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Movie Reviews: 4/3/2023 to 4/9/2023

Movies reviewed this week: A Ship Bound For India, Soul, Sicario, Inland Empire, John Wick, and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.

4/3/2023: A Ship Bound For India (1947): ***

This was decent verging on really good while Holger Löwenadler was delivering a tortured performance as Captain Blom, all full of resentment and hope. After he left the stage, things dragged. You can see Bergman’s interests and skill peeking through, though: the great early scenes in the dark streets, and the agony of family, and the illicit thrill of greasepaint.

4/6/2023: Soul (2020): ***1/2

Pete Docter’s always ambitious, huh? And successful in his ambition: this was the most beautiful Pixar film I’ve ever seen, and broke away from the Pixar look in a way I didn’t expect at all. There’s a vibrance to the shots of life on Earth, and the imaginative settings of Inside Out have now been surpassed.

And I loved his goals here. When Soul is great, it’s a thoughtful meditation on our purpose in life. Docter’s humanism is a counterbalance to Brad Bird’s focus on heroism; I like both of them very much.

I wonder, though, if this didn’t suffer from being a Pixar movie. It’s not for kids, right? It’s not even for the mainstream, and the entire bit with Terry lacks real depth. I’m supposed to worry about a cute little OCD squiggle when you’ve just shown me those amazingly horrific lost souls? There were parts of this that felt tacked on, like distractions from Pixar’s first Ingmar Bergman tribute.

See also the ending. But it’s still a gorgeous, emotionally engaging film.

Boofest 2023: connected to Tron by Disney CGI.

4/7/2023: Sicario (2015): ****1/2

This time around I’m contextualizing Sicario as a horror movie. It plays that way: in the opening scene, we get the killer cam POV shot and the sudden jump scare as the killer bursts into the room. It’s just that the killer is a quasi-military assault vehicle and its targets are cartel smugglers. Am I stretching? No, not once you see what’s hidden behind the plaster walls.

And that soundtrack! Drawn out, distorted synthesizer chords that serve as supporting beams for the tension made manifest on the screen. It’s a horror movie soundtrack if I’ve ever heard one. Then there’s the scene, late in the movie, when we focus in on the mouth of a tunnel and wait for the horror that will inevitably emerge. There is a human killer in the end.

Would that make Emily Blunt the Final Girl? Well…

It’s fascinating coming back to this movie a second time after I’ve watched the rest of Villeneuve’s work. It’s an inflection point: from here onward, there’s less of an edge to his films. They’re emotionally intense, but they’re not savage the way this is, or the way Incendies and Prisoner are, or the way Polytechnique is. It feels a bit like that last one was the beginning of a conversation he was having with himself, and with Sicario he’s finished saying what he needed to say about vulnerability and anger.

It gains half a star from me this time around.

4/8/2023: Inland Empire (2006): *****

Dreams and masks, Mr. Lynch. Dreams and mirrors.

The shattered fragments of story overlap to describe a “woman in trouble,” which is about the only explanation he’s willing to give. That’s fine. It’s accurate. Laura Dern is an actress, and she gets lost in her own movie, and maybe in another movie that wasn’t ever finished, and maybe in the story it was based on. I didn’t want to keep track of the levels, because that’s not the point.

When you snap your fingers, the scene ends. When you snap your fingers, you find a common rhythm.

You can feel Lynch’s delight coming off the screen when he discovers a new way to attack his themes. This time it’s his cheap digital camera, which brings so many faces into close up, looming on the screen. Towards the end he lets the movie degrade into grainy digital fuzz, melting the way Nikki’s realities are melting. It’s striking.

Grant Morrison believes that he can transport himself into his own fiction, and that he can write his own reality with the same method. There’s no single key to this movie, but that’s the one I’m using. Stories are everything.

4/8/2023: John Wick (2014): ****

It is remarkably weird going back to this after John Wick IV. The seeds of the larger mythology are there, but they’re just grace notes in a stripped down action movie. In the larger context, Viggo‘s a local crime lord who lucked into employing John Wick, with no real insight into the High Table. He’s dumb enough to hire someone to kill Wick inside the Continental.

Stepping away from obsessive continuity concerns, it’s interesting seeing how much Wick changed. “I’ve never seen you like this, John: vulnerable.” The bartender means emotionally, but it’s true physically as well. Wick is knocked out, defeated, and fragile in a way that doesn’t last throughout the sequels.

I also liked noticing how the fights have changed. Stahelski‘s fight scenes are really good in this one, but he gets better and more confident with his long shots as the series goes on. Reeves is more of a martial artist here, conversely; he relies more on gun play, albeit physical gun play, as time goes on. It’s fair, since he’s pushing sixty now.

4/9/2023: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970): ****

Great tension, the expected stunning use of color from Argento, and a good twist. Also not self-indulgent. The thing that really struck me about the color here is how it was used as contrast: there are a lot of greys and browns here, and then these sudden assaults of red and yellow and blue.

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