Movies reviewed this week: Crimes of the Future, Madame X: An Absolute Ruler, Leningrad Cowboys Go America, Tokyo Story, Sweetie, and Happy-Go-Lucky.
8/22/2022: Crimes of the Future (2022): ****1/2
Here, towards the end of his career, Cronenberg finally shows his optimistic hand.
There’s a trust in the final moment between Caprice and Tenser that echoes James and Catherine in Crash, except that this time there’s no “maybe the next one.” The moment we see on screen is that next one, and it’s a success.
I suppose Cronenberg’s body horror has always been a metaphor for art. James Wood’s body was a conduit for video, after all. Video games are art. This time Cronenberg removes all the concealing material — all the skin — and just tells us that he’s been telling us about art all these years.
And he tells us why. It’s to help us evolve. It’s to help us survive. Art, he says, is necessary for survival. The final shot is from the point of view of Caprice’s camera. The triumph is because of art, and it is art.
It’s a lovely, personal movie. I’m so glad he found his way to it.
8/25/2022: Madame X: An Absolute Ruler (1977): ***1/2
This is a totally effervescent batshit mess of a movie. The Orientalism is a shame but I gotta cut some slack for a) the time this was made and b) the fact that the movie doesn’t rely on it at all.
I greatly admire the somewhat optimistic thesis that we can make a dent in the world by simply living extraordinary lives. Aesthetic isn’t revolution all by itself but at least here it’s not casual. Also, Ottinger beat Peter Lamborn Wilson to the pirate utopia punch by decades, not that he’d ever have acknowledged it.
Discussion point: is this a remake of The Sea Wolf? If so, who is Ida Lupino?
8/27/2022: Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989): ****
I was correct to choose something else as my first Kaurismäki movie, and I was correct to choose this one as my second. Here’s to a strong entry into the canon of European artists trying to understand the American road trip.
8/27/2022: Tokyo Story (1953): *****
Criterion Challenge 2022
Prompt: Watch a movie from Amy Heckerling’s Closet Picks
Legitimately perfect; it’s moving onto my top four movies list immediately.
You don’t need me to try and tell you what’s good about this movie. Plenty of better writers can do that. Instead, here are two facets of the film that stuck with me:
The first is the tenderness between Shūkichi and Tomi. Chishū Ryū and Chieko Higashiyama are remarkable, and they show decades of love (with a certain amount of friction) in their quiet pauses. The entire sequence at the spa moved me beyond words, not least because it echoes my relationship with my wife — his annoyance, her worry that she can’t help him feel better, his depth of concern for her shown in entirely different ways. Deeply relatable.
The second is the last scene between Shūkichi and Noriko. Ozu has spent the entire movie showing us how generations drift apart. It’s painful. This last scene, though, is an act of profound optimism and kindness; while he doesn’t insult us by pretending that everything’s better, he does show us true communication.
8/28/2022: Sweetie (1989): ***1/2
Criterion Challenge 2022
Prompt: Watch a movie from Agnès Varda’s Closet Picks
This was a bit more stylized than I prefer, but still pretty gripping and interesting. While it takes some time to really get to the family dynamics, I think it’s an important slow burn. Campion was right to show us so much about Kay before introducing any of the rest of the family; it’d be too easy to see Dawn as uniquely troubled without that lengthy off-kilter introduction.
I loved the cinematography and the persistent positioning of characters at the edge of the screen. That’s a fractured family for you: nobody’s really comfortable being the center of the attention. Except Dawn, and I think even there we see her retreating from the family in that final sequence.
Varda called this movie “sensible and intelligent.” That’s about right. You know, I’ve seen three Campion movies now and while they always leave me feeling like I haven’t gotten at the heart of them, I keep wanting to see more. So that’s gotta count as successful.
8/28/2022: Happy-Go-Lucky (2008): ****1/2
That was a joy. Sally Hawkins is unsurprisingly amazing, able here to walk that line between annoyingly cheerful and deeply human. For my money, it’s the scene with the man living homeless that does it: it’s where her empathy really shows. Hawkins does it with her eyes and with her restrained body language: here some fear, here some optimism, always with openness.