Here are some other films I watched in February, in alphabetical order.
written and directed by Guillermo del Toro
The feature-length debut of writer/director Guillermo del Toro, Cronos is a cleverly original take on the vampire genre. Jesús (Federico Luppi) is an old antique dealer who comes across a scarab-shaped mechanical device that can grant its user eternal life (for a price, of course). The movie excels when it concentrates on Jesús and his transformation to thirsty creature of the night – a scene where he contemplates a puddle of blood and then licks it off the floor is pure squeamish delight. But del Toro struggles elsewhere: The antagonists – a dying rich man (Claudio Brook) who wants the gadget for himself, and his vicious lackey nephew (Ron Perlman, particularly bad) – look like they belong in a different movie altogether. And the mix of English and Spanish dialogue is completely unnecessary. Still, Cronos is a calling card for Del Toro’s future forays into fantasy and horror.
Snake Eyes (1998)
written by David Koepp
from a story by Brian De Palma and David Koepp
directed by Brian De Palma
Snake Eyes is definitely not one of director Brian De Palma‘s best efforts, yet it is probably his last “good” movie. Nicolas Cage plays Rick Santoro, a corrupt Atlantic City detective who discovers a conspiracy to kill the United States secretary of defense at a boxing match. Yes, it makes little sense. But I like that the action takes place completely inside the sports arena, giving the film a claustrophobic feel (there are brilliant technical moments, such as the opening sequence which follows Santoro around until the assassination takes place). And for all of Cage’s flamboyance during the first half of the film, he nails his character’s descent into murky moral waters once he’s asked to identify – and therefore cause the death of – an innocent witness (Carla Gugino). Santoro is a crooked, selfish guy suddenly faced with an ethical conundrum: Should he look the other way, as he’s always done… or protect a human being, as his duty dictates? Roll the dice.
written and directed by Mattson Tomlin
In the not-so-distant future, androids turn against humanity. The people that survive live in fortified cities, while the robots plot how to infiltrate them. You’ve seen this dystopian story plenty of times, but Mother/Android smartly focuses on a young couple, Georgia (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Sam (Algee Smith), about to have a baby and trying to get to Boston safely. Their journey and sacrifices make up the bulk of the film, with some brief forays into action territory. The film could’ve benefited from more expansive world-building, and a late twist in which the machines get the upper hand feels rushed. But it mostly works in no small part due to Grace Moretz, who continues to choose quirky, interesting projects.
The Power of the Dog (2021)
based on the novel The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage
written and directed by Jane Campion
In The Power of the Dog Benedict Cumberbatch plays ranch proprietor Phil Burbank, an acerbic, cruel, alpha-male cowboy who’s a walking example of toxic masculinity. He makes fun of his portly, naive brother George (Jesse Plemons), gets angry when George falls for and marries a widow (Kirsten Dunst), and looks at the widow’s delicate son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), with disgust. For the first hour or so, writer/director Jane Campion’s unconventional Western is visually impactful and psychologically intriguing, the story of a closeted homosexual whose struggle has shaped him into the man he thinks he should be. But then characters start to behave in ways that feel abrupt – Phil takes the young man under his wing; Rose quickly becomes an alcoholic – and Peter, in a twist I could see a mile away, decides to kill Phil. It doesn’t feel earned or deserved, and the shift in focus from vaguely experimental character study to a more conventional revenge thriller is a letdown. Worse, Phil never realizes Peter has betrayed him, and Peter never questions his own moral compass. The Power of the Dog starts full of promise but loses its way. Still, Cumberbatch’s turn as a tortured soul is worth the trip.
Carlos I. Cuevas