Dec 19 – Jan 5 2021
Peninsula (2020) – This time it’s Escape from Busan. And it plays like a more emotional Carpenter movie. Where Snake Plissken is a pure noir character, a man with a name but enigmatic past, Jung Seok is the millennial verson of a tough hero, carrying a bag of emotion turmoil over his shoulder. It’s family noir that South Korea has pioneered over the years. Exploring the ties that bind through genre. More often than not you find children at the heart of these tales. Pushing and goading the adults into the heroic actions they must take. Does South Korea value their children’s capabilities more than we? Probably. It’s the kids that save the day in The Host, not the town sheriff, like in Jaws.
The King (2019) – It seems an unlikely tale. More rooted in Shakespeare than actual history. Proof of that is obvious in Edgerton’s Falstaff. Yet, instead of climbing in the suit of bombastic theatrics, Michod soaks everything in doom and gloom. It’s more Polanski’s Macbeth, or Branagh’s Henry V. It’s shrouded in shrewdness. The whole film is nothing but a dark cunning. And Chalamet steels himself in this sharpness and it seems all the more unlikely his physical prowess on the battle field. But it works, until the end, when you find he was duped into invading France. But somehow all this heaviness and faux-far-sightedness works. Well, maybe Pattinson doesn’t work. The rest of it is a not-so-slow slide into the dark, convoluted veins of the British monarchy.
X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008) – Faith and belief are a tangled mess here. The symbol of the snake eating its own tail. Scully’s practical belief system is the yin to Mulder’s far-out-their-faith-based yang. Mulder has not choice in keeping the faith. He has to believe that his sister is still out there. Scully is mired in her science. And that’s where we see her in this story, stuck between stem-cells and a Catholic hospital hierarchy. Stuck between a clairvoyant, pedophile priest and Mulder’s leaps of faith. She’s in this quagmire of contradictions. She doesn’t believe the priest but believes in the foggy, very-beginnings of stem cell research. Like all good X-Files stories there is always a place in the middle of magic and realism where one finds repose.
The Dead Don’t Die (2019) – Polar fracking causes the dead to walk. We’ve never really been given a reason for a zombie apocalypse. It just sort of happens. You’re hanging out in a cemetery, lying comatose in a hospital bed, and suddenly you awaken to re-animated corpses. It just happens. But here it’s definitely our greed and avarice that leads to the end of days. A shifting of the planet’s axis and a psychedelic moon pull the bodies from the cold earth. It’s a nice set-up until everyone gets self-conscious and cute. Even Jarmusch seems to be a little bored by his own in-jokes until the zombie-killing starts. There he can unleash Tilda Swinton and her Scottish brogue and Samurai sword. He can never go back to those kids who escape the juvenile home (why are these kids even in this movie?) but he lets Tom Waits pontificate his poetry in the woods. None of it seems to add up. Ask Selena Gomez or Sturgill Simpson.
Outland (1981) – High Noon in space. Except Cooper is a man of the west and a loner by profession in that film. Here Connery has a wife and a kid and is not where he wants to be in the universe. And they leave him. His wife and kid leave him on a destitute rock in space. How lonely must one feel to be left alone in space? Cooper could get on a horse and go to the next town, breath oxygen and let the sun shine on his face. Connery can’t do that. Although, he could leave with his wife and kid. It’s not that they don’t want him around. In fact, they both love him very much and want him to leave that dusty, old moon. Like Cooper, Connery suffers from the same trope. They both suffer from the male-ego as heroic hope. The badges they wear are but a corrupt emblem they hide their loneliness behind. And ten thousand years of manifest destiny wills these men to “do something”, to stand up against other men doing bad things. But Connery differs from Cooper here. He recognizes himself as a cog in the system. In a corrupt system he is corrupt himself. Cooper may not have the hindsight Connery has out on the edges of space, the system was just getting started out there on the plains, but they are both trapped and the only way they know how to maintain who they think they are, is to protect themselves. Or to fight for people they don’t really know or have any investment in. It’s just an ideal in their head. An idea of what a man should be and do. Cooper’s is cloaked in the great sheriff of the west and is still pretty much intact. Connery’s idea is shattered but with a way out in the end.
