No Sudden Move has lost its status as the year’s most grotesque use of a wide-angle lens, courtesy of some Abu Ghraib flashbacks that turn Oscar Isaac and Willem Dafoe into carnival-mirror dwarfs. Isaac served time for torturing the enemy while his superiors stayed free and rich, and a fellow torturer’s son Tye Sheridan tries to rope Isaac into a revenge plot, but Isaac wants to stay cool and quietly win card games using Tiffany Haddish’s money. Nice to see a movie where cooler heads prevail, the kid is set straight and Isaac gets the girl… oh no, that’s not what happens, two people die and Isaac goes back to jail. I can’t decide how I feel about it – the tone felt off, or maybe I just felt weird being at the Grand all by myself, anxiously trying not to expect First Reformed 2.
The Queen of Spades (1949, Thorold Dickinson)
A pretty ok movie, mostly notable for all the definite articles in the credits:
We’re in Russia – all the names and signs and newspapers are in Russian, then halfway through the movie they decided the setting was well established and signs start appearing in English. Captain Anton Walbrook (year after The Red Shoes) visits the card games every night but never plays because he’s determined not to lose. So he visits a creepy bookseller to learn some useful tips:
The creepy bookseller is overdoing it:
Anton learns about a terrible old woman who knows the supernatural secret to winning at games of chance (their big card game is just betting 50/50 on a single-card draw). He pretends to be interested in the pretty girl (Yvonne Mitchell of Sapphire) who works for the old lady (Edith Evans, Ghost of Christmas Past in the Albert Finney Scrooge) by plagiarizing love letters, gets close enough to threaten the old lady, who promptly drops dead, then idiot Walbrook tells the girl his whole scheme. He gets the secret of the cards from the dead woman, wins a fortune then loses it all (and the girl) the same night. Shocktober 2021 Challenge: no more movies from the British, they are simply frightened by everything.
Uncut Gems (2019, Safdies)
Opens on a mining accident in Ethiopia… camera goes inside a dark gem, though the cosmos and out of Adam Sandler’s ass (rivaling the ants transition in The Human Surge), spends a couple hours following his final few days, back into his body through a fatal bullet hole and into the gem-cosmos. The movie itself is almost a horror, in that you’re watching a character make every bad decision and you want to scream at him to chill out, but it’s also a thrill to see where this many bad decisions will lead… and the thing is, both of Howard’s big gambling bets are winners, but his history of fuckups conspire to rob him of the rewards.
Halfway through the Skandies and already three acting awards: for first time actors Kevin Garnett (as himself, but still) and Keith Williams Richards as Arno’s raspy-voiced tough-guy… and on the opposite side of the showbiz spectrum, Frozen star Idina Menzel, as Howard’s soon-to-be-ex wife, who delivered the line to Adam Sandler that drew applause at my screening: “I think you are the most annoying person I have ever met.” I assume that Sandler is due for a Skandie, and if his brother-in-law/loanshark Arno (Special Effects star Eric Bogosian) and his employee/girlfriend who makes off with the cash at the end (Julia Fox, another first-timer – Matthew Eng wrote about her perfectly in Reverse Shot) aren’t coming up, they must’ve just missed. Good Time still has the edge, but this was great.
Bay of Angels (1963, Jacques Demy)
I’m finally getting to this, Demy’s feature follow-up to Lola, still in his talky black-and-white period before exploding into song and color the following year. The story of an easily led young man (Claude Mann of Army of Shadows and India Song) who gets hooked on gambling by his friend (Paul Guers) then spends a week in Monaco with excitingly self-destructive career gambler Jeanne Moreau.
“If I loved money I wouldn’t squander it. What I love about gambling is this idiotic life of luxury and poverty. And also the mystery – the mystery of numbers and chance.”
Moreau is a sympathetic outcast – not just a single mom, but one who has abandoned her family for her own freedom, something unimaginable at the time. Claude isn’t so sure about the lifestyle, is inclined to hoard his winnings and wants to get back to normal life eventually, but he immediately falls for Moreau enough to forgive her recklessness and infidelity. She disappears more than once – they do end up together in the final shot, but who knows after that.
Bay of Angels takes place, as Demy’s movies always do, in a kind of Wonderland, where the rules of ordinary life seem to have been suspended for a while. (And like Lola, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and 1967’s The Young Girls of Rochefort, the setting is near water, in port towns, where everything feels provisional, a stop on the way to somewhere else) … The gambling scenes are montages cut to a quick tempo, using mostly dissolves, and pass by in a dreamlike blur, the wheel turning, the players betting and watching, the croupiers brisk and impassive. In every other scene, the takes are long and fluid, without many cuts — they have a wandering, leisurely rhythm. The alternation of styles gives the movie a tension that has nothing to do with conventional suspense. In Bay of Angels, as in no other movie about gambling, whether the players win or lose feels fundamentally irrelevant. The experience is all that matters.