Last 10

Oct 25 – Nov 12 

Exiled (2006) – There’s a door spinning in the air. Put there by the wonky gunplay of three individuals. It’s Hong Kong Heroic Bloodshed at its wonkiest. Brotherhood and redemption are front and center. The duty and honor part gets fudged and messed with in a crisscrossing criminality of Coenesque proportions. Of course, criminals would end up using the same underground doctor to treat their bullet wounds. It’s balletic not only in its character’s movements and camera work but also in its story machinations. Its world is saturated gangsterism. There’s nothing left to do but smirk and be cool. It’s the Wild Bunch in Macao. And we smile with them, knowing that doors only spin when you walk through them and that’s the only way forward. And the only way is forward, but it’s good to remember where you come from.  

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) – If Sarah and John destroyed Skynet, how did they send another Arnold back? There’s a scene in Arnold’s home that tries to put exposition to this but it’s so brief and futile you can see the writer’s just putting their hands up at the multiple-causalities of time travel. But this is the premise of this whole movie, and yet they treat it as if none of us in the audience really care either. Maybe we don’t. Maybe we just want to see Linda Hamilton back being a bad-ass. It seems the whole movie is channeling her. Feminism on the move. And Mackenzie does her best at channeling Hamilton. And Natilie Reyes does her dogged best even if she doesn’t really understand what her role is. She’s given a flash-forward scene into her importance in all this, but it lacks so much luster you can feel her ready to roll her eyes.  And we’re right there with her.

Death Note (2017) – Willem Defoe plays a Death God that looks so freaky and unnerving and yet so much like a mutated porcupine that we’re immediately put in a land of satire. And there the movie stays, on that edge of horror and laughter, with Defoe doing his Green Goblin at its zenith. Wingard rides this Raimi-like onslaught all the way to the end with such bravado and surety that one begins to wonder what’s in store for this man’s career. Ah yes, King Kong vs Godzilla. Checks out. But before we move on to bigger and brighter things I would just like sit in this neon-soaked giddiness and dream of a Lakeith Standfield sequel as L.  

The Stranger (1946) – Overhead shots galore! And they’re wonderous things. Welles always goes for broke. And his overt take on Nazism has aged well. It’s 1946 and he’s already hunting them down. Edward G is the most congenial of Nazi Hunters. Just ask Aldo Raine. He worms his way into this family in the most hospitable way. It’s a comment on how gullible Americans can be. And how diabolical the Nazi regime was. Welles’ character talks about Carthaginian Peace lasting two thousand years and one wonders how time is measured in those wastelandish years. Why is Welles’ character so obsessed with time? Is he running out of it in the most obvious of ways, or does he know something we don’t, in his mastering of clocks? No, he’s fighting a war that can’t be won. Father Time wins every time.  

Batman and Bill (2017) – Bob Kane and Stan Lee are the same person. It’s telling that this film chooses to use some footage from an Interview Stan does with Bob. They are both charlatans living off other artist’s work. Other artists, better artists. People with art in their bones whereas the charlatan has scant inspiration to pull from. But that’s why they’re usually just loud mouths who learn to talk over everyone and become the bully they were born to be. And people like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Bill Finger fall by the wayside. In some cases, like Kirby, your talent is a planet sized motor and you keep creating until there’s no denying your legacy. But with Ditko and Finger, their talent was festooned inside sensitive souls with not much bark about them. And the world, as we know, eats people like that up. Some, like Ditko, end up in obscurity screaming Ryndish tomes to nobody that will listen. And some, like Finger, end up all alone, buried in a Potter’s Field. So, this film was a quest for recognition and turns into a restoration of a family and when you see Finger’s name at the end, next to Kane’s, you can’t help but cry.  

Lawless (2012) – Tom Hardy has never been more rigid. He plays this West Virginia-backwoods-gangster as if they man were in traction. And the film seems to take its ambient cue from his performance. But the film doesn’t fully invest in this. Hardy’s character is a man of few words but when he chooses to speak it’s often philosophical and ethereal, and the film doesn’t take that tone. It’s often at its best when it embraces its violent lunacy (especially whenever Guy Pearce in on the screen). It’s a kaleidoscope of different tones. Shia’s character courts a young church girl and there’s a bucolic lilt to those scenes that often come crashing down into something darker and more perverse. Is Nick Cave commenting on the American Dream here? It’s all unclear. And it all almost works. You almost understand why Gary Oldman is even in this movie.  

Away (2019) – They forgot run in the title. Or motorcycle. One that never runs out of gas. Because it’s all a dream. A survivor’s dream. There’s something about guilt, it’ll follow you around everywhere. A giant made of black tar it is indeed. Dogging you every step of the way, sucking up all the life around it. The message here is murky. But there’s not always something being said. Just something being shown. Which is exquisite with mystery and portent. And maybe that’s the true nature of pictures in motion. Visual symbols to ruminate on and remember.  

Time (2020) – It’s staggering to think about the patience in this family. The unbridled belief in each other. The backwards system in Louisiana that gives a man 20-90 years for bank robbery. Seems a helluva span to yo-yo somebody along like they might’ve murdered someone. Yet, we’re not given the details of the bank robbery that starts this story. It’s a curious omission. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it fucks with the aesthetic of a woman telling her own story. Maybe it’s not an aesthetic but a way of being. Maybe we all know the story and it’s as old as this country and its set-up of white supremacy. Maybe it’s as clear as black and white.  

