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Movie Journal 8/31/2015

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As noted previously, this will be the last Movie Journal for a while. Again, I’ll keep the ranking of this year’s films updated, but this will be the last post for at least a few weeks.

Spoilers.

Monday, 8/24 – I’ve already seen Giant several times, but this time I decided to finally rate it. I’ll get to that in a moment.

I can certainly see the issues in Giant. It can be heavy-handed at times–the final shots of the newest generation of Benedicts are just a tad sappy–and the pacing is occasionally jerky, with some scenes going too long and some feeling a bit rushed. Jett’s final speech is a little marred by some obvious dubbing. And, while I’m not arguing with the Oscar George Stevens won for directing it, I do wish there had been a few moments like Angel Obregón’s homecoming–more moments of what Kurosawa would have called “pure cinema”.

But still, what a film it is. As a family saga it’s compelling, but it’s even better as an issue film, confronting the deeply ingrained racism of Texas society and the necessity of men like Bick Benedict to adapt. The final brawl between Bick and Sarge is an agonizing scene, but it’s the agonizing birth of a new consciousness for Bick, which commences when he affirms that his biracial grandson is, indeed, a Benedict. I can only imagine what a punch it must have packed in 1956.

It’s a beautifully directed film much of the time, and beautifully shot; this time I especially noticed the use of distancing elements like shadows and obstructions to separate us from the characters, and I meditated on why Stevens did this. On the commentary track for America, America, Foster Hirsch notes that a murder in the film was deliberately kept off screen to make it a more mythic moment; perhaps Stevens was trying to give his characters an air of myth?

No character is more mythic than Jett Rink, though, and of course he was played by one of the most mythic movie stars of all time. I don’t love every choice Dean made with the role–his mumbling diction is a little tiresome at times–but he’s still very good for the most part, and this time I saw more clearly how he hints at Jett’s uglier side from the start, while still making him, if not a totally sympathetic character, a rounded one. It’s a shame he has rather less screen time in the second half, though it’s a kick to see the young Dean playing a middle-aged man. I have no issue with his Best Actor nomination; though had they pushed him Supporting he might have won, albeit posthumously.

The true lead, though, is Rock Hudson’s Bick, and he was also nominated–his only nomination, in fact. He’s a bit stiff at times, as he almost always was, but this arguably fits in with the idea of Bick as a man devoted to so rigid an ideal of machismo and family honor that it takes three hours and 25 years to finally awaken his full scope of humanity. It’s one of his best performances.

Elizabeth Taylor wasn’t nominated, oddly enough, but she is no less accomplished than her co-stars as the headstrong Marylander who is not about to conform to Texan custom. Mercedes McCambridge, as Bick’s brooding sister Luz, was nominated, and she’s quite good, but she doesn’t get quite enough to do. I’m surprised Chill Wills wasn’t nominated for playing affable old Uncle Bawley–in of itself, it’s not a great performance, but it works as a nominee; he’s a down-to-earth presence amidst all the high drama. His being overlooked here might have given him a boost in getting a nod for John Wayne’s The Alamo, one of the more widely mocked nominations ever.

Lastly, I’m surprised there was no nod for the original song “Giant”, which serves as one of the film’s main musical themes; it sums up this story of Texas well with its final words:

“This is the giant/Land I love…”

87/100

The lead character you care about. (Source)

Tuesday, 8/25 – Zorba the Greek was beloved in its day (getting 7 Oscar noms and winning 3), but I found myself less susceptible to its charms.

Oh, Anthony Quinn was great as the lusty life-force Zorba, who may be something of a fuck-up, but one with a genuinely good heart. And Manos Hadjidakis’ score (bizarrely overlooked by the Academy) is infectious, the main “Zorbas” theme being especially earwormy and sending you out of the film on a high as Zorba and Basil (Alan Bates) dance on the beach. There are moments of joy and beauty, like the simple ersatz wedding of Zorba and Mme. Hortense (Lila Kedrova–more on her in a bit), or Zorba’s poignant recollection of his son’s death.

