My Week in Movies (2/5-2/11)

Plane (2023) – dir. by Jean-Francois Richet

I’ve become a huge fan of these benign Gerard Butler action movies. Like mid-tier Clint Eastwood movies, they are a bit predictable but like a good re-run, that’s sort of the point (recent exception is the decidedly not feel good movie Greenland, 2020)

In Plane, Butler plays a pilot named Brodie Torrance, tasked with what should be a simple New Year’s Eve flight for 14 people, including a convict named Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter). The plane gets struck by lightning, loses all power and Torrance executes a perfect landing… on an island run by local gangs.

Pretty quickly they are off the plane and fighting for their lives. Brodie and Louis find themselves separated from the passengers turned hostages (a la John McClane in Die Hard) and they work around the edges, picking off the gun-toting antagonists until they can save the passengers.

It’s not as fun as you might expect, in the sense of “action movies should be fun.” Plane takes itself pretty seriously and aims for sentimentality over winking self-awareness.

3/5 stars

Corpse Bride (2005) – dir. by Tim Burton

Corpse Bride is short and small in scale, but as a stop motion film I suppose it has to be (though Guillermo del Toro’s recent Pinochio blows up this idea).

Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp) is arranged to marry Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson) but one botched rehearsal and accidental proposal later he finds himself committed to the Corpse Bride (Helene Bonham Carter). She was engaged to a man who instead left her to die and she finds herself waiting for this man (or a surrogate man) to come back. So Victor is now that man.

He then enters the underworld, presented as a dark eternal night ‘one floor’ below the land of the living. Anytime the characters refer to the living, they mention going “upstairs.”

It’s a playful movie wrapped in a familiar Burton hellscape, at once off-putting and kind-hearted. The other dead characters are in various stages of deterioration, some missing chunks of skin, others just a series of bones. They are the characters of nightmare but they are portrayed as irresistibly curious and kind, as if to say that in death you are less ego and more purely yourself.

Or maybe it’s that in the land of the dead there is less that needs to be done. They drink and celebrate and band together like you hope any close-knit community might, during a time of need. Within the worlds of this film, the land of the dead is much more appealing than the land of the living (portrayed in stark grays and blacks, characters created to look as eerie and unsettling as possible).

The plot concerns Victor returning to his living bride-to-be, a woman for whom he quickly established a romantic rapport, but he comes to love the Corpse Bride and intends to honor his unwitting commitment to her.

3/5 stars

Close (2022) – dir. by Lukas Dhont

Close is an at times powerful and at times conventional coming of age story. Or maybe it’s not conventional, but I couldn’t help thinking it wasn’t what it could have or should have been.

It follows two friends, Leo & Remi, as they enter a new school and, basically, a new world. It’s unclear how old they are but the school (and the concept of school itself) seems new to them. They come from farming families that live close together, more or less off the radar. They spend all their time together, even sleeping in bed together. They fight and play like lion cubs, their affection untouched by the expectations and judgments of others.

There is maybe a hint of sexual discovery, but the focus is on the pure good-hearted, kind, playful, loving connection. They are for each other and of each other.

When they enter what looks to be junior high, peer pressure creates a rift between them, leading to a painful separation that ought to tug at anyone’s heart strings.

It’s then that the film, without spoiling it, goes a little too far into melodrama (for my personal liking). It becomes a story that is both universal and, in a way, the opposite of urgent. Or perhaps it only feels that way because the story of the first half of the film felt so incredibly specific, timeless and urgent.

The film as a whole is gorgeous and well-observed, and the acting is superb.

3.5/5 stars

Skinamarink (2022) – dir. by Kyle Edward Ball

The low budget, lo-fi horror film Skinamarink knows how to get under your skin and doesn’t seem concerned with holding your attention. Watching this film I wondered if that ever factored into Ball’s thinking. How do you make a film like this, so self-assured and unsettling, without worrying if your audience will stick with you? It helps, I suppose to target a specific niche, and lo-fi horror seems to be that niche. Personally I’m unfamiliar with the sub-genre but light research suggests this film taps into something people are looking for (similar to another recent lo-fi film, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair).

In this film there is a plot but not really. It’s about two boys waking up in the middle of the night, discovering they are (or are they?) all alone and that there are no doors or windows. The entire film is dark and extremely grainy, such that the grain becomes quickly hypnotic, to the point that you’re often unaware if you’re looking at something or at nothing.