Looper (2012) – There’s a headache at the core of this film. It’s in the new and forgotten memories of Old Joe. It’s a clever metaphor for time travel in films. It’s just a headache to figure it out, so view it as a MacGuffin and move on. It’s a super-inside Twelve Monkeys joke. A colossal ode to La Jetee. Because everything’s a circle, right. Humans view time as linear. And none of us are lucky enough to be Billy Pilgrim. None of us are lucky or damned enough to be taken off to a galactic zoo. No, we’re stuck here, with our neurosis that begin in childhood, which sticks us in an error loop forever looking for wrongs to be righted. It all starts with anger, living inside fear, living inside a brokenness. Time travel is nothing but an outsized, metaphysical, micro-management. We just want to be in control. Enter TEKE, the ultimate form of dominance. The way to fix what is broken. But what are you doing but moving things around? The trauma is still there. The anger is still there to be dealt with. What will act as a balm? A mother’s love? A sacrificial act? Maybe both when they start and end at the beginning.  

Big Bad Wolves (2013) – There’s only one suspect. Everyone knows it too. Everyone. There’s even a slight head-fake, that on further reflection, seems even slier. Poison candy and cakes lead to the most gruesome child mutilation. Yet, this film has an awkward humor hanging over it. A humor pointed at authority and familial dynamics. It’s a strange tone to stretch into with a killer going around taking little girl’s heads off. You hate to say it works but there’s a Bong Joon vibe here. It’s a tough balancing act and the filmmakers don’t quite get the oomph in the denouement that there shooting for, but there’s something to be said for the pointed look at Jewish and Arab relations they make. Who are the barbarians, really?  

Last 10

Oct 4 – 23 

Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019) – The notion that nothing is real goes down a deep, dark well in this movie. The questioning of one’s own reality gets a meta-stamp in the form of a super-hero movies that leans heavily on computer generated surroundings and action set-pieces shot against green screens. It feels like Marvel flexing a bit. All this controversy over whether these movies are art or not. Or even films. It’s as if Marvel wants to remind you of all the artists behind the scenes clicking away twenty hours a day. It’s a keen flex and those people deserve more than their credit. I dig it.  

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020) – The thought of a woman, or a memory of a woman is forever trapped in a lonely man’s mind. His life could be thought of in this movie as flashing before his eyes, but it’s more of a slow digression into the back rooms of a shared familial psyche. A janitor rummaging through the halls of his forgotten memories comes upon something that got away, or something or someone who is still alive within him. We never stop loving someone. We never end things as we may think of ending things. Maybe our whole concept of endings is all out of whack. What happens to a memory when we die? Does it live on as some strange energy in the ether? But what a horror it is on the other side if it is true that memories are alive. To be trapped in a cave of ever shifting miasmas and phantoms, wondering just what you are doing here. Must be what it’s like to be a woman in this world. Trapped inside a photo in a man’s mind. Is that the modern, malaise of a woman’s strife? Possibly. Either way its’s rather horrific.  

The Death of Dick Long (2018) – Disarming comedy leads to a heartbreaking nuanced look at love and sexuality in pent-up Alabama. Sheinert uses the dirty, degenerative decadence of the Deep South to almost ape everything Jody Hill and Danny McBride have built. But his own uniqueness is there in the Zoo-like revelation. His ability to find a way to not so much to balance comedy and heartfelt-drama but find quirks and turn them into a whole movie is worth noting. Filmmakers like Hill, Hess and Wes Anderson have made similar livings on such skills. But where he had Paul Dano in Swiss Army Man to sell the quirks, here there are some relatively unknowns that do their down-home best and the world is at times David Gordon Greenish, there’s a lacking in the finality to every scene. Making it feel caught in some land of in-between.  

Without Name (2016) – Becoming one with nature isn’t all hugging trees and smoking weed and tripping on shrooms. Although, that’s where it starts for a land surveyor gets more than he bargains for. Because underneath all that lushness we call nature, is a black void. Just the nothingness before the Big-Bang. Kierkegaard is roaming these Irish woods. That may be him as that black silhouette the main character can’t quite get a word with. But if you stick with this till the end, you’ll find that bottomless void lies hidden in all of us.  

#Alive (2020) – When you discover that possibly the last man on earth is an idiot. You may want to stay quarantined in your cute little South Korean apartment while the zombies while away outside. But the thing, the virus, is not going away and fatigue sets in and little by little you start taking chances, until your feet finally hit the ground and you find that here are more sinister things than zombies out there.  

Christine (1983) – Another subversion of masculinity. This time it hits way below the belt and takes away a man’s car and makes it into a feminist icon. It’s an indictment on the patriarchal revolution of industry. The subversion comes in the form of the willful nerd we know so well, Keith Gordon. Who starts off as a bumbling geek who charges through puddles of water in his driveway like a four-year old and just happens to have the coolest friend in the world. So, the supernatural car from Motor City turns our nerd into James Dean in a week’s time. But that’s when the teardown begins. The subversion works because that James Dean persona is nothing but pomp and empty caricature. It’s just a role men have played out through the ages and gets imbued in the things they build. Extensions of a fading male virility. It all comes crashing down in a neat little metal box in the end.  

The Legacy of the Whitetail Deerhunter (2018) – The kid and McBride make a great foil for Big Head Josh and the white-male doldrums. It’s satire, sure, and we don’t know if he shoots that deer at the end, but I guess there’s something to be said for a man in nature. Escaping the long fingers of cell-phone technology. Which is a constant struggle here. The wish to get back to analog and VHS wrinkliness. But there’s something else here besides technology pushing us toward the wilderness. People do it too each other as well. We push each other toward aloneness and the wilds of our selfish minds. Hunting animals is surely barbaric, but do we look at male bonding as something archaic and in need of cancelation? Maybe. But maybe it just needs a readjustment.  

