Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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A Flimflam of Films

I watch so many movies now that I can't even keep track of when I've actually hit a reasonable batch to post! Hell, I can even pretend I posted this two months ago because no one is reading my LiveJournal anyway!!

Eat Drink Man Woman: Ang Lee begins this film by forcing us to watch a widower master chef prepare a sumptuous, delectable dish that we cannot eat. That motherfucker. The food porn is off the charts in this film, which follows said chef and his three daughters looking for love. I found the story of the chef losing his taste compelling, but there isn't a lot of focus on that aspect. Instead the film meanders among the daughters' love lives, and I wasn't super engaged a lot of the time since, well, these are some pretty banal romances for the most part. Jia-Chien, airline daughter, was easily the strongest character and the one I was most interested in, and she basically keeps the movie from being a total bore. She also has the most interesting relationship with her father, as she also cooks, and the final scene between the two of them is so lovely and heartwarming I wished the whole movie had given me those kinds of feelings. There's stuff about generational conflict too? I hoped to enjoy it more overall, but it's not bad. This is a pleasant film, and there's just barely enough to edge it into the territory of a low like as opposed to high meh. Maybe. B/B+

Winchester: I watched Winchester in preparation to experience the Winchester Mystery House's new immersive theater experience Unhinged, and I went in with very low expectations...but it was better than I expected! As a horror movie, it's certainly mediocre, almost entirely reliant on cheap and generally uninventive jump scares. The Spierig Brothers have a lot more visual flair than is on display here, and it really only comes out in the final showdown. The production design is nice, of course, as the Winchester Mansion is a great location for a horror flick, and they do make use of all the weird passageways for jump scares. But it's the script that keeps it interesting, with some fun twists and resonant themes. Jason Clarke, Helen Mirren, and Sarah Snook give better performances than the movie deserves, and that again gives it some oomph even when ridiculous ghost nonsense is happening. Is it a good movie? Nah. Is it a perfectly decent horror movie set in the fucking Winchester Mansion? Hell yeah. B/B+

Far from Heaven: I have never seen a 1950s Douglas Sirk melodrama and yet I loved this homage to 1950s Douglas Sirk melodramas?? Simply on a technical level, it's impeccably crafted, with transportive period production design and costumes, fantastic use of color, off-kilter camera angles to emphasize when characters are doing things that are not "normal." It's a perfect blend of retro throwback—a child is scolded for saying, "Aw, geez!"—and modern sensibilities, adapting the style for a contemporary audience. Today "melodramatic" is generally considered a criticism, but this melodrama, while it does engage in heightened emotion, generally resists going so far as to incur that insult. Todd Haynes tells the story of a perfectly idyllic American nuclear family, a white man (Dennis Quaid) married to a white woman (Julianne Moore) with a white son and a white daughter, and digs into the truth of that image, which is that both members of this perfect couple are fighting their societally unacceptable attraction—Quaid's to men and Moore's to a black man (Dennis Haysbert). The former gets somewhat less focus than the latter, but they're inextricably linked narratively and thematically, as Haynes explores the racism and homophobia of the time, which is perhaps better now but still definitely present. Moore, Quaid, and Haysbert each get standout scenes to express their feelings as they struggle to navigate a world that tells them they're not supposed to be with the person they want to be. Moore in particular does remarkable work in the second half as she fights to even admit to herself what she's truly feeling. By the end I was in tears, as any good melodrama ought to leave you, right? Goddammit, society. B+/A-

Eve's Bayou: This movie hooked me with its opening narration, which immediately introduces the theme of the selective and thus subjective nature of memory, individual and collective, and the story of a ten-year-old girl who killed her father. That girl is Eve, played by Jurnee Smollett, whom I loved in Friday Night Lights! That father is Samuel L. Jackson, who is apparently in every movie I watch this year. I love adult films with child protagonists, and although we do occasionally see scenes that are outside of Eve's POV, I enjoyed any moment where we would understand things on a deeper level than a child's superficial observations. Kasi Lemmons lights a fuse in the opening scene that burns throughout the course of the film, as Eve witnesses her father having sex with another woman. Or does she? Who's to say what she really saw? I had low-level anxiety for most of the movie, waiting for this secret to come out, but the film is about more than just that. Lemmons's secret weapon is Aunt Mozelle, a psychic whose visions always purportedly come true, and I loved how the ambiguous supernatural elements of the film added a Southern Gothic feel to the atmosphere and a layer of tragic predestination to the story. Plus everything surrounding Mozelle's dead husbands gives Lemmons opportunities for cool mirror shots that blend reality and fantasy. Sometimes Mozelle's stuff felt a little out of place, but for the most part she added a lot more than she didn't. Eventually the bomb explodes, and it turns out the fallout is even more powerful. What a knockout of an ending. B+/A-

