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

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A Multitude of Movies

How the fuck did I watch over thirty movies since last time? At least I liked most of them!!

Days of Heaven: I have a deep and personal hatred for The Thin Red Line from my viewing as a young man, but it was nearly 20 years ago, and I am a changed man. I have not changed enough, however, to like Terrence Malick. This movie is ninety percent wheat. The other ten percent is a story about Richard Gere and Brooke Adams trying to get Sam Shepard's money through marriage and imminent death, but wow is that plot dull, and the dialogue is mixed so low it feels like you're not supposed to care what anyone says. Curiously, it was Gere's sister, Linda Manz, who I found most compelling thanks to her weirdo improvised narration, except she doesn't actually do shit in the movie, so I found her role as a passive observer/narrator frustrating in relation to the apparent focus of the story. I liked the music, and I suppose there are some nice visuals, but gosh, Malick is a man who thinks 70 frames of turkeys is good in film as well as bowling. I didn't come here to watch a nature documentary, sir. Okay, the locusts were kinda badass? I could see elements of a movie I might like, but I don't think Malick is for me. B

The Seventh Seal: All I knew about this movie was that a knight played chess with Death, and I literally thought that was the entire movie, like it was just a whole movie of a knight and Death having really portentous and metaphorical conversation while playing chess. And...it kind of is but also it isn't, as the chess game itself only occupies a few minutes of screentime, whereas the other ninety minutes follow Max von Sydow trying to find meaning before the end. He's accompanied by a jaded squire who provides a lot of comic relief, and they meet up with an adorable jester and his wife and their pantsless baby, a little family I became so invested in that at one point I yelled at the screen, "You fuckin' stay the fuck away from 'em! Fuckin' DEATH!" (This whole cast is great.) There are jokes about rumps and a ridiculous scene where two men try to out-insult each other. Because, well, that's life, right? This lightheartedness enhances the gravity of the more solemn issues at the heart of the film, which raises questions about life and death and mortality and faith. To me, it seemed to be asking, "What if there is no God and no Satan and the only inevitability is Death?" For a film with such a vaunted reputation, I expected a lot more pretentious philosophizing, but in fact those moments are sparse, yet also some of the most compelling. It's a film that lets its themes arise organically, rarely feeling the need to explicate them. Contemplative yet ultimately hopeful, it tackles existential problems on a refreshingly human scale. B+

Carol: I knew this film was beloved by many, and when I discovered that I liked Todd Haynes, I became actively interested in checking it out. This is a much more conventional film than I'm Not There and Velvet Goldmine, and while the distinct weirdness of those films is what made me interested in Haynes in the first place, it's also what kept me from fully loving them. So, unsurprisingly, Carol worked the best for me, though it still didn't quite tip over into the LOVE category. Rooney Mara is, as they say, a revelation, and Cate Blanchett is reliably excellent, so it's hard not to get swept up in their love story, which features the best longing and heartbreak this side of Wong Kar-wai. This is such a tender movie; we're watching these two characters dance around their feelings because society doesn't approve of them. It takes its time building their relationship so slowly it's almost disorienting when it slams right into the plot. But screenwriter Phyllis Nagy does a solid job weaving in all the complications beforehand so you're waiting for both good and bad things to happen. This film feels so lived-in, populated with characters with histories. Carter Burwell's fucking gorgeous score is like a character of its own as it tries to speak for Therese and Carol. Harold, it's a good movie. B+

Bound: I've been wanting to check out the Wachowskis' debut for YEARS, and I'm glad I finally got around to it because it's a solid neo-noir that's certainly notable for centering a lesbian relationship but has more to offer beyond that. The film starts off as a steamy romance between Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon, and the first half hour establishes their characters and the crucial geography of the film, as basically all the action takes place in their apartments, which are right next to each other in a building with walls so thin you can hear what's going on in the next one. Once it shifts into crime mode as they plan to rob Tilly's boyfriend, Joe Pantoliano (who has HAIR what the hell), I got more interested and it's fun times from then on as, of course, the plan does not go without a hitch. There's some tension established with regards to whether these two women can trust each other, but the film doesn't play with that too much; it shifts almost entirely to Tilly's POV in the third act because she's the one who has to actively deal with Pantoliano. I liked the multiple meanings in the title with regards to how the two women are BOUND to each other but it's also a story about breaking free from the situation you're BOUND in. Though it's the only Wachowskis project that's not sci-fi, it does have several stylish moments without being overly stylized that foreshadow a career where they would give in to that excess. Once they were no longer BOUND. B+

