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  • Ken Ilgunas

Movie Reviews: Avatar 2, Banshees, The Quiet Girl

Avatar 2 (2021) - Avatar 2 got only a 77% positive score on Rotten Tomatoes. I agree that it felt long and some expensive details (the little underwater vessels launched from the bowels of the whaling ship) seemed unnecessary. Yet I feel like you have no choice but to give *the most amazing visual cinematic experience* a thumbs up—because that is indeed what it was. My biggest gripe is that they cast Sigourney Weaver to play a teenage girl. With her, I couldn’t suspend disbelief and I wish they’d just moved on from the characters who died in the previous movie. If you can build a whole new world, it should follow that you shouldn't have to recycle characters for the sequel. B-

The Wonder (2021) - The story of an Irish girl putting on a possibly miraculous fasting performance is worth the telling, but not in this way. The Wonder had the feel of an “indie” film with a weird breaking of the fourth wall*, but the smell of Hollywood with an implausible tale of family formation shoehorned in. C- *I suggest as a maxim: A story must have a really good reason to break the fourth wall. The Wonder didn’t.

White Noise (2021) - I was on board for the first half of this bonkers (and amazingly shot) movie. I’m not convinced Adam Driver deserves all the top roles he gets, but I thought he made the most of it and showed some range. The inane dual lecturing scene was the movie’s highlight, but, in the end, the movie relies too much on its source material, becoming as wordy as the novel. I’m not sure it said anything new or useful about any of its top themes: death, fear of death, consumerism... C-

Banshees of Inisherin (2021) - Banshees had almost all of the key ingredients: wonderful acting, terrific characters, gorgeous scenery, and even a great (and funny!) script. The story had interesting themes to explore, such as ending a friendship, or the debate one might have about choosing a life dedicated to a craft vs. one devoted to life’s simple pleasures. Yet the story was gory, grim, and stupidly bleak.

I have no problem with bleakness. Bleakness, as a tonal atmosphere, can serve a purpose beyond being "edgy," gratuitously shocking the audience, and stamping the project with an “emblem of sophistication,” to borrow a friend’s phrase. I'd argue that a filmmaker who manufactures bleakness is trying to fib his way to greatness, is suffering from moral or intellectual immaturity, and is compensating for storytelling deficiencies. D

The Quiet Girl (2022) - This is another, and far better, bleak(ish) Irish film, about a young girl who finds what she’s missing when she’s cast off to distant relatives. A-

Call Me Mule (2022?) - I got an early look at this documentary about a man traveling around California with three mules. Along the way, he’s helped by the public and often threatened by authorities. It is sad that, in this "free country," so many of us would be so in awe of someone experiencing freedom. It is unfortunate that people like Mule are so unusual, when, in a truly free country, this sort of trip and this sort of person would not be something to gawk at with astonishment. It speaks to the public's innate desire for adventure and the various forces holding them back from living lives of adventure—whether it's the law, urban sprawl, screens, suburbia, etc...

Movies watched from the BFI’s “Top 100 Greatest Movies Ever” List

#18 Persona by Ingmar Bergman (1966) - Persona seems certainly worthy of being on a great list, but some of the arthouse flourishes have aged poorly. Persona may be home to the most erotic scene captured in a movie, which is remarkable, as no clothes were removed or body parts touched.

#95 A Man Escaped by Robert Bresson (1956) - This film is more conventionally lovable than most of the films on the BFI’s list. Most moviemakers would feel pressured to sex up a Nazi prison jailbreak as much as possible, but this movie lives on because it’s so spare, understated, and mature. If it was anything other, it’d cause our modern eyes to roll.

#75 Mirror by Andrei Tarkovsky (1975) and #34 L’Atlante by Jean Vigo (1934) - I’m sure I’d appreciate these films more if I had a good film instructor who could help me comprehend the influence these films have had on other films. With Mirror, I was more or less lost. Even though I didn’t take joy from either of these offerings (and even though the experience of watching them felt like “taking my medicine"), I was still able to watch with respect and curiosity.


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