‘Infinity Pool’ Doubles Down on Every Single One of Its Indulgences

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I Love You Times Infinity (CREDIT: NEON)

Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth, Cleopatra Coleman, Jalil Lespert, Thomas Kretschmann, Amanda Brugel

Director: Brandon Cronenberg

Running Time: 117 Minutes

Rating: R for Nearly X-Rated Levels of Nudity, Sadistic Violence, and Hard Drug Use Amidst a Series of Potentially Seizure-Inducing Flashing Lights

Release Date: January 27, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: Writer James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) and his rich wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are on vacation at some resort, where everything seems just a little bit … off. ATVs zip around with impunity, capturing a slight hint of lawlessness. But strap in tight, because soon enough, everything will feel completely off and there will be an all-encompassing specter of lawlessness. James and En are guided down this path by fellow vacationers Gabi (Mia Goth) and Alban (Jalil Lespert), who promise them fun, but instead lead them right into the crosshairs of the law. A horrible accident has James facing the death penalty, but he’s offered an out. You see, on this resort, cloning technology exists, so instead, James can witness (and revel in) the execution of his double. It’s an easy choice, but soon enough, he finds himself caught within a labyrinth of doubles that it might be impossible to escape from.

What Made an Impression?: “Infinity Pool” sounds like a brand of hot tub, doesn’t it? And that’s appropriate, because Infinity Pool the movie feels like something that was cooked up by someone who fell asleep in a hot tub for a whole night (or maybe a whole year). But knowing writer-director Brandon Cronenberg, this mindfuck energy is just a fundamental part of his DNA. (It runs in the family.) The whole affair is an orgy of blood flashing lights (as well as a literal orgy) that may very well also be a dream. A deep, nightmarish, wonderfully satisfying dream. Every twist and turn regarding James and his doubles paradoxically feels like both a relief and a further descent into madness.

Serving as the ringleader of this twisted paradise, Cronenberg has opted for the perfect muse in the form of Mia Goth. Fresh off the one-two 2022 punch of X and Pearl, she’s been set loose once again on an unsuspecting public. Her wails of “Jaaaaaaaaaaaaames!” as she leans out the side of a convertible is the freshest earworm of the moment.

There were times during my journey through Infinity Pool that I was hoping for a logical explanation of what exactly was going on. Had James secretly planned this all from the beginning? Was it some sort of simulation? It’s a tricky task to nail that sort of reveal, but when done right, it’s immensely satisfying. But Cronenberg is much more interested in nailing the vibes of it all, and understandably so, because the vibes that he conjures are unforgettable. Infinity Pool is not for the faint of heart, or the faint of libido, or the faint of anything really, but when it all comes together, it’s also oddly serene. I emerged from a new cocoon disturbed, but also comforted.

Infinity Pool is Recommended If You Like: Resident Evil (The clone parts), The Game, Masks, Blinding colors

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Doubles

‘The Northman’: Vikings, Revenge, Blood, and Guts at the Gates of Hel

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The Northman (CREDIT: Aidan Monaghan/Focus Features)

Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy, Claes Bang, Ethan Hawke, Bjӧrk, Willem Dafoe, Oscar Novak

Director: Robert Eggers

Running Time: 137 Minutes

Rating: R for Lots of Blood and a Fair Amount of Skin

Release Date: April 22, 2022 (Theaters)

If nothing else, Robert Eggers movies are experiences. Sometimes, in the case of The Witch, it’s an experience I very much want to be a part of. Other times, in the case of The Lighthouse, it’s like: hoo boy, this might be a little too much for me. His third feature, The Northman, lands somewhere in the middle. It’s his longest but also perhaps his most straightforward. That might have something to do with the fact that the main character is a legendary Scandinavian figure who served as the direct inspiration for Hamlet. I encountered that factoid after watching the movie, but it makes sense in retrospect, as the story beats are plenty familiar. Despite the hallucinogenic flourishes, this is your classic tale of revenge and bloody familial entanglements.

