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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.

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Cinema Saturday, 1/14/23

Possession

Year: 1981
Runtime: 2h 4m
Rated: R

Director: Andrzej Zulawski

Writers: Andrzej Zulawski, Frederic Tuten

Stars: Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill, Margit Carstensen

Double Feature Fodder:
Marriage Story (2019)

Initial: A cult favorite.

What Did I Think:
Not all of us are cut out to be in the cult.

Possession definitely has some very good moments, ones that are going to stick around in my brain. The story sort of comes together at the end, but I’m not entirely sure how without some chasm-spanning jumps. The performances are big. Isabelle Adjani is beautiful and her performance gets a lot of praise, but I found the movie too cold to really become invested in her character. Regardless, I have no doubt that Possession is the film Zulawski intended to make; it isn’t a poorly made movie, it’s just not for me.

The style reminded me of The Visitor (1979) only much, much better. Dead Ringers (1988) also came to mind, probably due to the cold blue sets that are ruined by mess. It’s not surprising that critics of the time were seeing connection with Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979).


Smile

Year: 2022
Runtime: 1h 55m
Rated: R

Director: Parker Finn

Writer: Parker Finn

Stars: Sosie Bacon, Jessie T. Usher, Kyle Gallner

Double Feature Fodder:
Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)

Initial: Smile was one of the R-rated original-IP horror movies that came out in 2022 that made good money at the box office. It’s a great trend if you like horror films.

Production Notes: Sosie Bacon is the daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick.

What Did I Think:
[Spoilers Ahead]

And Smile is a perfectly decent horror movie. It’s not subtle about its messaging in regards to generational trauma. Who says it needs to be? There are, maybe, a few too many jump scares, but Sosie Bacon really does sell being afraid in the quieter moments of the film. It’s maybe a little derivative of It Follows or any number of J-horror curses films, but it sets up an unsettling set of rules. Kudos to Parker Finn for not shying away from the inevitable conclusion of the story.


After Yang

Year: 2021
Runtime: 1h 36m
Rated: PG

Director: Kogonada

Writers: Alexander Weinstein, Kogonada

Stars: Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, Justin H. Min

Double Feature Fodder:
I’m Your Man (2021)

Initial: I’m always interested in android stories.

What Did I Think:
After Yang is a very quiet, very low-key movie. While I did enjoy it, it is the longest 90 minute-movie I’ve watched in a long time.

Any movie that is specifically about an android is of course really about being human. The really lovely aspect of After Yang for me was, while Jake experiences Yang’s “memories,” several second clips that are stored, with perfect repeatable fidelity, we also experience some of the character’s memories of events over and over with the variations that occur with our human memories.

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Cinema Saturday, 12/31/22

The Invitation

Year: 2022
Runtime: 1h 45m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Jessica M. Thompson

Writers: Blair Butler

Stars: Nathalie Emmanuel, Thomas Doherty, Sean Pertwee

What to Watch Instead:
The Invitation (2015)

Initial: I hadn’t seen the trailer and knew very little about this movie other than it was top of the movie charts when it came out.

What Did I Think:
(Spoilers Ahead)

I got excited when one of character mentioned Whitby. Was this a vampire movie? Was this a . . . Dracula movie? It is. Unfortunately, The Invitation is not very good.

Characters act in odd ways. For example, after Evie is scared in her bed, the handsome De Ville is just there in her room. Yes, he’s supposed to be hot and she’s into him, but why isn’t her first question, to the guy she’s known two days, “WTF are you doing in my bedroom?” Also, why does a vampire have so many spears and pointy things in his house? What’s with having a spare garrote laying around? Why the masks at dinner, other than to be creepy?

There are a lot of things that are mentioned but get dropped without payoff. I’m guessing the mirror in the bedroom is missing because De Ville’s reflection can’t be seen, but that’s never revisited. Evie hears wolves outside, but that’s never anything that means anything. I found the spa scene genuinely tense, but what’s up with the other women there in beauty masks? (Aside from just being creepy?) I liked the idea of this being about Dracula’s brides, but again, the idea seemed half-baked.

And what’s up with Jonathan and Mina being in the town, but working for Dracula? I mean, I guess the plot of the original novel failed, but it seems like a weird insertion.

There is supposedly an R-rated cut. This did feel like a cut movie, but I doubt more gore and nudity would help.


The Spy

Year: 2019
Runtime: 6 episode series
Rated: TV-MA

Director: Gideon Raff

Writers: Gideon Raff & Max Perry

Stars: Sacha Baron Cohen, Noah Emmerich, Hadar Ratzon Rotem

Double Feature Fodder:
(see review)

Initial: Recommended to me by my husband, Eric.

Production Notes: Also recommended by Eric for me to watch before our Netflix subscription expired: The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019, starring Chris Evans), which is also written and directed by Gideon Raff.

What Did I Think:
Heavy subject matter in both of Eric’s suggestions. The Spy is about Mossad spy Eli Cohen. The Red Sea Diving Resort is based on the true story of a hotel set up as a front to smuggle Ethiopian Jews out of Sudan.

The Spy is a very well-made six episode series. Raff uses different levels of saturation to depict Cohen’s “real” life and his life as Kamel Amin Thaabet in Argentina and later Syria. Of course, this story hinges on the performance of Sacha Baron Cohen. Aside from reputation, I’m not very familiar with Baron Cohen’s comedy work. His comedy characters always struck me as fairly abrasive. Turn out, he’s a good dramatic actor as a subset of comedians are.


RRR

Year: 2022
Runtime: 3h 7m
Rated: Not rated

Director: S.S. Rajamouli

Writers: Vijayendra Prasad, S.S. Rajamouli

Stars: N.T. Rama Rao Jr., Ram Charan Teja, Ajay Devgn

Double Feature Fodder:
This movie is movie is 3 hours long. It is its own double feature.

Initial: I had heard good things about RRR and more or less knew what to expect. It took me a while to decide to watch it because it seemed like . . . a lot.

Production Notes: When I watched RRR, I didn’t know that it was a Telugu-language film, but that Netflix only has the Hindi dub. I really dislike dubs. I find them much more distracting than captions. In this case, the leads actors, N.T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan Teja, did the Hindi-language dub for their characters, so it wasn’t terrible.

What Did I Think:
I haven’t watched much Indian cinema. My concept of it puts it into a similar category as anime: it is loud with plot structures that are uncomfortable to my Western brain. It’s often dubbed (see above). I don’t care for musicals. So, despite everything I’d heard, RRR was a hard sell.

And I’m glad it was all the good things I hoped for.

The story is mytho-operatic; pretty much historical fan fiction in which two Indian revolutionaries have super-heroic adventures together. It’s not extra. It’s extra extra. While the CGI animals are a little dodgy, there are some moments that are beautifully shot. I often get bored during action scenes, but I never did with RRR. The action is well-choreographed, but also well-structured. There are callbacks to earlier setups and movements. The music and dance—listen, it just happens; go with it, like you might in any musical or opera.

This movie is fun if you decide to let yourself have fun.