Bacurau (2019) – Colonialism is too nice a word. It rolls off the tongue too smoothly. The world needs a darker sounding idiom for this foul shit the white man has perfected and infected the planet with. An evil that had invaded every little corner on the planet. White folks think the world is one big Most Dangerous Game. We view things as if it’s an issue of National Geographic. We like to go in knowing of our prey. Show us a documentary about what it’s like in a small Brazilian village. What are all the little soap operas going on amongst the villagers? Because this makes the pillaging and death all the sweeter. We’re sadistic people, us white folks. We get bored easily and need newer, more complex things to conquer. But technology has worked against us. When in the past it was the metal we forged and the animals we’d tamed that gave us our edge, but now we have to go about shutting off people’s tech. Make them disappear off the map before truly vanishing our foes. We really didn’t think that one through here. This little village had no play in them. They go to a well long valued as inalienable human right; the right to bear arms. And it’s beautiful to behold.  

The Berlin File (2013) – North Korea as the axis for international intrigue. This is a zip-line of forward movement. At times it seems to share a likeness to Infernal Affairs with its riffing of Woo-like camera-work. But it’s way less maudlin when dealing with the emotional motivations of its characters. There’s a marriage at the center of all this intrigue and betrayal that shines through before dropping to sadness. It’s heartfelt because everything is earned in this movie. A begrudging friendship emerges towards the end that reminds one of another Korean film dealing with people who find themselves on opposite sides of a demarcation line. JSA. Both end enigmatically, with just a whisper of hope that things will change.  

In a Valley of Violence (2016) – John Wick on the range. Okay, that’s too easy. But revenge for the death of one’s dog is a newer sub-genre. Ethan Hawke is no John Wick here, though. He’s much more agitated and mottled by his past transgressions in violence. And Ti West is much more into vague tonal shifts that exist in the Noodle Westerns he’s paying homage to. The actors often seemed loss. Maybe he should’ve dubbed them. West even seems to lose focus on his own film acumen. The actors are lost because he is lost. And the whole movie tip-toes along that line. There’s a hysteria at work here that seems intended but unsupported. It never seems to want to take itself over the edge. It just sits in this place of uncertainty and we the viewer is left wanting. 

Last 10

Sept 18 – Oct 3  

I’ve stolen this idea from Film Comment. The only thing that’s different is that I’m not a known filmmaker giving you a list of the last ten movies I’ve seen. 

48Hrs (1982) – “I’m a ragtop man, myself.”  

Nolte’s Jack Cates says this at the end to Murphy’s Reggie Hammond in some tacit agreement that involves some stolen money (from whom is not really clear? The mob maybe?), prison terms and convertibles. The film is a bit of a ragtop itself. Hill is always shooting for the modern western. He gives you the rope-a-dope with the first few shots. Horses out on the range give way to a chain-gang and prison guards with cowboy hats and a big Indian with a prison break. An Indian breaking a white man out of jail. A white man springing a black man out of jail for two days to catch the cowboy and Indian. It’s screwball-action in Reagan-era America. A patchwork of lunacy that’s held together by Nolte and Murphy’s raw synergy. The Buddy-Cop movie some would call it, and its inception, but really its just an indictment of hate in America. 

The Miracle at Morgan’s Creek (1943) – The madness of the American mid-west during wartime. Sturges saw it coming and gives the baby boom it’s BOOM midway through the War. His screwball, hysteria is perfect for the war at home. Filled with local law enforcement and military staging points and the general mélange of people stuck at home during the war-time effort. It’s all psychological, as one character keeps as a refrain close to his heart. He’s some military boss keeping men in line and letting people know the state of the nation’s psyche is changing. Really, it’s just ramping up with competition stretching the frames of morality. Maybe seeing this world for what it really is; a chaotic clusterfuck that has no time for us. Especially the man who father’s sextuplets. A man who disappears in the night to go fight a war on foreign soil. This is the soul of Amercia.  

Cutter’s Way (1982) – And this is what happens to the white male in the end. He loses an arm and a leg and gets backed into his drunken corner. Depression levels out every step and desolation follows. It’s there in the music from the very beginning. It fringes on horror movie tones. It will not end well for a Vietnam vet with one eye. This movie is not so much about the whodunit but more about how the past is nothing but one long lament. A brutally, bleak film set in sunny Santa Barbara. It’s conflicting to the eye and wrenching to the soul. But Jeff Bridges continues his 80’s hunk-a-thon. Nobody wears blue jeans like he did in the 80’s. 

The Kid (2019) – “It’s the world we find ourselves in.” 

Ethan Hawkes’ Pat Garrett says this toward the end of this morality play. It’s just after one of his men has shot a child. It’s a tacit agreement we assume everyone made in the Old West. Anyone with a gun in their hand is free game. And the children are growing up fast these days is a familiar refrain in every era. The stories they are told are written by the victors, or the people left behind with their boredom. Hawkes’ Garrett seems to have good grasp of this. The story of Billy the Kid is the story of Rio Cutler. It starts with violence and end with violence. The stories they tell in between make no difference.  

Columbus (2017) – John Cho and Parker Posey are trapped in a mirror in one of Kogonada’s many long takes. A shot that acts as a fulcrum for how these characters feel and justly operate in this film. Modernist architecture sprouts up over the years in a small Indiana town. Cho and Richardson find themselves in an entrapment of awe throughout. Both trying to find some sort of spirituality in the things humans build. The push of modernity is but a prison we all find ourselves in. Best to push through it and find beauty in the art we make. It’s all we have, really. The notion of control comes in the form of building things. And we build and we build and we build. Becoming trapped in our own contemporaneousness. Building ourselves into a million-little boxes. It’s what we do. We build. It’s our only true gift. If you want to call it that. So, Cho and Richardson aren’t really looking for escape, really. They come to an understanding that the only true transcendence is not rising above it, but sitting in it, and letting it wash over you, and then maybe you can become a part of something.  

Alien Resurrection (1997) – Sexual metaphors are taken to their zenith when Ripley rips out the phallic-tongue-that-bites from a dead xenomorph and tosses it to Winona like a floppy dildo, as if to say, you’ll have to please yourself out in the void of space, I’ve gotten laid ONCE in five-hundred years. It’s hard out here for a clone. Ripley finds herself a lab experiment. When before, it was an experiment of maternal empowerment, now (in this film) it’s a strange mix of Whedon-retrograde and Juenet just of the City of Lost Children oddities. An off the mark mix for an Alien movie to say the least.  