But there’s a lot working against the film. Basil is such a tiresomely passive character, such a tedious milquetoast, that it’s hard to understand why Zorba or we should give a shit about him. When the widow (Irene Papas) he has long shared a silent attraction with is murdered by the father of a boy who was infatuated with and rejected by her, and Basil mutters “I couldn’t help”, despite the fact that he was right there and probably could’ve intervened had the plot not demanded otherwise, it merely reinforces what a pathetic worm he is. Bates was so much better when he could be an SOB (like his tour-de-force as the titular bastard in Butley).

Tonally, the film is utterly bizarre, mixing comedy and drama in a way that never feels dramatically coherent. Despite the misfortunes heaped on Basil and Zorba–the murder of the window, the death of Mme. Hortense, the disastrous failure of their logging operation–at the end they shrug it off and dance on the beach, a moment which doubtless was meant to reinforce the film’s attitudes about life but which, at least in a narrative context, feels absurdly dissonant.

The other guy. (Source)

And the depiction of the film’s Greek characters is even more baffling. The film was directed by Michael Cacoyannis, one of the most renowned Greek directors, and adapted by him from a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, probably the most renowned modern Greek writer. Why, then, are the Cretans (the film is mostly set on Crete) depicted so negatively? Most of them are barely characters–the film is mostly in English, with maybe two dozen lines of subtitled Greek spread out over the 142-minute running time–and variously harass the widow (nearly stoning her before the boy’s father kills her), ransack Mme. Hortense’s home as she lies on her deathbed, or, in the case of the priests, act as superstitious dupes.

If the Cretans were at all developed as individuals, maybe we would at least understand them, but as it is, it feels as if Cacoyannis and company hold them in utter contempt. And…I have a hard time believing that’s the case, but that really is how the film comes off. It’s really bizarre.

The film’s three Oscars were for Kedrova, Walter Lassally’s B&W cinematography, and the art direction. The sets are fine, and Lassally pulls off some nice shots–neither are necessarily worth writing home about, but neither award is a disgrace. As for Kedrova, I’m not entirely sure why she won; on paper, the role makes sense–a dying ex-courtesan, living mostly in the past (when she maintained affairs with several admirals at once), seeking love in the final days of her life–but the performance is really just okay.

She does give a good sense of the degree to which Hortense lives in her fantasies of the past, but I thought she had a tendency to ham it up at times, and ultimately, less than a week after seeing the film, I just don’t remember much about the performance besides her presence. The year was a weak one, and the film was popular; that probably pushed her to a win. The other nominations were for Cacoyannis for directing and writing the film (neither much deserved), to Quinn for Best Actor (pretty well deserved), and to the film for Best Picture (nope).

To sum up, Zorba has yet to teach me to dance. 66/100

As ever, the truth lies somewhere in between. (Source)

General Della Rovere was a film I knew about mostly from its status as part of the Criterion Collection and as an Oscar nominee; oddly, it was nominated for Best Original Screenplay (in 1961), despite being based on a novel! My best guess is that the Academy never bothered to do their research, and just assumed all foreign films were Original. From 1955 to 1980, 34 foreign-language films were nominated for Original Screenplay; during that same time, only 9 foreign-language films were nominated for Adapted (10 if you count Zorba, which I don’t), all of which were nominated after General Della Rovere‘s nomination! Maybe it changed things? Probably not, though; 8 of those nominations were from 1969 or later.

Anyway, as for the movie: it deals with Emanuele Bardone (Vittorio De Sica), a con-man in WWII Genoa, whose main racket is taking money from the families of those arrested by the Fascist authorities and supposedly interceding with said authorities to secure the safety of the prisoners. How much pull he has is not totally clear, but no matter. He is arrested after one of his marks goes to the authorities, and is approached by the Nazi Col. Müller (Hannes Messemer), who wants him to assume the identity of Della Rovere, a partisan general accidentally killed by the Germans, so as to smoke out Della Rovere’s associates and by extension the partisans’ war plans.

Sent into prison as Della Rovere, Bardone is venerated by his fellows and, for the first time in his life, is regarded as a hero. He slowly begins to embrace the role, and during an air raid which threatens to destroy the prison, is allowed to speak to the men, urging them to be brave in the face of disaster. Increasingly haunted by the Nazis’ and Fascists’ cruelty (most notably the death by torture of his friend Banchelli (Vittorio Caprioli)), Bardone allows himself to be executed along with a number of other prisoners, and when a soldier suggests to Müller that they have made a mistake, Müller replies that the mistake was his.

