Saturday, June 3, 2023

What I've Caught Up With, May 2023

So I went almost two weeks without watching a movie in May, something I don’t think has happened in ages. We (my brothers, our spouses, and I) took our mom to Bar Harbor, ME this month, a place that she’s always wanted to go. It was a nice trip, but I’ve still got classes, so my non-vacation actions were spent grading papers. Then, once we got home, it was catch-up time, and movies didn’t fit there, either. Despite this, I knocked out just over a half dozen for this post as well as a few that turned into full reviews.

What I’ve Caught Up With, May 2023:
Film: Upgrade (2018)

Not every movie needs to be completely original. Upgrade on the surface looks like it might be a standard revenge picture, but it’s not; it’s a standard cyberpunk revenge picture. You’ve seen a lot of this before, and it hits a lot of “technology is both good and evil” tropes. It’s also very much the natural child of a film like Ex Machina, and it aspires to that level. It doesn’t quite get there, but it’s not bad. There’s some surprising violence, but parts of it are sadly predictable, at least to a point. Leigh Whannell is too talented to make something that doesn’t have at least some merit, though.

Film: Among the Living (1941)

It seems that the trope of having an evil or unsettling twin goes back a long, long way. In Among the Living, Albert Dekker plays both John and Paul Raden. John is an important man in town, we believe that his twin Paul died at 10. However, in true soap opera fashion, Paul was simply…stashed away in the family mansion due to his going completely insane. Naturally, he’s going to break free of captivity and he’s going to cause some problems. While the cinematography is good here and it’s great to look at, it’s very simple and very silly. If you can get past the dumb psychology, you have to deal with the fact that Paul still manages to look exactly like his brother despite years of virtual isolation.

Film: I Went Down (1997)

Fresh out of prison for burglary, Git Hynes (Peter McDonald) saves a friend from a gambling debt-related beating despite said friend shacking up with Git’s girlfriend. This brings down the wrath of a local mob boss (Tony Doyle), who sends Git and loose cannon Bunny Kelly (Brendan Gleeson) on a mission to repay the debt. Hilarity, gun fights, and witty banter ensue. I Went Down is absolutely desperate to be spoken of in the same sentence as the early works of Guy Ritchie, and while the subject matter is in line with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, it feels like the version you’d get if you ordered it from

Film: Cutter’s Way (1981)

What do you get when someone witnesses the aftermath of a murder and, because of proximity, becomes a primary suspect? You might think action movie of good guys on the run, but with Cutter’s Way, you’d be mistaken. This is a neo-noir in which our characters Richard Bone (Jeff Bridges) and one-eyed, one-armed Vietnam vet Alex Cutter (John Heard) discover who they think is the killer and decide to first blackmail him, and then use the blackmail as evidence against him. Things go about as you would expect. This is a good, if not exceptional noir, but Heard is a standout. He looks nothing like his normal that-guy persona in what is probably the best performance of his career.

Film: Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

While not quite all the way there, Clouds of Sils Maria almost fails the anti-Bechdel test; there are only a couple of conversations between women about men, and no conversations between two men in the film at all, I think. Film star Maria (Juliette Binoche) is offered a role in a remake of her first film, a story of two women in a difficult relationship. The difference is that this time she is playing the much older woman in the relationship rather than the youth. She struggles with this, the death of the playwright who wrote the original, and her relationships with the characters, her assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart), and the young, out of control actress to play opposite her (Chloe Grace Moretz). Parallels happen between the story of these people and the story of the play/movie they are creating. Slow and contemplative and lovely, and one hell of a good cast.

Film: Fire of Love (2022)

The 1001 Movies list is thin on documentaries. If it continues to be updated, I think there’s a chance that Fire of Love will be added. This is the story of Maurice and Katia Krafft, a pair of French vulcanologists who devoted their lives to each other and to the study of volcanoes around the world. The two were eventually killed in a volcanic explosion—a hazard of the job—but left behind a legacy of pictures, film, and more. This is a film about passion, and how even if that passion is dangerous, we still need to pursue it. There’s beauty in tragedy, and this film shows the truth of that idea.