Alien Covenant (2017) – At what point does Ridley Scott give up on trying to explain every nook and cranny of this universe? Not that I mind but this movie seems superfluous at this point. Do we need to know every iteration of the xenomorph? Yeah, we probably do. We can’t get enough of it. We can’t get enough of the creation egg. In Prometheus we were made fully aware that we were just a virus made by giant albinos. Here Scott can’t seem to get enough of Fassbinder. So much so that he has two Fassbinders, one who’s obsessed with perfecting another virus made by said giant albinos, and the other, who’s just a bore. A movie that is just superfluous at best. It’s almost as if Scott is telling us this is why he’s still making movies. Idle hands being the devil’s workshop and all. 

Capitol in the Twenty First Century (2019) – Here we are. For three hundred years we’ve wielded this thing with nothing but hopes and dreams. This is a slick rendering (cute movie cuts and all) of the anguish of life for most of us under capitalism. It’s too cute and chrome-like for its own good.  

Let the Corpses Tan (2019) – There’s so much style here that it becomes boring after a while. It’s so rambunctious that your attention starts to wander. You begin looking out the window for something more serene. Your bandwidth for jump cut is pu to the test. For what? Just pure flex, really. That’s all this movie is. It’s sheer muscular acumen. Filmmakers with something to prove. We all get it. It must be fun to have all the tools of film at your disposal and tell a story you want to see. But there’s nothing here that holds you.  

The Bedroom Window (1987) Curtis Hanson does his best Hitchcock by way of DePalma. It’s hard not to make a correlation to DePalma with how slick and post-modern this looks. But Guttenberg ruins every frame with his self-righteousness. His aw-shucks smile renders everything moot. There’s not a moment of this film that he doesn’t stick out like a clown at a funeral. It’s unnerving and at its best when the focus comes to the killer. When it’s actually leaning into the evil portent of the story. It actually becomes something more than Guttenberg’s untrusting smile. There he’s forced to deal with real evil. Or some film facsimile of it. Again, this film is just a duplicate of a distraction. So, there-in is the heart of Hanson’s critique of DePalma’s renderings of Hitchcock. Touche.  

Last 10

Sept 1 – 16 

I’ve stolen this idea from Film Comment. The only thing that’s different is that I’m not a known filmmaker giving you a list of the last ten movies I’ve seen. 

Dial M for Murder (1954) – Ray Milland is a smarmy, controlled, uncaring creep in this somewhat of an English-murder-by-numbers-chamber-piece. He has everything figured out, even when he doesn’t. He’s so lithe on his feet (he’s a tennis player after all) and so determined to kill his wife that it’s almost comical. Milland plays it all with a smirk and wink and when he’s finally caught it’s all good in the game. The fact that Grace Kelly casually has a side-piece that she flaunts in her husband’s face without just a tinge of remorse might be the most remarkable thing about this film. Everything else is just an exercise in mystery writing.  

The Fountain (2006) – In a sullenly sublime way, this film is the beginning of a trilogy that Aronofsky would fill out through the years with Black Swan and Mother! For all three are about a search within the human soul for an undying art form to be expressed. An art form desperate to get out of the deep, darkness of the psyche. In these films, art manifests often times through some sort of dark bodily omen. As if, the greatest sin a person can commit is to bottle up and push down the long dormant art that is within them. It can erupt and manifest in bizarre ways in Aronofsky’s worlds. Here he puts it all in one basket. Life and death in the form of an eternal tree. It’s common to see a tree as metaphor for all that is the universe in world mythologies. We’re all familiar with Yggdrasil. Here the tree of life is on the Road to Awe. At the end of it is the Mayan underworld of Xibalba. This is the root of it. The base. And on either side is a book. A book written by a sick woman on her way to death. She’s writing about Conquistadors and religious turmoil during the Inquisition. A time when suppression was law. Body horror everywhere. All the writer wants though, is to finish her story. Her soul mate to finish it for her. Which is the other side of the tree. Rebirth in the form a cosmological wonder bubble at the end of the heavens. It’s a grand cosmic story of finding one’s own art and expressing it.  

White Boy (2017) – An interesting story about law enforcement entanglement and it’s obvious downward spiral of corruption. Detroit is a sick town. As about as sick as a supposed first world city can be. And it’s interesting to see the intersecting rows of pop culture and sensational journalism and local celebrity mix in America’s petri-dish called the war on drugs. But it’s the hammering away towards the end about how a white boy has been wronged without a word to all the black men in prison for dealing weed that rubs you the wrong way. Kid Rock rubs everything the wrong way. The filmmakers are probably white and oblivious to how this hits today. Or, they are aware and are choosing to fight themselves out of a perceived corner white males have been backed into.  Either way, it hits wrong.  

Project Power (2020) -The war on drugs is given to us in a super-power pill form. And what better place to do it than a town like New Orleans. They lean into the place and it works. They embrace New Orleans as a cataclysmic petri-dish of the highest order. They give the stage to a young girl who has dreams of being a rapper. Where others find their unique power through a pill manufactured by some conglomerate on an oil tanker, she finds hers through words. Through poetry. Through rhyme syncopation she makes life easier for her and her mother in a system set up for them to fail. It’s a really good take on the glut of super-powered movies we’ve been inundated with.  