Every shot, if I recall, is static and often pointed up at the ceiling, catching portions of a wall, of a tv, or a child’s feet. All audio is muffled, bringing to mind the static television scene from Poltergeist. Everything is right there but feels as though it’s very far away, like a spirit recently departed. Are the children dead and just don’t know it? Something supernatural certainly seems afoot.

3/5 stars

Alice, Darling (2022) – dir. by Mary Nighy

In Alice, Darling, Anna Kendrick plays Alice, a woman slowly realizing she’s in an abusive relationship. Watching the film you might think she already knows this but she goes back and forth between awareness of how awful the situation is and complete ignorance. In that way it feels true to life, when you’re stuck in a place and know you need to escape but the idea of escape is so overwhelming that it feels easier to just abide by the rules forced upon you.

She’s afraid but increasingly determined, aided in part by her two friends (Wunmi Mosaku & Kaniehtiio Horn) and in part by the recent disappearance of a young woman through which she recognizes a part of herself.

Alice goes with those two friends to a cabin to celebrate one’s 30th birthday. They help her see the frightening situation she’s in, but it never feels overly contrived in a way I anticipated. They don’t just sit her down and make things clear. Instead they have their own feelings and desires and fears. Alice’s behavior affects them and creates a feedback loop, the result of which forces them to sit down and have the conversation you know they will eventually have. And even then it never feels like a lecture but instead an actual conversation, a discussion. Alice shares how she feels and it’s a bit heartbreaking to see. She knows she’s stuck but the idea of freedom feels hopeless. We become our habits and she’s stuck in a dangerous one.

Other parts of the movie don’t quite work for me, but I admired what the story aims to do and how it aims to get there. It’s more subtle than you might guess and worth checking out.

2.5/5 stars

EO (2022) – directed by Jerzy Skolimowski

EO is about a donkey on an odyssey, much like Robert Bresson’s revered Au hasard Balthazar (1966). We follow this blank slate of a character as he is batted around the world like a pinball. Though EO doesn’t travel too far, he might as well be traversing oceans.

He starts in a position of safety (at a small circus), is taken away due to accusations of animal abuse, then bumbles around until his eventual death. Him being a literal live action donkey, there is never any emoting. Instead we see the world reflected in EO’s eyes, and we are left to form our own thoughts, watching him watch the world.

It’s playful and occasionally tragic. At other times it is unexpectedly hallucinogenic and trippy, even violent. It’s a very textured, alive experience. It also brings to mind Steven Spielberg’s A.I Artificial Intelligence (2001) and Todd Solondz’s Wiener-Dog (2016).

4/5 stars

Somebody I Used to Know (2023) – dir. by Dave Franco

Husband and wife team Alison Brie and Dave Franco are at it again. He directed her in 2020’s effective thriller The Rental and does so here in a vastly different kind of movie.

This one is a straight down the middle romantic comedy, taking its plot from 1997’s My Best Friend’s Wedding (and acknowledging it too). Do rom-coms just recycle old plots now? Like last year’s Marry Me taking the premise of Notting Hill (1999)? Well I guess Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail (1998) was based on The Shop Around the Corner (1940) so maybe this has always been the state of things.

At any rate, Brie plays Ally, a Los Angeles showrunner who returns home jaded after the cancellation of her reality tv baking show (there’s a great comedic opening scene that establishes both her manipulative tendencies and the world she finds herself stuck in). When she comes back home she finds herself face to face with Sean (Jay Ellis), the man she once loved and left behind to venture to LA.

Whereas the LA in this movie (and maybe in reality) is all fluff, her hometown is presented as down to earth and sincere. Though this being a movie, it’s more so just a fashionable kind of “down to earth.”

Sean is set to marry Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons) and Ally makes it her mission to break up the wedding and win him back. Things will of course not go according to plan and allegiances will shift. On the whole it’s a kind but at times listless movie, though one with good intentions.

Underneath the surface plot the movie explores (or at least touches on) the idea of choice: choosing one life and forsaking the idea of others, even if those “other” lives were never real to begin with. Ally made a choice, Sean made a choice, they’ve lived with the consequences of those choices and now they’ve come to a fork in the road and must make new choices. And isn’t that life? Just a series of choices that add up to something. Maybe we don’t “choose” so consciously but we’re constantly choosing something.

3/5 stars

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