My Week in Movies (2/12-2/18)

Huesera: The Bone Woman (2022) – dir. by Michelle Garza Caervera

If you like cracking your knuckles and the sledgehammer scene from Misery then you’ll love this movie. Valeria’s (Natalia Solián) pregnancy digs up old demons and trauma, symbolized by the “bone woman” who appears in her visions and dreams and serves to isolate her from everyone around her.

She is the black sheep of a family that seems unconvinced she will make a good mother, much less an occasional babysitter. Before the supernatural elements even begin Valeria is already on an island. Then the bone-crunching bone woman appears and well, that’s never a good thing is it?

The jump scare moments are effective but the recurring moments of horror feel a little too neat and tidy. It’s also been done plenty of times, with the monster/creature/demon/spirit there to torment and isolate the protagonist who seems unable to communicate the depths of their experience to those around them. In reality this may be honest, how our own traumas and struggles might make us withdraw, but in the context of a movie it’s a little infuriating to see her refuse to speak about what’s happening, instead just suffering through them until the inevitable finale where it will be addressed.

As a movie, it’s stimulating and appropriately unsettling but a little predictable, culminating in that finale that has been continuously implied throughout the story.

3.5/5 stars

Orphan: First Kill (2022) – dir. by William Brent Bell

Maybe I should have watched Orphan (2009) first, but hell this was an entertaining and insane movie. I wouldn’t call it good, or scary, but it is wild.

Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), the titular character, is a killer who looks like a child but is really a 30-ish year old woman. She has killed before, she will kill again, and in First Kill she cons her way into the lives of a rich family (led by matriarch Julia Stiles) by impersonating their missing daughter.

A twist halfway through changes our relationship to Esther and everyone else involved in the story. It does that thing that horror franchises seem to do where they take the main character/villain of the first movie and put them in a sequel where you end up rooting for them against some other more villainous force (The Blind Man in Don’t Breathe and Don’t Breathe 2, for example. Also Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator and Terminator 2).

To describe the plot would be to ruin it, and though it may not be the most inventive thing ever, I sure had a good time. This plays like some type of B-Movie from the 70s. It’s never all that scary or dramatic or funny or moving but it is deliriously fun, partially because I can’t understand why this movie exists.

3/5 stars

Entergalactic (2022) – dir. by Fletcher Moules

Entergalactic is a rom-cam animated in a style like that of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. There is no multiverse, no supernatural characters, but the animation does heighten and romanticize New York and turn it into a dreamscape that you want to spend more time in.

The movie is broken up into chapters and plays like a comic book, telling the story of Jabari (Kid Cudi) and Meadow (Jessica Williams), two neighbors and artists who go through the usual charming meet cutes and trials and tribulations of movie love. And I’ve never rooted more for two animated characters to end up together (not since Wall-E and Eve, at least).

3.5/5 stars

Reprise (2008) – dir. by Joachim Trier

Reprise follows two friends and and writers, Erik and Philip. They are young, full of themselves and life and highly competitive. Over the course of this rather rad film about their messy lives, they both publish novels but suffer other self-imposed disasters and and banishments. They write, it seems, to survive. For one this is painfully clear, for the other it’s more of en ego-driven undertaking.

But in any case it’s a madness they contend with and then, in times of dramatic inspiration, they harness. The film might alienate people unamused by the characters’ self-centered mission and delusions of grandeur… but I was quite taken with it. And I never saw their delusion as narcissism (though maybe a tiny bit) but instead as something they themselves feel burdened by. For most of the film they’re having a not so great time. They suffer, they fight, they drink and occasionally they write.

The film frames this in a way that suggests some self-awareness. It’s a writer writing about writers who take themselves a little too seriously but do so because there is something within them they want to exorcise like a demon. And the film as a whole feels like an exorcism.

What I like about Joachim Trier’s movie, similar to his recent The Worst Person in the World, is that the film’s structure feels just as messy and unrestrained as its characters’ lives. Sure there’s probably a three act structure in here somewhere but the film is inventive and free, vacillating between moments of comedy to sobering reality. There is a repeated use of voiceover that tells us about the characters’ lives, almost like describing test subjects in some sort of experiment.

They are characters attempting to channel something pure and honest within themselves but who can’t help but be cliches. And maybe we’re all just different cliches in the end.

A good double feature with Lukas Dhont’s Close – similar closeness and rift between Erik and Philip as the two kids there (Leo and Remi).

4/5 stars

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023) – dir. by Peyton Reed

This is a Marvel movie.

3/5 stars

Magic Mike’s Last Dance (2023) – dir. by Steven Soderbergh

Magic Mike is easy to typecast, and it’s not as though the movie is subversive. It is what you think it is, but it plays to its strengths quite well.

In Last Dance Mike (Channing Tatum) meets a wealthy patron, Maxandra (Selma Hayek) who gives him the resources to stage a show in London. They take an existing staid, predictable melodrama and infuse it with, well, strippers.

The movie is structured around the dance scenes and it’s quite cool to see how sincerely the movie presents its subject matter. There is never any sense of winking meta commentary, it’s just direct and loving. The movie does celebrate dance, though maybe to someone actually trained in modern (or classical) dance the running narration is a little heavy-handed (Maxandra’s daughter tells us about the history of dance and why it’s important).

But I don’t know, it’s a fun movie, Tatum knows how to move and Soderbergh knows how to direct.

The couple beside me at the Alamo Drafthouse screening seemed to be having a good time but when the credits began to role, he turned to her and said “that was the worst movie I’ve ever seen.” So it goes.

3.5/5 stars

The Cathedral (2021) – dir. by Ricky D’Ambrose

I have a book of photography by William Eggleston, whose portraits capture so many of the mundane, seemingly disposable aspects of day-to-day life. A stained table cloth, the light hitting a vending machine outside a gas station, a woman’s beehive hairdo.

The Cathedral is composed almost entirely of such portraits. The camera is static, often looking down at little slices of life. It’s intensely concerned with the details of one family’s existence over the course of twenty or so years.

The film is a bit clinical, very restrained, and feels more like a docudrama, in part because the film is autobiographical to the director Ricky D’Ambrose. It tells the story of a family through a series of vignettes, interspersed with occasional television footage, using political or otherwise notorious moments burned in the public consciousness in order to place us in time.

I love stories told over long periods of time. It shows how time is such a factor in our lives, how it moves through us and changes us without us even realizing, at least not until we stop and reflect on how much has changed. Examples of this include Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (2014) and Mike Mills’ collaboration with The National, I Am Easy to Find (2019). In fact the end of Mike Mills’ film 20th Century Women is itself a version of this film. It uses voiceover to plainly tell us how someone’s life changed over a handful of years.

The effect can be dehumanizing, framing us as test subjects in life’s grand experiment, but I find it comforting. We are all part of the same stream, subject to the same eventual forces. And The Cathedral captures a lot of this. It is perhaps style over substance but that style is effective. And at the very least, each frame of the movie feels is beautiful and so well-considered. What the f*ck am I saying, I just eat up this style of storytelling and I found it pretty to look at.

3.5/5 stars

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