I’ve never seen Kurosawa’s Kagemusha, but it seems to me one could draw definite parallels between this film and that one; both deal with a criminal who is asked to take the place of a revered figure, and in both cases the criminal finds more value in assuming this role than they ever did in their lives before, and ultimately give their lives for the cause their alter egos held dear.

I do hope that Kagemusha delves a little deeper into its themes and the psychology of its protagonist than General Della Rovere does. De Sica gives a fine performance, showing the quick thinking, the affectations, and the gradual changes of Bardone, but (the Oscar nomination aside) the script lets him down a little. Though the poster and the case of the Criterion edition describe him as a “mountebank” and a “rascal”, if anything, Bardone is portrayed as being, if dishonest, far from malicious in his intentions. At one point, confronted with the fact that he lied to those who paid him to bargain with the Germans, he argues that he gave them hope when their loved ones were most likely dead or doomed.

Bardone comes off, ultimately, as just a little too well-meaning to make his arc truly effective. And the film never gets beneath the surface enough to make it a true psychological drama. It’s really not hard to see where its going at any given time; of course Bardone will get caught, of course he’ll take to the role, of course he’ll die embracing it. Thankfully, howevver, there wasn’t a scene where his true identity is revealed and his fellow prisoners become disillusioned.

Despite the weaknesses in the writing, it’s a well-done film otherwise. Messemer is very nearly as good as De Sica; he’s believably calculating and ruthless, but he has a certain fondness for Bardone (they meet at the very start, Bardone passing himself off as a professor), and he never becomes a one-dimensional menace–his final moment of regret is very genuine.

Roberto Rossellini’s direction is adequate, if unadorned; more notable is the score by his brother, Renzo, which enhances the drama nicely throughout–it has the flair the direction lacks. And Carlo Carlini’s B&W cinematography generally looks pretty nice, with Bardone’s address to his fellows during the air raid being particularly striking.

Ultimately it’s not one of the more memorable entries in the Criterion Collection, but it’s far from the worst. 76/100

Wednesday, 8/26 – Tales from the Golden Age is a film I’d known about for years and been fascinated by the idea of, but it eluded me until I got it out of the library and finally buckled down to watch it. It’s a bit of a time investment (it’s 150 minutes long), but as it’s an anthology film, it need not be consumed all at once.

It’s a set of six episodes dealing with the urban legends of Ceaușescu-era Romania, dubbed by the era’s propaganda as “the Golden Age”:

  • “The Tale of the Official Visit”: A rural village preparing for an official motorcade to pass through must accelerate their preparations for the sake of an official inspection. When the inspectors arrive, things don’t work out as planned, and everyone repairs to a swing ride, with absurd results.
  • “…of the Party Photographer”: A pair of photo editors for Scînteia (basically Romania’s equivalent of Pravda) are tasked with editing a photo of Ceaușescu to avoid the slightest hint of his being deferential to a foreign delegate. Their work is rushed to press to meet the paper’s deadlines…but they missed one detail.
  • “…of the Zealous Activist”: A rural county is chided for its lagging literacy rates, and an urban intellectual travels to its main village to forcibly educate the citizens. He butts heads with a local shepherd who sees no use in his learning to read, but the shepherd later does him a (very) backhanded favor.
  • “…of the Greedy Policeman”: A cop is given a gift of a black-market hog by his brother, but the animal is still alive, and unwilling to share any of his bounty with his neighbors, the cop and his family try to covertly kill it…but things don’t work out quite as they expected.
  • “…of the Air Sellers”: A young girl trying to earn money for a class trip meets a young man who, pretending to be a government employee collecting water samples, asks for the samples in glass bottles, which he then returns for the deposit. The girl joins him in his scam, but soon hits upon the idea of asking for air samples instead…and from a whole apartment block at once…
  • “…of the Chicken Driver”: A poultry driver in an unhappy marriage contemplates an affair with the proprietress of a roadside inn, and begins a side business selling the eggs laid by his charges, before apparently turning himself in to the authorities.