The Wedding Banquet: I loved The Farewell, so when I heard about the OG Asian Fake Wedding Movie, I had to check it out. Winston Chao is a gay Taiwanese man whose parents want him to marry a woman. May Chin is a straight Chinese woman who needs a green card to stay in America. Mitchell Lichtenstein is a gay white man who has an IDEA. Look, it's not every boyfriend who would suggest his lover marry a woman to please his parents, but, hey, tax breaks, am I right. Ang Lee keeps things light and funny as the trio attempt to hide the truth from the parents (the fact that they don't speak English helps), prioritizing comedy and heart over extreme tension at being found out. The titular wedding banquet is pretty spectacular, a joyous celebration of a culture keeping itself alive thousands of miles from its origin. I was a bit thrown when the relatively conflict-free film suddenly got heavy in the third act, but luckily, Lee doesn't allow it to sink the film. It's a sweet, touching story about families old and new, and although many characters lie during this movie, I won't lie: my eyes weren't totally dry for the last ten minutes. B+

20th Century Women: I don't know what to write about this movie because my words cannot possibly do justice to it. It touched something inside me so deeply that I was randomly tearing up throughout the film and sobbing at the end. But I was also laughing and saying "menstruation" along with the characters. I was so under this movie's spell I dared not pause or rewind to catch something I missed because I did not want to break it. I never wanted it to end, but when it did, it packed the punch of the Six Feet Under series finale in sixty-one fewer hours of knowing these characters. At some point I forgot that it didn't really have a plot, which meant I should not have liked it, but the "plot" is simply that Annette Bening asks Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning to help her raise Lucas Jade Zumann to be a man because Billy Crudup just won't cut it. It's the kind of slice-of-life film that works for me because of the compelling characters and strong dialogue, not to mention the fascinating way it explores gender politics—it makes sense that it's so powerful because it's a semi-autobiographical story of a man being raised by women. I love the recurring device of characters telling each other's stories (and sometimes their own, which really broke me), as it speaks to a deep human connection between these people. I loved the focus on the 1979 punk scene, which brought out how music can help shape your identity, and I loved Roger Neill's pretty ambient score. I loved that Mike Mills committed to his title by focusing not only on the onscreen women but so many other female writers in the 20th century and that he had an eye toward the entire century of America as a whole. There's so much going on in this movie, and I haven't even mentioned the wonderful use of sped-up footage and archival photos and...wow, what an incredible piece of work. What a beautiful reminder that I can still have a transcendental film experience sitting at home on my couch. A-/A

Shampoo: While I've liked a couple other Hal Ashby films, oh boy, this was a swing and miss. Warren Beatty is a Hollywood hairdresser with a dream of opening his own salon. Cool! I like a protagonist with goals! Too bad the actual story here is that Warren Beatty is a Hollywood hairdresser who sleeps around a lot, and har har, isn't that funny. I did not like him, Hal my pal. So there were some amusing bits here and there, but halfway through, the library DVD started skipping and I wasn't too put out because I was not really into the movie, so full disclosure, I missed at least like half an hour in the middle, but I got back in time to see Warren Beatty attempt to have a character arc. Which I guess is good, but see above re: not liking him. Carrie Fisher in her film debut was a highlight, and, sure, the actors give good performances, but from what I can gather, this is a film that's very of its time and I don't appreciate the satire of sexual mores or whatever. B

The Hitch-Hiker: The Hitch-Hiker is notable for being the first film noir directed by a woman. Is it notable for...more than that? I liked this movie, but I was expecting to feel more visceral tension, especially given that this is a scenario I am specifically terrified of. I felt the loud, brassy score set a different kind of tone than I wanted, less unnerving and more SHOCKING. I loved the initial reveal of the titular hitchhiker coming out of the shadows, but I didn't get many more "Ooh, neato" visual moments apart from that. The villain is a bit thuggish but also menacing, and I noted some commentary on masculinity in his conversations with his victims (who are "soft" compared to him). I liked that apart from the trio, we also got perspectives from the authorities after the hitchhiker, and thus we have information that they're not privy to. It's fun to watch the noose tighten, and it's fun to watch the two guys attempt to escape. And then it comes to a conclusion that just kind of...is. It's a solid flick, for sure, but I don't have very strong feelings about it. B/B+

Faces Places: In Faces Places, acclaimed 88-year-old filmmaker Agnès Varda and mysterious 33-year-old photographer JR drive around France and put faces on places. That's it, that's the movie, and you're legally not allowed to say anything bad about it because it's so fucking charming. There's no real structure to it, but it never gets repetitive or boring because it's just a series of tiny adventures, and you never know who you're going to meet. Some people are more interesting than others. Sometimes there are goats. I loved JR's mural style, and it was very cool to see them brighten up these facades. I loved Varda's whimsy and warmth toward everyone she encountered. It's simply a quiet celebration of humans and art. But what holds it all together is the growing friendship between the two filmmakers, which is quite touching and manages to allow for a sense of narrative satisfaction at the end. Did I mention at one point he gleefully pushes her through a museum in a wheelchair and it's pure cinematic joy? B+