The Slumber Party Massacre: Feminist activist Rita Mae Brown wrote The Slumber Party Massacre as a parody of slasher films. Director Amy Holden Jones took that script and...made a typical slasher film. This is a fascinating little film for that reason (and notable for being a horror film written and directed by women), and I was surprised at how well it actually worked as a horror movie. It traffics in pretty much all the clichés of the genre, but Jones doesn't play them up—this is just how teenage girls and teenage boys act in this world. Apart from the preponderance of fakeouts, some of the moments that were clearly written to be funny in the script actually come off somewhat unsettling in the film, with a touch of black humor. Jones creates tension right from the start with a great daytime kill that introduces us to Russ Thorn, a mass murderer with an ABSURDLY LONG DRILL that certainly has no symbolic value at all, and so we do feel the danger of that dead-eyed dick. Plus the agony of whether Valerie, the girl who luckily declined the invitation to this slumber party massacre, will actually discover what's happening and save the other girls is delicious, as her own personal slumber party with her little sister provides a delightful contrast. Overall, it's a solid and fun slasher with several standout moments. B+

Slumber Party Massacre II: The little sister from The Slumber Party Massacre is now a teenage girl (and played by a different actress), so she gets to star in her own horror movie! That would probably play better to someone who hasn't seen the first movie because, uh, this is very different. Whereas the first movie took its template from Halloween, this one takes its cues from Nightmare on Elm Street, as Russ Thorn has been refashioned into the Driller Killer, a rockabilly greaser with a giant electric guitar/drill who haunts Courtney's dreams. Writer-director Deborah Brock does not really care about building tension or suspense like Amy Holden Jones did, and as a result I grew more and more impatient for actual slashing to begin in this slasher. I really liked that the main characters were an all-girl rock band, and their songs (actually songs by the band Wednesday Week) are actually pretty good. The musical elements of the film are fun, with the girls singing and dancing (sometimes with boys watching through the window, as they do), but the second act of the film is almost interminable. The movie does get better once the Driller Killer finally starts killing people, and I did feel a little bad about most of their deaths—except for T.J., who is the most annoying character I have ever seen in a movie—but also I just could not deal with this incredibly silly villain who literally does a whole song-and-dance routine to "Let's Buzz" while murdering someone. Especially when most everything else in the film is played pretty straight, he feels so out of place, and I couldn't reconcile the overall tone of the movie. Plus the ending is incredibly disappointing. It's still pretty fun overall, but I'm not in love with it. B/B+

Safe: Julianne Moore's first lead role was Carol in Todd Haynes's CaroSafe, where she plays an affluent suburban housewife and self-proclaimed milkaholic who starts to get sick for no apparent reason. The first half of the film is very mundane, as we just watch her live her regular life and slowly develop symptoms. It's...slow, and Carol herself is kind of dim and oblivious, so she's not necessarily compelling, but Moore makes her into someone you're at least curious to follow, even if you don't feel emotional attachment. Things pick up once the the idea of "environmental illness" comes in, and she finds kindred spirits that stoke a paranoid fervor ("Are you allergic to the 20th century?" is an absurd yet terrifying question), but sending her to a New Age commune didn't continue to raise the tension as I hoped it would. Haynes is clearly playing with a lot of ideas here, and while the obvious surface ones regarding whether we are in fact living in an overly chemical world and it's possible to become hypersensitive to these chemicals is slightly unnerving to consider, I saw it as a story of a woman not being believed about her own experience. Carol even mentions yellow wallpaper at one point! Although there are men who experience similar symptoms and a man runs said commune—though it's certainly ambiguous whether he's not just a huckster taking advantage of everyone, cult-style—those affected are predominantly women. The movie works on other levels too, I guess, but in the end it didn't engage me enough to really take me on that metaphorical journey. B

