Cinebites #15

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.

Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

Hey kids, do you like Faust? Do you like the unadulterated full intensity power of the 70s and also an eclectic selection of mostly random but strangely fabulous camera angles? Then you will love this film. Despite being the holy matrimony of a classic tale told with a modern twist there is probably no part of this movie that anyone would call predictable. Never really living up to the source material and at times bending at the knee to some really base humor this is a great piece of camp whose sensibilities seem to have influenced other film makers along the way. In terms of De Palma, this is probably my favorite movie of his but I say that with the note that I’ve never really been particularly a fan of his work.

Final Verdict: If you were looking for a full on musical or a full on drag show you’ll be disappointed but if you were looking for spectacle without a lot of substance you’ll be rewarded. The movie has a sagging overall structure despite a brisk 90 minute runtime but from the first shot to the last it’s got enough oddities and fun house quality that even though the script and structure don’t work, maybe everything else does? Certainly this is a do not miss for people who are fans of things that ride the line of camp like Cry Baby or Cecil B. Demented.

And Then We Danced (2019)

This was the first Georgian film I’ve ever watched and I hate to say it but I had very high hopes based on reading some of the copy from film festivals. There is something really lovely about this film and there are two scenes in particularly that really brought out a lot of feelings for me but out of all the films I’ve watched this year this one felt like it needed the most editing. Many of the scenes just kind of stretch out into eternity for no reason as the tension isn’t in the scene itself and since most of the scenes start slow it just starts to drag on after a while. That coupled with some acting that is too dramatic while also being too stiff made this a less than stellar watch with just a few great moments. If you’ve come for the dancing (which is easily the best part of the film) then you’ll stay for the dancing because the rest is just alright.

Final Verdict: I understand that more movies like this are needed all over the world but stories like this one from an American perspective, and especially from my perspective feel distinctly mid 90s or early 00s. They end up feeling nearly regressive to me and since this movie is not making artistic strides or starring fantastic acting makes it hard to recommend people spend time on it. Trying to place this movie into its global position and local context was just too difficult for me because I feel like I’m missing something. For most American audiences I worry it’ll be the same and they’d be better off watching Moonlight and Brokeback Mountain or even My Own Private Idaho which is what the time period feels like to me.

The Lighthouse (2019)

Where do you even start? After Cannes last year I had four people flat out tell me this would be my favorite film of 2019 and after watching it, I have no idea what anyone thinks is going on in my head but this is so far from something that I was interested in that I almost turned the film off halfway. I assumed the pay off at the end would be enough to get me through the film but the ending was almost exactly what I predicted from the beginning that I felt weirdly justified and cheated at the same time. Everything technically is going right in this film: the rich, intense filming makes it look exactly like a silent film but even more than that it’s framing, acting, and sensibilities give you a vibe of both being under and over done all the time. I love the setting, I love the idea, I love the dialogue, I love the story and yet I came out of this movie completely bored and hollow. I thought it would take some time to percolate but unlike many other movies which have long “digestion” times, this one never really amounted to anything. A week later I could barely remember it.

Final Verdict: There’s certainly an audience for this film. I have no idea how one would market to that audience but they are out there. Again, this is a masterfully made piece that I loved every piece of but when I put all the pieces together I just couldn’t enjoy it. It’s not a theme piece like Heredity, it’s not a tension piece like Good Time, and it’s not even as coherently incoherent as A Field in England this movie just sort of washed over me like a wave. I’m sure you can read a glowing review elsewhere but at nearly two hours I doubt most people are really going to come out of this with more than a “huh, well alright.”

Top Secret! (1984)

Okay this was bad. I guess I “hated” all the movies this month. It happens sometimes. I always like to tell people that one of the things that makes Mel Brooks movies work so well is that he layers jokes on jokes on jokes. Nothing in a Mel Brooks film ever sticks around long enough for you to get mad at it, if a joke doesn’t work then well, here’s another. Top Secret! is not a Mel Brooks film but it attempts to employ that method and absolutely none of it works for me. Made by the people who made Airplane! and Top Gun it’s almost exactly more of that but this time set in WWII with a mash up of a few different genres and giving the movie a thick coating of humor that mostly amounts to a lot of trope heavy jokes with a heavy side of the specific brand of sexism and racism that most 80s movies loved to employ.

Final Verdict: In this movie there is a joke where male ballet dancers have codpieces so large that the female dancers can walk across them, if you don’t think that’s going to be funny for you to watch then you should find another movie because that’s the level the movie is at. I don’t like the other works from the screen writer so I wasn’t expecting much except that Val Kilmer was adorable at this age (he just is). I paired this movie with two glasses of wine and still failed to laugh more than once and felt really disappointed by the jingoistic, racist, and downright low brow aim of this film. The entirely best part of the film is the small gag song that opens it which made me think the rest of the movie would contain some primo 60s parody. Spoilers: it does not. I’d rather watch a RiffTrax of Top Gun honestly :/

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)

This isn’t a good movie. Before you yeet me out a window hear me out. This is a bad movie the way that Venom is a bad movie. The framing in this movie is clumsy, the dialogue is questionable at times, the action sequences are awesome but often make very little sense in their placement and outcomes and the major characters are undeveloped to the point that one of them could have been a literal sack of flour and the movie would not have changed. Despite all that though this movie did make me laugh out loud several times and I really enjoyed quite a few parts of it. This movie isn’t Daredevil bad, it’s Blade bad. There’s plenty working in its favors, tons of things to enjoy, the hammy performances actually kind of work because they’re just so enjoyable for the actors and the audience. While the full piece is sloppy as hell it is kind of charming also. I think this is probably the perfect distillation of what a comic book movie should be like except I hate everything about the FRAMING NARRATIVE and it keeps rewinding the movie to the point where I became genuinely uninterested in it but despite that I had a good time and I look forward to the sequel.

Final Verdict: At times this movie clearly wants to lamp shade the fact that Suicide Squad was terrible and that is a fun thing to do but also, sometimes it does this by…using the same framing styles as Suicide Squad and that is bad and no one likes it and it makes the movie worse. That’s my entire experience with this movie. I went back and forth several times trying to figure out if the things I liked about the movie were organically of this movie OR if I just liked them in contrast to the much worse movies it was obviously making fun of. In the end it doesn’t matter, the whole package is fun but messy. This will not become a classic in my house and I honestly probably won’t watch it again but it’s an easy recommendation that people will probably enjoy. The action sequences are well done, the film is well acted and the camera work is mostly on the better end (though a handful of really poor editing choices stuck out BADLY). Also this script needed more passes because the jokes and characters are great but the structure is a disaster mess that honestly plagues the whole movie because I thought there would be a thematic wrap around but there isn’t and if this was supposed to set up another movie…it doesn’t do a good job of it. In that spirit, it’s the end of the review, everyone look happy now!

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

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