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Movie Reviews: 2/14/2022 to 2/20/2022

Movies reviewed this week: Throw Down, Scanners, The Empty Man, and The Passenger.

2/14/2022: Throw Down (2004): *****

Judo and jazz, jazz and judo. Three characters orbiting around one another, delineated by the eloquent ripples left in their wakes. Johnnie To reaches virtuouso heights when called for, in the blocking of the three table conversation and the magic of the balloon scene. (That one made me tear up.)

And the chase scene! So well filmed, such a lovely sound score, and such a perfect emotional beat.

2/17/2022: Scanners (1981): ***

Criterion Challenge 2022
Progress: 8/52
Prompt: Watch a science fiction movie

Even when Cronenberg is hampered by atrocious acting and unusually low budgets, he’s still Cronenberg. This movie felt like a pivot point… well, no. Cronenberg had plenty of body horror to show us after 1981. This movie felt like a fusion between Cronenberg’s cerebral visions of post-humanity and his curiosity about flesh. It’s a chilly flick, full of computers and cold nights and bland functionaries. It’s also got the infamous exploding head scene and, just when you think that was all the gore you’re getting, a final sequence which is as visceral as anything he’s ever done.

I don’t know why Scanners isn’t more often recognized as a direct descendant of the paranoid style cinema of the 70s. What’s telepathy other than the ultimate in surveillance techniques? And this movie isn’t just a thriller about psychic powers, it’s a slow burn reveal of a vast conspiracy touching the most intimate parts of our lives. There are assassins. I think Scanners belongs on the shelf next to The Conversation and Blow Out. Look! It’s protagonists who pay a terrible cost for the things they can’t help but overhear!

Pity about the acting, though. I’m grateful to Michael Ironside and Patrick McGoohan for giving me something to focus on in the middle of, well, everyone who wasn’t them.

2/18/2022: The Empty Man (2020): ***1/2

That was a not so basic creepy, well-crafted horror movie. It’s distinctly 21st century, influenced by J-horror, conspiracy movies, Cronenberg, and creepypasta. David Prior has worked on a number of on-set documentaries for David Fincher movies, and you can see those influences as well: he’s got a sharp eye for set pieces and subtly disturbing shots. He also knows Soderbergh’s trick of detaching dialogue in time, and uses it well.

The mythology developed here wasn’t mind-blowing to me, because I do a lot of tabletop gaming and yes, some of the specific word choices are huge accidental hints if you’re used to some of those concepts. It was still executed well and informed by a precise vision. Can’t say I’m surprised by some of the poor reviews on release; I might have been lost if I wasn’t already tuned in, as it were.

2/20/2022: The Passenger (1975): *****

Spoiler

I think I have to talk about that final shot.

It’s everything, right? The grate in front of the window is Locke’s metaphorical prison bars. He’s been running from himself for the entire film — there’s more than one shot looking back from a moving vehicle — but it’s never going to work, not even under another man’s name. In the end, while the camera might escape that prison (what a bravura piece of cinematography!), he can’t.

The cars criss-cross the scene in front of the hotel. Locke spent so much time driving in this movie, and in the end we find that automobiles don’t actually go anywhere. Just back and forth.

Locke could never actually escape. His past was always in his rear view mirror, and was never very far away. He took on a completely new identity, and his wife found him with almost casual ease. He was easy to find in Barcelona, and easy to find in the tiny town of Osuna, where the film ends.

Otherwise: this is my first Antonioni film and it’s strikingly gorgeous. The politics are dense but my working assumption is that Antonioni saw both journalism and gun-running as equivalent exercises of colonial power. Was Robertson maybe on the side of the angels? Hard to say, but note that if he was, Locke couldn’t even keep up that end of the bargain. Another failure on his part.

It’s always good to see Nicholson from the 60s and 70s.

Wow.

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