The Driller Killer (1979) – You wonder if all failed art could lead to a loss of one’s mind. Especially in the late 70’s New York that Ferrara depicts. The movie tells you at the beginning to play it loud. The dirty punk scene is loud and meddlesome and intrudes on every frame. The painter protagonist is appropriately tortured and angst filled and foul-mouthed and angry. He’s got a painting to finish on a deadline. He’s got no money and two women to support. An annoying punk band moves in the building. He’s got a penchant or charitableness for hanging out with the homeless. Who he turns on in the end in a brutal and forthcoming take on street people and how America views them as already lost and therefore expendable. But there’s a thin line of likeness to be drawn and stepped over between the mental states of our artist and the street people he at first studies and then kills. Aren’t we all odd and schizophrenic and loud and flailing in the night? Just some of us don’t choose to wield power tools with unimaginably long cords. 

Venom (2018) – Elon Musk gets the super-hero-movie-villain treatment. He’s reaching out to the stars to insure the immortality of humanity. But like a lot of billionaire’s with bright ideas, underneath all that innovation is just an asshole with a look-at-me fetish. Grasping the consequences of one’s actions is not in the repertoire. Then along comes Venom, who’s a sentient, space blob looking for his one and only in Tom Hardy. They get along like gangbusters after a rough patch and somehow carve out a loveable anti-hero vibe. Also, Michelle Williams is in this for some reason.  

Doctor Sleep (2019) – We all put things in boxes. We’re constantly compartmentalizing. The human mind only works if order is introduced to the chaos called the universe. There are succubi everywhere looking to clean you out like a vacuum tube. We all know this. We’ve all experienced the draining of waking life. Everybody has a bit of shine; Danny Torrance tells us and Abra. He’s been suppressing his for a long time, having done the work of boxing up his hellhounds in coffins at the Overlook Hotel. But he has to go back to them, he owes a debt, Halloran (Carl Lumbly is so good here) tells him. So, he goes back with a plan to confront his old man and maybe somehow save a little girl. And it works, at a cost. That’s the thing about addiction and depression. Everything happens at a cost. Flanagan knows this. And the heaping costs of the Shining are way beyond heavy here. Somehow, he blends two, source materials together with surest touch to make his own elegy to horror.  

Miller’s Crossing (1990) – Anything can happen. The roof could fall in. A piano could be dropped on your head. Hammett had this realization at some point while working as a Pinkerton. The world is chaotic and anything could happen. And nobody knows anybody. Not really. And ethics are as malleable as sand. The talk of ethical quandaries starts the film and works its incongruities throughout. Often times the idea of who is on who’s side and who is double crossing whom is reenforced by incongruous locations. Are we at Tom’s place or Verna’s? Does Verna even have a place? Where does Leo go for the second half of the movie? Tom is found by Verna in a boxing gym that we never see again. Where in the woods do they find Mink’s body? The mise-en-scene is always framed with that centered and controlled eye the Coen’s are known for, but here they cut a few corners to give you this simultaneous feel of control and confusion. A discombobulation in the most subtle way. It’s a line that the Coen’s have straddle throughout their whole career. The line of chaos and order. It’s never more present here, and in Hammett’s work they find of sort of symbiosis. A treatise on male psychology. Which is as fragile as a hat blowing in the wind.  

Blue Collar (1979) – A shot is inculcated throughout. A Ford Motor Company billboard shot from afar with a telephoto lens. Sometimes jump-cutting closer to a digital counter that displays the number of cars Ford has built that year. It’s the math of industrialism that makes no sense to the characters in this film. Machinery is more important than man. Labor is but a tool to put away in desk drawer and pull it out when you need it. But the three main characters in this movie aren’t tools. They’re people. Rough and robust and raw at the mouth, but more importantly real, organic creatures that have families and work two jobs and have made mistakes in the past. And the cold world of capitalism doesn’t care about that. It’s just a mechanism looking for its next pieces. Along come these three men with low cunning looking to steal from the machine and what they don’t comprehend is that the machine is too put together. It’s seams and sockets have a cunning on a level all its own. Leaving the men with nothing but what it repels. Scraps and leavings to live on and hope for. But not much. Maybe in another life time, you’ll be born to better station. But here you’re just a digital number clicking away for bigger men to watch.  

Miss Hokusai (2015) – The inward inertness of an artist’s life has never been more beautiful and melancholier and horrifying than here. The waves of Hokusai are passed down to his daughter. So, as they look, they are full of portent. Forever on the cusp of crashing. This is where the daughter finds herself; in that milieu of her father’s mind. It’s something learned rather than passed down. A bit of back-handed nurture rather than nature. The artist’s inner world is stunted and manifests outwardly in wild imaginative mythologies which in turn finds its way to a canvas. It’s a lusty, haphazard world of dragons and phantom hands and necks. It’s a misogynist world where a younger sister and daughter is being raised in a convent because she’s blind and everyone but the nuns are too weak to raise her. Artists don’t have time. Wonder what the mother’s problem was? But in this little, blind girl we find all the hopes and fears of her father and sister. The fear of losing the visuals of the world are counteracted by her heightened senses. Things you can’t put on a canvas. There are things that limit you as an artist and you are forever running those things down. It creates great art but shallow souls.  

Last 10

Aug 4 – 28 

I’ve stolen this idea from Film Comment. The only thing that’s different is that I’m not a known filmmaker giving you a list of the last ten movies I’ve seen. 

7500 (2019) – Never leaving the cockpit in a hijacked-plane movie is a novel idea. Tensions abound. But it grows nauseating and trite as it goes along. Levitt is game as always but he isn’t quite the actor that levitates things to some other level. He’s a character actor amongst other slight actors and the piece is just a piece and that’s all it is; just an idea, competently executed.  

 

Bit (2019) – Young women as vampires taking over the patriarchal power structure is exciting at times and a very contemporary, but the movie runs along the lines of Buffy kitsch, and it drowns itself in, at times, in the night-time-glamour-LA. Whatever that is to the audience, I don’t know. And the reveal of the Dracula character and his subsequent “scene” is enough to turn the damn thing off. But you don’t because you’ve come this far.  

