Cinebites #22

Welcome to my mini movie review series. I watch a lot of movies and I thought it’d be fun to share a few thoughts on some of the things I’ve watched.

These are all SPOILER FREE reviews so you can enjoy these films at your leisure.

Z (1969)

I’m not sure that I really actually enjoyed this film so much as I kind of let it wash over me. It felt really strange because it both felt present and distant. I think I could draw a cinematic line between this movie and movies like the Borne Identity franchise. It’s also easy to draw plenty of political parallels between a movie ostensibly about a specific incident in Greece in 1963 with plenty of events which have happened since and continue to happen. I wish I had felt more strongly about it but honestly age might have caught up to this piece a little in terms of filming style but sadly, not in message.

Final Verdict: This is a kind of interesting film to have watched nearly back to back with Judas and the Black Messiah as they are oddly rhyming couplets of films. I’m not sure the documentary drama / semi-biographical genre is quite the right one for me but Z offers a crash course in 1969 heady political theater and some of the least subtle anti-fascist messaging I’ve seen in a movie in a while. Some of the acting is hammy and the camera work dates it heavily but it does the job of getting your blood going so it might be worth a watch despite my feelings on it.

The Vast of Night (2019)

After the fifth time I was recommended this movie I knew it had to be something special. For the majority of the movie I found myself wondering a really essential question: why do we make movies instead of choosing other mediums. At the end of this film I feel like the movie justified itself only slightly with some elevated acting and a few decent cinematic touches. With a heavy hand of references and nods to other material produced in other formats I came out of the other side of Vast of Night having enjoyed with time with it but with less interest in the story I had witnessed and more interest on the meta idea of why this couldn’t have been a radio play.

Final Verdict: Great music, engaging visuals, and a decent enough story with just enough of a twist on the War of the Worlds / Twilight Zone / Outer Limits / 50s and 60s obsession with sci fi that it’s an engaging watch but you will not find someone reinventing the wheel. It’s always lovely to see people doing engaging work with little money but at the end of the day it kind of left me hollow. If you’re a sci fi junkie or a radio era play enthusiast you’ll probably enjoy this piece. It reminded me of a visual play for Welcome to Nightvale but personally, I don’t like that but if you do your mileage will likely go further than mine.

They Shoot Horses Don’t They (1969)

This movie punched me in the face. I went into this movie not knowing anything about by the time the contests were dancing on the floor I was absolutely mesmerized. Not to be hyperbolic but I watched this movie back to back with Nomadland and this is a much better movie than that and felt much more “real” and “authentic” to have to feels to be crushed by grief and capitalism. Despite the fact that this movie is farce on farce in the end I could relate to the out of control angry and even the manic energy that coursed through the movie and the characters.

Final Verdict: This movie about Depression Era dance offs is more relevant now than ever and I absolutely hate that. I’ve never heard anyone talk about this film in film circles and it’s both a triumph of story telling, character, theme and environment. The editing in this movie is so sharp and strange that I thought about singular shots from it for days afterwards. Highly recommend if you haven’t watched this to take two hours out of your day to feel extremely unsettled.

Nomadland (2020)

I’m of two minds on this movie. On the one hand it is a beautiful shot life poem about grief and connection but on the other hand the movie wants to be about the political state of homelessness and van life but does not want to confront politics so much that the movie is set in 2012. I struggled not with the choices of the character or the people around her but the meta-text of the film and no matter how much I wanted to be lost inside of the text…because it spends so much of its time trying to present authenticity it kept pulling me outside of it.

Final Verdict: Probably you already watched this film. Despite my frustrations with the film it was extremely good and I’m looking forward to many more stories more from Chloé Zhao. I understand the film wanted to tell a specific story and probably did not want to tackle the structural issues that drive all the people the main character comes in contact with but it made the film so upsetting and hollow to me, especially during the pandemic when van living due to structural factors has been on the rise. Check out this article for a good starting point after you finish the movie.

Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

This movie starts with a five minute recap of the movie it follows up and it is never really able to divorce itself from that movie either. The bizzare character study and “psychology” behind Countess Marya Zaleska doesn’t check out even by 30s standards but you’re simply supposed to be along for the ride. Never getting raunchy enough to earn memorability and having acting that is extremely uneven, this ends up as a lukewarm shadow of the already dead body of Dracula.

Final Verdict: If you want to turn off your brain and just enjoy a little silly horror play there are certainly worst movies but this isn’t particularly good or memorable either. The movie suffers from a lot of things including that it is staged as if it is a play but also somehow as if it is a silent movie so everyone stands oddly stock still doing small actions half the time making it moody but not very engaging. The story is paper thin and the acting varies from scene to scene. I’d skip this one and try one of the more well known classics.

That’s all for this time! See you soon (hopefully) with 5 more films!

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