Movies reviewed this week: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Topsy-Turvy, The Cannonball Run, In a Lonely Place, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, In the Line of Duty 3, Night Moves, Election 2, and Party Girl.
6/12/2023: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023): **
I liked Michelle Pfieffer as an action hero. I liked some of the visuals. I liked that Dr. Broccoli showed up although where’s Savage Henry? I really liked M.O.D.O.K. I liked Cassie.
I did not like the weightlessness. I did not like the terrible CGI beasts in the intro. I did not like the way Kang never established his power set. I did not like the ants — what, nobody noticed? I did not like any of the times anyone in the family forgot to use their powers.
The bar is higher than this now.
6/13/2023: Topsy-Turvy (1999): ****
If Mike Leigh wants to veer off from social realism and make a historical, I say let him any time he wants. Especially if we’re going to get one of Timothy Spall’s luminously sad performances out of it. The moments around the decision to remove his big song from the opera are among his best.
The film is what it appears to be: a celebration of the creative process and the inevitable conflicts. It’s also, I think, a meditation on the costs of creativity. No coincidence that it ends with three women, all reflecting on the sacrifices they’ve made for the sake of Gilbert and Sullivan’s art.
6/15/2023: The Cannonball Run (1981): **1/2
It’s awful but it might be the most amusing 2 and a half star movie I’ve ever seen. I mean, it’s totally inert as a movie. The plot barely exists, and the pacing isn’t good at all. There’s no real sense of the race. Jackie Chan is playing a Japanese driver.
On the other hand, Jackie gets to fight Peter Fonda and the right team wins and the funny bits are often really funny. Jack Elam looks like he’s having an absolute blast and he mugs like nobody has ever mugged.
Sure isn’t a good movie, though.
6/16/2023: In a Lonely Place (1950): ****1/2
God damn, Nicholas Ray. Did anyone make a better movie about angry men than you?
Bogart’s volcanic eruptions are so good I had to go back and watch the first fifteen minutes all over again, and yeah, it’s there from the beginning. You start out by letting yourself believe that his snippy affect is that of a true man in a dishonest world, protecting his alcoholic friend. But nah: he’s the arrogant man who thinks his signature should come with an exclamation point at the end.
Gloria Grahame is us. One can’t blame her for the initial infatuation any more than we should blame ourselves.
None of this puts anyone else in the business in a good light, of course. There’s not an admirable person in Ray’s vision of Hollywood, right down to Art Smith’s, who is both Bogart’s agent and enabler.
“Do you look down on all women, or just the ones you know?”
6/17/2023: Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989): ****
The first time I saw this, way back when, I saw the transgression. This time I think I saw more of the underlying meaning: cycles of abuse, anxiety about progress, and perhaps a cautionary tale about subsuming your life into work.
There are two moments when the grating industrial soundtrack turns into 50s pop. One is early, as the fetishist gets hit by the car. One is at the end, as the fetishist and the salaryman merge. In that latter moment, the metal falls away and Tsukamoto shows us an organic union. Outside their shared dream space, though, the neon sign promises a “New World” and their cyborg body brings destruction.
I’m not sure if Tsukamoto is being wistful about the fantasy, or dismissive of it.
6/17/2023: In the Line of Duty 3 (1988): ***
The fight scenes are pleasingly brutal and grungy, particularly by the time we get to the warehouse. Unfortunately, there isn’t the same level of talent behind the camera, so instead of giving each shot time to breathe it’s a bunch of fast cuts. It’s a pity, because Cynthia Khan has the right intensity. As do the villains, who are edgy in a legitimately disturbing way.
The plot is also pretty paper thin, so no redemption there. They can’t all be sublime, I suppose.
6/18/2023: Night Moves (2013): ****
The slow pace feeds both the tension of the first half and the lonely bleakness of the remainder. While the frame is the environmental activism, the meat is Jesse Eisenberg’s reaction to the consequences. That last sad phone call ties it down: Dakota Fanning was the one who understood why you might want to blow up a dam, and Eisenberg was the one who just needed to belong to something bigger than himself. It’s no wonder he loses his grip when he loses the commune.
I can see why How To Blow Up A Pipeline drew so many comparisons to this. It’s justified — <I<Pipeline’s procedural structure is not as novel as I’d assumed. There are similar character beats and similar intensity. But the newer movie is a call to action in which the protagonists win, and this, this is a reminder that action can have costs. Reichardt doesn’t reject violence, per se. She just gives it more weight.
You can tell how much Reichardt loves those Oregon forests. That’s the other thing I got out of the slow pace: plenty of time to watch nature going by. This is my first Reichardt film, and I want to watch more.
6/18/2023: Election 2 (2006): ****
It opens with a sequence that evokes history, well in the mainstream of Hong Kong action cinema style. A man intones the democratic history of a Hong Kong triad, while black and white photos of old Hong Kong fill the screen. Tradition is everything. A minute later, Jimmy is explaining that he wants nothing more than to leave the criminal life behind and become a normal businessman in Mainland China.
To his credit he’s probably telling the truth, but if he has to kill a bunch of people and become the Chairman of his triad for two years to do it, he’s fine with that. It’s not like his opposition cares about tradition either.
The rather savage point is not just that Mainland China is corrupt and happy to use the worst of Hong Kong society. The point is that it’s all corruption, whether you’re looking at Hong Kong democracy or Chinese totalitarianism. As we know from Election, Hong Kong cops are just as happy to use the triads for their own ends.
The final comment on tradition is the penultimate scene. I can’t think of another Hong Kong thriller where Jimmy would do what he did without retribution. To makes it clear that honor isn’t important; the old ways of respect and loyalty don’t matter at all. Keep the money and power flowing. Betray whoever you have to betray. That’s all.
6/18/2023: Party Girl (1995): ***1/2
It’s so much a first movie with all the clunkiness that implies but also Parker Posey shows us the fear under the drama, and I have to love that. It also gets points for accurately referencing Gopher. As my pal OxfordComma said, someone working on this movie knew their library science.