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Movie: eXistenZ (1999)

eXistenZ

Year: 1999
Runtime: 1h 37m
Rated: R

Director:
David Cronenberg

Writer:
David Cronenberg

Stars:
Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ian Holm

Initial: I had been meaning to rewatch eXistenZ. David Cronenberg’s birthday last week was a good excuse.

What Did I Think:
I first watched eXistenZ back in 1999/2000-ish when it came out on video. At the time, I had watched and enjoyed a few of David Cronenberg’s movies, but I wasn’t strongly familiar with his oeuvre. It’s so much easier to be a film fan these days: with subscriptions to a few streaming services, I can watch nearly the entire body of Cronenberg’s work. In the past, maybe I could hunt down titles at my local video stores. If I lived in a film-centric town, maybe I could catch a retrospective. If I studied the TV guide, maybe I could catch something more mainstream like The Dead Zone at 1am on TBS.

I recall being somewhat underwhelmed by eXistenZ after that first viewing, mostly because I was judging it against its peers. Science fiction of the late ’90s/early ’00s were filled with alternate and dual realities. Against the likes of The Matrix (1999), Dark City (1998), or even Strange Days (1995), it doesn’t quite pack enough punch. And I still feel this way. eXistenZ isn’t quite focused enough to stand against those movies or the rest of Cronenberg’s filmography.

What is always interesting is the Cronenberg version of reality. The game eXistenZ is announced and introduced to its beta testers not in a darkened theater with Power Point slides, but in what seems to be a church basement, the name written on a chalkboard (not even a white board, the low-tech techie favorite). Who is Cronenberg’s world-famous game designer? Allegra Geller, a woman! Truly, we are in some sort of fantasy movie.

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Quote ~ The Last Unicorn, Time

The Talking Skull from The Last Unicorn (1982) dir. Rankin/Bass
Always take advice from talking skulls.

You can strike your own time, and start the count anywhere. When you understand that—then any time at all will be the right time for you.

Peter S. Beagle
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Cinema Saturday, 2/25/23

Wrath of Man

Year: 2021
Runtime: 1h 59m
Rated: R

Director: Guy Ritchie

Writers: Nicolas Boukhrief, Éric Besnard, Guy Ritchie

Stars: Jason Statham, Holt McCallany, Josh Hartnett

Double Feature Fodder:
The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)

Initial: Guy Ritchie has been hit and miss in the last few years. Wrath of Man‘s trailer made it seem like a pretty basic revenge tale. My husband bit the bullet, watched it, and recommended it.

What Did I Think:
I was still dubious of this movie during the first act, though for a reason I hadn’t anticipated. If Guy Ritchie has a weakness, it seems to be writing American middle class, blue-collar guys. The dialogue in the opening section of this movie, which takes place amid the crews of armored trucks, was really cringey. It was such a relief to shift to the machinations of the criminals, who are generally well-spoken.

The strength of Wrath of Man is its non-linear structure and of course its crisp action scenes. Yes, this is a revenge story, but not one that is straight forward. This isn’t Ritchie’s best effort, but it’s not bad either.

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Cinema Saturday, 2/18/23

Annette

Year: 2021
Runtime: 2h 21m
Rated: R

Director: Leos Carax

Writers: Ron Mael, Russell Mael

Stars: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg

Double Feature Fodder:
Sweeney Todd (2007)

Initial: I put aside my aversion to musicals for Adam Driver.

Production Notes: Annette features the “Hyper Bowl” halftime show. Coincidentally, I watched this movie after watching the Super Bowl.

What Did I Think:
I don’t hate all musicals, but they’re a hard sell. The songs have to be good, for one. Annette‘s songs were so repetitive. It felt like every line was sung three time before moving on to the next line, which was then sung three times. I don’t remember other musicals doing this. Also, do other musicals use their songs to basically tell what’s going on? I can understand this tactic in opera, but this is film. You can actually show me things in film.

I joking thought to myself that I should watch this film as a horror movie. That would have been a good way to go about it because Annette is darker and weirder than I expected it to be.

Edit: I was just reminded of RRR (2022) the last musical I watched before Annette. Repetitive songs that pretty much spell out the plot? Yes. But never did I once wish any of those songs were shorter. Annette is forty minute shorter than RRR, but felt so much longer.


