infinity pool (brandon cronenberg, 2023)

This is the eighth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2023-24", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 9th annual challenge, and my fifth time participating (previous years can be found at "2019-20", "2020-21", "2021-22", and "2022-23"). Week 8 is called "Body Horror Week":

Prepare to be disgusted. Continuing this month of horror, let’s explore one of the subgenres that can really disturb and elicit a visceral reaction. Body horror features thrills based on the distortion, violation, and/or mutilation of the human body and has the power to make your skin crawl. From the godfather of Body Horror, David Cronenberg, to recent visionaries like his son, Brandon Cronenberg, and Julia Ducournau, there’s no shortage of filmmakers who use this subgenre to explore what it means to be human, to have corporal forms we can’t always control, and to have an identity that is based, at least partially, on how we and others perceive our physical selves.

This week buckle up for a wild ride and maybe don’t plan on eating dinner with your movie as you watch a body horror. Here’s a list from Maxvayne to help you out. The provocative imagery of Body Horror can help us think deeper about ourselves, but since this subgenre can also involve very real physiological reactions we respect anyone who cannot stomach these kinds of movies and offer up Body Swap movies as a lighter alternative with this list.

The list we picked from included lots of movies I really don't care for: Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Tusk come to mind. I do like some of the films, with the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers at the top, but I realize I don't actually think of that movie as "body horror". The closest blend of "I liked it a lot" and "I'd call it body horror" is Ginger Snaps. My favorite movie by "the godfather of Body Horror, David Cronenberg", was A History of Violence, which wasn't body horror and didn't make the list. It's rare that I enjoy body horror movies, which is a good reason to take part in challenges like this, which expand your horizons.

So I feel like a good boy because I made it through Infinity Pool. But I didn't like it much. I'm not sure I was supposed to "like" it, anyway. Admire it, think about it, sure, but like? There's some intriguing acting, especially from Mia Goth, and the gradual revelation of the plot is well-handled. But the movie never grabbed me, and with an over-the-top film like this, being grabbed seems like the point. So chalk this up to my dislike of the genre.

sátántangó (béla tarr, 1994)

Definitely a case of Eat Your Vegetables. I never found myself involved in Sátántangó ... OK, I laughed a couple of times, which I suppose is something, although two laughs in 7 hours and 19 minutes doesn't qualify as a laff riot. Yes, I know Sátántangó isn't meant to be a laff riot. I'm just looking for something to say about a movie I'd heard so much about, that I finally got around to watching, and as I expected, it's in the Terrence Malick Genre of Movies That Accomplish What the Film Makers Set Out to Do but That Aren't Meant for Me. (Factoid I didn't know: Malick is 12 years old than Béla Tarr.)

Seriously, this movie was never meant for me, and I can't dismiss it just because I didn't like it. So if you think you'd like to see a 439-minute example of Slow cinema, or if like me you are a wannabe completist who absolutely needs to see the 109th-best movie of all time according to the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They website, then by all means, go for it. Here's a tentative place to start, a Letterboxd list I just created filled with Slow cinema movies:

Slow cinema

Or, if you want to start with Slow movies I loved, check out L'Avventura or 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (some would argue these two movies are not Slow cinema), or Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles (which most definitely is Slow cinema).

There was one segment in Sátántangó that I found objectionable far beyond the "Tarr is accomplishing what he set out to do" angle. I knew from reading about the film that there would be a scene where a girl tortures and kills a cat. I wasn't prepared for the actuality, though. As I wrote on Facebook, "The cat scenes were far worse than I expected after reading about them and also reading an interview with Tarr. What a bunch of shit ... oh, we didn't hurt the cat, we had a vet there, blah blah blah. When she put the cat in a mesh net, the cat didn't look like it wanted to be a movie star as it struggled to escape. When she forced the cat's face into the milk, the cat wasn't having any fun. But it's all OK, because it's Art."

In honor of Phil Dellio, I have to post this highlight from the film, since he has used it many times as a way to convince me ... well, not sure what, but it worked, I did finally watch the movie.

geezer cinema: pieces of a woman (kornél mundruczó, 2020)

Near the beginning of Pieces of a Woman, we get an extended scene that is the equal of anything in any movie from 2020. We meet a couple expecting a baby ... it's time, the woman's water breaks, they are having a home birth. A midwife arrives, a replacement for the one they have worked with ... she is tied up in another delivery. The birth takes places over the course of more than 20 minutes, all done in a single take, which had to be very hard for the actors, especially Vanessa Kirby as the mom, Martha. (They did six takes in two days.)

What follows is an unsparing examination of grief. It is powerful, and Vanessa Kirby deserves her Oscar nomination (and not just for that birthing scene). As the substitute midwife, Molly Parker delivers (pun unintended) in a small part. And many will find Ellen Burstyn's performance as the Martha's mother be powerful, as well. Here I admit to a bias ... I have a real problem with moms who are oppressively intrusive. Burstyn does fine things with the part, and the relationship between mother and daughter is a highlight of the film. So YMMV, but I hated Burstyn's character, which got in the way of my appreciation of the part.

