[What Did Jaci Think? Late March]

I watched The Death of Stalin mostly from between my fingers while muttering “oh my god” under my breath. It is very funny but it also never lets you forget the horror of what’s happening (sometimes audibly) offscreen. It fits perfectly into Iannucci’s filmography, another piece about mediocre men scrambling for power.

My personal favorite in the cast was Paddy Considine as the radio producer who sets up the comic-yet-deadly urgency of the whole situation for ordinary people as he drags back the orchestra, the pianist, and a crowd to recreate a live broadcast, with Olga Kurylenko, the pianist and conscience of the film, as a close second.

Operation Red Sea is also about power, but in a very different way. It’s three movies in one, and its obvious goal is to impress you with the might of the Chinese Navy. It’s overlong, but with effective action, and it’s always fun for me to check in periodically with what’s slaying worldwide box office. (When we saw it, it was currently number two worldwide, but with half the box office of Black Panther.)

Pacific Rim: Uprising is goofier but also less weird than the original, but here’s the thing: If you think you’d be into robots fighting monsters some more (who wouldn’t) & you like John Boyega (who doesn’t) you’ll probably have fun. I agree with everything in this review by Glen Weldon (especially that he points out a small thing I also loved: the care the movie takes to let you know that cities are empty before building smashing begins.)

Tomb Raider is also pretty goofy, in an Indiana Jones sort of way, an origin story with puzzles and curses and henchmen, but I liked it a lot more than I expected for a few reasons. First of course, Alicia Vikander, who the camera appreciates (on an athletic level) but does not leer at. It shouldn’t be praiseworthy that a lady action hero wears pants & has her hair pulled back out of her dang face, but it is. She also has a great moment when she is first forced to kill someone, but has to sit for a moment with what she’s done, as she is rightfully shaken.

I also appreciated that there wasn’t a love story, however, I can’t help but wonder if that would have been the case if her sidekick had been a white guy. Hard to say. Action dudes always win a free lady at the end, but do action ladies? If they do, Daniel Wu is certainly an excellent prize.

I also would have liked the movie better if Walton Goggins had played the villain with Boyd Crowder’s accent, but here we are. That’s nitpicking, though. It has terrific action sequences – including a bike race at the start that gives Premium Rush a run for its money – and it sets up a villain for a sequel that I will definitely see.

(Side rec: Tomb Raider is directed by Roar Uthaug, who also directed the Norwegian disaster film The Wave, which hits all the expected beats but also totally worked; I’m not too proud to say it had me on the edge of my deeply-uncomfortable Film Center seat.)

The best thing I saw in the theaters this time around was probably a whole whack of Sci Fi + Fantasy short films. I didn’t have one that I particularly loved this year, but I had a lot that I liked, including the Audience Award winner Jiminy, a French film about a piece of organic tech that is implanted in the user to help them run their lives, essentially. You turn over control of your body to your cricket. This is fine. The future will be fine.

Other favorites include Fulfilament (animated, about a lightbulb/thought finding its place in the world), Haskell (about a person born a few seconds ahead of time, the world’s briefest time traveller), Niggun (animation from Israel about space explorers looking for Earth), and Everything & Everything & Everything (which I would have liked better if it had been a Shane Carruth film instead of just starring Shane Carruth, but still.)

I always like the non-US shorts the best, & as usual I was less impressed by the shorts that not-so-secretly want to be features (or, god forbid, a series).

At home on FilmStruck, I finally kicked Stalker to the top of the queue and wound up watching all of the extras too before seeing Annihilation again. This is a recommended course of action. Including the point where you see Annihilation twice. It’s such an intensely, grotesquely beautiful film. This time through I thought about how two of the most stunning images reminded me of “Hannibal” (specifically the body in the pool and the beach scene before she enters the lighthouse).

I’m going to be living with the intersection of these two movies for a while, and I’m sure smarter people than I have already written about that space. But also, the second time through Annihilation I paid attention to something I had suspected about halfway through my first viewing but needed to confirm, and that is: no white dudes have roles of significance.

There are three men who have true supporting roles: Oscar Isaac of course, also Benedict Wong and David Gyasi. Now, I’m not saying this excuses the white leads. But what I am saying is that it speaks to an inclusive worldview and it makes me more likely to give Garland the benefit of the doubt when he says he was working from the first novel alone, which does not even name characters, let alone define their racial and ethnic backgrounds. Better than most films on inclusive casting isn’t the same thing as *good*, but. It’s better. And anything where white dudes are reduced to extras is definitely better.

ANYWAY. What do I know. FilmStruck, that’s where I was. I also saw a few goofy new-to-mes, including Forbidden Planet, Whisky Galore!, and Chinese Odyssey 2002 (Tony Leung + Twelfth Night vibes!) but best of all was Starstruck, an early 80s dream-of-stardom movie directed by Gillian Armstrong, which includes a bunch of great performance numbers, including a club scene right off the top and later, a Busby Berkeley-esque pool scene complete with inflatable sharks.

I’ll definitely be watching it again before it leaves the service!