Bound

Year: 1996
Runtime: 1h 49m
Rated: R

Directors: Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski

Writers: Lilly Wachowski, Lana Wachowski

Stars: Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon, Joe Pantoliano

Double Feature Fodder:
Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)

Initial: Been on my “To Be Watched” list for a long time.

What Did I Think:
It always seemed like Bound was the outlier in the Wachowskis’ filmography. This was their directorial debut before The Matrix (1999) and their second screenwriting credit after Assassins (1995). Pretty much everything after Bound is in the science fiction genre, a genre in which the Wachowskis have been very visually influential. How does a low-budget neo noir really fit? Well, I’m a fool. Just because this movie is set in the “real” world doesn’t mean it can’t have all of the stylistic flourishes that continue on into The Matrix.

I enjoyed the style of this film. Jennifer Tilly gives such a juicy performance. My only problem . . . Corky’s plan is a terrible plan. I just bobbed along and tried not to think too much about the plot.


Sick

Year: 2022
Runtime: 1h 23m
Rated: R

Director: John Hyams

Writers: Kevin Williamson, Katelyn Crabb

Stars: Gideon Adlon, Bethlehem Million, Dylan Sprayberry

“Watch Instead” Double Feature:
Hush (2016) & The Hitcher (1986)

Initial: I wasn’t going to watch Sick. Slashers are one of my least favorite horror sub-genres, but this one seemed pretty well reviewed.

What Did I Think:
The beginning two-thirds of Sick were fine; general slasher fair, set against the backdrop of April 2020. I didn’t find any of the set-ups to be particularly scary, but I really liked the two leads. I was also mildly intrigued by the killer’s motivation.

When the “twist” was finally revealed, I found it . . . irritating. Maybe it was the way it was revealed; that it was too much of a villain-spiel info dump. Or maybe that the timeline of events didn’t feel right to me. Or maybe that it’s just too soon (for me) for these themes to be handled in this way. I grated on my in a way that I’m not sure I entirely understand.


All one word titles this week. I also rewatched Ponypool (2008) on Tuesday. It’s a Valentine’s Day movie, after all.

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Cinema Saturday, 2/4/23

The Dry

Year: 2020
Runtime: 1h 57m
Rated: R

Director: Robert Connolly

Writers: Harry Cripps, Robert Connolly, Jane Harper

Stars: Eric Bana, Genevieve O’Reilly, Keir O’Donnell

Double Feature Fodder:
Mystic River (2003)

Initial: A recommendation by by husband.

Production Notes: In the top 20 of highest-grossing Australian films of all time.

What Did I Think:
Solid crime thriller, great setting.

As usual, I hadn’t watched the trailer before the movie and was momentarily confused during the first flashback. Otherwise, the primary mystery and its solution are fairly well-plotted. What I didn’t really need was a solid explanation for Ellie’s behaviors in the past. I don’t mind some level of ambiguity and part of it seemed a little tacked on. The Dry is based on a novel by Jane Harper and I wonder if the ending plays out more gracefully in the book. A big plus for me was the setting: rural Victoria, Australia during a year-long drought.


13 Going on 30

Year: 2004
Runtime: 1h 38m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Gary Winick

Writers: Josh Goldsmith, Cathy Yuspa

Stars: Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Judy Greer

Double Feature Fodder:
Kate & Leopold (2001)

Initial: Mark Ruffalo was in a rom-com?

What Did I Think:
This movie pretty much delivers on what it promises: fish-out-of-water hijinks, “where did I go wrong?” life lessons, and a necessarily chaste romance. It’s goofy and sweet and only occasionally annoying. Many characters seem to disregard “grown-up” Jenna’s very weird behaviors without any explanation. Like Magic Wishing Dust, you just gotta go with it.

Besides, I mean, haven’t you always wanted to see Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, and Andy Serkis dance to “Thriller”?


Skinamarink

Year: 2022
Runtime: 1h 40m
Rated: not rated

Director: Kyle Edward Ball

Writer: Kyle Edward Ball

Stars: Lucas Paul, Dali Rose Tetreault, Ross Paul, Jaime Hill

Double Feature Fodder:
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (2021)

Initial: Current darling of the horror social media sphere.

Production Notes: Had a mostly crowd-funded budget of $15,000. Has made about $2M in a limited theatrical release.

What Did I Think:
Skinamarink is experimental.

