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Movie Reviews: 1/30/2023 to 2/5/2023

Movies reviewed this week: Ticket of No Return, Licorice Pizza, Edge of the Knife, Ball of Fire, Stars at Noon, Trouble Every Day, The Five Venoms, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and L’Atalante.

1/30/2023: Ticket of No Return (1979): ****

Now that’s what I call an authentic act of self-destructive rebellion. Very funny too.

1/31/2023: Licorice Pizza (2021): **1/2

I suppose that’s the third of Anderson’s fucked up relationship movies, or fourth if you count Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a relationship. Either way, it fails because Anderson doesn’t bother to figure out how the pair fits together.

Conceptually sure. Gary is trying to grow up too quickly and Alana likewise. People take him seriously enough to buy his waterbeds because he’s a scam artist like every other man in the movie. Nobody takes her seriously because she’s a woman, and like every other woman in the movie she’s stuck in service roles.

See? That’s the unfunny joke about Jerry Frick’s interchangeable Japanese wives. There’s a point to it, and apparently the real Jerry Frick did marry two Japanese women. It’s just a shitty way to make the point.

So sure, it’s about a toxic relationship, which is fine: Phantom Thread. It’s just that the pieces don’t fit. Anderson showed us what Krieps got out of Day-Lewis, and vice versa, even if it wasn’t healthy. This time it’s just stated as a fact. Gary’s vision of Alana — “you repeat everything twice” — isn’t even all that accurate.

2/2/2023: Edge of the Knife (2018): ***1/2

Hauntingly beautiful movie filmed in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. The rhythm of the film is slow and patient, telling a story that’s inherently connected to the cycle of the seasons. It’s a fable about transgression and forgiveness that begins and ends with the same shot, just as the year begins and ends with the same journey.

It was made in part as an exercise in preserving the Haida language and culture, and succeeds both on that level and as a movie. You can tell that the actors are still learning the language in which the film was made, but that’s a benefit, since the story of the Gaagiixiid is a story of forgiveness and reclaiming family. Likewise, the actors are reclaiming their language.

Boofest 2023: connected to Clearcut by PNW indigenous representation.

2/3/2023: Ball of Fire (1941): ***1/2

It may have a lightweight plot, but who cares when the screen is graced by a unique talent who owns just about every scene they’re in? I’m speaking of course of Dan Duryea, master of the psychotic supporting villain role. Can’t take my eyes off him.

Barbara Stanwyck is pretty good too.

I wouldn’t put this among the great screwball comedies. It’s got the snappy dialogue, which lives up to the slang-oriented setup. The chemistry more or less works, although it’s sort of a paler version of The Lady Eve. It’s missing social commentary, though, which is where Wilder is at his best. At the end of the day nothing’s disrupted.

Nonetheless, it’s a nice way to spend a couple of hours. Come for the Gene Krupa cameo, stay for the posse of great character actors assembled to play professors.

2/4/2023: Stars at Noon (2022): ***1/2

It’s okay for great directors to just make a slice of life movie, so this didn’t need to be more than what it was. And it’s better than most, because Denis understands how to tell a story with the movements of touch. Also because Margaret Qualley brings a deeply fearless performance.

Joe Alwyn isn’t all that interesting but he’s probably not meant to be. Qualley’s Trish is a spoiled drifter who writes her own narrative on whatever slate she can find, blank or not. She’s been telling stories to herself since day one. He’s probably the same way, actually, because what kind of naïf thinks he can show up in Nicaragua and single-handedly reshape an election? A British one, in this case.

They aren’t in love. They just discovered a way to tell a story together.

Hm. Maybe I am a bit disappointed in Alwyn’s performance. With an actor capable of dancing the same stupid dance along the edge of survival that Qualley gives us, that might have been quite the role.

2/4/2023: Trouble Every Day (2001): ****

If you assume that whatever Léo did to them included a sort of cursed sexual magnetism, then you can assume Vincent Gallo’s inert performance is a deliberate choice. It offsets his uncanny desirability. But Béatrice Dalle’s raw charisma undercuts that second assumption so perhaps Gallo’s just a bad actor.

It’s still an amazing movie, given depth by Denis’ ability to film a slow crawl along the human body with intertwined erotic and horrific currents. To think this was the follow-up to Beau Travail! Two magnificent stories about obsession with the human form, and the darkness lurking underneath desire.

2/4/2023: The Five Venoms (1978): ***1/2

I actually dig the lengthy investigative puzzle that takes up the first two acts of the movie, it’s just a waste of a bunch of great action stars. The final fight scene makes up for it, though.

2/5/2023: McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971): *****

That’s a two hour elegy for a man who doesn’t deserve sixty seconds. What a bleak piece of art it is; what a savage condemnation of the American Dream. I wouldn’t say the Irish man and the Cockney woman came out on top, precisely, but it’s hard to miss that the foreigners are the only ones who can accurately judge the necessary sacrifices for survival.

Roger Ebert said the things I’d say if I was as good a writer as he was. I’m left with the image of the snow falling, and the town caring very much about saving a burning church, and not at all about saving a flawed man.

2/5/2023: L’Atalante (1934): ****1/2

It took me a while but when I realized it was a celebration of anarchist tendencies, as embodied by the polymorphously perverse Père Jules, I wound up loving it. It also has an appropriate number of cats, and that scene where they’re dreaming of each other is really something.

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