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Movie Reviews: 3/14/2022 to 3/20/2022

Movies reviewed this week: Hotel Monterey, Three Colors: Blue, Cléo from 5 to 7, Daguerréotypes, The Vanishing Lion, Rue Daguerre in 2005, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and The Quiet Man.

3/14/2022: Hotel Monterey (1972)

Criterion Challenge 2022
Progress: 11/52
Prompt: Watch a movie directed by Chantal Akerman

I cleverly missed that this was a silent movie! I probably would have chosen something more accessible to me had I known, but all in all I’m glad I didn’t. While 60-odd minutes of silent, mostly static shots of mostly a hotel interior are never going to be my jam, I appreciated the hypnotic development of the film. Bottom to top, fewer and fewer people until eventually we escape into the light. The first scene with a window was weirdly breathtaking.

No rating because it just doesn’t fit on my scale: everything else I watch is a narrative.

3/17/2022: Three Colors: Blue (1993): *****

Like a bolt of lightning. I’ve been meaning to see this forever, and now I’m kicking myself for waiting. So many aspects of this are perfect.

The music! It’s not just that the soundtrack is good, although it is; it’s that Kieslowski and the screenwriter, Piesiewicz, built the movie on top of the music. The degree of difficulty is higher because the music has to mean as much to us — who are hearing it for the first time — as it does to Julie, whose relationship with it is much deeper.

Binoche is astounding. There’s a scene (more than one) where she’s acting with nothing more than the tension in the muscles of her neck, as seen from behind.

The grace with which the movie understands Julie’s grief, offers a path out of it, yet never leads us to dislike her for giving into it… just an eloquent, difficult, meticulous balance.

I’m going to be sitting with this one for a while.

3/18/2022: Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962): *****

Criterion Challenge 2022
Progress: 12/52
Prompt: Watch a film by a director who’s work you haven’t seen before

I splurged on the Agnes Varda boxed set during the Criterion Collection flash sale, and I got really enthused about digging into it, but if I watched any other movie first I’d have screwed up this prompt. So I watched Cléo from 5 to 7, and was in fact not too sad about that.

It also wound up being an interesting pairing with Three Colours: Blue. Grief and mortality is woven through both movies, and of course they both have female protagonists. Come to think of it, both of them are musicians. But that is perhaps where the similarities end. Cléo isn’t about the male gaze; however, that phenomenon is the constant background to most of the movie. People are always staring at her, talking to her, asking her for things, demanding things of her.

Not that she isn’t asking things of them, too. There’s a theme of mutual interdependency, I think: in the end it’s Cleo’s encounter with Antoine (and subsequent conversation) that lifts her out of existential dread. So I guess there’s that commonality as well.

And Paris is a character in both. You know, never mind, they’re practically the same movie. Just Varda got there first, and with more empathy for the protagonist.

3/19/2022: Daguerréotypes (1975): ****

I loved the empathy of this movie, and I loved the unabashed humor: juxtaposing the butcher’s carcasses with the most frightening of the magic tricks is completely on the nose. I think it’s in service of a thesis, though.

It’s relevant that the magician’s act is science-fictionally themed. There are a million moments in this movie about transitions: country people moving into the city, the transition of time as shopkeepers grow old, the invasion of cars onto a street that wasn’t really designed for them.

“Where did you come from? How did you get here?”

Our magician isn’t just a fancy show, extraneous to the life of Rue Daguerre. He’s a signal that change never ends, but also that change isn’t an ending. Wherever this street winds up, it will still be the same street.

3/19/2022: The Vanishing Lion (2003): ***

It’s a trifle but it’s a really tasty trifle!

3/20/2022: Rue Daguerre in 2005 (2005)

Feels a bit weird to rate a short film on the same scale as everything else, especially since this doesn’t stand alone. But it’s worth seeking out if you’ve seen Daguerrotypes, for any number of reasons. Varda talks about how she constructed the film and some of her specific cinematic techniques, shows us what’s happened to the various shops, and captures some of the street’s new rhythms.

I can’t get over the profound empathy she brings to her work.

3/20/2022: Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021): ***1/2

Spoiler

This was almost really good. The storytelling possibilities created by the multiverse and the decades of Spider-Man movies aren’t available to most filmmakers; the Bond series comes close, but even there you couldn’t get that scene where three Peter Parkers are sharing their pain to find the strength to keep going. It was an extraordinary moment between three pretty good actors.

Also, Benedict Cumberbatch chatting with Alfred Molina was so eloquent it felt like it came from a different movie altogether. Probably one with butlers.

Pity about the flaccid bits. We maybe needed three villains total: Doc Ock and Green Goblin, because they’re holding down all the emotional weight, and then I guess Electro as the heavy? Although I’d have loved to see Michael Keaton’s Vulture grabbing that slot somehow. Everyone else is just marking time and dropping Easter eggs.

And it was still good! But it wasn’t top tier Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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3/20/2022: The Quiet Man (1952): *1/2

Good: Technicolor Ireland, some interesting cultural stuff underneath the stereotypes, and Maureen O’Hara.

Bad: John Wayne dragging O’Hara through a field on her back. Movies are going to reflect their times but this one is explicitly about O’Hara fucking up by defending her independence, and the final resolution is a) Wayne winning her battle for her and b) then literally destroying the thing she wanted.

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