I have decided to rename this from Last Ten to Ten Again. The former was something borrowed and seemed to hang around my neck as something more inauthentic rather than homage.
Also, I’ve decided to mix things up and stop watching with randomness and choose a style of film and watch ten of them. This group is the Bio-Pic, or the Great White Male. I’m kidding, but I’m not. I need to do a better job at this.
Richard Jewell (2019) – At first is seems surprising to get this kind of movie from Eastwood. But then again, it doesn’t, when you remember that he talks to invisible people sitting in chairs on a stage. But there’s gracefulness in his filmmaking. Always has been. His films have always been Hawksian in their efficiency and simplicity of design. There’s a remarkable flow to his stories. Always floating along a river toward that dam of emotional release. And this story may fit his renaissance simplicity as well as any. The story of a simple man, a law-enforcement-groupie, who still lives with his mother, who became an unlikely hero and a more likely villain. Underneath it all he’s just a sweet fool of a man. An under-educated, Falstaffian, Keystone Cop who stumbles onto one of the most hideous terrorists plots of all time. Which is where Eastwood’s silent, invisible friends rear their heads. His depictions of the FBI and media are mean-spirited and claustrophobic to say the least. It’s as if he’s trying to hide his alt-right propaganda inside an old-fashioned-Hollywood-system-American-hero-story. A wink of a takedown of Comey and CNN. But when we get the tears at the end, it feels real and justified and just for a minute, you let it in and feel the weight of it all.
Tesla (2020) – It’s more than fitting to make a biopic about Tesla and treat time as if it were a noose. Time as a circle. I’ve referenced it ad-nauseum. It seems as though I believe in it. But I have no proof. I see it all go by in one, long, slow line. That rope, stretched out taut and lean, with a few knots along the way. One thing a time, right. Not all things at once. As some physicist view time to be. All time ubiquitous. The past, present and future all happening at once. Philip K. Dick wrote a book where an aerosol can could spray the linear way and reveal all things happening at once. Maybe that was just an extension of what was in Tesla’s mind. He could see the future at least. And maybe he had a difficult time living in the present. And maybe the past haunted him. We can all relate to these three states. No wonder his crowning achievement was a coil. So, Almereyda takes the rope and curls it up in his movie, and plays all things at once and yet somehow tells a cogent story. Using the fencing in of things (the coil itself in Colorado Springs, that hauntingly sad scene outside the impenetrable tennis court) to build a visual motif of the prison of one’s own mind. It’s a tale of invention and commerce and unknowable love, but more so, it’s a tale of the noose that Tesla puts around his own neck because what’s in his mind only hangs him out to dry. The things he sees that are a hundred years away, maybe more, are simply that, unseen things, way down the straightened rope.
Capone (2020) – This is just one long exercise in body horror. Trank digs into syphilis-horror and maybe shovels the grave too deep to climb out of. He gouges two trenches in Hardy’s face and reddens his eyes and alabasters his skin to create a monster. A gangster. A gangster monster. A man mutilated by his own vices. His voice cracks from some deep well of endless cigar tobacco. Whatever reality that surrounds him is made up of paranoid fantasies and memories drenched in infected blood. And rather overtly he’s constantly being compared to a reptile. He is living in Florida. Alligators abound. A scene towards the end nails the aesthetic Trank has been building the whole time. Hardy as Capone has a rich, diseased-addled fantasy life. In one he prowls his Florida, mansion grounds with a golden Tommy-Gun, spraying his family to death. When they’ve had enough, he waddles away, a leather-skinned, white-bellied monster, back to his swamp, back to his poisoned-soup of a mind.
Neruda (2016) – A concordance of political and literary invention. Pablo Neruda is on the run from anti-communists. Or Johnny Law, as the poet imagines in this noirish cat and mouse game, that begins and ends as a treatise on the relationship between the people and the state. One is always running from the other. And it’s not a game for one. Not only is it a neat political tome, it also works as an imagined bridge between politics and art, socialism and fascism. What is poetry but the laments of labor, the laments of sensitivity? Which seems to disappear in totalitarianism. The individual becomes a blank page to be manipulated by anyone with a loud voice or a thickly, inked pen. So, it’s not just the authoritarian that’s to blame, but the bourgeoisie poet as well. A drunken fan asks somewhere midway through the film; say the communists win, who will they all be like? Like her, a woman that’s scrubbed toilets all of her life, or like Neruda? Still, there’s a mountain range between the two and who knows if they’ll ever meet.
Henry V (1989) – There’s an amazing tracking shot at the end; Branagh’s Henry V carries a dead child over his shoulder, played by Christian Bale, the spoils and sorrow and horror of war, encapsulated in one continuous shot. It’s a stamp by Branagh. A stamp at the end of a movie he thinks important and vital. He’s giving it his all. He’s saying, “Hey, look, I can direct!” He’s saying, “Hey look, it’s Shakespeare done right!” But it’s laborious all the same. You may fall asleep without the wine in the park. You may yawn and lose track of your focus. You may linger on the window frame and not even lose your place. Because all these asides don’t mean much to you. The English and French locked in war for centuries is certainly interesting. But what of the poetry of it all? What of the words that speak to you? What of Shakespeare? Once more into the breech. We band of brothers. Oh yeah, that’s all there.
