It Always Rains on Ben Affleck: Short Movie Reviews

The Leopard: Burt Lancaster is the patriarch of an aristocratic Sicilian family whose role in society is inevitably being usurped by the rising middle class during the period of Italian unification. Directed in sun-soaked autumnal shade and color by Caravaggio–I mean, Visconti.

Lancaster is so good at these autumnal roles (The Swimmer) and everything here is gorgeous to look at. My favorite social or psychological note was the complex role played by the Church/the family priest. The patriarch is well aware that they are not really playing for the same team: At the end of the day the Church looks to the world to come, not the present social order; and the end of the day is drawing near. There’s a very fun conversation about how the patriarch needs to go to Confession, in which I think the priest is sincere on some level, though also attempting a characteristically clumsy manipulation on a more obvious level.

I wasn’t really hooked, which is a problem when a movie is three hours long and mostly full of wistful languor, wry resignation, discussions of battles that took place off-screen, and dresses. But that is a statement about me and if you can plunge yourself into this I think you’ll love it.

The family’s Catholicism starts out plangent (and I wish the version we saw translated the Latin, since I think it matters that they’re praying the Sorrowful Mysteries at the start–although I guess if you know what a sorrowful mystery is you probably already know enough Latin to figure out that that’s what that is) and even histrionic, but ends on a hushed and intimate note. I saw it with a stereotypically “presentist” audience but even they were quiet and, I think, moved by the final act of reverence.

The rest of these films are available on Netflix streaming in the US, in case that’s relevant information to you.

Honeymoon: A short, sharp horror flick (which I found via this review from the Deadly Doll) about a newlywed couple who go to the wife’s childhood summer cabin for their honeymoon. And then the wife starts to change.

What a truly great premise, really. It’s everything there is to fear about the marriage promise. You are yoking yourself not only to the happy present of this person, but to her unknown future self. Not just to the happy memories she’s shared with you, but to the past shames and sorrows she herself may not even remember. What if she changes? What if you’re not prepared? What if you can’t bear what you’ve promised to bear?

Throw in some anxiety around childbearing, and one of the most intense body-horror scenes I have witnessed in a very long time (I can usually watch any horror flick without physical flinching, but I flat-out recoiled and covered my face for this film’s one gory scene), and you’ve got a seriously scary and emotional film.

Here’s something that isn’t about this movie per se, but about the cultural world in which it draws its ragged breaths: I have to say that if you make an “is-she-crazy” horror flick with intense body horror concerning a woman’s reproductive system, I’m gonna side-eye you pretty hard. It’s not that nobody should make is-she-crazy or womb/vagina-horror movies. They touch on powerful fears, of women as well as men. It’s just… why do we go there so often? And I’m biased, sisters before misters and all that, but I think of something like Promises I Can Keep, where many of the women avoided marriage precisely because they’d seen so many men change dramatically for the worse after rings are on fingers. They had seen so many gentlemen in courtship become tyrants in wedlock. It’s not usually women, is it?, who think the marriage license is a deed of title. So there’s something in this film’s storyline that seems like it obscures a hard truth.

That said–this is a really solid, frightening and wrenching film. And it’s perfect for date night!

Kicking and Screaming: Endearing light comedy about that liminal year right after graduating from college. The always-charming Chris Eigeman plays Max, the ringleader of a pack of (let’s be real) losers. Noah Baumbach captures a lot of real-life dynamics perfectly here: Several of these guys are transparent in their desire to be taught how to live, how to act, but they don’t yet have the wisdom to choose good models or mentors. The corny rituals, like the buzz-in trivia game they play together, and the way they’re starting to notice the corniness and loudly reject it in the hopes that rejecting it will better their social position within the pack. That in-between stage where you’re quitting smoking–you already have things you’re quitting–but you still wear a retainer.

I also enjoyed the little wigginesses around the edges: the neon signs advertising RODENT SUPPLIES and SNAKE RENTAL among various normal items; the overheard snatches of conversation, “Let me tell you the worst thing about losing a foot!”

Wet Hot American Summer: It’s the last day of Jewish summer camp, 1981. (Already I am sort of in love with this movie.) A bunch of confusingly-aged campers and counselors endure a series of misadventures in which heterosexuality yanks them around like sticky, slobbery puppets. There’s a delightfully low opinion of human nature on display here. Everyone is very, very, very stupid in pursuit of the opposite sex.

The gay subplot is okay but feels dated, and not because it takes place in 1981. The horrifying refrigerator thing, by contrast, is still quite pungent satire.

Honestly I did feel that this movie was too long–it’s mostly one kind of humor, the exaggeration of human narcissism and stupidity–and the Jewishness wasn’t specific enough. We actually get a lot of it but… somehow it always feels surface-level. Costuming, not soul, you know? IDK, as a veteran of Camp Shalom and the JCC summer camp I wanted more than the terrific joke about all the Debbies. But if you read the first line of this capsule review and were already giggling I can definitely recommend it.

Changing Lanes: Holy cow, this was not what I expected.

It’s a thriller in which Samuel L. Jackson plays Doyle Gipson, a recovering alcoholic who gets in a collision with Wall Street lawyer Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck) as they’re both on their way to court. The consequences of the collision devastate Gipson’s family life, threaten his sobriety, and push him toward violence; meanwhile the same spiral of consequences exposes the lies and complicity underlying Banek’s wealth, career, and marriage. Wedding rings gleam on every finger as the plot skids and twists. And this is one of those rare films set not at Christmas, but on Good Friday.

This was so, so, so good. Emotionally raw (the scene where Banek talks with a priest does not go at all where a lesser movie might have taken it) and unpredictable, yet every unpredictable action seems, in retrospect, like the logical result of the two men’s situations and characters. There’s even, I swear to you, a scene with a set-piece speech in which the girl on a beach symbolizes–basically!–Lady Poverty.

It’s not perfect. Toward the very end I started to think, I’m not sure this is gonna stick the landing, and I don’t really think it did. While you can consider the movie’s ending quite dark, I don’t think the movie itself knows how dark it is. This movie is still allured by power, I think.

But so much of it is so good. A moral drama in which structural and personal sin both play starring roles; and conscience can only overcome so much.

“They have to write their own letters.”


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