 

The House That Jack Built (2019) – The notion that America is an unfinished house filled with self-important serial-killers is pretty dead on. Maybe too dead on the nose. Dillon being that dead-on killer who’s work of art at the end seems all too obvious. The meandering narration he shares with Bruno Ganz as Virgil is too dead-on, as they make their way towards hell. If it seems dead-on again, it is. It seems Von Trier is saying everything about America at its core, is a bit too on the nose. We’re murdering, misanthropes living in abodes we can’t quite imagine, much less build. Considering the state of our infrastructure and our current mental state, it seems dead-on.  

 

The Wanderers (1979) – Buffoonery abounds in this look at masculinity in the form of neighborhood tribes. It’s the early 60’s and there’s a massive holdover of style and pedantry from the previous decade. There’s a massive holdover as men as gorillas. Kaufman takes a cartoonish look at young maleness in crisis. And an even shallower look into a dated racial milieu. Don’t even mention the women, because the film hardly does. There’s a small, truncated moment at the end when the-times-they-are-a-changing is blatantly thrown in our faces, but even then, it’s too squeamishly physical to take to heart.  It’s just a tongue and cheek ode to men who still use Dapper Dan and like to think romantically about anything but women.  

 

Sun Don’t Shine (2012) – Sort of a throwback to the Indie days of the early nineties. It has that feel of that loose telephoto-lense-look. A lot of sweaty close-ups and hushed tones. Simple people on the run in Florida. Voice-overs that aren’t narrations but Malick-like ruminations. Thoughts put out there like poetry. Every lovers-on-the-run movie is aping Badlands and Malick’s ethereal film-language. But here it doesn’t quite reach that exquisite plain. It stays in the muck and mire of base beings without judgement. It comes off bland like maybe everyone is bored and decided to make a movie.  

 

Extraction (2020) – Children are disposable in this part of the world where the melancholic white guy comes to the rescue. To the rescue of a high-school-aged kid who’s kidnapped for some reason I never quite got a hold of. Warring Indian mobs, right? It’s not about that, I guess. It’s about the action. A lot of long takes. Someone’s been influenced by Gareth Evans and all that Indonesian martial arts cinema. And it’s not a bad knock-off when you have someone like Hemsworth carrying the load. Also, kudos to the Thor vs. Hellboy fight.  

 

Lucky Day (2019) – Roger Avary spent some time in stir, if you weren’t aware. He was sent up for manslaughter when he got drunk and decided to drive on the Pacific Coast Highway. Somebody died. A passenger. Here he makes prison-life art. He doesn’t do it very well. He’s just flippant and petty and too off the mark with his humor. Is he trying to work through any kind of guilt or embarrassment? It’s doesn’t look like it. Instead he seems to be geeking on his own work and taking sly, little potshots at bigger game (at one point there’s a shot on the street as a car pulls up to the curb and in the background there’s a sign for a store called Quentin’s Dupe Shop. What’s a dupe shop? More importantly, Avary’s still holding a grudge). His time in prison hasn’t given him more of an edge, just more faux loonyness and a need to tell people he’s still relevant and avant-garde-cool. Mostly he just proves that he can still make movies even after manslaughter. 

 

Christine (2016) – Rebecca Hall is dynamite here. She’s brimming over the edges. Her eyes coiled back in her head like a wolf in a cave with its uterus falling out. She’s just on the edge of explosion. It’s in her every move and every steely-look she gives every man whose motives don’t align to her skeptical gaze. It’s unnerving performance about a woman whose endings have been cauterized at every turn. There’s no place for an eccentric in this world she finds herself in. The only thing she can do is go inward, further into the cave and seek implosion. Seek the only true attention anyone seeks in this oblivious construction, just to be seen and acknowledged.  

 

Blue Steel (1990) – Before she shoots Tom Sizemore in one of the most satisfying deaths that ends with a man crashing through a window, Jamie Lee Curtis graduates from the academy and walks with relish down a New York City sidewalk. She walks between two women and they smile at each other. They smile at her because she’s got her police uniform on and her walk is just about the best dance you can see. It’s in recognition of femininity on the rise. A prideful knowing of what women are. But there’s always the maniacal male and the systems he has wrought on the world. Ron Silver is that patriarchal symbol writ large in the night. A brute expression of a rotten patriarchy. Not just rotten but perverse and twisted. JLC is doomed to fail as a police officer. Her own father spits negativity her way at the dinner table. This a movie soaked in misogyny. Soaked in blue light. Yet, JLC prevails with her laconic smile and lithe strut. 

 

City of the Living Dead (1980) – Worms and maggots reign. The conqueror worm is back in Fulci’s mashup of Poe/Lovecraft lore. And Fulci gives you all the gore-goods anyone would ever need. A dead priest comes back to life in a down formally known as Salem. He’s got a real Frank Langella vibe and make women’s eyes bleed to the point their insides come up through their mouths. But he’s real gentle about it. His underlings, newly-back-from-the-dead are the rude and rowdy ones. Choosing to crush the backs of folk’s heads to get to the brains. Also, those alive are driven to madness to the point of paranoia killing a kid with an industrial drill. It’s all madness here, for the Great Nothing is coming.  

 

 

 

 

Last 10

July 16 – Aug 3 

I’ve stolen this idea from Film Comment. The only thing that’s different is that I’m not a known filmmaker giving you a list of the last ten movies I’ve seen.

The Old Guard (2020) – They’re not very good assassins for having so many years and so much practice at it. They seem lazy and too quick to lean on their own immortality. But maybe that’s the point. And this movie is nothing more than characters dealing with love and death. Something that towards the end seems to coalesce into a strange emotional investment. There are relationships built between the characters and you seem to care for them in the end. I guess that’s all your asking for in this day in age.  