The summary I’ve seen everywhere is: two children wake up in the middle of the night to find their father is missing and all the windows and doors in their home have vanished. I’m not sure I would have known that without the blurb. Chris Stuckmann, in his short YouTube video on Skinamarink, mentions that Ball denies audiences many of the conventions of traditional films, including things like plot and even the actors’ faces. I’d say that, more impactfully, he strays from the usual language of film.

Are there establishing shots of rooms? No, unless you consider an establishing shot to be the upper corner of a doorway molding. Reaction shots of the characters when things happen? Again, no. The camera is sometimes in the POV of one of the children, but their reactions are very subdued. Without a physical geography or an emotional palette to draw from, I really had a hard time engaging with what was happening in this movie. Is the film unsettling? Yes. Is it terrifying? Not for me. Is this how it was to be a kid and not understand big things like death and abuse (which are reading I’ve seen from what’s happening)? Maybe, I guess, though I never found my world to be this murky.

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Cinema Saturday, 1/28/23

Minari

Year: 2020
Runtime: 1h 55m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Lee Isaac Chung

Writer: Lee Isaac Chung

Stars: Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Alan Kim

Double Feature Fodder:

Initial: Being from Nebraska originally, even from the city of Omaha, the trailer to Minari made me a little homesick.

Production Notes: I’m not surprised that Chung started out with the notion of adapting Willa Cather’s My Antonia.

What Did I Think:
In the past several years, I’ve spent a lot of time watching genre movies, especially horror movies. I had forgotten that there is style of drama in which the entire story revolves around bad things happening to characters usually due to bad luck, bad decisions, and/or systemic problems. And . . . I hate these kinds of dramas.

But why? Horror is all about bad things happening to characters usually due to bad luck, bad decisions, and/or a supernatural element that is an allegory for systemic problems. Even though I often grump about allegory in fiction, is it the lack of allegory that I dislike in dramas? It is that I would much rather deal with insanity-causing ghosts, blood-thirsty vampires, and flesh-eating zombies rather than bad weather and financial strife? I think part of it is that horror is often an overlay on other genres. In horror, there are usually aspects of mysteries, thrillers, or comedies maybe in addition to the tropes of genres like science fiction or westerns. Horror feels richer to me.

Minari is beautiful movie. I enjoyed spending time with these characters. I was just really annoyed when their lives end up being problem after problem.

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Cinema Saturday, 1/21/23

Saloum

Year: 2021
Runtime: 1h 24m
Rated: not rated

Director: Jean Luc Herbulot

Writers: Jean Luc Herbulot, Pamela Diop

Stars: Yann Gael, Evelyne Ily Juhen, Roger Sallah, Mentor Ba

Double Feature Fodder:
Rigor Mortis (2013)

Initial: Lots of good buzz in my corner of the movie community.

Production Notes: A Senegalese film by a Congolese director.

What Did I Think:
I absolutely would have watched a whole movie of the Bangui’s Hyenas pulling merc jobs together. The beginning of the film gives enough interplay to cement the group, but I would have liked more.

I’m not much of a fan of revenge films, really, despite for their almost requisite downer endings. Saloum kept me engaged due to its unfamiliar setting and unique mythology. My biggest criticism is that is doesn’t handle the supernatural aspect very well. There is a long time gap between when the audience sees the force that has come for Chaka and when the audience sees what the does to people. Its “attack” isn’t even hinted at. In order to be properly concerned, we needed a good taste of what peril and fate awaits Chaka.


Men

Year: 2022
Runtime:
Rated:

Director: Alex Garland

Writer: Alex Garland

Stars: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Paapa Essiedu, Gayle Rankin

Double Feature Fodder:
Midsommar (2019)

Initial: I mostly avoided hearing too much about this movie aside from it being Alex Garland’s new film.

Production Notes: Being face blind means not realizing that Rory Kinnear plays all the men in Cotson.

What Did I Think:
I haven’t decided how much I want to say about this movie.

Alex Garland and his director of photography Rob Hardy are really wonderful visual filmmakers. Even Men‘s gory scenes are beautiful and every moment seems intentional. Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear are really good. Buckley is in every scene and Kinnear gives five or so subtly different performances.

What’s it all about though? That’s a question I asked during Garland’s visually stunning Annihilation (2018) too. Is it about toxic masculinity? I don’t think so entirely, but it wasn’t the body horror in this film that made me nauseous. Harper is mostly helpless even as she’s attempting to be an autonomous actor in her life. That is . . . uncomfortable.