Friday Flicks March 13: “The Hunt,” “First Cow,” “The Burnt Orange Heresy” and “King Kong”

M.V. MoorheadMarch 13, 2020
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Opening wide this weekend:

The Hunt—There’s been a fair amount of huffy fake outrage in conservative media over this shocker, in which vile liberal elites kidnap patriotic ‘Muricans and hunt them like animals. It’s roughly the zillionth variation on The Most Dangerous Game, and it may be the most imbecilic. “Snowflakes” caricatured with the subtlety of a Taki rack up a body count of “deplorables” only slightly less stereotypical. The truth, of course, is the movie is not, like 1995’s satire The Last Supper, a bloodthirsty liberal daydream. It’s really a self-pitying right-wing fantasy of victimization at the hands of liberals, featuring plenty of extremely gory violence, much of it against women. If the Fox News crowd hadn’t been warned off, they could make it a hit.

It should be said that the leading lady, Betty Gilpin, as the ass-kicking Mississippian heroine, gives funny line readings in a slow, cautious drawl and wins the sympathy of the audience. Her retelling of the Tortoise and the Hare legend with a nasty twist is as close as the movie gets to an authentic (if no less misguided) expression of the anti-“elite” psychology from which this movie’s masochism arises.

At Harkins Camelview:

First Cow—In the Oregon Territory in the early 1800s, a hapless frontier cook (John Magaro) and a Chinese fugitive (Orion Lee) go into business selling baked goods. They’re a hit, because they’re made with milk from the sweet-faced title character. She’s the only cow in the neighborhood, and the “cookie” is surreptitiously milking her, by night, even though she doesn’t belong to him, but rather to the full-of-himself local rich guy (Toby Jones). Eventually this guy samples Cookie’s “oily cakes,” and hires him to bake a clafoutis to impress a guest.

In the long run, as you can guess, trouble ensues in yet another exercise in narrative austerity by director Kelly Reichardt, in collaboration with her usual screenwriter Jonathan Raymond (based on his own novel The Half-Life). It may be her best yet, formidable as both Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff were. There’s an unsentimental beauty about these men — the gentle Cookie with his simple wish to survive and his enjoyment and quiet pride in his baking; his partner’s nascent stirrings of hustling American entrepreneurship — and a deep sadness in the precariousness of their lives. We admire and root for these guys, even though Reichardt is too tough-minded to leave us any doubt where they’re headed.

The Burnt Orange Heresy—This chilly, polished noir is based on a novel by the redoubtable Charles Willeford, but the action is transplanted from Florida to Italy; much of it unfolds in and around an exquisite estate at Lake Como. A shady, broke, dead-souled art critic (Claes Bang) is engaged by a rich collector (Mick Jagger) to get close to a famous, reclusive painter (Donald Sutherland) and, if possible, purloin one of his canvasses. Our critic brings his willowy new lover (Elizabeth Debicki) with him on the excursion, and they’re led into shocking revelations and violence.

Working from a script by Scott B. Smith, director Giuseppe Capotondi shows a confident, unhurried touch, and gets strong work from the small cast. Jagger is jovially sinister; Sutherland is sly and mischievous; Debicki is enigmatic. The film is carried by the Danish actor Claes Bang, who manages the essential noir trick of making the audience invest emotionally in him when he’s behaving despicably. Or even if he’s a critic.

Sunday, March 15, at several AMC Theatres around the Valley:

King Kong (1933)—For a true movie lover, the idea of having a single favorite movie is absurd. But when I am asked, the “official” favorite movie I give is the original version of the mythic tale of the giant ape from Skull Island who makes a big splash in his theatrical debut in New York, then takes gorgeous Fay Wray on a whirlwind Manhattan sightseeing tour ending at the top of the Empire State Building.

While I’ve seen this film dozens, maybe hundreds of times, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it on a big screen in a real movie theater. But this Sunday, Fathom Events and TCM Big Screen Classics offer the chance. If you’ve never experienced this tragic fairy tale of unrequited love, with its title character unforgettably brought to life by the master stop-motion animator Willis O’Brien and its stirring Max Steiner musical score, allow me to mildly suggest that you don’t miss it.

Go to for details.


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