Molly’s Game (2017) – Idris Elba has a scene, only one, where Sorkin as director, calms his cocaine-addled mind down and holds a shot and lets Elba be an actor who can command a screen. Before and pretty much after this scene, Sorkin seems drunk on his editing. It’s a whiplash of screw-ball dialogue and him as a director trying to keep up with it, instead of letting it play out in longer takes. Not once do we see Elba and Chastain in a two-shot, much less a master. Not once do we get to see them act in space, talking to each, talking over each other, in the confines of a room, feeling themselves through this mess, using Sorkin’s dialogue as a flashlight. Instead, we’re bludgeoned to death with a torch over the head, over and over. But saying that (harping on visual style is petty), there is something you can take away from this. Men are evil. Tobey McGuire is a cunt, and every man that plays poker is uselessly trying to find out what a man isn’t.
Chaplin (1992) – The early Nineties seemed the heyday for big budget bio-pics and here you have Downey right at the cusp of his stardom. Attenborough gives us a somewhat anemic and shmaltzy take on the life of Chaplin. He provides all the bell and whistles and Hopkins seems a stand in for the director, who fashions himself as the hard-asking-question- biographer, but it all falls flat because Attenborough doesn’t have the balls to get gritty. And maybe that’s the way to go here, because what does it matter in the end, right. Do you want the nitty-gritty of the loosey-goosey nature of the silent-era, or do you want the life-time achievement award version of his life? I guess it comes down to the wider-range of audience. You’ll reach more people with the greatest hits, than the obscure album nobody knows existed. But then again, they don’t cover all the greatest hits. Where’s City Lights? It’s not even mentioned. Neither is Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd, two artists that he riffed off of and pushed Chaplin to what he became. Now you’re just being picky. It’s a fine, somber version of an icon’s life. Live with it.
Becoming Bond (2017) – Early on you recognize the timelines don’t really match up, but you don’t really care. Lazenby tell his own story here and he’s backed up by the director’s hysterical reenactments. At one point the director asks Lazenby if any of the stories he’s told so far are true. Lazenby says, “Well, how could I remember it, if it wasn’t true?” Indeed. Or, you could just be making it all up. But we do know he was James Bond. Right after Connery. We do know he hadn’t acted a day in his life. A used car-salesman turned male model. All by the luck of the draw. The late sixties were wild, man. Especially in London, where the filmmakers acted tough but maybe had no street smarts. Which Lanzeby seemed to have enough of to bully his way into one of the most unlikely film stardoms ever. And saying that, his life up to the point of Bond, is one of the most unlikely lives as well. A cornucopia of goofballness that would rival Forrest Gump at being in the right place at the right time. In fact, it wouldn’t be far-off in saying George Lanzeby could’ve been on Winston Groom’s mind when writing Gump.
Crown Heights (2017) – These stories are all the same. Always heartbreaking and sad. Always black men having the red-hot poker shoved up their ass, and always knowing whose name exactly is on the handle. White cops. White men who have no imagination and no mechanism in them to admit anything other than what they’ve been hired to do, which is to arrest and convict black men. There are numbers put up at the end that say two million people are in prisons. One hundred and twenty thousand are innocent. It seems if you have an approximate number then you could do something about it. I wonder how many of that hundred twenty thousand are black men? And that’s why the justice system does nothing. At this point it’s easy picking for law enforcement. The whole system is set up for black men (especially) to continue their servitude post-slavery. We all know this and the only people doing anything about are black people themselves. Sure, there are a few white folks who chip in from time to time, but it’s the people like Carl “KC” King that jump through the hoops and crawl through the bureaucratic maze to free their friends in a modern-day underground railroad. But it’s not underground. It’s all above board and legal in America to enslave black men for profit.
The Birth of a Nation (2016) – This is an important story. Nate Parker knows that, but it’s too big for him. Too epic for a man with no film acumen. It’s amazing what can get made if you have to ability to sell a product. And that’s what this film is, a product. It’s not a piece of art. It’s not a movie, or a film, or a picture. Now, maybe hindsight is twenty/twenty, but this thing sold for over a million dollars at Sundance. A cheap thing to say after watching it with that knowledge. It’s not fair, I know, but this thing feels and looks like a Hallmark movie. That’s another extremely cheap thing to say. Cheap and cliché. But there’s no resonance other than the moment it clicks for Nat Turner as he preaches. It’s strange that Ed Zwick was a producer on this. There’s a scene Parker emulates from Glory that is just that, a surface homage that carries no weight. A perfect metaphor for this movie.