Small Screens: Several Very Short Movie Reviews

Small Screens: Several Very Short Movie Reviews December 8, 2014

What I’ve been watching.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: Actually pretty fun, once you get past the narcissism and abuse of women.

EDIT: I should say that the latter two elements aren’t things I wish they’d left out of the movie. They add texture to what could have been a plasticky, “drugs R fun!”, self-consciously edgy cliche. F&LILV manages to be neither a cautionary tale nor an ad for addiction.

Whiplash: Miles Teller is a super actor. This is not the movie to see him in. It’s a joyless film full of sports-movie cliches transplanted to the arts. And it acts like it’s making a wrong-but-countercultural “abusive teaching is the best kind!” movie, but does a ton of CYA “no wait, that doesn’t actually work and anyway is bad” correct-but-boring bet-hedging.

Alice, Sweet Alice: Catholicism as hothouse of evil. This will work really well for some people; it’s this specific ’70s horror style for which I have a very low tolerance, the self-serious hysterical style. Like Who Can Kill a Child? and Don’t Look Now, both of which are much better than this. But its alternate title is Communion so there are people in my audience who will probably like it. It’s probably better than I think it is.

The Ice Harvest: Perfectly serviceable John Cusack Christmas noir. I enjoyed this a lot but it’s slight.

M. Butterfly: Directed by David Cronenberg! This was pretty terrific. I’d already liked the play by David Henry Hwang a lot; making it a movie adds not just Jeremy Irons, though that’s excellent, but also a broader historical scope. The very brief Cultural Revolution scenes give the movie a lot of depth. I don’t mind that the final scene spells out the entire arc of the play’s symbolism for you, because what we’re seeing, in that moment, is a man who–unlike 99% of us–has finally realized who he is, what role he is playing in his own life. Unsurprisingly it’s a moment of pitch-black camp. All of death is a choice of genre….

The Craft: This is a really vindictive movie. (If you’re wondering how I managed to make it this far without ever seeing The Craft, I think by the time it came out I was too self-serious to just plunge myself into the Heathers of it all. Wish I’d seen it way back then, though.) I mostly loved the first half of it, the ’90s Goth-chick girl-gang stuff. Loved Fairuza Balk’s howling response when a boy tries to apologize for his horrible behavior: “You’re sorry? You’re sorry?! He’s sorry! He’s sorry!”, just shrieking and shaking herself back and forth like a possessed jack-in-the-box. It’s the response I think most people who have really been wronged would love to make.

But then as the movie progresses, two things happen. First, the girl gang turns on its own, which I know was heavily foreshadowed but come on, this is such a cliche, women be backstabbin’ etc. And also, there is just no forgiveness for anyone ever, and all the vengeance is presented with such delectation. It’s for the pleasure of the audience. That’s why we see the main villain twisting and laughing and begging on a bed in a mental hospital for like five minutes–it’s not enough to know that someone is punished. We have to really get a good taste.

The “You’re sorry?!” scene works because you feel so deeply for the girl who won’t forgive, who sees the greasy cruelty hidden in so many pleas for mercy, but you also know she doesn’t have control of the narrative. The movie’s whole finale is even more merciless, and I think we’re meant to feel satisfied instead of repelled. (This even though the person who’s most thoroughly punished was really obviously acting out of past hurts.) The least-Christian feature of the movie isn’t the witchery but the casual rejection of forgiveness.

The race stuff would be poignant I guess, if the writers had bothered to give the black girl a personality. Or any background traits besides her skin color.


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