“Have You Ever Heard of Insect Politics?”: Short film reviews

“Have You Ever Heard of Insect Politics?”: Short film reviews March 5, 2022

Mostly horror.

“The Tragedy of Macbeth”: Dang this was good. Expressionist, tilting the story far into genre horror (you’ll remember that the Coens made Barton Fink), weird and witchy and sad. The opening will remind you that Macbeth was out there killin’ folk well before anybody ever called him Thane of Cawdor. In fact, this version downplays Lady Macbeth’s role; this Macbeth seems a hop skip and a jump away from murder from very early on. Alex Hassell (Ross) and Corey Hawkins (Macduff) were great. Denzel Washington was, unexpectedly, sort of bland for the first half, only waking up in the home stretch.

“Cat People”: The 1982 one. A Paul Schrader Joint, so it’s aggressively-directed and looks haunting, but so unpleasant in its underlying worldview. If Paul Schrader movies and I were at a party, I’d spend the whole time trying to subtly edge away from them as they told me about how sex is redemptive and also evil, and also what women are for. Anyways, setting aside the fact that this movie features a black sidekick named “Female” (feh-MAH-lee, thanks for immortalizing this gross, racist urban legend on film), I will say that I loved the dreamlike sequences set in the Old Country, with the mythic tree against the fiery sky. One point for that, one point for Annette O’Toole, otherwise uhhhh it’s been lovely talking to you but I think my ride is here.

“The Fly”: Also the ’80s one. This movie is so sad! It is just a sad and brutal tale of a man who turns into a like man-housefly. And you think it will be campy, everyone’s so stylishly dressed!, it’s got Geena Davis!, but this movie didn’t come here to have fun. I think the moment I realized how hard this thing might go was when the fly guy, having given this speech about how insects don’t have politics, and you’re trying to follow his point, and it’s sad but not like gut-wrenchingly sad–and then he stares at his ex-lover and point-blanks it for her: “I’m saying I’ll hurt you if you stay.”

And things go downhill from there. This movie is convincing, it’s emotionally raw (and it’s a horror film about people in a situation, rather than a horror film where the situation is really a metaphor for grief or whatever), and it’s so much harder to watch than I expected. One million stars, won’t rewatch.

“England Is Mine”: A Morrissey biopic covering solely the period between his leaving school and deciding to be in a band with Johnny Marr. A bizarre choice! And in theory maybe a great one: Let’s make a movie about a young man repeatedly failing to form the Smiths. But in reality that turns out to mean a movie about not much happening while someone who looks sort of like Morrissey mopes and throws out occasional half-versions of Smiths lyrics. I’m against biopics of the living, in general (if you can call what Morrissey does living, yes, I know), but this could have been delightful if it had ditched the kitchen-sink drama of Youth and decided to be a bleak comedy where every missed chance is a pratfall. (Also if it had decided to be at least 20% more homosexual, come on.)

“Red Dragon”: The acting is so good in this Thomas Harris adaptation that you almost want to say, “Yes, there was a reason to make this film,” before remembering that Manhunter exists. By comparison this was always going to be fairly bland, Brett Ratner just lacks that twitchy neon touch, but I will say the scene with the sedated tiger is even better here than in Mann’s version.

“Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home”: My first Alan Smithee movie! It’s not as bad as you might think! Jon Cryer is a horror-loving teen brought home from boarding school by his Republican parents so they can pose as the perfect family for his dad’s upcoming Senate reelection bid. Romcom hijinks ensue. This film is not good; it leans on clips of “The Brady Bunch” and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes to cadge the goodwill it can’t earn on its own. But Lynn Redgrave is delightful as the GOP mom (her costumes are also fantabulous, especially the like mermaid rainbow thing she wears for the finale), and all the other actors are working hard to elevate the material, right down to Leeza Vinnichenko’s Russian emigrant cook. Semi-painless, but the only real audiences for this thing are Redgrave completists and people writing their thesis on the Republican Party in 1980s teen films.

“The Scary of 61st”: How to even describe this. The Red Scare lady who’s on Succession made a movie, and it is about an apartment haunted by literal, actual, this name is said in the movie, Jeffrey Epstein and his victims.

Basically my reactions came in three phases. Phase 1, before I knew what the movie was about: This is aggressively-directed, all these low camera angles and statuary close-ups are kinda cheap, but okay, if the actual movie is good I will call this fun, I’m ready to have fun here. I’m enjoying the humor here. Is this what Girls is like, adult women in girl skirts hunching their shoulders and declaring their impatience with one another’s mental-health problems.

Phase 2, the Epstein thing is introduced: …This seems like inherently a terrible idea, but what if it isn’t? Like yeah, when this character says that Epstein was “our 9/11,” I kind of get it, you could make a film about the radical disruption of the world when you realize just how much evil is done by people in power, how much the literal real world seems like a rigged game show where the prize is always pedophilia. And also how unstable so many of the people who talk about that stuff are! (“Do you know about Pizzagate?”, the very sharp smash-cut ending to one scene.) The movie’s title is maybe an allusion to A Nightmare on Elm Street: What if America isn’t shady suburban Elm Street, where the child-murderer is an intruder, but the Manhattan penthouses where the abusers are the ones at home? The loss of confidence in normal authority is a central horror theme, maybe even the crucial element that takes a plot into the horror genre, so… maybe you can make a film about that, that brings in fame-as-Satanism themes like Starry Eyes but is also a quasi-political intervention? Maybe???

Phase 3, the entire second half of the movie: Yeah but the people who would want to make an Epstein supernatural horror movie are not the people who are gonna do it well. Having had its one idea, this movie then just gives up on saying anything or doing anything with it other than pornography. I watched to the end to see if there would be any kind of theme, if the characters would go on an inner journey or take me on one, but nope, it is all just pornogore, and I felt disgusted and hated being there.

This is a movie where when you hear what it is, your first reaction is gonna be, “That should not have been made,” and while I often defend that kind of movie… this movie should not have been made.

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