Film: The Killers (1964)

Very loosely based on the Hemingway story of the same name, this is a mid-60s noir that hits on all cylinders. A pair of killers (Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager) are paid to kill a former race car driver (John Cassavetes). When said former driver doesn’t fight back or flee, one of the killers decides he needs to find out, and so goes his investigation into the full story. This involves a bunch of hardened criminals, old friends, and a stone-cold femme fatale. Among the cast are Claude Aikens, Angie Dickinson, and Norman Fell. It also happens to be Ronald Reagan’s last film, and it’s a doozy. The pitch-black ending is worth the price of admission.


  1. I've seen both Upgrade and Clouds of Sils Maria as I liked both of those films a lot while Fire of Love is just fucking incredible.

    1. Upgrade was more interesting than I thought it would be.

      Fire of Love probably belongs on the 1001 Movies list, to be honest, which means I probably should have done a full review.

  2. The 1964 version of The Killers is an underrated masterpiece and carries a greater impact and harder edge than the 1946 original.

    Clouds Of Sils Maria is intriguing but despite two good performances ultimately succumbs to slow pacing and an overdose of pretentiousness.

    1. I like both versions of The Killers, but I'll agree that the 1964 version hits harder--a lot of that is Lee Marvin, and a lot is just how gleefully nihilistic Clu Gulalger is.

  3. Upgrade was a lot better than I expected it to be. Clouds of Sils Maria was pretty good as well, but I didn't love it. I did however LOVE Fire of Love. Easily my favorite doc of last year.

    1. That's the concensus on Fire of Love. It is pretty beautiful in a tragic and glorious way.

      Upgrade is fun, but shockingly violent. I watched that with a group of people who were not at all prepared for the violence.

  4. While it isn’t a perfect film by any means I like Among the Living. I’m a bit more lenient with it since I know when it was released it was a B feature, so the care and craftsmanship will not be as focused. Yea it’s a bit of a stretch that the brothers still are identical but Dekker, an excellent character actor who met a grisly end, in a rare leading role uses body language and vocal inflections to make the two brothers recognizably different men. Another interesting facet, for me anyway, is the two main actresses. 1941 was the year of Susan Hayward’s initial ascension towards prominence. She had received scene stealing reviews in the supporting role of Hester the faithless wife in “Adam Had Four Sons” so Paramount gave her the chance at a lead in this (which obviously went well and led to much bigger things) at the polar opposite end of things was Frances Farmer, who at one time was considered an actress with the brightest of futures but her flinty personality and alcoholism damaged her standing and this was her second to last picture before descending into a decades long hell of mental illness and involuntary confinement. I thought their respective positions were reflected in their performances, Susan’s a firecracker, Frances nearly somnolent.

    Again, I liked I Went Down. I went into it blind when it was released and got caught up in the story quickly. I also liked that it was set in an Ireland that is not generally shown in movies, no lovely green rolling hills that I recall but a messy, gritter section of the country. I also enjoyed the two leads and their rather spiky chemistry.

    It has been an awfully long time since I’ve seen Cutter’s Way. My memory of it isn’t clear but I do remember Heard being strong in it. I think it was this performance that broke him out of the pack and marked him as a comer. He never reached the predicted heights, but he certainly had a durable and respectable career.

    This version of The Killers is very good, especially for a remake of a classic, though I prefer the original. The performers are excellent, even Reagan in an atypical role, and while Angie Dickinson is no Ava Gardner, she likewise plays her coldhearted bitch of a character well. The ending is pure noir.

    I haven’t seen the others, but Fire of Love sounds intriguing.

    1. I'm not sure how you would approach Upgrade. There is some very surprising violence in it, but the story is a decent one. Clouds of Sils Maria seems like one you'd appreciate. Fire of Love is absolutely worth your time.

      Cutter's Way feels to me like one of those films that can make someone's career because of the performance, but not because of the movie. Tom Hardy in Bronson is that kind of performance. The movie's not great, but Hardy is magnetic. Heard feels a lot like a snub because of how good he is in this, but it's in service of a film that's only decent.