In theaters: Frankly ambivalent about the ending, Brandon Cronenberg's Infinity Pool nevertheless plays with some interesting ideas, imagining a strange country with primitive laws, yet the capacity to create clones that can be punished instead of the wealthy tourists who come to their shores. The proxy is an ancient tradition afforded royals, here given a science fiction twist. And speaking of twists, you fully expect such a mind bender to play the "who's the real person and who's the proxy?" game, and the film does, but keeps an ambiguity going. After all, does it really matter if you're a morally degraded copy or the original morally degraded by the symbolic/actual cycle of death and renewal? In the end, it's still about the lack of consequences for the rich, and how the awareness of that kind of invulnerability inevitably leads to corruption. In the middle of all this is Mia Goth as a wild temptress, once again going for it 100% - I don't think there's anyone working right now better an unleashing such savage madness on the screen - and she's unsurprisingly the best thing about Infinity Pool.
At home: Reusing only a couple of moments from the original short, the Marcel the Shell with Shoes On feature film finds a way to extend the mockumentary format to a very full 90 minutes in various ways. One is the introduction of a touching grandmother character played by Isabella Rossellini (shades of Green Porno). Another is giving Marcel a tragic mystery, something to explore and resolve, even though most of the picture is, like the originals, a series of vignettes. And a third is evoking the lore of this absurd universe, without really explaining anything. But I felt engaged by what wasn't said. Ultimately, the film sings thanks to Jenny Slate evidently improvising and making film maker Dean Fleischer Camp break. Their dynamic creates solid naturalism for what is complete fantasy. And through the longer format, Camp and Slate are able to explore deeper themes of loss, celebrity and autonomy, often rather poetically. It also wins by being completely unlike any other animation film, a field that sometimes seems a bit samey, at least at the big studios.
Powerless meets Misfits in Britain's new export Extraordinary, an irreverent comedy about a world where everyone has a super-power sometime after their 18th birthday - some good, some really stupid, some you would consider curses - except our main protagonist Jen, who at 25, is still waiting. And she's a screw-up in every other area too. This is one of those comedies where the lead is a terrible person and Jen can be hard to take, but you might be charmed when she shows her inner goodness, in particular to her flat mates who of course have their own stories going (the would-be superhero, the pushover who needs to assert herself, the amnesiac struggling with the simplest things). They all want to be Extraordinary, but fall short of it in a world where everything is Extraordinary. It's about finding your power, or how to use it in this, or any, world. It's a bit blue at times, but can be quite funny. The character humor is stronger to me than the absurd superpower stuff. One of its best features, however, is its soundtrack. It has really a strong identity, and if I can find a playlist with all the tunes on it, I will probably listen the s#!t out of it.
Elisabeth Moss plays a rock star somewhere at the crossroads of Courtney Love and Lydia Lunch in Alex Ross Perry's Her Smell, and she's pretty brilliant in the role of a celebrity going completely off the rails, doing her own songs (legit!) and everything. The first half of the movie is rightly chaotic, even frenetic, capturing the drug haze, the anger, the insanity of being backstage (and on stage) with her as she throws everyone off the edge of her world. It's a full meal, and I when I looked at the time near the end of this section, I thought for sure the movie was almost over. In other words, it's tiring in the same way the character is to the people in her life. The second half of the film, post-breakdown, has, in comparison, a shocking stillness. Scenes are allowed to play out, organic silences crop up, and the camera gets sit. It's a relief, but one that brings its own tension. Though Becky Something has realigned her priorities, the same anxieties that made her misbehave are a part of her, and we see them manifest in a new way. Whether that's a better or a worse way would be giving too much away.
Another decade has gone by and Dante and Randall have hardly moved an inch. A lot of Clerks III feels indulgent, though I realize it's just going back to its roots. See, Randall has a brush with death and decides to seize the day and make a movie about his experiences in the convenience store - basically, he's making Clerks, and there are a LOT of call-backs to the original film. Kevin Smith had, after all, made that film based on his own experiences working at a convenience store, so here, he's making one about making a low-budget movie based on those experiences - don't get lost in the meta-spiral. But just as he did with Clerks II, what at first is a series of gags and foul-mouthed conversations becomes something else. There's a real poignancy (again) to the test of their friendship and to the way Smith decides to complete this trilogy. Obviously, this is only likely to work on fans of the previous films, but I count myself as one, and yeah, I definitely swelled up. Smith offers a summation of his career, and yes, that IS an indulgence, but as the film maker and characters strongly coincide with my own generational anxieties, I couldn't help but like it.
