Across 110th Street (1972) – dir. by Barry Shear
This is a grimy, ugly (in a good way) crime film. It’s sweaty (literally, filmed in summer in Harlem) and ultra-violent, with bodies squirting blood like punctured ketchup packets.
It’s a story about two-bit criminals who get in over their heads after a robbery gone wrong. Underneath that it’s a story about class, race and the emptiness of the American Dream. I think.
It’s a bit strange, a depiction of racism intended to hold it accountable but which also seems to treat Anthony Quinn’s actions as akin to the behavior of a misbehaving child. He’s a white cop who doesn’t know any better (though the end will give him a moment of intended redemption followed by a swift comeuppance).
Thematically this covers the same territory as 1967’s In the Heat of the Night and in a way this feels like a knock-off… but a good knock-off.
Memphis (2013) – dir. by Tim Sutton
I’m a fan of Tim Sutton’s movies conceptually, though not always in execution. His films are lyrical, poetic, abstract bordering on vague. It works best in Pavilion, less so in Dark Night and about half the time in Memphis.
There’s a story here, or the hint of one. It’s about a musician (Willis Earl Beal) who offers brief snippets of monologues (at a church, to a friend, on a radio station) but is otherwise at odds with himself and his environment. He’s a bit of a ghost but one with a platform. People come to him for… something, wisdom, meaning, music, etc. But on his own he wanders like a child in Stand By Me or like, well, a ghost.
He’s a musician on a vision quest, and the movie follows him along like a voyeur.
Baby Ruby (2022) – dir. by Bess Wohl
Tough go of things here. This is a psychological horror movie (thriller?) about postpartum depression that feels exploitative and uninspired. Oh huh, that sounded like something a critic would say.
It’s a movie with something to communicate, about an experience, about gender roles, about isolation and mental health… but it’s wrapped up in a story more concerned with creating the occasional ‘nice shot,’ jump scare and has a limited narrative stitching it altogether.
It’s also one of those stories where the woman’s tortured experience is denied by everyone around her. Is she crazy and paranoid? Or is she right to believe her own experience? This is a sub-genre within itself and relies on tired tropes and moments that strain plausibility.
The story wants you to experience what Jo (Noémie Merlant) experiences, her hallucinations and disconnection with time, but it’s predictable and not at all threatening or frightening or unsettling. It’s maddening.
But some of those ‘nice shots’ are pretty nice, that’s true.
Return to Seoul (2022) – dir. by Davy Chou
Good movie! Several time jumps and a young woman’s (Freddie) search for her biological parents in Seoul. It’s a character study about someone lost (as we all are from time to time), and then with the jumps in time we see not so much how she marches forward towards acceptance and understanding, but we see how time itself transforms her.
What’s interesting is that she is always sort of missing the mark, her mark, whatever that means. She’s searching for some sort of answer, an explanation, just for her own history. But she does so a bit indirectly. She’s full of life and circles the drain, so to speak. She responds not so much to what eludes her but to the symptoms of that elusiveness.
As she grows and evolves, all the way until the end, it’s as though something constantly remains just out of grasp. And in the end what matters is less the question and more her relationship to the question. Ya get me?
Till (2022) – dir. by Chinonye Chukwu
Tough movie to watch, though based on the subject material that was always going to be the case. And that’s the point! About the power of beholding, of not looking away. It’s beautiful and grizzly, Danielle Deadwyler is fantastic, and the only thing that kept me at a distance was the constantly perfect lighting and framing. This thing looks like a Netflix tv show, designed to keep you visually stimulated while you multitask on your iPad, but that subject matter is grave and at times riveting. And always hard to watch.