After watching the film, I ranked the episodes from favorite to least: 4th, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 1st, 6th. Apparently the French version includes only the first four episodes, which might be an improvement, though each episode has something to offer.

The fourth episode is probably the most satisfying from a narrative standpoint, and it may be the most universal; it’s a funny little satire on human greed and the lengths we go to indulge it, with a nice little double sting-in-the-tail which pays off not only the main plot, but a subplot about the policeman’s son, who is dependent on his friend and neighbor for help with his schoolwork, but a rival for the affections of a classmate, so the friend demands a share of the pig in exchange for his help.

The second episode is almost the best. For most of its length it’s a very funny skewering of the absurdities of propaganda, as the officials fret over whether Ceaușescu looks too short or too submissive in a given photograph. There’s even a little tension as the younger of the two editors (the elder’s nephew, in fact) has a tendency to speak his mind–never a good quality to have behind the Iron Curtain. The episode falters a bit at the end, however, as the error which makes it into the paper isn’t really all that funny; it reminded me of the scene in Mon Oncle where the hose coming out as a set of “sausages” is supposed to be funnier than it really is.

The third episode tackles a fairly archetypal theme: the theoretically intelligent vs. the practically intelligent. Perhaps this episode best of all displays the surprising gentle nature of the enterprise; one moment which I was sure would end in disaster ends humorously, and there’s a gentle ribbing of the central figure at the end which doesn’t feel mean-spirited. That Romeo Tudor gives perhaps the best single performance in the film as the shepherd doesn’t hurt either.

The fifth episode (and the sixth) are less overtly humorous than the first four, and are also the longest. The fifth episode works better because it tells a fairly full story, and it provides an interesting look at life, especially the youth culture, of 80s Romania. It also includes perhaps my favorite line in the film: “Better to take the bus than eat yogurt all your life.” The ending is a bit weak, and maybe it’s a little stretched-out at 37 minutes, but the eye for detail makes up for it.

The first episode feels pretty insubstantial for most of its length, the frantic preparations not being especially noteworthy, but the ending is truly delightful, with all the town elders stuck on the swing ride; even the operator has climbed on board, and now no one can shut it down! Then the mayor takes ill and seems about to die; when, after they have spent the whole night on the ride, the mayor revives and the company cheers (despite still being stuck on the ride), it hits that sweet spot of absurdist cheer. The ending alone almost nudges it ahead of the fifth episode in terms of quality, but the prior dullness keeps it here.

The sixth episode is by the far the weakest, mostly because…what’s the point of it? It seems to be more a character study of the driver than any kind of urban legend, and while his black-marketing of the eggs constitutes a subversive act, the fourth episode handles the theme of contraband much better. That there seems to be a missing scene explaining just how the driver ended up in prison, and that his relationship with his wife is somewhat vaguely drawn, make it the less satisfying, but it’s definitely watchable. It’s just a weak note to end on.

On the whole, though, it’s a pretty satisfying anthology. It was directed by five different directors (though I’m not sure who directed which), but was written by one of them, Cristian Mungiu (already famous for 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days), and on the whole is very solidly made, well acted, has some decent cinematography and boasts a nice score by co-director Hanno Höfer and Laco Jimi. I’m not sure there’s much more I can say, since my own knowledge of Cold War Romania is quite limited–about as limited as the film’s international appeal, honestly. But if it sounds like something you’d enjoy, it is definitely worth a watch.

78/100

Thursday, 8/27- World on a Wire is another film I might never have seen if it weren’t for Criterion. And after sitting through all 212 minutes of it, I’m not sure I have a whole lot to say. Certainly there’s not much I can say without spoilers, but since I’ve already given a warning about those, let’s just get into it.

Briefly, it deals with a computer project which has created a virtual world inhabited by sentient simulacrae of human beings, who do not know that they live within a simulation. After the director of the project dies under mysterious circumstances, his assistant, Dr. Fred Stiller (Klaus Löwitsch) replaces him, but soon begins noticing strange things; the head of the project’s security team vanishes in the middle of a party, and within a few days no one but Stiller remembers that he existed.