 

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) – I wonder if we’ll all just forever stuck in high-school. Or we want to be. That’s why we look back and yearn so fondly for movies like this one. The nostalgia is just an excuse to sink back into a place when it was okay to be a shithead. At some point in your life there’s a notion of growing up and everything that entails. What does that entail, exactly? You learn mostly (hopefully), that you may want to be good and good to others. And that takes work. A lot of it. Selflessness becomes a concept that couldn’t even be conceived in your high school years. I think we find comfort in some strange way in the freedom of narcissism. And in looking back at the high school years one can see where the admiration of oneself is first learned and honed. It’s just too bad those formative years are wasted on such an empty practice.  

 

Predator (1987) – Arnold is a modern-day Tarzan. Beating his chest and yelling at creation’s incongruities. The white-colonial-military is given a heavy hammer here. The illegal alien is an actual alien, hunting white men by the spine load. But the body-builder white male wins in the end with his ingenuity and guile, all but ensuring that manifest destiny will reach the stars.  

 

Ashes and Diamonds (1958) – There are no children in this film, but there are children at play. Children with sunglasses and guns and secret things to do in the night. There are people playing dress-up and binge drinking like terrible high-school kids. There are young people falling in and out of love and wondering if the world will ever give them a chance to find themselves. But what is it about this time and place they find themselves in that calls for this must intrigue? Maybe this is just the malaise of the modern industrial world. When a species finds a place for the tool, there is no going back. It’s just ashes and diamonds.  

 

Palm Springs (2020) – Would an infinite loop make a person better? Just by sheer osmosis of inculcated time? Just by trail an error? Just by the failing boredom of fucking up all the time? Just by not caring you come to the you who plays nice with the universe. Do you even need a time loop for this? Or, such is life. Yesterday, today and tomorrow are all the same. The only way you get through the Groundhog Days is to find someone else to get through the excruciating crush of time with. It only makes sense to drag someone along with you through this boiling pot of pain.  

 

20th Century Women (2016) – You never really know anyone. We can try and try and try, but more often than not, we only see what we project. And in turn, if we manage to turn the flickering thing off, we see only what the other projects. It only happens in fleeting moments when two people can turn the lights off and see each other.  Maybe you tell each other things that are true. Maybe you understand something about each other finally. But it’s only for a split second and then we go back to our routines and fitted spaces within gender and generational gaps. How much of our lives is trying to fill in those gaps with the wrong assumptions and rare insights that fall short? We do our best. Or we don’t. Either way we wander around mostly alone, most of the time, trying to fill those ambiguous and ethereal spaces between us. And maybe it’s not a bad place to sit in and meditate, even if alone.  

 

The Underneath (1995) – Peter Gallagher as Burt Lancaster. Soderberg as Siodmak. One may transcend the other but it’s just an exercise. Something Soderbergh has made a habit out of in his career. But where Gallagher trips and stumbles his way through an apathetic performance, Soderbergh is just learning to flex some filmmaking acumen that will serve him through the rest of his career. Diving into extreme blues and greens and using filters as motif. Treating Neo-Noir as the style-magnet it is. It’s assured and steady and maybe boring, but it’s a learning curve for a filmmaker worth noting. 

 

True Grit (2010) – This exists somewhere on the other side of the Unforgiven and Dead Man. Where all the outlaw legends have gone to pasture. Mattie Ross as an old lady with one arm, spits venom at Frank James at the end. LeBeef derides Rooster for running with Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson. Cogburn’s a dusty old fart. Neither good or bad. But maybe more good than bad. He’s not out to prove anything like those dudes in the Wild Bunch and he’s certainly not a Searcher. What he is, is something of a Western outsider. It’s not the Grit Mattie mentions so much that really draws her to him. It’s his status as an outlier that pulls her to Cogburn. They are both outsiders. Almost everyone of significance in this movie is. It’s a shaggy dog, black sheep of a western set in that piney-world of Long Rider country. Where the myth does not so much make the man but amend him. Sew him up along his rough edges and place him in his coffin and think of this world as once modern. But it’s the woman with one arm standing over it in the end.  

 

The Bigamist (1953) – Could be one of the most honest and heartfelt looks at loneliness in Los Angeles. Ida Lupino’s Phyllis is every single woman in that city, working some lackluster food service job, not looking for love in the wrong places but finding it anyway. Sometimes you don’t have a choice when you’re trapped on a bus with a docile, dough-faced and domiciled Edmund O’Brien. She does her best though. Her best being cagey and wary of any and all kinds of hucksters (Which Ida might’ve been the best at. No one gave better side-eye) who mask their inappropriateness with the excuses of loneliness. But that’s what this movie is about, really. Loneliness in large cities. And how they encroach and overlap onto each other 

 

Motherless Brooklyn (2019) – Do you think of Ed Norton as a good actor? Probably. More importantly you think of him as a tyrannical collaborator. Notorious for getting simple acting gigs and turning them into co-writing gigs. I point this out only to clue you and myself into this process that Norton is constantly putting on the screen. It’s this sort of dogged-determinism to get the most logical thing on film. It’s about the process with Norton and you can see him working it out as the thing progresses. And it works magnificently here. A whodunit needs this process more than any other type of story. Norton’s in every scene, directing the flow of everything. It’s the perfect vehicle for him. Even though he is the white man coming to save the black girl in the end.  

Last 10

June 24 – July 16 

I’ve stolen this idea from Film Comment. The only thing that’s different is that I’m not a known filmmaker giving you a list of the last ten movies I’ve seen.