Modern Times: This was my first Charlie Chaplin film, and it certainly won't be my last! Chaplin chronicles the trials and travails of a factory worker living in these modern times (of 1936), and the general anti-capitalist sentiment that goddamn, the need to work for money to live and be happy in a system that prioritizes those at the top remains relevant over eighty years later. This was a hybrid silent-talkie, and I loved that in the factory setting, the only person who ever got to speak was, of course, the big boss. But my God, those silent film shenanigans! How the fuck did Chaplin slide through those giant gears? Did they really build a working feeding machine? The motherfucker ROLLER SKATED BLINDFOLDED?? I laughed out loud several times. The cute romance between Chaplin and Paulette Goddard, whose smile could light a city, did lend an overall sweetness to what could have become a much more cynical film. The plot is a bit freewheeling, and I thought it might have been a little unfocused, but I think the thematic coherence does pull everything together. Also in this movie Charlie Chaplin accidentally ingests cocaine. In post-code 1936. That motherfucker is HARDCORE. B+/A-

Our Little Sister: Three sisters discover they have a teenage half-sister when their estranged father dies, and then she comes to live with them. Hijinks ensue? No. ~*Drama*~ ensues? No. Nothing ensues, and I didn't fucking care, which speaks to the quiet beauty of simply watching sisters be sisters. There are some subplots, and there is occasional family drama, but there's no strong narrative here. From a character standpoint, the focus is mostly on newcomer Suzu Hirose, who does her best to feel like she belongs in this new home, this new town, and oldest sister Haruka Ayase, who does her best to manage the new family dynamic in addition to her personal life. (She is such an oldest child, it's wonderful.) I also really enjoyed the relationship between Hirose and Kaho, the original youngest daughter, as she doesn't have as many memories of their father as her older sisters and thus feels less antipathy toward him. Masami Nagasawa, the middle sister, I had less of a handle upon apart from "the one who dates a lot," but there's a really sweet pedicure scene. God, they're all just so...nice to her! It's a pleasant, heartwarming movie, and I honestly could not get over the fact that whenever all four of them are in the same scene, they are almost always all in frame. There's one shot where it could have been just the character talking but Hirokazu Kore-eda and cinematographer Mikiya Takimoto ensure that you can see a couple partial faces and an elbow to maintain the connection between them. B+

Dogtooth: This film begins with a recording defining words incorrectly, creating inaccurate truths, setting up the unsettling mindfuck that follows. Two parents have decided that the best way to raise their children is to keep them completely confined within the premises of their estate and also have complete control of their sense of reality by telling them that certain words they don't want them to know mean something else entirely, effectively removing the concept of those objects from their minds. It can be blackly comic at times, but mostly it's sad and disturbing, this absurdist extreme extension of the common parenting tool of lying to your children about things like Santa Claus or death. I was confused about what was happening or why anything was happening half the time, like the brutal and unexpected acts of violence reminiscent of Michael Haneke. At times the film seems to be gaslighting the audience as much as the children, like in a scene where the father plays "Fly Me to the Moon" for the family and mistranslates the English lyrics, which I could hear and understand, in Greek, which I could hear but not understand until I read the English subtitles, which did not match the English lyrics I was hearing. I thought about how that scene would play to a Greek speaker, and just...language is weird, man. Even though there are some interesting things at play here, Yorgos Lanthimos definitely did not explore them in ways I would have wanted to see them. I am glad it did eventually go somewhere vaguely satisfying, but...this movie is weird and fucked up. B

Columbus: Watching Columbus is like flipping through Architectural Digest, and I mean that as a compliment: this may be one of the most gorgeous movies I've ever seen. Wes Anderson, eat your fucking heart out; noted video essayist Kogonada has studied your aesthetics and taken them to the next fucking level. God, this is one of those Every Frame a Painting movies where you just savor the composition and use of lines and whatnot. But also John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson are two strangers with parental issues who strike up a friendship and change each other for the better. Is Haley Lu Richardson the most endearing person on the planet? She might be. This movie first got on my radar because of John Cho, and he is very good, but she's fantastic, as she gets to display a lot more range. It's an extremely low-key movie where very attractive people talk about architecture, but it's so pleasant and calm it becomes an oddly soothing viewing experience (the chill-ass Hammock score adds to that vibe). Thankfully, it does have a tiny narrative throughline to allow for a satisfying way to end this lovely journey. B+

District B13: District B13 made quite a splash back in 2004 (or 2006, when the U.S. finally got it), and I've been wanting to watch it for over a decade! Sadly, it was...not worth the wait. The opening sequence excited me with its hyperkinetic camerawork zooming through a building, and I prepared myself for a fun, stylish action flick. Soon enough I got one of the much-hyped parkour sequences, with David Belle jumping and spinning and doing cool shit, and, okay, I could dig it. But. Like. That was easily the best part of the movie? After that, the actual plot kicks in, and there isn't that much parkour action? Sometimes these dudes jump over things and it looks neat? Parkour is more common in action films since this came out, so nothing here is particularly mindblowing. The plot is pretty bleh and generic, though it has aspirations of being a powerful dystopian film, and God, the one female character is such a shittily written damsel. The two leads have nice chemistry, though, and it's decent enough for trashy fun, but mostly this was a disappointment. B

