My Week in Movies (3/26-4/1)

The Vanishing (1988) – dir. by George Sluizer

A woman disappears at a gas station, and her partner searches for her. That’s The Vanishing but this is more The Leftovers than it is a Gerard Butler revenge movie.

Rex and Saskia are a happy couple on vacation when she disappears without a trace (the Dutch title Spoorloos translates to “without a trace”). Soon after her disappearance we start to follow a new character, Raymond, who is (or will be) her abductor. It becomes a character study as we watch this sociopath (he knows he’s one) conduct a series of experiments, some effective and some of which he bumbles through like the fourth stooge.

By the time we return to Rex, three years have passed and he still searches for Saskia, even though he knows she is certainly gone for good. The story then becomes a slow motion cat and mouse thriller between Rex and Raymond, as they slowly gravitate towards each other. Rex wants to meet this person just so he can figure out what the hell happened. He knows Saskia’s gone, but he needs closure.

Raymond, being the sociopath that he is, takes some amount of pleasure in toying with Rex from afar until, in the third act, he approaches him face to face with a proposition that Rex can’t refuse.

This movie is terrific and has one of the more haunting final sequences I’ve seen in a movie. If other movies build to a high point and then stagger to the finish line, this one builds and builds and builds until it ends on the highest point possible. It’s a riveting, albeit slow, movie that deals more in psychology than action. It’s patient and speculative, centering around conversations between two people (Rex/Saskia, Rex and a future partner, Rex/Raymond, Raymond/his daughter) about ethics, theory, and so on. It’s like a series of TED talks about the human condition.

Which, y’know maybe that’s not the best way to sell this movie but it’s worth watching and it has stuck with me since.

*The movie was remade in 1993 with Jeff Bridges, Sandra Bullock and Kiefer Sutherland. It was directed once again by George Sluizer and according to the trailer it is not a very good movie.

You Should Watch If: You like HBO’s The Leftovers or gas station coffee

You Should Not Watch If: Your favorite movie stars Gerard Butler, Dwayne Johnson or Vin Diesel

5/5 stars

John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023) – dir. by George Stahelski

John Wick: Chapter 4 concludes (?) the John Wick saga. The film, running nearly 3 hours, intends to be a globe-trotting epic, with nods to movies like Lawrence of Arabia and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

And what makes a movie an “epic?” It’s very operatic, even melodramatic. Here you have three lead characters who have several face offs before the eventual, inevitable showdown.

There’s Jonathan Wick (Keanu Reeves) of course, as well as Caine (Donnie Yen) and Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson). They orbit each other through action set pieces that take place in Tokyo, Berlin and Paris and, oddly, they’re all equally invincible, in the same way John Wick has been through these four movies in which hundreds of nameless antagonists are dispatched like in any video game level.

I certainly enjoyed this movie, and you will too if you liked any of the previous Wicks. But this movie’s scope maybe extends a little too far. It feels the least essential of the four movies and in the end feels rushed towards a conclusion. And yet… listening to Stahelski talk about his inspirations for the movie makes me appreciate it a hell of a lot more, like how you might watch a French film from the 1950s that you wouldn’t say you “enjoy” but you appreciate like a healthy kale smoothie. “I’m glad I had that smoothie!” You might say while saying no to another.

You Should Watch If: You like any of the previous John Wick films.

You Should Not Watch If: You have a small bladder.

3.5/5 stars

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