Stiller is then told by one of his colleagues, supposedly inhabited by the consciousness of one of the virtual people (consciousness-transfer is possible), that the world he lives in is itself a computer simulation. Stiller, his sense of reality crumbling, is soon accused of murder and goes on the run, and ultimately encounters Eva (Mascha Rabben), the daughter of the project’s creator, who informs him that he is in fact a simulacra of the real Fred Stiller, and she is in fact the simulacra of one of the projects’ scientists, who is horrified by the real Stiller’s megalomania but loves the simulacra-Stiller.

Finally, the simulacra-Stiller, having convinced others in his world (most notably a news editor who discovers that his reality is coming out of sync) of its artificial nature, is killed by the authorities–and he wakes up in the body of the real Stiller, their consciousnesses having been transferred by the real Eva. They embrace passionately as Stiller declares “I am”.

This was my first experience with the work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and I’m at least intrigued enough to probe further; someday I do mean to tackle the 15½-hour Berlin Alexanderplatz, but not just now. Certainly, given what was probably a tight budget, Fassbinder made a pretty good looking film. Working with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (who’d go on to shoot GoodFellas), he makes full use of 70s aesthetics (to us delightfully retro) to create a stylish vision of the future, and the imagery is often quite rich, though the extensive use of mirror reflections (themselves simulacrae) never quite opens up greater depths in the story.

And the story itself (based on Daniel F. Galouye’s Simulacron-3, which later was adapted as The Thirteenth Floor) could’ve used it. It’s interesting to consider that the second half is less visually dynamic, but more dramatically compelling; the first half is mostly building up to the big this-reality-isn’t-real reveal, and if you’ve seen The Matrix or any sci-fi with a similar premise, you’re going to guess it very early on. Even allowing for that, there just doesn’t seem to be 3½ hours of story as presented.

The characters aren’t compelling enough to compensate, though the acting is mostly pretty good; Löwitsch doesn’t quite ignite the material, but he’s fine, and the supporting cast is certainly adequate. Barbara Valentin, as Gloria Fromm, has a real bombshell quality, and Rabben is good. Maybe the best performance overall is Karl-Heinz Vosgerau as the manipulative Siskins–but on the whole, “adequate” is the word. That’s all I need to say.

World on a Wire, for me, is most memorable for its imagery and its ending. The ending I particularly liked; as a product of the 70s, I fully expected a bleak or even nihilistic resolution, but instead we get self-affirmation and tenderness. And while it doesn’t make World on a Wire worth seeing in of itself, it does sweeten the deal. The flashy imagery and the good score should make it the more enjoyable for those determined to get through it.

71/100

Friday, 8/28 – There’s not much to say about The Fifth Element that hasn’t already been said–except perhaps for praising the editing, especially the great intercutting which becomes all the more apparent on repeat viewings.

I’m not sure which is the best example of this: maybe the sequence as the ship for Fhloston Paradise prepares to launch, as we cut between the ground crew eradicating parasites in the landing gear, allowing Cornelius to sneak in, to Zorg’s henchman desperately explaining his failure to board the ship (thereby sealing his fate), to Ruby seducing the flight attendant (“I never felt this way–with a human!”). These threads are perfectly intercut, until the ship’s launch, the attendant’s climax, and the explosion which kills the henchman all occur in rapid succession. The effect is rather brilliant.

#lifegoals (Source)

At the same time, I do see some issues ever more clearly. The brief character of movie star Baby Ray is the butt of several jokes revolving around his deafness, and aside from the fundamental question of why, in such an advanced world, his deafness wouldn’t be easily treated, there’s the fact that the jokes themselves are in poor taste and his being deaf adds nothing to the story. The very egregiousness of it, if anything, makes it all the more frustrating.

But it’s ultimately a fleeting blight on a film which is otherwise so rich and so entertaining. It may not be as perfect as Leeloo, but it’s another one of those films I can return to time and again. I previously scored it 82/100; maybe that’s a little low. I won’t change my official score right now (and I get too hung up on numbers as it is), but I might bump it up a point or two.