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: Ana Lily Amirpour's debut film was hyped as an "Iranian Vampire Spaghetti Western," which sounds badass in theory, but, alas, it was not my jam. It was certainly Iranian and there was a vampire, but I love spaghetti Westerns and did not get any sort of spaghetti Western vibes from this. I was mostly bored because by God, this movie is sloooooooow. I knew this movie was not for me when there was a scene where two people were on opposite sounds of the frame and it took approximately three hours for them to come together and then another hour for the girl to turn around to face him. I appreciated the feminist subversion implied in the title, which made the film feel like a feature-length version of the cold open of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer pilot—men approach this seemingly helpless girl on the street, but it turns out she is the real predator. Except when she takes a liking to this one guy for some reason, so hooray for romance? It's so hard to get inside the head of any of these characters that I couldn't find a narrative thread to hold on to. It's all about the atmosphere and cinematography (and there are some striking images). So...meh, but it's got a bangin' soundtrack. B

The Babysitter: After enjoying the hell out of Samara Weaving in Mayhem and Ready or Not, I checked out her first foray into horror-comedy, The Babysitter, directed by none other than...McG. Who simply has a ball here telling the story of a scaredy-cat 12-year-old (Judah Lewis) who discovers that his cool-ass babysitter (Samara Weaving) is, uh, the leader of a Satanic cult. Extremely bloody and hilarious hijinks ensue! Brian Duffield's script is remarkably efficient and economical, setting up quite a bit in the first half that ends up paying off in the second half and crafting a solid character arc for Our Hero. McG, as is his wont, overdirects the hell out of this shit, but it ends up elevating the proceedings because it's all so silly anyway. His completely inane use of onscreen text made me laugh every fucking time. It's a hoot and a half, and all the characters are ridiculous, but it's somehow calibrated so that it doesn't feel like an outright parody. It even has some heart! This is definitely a hidden gem on Netflix, a perfect ninety-minute mindless diversion. B+

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World: Lorene Scafaria garnered rave reviews for Hustlers but not for her debut, which I remember being interested in because the premise was totally up my alley. Two lost souls finding human connection before the apocalypse? Sign me up! Especially if they're Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. Carell's lonely, hangdog character saps the energy out of everything, but luckily Knightley has some energy to spare, so they make a decent pair. While the film begins with a quirky comic tone I enjoyed, at some point it abruptly dispenses with that idea and takes a hard hard left into sentimentality. It might make sense for an apocalyptic comedy to become more serious as the actual apocalypse approaches, but damn, Scafaria. The emotion in the final act feels unearned as a result, and the movie doesn't entirely gel. It's a nice movie with a good heart (and plenty of actors I like), but I wish it were more sure of itself. B/B+

The King of Comedy: Robert De Niro is the delightfully named Rupert Pupkin, an obsessive and delusional stand-up comedian who dreams of making his television debut on The Jerry Langford Show. We all have dreams, right? And you're supposed to do whatever it takes to pursue them, right? Pupkin will do...a lot. De Niro perfectly walks right up to the line of THIS GUY IS DANGEROUS and steps back just enough so you can kind of see the line of THIS GUY IS HARMLESS in the distance. Is this basically black comedy Taxi Driver? Sure! That's why it's so good. (This film is very funny.) I love the pacing on this thing, how Paul D. Zimmerman's script has that laser focus of following Pupkin on his quest to hound the fuck out of Langford (a strong performance from Jerry Lewis), which escalates and escalates as Pupkin becomes more and more desperate and unhinged without ever becoming truly terrifying because, well, he's pathetic as hell and he literally lives in his mom's basement. His little fantasies are very cute, and the first one threw me because I couldn't tell it wasn't real initially, but it's a brilliant device that adds ambiguity to the final act, where we the audience aren't sure what's reality or fantasy, much like Pupkin. We kind of WANT to root for him...as opposed to Sandra Bernhard's character, who offers a less sympathetic version...but maybe if the film were from her POV, she'd come off a little better too. I knew this movie as a legendary Martin Scorsese flop, but it certainly deserves a better reputation than that. It's a film about celebrity culture that still has resonance over thirty years later, with people still seeking fame in the most creative and unlikely ways...and often getting it. So in the end, who's the real loony, eh? Them or us? B+/A-

Knock Down the House: Knock Down the House follows four women gunning for seats in Congress occupied by men (all white but for one black man). One of those women happened to be Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, so...sorry, Paula Jean Swearengin, Cori Bush, and Amy Vilela, this is a de facto AOC documentary now. For a while, that narrative imbalance frustrated me, as it felt like it was doing a disservice to these other interesting women with their own stories to tell, but in the end, I found that despite the comparable lack of focus on them, they did serve to round out the larger narrative that AOC represents, that of the idealistic grassroots campaigns that can galvanize the public into believing change is possible. You don't always win, but it's important to try. Amy Vilela makes the most impact out of the other women. Swearengin and Bush hardly get much development at all, but Vilela is the one that feels like she could have carried her own movie. The star, as I said, is AOC, and it's nice to get to see her in more raw, personal moments. You witness the moment she sees that she's actually fucking WINNING, and it's just goddamn magical, and it's powerful BECAUSE the movie spent so much time on HER, the one we know won, and we got to see how she got there. B+