The Killing of a Sacred Deer: Yorgos Lanthimos films may not be to everyone's tastes (even mine), but at the very least, he is certainly doing his own weird thing, and sometimes his sensibilities are quite well suited to a genre. In this case, the psychological thriller. Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou slowly build a mystery surrounding Colin Farrell, cardiac surgeon, and Barry Keoghan...strange kid he's meeting with in secret until one day he invites him home to meet his family. The discordant score makes it quite clear that Keoghan is the villain even before he does anything villainous, as does Keoghan's performance. Something is clearly off with that kid!! But since the movie opened with a ridiculous conversation about watches, I knew not to take this movie on real-world logic too much, and the fact that people didn't talk like humans was both hilarious and unnerving, an excellent use of Lanthimos's penchant for disturbing black comedy. I loved the wide-angle cinematography that created these massive environments around the characters who, I repeat, did not resemble actual human beings and somehow I was okay with that. Because at a certain point Lanthimos finally reveals what Keoghan is up to, and I just yelled, "Alexa, PAUSE!" and got some dark chocolate covered almonds with sea salt so I could make it through the rest of the movie. It's wonderfully tense and fucked up, and I felt like Lanthimos was lampooning the whole idea of revenge and retribution. I didn't know where it was going, but it certainly went to places. Barry Keoghan has a sinister monologue about spaghetti, Raffey Cassidy is very concerned about mp3 players, this movie is weird. B+

Ashes of Time: I dug the occasional Wong Kar-wai action scene, so I was interested in checking out his wuxia martial arts epic, Ashes of Time [Redux]. That was...a miscalculation of the highest order. Are there some cool martial arts action scenes in this movie? Yes. Did I ever know who was fighting whom and why? No. I don't think there was a single minute of this film where I understood what was happening. The Wikipedia synopsis tells me that this movie is a prequel of sorts that humanizes the villain of the novel The Legend of the Condor Heroes, but without that background, it's impenetrable, offering me no context for these characters. I know Wong Kar-wai narratives are different from traditional Western narratives, and I am used to not fully grasping the story, but usually I can at least appreciate the broad strokes enough to enjoy...something. Here I was completely at a loss, and while I could eventually tell who the main character was supposed to be, I could not follow the stories of the other characters and I wasn't sure how they were connected and I...just could not find any sort of footing. Every now and then there was a long take of a character being really sad, and maybe there was a line that struck a chord, and I really wished I had any idea what was going on and why so I could be affected by this meditation on memory and love. B-

Boy: I've loved Taika Waititi's last four movies, so it was only a matter of time before I checked out Boy, which opens with Boy delivering a dizzying amount of exposition that introduces a whole bunch of characters, but don't worry, there are only three that really matter: Boy, his younger brother, Rocky, and their father, Alamein. Waititi plays Alamein, and I was impressed with how realistically shitty he allowed himself to be. It makes the film a bit difficult to watch because James Rolleston is super endearing as Boy, and you want him to realize what an asshole his dad is, not idolize him and try to become a miniature version of him. But it's that conflict that makes the film so compelling, as Waititi stays firmly in the POV of Boy and Rocky (whose animated drawings complement Boy's own Michael Jackson-themed fantasies), showing how these two kids view their father. It's watching them attempt to reconcile their impressions of him with who he really is that's interesting. As it's more loosely plotted and less outrageous than his other films, I was naturally not going to love it as much, but it's definitely a lovely film with a lot of heart. B+

The Innocents: The Turn of the Screw is meh, but The Innocents is great! Deborah Kerr is fantastic as a governess whose core programming is to SAVE THE CHILDREN, and it's fascinating to watch this programming go haywire once she begins seeing ghosts at Bly Manor who threaten the safety of her charges. As in the book, these are mostly silent ghosts who don't do much but fucking stand there, but the way Jack Clayton and cinematographer Freddie Francis shoot them, they're creepy as fuck, much scarier by their unearthly presence than by a simple boogedy-boogedy-boo. Extra props to Francis, actually, as I loved the use of deep focus photography and what seemed like the blurring of the corners of the frame to give the film an unreal effect. The children, too, exhibit some strange characteristics, and I loved the implication that it was the ghosts who were responsible for these behaviors. That is, if they're really there. The ambiguity surrounding them is deliciously unnerving, and it begins to make you question your own reality. Gosh, the second half of this film really ramps up the utter dread. The brilliance here is that if the ghosts are real, the children are in danger, but if the governess is driving herself mad, the children are also in danger. The ending, which felt abrupt to me in the book, is far more powerful here, with an added layer of fucked up! Yeah, I can see why this is a horror classic. B+/A-