Saturday, 8/29 – I rewatched Anatomy of a Murder and don’t have a whole lot to say about it. It’s a great courtroom drama, probably one of the very greatest, and arguably one of the funniest (“When I was overseas during the war, Your Honor, I learned a French word. I’m afraid that might be slightly suggestive.” “Most French words are.”). Otto Preminger really was a great director when he was on top of his game, and he assembled a cast and script to match. As far as the genre goes, I might have a greater affection for A Few Good Men, but this is one hell of a good movie. 89/100

Diary of a Teenage Girl poster

I think I allowed myself to get a little too bullish about The Diary of a Teenage Girl when predicting my next round of Film Awards, and my expectations going in got in the way of my being objective about its strengths as a film. I’ll say more about it in due time, but right now, while I generally enjoyed it, I think it definitely falls short of greatness.

It deals with Minnie Goetz (Bel Powley), a 15-year-old girl and aspiring artist (especially influenced by the underground comix of the era) living in 1976 San Francisco. She begins an affair with her mother Charlotte’s (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård), a full 20 years her senior. There’s not much plot, so much as a series of events as Minnie explores her sexuality with Monroe and her peers, writes her comix (some of which we see come to animated life), and even runs away from home briefly, before finally coming to terms with the fact that she still has a lot of growing up to do.

Certainly, Diary benefits from being written and directed by women; Marielle Heller directed it and adapted it from the novel by Phoebe Gloeckner. While it doesn’t shy away from depicting sexuality, it doesn’t feel prurient. It was a wise choice to set in the 70s, an era when a relationship like Minnie and Monroe’s could almost be rationalized–towards the end, when Charlotte discovers the affair, she decides (albeit while drunk) that Minnie and Monroe must get married. Indeed, if the film was sent so much as five years later, it would probably end with Monroe going to jail, but in the strange mixture of 60s free-spiritedness and 70s cynicism that marked the era, the police are not so much as mentioned.

The film has a good sense of period and place–the production and costume design are excellent–it’s nicely shot (drawing on San Francisco’s innate photogenicity), makes good use of the animation by Sara Gunnarsdóttir, boasts a fine original score by Nate Heller supplemented by tracks of the era, and is on the whole very well directed by Heller. And yet I don’t think it’s one of the year’s great films (right now I rank it #9). And why?

I think a lot of it is because of the script. There’s a certain lack of cohesion to its episodes that holds it back from becoming a great film. Too often its scenes seem to take place in a bit of a vaccuum–when Minnie runs off to spend a few days with Tabatha (Margarita Levieva), doing drugs and flirting with lesbianism, she runs away after Tabatha attempts to prostitute her to get more drugs, goes home, and is almost instantly reconciled with Charlotte, with no other evident fallout. (That the film’s most important LGBTQ character is a drug addict who tries to sell our protagonist’s body for drugs might itself cause some issues.)

Because the film is so episodic, Minnie’s emotional journey doesn’t quite pack the punch it should. Powley is quite good; though 22, she reclaims the spirit of adolescence, and if the performance is a touch less than the tour-de-force I hoped for, I think it’s more because of the film’s issues than Powley’s. I think I’d need to see the film again to properly evaluate her work, but I’m not sure when that will be. (She’s also kind of a dead ringer for a friend of mine, so that took some getting past.)

Wiig appears more sporadically than I expected, but she gives perhaps the best film performance I’ve seen from her to date–definitely better than her work in The Skeleton Twins–but Wiig embodies not only Charlotte’s hedonistic lifestyle, but the unhappiness that lifestyle masks. Skarsgård, for his part, gives perhaps the best performance in the film, as we believe that Monroe could do what he does–and alternately embrace it and be disgusted by it–and believe why Minnie would be drawn to him in the first place. The rest of the cast is good, though as noted, the film’s episodic nature gives few of them a chance to really shine.

Ultimately, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is an amusing, sympathetic depiction of its subject, beautifully directed and with some fine individual scenes, but again lacking in the cohesion that would make it truly great. So it is. 82/100

Sunday, 8/30 – Double feature of post-apocalyptic sci-fi today. Turbo Kid is a Canadian parody of the genre, heavy on the 80s homages, and quite a bit of fun. It deals with the Kid (Munro Chambers), living in post-apocalyptic 1997, who joins forces with Apple (Laurence Lebeouf), a friendly android, and Frederic (Aaron Jeffery), a wanderer-warrior best known for his arm-wrestling ability, to fight the evil warlord Zeus (Michael Ironside), who makes his prisoners fight to the death for his amusement and renders their bodies for water. He also killed the Kid’s family.