Boyz n the Hood: John Singleton's death spurred me to finally check out this classic film that...holy shit, everyone is in this movie. Angela Bassett! Laurence Fishburne! Ice Cube! Cuba Gooding, Jr.! The film begins with statistics about the percentage of black men killed every year by black men, and, quite pointedly, the first image you see is a STOP sign. John Singleton rarely gets this unsubtle for the rest of the film, though some of my favorite moments were, in fact, when characters explicitly addressed issues of race and racial violence, like Fishburne's monologue about gentrification or Ice Cube's monologue about the media covering violence in foreign countries but not in the hood. Singleton poignantly chronicles life in the hood for these boyz, and he really lets you get to know and care about them before the the last half hour fulfills the ominous portent of that opening epigraph. Most of this movie is just people having regular conversations without much sensationalism. It's raw and honest without being overtly in-your-face; Singleton doesn't get in the way of the story. It's clear why this film is such an influential cultural touchstone. B+

Cabaret: I saw Cabaret for the first time a few weeks ago, so I was curious to watch the movie, which I had heard was very different from the stage show. AND HOW. Jesus fucking Christ, I didn't even like the stage show that much, but it had more engaging characters and more thematic power than this. (Disclaimer: I was very sleepy and it's possible I would have liked it more fully conscious but I don't think I would have liked it THAT much more.) Since the film restricts all the musical numbers to the Kit Kat Club—apart from "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," which is definitely one of the strongest scenes in the film—the majority of the screentime goes to...dull drama. This is like an anti-musical. I only knew Bob Fosse's reputation as a choreographer, however, so I was impressed with Fosse's skills as a director; the visual symbolism and editing are always interesting to watch here (the final shot is killer). One thing the movie can do that the stage show can't is truly bring the patrons of the Kit Kat Club into the story, and Fosse plays up the grotesqueness of the proceedings. Of course, the frequent cuts to Kit Kat Club songs feel just as disjointed as it does in the stage show, but Fosse does rescue some of that by also cutting to the outside world during those sequences. Liza Minnelli is great, and Michael York is very fucking British, and this was not at all what I was expecting. I can see how the film is subtly chronicling the rise of the Nazis in the background, and that's neat and all, but I also want to care about the stuff in the foreground. Guess I just wasn't in the mood. B

Blow-Up: A photographer believes he may have unwittingly photographed a murder. Sounds pretty cool, right? You know what's cooler, though? MOD CULTURE, BABY!!! Or so Michelangelo Antonioni thinks, since it takes about half an hour for anything plot-relevant to occur and it's not until over HALFWAY THROUGH THE DAMN MOVIE that that intriguing premise kicks in. In fact, out of 111 minutes, maybe only 20 minutes actually deal with the murder plot?? The rest of the film is a day in the life of the photographer, who is a dick I do not care about, and basically every goddamn scene is interminably long, whether it's him wrestling with naked teenage girls or watching mimes play tennis (not a joke). For the life of me I could not fathom the point of any of it. There's an entire subplot where he buys a giant propeller from an antique store. WHY. WHO FUCKING CARES. SOMEONE GOT MURDERED. This film is like a parody of itself. I didn't even think it was visually captivating or anything, though I guess my favorite thing from an ~*artistic*~ standpoint was the sound of the rustling of the trees in the park. And the final shot. Nice job on the final shot, Antonioni. From what I can tell, this film is largely notable for being oooohhhh COUNTERCULTURE but fifty years later I don't give a shit. C+/B-

Casino: Within thirty seconds this movie made me exclaim, "What the fuck?!" After the opening credits, it immediately launches into like a half hour of exposition dual-narrated by Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, and the storytelling verve and swinging-ass camera are like Peak Scorsese; I was ready to settle in for a five-star movie. It didn't hit that level for me, as I eventually wanted De Niro and Pesci to shut the fuck up and let actual scenes happen. But gosh, I do love the interplay between their voiceovers in this film, as the dual narration almost becomes dueling narration, given the ominous foreshadowing placed on their relationship pretty quickly. De Niro wants to make money legally at the casino, and Pesci wants to make money illegally all around Vegas. These goals are not compatible for these two pals. I love how much De Niro fucking cares about everything at the Tangiers from the slot machines to the blueberry fucking muffins. Also Sharon Stone, which endeared me to him initially, though, much like Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, he gets less likeable as the film progresses. I liked the first half a lot more than the second half, which focuses more on Stone wreaking havoc on everything. Women! What're you going to do, right. It seemed liked the consensus was that this was a lesser Goodfellas, and by the end I'd agree, but that doesn't mean it's not still good in its own right. With style to burn and solid performances all around, it's still Martin Scorsese doing his Scorsese thing really well. B+