Black Christmas: Bob Clark of A Christmas Story fame sure loves Christmas, as before that holiday classic, he made this horror classic that's often overshadowed by Halloween, which it influenced, but is worth watching in its own right. It's Christmas time, and a sorority house is being terrorized by...obscene phone calls. Unbeknownst to them but knownst to us, they are also being terrorized by a deranged killer who has infiltrated their house. Could these two things possibly be related??? It's simultaneously frustrating and unnerving that for most of the film, the main characters don't even know there's a killer on the loose, but that's more fun for the audience who gets to be—or is forced to be—in the killer's POV as he murders. Meanwhile, Olivia Hussey of Romeo and Juliet fame and Keir Dullea of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame argue about abortion, and let me tell you, this is a pro-choice horror movie. Also Margot Kidder of Superman fame is in this??? This slasher flick has very little actual slashing and, in fact, is quite gore-free, yet every murder is still tense and scary, the best one being set to a Christmas carol (there's no actual reason for this to be set at Christmas except for irony). For being mayhem-light, it's quite effective, and it also has a nice sense of humor. (No, that noise is NOT THE FUCKING CAT.) It all leads to an exciting climax and a very creepy ending. Roll credits. B+

Guardians: I was so hyped for this Russian superhero movie when the trailer made the Internet rounds a couple years ago, and then I heard it was terrible. But still, it looked cool! I like things that look cool. And guess what? It's terrible. But in a fun, entertaining way. Also a bewildering way. This movie is what happens when a man reads a bunch of synopses of superhero movies and thinks, "Okay, I can do this." A scientist performing illegal genetic experiments that create superheroes? Check! That same scientist becoming a supervillain in a lab explosion? Check! A military agency recruiting a team of superheroes to foil the supervillain's plan? Check! You get the picture. The whole movie is like this, basically, and it's kind of hilarious how very little attention is paid to giving anyone any semblance of character or personality. What little character anyone does get is explicitly delivered in monologue, and if you think there's some obvious foreshadowing that's going to pay off later...think again, buddy, this movie cares not for emotional catharsis. The script is balls, the CGI is pretty terrible, the cinematography is lazy, but, look, one of the Guardians turns into a giant bear-man and it's amazing EVERY TIME. Also one guy has giant curved knives and superspeed. One guy's an Earthbender. The woman turns invisible AND knows how to fight. Nick Fury is a blonde woman with a severe haircut. The villain is some cross between Bane and Magneto, and he is never scary or threatening at all, but he does control some cute war robots. Occasionally some of the superhero action is pretty cool, and there are a couple moments that are genuinely funny. On purpose. If you like good superhero movies, this is a fun example of a bad one. B-

After Hours: Griffin Dunne spends his day working as a boring word processor, but his night is about to be anything but. He meets an entrancing, charming Rosanna Arquette, and it starts to look like we're going to get a kinda warped Before Sunrise. Everyone he meets is a bit strange, and initially I found the film just fine, mildly amusing but certainly not the underrated Martin Scorsese gem I'd heard it was. But at a certain point the accumulation of misadventures rake-gagged its way into my heart as the comedy became darker and I was just fucking cackling as things just became worse and worse for this poor guy. It's like an improv game where you're trying to escalate every time, seizing on a gag and running it into the ground. How many different people's apartments can he end up in??? It begins to feel like this nightmarish journey through the underworld, but the script is operating on a much higher level than dream logic. It sets up dominoes in the first half that just get knocked down over and over in the second half. There doesn't seem to be any deeper meaning here, but it's very fun, and it's a reminder of Scorsese's oft-overlooked gift for comedy. B+

Posthumous: I thought The Farewell was an astonishing debut by Lulu Wang, but, surprise, her actual debut was this astoundingly mediocre indie film from 2014! The only way you can tell they were made by the same person is the shared theme of secrets and lies. Jack Huston is an artist who fakes his death to sell his art, and Brit Marling is a journalist who profiles him as he pretends to be his brother. Obvs they begin to fall in love or whatever. It's strange to see Brit Marling playing a relatively normal human being! This quirky premise leads to very few hijinks, and the romance itself is fairly dull, as it's carried by very trite, overly earnest dialogue. The relationship between the two of them, who are both lying to each other, should be complicated and interesting, but it is not. The score is grating as hell, and the cinematography is nothing to write home about. There's so much unfulfilled potential here! It definitely feels like a first attempt at something, and I'm glad Wang found a much better avenue to explore what she wanted to say. B

