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Movie Reviews: 12/5/2022 to 12/11/2022

Movies reviewed this week: Maya at 24, Taipei Story, Infernal Affairs II, Performance, The Menu, and The Lair of the White Worm.

12/8/2022: Maya at 24 (2021): ***1/2

Cool little tone poem: Linklater condensed down to five minutes. I loved the fond uncertainty in 24 year old Maya’s eyes; I imagine her explaining to a friend that it’s just one of Mom’s things.

12/10/2022: Taipei Story (1985): ****

Criterion Challenge 2022
Progress: 49/52
Prompt: watch a movie from the 1980s

Beyond everything else, this is a movie about change: change in Taipei. The protagonists don’t change all that much. I am compelled by movies which give me a non-US view on this kind of globalization (see also Fassbinder’s BRD trilogy). Taipei Story is all about the fear and uncertainty that comes with Taiwan’s modernization.

When this was made, the country was still under martial law and had been since 1949. 1985 was around the time you could start to see the end of the dictatorship. Western influences are washing over every inch of the movie, starting with Lung’s childhood softball heroism. Neither Lung or Chin know what to do with the change, and their differing instincts are part — not all — of why their relationship is falling apart.

It struck me how much of the personal tension was about people deciding to leave Taiwan, in that light. Perhaps the professional tensions and the clash of tradition vs. modernity would be enough, but the decision to go (or not go) to America and the sister’s yearning for Japan bring a different question to the forefront. Is Taipei even enough any more? Will the new Taipei be a place the young want to live? Will the sacrifice of tradition be useless?

I haven’t talked about the style. It’s great. Lung and Chin are isolated in the frame just like they feel isolated in the city. There’s one sequence when they aren’t in the city, and it’s shot in brilliant color, in wry reflection of the only colors in the city — the neon.

This was a very random pick for me, because I thought it’d be fun to dive into an important film movement I didn’t know anything about. Glad I watched it.

12/10/2022: Infernal Affairs II (2003): ****

While it occasionally descends into convoluted plot that exists merely to set up the first movie, the layers work on the whole. It helps that continuity is occasionally sacrificed for the sake of story: I’m fairly sure you could watch this on its own and be completely happy. Carina Lau’s critique of high end stereo equipment would confuse you a bit, but that’s just a minor moment.

Edison Chen and Shawn Yue aren’t Andrew Lau and Tony Leung but that’s fine, because Eric Tsang is completely unleashed in this one and he’s great. Doesn’t hurt that Carina Lau is right next to him. She practically created an entire movie for herself, all about a woman who’s smarter than any of the men around her but never gets her due. “Women are simple,” indeed.

Also, this movie has one of my favorite set dressing grace notes ever. Keep an eye on Francis Ng’s office; in the background, on the bookshelves, James Clavell’s Noble House sits next to William Hinton’s Shenfan. That’s the kind of pairing that makes you wonder if the two books get into vicious arguments in the night, and it’s an elegant tiny mirror of the whole movie’s plot.

12/11/2022: Performance (1970): ****

I’m going to choose to believe that Cammell and Roeg were just filming the weird creative melding as they discovered it in themselves. Whatever their collaboration was, it worked — this is more accessible than most Roeg movies, and more grounded. This, despite existing partially inside James Fox’s head.

The editing is fantastic. You get it full force in the opening sequence: cars and sex merging and overlapping in a way completely unlike Cronenberg’s later efforts in that regard.

12/11/2022: The Menu (2022): ****


This was shaping up to be a reasonable decent eat-the-rich movie until it compared sex work to cooking, without shaming either, at which point it got really interesting. Mark Mylod doesn’t screw it up as a director, but I don’t think he’s what matters here: it’s the script and the acting that elevate it.

Seriously, though. It’s not just sex workers compared to chefs (although that’s the bulk of it), it’s chefs quite literally forced into being sex workers by their superiors. I can’t imagine anyone was unaware of the Willows Inn sexual harassment scandals when making this movie: dining experiences on an isolated island, indeed.

Anya Taylor-Joy and Ralph Fiennes nail it. Everyone else holds up their end. The whole cast is good but I kept noticing Rob Yang in particular, very good as the smartest of the finance bros. Hong Chau is having quite the year too, but I think her part was fairly two-dimensional here.

Oh, and it’s really darkly funny. The menu itself is just hilarious.


12/11/2022: The Lair of the White Worm (1988): ****

Upon rewatch, this is actually… awesome?

Ken Russell certainly knows what he’s doing as a filmmaker. The chromakey fantasy sequences are cheesy as hell but still pretty effective. A lesser man would have made the historical bits all dark and gloomy but the bright primary colors were a much better choice. No hiding from this worm.

I also realized, this time around, that it’s a huge pisstake on the British pastoral country house drama. Take that, Merchant/Ivory. Sure, Hugh Grant is playing his Hugh Grant character, but he’s also not the one who does the meaty work of saving the day. Certainly he doesn’t know how to play bagpipes.

And just about every aspect of traditional British life is savaged. Kevin the Boy Scout comes to a bad end (and isn’t all that good a boy, either, as it turns out). Peters the policeman does no better. Slap a snake in front of an Englishman and you get an Englishman with fangs. It takes a Scotsman to do the job mostly right.

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