The structure of Pieces of a Woman makes perfect sense: the intensity of the birth scene, followed by a more subtle look at how the birth affects Martha and those around her. The film properly moves through scenes where Martha suffers in silence (it's here that Kirby really shines), interspersed with moments when her emotions force their way to the surface. I can't find fault with the way Kornél Mundruczó, writer Kata Wéber, and cinematographer Benjamin Loeb present the material. Whoever made the shot selections had a quirky eye ... at times we get closeups to reveal the emotions of the characters, at other times, the screen is oddly split to you might see part of a table and part of someone's legs.

Unfair as it is to point this out, the last 90 minutes can't possibly live up to the brilliance of the first half hour. The result is a movie I admire in retrospect, a film that is nearly perfect in so many ways, but one that feels like a slight letdown. Pieces of a Woman deserves a second look down the road.

geezer cinema: terminator: dark fate (tim miller, 2019)

The reviews are mediocre, and the film cost so much that it's been called a box office bomb because it "only" made $29 million on its first weekend (the top box office draw, but that's not enough). I'm not sure what the problem is. It's not as good as Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but then, T2 wasn't as good as The Terminator, which remains the only classic of the bunch. I guess people have expectations.

You might say Tim Miller is up against another Miller, George, of Mad Max fame. Thirty years after the heyday of Mad Max movies, George Miller made Mad Max: Fury Road, which is not only the best film in the series, but the best movie period over the last decade. Just as Dark Fate isn't as good as the first two Terminator movies, it's no match for Fury Road. But honestly, so what?

Mackenzie Davis kicks ass at the beginning of the movie, and I am a big fan of hers since Halt and Catch Fire, so maybe I'm easily pleased. Much is made of the return of Linda Hamilton, and she is great, but for me, Davis is the highlight. The rest of the movie? Well, there are some good action sequences, it's fun to see Hamilton and Arnold together again, and if the plot is confusing, what the heck. If you don't come in expecting a return to the original (or the equal of Fury Road), you'll enjoy Dark Fate. It's no classic, but I bet in ten years, people will wonder why Dark Fate got a bad reputation.

blade runner 2049 (denis villeneuve, 2017)

What to make of Denis Villeneuve? I've now seen six of his movies, loved one (Incendies), liked three others very much, and didn't care for two of them, including Blade Runner 2049. I'd start with the length of his films ... Blade Runner 2049 is the longest at 163 minutes ... except I also didn't like the shortest one (Enemy, 91 minutes). So it's probably not the length, but recency bias steps in here ... Blade Runner 2049 is way too long. Don't take my word for it ... Ridley Scott said he would have cut out half an hour (of course, he would have subsequently re-edited it several times) (that's a joke, son), and Villeneuve agreed that it was too long, adding that he had made "the most expensive art house movie in cinema history". Honestly, that's what I liked best about Blade Runner 2049, that someone had given Villeneuve 150 million dollars and he came up with this movie. I can only imagine what the studio must have thought when they saw the final product.

Blade Runner 2049 moves so slowly it's like a Hollywood version of a Tarkovsky film. And not one of his good ones. There are a couple of plot twists that wake up the audience, and it's nice when Harrison Ford finally turns up. The film looks great. The legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins won an overdue Oscar on his 13th try. Having just finished binge-watching Halt and Catch Fire, I enjoyed the brief appearances of Mackenzie Davis. I'm running out of good things to say.

One thing that always disappointed me about the original Blade Runner was that I thought it missed a lot of what Philip K. Dick brought to the novel. I don't know if this is a good sign or a bad one, but I never gave any thought to Dick while watching 2049. It's point of reference was always the Ridley Scott movie, not Dick's book.

I admire Villeneuve's willingness to make an expensive art house film. I just didn't care much for the result. Critics disagree ... it's currently #692 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.

what i watched last week

Chop Shop (Ramin Banrani, 2007). Director Ramin Bahrani works with supreme confidence ... any misgivings that might arise as you watch are, well, they don't arise because you're sucked in to the matter-of-fact presentation of a segment of American life invisible to most of us. Perhaps afterwards you wonder about the plot (or lack of same), or how much the realist style matches the reality of what is being shown. But this is a remarkable film that reminds one of any number of genres, none of which seem to be American (Italian neo-realism is one clear influence).

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Guillermo del Toro, 2008). I admired the first Hellboy movie without fully engaging it. Since then, Guillermo del Toro made Pan's Labyrinth, to which I gave the rare 10/10 rating. Watching Hellboy II through the Pan Prism made me like it more, I think. Del Toro's imagination is unfettered and quite remarkable, and in Doug Jones (once a Gentleman in the famous Buffy episode "Hush") del Toro has an actor willing to go wherever the director's fantasies take him. This movie also features the first-ever time that I heard a Barry Manilow song and didn't barf.

Burn After Reading (Ethan and Joel Coen, 2008). Before this Coen Brothers movie began, I predicted it would either be great (Fargo), crummy (Miller's Crossing), or somewhere in between (The Man Who Wasn't There). I was right.