Collecting some Letterboxd reviews from the past few months, some more obscure, some very much not so. I haven’t been watching as many films the past few months, but between the start of the Calgary International Film Festival and the looming winter, that’s bound to change—expect more of these roundups in the months to come.
This is a strange thing to say about a bleak Viking revenge saga packed with bloodshed and laced with hallucinatory visions, but as much as I enjoyed the experience of The Northman, it’s missing the darkness of The VVitch and The Lighthouse. Maybe it’s in the relationship of their central characters to their worlds—Eggers’ first two films are about average people on the fringes of their societies, butting up against and succumbing to forces beyond their understanding. This is a hero’s journey, the toughest man alive receiving DMs from the fates themselves assuring him of his central role in a high drama of kings and conquerors. In some ways, it feels closer in tone to old Conan comics than to either of Eggers’ other films.
As an action spectacle, it’s impressive and enjoyable, and I’m glad the larger scale hasn’t diminished Eggers’ commitment to his historical worlds. I saw another review say what distinguishes his films is that they 100% believe in the mythology of their times, so you are seeing the world from within their reality—their histories are alien worlds, to some extent, and that really does seem to be the case. And I appreciate the seriousness of it, the acknowledgement that you can go big without having to bake in quippiness and meta-jokes. It’s a great action movie, one that holds on to a lot of what makes Eggers so unique—but not enough pair with his best.
The Velvet Underground
I adore the energy Jonathan Richman brings to his segments.
Haynes certainly does what he sets out to do, elevating his favourite band while also bringing them down to earth by spending so much time establishing their context. The pre-Velvets parts were maybe my favourite, the rest being a well-worn story and way too heavy on Warhol, who may be what made the Velvets’ career possible but isn’t what made them interesting.
What a band, though.
The Matrix Resurrections
In the first movie, “what is the Matrix” was a question about the nature of reality. In Resurrections, it kicks off a branding discussion. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a movie that so explicitly didn’t want to be made, that isn’t just aware that it is superfluous but that seems to want you to feel guilty for even being curious about it. Neo and Trinity are back because either Warner Media or the engagement algorithm that secretly drives the world have demanded it, and while the postscript grudgingly thanks the algorithm for the characters’ new life—and the opportunity to clarify a few ideas and shake up a few binaries—it never gets past the sense that this revisiting this story is more traumatic than cathartic for its creators.
Not trying to open up the genre debate because ultimately it’s just a label that doesn’t mean much, but this didn’t feel like a horror film to me. In that I didn’t feel the goal of the film was to scare me; it has more the feel of a pulp “men’s adventures” magazine, a tale designed to thrill more than to frighten. If Peele hadn’t already directed two horror films, I wonder if this would still be discussed in those terms.
Anyway, Nope doesn’t hold together as well as Get Out (that’s a high bar). It balances its theme and storytelling much better than Us, though, and the creature design is marvelous. Kaluuya is great in a mostly low-key and stoic role, “Antlers Holst” is a fantastic name, and all my criticisms are better suited to nitpicking over beers than essays on Letterboxd.
Who even makes movies like this? Yuasa is one of the most unpredictable filmmakers working today, except inasmuch as everything he makes is worth watching. Which very much includes this 14th century Japanese mystical rock opera. Yes it’s a bit chaotic and inconsistent from the storytelling side of things, with uneven pacing and what feel like some fairly significant dropped threads.
But it more than makes up for it by force of imagination. The production value on the musical numbers is incredible, the animation is gorgeous throughout (even with a few jarring shifts in technique), and most importantly, it never once plays it safe.
How do you do this, The Night is Short Walk On Girl, Lu Over the Wall, Devilman Crybaby and more in a five-year span? It boggles the mind.
Three Thousand Years of Longing
So much of this film is so good. I’m a sucker for movies about storytelling and well-used narration and colourful world-building and genre-based tragic love stories, and apparently Miller is, too, because when he’s indulging in that side of things this film is so wonderfully alive.
The scale of those early stories is so ambitious that the more restrained back half can’t help but suffer in comparison—but it doesn’t help that it feels so rushed. Why raise a topic like bigotry and xenophobia, say, if you’re only going to give it one brief conversation and a cartoonishly simple resolution? There wasn’t enough room for the sweep of humanity that the script tries to engage with.
None of that changes the appeal of the first half, though. It reminds me a bit of The Brothers Bloom, although the content couldn’t be much more different, but that love for the very nature of storytelling, the embrace of bright colours, the playfulness and love of language will appeal to the same people.
Worth noting: it’s a very different film than the trailer had me expecting. Less chaotic, more constrained, very much not an adventure film. Hopefully that doesn’t hurt its reception.
Dozens of Norths
Somewhere between Seuss and Bosch—a journey through imagined landscapes full of people trapped in loops, stuck in traps, or engaged in endless work. Absurdist allegory that seems borderline nihilistic, although I’d be lying if I said I had a solid interpretation of it overall. Some of the metaphors were clear, but others sailed by me; the rough-hewn illustrations and the fantastic score and sound design were enough to pull me back in whenever I started to drift. The lack of dialogue in favour of title cards helps contextualize some of the more obtuse imagery while still keeping things wide open to poetic interpretation.
Certainly an imaginative film—if it’s even fair to call it a film, it doesn’t seem especially interested in cinematic language, pulling more from illustration and mixed media to create its mood. Animation doesn’t have to be filmmaking, after all, it is its own medium with the flexibility to pull from so many other visual traditions. But I guess that’s a whole other can of worms.
The Empty Man
An ambitious jumble of ideas and influences, some well thought out and others pretty half-baked, but executed with a whole lot of skill regardless. The (very) cold open and the scenes with Root are by far the most engaging; the procedural is a bit rote even with all the weirdness around it. Some of the images, though, especially the sequence at Elsewhere, flames tentacling into the night sky… I can see how this has attracted a cult.
Folks seem to be calling out the creepypasta elements like they’re inherently a bad thing, but I’d happily read the whole Pontifex Society wiki if it were posted somewhere. Candyman + Crowley + Creepypasta + Cults makes for an interesting blend.
The Timekeepers of Eternity
Certainly an interesting project. It’s a snappy edit, finding a solid Outer Limits episode in a much-reviled miniseries, and the unusual technique heightens the film’s themes, adding some interesting depth. Where I stumble is in whether it is its own film or something closer to a fan edit, or whether that matters.
If you go by sheer labour, then it isn’t hard to argue for it as a standalone artwork. If you go by originality of the narrative, it’s an edit. Is it transformative? Does it matter? The fact it prompts those questions is enough to make me glad I watched it.
Regardless, it’s easily the best film version of the Langoliers out there right now, so there’s that.