dust motes: march 2018

Dust Motes is a monthly post featuring mini-reviews of new film releases, as well as new-to-me movies, that I've watched over the past month.

This month I watched a total of 13 new and new-to-me movies and TV series; this brings my total for the year to 51 new watches. My viewing habits continue to decline as I've been prioritizing my reading habits. This is also a time of year where there are relatively few movies I need to see in theaters compared to the build up to awards season, which cuts down on my numbers. Film festival season will be here before I know it, though, so I won't complain about the lull just yet!


My one new television show for the month is The Terror, about two British ships that become trapped in the Arctic Sea while searching for the Northwest Passage. It's still early in the ten episode run so I chose not to select it for a mini-review, but I'm enjoying it quite a lot so far!

High Noon (1952)
Dir. Fred Zinneman
Starring: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelley, Thomas Mitchell

Westerns and I have a tumultuous relationship. All too often I love the sounds of one, only to lose interest half an hour into watching it. So I was delighted when, at the end of High Noon, I wasn't ready for the credits! Gary Cooper decimates as an almost-former lawman who delays starting his life as a newlywed to defend his town against a criminal looking for revenge. The excuses his fellow men have for refusing to help in his stand for justice range far and wide, yet all of them heat the blood. Grace Kelley provides a subtler gravitas as the Quaker wife, while Katy Jurado is the source of some much needed comic relief as the sheriff's sharp-tongued former lover. High Noon unfolds over the course of one afternoon; its real-time feeling slowly ratchets up the tension until you're practically begging the bad guy and his posse to show up, if only to finally know how it all ends. While some Westerns seems a little corny sixty years after the face, High Noon tells a simple story with complicated morals that stands up to the test of time admirably well.

High Noon is currently available via Netflix DVD.

Thoroughbreds (2018)
Dir. Cory Finley
Starring: Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin

Thoroughbreds is the kind of movie that could work out okay as a play, yet it also thrives on the flair a glowing screen in a dark room provides. Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy share an electric chemistry that sparks and flares on a bed of dry wit and deadpan humor. Anton Yelchin calls to mind every pseudo-entrepreneur who talks a bigger game than he can play. His manic energy plays well off the deadly boredom of Cooke and Taylor-Joy, even as his objections to the murder scheme voice some of the audience's justifiable incredulity. While I wouldn't say that there's a final twist—the story itself stays fairly straightforward—director Finley ends the film with a killer sucker punch that demands an immediate re-watch. At its simplest, Thoroughbreds is a cat-and-mouse thriller that delights in the hunt rather than the pounce. What distinguishes it from the rest, however, is its focus on the theatrical darkness of female adolescence in a way that surpasses, rather than emulates, classics like Heathers.

Thoroughbreds is currently in theatrical release.

The Night of the Generals (1967)
Dir. Anatole Litvak
Starring: Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Tom Courtenay

A little ridiculous at times and a little slow at others, The Night of the Generals is most recommended by the scenery-chewing performance of Peter O'Toole as a sadistic Nazi officer. It's a sprawling film at least half an hour too long with time shifts that are unmarked and sometimes take a moment to latch onto. Yet, despite knowing that it isn't a very good film...I quite liked Generals. This was almost entirely thanks to O'Toole's over-the-top performance; classically trained for the theater, his projection and exaggerated acting are put to good use as he stomps, shoots, and slices his way across Europe. Sadly Omar Sharif gets little to do other than pester his suspects. After enjoying his and O'Toole's chemistry so much in Lawrence of Arabia, I'd hoped for a more direct battle of wits between them here. Several subplots—a burgeoning romance, the real life 'Valkyrie' plot to assassinate Hitler—distract rather than enhance the central story of an investigation. If you're looking for tight plotting this won't be the film for you, but O'Toole fans should enjoy seeing him let loose.

The Night of the Generals is currently available via Netflix DVD.

Crooked House (2018)
Dir. Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Starring: Max Irons, Stefanie Martini, Glenn Close

Despite their uneven success, I'll usually give any Agatha Christie adaptation a chance. Unfortunately, the new Crooked House film never comes together in spite of a stellar cast and the excellent set they get to play in. Veteran actresses Glenn Close, Gillian Anderson, and Christina Hendricks cartoonishly overact in an unappealing way, while leading man and investigating detective Max Irons fails to summon much more than expression of mild disgruntlement (or perhaps that's only indigestion?). For such a colorful, dysfunctional family their squabbles bore rather than entertain, with most threats feeling toothless. Combined with a clearly telegraphed reveal that does Christie's tight plotting a disservice, Crooked House enchants only when viewers are allowed to linger in the varied and opulent rooms of the estate now torn apart by circling (and tedious) vultures.

Crooked House is currently available via Netflix DVD.

What did you watch last month? Any suggestions for what I should check out next? Share your thoughts in the comments down below!

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