Stalag 17 (1953) – Never have you met a more robust and jollier group of POWs. Truly a grand illusion. Because underneath that jovial-can-do-American-attitude is an anxiety and paranoid contempt for not just the Germans that keep them captive but for each other. Who is the rat in the kitchen? It’s Holden for most of the movie, even though you know it’s not him. Even the movie gets ahead of itself and shows us who the real ratte in the kuche, before Holden finds out for himself. It’s an old Hollywood trick to make everyone feel like they’re in on it, to make the audience feel as if they are right there with the machinations of the actors. To feel as though you’re having as much fun as the actors are. Wilder works this technique as well as anyone and then turns it on us. His cynicism plays us all for saps when Holden, just before dropping through a hole in the floor, hopes he never sees any of his fine soldier pals ever again. Then he’s gone with a sarcastic salute. No band of brothers, these men. I guess that’s what happens to the losers, the one’s that get caught.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) – Eighteen years before Parasite, Park was working out his own thoughts on Korean, class-warfare. Park takes High and Low and rings it out into the gutter, and then follows the stream into the sewers. Where he meticulously piles rock upon rock, creating a crypt for all of us. Park imagines the modern world as a knotted rope, one balled-up fist leading to another. One errant act following another. Some men are laid off from their sweltering factory job. What are they to do? Get another job? There aren’t any. Plead with their old boss for their job back? Yes. But self-flagellation? Yes. It’s a Park movie. A man after Miike’s own heart. But instead of the world of Yakuza, it’s the world of the working class. And the big difference between the two? Desperation. Those yakuza guys aren’t that desperate. They’re just mean and bored most of the time. The working class are bored as well, but docile with deaf and dumbness. Well, that’s how the captains of industry see us. So, what is left for us sheep to do? Anarchy and Terrorism. Pretty simple. Get out on the streets and give out your red flyers and dream up your kidnapping schemes and hope no one dies.
Syriana (2005) – It’s all mud. Connecting the dots in this is like sifting through black, liquified fossils. Well, it is about peak oil and the scavengers that crowd the desert looking to build walls around it. And this story only works if there just happens to be a dunce in the middle of it. Good thing George Clooney was free. He’s made an exorbitant living at playing the good-looking dunce. But here, they blunt his buffoonery with a few pounds and a beard and some Farsi. He’s been set up by so many people he that the movie almost turns into farce. Put this next to Burn After Reading and you’d have an incredible George Clooney double bill of dunces. At least BAF had the right idea to surround George with more incapable dimwits. Syriana just blames everything on the lawyers.
The Unknown Known (2013) – This and Morris’ The Fog of War create this connected tissue of bureaucratic delusion. Pencil pushers that hide behind their service record (in which they served as said pencil pushers) and deluge their colleagues with millions of statistics and memos. Which is where this doc gets its impetuous. The Blizzard, they called it in the Pentagon. All the memos that Rumsfeld wrote in his reign of defense. A deluge of wasted trees. It’s all so passive aggressive until you drop a “they” when referring to our federal government. Oh, that’s when you see those squinted black eyes of Rumsfeld’s flash and buck and Morris corrects himself and says “we”. McNamara was a bit of dissenter, he asked questions that made some uncomfortable, he was political up to a point. Rumsfeld is pure prudency. So much so, that he scared even Nixon. Because what do you do with living, breathing conundrum of a man? He’s a walking quandary of a human being. There’s some C-Span footage of one of the many press conferences he gave as Secretary of Defense during the War on Terror. So many of Rumsfeld’s memos had to with definitions. How do we define these things we’re doing? He goes through a list of word he looked up the definitions to. He forgets one. A reporter throws it out to him. Quagmire. Oh no, Rumsfeld says, he won’t touch that one.
Triple 9 (2016) – Kate Winslet and Gal Gadot play Russian Mafia sisters. Gadot has a kid with Ejiofor, who’s a former mercenary along with his pal Reedus. That’s all we’re given as background here. Two mercenaries, two corrupt cops and a drug-addled, fuck-up of a brother. It’s all hard-boiled down to its teeth. And Hillcoat is a dirigible of dinge. It’s summer in Atlanta and everyone has a glaze of sweat on them. No one’s taken a shower in three days. The men haven’t, anyway. The first time we see Woody Harrelson he looks like a he’s spent the night in the streets, fresh off a wake-n-bake, he walks over to a crime scene and hangs his badge around his neck. An Affleck (the one that can act) plays Woody’s ex-soldier-now-cop-nephew. He chews gum and watches You-Tube videos of military action in the Middle-East. His wife wishes he would just watch porn. Which is what this movie is, really. Crime porn. It’s got all you’d want in a post-Heat crime epic. Russian Mafia, Mexican Mafia, ex-Blackwater agents, dirty cops and Jesse Pinkman doing his best to fit in in the Dirty South. Everybody double-crossing everybody. The only one left alive is The Affleck. Well, ain’t that some shit.