What distinguishes Turbo Kid is not its story (which is admittedly a little thin) but its sheer gleefulness. The violence is joyously over-the-top, from a character stumbling around with several half-corpses stacked on top of their head, to the Kid and Apple sharing a kiss amidst a rain of blood. And the 80’s touches are equally delightful; the Kid stumbles upon the remains of his hero, Turbo Captain, and assumes his red armor (with a rainbow stripe!) and laser blasting glove, which of course inspires much mayhem.

The same boisterous spirit extends to the writing; early on, one Frederic’s soldiers asks what their plan is, and Frederic replies “The plan right now is to take a piss.” Other touches, like the revelation of Zeus’ true identity, inspire definite chuckles.

Turbo Kid is about all it needs to be–it’s a very enjoyable little piece of nonsense. It doesn’t rise above that as a whole, though, and some of that comes down to the character of the Kid, who’s caught somewhere between a Mad Max-esque archetype and a Luke Skywalker-esque boy wonder. Chambers does a decent job, but the character is simply a rather uninteresting one, and overshadowed by the rest of the cast. Whether by design or not, this leaves something of a hole in the film.

Lebeouf does her best to fill it, though. Her performance is sheerly delightful, as she embraces the eternal good nature of Apple (a “friendship model”), and a few fleting moments aside, does so without becoming grating or tiresome. The energy and warmth she brings to the film gives it its heart. Ironside, in what is probably his best screen role in close to 20 years, seems to relish Zeus’ loathsomeness. He’s hammy, but it’s a good hammy. And Jeffery (whose performance is quite like Jason Statham’s in Spy) is entertainingly hard-assed.

The 80s-ness of the film is enhanced by the excellent score (there’s a song over the credits which I hope to God is original so I can nominate it), and although the budget was tight (in this world, everyone rides bikes, arguably a more realistic depiction of the post-apocalyptic world than most such films would allow), it looks fairly good. It’s just a goofy fun time at the movies, a kind of Black Dynamite for the post-apocalypse. 80/100

(One minor qualm: there’s a transgender prostitute seen briefly who seems to come on to the Kid; it’s a very brief moment, but it might be off-putting to some.)

And then there’s Z for Zachariah. I’m going to say more about it when I do my retrospective reviews, so I’ll try and keep it brief.

Ann (Margot Robbie) lives alone in an isolated valley which has largely escaped the effects of a nuclear war. One day, a scientist named John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor), seeking a haven from radiation, stumbles on the valley, but takes ill when he bathes in contaminated water. Ann nurses him back to health, and he begins working on ideas for how to restore her farm to full productivity–one of which is constructing a water wheel, which would require the lumber from a chapel built by Ann’s father.

Ann resists the idea, but as she and Loomis grow more intimate, she opens up to it. Then, another outsider, Caleb (Chris Pine) arrives, and asks only to stay overnight, but Ann and Loomis urge him to stay longer in order to help them build the water wheel. He agrees, and they begin the project, but as Caleb and Ann become close, a triangle starts to develop which leads to a decidedly ambiguous resolution.

Z for Zachariah is another film I had high hopes for, yet on some level it left me rather cold. It’s not that it’s bad; Craig Zobel’s direction is solid, it looks fairly good (though one shot seems to have been cribbed from Stalker, which annoyed me), and I respect its choice to leave the ending up to intepretation, though the rest of the film is straightforward enough that it feels out of place.

The acting is fairly good, too; I currently rank Robbie #13 for Best Actress (in what has been a very good year for lead actresses), Ejiofor #7 for Actor, and Pine #8 for Supporting Actor. And yet they’ve all been better elsewhere–Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave, Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street, Pine in Star Trek and even Stretch. Maybe it’s because the film is so dialed-down, so subdued–it’s in some respects a rather un-Hollywood film, which I can appreciate, but what it eschews in terms of drama it does not compensate for with original ideas or complex characters.

I feel like I probably ought to see it a second time, and I’ll meditate on it further, but for now it’s right there at the lower end of ****, too well-done to go lower, too…something…to go higher. 77/100

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