Movies reviewed this week: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Cam, Rebel Without a Cause, To Joy, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Kidnap Syndicate, John Wick: Chapter 2, La Cérémonie, and Summer Interlude.
4/17/2023: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000): ****1/2
I’m so glad to come back to this after I’ve gone deeper into the Shaw Brothers movies of the 60s and 70s, although I really need to steep myself in the swordplay epics a bit more. Still, I’ve seen some King Hu now. In any case, considered as both a loving homage to the classics and a reformation of them, Ang Lee both masters and extends the genre.
It’s thrilling to watch the romance(s) take front and center as the drivers of the plot, even more so as the female point of view is honored. The best wuxia movies always allow emotion to drive the martial arts, and here Ang Lee takes the romance seriously. There’s no slapstick.
And wow, what a tribute to Dragon Inn, right up to the fight scene in the inn.
4/18/2023: Cam (2018): ***
This was a fast follow after How To Blow Up A Pipeline. I enjoyed the setting (respectfully depicted!), and the story is well constructed. I like a horror movie that doesn’t feel the need to draw a map; Cam finds fertile ground in modern questions of Internet identity blended with older myths, and it’s conceptually excellent. The final scene was pitch perfect. I do wish the execution had been a bit better — the rhythm of the tension kept undercutting itself, which kept the movie from reaching the heights it might have.
4/20/2023: Rebel Without a Cause (1955): ****1/2
For the first half an hour or so, I was worried James Dean would overact this film right out of excellence, but then Nicholas Ray got to the race scene in all its hallucinatory dream state glory and I stopped worrying. Which isn’t to say James Dean stopped overacting, but it fit with what his director was trying to do. Those Cinemascope Dutch angles were surreal.
Sal Mineo was amazing. The kid was seventeen, and he knew just what transgressive angles he needed to play. But man, Jim Backus? He wandered over from voicing Mr. Magoo and summoned up that performance? He had to be sensitive enough and moral enough to be sympathetic without turning Dean into the bad guy, and he delivered. You needed to be able to see that Dean got his sense of morals from his father, despite all his flaws. I never would have thought Backus had it in him.
And yeah, Nicholas Ray’s sympathy for the outsider makes it completely easy to see why teens of the time latched onto this. I would have too. It’s a powerful, tragic melodrama even if no human being would ever have acted like any of those kids.
Boofest 2023: connected to The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by Natalie Wood.
4/21/2023: To Joy (1950): ****
What a tragic, beautiful movie. I liked the personal focus, and I knew it was going to move me early on. The slow zoom on the telephone to reveal the sound of crying on the other end was so effective.
I could have watched an entire two hours of the orchestral scenes, too. I don’t particularly know much about classical music, but I loved the slow pans between musicians. Bergman captured the way small individual pieces doing so many different things come together to form a coherent whole. Stig was bitter about his lack of advancement; Bergman showed us why he didn’t need to be. Everyone matters.
It’s nice to see Margit Carlqvist again. I’d love to learn more about her career, although perhaps not at the cost of hunting down a bunch of second tier Swedish movies. She’s as compelling in this as she was in Smiles of a Summer Night, albeit in a more marginal way.
The ebb and flow of the relationship was tremendously human. The way Bergman pulled back from strict narrative to deliver significant events via third party internal monologue and then, in the critical sequence, via letters! It’s perhaps the most important moment in Stig and Marta’s relationship, with the most important dialogue, and it’s just the pair of them reading each other’s mail and reacting to it. So good.
Side note: I skipped Wild Strawberries in my box order watch, since it’s reserved for Boofest 2023 later this year.
4/22/2023: The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016): ***
The autopsy premise is a great way to develop some creepy horror even if the movie had to expand beyond it in the second half. I also really liked Brian Cox’s empathy; he played it understated but it mattered. The mythos sort of fell apart at the end, unfortunately.
4/22/2023: Kidnap Syndicate (1975): ***1/2
Di Leo trades in nihilism for class consciousness without losing any of the crunch in his action. Exploding cars are always good. It’s a bit slow in the first half but James Mason chewing scenery makes up for it.
4/22/2023: John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017): ****
I can’t say why past me thought this was three stars — possibly I’ve inflated my ratings since then. Possibly it’s just a perspective thing. Today me says this is the pinnacle of the series to date. It’s still in contact with the ground, although I couldn’t call it grounded, but it’s also integrated the overwrought world of the High Table without completely ignoring the rest of the world.
Yeah, those New Yorkers ignored a couple of bodies on the subway platform, but that’s just how New York is.
It’s really a pity they waited until parts 3 and 4 to get serious about casting action stars as the antagonists. Common and Ruby Rose are competent enough but they are not the martial artists that Donnie Yen, Marko Zaror, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Mark Dacascos are. While it’s nice to see more hand to hand fights than we get later on, with a sense of impact to them, it would have been that much nicer with different casting. But this is kind of nitpicking.
4/23/2023: La Cérémonie (1995): ****
Gosh, that’s a nasty little glossy thriller, in the best way. I can see where Chabrol got his reputation as a craftsman. It’s meticulously neutral; you can’t dodge the class elements, but I wouldn’t want to bet where anyone’s sympathies will lie by the end of it all.
I could single out a ton of little details. The thing that really fascinated me, though, was how well Chabrol and Sandrine Bonnaire captured the dissociation of shame. There’s a wall between Sophie and her employers anyhow, but the extra emotional need to keep a core secret makes it that much worse and Chabrol shows a finely tuned understanding of that dynamic.
4/23/2023: Summer Interlude (1951): ****
What a lovely balance between joy and misery, and between youth and age. Maj-Britt Nilsson gives us two portraits of a woman separated from herself by a decade, and she’s so good.
I think there’s something here about the two youths walling themselves off from the rest of the world and the older Marie opening her world with David to include her memories of Henrik. It’s subtle, but Bergman’s too smart to paint the youthful summer as merely idyllic. There’s a sting in that joy, even before Marie consciously builds her walls.
And that delightful bit of fantasy with the animations! Bergman was beginning to learn that realism isn’t everything.
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