Seconds: When Seconds popped up on a list of the greatest (or perhaps it was most underrated or underseen) science fiction films of all time, I was surprised I'd never heard of this John Frankenheimer film starring Rock Hudson. It sounded really cool! A man is given a new face and a SECOND chance at life? Sounds totally up my alley since I love stories about identity. But nope, Frankheimer took a wrong turn at Albuquerque and ended up in someone else's alley. Holy crap, what a dull-ass movie. It takes over half an hour for the main character to become Rock Hudson, and instead of engaging in any interesting questions about identity, it faffs around for another forty minutes with bacchanals and parties until it FINALLY gets somewhat interesting in the last twenty minutes or so. There's one truly compelling scene in this film where Rock Hudson engages with his past life and another scene where he does reflect on the whole process of being reborn, and the ending is nicely fucked up, but the overall arc of this film feels like it would have been better as a short story (not even a novel, which is what it was based on). The cinematography is cool and all, but gosh, whatever with the bleh execution of this fascinating premise. B

All That Heaven Allows: I loved Far from Heaven, so naturally I had to check out All That Heaven Allows, one of its direct inspirations. From the opening minutes, I could already appreciate how well Todd Haynes had recreated the look and feel of a Douglas Sirk melodrama! Jane Wyman is a widow who falls in love with—gasp!—her gardener, played by Rock Hudson, and of course this raises a lot of eyebrows. And he's not even black! Hudson is fucking smoldering without laying it on too thick, and Wyman is suitably conflicted. Their romance is sweet, if absurd in that movie way where characters declare their love after knowing each other for what appears to be hours. But while they're pretty mellow, everyone around them is pretty MELO...dramatic. Gossip! Tears! A television! Yet it doesn't go too overboard either, apart from a ridiculous and contrived event to bring the film—which somehow feels long despite being under ninety minutes because it just keeps moving so swiftly—to its conclusion. Overall, pretty good though, expectedly, I prefer the influenced over the influence. B/B+

Blue Ruin: Macon Blair is going to take his revenge on the man who murdered his parents, but John Wick, he is not. He is...very bad at this, and, as in Murder Party, Jeremy Saulnier revels in the absurdity of brutal violence. This is an entirely unglamorous revenge thriller that does not glorify this behavior at all, a very mundane take on a generally stylized genre. What would happen if a regular schmuck tried to kill someone? One character remarks that this is an ugly thing, and it is, that's what Saulnier is getting at. Blair's actions set off a cascade of consequences that perpetuate a cycle of violence, and that doesn't end well for anybody. With minimal dialogue and a heavy reliance on visual storytelling, Saulnier takes the audience on quite a journey. This is a brutal, nasty film with some dark humor, which is clearly Saulnier's trademark. B+

The Social Network: When The Social Network came out, I was a huge David Fincher fan and a huge Nine Inch Nails fan, and I remember sitting in the theater and hearing Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's version of "In the Hall of the Mountain King" and knowing I was going to go home and listen to it a million times. Also I loved the movie. Nine years later, I am a different person who experiences film differently, but this movie? Still rules. Wow. It's incredible that at the beginning of the movie I thought Mark Zuckerberg was an awful person and this was a supervillain origin story and by the end I was fucking crying. There's always a danger in rewatching a movie you've rated highly to be biased toward rating it just as highly before, even if your feelings may have cooled on it. And for the first fifteen minutes or so, I thought, hmm, okay, this is really good, but is it GREAT? And then suddenly we flash forward to one of two depositions, and we are off to the fucking races because that intercutting gives the film the kind of narrative coherence I love. It gives the movie structure and purpose, and the device highlights that so much of the film feels like it's done in montage. The editing in this movie is on another level, propulsive in its jumping between characters and stories. And goddamn, that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross score elevates the film so much. The beats, the energy, the emotion, it's part of the storytelling. Sure, this is a movie about the creation of a website, but it's also a movie about betrayal and friendship and loneliness, the incredible irony in a man founding a social network for human connection being unable to make a human connection himself. A-

Neruda: I loved the fuck out of Jackie, so I had been wanting to check out Pablo Larraín's other non-traditional 2016 biopic. All I knew about Pablo Neruda was that he was a poet, so I was immediately thrown by all the political stuff in the first act. Senator! Communism! Chile! Uh! I finally found my footing once policeman Óscar Peluchonneau entered the scene. God, Gael García Bernal is such a delight in this film, looking and talking like he stepped right out of one of those police novels Neruda likes to read to take his mind off the fact that he's been chased by the police. At one point a character describes him as "Half a moron, half a jerk." Peluchonneau narrates the film omnisciently, which lends the movie a playful tone enhanced by the frequent use of back projections in vehicle sequences. There's a clear blend of reality and fiction, especially given that we are seeing Neruda through the eyes of Peluchonneau. What the fuck kind of biopic is this?? See, this movie isn't about Pablo Neruda so much as the idea of Pablo Neruda, and that's what's fun about it. The cat-and-mouse game that connects these two characters eventually becomes metatextual, as the film begins to examine life as a narrative—one of them needs to be hunted to increase his notoriety, and one of them needs to hunt to increase his reputation. They're each the lead character in their own story and the supporting character in the other's. Honestly, Neruda in the first half isn't portrayed in the most flattering light, but in the second half, you start to appreciate him as an artist, a wordsmith, a storyteller. In the end the movie is a tribute to the power of words to change reality. B+