The spaghetti western They Call Me Trinity is humongous fun! Terrence Hill is a happy-go-lucky bounty hunter and the fastest gun in the West, and Bud Spencer is his grumpy, super-strong brother, both rogues hiding in a town run by a wicked land baron as "the law". Trinity and Bambino make a great comedy double act, as the film doesn't take itself very seriously, but rather spoofs similar films (including The Magnificent Seven) without really copying them. There are some very good fights throughout and fun action gags as well. And then there's the music. Fans of Django Unchained will recognize the theme song - it's an absolute banger! - and this is its birthplace. Easy to see why Tarantino would affect this one, as it's entertaining through and through, and really very clever in the way it upends western tropes. I'm always a bit annoyed by spag dubs, but in this case, there's more than enough on show to compensate for the cheapness dubbing always evokes for me.
Bambino really gets no respect with these titles... Trinity Is Still My Name, the sequel to They Call Me Trinity, once again sees the brothers team up for schemes and, ultimately, begrudging altruism. Unfortunately, while it's still entertaining and has some fun bits - meeting their folks (even if it doesn't quite jibe with what we were told in the first movie), the card tricks, the big game of keep-away - in almost every way, it's more indulgent and weaker on every front. The comedy is broader and more obvious. The action isn't as good or memorable. There are a lot of slow scenes that could have been tightened up (the poker game, the restaurant scene). The plot is a little hard to follow and the stakes that a long time to define themselves. And of course, there's no replacing the original's theme tune. All in all, if the movie had just followed their pa's dream of them becoming great outlaws (and failing) in a more straightforward way, without all the mistaken identities (which are a call-back to the original), it might have worked out better. Still fun, but would be in no hurry to revisit this particular chapter.
Four by Robert Bloch, The House That Dripped Blood struggles to tie his little tales of ironic horror together, I think, with everyone telling a police detective that the house did it every time, but there's really very little about the house that could be responsible for its tenants' ignominious ends. Nevertheless, the horror plots come to a crashing conclusion soon after renting the place. A writer haunted by his psychotic character, two old friends obsessed with a waxworks beauty, a father who fears his own child, and a prima donna horror film star who buys a mystical cloak and comes to regret it. In each case, there's a twist and then often a supplementary twist that only works in terms of horror logic and can be goofy is stared at too long. The first of the tales is the best, the most Hitchcockian from the writer of Pyscho. The middle ones are kind of standard fare, but benefit from using Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in relatively unusual roles (victims). The third is interesting to Doctor Who fans because it stars Jon Pertwee who is very much originating some of his Who wardrobe in this film, and is assisted by future Who co-star Ingrid Pitt (another horror icon) and almost-Doctor-but-eventually-got-to-do-it-for-Big-Finish Geoffrey Bayldon. Unfortunately, it's also the goofiest story and Pertwee brings to it his trademark gurning, which clashes with the general tone of the film. Casual entertainment, but not a top-tier anthology film.
A very young Andy Lau stars as a supercop in Magic Crystal, an absurd kung fu flick co-starring Cynthia Rothrock as an Interpol agent, one among a large cast of heroes going up against a Russian who wants to get his hands on a super-powered piece of jade. Except Lau's little nephew has the thing, and it's a kind of alien creature (more Mac and Me than E.T.), so a lot of crazy stuff happens. Expect broad Cantonese comedy - including a lot of toilet humor - and a bizarre nonsense plot, but these are only set dressing for exciting, fast-paced kung fu throwdowns, with Rothrock unusually using a lot of traditional weapons (and perhaps more unusually being sped up on kicks and punches, did they not film it right?). You're not always sure why a fight has broken out, who the bad guys are, or what the stakes are in any given set piece, but it scarcely matters. On the flip side, the "creature" is pretty annoying, with its high-pitched voice and belief that it is in a Gamera film or something. Another silly bit that caught my attention: Most of the characters are named after the actor playing them. So it's Andy Lo, and Cyndi, and the kid Pin Pin is played by a kid called Bin Bin. In an industry where Jackie Chan is likely to be called Jackie, Chan, or Jackie Chan in any given movie, I guess that's just a Hong Kong tradition.