It’s Viking Times! 895 AD, specifically. Young Prince Amleth (Oscar Novak) doesn’t have a care in the world, but then his uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang) kills his father (Ethan Hawke) and takes Amleth’s mother Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) as his own queen. If you’ve ever seen The Lion King, you know what’s coming, as we leap ahead several years, with our hero (now played by Alexander Skarsgård) returning with a girlfriend in tow (Anya Taylor-Joy as the witchy Olga of the Birch Forest) and ready to take back what’s his. Now, at this point, you may find yourself thinking, “Hey, didn’t Skarsgård and Kidman play husband and wife a few years ago?” To which I must let you know, The Northman does not flinch at the ickiest of its implications.

Basically, if you’ve ever been watching a Shakespeare production and wished that it was even bloodier, and a whole lot muddier, and also featured plenty of psychedelic freakouts, then The Northman is here for you! And if you also wanted a deadly mashup of lacrosse, handball, and rugby thrown in for good measure, then you can rest easy. I don’t want any beheadings in my own personal day-to-day, but I can approve of a few fictional decapitations serving as the cherries on top of a Robert Eggers sundae. It’s a healthy way to get the violent urges out of our systems.

The Northman is Recommended If You Like: Revenge served as cold as historically possible

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Fratricides/Avunculucides/Matricides/Nepoticides

‘Passing’ Patiently Presents a Black-and-White-and-Shades-of-Grey Portrait of Getting By

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Passing (CREDIT: Netflix)

Starring: Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland, Bill Camp, Alexander Skarsgård

Director: Rebecca Hall

Running Time: 98 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 mainly for The Utterance of a Few Racial Slurs

Release Date: October 27, 2021 (Theaters)/November 10, 2021 (Netflix)

So much of Passing consists of just conversations. Anything more would be too dangerous. Actually the conversations are already plenty dangerous.

Based on Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel of the same, it all begins with a slightly surreal encounter. Surreal in the sense that when dreaming, we randomly encounter people from our pasts that we haven’t seen for a while and yet it makes perfect sense. And so it goes when Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson) bumps into her old friend Clare Bellew (Ruth Negga) and discovers that she’s been utilizing her light skin tone to pass herself off as a white woman. This includes being married to a proudly racist man (Alexander Skarsgård) and privately hoping that her children don’t arrive any darker than her. She’s living on the razor’s edge, but she’s so matter of fact about it all, as if to say (without actually coming out and saying it) that what she’s doing is perfectly logical.

Writer/director Rebecca Hall (in her directorial debut) takes an understandably patient approach to the material in which not much happens, because everyone is holding themselves back from what they can’t allow to happen. This results in Passing feeling significantly longer than it actually is, which is an observation that is usually meant as a criticism, but in this case I mean it as neutrally as possible. Perhaps the explanation for this temporal confusion is that Clare has the ability to warp the perception of reality within the people in her orbit. She’s the one who’s primarily doing the title action, but it’s Reenie and her husband Brian (André Holland) who get most of the film’s attention, as their relatively comfortable Harlem existence is threatened by just the slightest hint of chaos. There are some lighter moments (particularly any scene with Bill Camp as Reenie and Brian’s regular jazz club companion), but otherwise you can practically see the seams of existence being torn asunder.

It all leads up to a violent climax that might have you grateful that something is finally happening to move the plot forward, although that gratefulness will probably fade in the face of the tragedy. Perhaps you will adjust your gratefulness to think that at least this sort of thing is unlikely to happen again a century later. But while passing between different racial settings might not look exactly the same as it did in previous eras, everyday deceit and the rationalization of such deceit still exists. This is a slow-burning disaster movie; if you ever find yourself in a similar situation and you don’t want the ending to be the same as Clare’s, then you might just want to do more than talk.

