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Movie Reviews: 1/9/2023 to 1/15/2023

Movies reviewed this week: The White Reindeer, We Are the Best!, My Winnipeg, Shoot First, Die Later, Executioners from Shaolin, and Chinatown Kid.

1/12/2023: The White Reindeer (1952): ***1/2

Really gorgeous setting, plus some actually chilling folk horror. The altar with all the reindeer antlers is pretty great. Mirjami Kuosmanen is really effective in conveying Pirita’s slow transition into a sort of feral spiritual state.

It suffered from awkward pacing and what felt like the desire to just get all the cool stuff on the screen, maybe? Tsalkku-Nilla the shaman just came right out of nowhere. Or, possibly, it’d make sense if I was versed in Finnish culture. By the halfway point, though, the story takes over and just gallops along to the inevitable ending.

Boofest 2023: connected to Shadows in Paradise by Finland.

1/13/2023: We Are the Best! (2013): ****

A bit of a shaggy dog story but it’s so great? It captures the fact that punk is essentially a small scale personal scene while remembering and celebrating the grand political aspirations. Maybe it takes a bunch of teenage girls to remind us of both those things.

I kept expecting a moment of triumph but that’s not what Moodysson was doing here. The scene where Hedvig picks up an electric guitar could have been a big moment, but it’s grounded when the adults silently acknowledge how wrong they were and then we’re on to another scene. The final concert is perfectly punk but that doesn’t make it the end of the story; the band is just as happy when they’re occupying a restaurant during the credits.

Can’t call it quiet. It’s noisily lovely.

1/14/2023: My Winnipeg (2007): *****

This is a miracle. It’s a disjointed, fevered imaginary documentary that is also a cohesive snapshot of a very particular sensation: the knowledge that your city is a dull, sad trap that you should escape. Except it’s also home. As Maddin takes us down the secret byways of Winnipeg, he explains exactly why he loves it without losing track of why he wants to leave. In the end, he realizes that the Winnipeg he loves is a Winnipeg that was over before he was even born, and that understanding of time — of snow fossils moving forward and backward — gives him hope.

When it burst into color I gasped — because who has the nerve to use color to signify the boring stuff? Color is supposed to be Oz! So good. The Forks fading into his mother’s body? Just an amazing sense of style. I could have watched another three hours of this easy.

1/14/2023: Shoot First, Die Later (1974): ***

Both slick and gritty, which is a nice trick if you can pull it off. Like the other poliziotteschi I’ve watched, this is a long way from high art, but it’s great as a cynical study of the decaying social fabric of 1970s Italy. The only really unambiguously moral character comes to a pretty miserable end, as does the cat.

So does the corrupt cop, but the message isn’t that crime doesn’t pay. Crime pays just fine. He doesn’t get into serious trouble until he starts letting his morals influence him. If he’d stayed as hard-nosed as the Mafia leaders, he’d have wound up in fine shape.

You can’t walk the line. You can’t stay on the good side of the line if you want to get anywhere. Society’s falling apart and you might as well wallow in it.

1/14/2023: Executioners from Shaolin (1977): ****

I think I did myself and the movie a disservice when I interpreted my old review as a three star rating. I liked this one a lot when I saw it 19 years ago, and I liked it a lot this time.

Everything I said then holds true. This time out I’ll add that I enjoyed the way Lau Kar-leung takes the cross-dressing elements of Beijing opera and worked them into the martial arts revenge plot line. The gender coding of the wushu styles is exaggerated for the same effect. It’s a very cool and seamless fusion of Chinese cultural elements; Lau Kar-leung was a smart director.

1/15/2023: Chinatown Kid (1977): ***1/2

The Venom Mob goes to San Francisco! Alexander Fu Sheng’s stop and go moral journey was pretty entertaining, and it was fun watching a predecessor to John Woo’s heroic bloodshed subgenre. I also really enjoyed the mock San Francisco sets. As far as I can tell, Fu Sheng spent maybe one actual day in San Francisco to get a few reaction shots, but otherwise it’s all backlot work.

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