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Movie Reviews: 5/22/2023 to 5/28/2023

Movies reviewed this week: Almamula, Burning Hearts, The Wicker Man, Sonne, Demigod: The Legend Begins, The Beasts, Incoherence, The Artifice Girl, Superposition, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, and Little Bone Lodge.

5/23/2023: Almamula (2023): ***1/2

Rather entrancingly, ambitiously weird blend of sex and fear and religion and growing up, set on one of those edges between civilization and the wild. I used to live a ways outside a small New Hampshire town, which is a long way from the sweltering summer of Argentina, but I used to think that if I walked into the forest behind our house I’d be able to keep walking forever. This reminded me of that.

5/25/2023: Burning Hearts (2022): ***

This starts with a historical sequence setting up the origins of the feud between the Malatesta and the Camporeale. It’s filmed in high contrast black and white, and I’m thinking okay, sure, set the past off with a gimmick, always cool. Then we get to the modern day and nope, it’s still black and white.

Totally gorgeous. Totally pretentious.

Anyhow it’s fun even if it’s aggressively blatant. Did you know that criminal feuds are really a lot like farming animals for food? Let’s set a bunch of scenes on farms to really bring home the way our protagonist steers straight into savagery. In the very last shot, a young child living peacefully far from the criminal underground looks straight into the camera and mines a gun with his hand. Generational shit, y’all.

5/26/2023: The Wicker Man (1973): ****1/2

There’s nothing like the feeling of watching the origin of familiar tropes. It’s even better when it’s a great movie. A lot of folk horror involving isolated villages goes for the slow burn, but Robin Hardy plunges us into the deep end immediately.

However, and critically, it’s not an ominous deep end. There are undertones of hostility, sure, but the island is whimsically (and earthily) weird for the first act. That makes it all the more creepy when the plot takes a threatening turn. Hardy compounds the impact of the shift by throwing in a bunch of POV shots when Edward Woodward’s ill-fated Sergeant Howie is searching the village; that brings the danger closer to us, the viewer. It’s a very elegantly constructed build.

Bonus points for me personally from the echoes of my Waldorf education. We did not sacrifice policemen, but we did dance the Maypole.

Boofest 2023: connected to The Passion of Joan of Arc by martyrdom and fire.

5/26/2023: Sonne (2022): ***1/2

There’s a narrative here, just not a complete one. And why should it be complete? Yesmin‘s life is not going to change in the space of a two hour movie, any more than any teenager is going to magically resolve their issues. She’s probably learned some things about who she isn’t but it’s clear she’s not done learning who she is.

Director Kurdwin Ayub’s use of social media is great. She captures the feel of the Internet as just another portion of your life: the private message chat is no different than yelling over the wall to your neighbor. The film cuts from tight framed TikTok video to handheld cameras framed just as tightly. These teens live the technologically intermediated life.

Melina Benli is excellent as Yesmin. She’s dealing with questions of identity ranging from culture to gender to clothing to her outsider status; it all shows in her eyes and her frowns. She makes a subtle voyage significant.

5/26/2023: Demigod: The Legend Begins (2022): ***

I’m fond of wuxia excess and this certainly qualifies, but the puppetry didn’t totally do it for me. The static faces were part of it; I kept seeing the bee-stung lips and feeling like there was room to build a more mobile mouth. I also like long shots in my martial arts battles and while the fights here were fun, they were also choppy. No pun about the copious blood spurts intended.

Still very cool. I suspect I’d enjoy the form more in the original stage medium.

5/27/2023: The Beasts (2022): ****

Apparently I’m watching two movies about the French invading the Iberian Peninsula this SIFF. This one was distinctly less straightforward than Irati. I loved the density of it, and I loved the slippery questions that centered around the beautiful yet unforgiving mountain land.

5/27/2023: Incoherence (1994): ***1/2

I’m not surprised that Bong Joon-Ho made an excellent student film. The real sting in the epilogue is the prosecutor smugly claiming that civilian rule is the problem: Bong was trying to warn us.

5/27/2023: The Artifice Girl (2022): ***1/2

Conceptually excellent. Take the AI ethics as a potential dilemma rather than a commentary on the 2023 LLM explosion; that said, Franklin Ritch did some research here and it helps the film seem exploratory rather than symbolic. There’s a through line to a real future here.

That said, it’s too technical. Tatum Matthews needs to sound a bit artificial as Cherry. Everyone else except Henriksen is also stilted, though, and for a movie this talky you need natural performances. You’re contrasting the natural and the artificial: there has to be contrast, at least until that lovely final scene.

I’m really interested in what Ritch does next.

5/27/2023: Superposition (2023): ***1/2

Superposition suffers a bit from serving two masters; both the marriage drama and the doppelgänger horror work quite well, and to a degree they reinforce each other, but they don’t totally mesh. At the very end, director Karoline Lyngbye has to choose between the ultimate doppelgänger conundrum and the ultimate relationship sting, and she can’t have both. The final shot is deeply effective, nonetheless.

Normally this is where I admire Marie Bach Hansen and Mikel Boe Folsgaard for playing unlikable characters well enough to make us emphasize with them but nah, that’s not this movie. They’re both great, fully capable of being the only adults on screen throughout, but “likable” is nowhere in anyone’s intent.

The tangled worlds are implemented really well.

5/28/2023: Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957): ***1/2

That’s about as scathing as one can expect from a mainstream 50s movie. Tashlin gets some nice shots in there, and even if the ending is adulterated, he already told us the whole thing would be full of lies during the opening credits. That kind of freed him up to have fun.

Randall and Mansfield are excellent at playing cartoons, and that’s a sincere compliment.

5/28/2023: Little Bone Lodge (2023): **1/2

Joely Richardson does her best and the setting is claustrophobic in a way that serves the home invasion tension well, but the third act drags and the reliance on cliches isn’t great. It goes full Road Runner at the end, too.

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