's heads straight-up explode if you shoot them with regular bullets. The film serves up some graphically bloody kills and not much else of note, though I did kind of admire how this sequel-turned-reboot introduces a couple supporting characters that feel like you're supposed to already know them from the previous movie even though they were not. Anyway, you kind of know what you're getting into with a Punisher movie, and this certainly is an ultraviolent kick to the groin. B/B+

A Letter to Three Wives: A woman writes a letter to three women telling them she has run off with one of their husbands. Let the anxiety begin! Vera Caspary and Joseph L. Manckiewicz adapt a popular novel (that had two more wives) and dig into three troubled marriages, making us wonder which husband wandered (to reference the delightful tagline). The movie is essentially three long flashback sequences, and while I was initially hoping to see more of the wives' anguish in the present, I liked how we saw each relationship from different perspectives. For instance, you come to your own conclusions about the couple in the final flashback based on your perception of their behavior in the first two flashbacks, but when you actually get to see their story, it's not quite what you expect. And each domestic drama is wildly different, with very different reasons for the cracks in their foundations. Manckiewicz is nimble with his direction and staging, and of course he knows how to use an ensemble (hey, Thelma Ritter!). This is a fun, solidly made film with an unseen narrator. B+

The Clovehitch Killer: Charlie Plummer suspects his dad, Dylan McDermott, may be the notorious Clovehitch Killer. That's it, that's the movie, and director Duncan Skiles's impressive calibration of tone make this low-key "thriller" a compelling treat despite the general lack of twists and turns in Christopher Ford's script. Thanks to McDermott's performance, you're just as conflicted and unsettled as Plummer with regards to whether he really is a serial killer, and there's plenty of tension in the first half. But Skiles never milks it; he simply lets banality be as menacing as it can be on its own. (There's also a religious thread that never fully gels into something as potent as it seems initially.) The second half ratchets up the tension, though, and it leads to a strong ending. This is a solid outing, a reminder of how powerful a film can be without ever raising its voice. B+

How to Be Single: Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann, and Alison Brie all in one rom-com?? Sign me up. These four women begin the movie single, but each one follows her own path. Brie searches for her soulmate on dating apps, Mann considers whether she wants a baby, Wilson sleeps with a different man every night, and Johnson, well, she's the only one who feels like a fully developed character (Mann has her moments though, and their sibling relationship is sweet). Also she's fucking charming? She should do more comedy; her Rebel Wilson impression is delightful. The stories overlap and intersect, and although the screenplay by Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein, and Dana Fox mostly addresses the travails of the single woman, it does also explore how to be single as a MAN. Director Christian Ditter shoots the film more like an intimate drama than a comedy but also adds the occasional stylistic flourish that I could have used more of. It's all very fun and cute. There's a decent mix of characters finding happiness in not being single and being single, but in the end it's about making that choice for yourself. The ending made me unexpectedly tear up! B+

Johnny Guitar: Why is this movie called Johnny Guitar, who even gives a shit about Johnny Guitar. Sure he's good with a gun and he can play the guitar, but what makes this Western stand out is he's not actually the main character—instead it's saloon owner Vienna, excellently played by Joan Crawford, who dominates the screen every second she's on it. She's a proud, principled woman, and she radiates a particular sort of fierceness without overacting. The same cannot be said of Mercedes McCambridge as Emma, a woman who has it out for Vienna and blames her for the death of her brother despite the fact that she and her crew had nothing to do with it. McCambridge seethes for two hours straight, and when I learned she came from radio, her performance made a lot more sense because by God, that's a radio performance. I absolutely fucking loathed her, so at least she was an effective villain! The colors really pop in this movie, especially in Vienna's outfits and the rocks and trees in the outdoor shots. The plot ebbs and flows and morphs and I wasn't quite sure what shape it was meant to be taking, with a shootout here, a bank robbery there, an explosion here, a hanging there, and also I guess I was supposed to care about Vienna and Johnny Guitar, but after some initial intrigue about their backstories, I...did not. But I don't think I've ever seen a Western that ends with a showdown between two women! So that was cool. And also I fucking hate Emma Smalls. Did I mention how much I hate Emma. B/B+

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse: After finally experiencing Apocalypse Now and falling under its hypnotic, horrifying spell, I sought to enrich my appreciation by listening to Heart of Darkness and watching Hearts of Darkness. The former makes an appearance in the latter, as Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper use Orson Welles's reading of the book to strengthen the parallels between the book, the film, and the making of the film. This is such a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at a classic film, and though Bahr and Hickenlooper crafted the final documentary, it's the voice and POV of Eleanor Coppola that shines through, as she shot the original footage during the troubled production. We see her husband from her perspective—though, gosh, she teases private recordings that I thought we'd hear more of, though the ones we do hear are pretty entertaining. It's more than simply a glorified DVD special feature, for sure; while I did enjoy the insight and anecdotes, the strong narrative backbone made it a worthy viewing experience of its own. The film is especially interesting as a portrait of the artist as an insecure man—how heartening to hear how terrible Francis Ford Coppola thinks his film is going to be when it ended up being one of the greatest films ever made. B+

Highway: After Dear Zindagi, I wanted more Alia Bhatt in my life, and Highway sounded interesting. Alia Bhatt plays a rich girl who is kidnapped on her wedding day—hey, just like Radhika Apte in The Wedding Guest!—and then...she has a great time? It takes like twenty minutes of her not having a great time before she begins enjoying her newfound freedom in captivity, and then there's the requisite Stockholm Syndrome romance angle, but I just could not get a handle on her character. Bhatt is once again excellent at portraying a wide range of emotions, equally effective at comedy and drama—although this movie could have used more of a sense of humor because it mostly paints her actions as perfectly sensible and inspiring—but by the time she was singing a song her kidnapper's mother used to sing him like she's some Manic Pixie Dream Hostage, I realized this story was just not working for me. It's kind of a snooze a lot of the time, and I literally exclaimed, "How are there forty minutes left??" This is a 133-minute movie that feels like a four-hour miniseries. And yet I did appreciate some of what the film was clearly trying to do with regards to her character and the backstory that appears only twice in the movie so it feels like it belongs in a totally different movie even though it purportedly is the movie. Alia Bhatt is fantastic. This movie, sadly, is not. B

Predestination: Ethan Hawke reteams with his Daybreakers pals The Spierig Brothers for a much more cerebral sci-fi tale based on Robert A. Heinlein's "—All You Zombies—", which I have not read, but based on the Wikipedia description, I can say it remains incredibly faithful to, but also it adds in a mad bomber because who doesn't like a mad bomber. After a very confusing opening, we're introduced to time travel agent Ethan Hawke, who is trying to stop this mad bomber. Somehow? Now he's a seventies barkeep, and he's chatting up a man played by Sarah Snook, who is fantastic in this movie in a dual role of sorts (as a cis man, I have no idea how problematic this film's handling of gender is but it seems to be somewhere in the middle). The man begins telling his story, and it's a bold choice to stop the apparent narrative dead in its tracks to listen to some other narrative, but the story is compelling enough that you want to find out where it's going. Don't worry, the time travel mayhem will come, I promise. And when it does, hoo boy, it becomes a glorious mindfuck. Even if you see some of the twists coming, it's a fun ride worth taking for fans of this sort of thing. B+

I am drowning in streaming queues! Can I make a dent in them? I keep adding movies to them so the answer is no.
Tags: making the grade, movies
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