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Movie Reviews: 7/3/2023 to 7/9/2023

Movies reviewed this week: Clean, Elite Squad, No, the Case Is Happily Resolved, The Man from Laramie, Point Break, Bringing Up Baby, Flesh + Blood, and Prospect.

7/3/2023: Clean (2004): ****

I watched a lot of 70s cinema featuring desperation last week, and it was all operatic and grand. Clean is not that. The draggy hazy soundtrack matches the hazy flavor of Maggie Cheung’s performance matches the draggy lurches of the camera. The cinematography is lovely, tracking in swoops across the screen. It captures the lost bewilderment of Cheung’s addiction.

The story isn’t all that much, just another tale of addiction and potential redemption. But man, the performances bring it up a notch or two. Nick Nolte slouches around with the light of humanity in his eyes, escaping what could have been a cliched role if he’d let it. Laetitia Spigarelli does a lot with a minor role. And Maggie Cheung — you could argue that it’s her best performance. Even if it’s not, it stands out. I wish she hadn’t retired, but this was a good farewell.

7/4/2023: Elite Squad (2007): **1/2

From a thriller point of view, this isn’t bad at all. The flashback structure works, and the moments of action are strong. You feel the heat and the intensity, and it keeps track of its characters better than most. Politically, though…

I buy José Padilha’s stated good intentions. Variety claims the voiceover narration was a late decision; if so, that’s a big stumbling point. You can’t make a whole movie about how everyone’s corrupt if the guiding window into the world is one of the worst of the cops. Nascimento gets to be cool in the absence of any other narrative voices.

I also think Padilha’s wealthy background shows in his contempt for the liberal law students. The NGO could have been depicted as doing real good. It wasn’t, and that’s a choice, just as it’s a choice to have an ultraviolent cop get killed while he’s bringing a kid a pair of glasses. There’s a scene in a classroom which could practically be subtitled “so much for the tolerant left!”

7/4/2023: No, the Case Is Happily Resolved (1973): ***

I’m reviewing the alternate ending here — as released, the last scene sucks all the energy out of the movie with a happy ending. The grim ending still has a bit of hope, in theory, but it’s false hope. The scene where Professor Ranieri earnestly explains that justice requires him to go free regardless of the cost to less important people makes the reality of the era pretty clear.

It’s not as violent as Di Leo’s work, or as some of the others I’ve seen from the Arrow Years of Lead set, but it’s just as angry about the state of society. The rich stay safe while the workers get screwed.

Enzo Cerusico is kind of flat as poor Santamaria, with or without his moustache. The rest of the cast has some verve — I guess Riccardo Cucciolla even won Best Actor at Cannes once? And Enrico Maria Salerno‘s Mastroianni impersonation is excellent.

7/4/2023: The Man from Laramie (1955): ***1/2

I wish I liked Westerns more, but I liked this well enough, and you can’t resonate with everything. James Stewart brings a tasty edge to this; sure, he’s the hero, but he’s too angry to be a really good human being. There’s not a landowner in this who doesn’t pay a price for turning the land to human ends, even Aline MacMahon’s Kate Canaday, who spent most of her life waiting for the man who abandoned her.

7/6/2023: Point Break (1991): ****1/2

With this movie, michele_blue and I have entered the second half of Boofest 2023. Can’t imagine a better way to do it.

Bigelow isn’t one of those directors who gets the most out of every actor she works with, but the actors who resonate with her shine. Jeremy Renner’s best performance was in Hurt Locker, and I don’t think Patrick Swayze has ever been better than this. He’s just a charismatic bundle of energy, capturing this weird calm in the midst of his thrill-seeking.

Keanu has a bit of trouble keeping up, if I’m honest. His best acting is always in quiet moments, and there’re so few of those for him here. 40% of his screen time is consumed by Gary Busey, and 40% of it belongs to Swayze. It’s good that he gets a little time alone, and with Lori Petty, who brings a ferocious strength to her role.

OK. That’s the preamble. Now let’s just talk about Bigelow’s directing forever. This is her theme: a band of outlaws giving very few fucks about anything but the thrill of danger. Give her that canvas, and you get the perfect action moments but also the perfect moments of stillness (Petty and Reeves, asleep, shot from overhead). You get the last shots of the empty big wave, saying it all.

The skydiving sequences are ridiculous. They’re timeless in the sense that thirty years later, they still feel innovative. They’re so beautiful you almost forget to be tense, and so tense you forget how beautiful the sky is.

I’ll also always be fascinated by Bigelow’s icy moral neutrality. The cops aren’t good guys here. Neither is Bodhi. It’s takes Johnny Utah to push Bodhi into risking his life even harder, and it takes Bodhi to show Utah that being a cop is a shit job. They’re not good for each other, they’re just inevitable. This trope recurs more than once for her.

Boofest 2023: connected to Two-Lane Blacktop by youthful counter-culture furiously rebelling against society’s chains.

7/7/2023: Bringing Up Baby (1938): ****1/2

Psh, and they said Hepburn always played herself. The transition to Swinging Door Suzie is a delight. Can’t go wrong with Howard Hawks, either; he’s solid as a rock and there’s this casual deftness to his shots. Watch for the reveal when Cary Grant falls off the cliff.

7/8/2023: Flesh + Blood (1985): ***

I like a bit of tawdry satire as much as the next guy but the last half an hour or so of this dragged. Points for the cheerful sledgehammer Verhoeven uses to tell us that nobility lives in the shit along with everyone else.

On the whole I think Verhoeven tends to leave too much room for half the audience to cheer the really unpleasant material and this one’s no exception. It’s obvious that nobody here is any kind of saint, but then you wind up charmed by them after all. When he finds the right balance it’s brilliant — see Robocop — but when he misses it dilutes the anger.

Was Rutger Hauer dubbed in this?

7/9/2023: Prospect (2018): ***1/2

About fifteen minutes in and I can’t believe how familiar the scenery looks and yeah, that’s the Olympic Peninsula. So that was cool. Also cool: Pedro Pascal and Sophie Thatcher.

The design is great. I could have been watching something lifted directly from the dusty pages of a 70s Analog SF Magazine. Overall it’s a B movie and it’s fine with that and it’s fun.

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