Hard Boiled: This classic action film opens with Chow Yun-Fat playing clarinet in a jazz bar, what the fuck. Don't worry, it's not long before he's embroiled in a bloody shootout during which approximately three hundred innocent people are killed. The first half of this film is pretty good, standard cops-and-robbers stuff, with Yun-Fat has a Cop Who Doesn't Play by the Rules and Tony Leung as a Gangster with Conflicted Loyalties. I enjoyed the deliriously over-the-top violence, and I was mildly interested in the general plot machinations. But the second half of this film, my fucking God. That whole hour in the hospital is FANTASTIC, rife not only with incredible action scenes but also genuine tension and compelling character work, as Leung's grappling with his own identity lends the movie a bit more depth. And I cannot deal with the amount of attention paid to SAVING BABIES in this movie (possibly a response to the rejected original plot that had Leung poisoning baby food). Did this movie originate the trope of Man Shoots People While Holding a Baby because I LOVE IT. Also John Woo sets all this mayhem to jazz music. That last hour is better than a lot of all two hours of some American action movies, but even the first hour has great stuff. Chow Yun-Fat fucking sliding down a banister firing two guns, Tony Leung fucking backward somersault kicking a dude from a hospital gurney, a rando lighting his cigarette off a car fire, this is PURE ACTION CINEMA. B+/A-

The Bridge on the River Kwai: After I unexpectedly loved Lawrence of Arabia, I decided to finally check out another famous David Lean epic featuring Alec Guinness (this time not in brownface, hooray!). It's solid enough at first, if slow going, as we spend some time in a Japanese camp for British POWs forced to build the titular bridge, but it's not until halfway through that the overall narrative takes shape, and that's when the film truly hooked me because that shape is fucking brilliant. See, the movie gives us two heroes, a British Lieutenant Colonel who walks around with the fucking Geneva Conventions in his pocket and an American Commander who bribes a Japanese captor to get out of working. They're foils, though the former is a more compelling character than the other. Here's the thing: Alec Guinness takes great pride in building the bridge...and William Holden is sent on a mission to destroy that bridge. It's an enemy bridge! That's what you do in war! I loved the conflicted feelings it stirred up in me, as I wasn't sure who to root for; they were both good guys at cross purposes. It all builds to an extremely tense, exciting climax and a great final line that sure ties everything together. While the basic premise of "Let's show these uncivilized Japanese how to do things PROPERLY, shall we" was uncomfortable and not interrogated like it was in Lawrence of Arabia, I did like how what initially seemed to be a very jingoistic, uplifting war story became something more complex and thoughtful. B+

The Conversation: Gene Hackman, surveillance tech extraordinaire, records the titular conversation between a man and a woman in Union Square, but as he listens to it more and more, he begins to suspect the couple is in danger. Oh boy, when it comes to seventies paranoid thrillers, this is one of the paranoidiest, especially since the protagonist is so paranoid he won't even tell the woman he's sleeping with his birthday. Francis Ford Coppola really nails that whole sense that anyone could be listening at any time without going super over-the-top; it's a subtle and unnerving sensation that's heightened by a sequence at a fucking SURVEILLANCE CON. And it was actually this sequence that made me realize that the mystery wasn't really the point of the movie—it's the character. Coppola shows us a tragic man who spends all his time exposing others and is afraid to expose himself. He can capture intimate conversations but won't allow himself to experience that same intimacy because he knows that having a secret leaves you vulnerable. David Shire's haunting piano score really brings out that feeling of getting closer without actually being close. But thankfully, even when it seems like Hackman is losing his grip on reality—I love how throughout the movie we keep flashing back to the conversation, he's so fucking obsessed with it and understanding what it means—the film does eventually provide a hell of a fucking payoff to the central mystery, and it only amplifies his character arc. This is great stuff. B+/A-

It's a Disaster: Four couples get together at brunch, and things are already tense because of, you know, the usual drama that ensues with couples who have known each other for years, but then they get tenser when they discover that it's basically the end of the world and they're all about to die. This movie combines two of my favorite storytelling tropes—People Trapped in a Single Location and The End of the World—to delightful effect. It's light on its feet from the start, with a great awkward sense of humor, and the cast is strong all around, though there are some obvious highlights like David Cross, Julia Stiles, Erinn Hayes, Rachel Boston, America Ferrera, and, uh, yes, the whole cast is very funny. The characters and couples all have unique dynamics, and Todd Berger (of The Happytime Murders infamy) revels in mixing and matching as much as he can. Cross, the newcomer to the group, makes for a useful wildcard and audience surrogate, and his constant befuddlement at all the shared history coming out at this fateful brunch is always good for a laugh. It's in and out in under ninety minutes, which keeps it all moving at a swift pace until the final punchline. If this sounds like a movie you would like, you will like this movie. B+