Passing is Recommended If You Like: The Harlem Renaissance, Smoke-filled jazz rooms, Tragedy predetermined by the whims of fate

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Deceptions

Godzilla vs. Kong vs. My Internal Composure: A Movie Review

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Godzilla vs. Kong (CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures/YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Godzilla, King Kong, Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza González, Julian Dennison, Lance Reddick, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir, Mechagodzilla

Director: Adam Wingard

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: March 31, 2021

What if it were Godzilla vs. Kong vs. … jmunney? Does the latest no-holds cinematic brawl between these two iconic behemoths make me want to join the fight? Hey man, I’m a pacifist! But entering their domain in some capacity might be fun. They seem like good company.  Kong is certainly a clown. And sensitive, to boot! Godzilla’s harder to peg, but I’d be willing to put in the emotional groundwork to make the connection. What’s Mechagodzilla’s deal, though? He sure comes out of nowhere. Does he even have a soul?!

Grade: 5 Podcasts of 10 ASLs

And Now For Something Completely Funky: ‘Long Shot’ Movie Review

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CREDIT: Philippe Bossé

I’m not sure what Long Shot‘s sense of the political landscape is. It seems to believe that the difference between Democrats and Republicans can actually be quite nebulous, which is interesting to think about, and maybe true in some cases, but certainly not in the majority of my experience. It also has some valuable things to say about the importance of compromise, although it’s kind of shouty and generic about it. But anyway, this is mostly a love story.

At first blush, it might look like the same old tale between a beautiful blonde (Charlize Theron as a presidential candidate) and a lovable schlub (Seth Rogen as a journalist-cum-speechwriter), but it downplays any eyeroll-worthy aspect of that setup by clearly illustrating the mutual attraction here. So Long Shot works best when it investigates what ambitious people are willing to sacrifice or not sacrifice, and why, in the name of the people they care about, though it would have benefited from more specific political window-dressing.

I give Long Shot My Satisfied Endorsement.

Movie Review: ‘The Hummingbird Project’ Wrings Some Meaning Out of a Story That Few, If Any, People Were Clamoring to Hear

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CREDIT: The Orchard

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgård, Michael Mando, Salma Hayek, Sarah Goldberg

Director: Kim Nguyen

Running Time: 111 Minutes

Rating: R for The Profanity of High-Stakes Finance

Release Date: March 15, 2019 (Limited)

The Hummingbird Project has one of the most stunningly esoteric premises of any theatrically released movie I have ever come across. So it’s a bit of a small miracle that it actually manages to be halfway compelling. It helps that the execution is straightforward, but that is also what holds it back from being truly memorable. Vincent Zaleski (Jesse Eisenberg) is a high-frequency trader whose dream is to build a fiber-optic cable line between Kansas and New Jersey that is efficient enough to decrease the time that information currently travels over that distance by one millisecond. But is that really his dream? Is that really anyone’s dream? His cousin and partner Anton (Alexander Skarsgård) is just as committed to the goal, but he essentially has a healthier perspective, treating it as a game or a code to crack. For Vincent, this is really about proving to the world that the little guy can come out on top, but his obsession has led him to turn the meaning of this highly specialized thing into the thing itself, when it actually represents normal human desires.

I imagine that many viewers will have the same reaction to Vincent and Anton that I did, which is to want to assure them that one millisecond cannot possibly be that important, no matter how many millions it will make them over the long run. Their pursuit is fundamentally maddening, though Eisenberg and Skarsgård make it palatable by tuning their performances to a sensitive enough key. It also helps that the script underlines how much they are doing this for a better family life. Vincent keeps reminding Anton that this job will ultimately lead to a charming, country mansion. Their desires are simple, really, as Vincent also promises that he will take Anton’s daughters out for ice cream once they return home.

Unsurprisingly, then, for a number of reasons, it turns out that Vincent is doing this all for his father, a Russian immigrant who was shaken down by government types on suspicion of being a communist spy. That led Vincent to learn that he needs to be so good at what he does that the people in charge cannot possibly deny it. This is a fairly unique version of the trope of attempting to please your parents after they’ve died, but it is not reason enough for Vincent to practically kill himself with his single-mindedness. It is a bit of a marvel how much relatable meaning can come out of this premise, but is still so esoteric as to have been seemingly made for one very specific theoretical viewer, and that viewer is not me.

The Hummingbird Project is Recommended If You Like: The specifics of laying down fiber-optic cable

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Milliseconds