Kramer vs. Kramer: Meryl Streep tells her son she loves him...right before leaving him with her husband, Dustin Hoffman, who just came home to celebrate a major milestone in his career. Robert Benton doesn't waste any time here, dropping you right into a messy divorce where no one appears to be at fault, per se, as you can sympathize with both of them while also glaring at both of them. From the title, I expected far more courtroom drama as well as a more balanced narrative, but I was surprisingly engaged by Hoffman's struggles to be a single parent until the custody battle shoe finally drops. (Hell, the courtroom stuff is probably the weakest part of the film, as it's where morning sleepiness finally caught up to me. It's...fairly typical courtroom stuff.) I feel bad praising Hoffman's performance since it was so Method he actually hurt Streep, but...it's a very complex, nuanced performance that's interesting to watch. As is Streep's, though she seems to be barely in the movie by comparison. They're both hurting so deeply, trying to hold it all together, and it shows without any histrionics. It's an efficiently told story that packs a lot into its scenes and between its scenes, elegant and lovely. Now I want some French toast. B+

Marriage Story: I knew I would like Marriage Story from its fantastically lovely opening sequence, in which Noah Baumbach introduces us to Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson through each other's eyes, as they list what they love about each other. This is the titular marriage story...which immediately reveals itself to be a divorce story. Baumbach maintains a masterful control of these two opposing ideas—these two people care deeply for each other in very specific ways and these two people no longer want to be together—for the next two hours, flipping back and forth between both characters so that our sympathies and loyalties are constantly shifting. On a surface level, Driver appears to be more of the "bad guy," and it's easier to simply take Johansson's side, but in the end they're both just...complex, flawed human beings (portrayed by excellent actors). Johansson made me cry with quiet tears, and Driver made me cry with loud ones, and by the end I was half a mess over my investment in these two characters' relationship. This whole movie feels like the polar opposite of The Squid and the Whale, and Baumbach has clearly become not only a more humanistic writer but also a more technically skilled director. There are quite a few standout scenes throughout the film, some of them well chosen long takes and some of them rich with symbolism without being pretentious about it and some of them both. It's the kind of movie where divorce papers feel like a bomb in the fucking kitchen. This is a messy, beautiful, devastating story that also has a wonderfully dry and genuine sense of humor. One scene made me laugh so hard I fell over onto the couch. Another scene made me gasp and sit straight up so that I could properly cry until the credits. The Marriage Story hype is real, folks. B+/A-

The Age of Innocence: Martin Scorsese is best known for his gangster movies, so a lush adaptation of an Edith Wharton novel seems quite outside of his wheelhouse. Yet The Age of Innocence pretty quickly establishes itself as a Scorsese film in its opening opera scene full of swift camera movements, flashy editing, and, yep, there's the voiceover. And it's not long before we meet a New York City matriarch who's essentially the mob boss of manners. Daniel Day-Lewis is engaged to Winona Ryder, but there's a hundred times more chemistry between him and Michelle Pfeiffer, who begin a secret scandalous affair. (Ryder has some excellent scenes where she has to play with how much she may or may not know about this affair.) So it's basically two hours of "The horror!" and "Oh but we mustn't!" And, well, I tried to get into this overwrought period melodrama, but it never quite sucked me in, even though I did enjoy how Scorsese brought some kinetic energy to the usually stately proceedings of these sorts of stories. Because everyone's so goddamn repressed, I found it hard to get to know who these characters were and why they were drawn to each other, and so I never really cared about their passion on a visceral level. I did care about all that delicious food though. I want to eat like a 19th century New York aristocrat. This is definitely good for its genre and a nice example of Scorsese outside of his stereotypical milieu, but it didn't fully engage me. B/B+

Next up, I do a shitload of 2019 catch-up over winter break!
Tags: making the grade, movies

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