Furie: Veronica Ngo is a debt collector whose daughter is...TAKEN. She does not have a particular set of skills, but she does have some pretty badass martial arts skillz, so that'll help her get her daughter back! The action scenes are pretty awesome, and I love the way the camera moves kinetically but not chaotically, making the fighting more coherent rather than less so. Without a doubt, Furie has action scenes worth watching. Too bad there's another eighty-something minutes in the movie! Pretty much everything else here is about the same caliber as your typical American shitty action movie, with extremely cheesy character and plot setups, flashbacks to things that happened five minutes ago, and generally being less than compelling when people aren't fighting. Which is unfortunate because Veronica Ngo is pretty good, alternately fierce and vulnerable, and her relationship with her daughter—cheesy as it is—is sweet and tugs easily at the heartstrings. It's decent enough, but it sure isn't getting nominated for Best International Feature Film. Sorry, Vietnam. B/B+

Wild Rose: I remember learning from a museum in Glasgow that Scotland has a vibrant country and Western (sorry, it's just country) scene, so Wild Rose was not such a wild idea for a movie. Jessie Buckley plays Rose-Lynn Harlan (a name fit for a country star), a Glaswegian ex-con and single mom who dreams of making it big in Nashville, but the fact that she's an ex-con and single mom are detrimental to that dream. Two early sequences sold him on her, one where she sings while vacuuming as an imaginary band appears a cappella, showcasing her incredible voice. I'm not a big country fan, but this film is full of lovely music. Despite telling a familiar kind of story, it rarely falls into expected tropes thanks to the grounding of Buckley's character, as it's as much the story of a woman trying to recover from the mistakes of her past as it is one of building a new future. Plus in an unusual role reversal, a wealthy black woman helps jumpstart the career of a down-on-her-luck white woman (Sophie Okonedo doesn't get much to do but she has such a warm presence). It's honest and affecting, with a strong lead performance worth throwing a rose at. B+

Teen Spirit: I am apparently playing Pokémon with A Star Is Born narratives so I checked out Teen Spirit, which was...a step down from Wild Rose. Elle Fanning gives a dead-eyed performance that makes her hard to root for since we don't really get any indication why she wants to sing and/or be a pop star. Something about her dad maybe??? She does come a bit more alive in the musical sequences, as does the film. Max Minghella shoots them like music videos, and they are very stylish and would be potentially interesting storytelling if they didn't feel so soulless, like he's just throwing imagery at the screen in hopes of creating meaning. In between the music videos the film is pretty dull despite a potentially interesting story about a washed-up opera star mentoring a wannabe pop star. Overall it's pretty to look at and listen to (Elle Fanning can sing, apparently all actors can sing) but in the end it feels like such an empty endeavor I felt no emotional connection to. If this movie were a Taylor Swift song, it would be called "MEH! B

Family: I was utterly baffled by the trailer for Family, a movie about Taylor Schilling taking care of her niece, who decides to become a Juggalo. A FUCKING JUGGALO MOVIE?? Well guess what: IT'S GREAT??? Schilling is hilariously awful as a workaholic who barely knows she even HAS a niece, which of course gives her room to grow and have a satisfying character arc, but what makes the movie work is that despite being a terrible surrogate parent, she's actually exactly what her niece (the wonderfully dry Bryn Vale) needs. With her fresh eyes, she can give Maddie the room to be herself, even if it means putting on clown makeup and doing weird things with spit. The Juggalo aspect is actually a fairly minor part of the movie, but the love for that community of freaks who have embraced each other shines through. Vale expresses the heartbreakingly relatable crisis at the center of the film, which cut me to my core: "I'm supposed to be like everybody else, but I can't. I can't be like everybody else." It's self-aware enough to know how these stories go, and it smartly leans in and/or subverts in the right ways. The movie also explores the issues working women face balancing career and family, as hot shot executive Schilling finds out for the first time what it's like. And this movie is FUNNY AS SHIT. Fucking belly laughs in almost every scene such that I was self-conscious about annoying everyone else on the plane. Writer Laura Steinel drops in random-ass jokes with expert precision, and director Laura Steinel uses whip-pans like a boss. Did I mention this movie also features Allison Tolman, Brian Tyree Henry, and Kate McKinnon? In conclusion, this film mirrors the emotional state of its protagonist with a fucking coffee machine. B+/A-

Blow Out: Thank you, Brian De Palma, for finally giving me the conspiracy thriller I always wanted from the basic premise of "man unwittingly records evidence of murder"! Combining the photography of Blow-Up and the sound recording of The Conversation, De Palma plays with the artifice of filmmaking, focusing on John Travolta, a sound guy for shitty slasher flicks. When he determines that a "car accident" was really a "political assassination," he's driven to expose the truth, but he works in an industry that creates fiction, so why should anyone believe him? The visuals here are stylish and slick, and there's a definite giallo influence in how De Palma treats the murderous John Lithgow (who wonderfully mirrors the slasher in the movie Travolta's been working on). I loved all those long takes and split diopters and split screens, of course, and hot damn, that fireworks shot at the end rules. For the most part, this is a solid genre picture that hits all the right beats, but what pushed it over the top for me was the fucked-up ending, which loops back around to the beginning in a way that made me understand why we'd started there in the first place. Travolta's been living in his own private horror movie this whole time. B+/A-

