After the Dark (2014):
- Very nice production values, but ultimately a pretty shit movie. Most of the scenes are just fantasy sequences from thought experiments, so the actual stakes are super low and it’s hard to reconcile that with the way that they’re presented to us; also, ugh, introductory philosophy thought experiments. The main actress is kind of terrible; Sophie Lowe is pretty in an ethereal way that certainly adds to the movie’s beautiful visuals, but she needs to be brilliant and charismatic to sell all of the other characters’ reactions to her, and instead she just comes across as sort of…delicately stoned?
- I didn’t connect to Fargo at all, but at the same time, I can’t really find any faults with it. The writing is very clever, the performances are solid, etc., but I was just never super invested in what was going to happen next, and the humor is more the sort of “oh, I recognize that this situation/character is absurd” humor than visceral, laugh-out-loud humor1. I suspect that Coen brothers movies just might not be my thing, because I felt the same way about The Big Lebowski and (probably, although I can’t really remember) Burn After Reading. I did find Inside Llewyn Davis emotionally engaging (i.e. I cried. I definitely cried.), maybe because it leaned more heavily on the drama side of comedy-drama?
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2015):
- So I watched Fargo in preparation for this, since its premise is that this depressed Japanese office worker, Kumiko (played by the excellent Rinko Kikuchi), becomes convinced that the treasure Steve Buscemi buries in Fargo is real and that it’s her destiny to discover it2. Which sounds like a Quirky and Fun premise for a Quirky and Fun indie film, but oh god, it was so painful and depressing (I cried. I definitely cried.).
- The character of Kumiko feels really well-defined; for example, we keep seeing her make terrible impulsive decisions from minorly terrible things like attempting to steal a library book to majorly terrible things like getting off a bus in Bumfuck Nowhere, Minnesota and trying to head to Fargo on foot. All of these decisions seem to happen in cases where she sets out to do something and then is placed in circumstances that are out of her control (the check-out line at the library is too long, the bus breaks down on the way to Fargo and the passengers are told to wait while the driver arranges alternate transportation for them, etc.), so they can probably be seen as her misguided way of reclaiming the agency that she lacks in her shitty office job and/or an unwillingness to think about long-term consequences of her actions, because that maybe comes too close to thinking about her future and the fact that she really doesn’t have anything to live for. Like, even though the concept of a modern person believing in the treasure from Fargo is totally ludicrous (and they do address this humorously in the movie), it sort of works with the idea that Kumiko’s life is so utterly devoid meaning at the time that she finds the VHS of Fargo that she probably would have elevated whatever she had found to Delusional Life Purpose status. But wow, it is really hard to watch her keep making these self-sabotaging decisions; until the very end, there’s always the hope that things could still turn around, although it becomes less and less likely with every decision and finally (SPOILER: we reach the ending fantasy sequence of her finding the treasure (yay!) because she’s clearly freezing to death (not yay). Which is really well-done, and it probably wouldn’t have felt true to the rest of the movie to have it end in a more conventionally happy way.)
The Covenant (2006):
- So this is a movie about dude-witches. Like not just male witches, but explicitly dude witches. Five dudes who are pretty much the epitome3 of the early-2000s conception of teen dude attractiveness. The opening credits are basically a cheesy slideshow of old books and supernatural imagery set to a White Zombie remix, and god, everything about this movie is just so of its time and fitting. Let’s be clear that this is not a “good” movie, but DUDE-WITCHES. Sebastian Stan plays the ambiguously gay villain and it is great and I hope he’s not ashamed of his performance in this now that he has moved on to bigger and better things, because he basically carries the movie.
- Solid. Definitely earned its status as a classic. Faye Dunaway was very attractive. Nothing to say that hasn’t already been said hundreds of times.
Moulin Rouge! (2001):
- Wow, I fucking HATED this this movie, which I was not expecting at all. To be fair, pretty much all I knew about Moulin Rouge beforehand was that it was a jukebox musical, critics/award committees liked it, and Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor were in it as a consumptive prostitute and a presumably4 charming dude, respectively. I actually thought it would be too much of a downer because of the whole consumptive prostitute thing, and wow, was that not the case. I have nothing against over-the-top campiness; I love Barbarella and Lisztomania and those movies are both fucking insane in their levels of camp. But something about Moulin Rouge’s campiness seems to cross the line to a sort of grotesque level of tastelessness? It’s all very ~wacky~ but not actually that creative, maybe? There’s so much hacky slapstick/farcical humor that just doesn’t work for me and feels especially gross juxtaposed with the whole tragic love story element of the movie. And all of the “humor” and wackiness ends up detracting from whatever emotional resonance the tragic love story might otherwise have. The whole “El Tango de Roxanne” sequence does work really well and maybe it was worth watching just for that, but otherwise, the musical sequences just felt like “haha, look, we’re being so anachronistic! Isn’t that just ~wacky~ of us?” What was up with movies in 2001 for this to get nominated for 6 Golden Globes, 13 BAFTAs, and 8 Oscars?
1. And neither of these is inherently better, but the latter is probably more engaging. ^
2. Apparently based on an urban legend surrounding the very real suicide of Takako Konishi, which I was totally unaware of before watching the movie. ^
3. Note that 2 of the 5 were on Gossip Girl and that makes so much sense. ^
4. Because is Ewan McGregor even capable of not being charming? ^