Little Monsters: This Australian comedy takes interminably long to become a horror-comedy since it chooses to have a shitty white dude protagonist I could not give a shit about. Thankfully, eventually Lupita Nyong'o appears to save the whole movie and then the zombies arrive to make things interesting. This movie has about three jokes that work with varying levels of success. The joke that Alexander England is a loser who is terrible with children and wants to get into Nyong'o's pants is a bust. The joke that Josh Gad is an asshole children's TV show host is actually pretty amusing thanks to Gad's performance. The joke that Lupita Nyong'o will do anything and everything to ensure her kindergarteners do not know there is a fucking zombie outbreak is gold. Whether she's singing Taylor Swift while playing the ukulele or decapitating zombies with a shovel, she's absolutely the reason to watch this movie, which generally thinks it's funnier than it actually is. It does have its cute and sweet moments because, well, kids, but it doesn't ever rise above "pretty good." B/B+

The Meddler: After the okay Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and before the great Hustlers, Lorene Scafaria made the good The Meddler, a charming film about Susan Sarandon dealing with her husband's death by, well, meddling. Her daughter, Rose Byrne, certainly does not appreciate all the extra attention, but her daughter's friends do! And so does...the guy at the Genius Bar? She's a real meddler, this woman, but she's very well meaning and Sarandon's performance leans more toward endearing and annoying. Though the mother-daughter relationship is at the heart of the story, as these two women bond in the absence of the man they both loved, the focus is much more on Sarandon herself and her journey. It's much more confident filmmaking than Scafaria's previous effort with a better command of tone, and it's clear she's a director for whom music is very important, as she uses songs very well. This is a sweet little movie, and also everyone from Randall Park to Harry Hamlin shows up in this damn thing. B+

Persona: I've liked several films influenced by Persona (Mulholland Drive, Black Swan, Perfect Blue, Always Shine, Queen of Earth), so I was eager to finally watch the actual Persona and what the fucking fuck that was not at all what I was expecting, there's a goddamn penis ten seconds in. I'm still not entirely sure what to make of that bizarre, unsettling prologue/epilogue—not to mention those opening credits—but it certainly announces that Ingmar Bergman is here to fuck you up. Once the film settles into its narrative, it takes a bit of time to really get that feeling back, but I was intrigued by the setup of this nurse taking care of an actress who's suddenly stopped speaking. Which means that this movie is a two-hander where one hand does all the talking. No dialogue, just a lot of Bibi Andersson talking and Liv Ullmann shaking her head or just staring creepily. Which is, once again, quite unsettling. But damn, even though my engagement waxed and waned at times, this is one of those movies where the incredible visuals and eerie atmosphere really do work, especially as tension begins to rise when the nurse becomes increasingly unsure of her own identity. You go a little mad watching this movie yourself, it's fucked up. This film is a waking nightmare. There are camera shots in this movie unlike anything I've ever seen, the way Bergman places faces in the frame. And I love stories about identity, so the basic idea of the slippery dual identity of these two women certainly appealed to me, even if it wasn't dealt with in the most straightforward way. Instead Bergman layers in themes of motherhood, lesbianism, and uh...vampirism?? Look, I didn't get what the hell was happening or why a lot of the time, but occasionally the existential horror on this thing went to 11 and I was here for it. When a movie briefly makes you question your own sense of self, I've got to give it credit. B/B+

Audition: Audition has a hell of a reputation, and I've been intrigued by and wary of it for years. At this point, everyone's been spoiled about this movie, so I wondered whether it would still hold the same power. Uh, it does. Takashi Miike fully commits to making the first half of the film feel like a conventional romantic drama as we follow a widower whose filmmaker friend decides to hold fake auditions to find him a new wife. It's played cute and sweet and a bit weird. He seems like a decent enough guy, not an overt sleazeball, but his attitude toward essentially finding a replacement wife made me raise an eyebrow. He takes a liking to Asami and begins courting her, although his friend has some intangible qualms. Other than those qualms, there is zero indication that this is secretly a horror movie, and Miike holds the ruse almost too long before showing his hand, and not at all in a way I was expecting. It's a marvelously executed tonal shift, honestly, gradual enough that by the time the nightmare fully takes hold, you can't find the exit and you don't even remember what kind of movie this used to be and what the fuck is happening WHAT IS SHE DOING. The second half is all kinds of fucked up, and I was trying to find my footing in what was real and what wasn't and who the hell Asami was and what was her goddamn deal. But really it's all about that climactic scene, right? Which all this time I thought was like the whole second hour of the movie. I don't know how long it actually lasts but it is TOO LONG, I almost wanted to throw up. A cringefest extraordinaire, and weren't we just watching a father and son go fishing like ninety minutes ago?? I can definitely see the influence on other films. This is a hell of an experience, pleasant and disorienting and uncomfortable. B+

I am being crushed underneath the weight of my streaming queue!
Tags: making the grade, movies
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