 

Friends with Money (2006) – Frances McDormand’s character at one point, lies in bed, depressed. Her and her husband are one of the friends with money. They have a nice house and own their own businesses. They’re successful and have a pretty good marriage. But McDormand, who’s just turned forty-three, is being consoled by her husband. At forty-three her life is just starting, he tells her. McDormand responds with a sad lament. “I feel like I’m just waiting around to die.” It’s a gut-wrenching psalm that is at the heart of depression. It’s interesting to see this form of pessimism on the screen. It’s a philosophy that doesn’t get examined as much as positivity and optimism do. That if we take all this away, all the distractions that we pile up and construct, that simple reality is still there, haunting us. But in the end, we have to guess, money helps while away the time and the agony. Money makes it more comfortable. We see that in Aniston’s character at the end. She meets a guy with money. He might not be the most attractive man and he may have his problems, like everyone, but there is the cushion of money. Being alone and poor is not recommended in this world.  

 

Drive a Crooked Road (1954) – The short, ugly, meathead, mechanic as fodder for the good-looking, beach-going, urbane bank robbers, makes for the most mean-spirited noir. Which is at the end of its run here. This is a good view of Hollywood and Los Angeles’ class structure. It’s all based on surface needs. And car culture has never been more of a symbol of man’s obsession with material and where it leads us, than in this movie. Status symbols at war with each other. One needs the other but the lower depths stay, the lower depths. Rooney works at a cavernous underground garage. The criminals that rope him in to their bank robbery, use a beautiful woman and an elevated house on the beach in Malibu. It’s the lure of love that gets Rooney though. Even that is unattainable to the poor.  

 

Fast Color (2018) – Octavia Butler. She was all I could think about when watching this. And that’s a really good thing to have on your mind. She seems to be imbued into every idea in this movie. A long lineage of black women in America dealing with powers they don’t quite understand. And it’s a power the white male wants to control. But they don’t understand it either, because if they did it, they might not want it. Because it’s the power to change the world. It’s a power to fix old wrongs. Deconstruct them and see the truth in the world’s beauty and bring it back together in an understanding that lasts. The family dynamic is what makes this film tearfully, tick. And it’s in that deconstruction and understanding of where you’re from and what you’re made of that makes it all the more satisfying.  

 

Crawl (2019) – This thing hits everything just right. You don’t even care when “Apex-predator all day!” is muttered in the middle of a hurricane. It all just seems to fit in this perfect horror-movie-logic. And Aja manages to say something pretty sly about dad’s and the beleaguered white male here. Because Barry Pepper as the father is given no remorse. He loses an arm and a leg and in the middle of that somewhere admits he’d been a real piece of shit in the past and maybe this is just what he deserves in life.  

 

Three Identical Strangers (2018) – When this doc is done with all its modern-documentary-unwrapping-like-an-onion-to-reveal-it-shocks-like-a-slow-crawl-toward-unbelievability, you’re relieved that the Nature vs Nurture debate is somewhere in the middle. You’re relieved that maybe we do have some say on where we’re going in our own lives. We’re relieved that this reality that we perceive might not be a simulation, where we’re all just pushing the right button to be fed. Well, that’s only a maybe. The other side of that maybe is a pretty dark experiment where the results can’t be seen until 2066. So yeah, maybe you have free will, but you won’t really know until Yale tells you in forty-six years.  

 

The Vast of Night (2020) – It’s all fancy camera work that screams look at me. While the acting says don’t look at me. Look anywhere else, but not at me. It’s as if Spielberg and Linklater took a walk late at night and ended up in some back alley, giving each other hand jobs. Which is an impressive visual, and I’m not saying this movie is anything but. If you’re dreaming of long, laborious takes with crows-feet-inducing acting, this is your jam.  

 

The Losers (1970) – It’s hard to take your eyes off of William Smith’s arms. He’s some rough action-figure come to life. He’s got that laconic smirk that shoos dialogue away with the wisdom of knowing words only fail us in the end. On the surface this seems a perposterous premise. A biker gang on a suicide mission in Vietnam?! But once the engine on this thing gets started you find yourself in one the grittiest looks at Vietnam ever put on film. And considering it’s filmed right smack-dab in the middle of the war, the touch that Starrett has here is rather amazingIt’s bug-nuts but it’s brilliant in its chaos.  

 

Aeon Flux (2004) – This just seems like a bad exercise. And we get that right from the beginning when they try to reproduce the Fly in the Eyelash. It’s just doesn’t work. The film can’t reproduce the creepy elasticity of the animated show.  

 

Guns Akimbo (2019) – Samara Weaving is fast becoming the Queen of the modern Action-B-Movie. Maybe it’s her hooded eyes or her appreciation for playing it stone-cold all the way down the line. She’s one tough gal with a piercing wit to go along with it.  She seems to revel in the spaces that allow her to scoff and turn a man’s will to dust. With this film, Mayhem and Ready or Not she’s struck gold as a latter-day Barbara Stanwyck, all blood-soaked and battered by the male world, but still ticking out insults.  

 

Desperados (2020) – It’s very rare in a romantic comedy for the woman to be the jerk. It’s usually the man who’s the child that struggles so much against the tide of adulthood rites. But here Nasim Pedrad plays an unbearable narcissist. So, unbearable you start to wonder why they even took a shot at the intended genre it’s in. Maybe if the tone was different this could’ve been an uplifting movie in the end. A story of a woman trying to become a better person. Here the vapid, horrible woman is played for laughs and goes over like nails on a chalkboard.  

 

Last 10

June 10 – 16

I’ve stolen this idea from Film Comment. The only thing that’s different is that I’m not a known filmmaker giving you a list of the last ten movies I’ve seen.

Nostalgia (1983) –

“Unspoken feelings are unforgettable.”
The poet at the center of this movie says this to a little girl who’s wandered into this crumbling structure he stands in. It’s a set-piece only Tarkovsky could dream. Some alien land I know I’ve visited somewhere in my slumbers. He follows a clear, stream into this stone husk of a place. The water comes up to his knees. The poet’s a little drunk. He tells the little girl a story about one man rescuing another from a mud pit. When the two men were through with their struggle, that sit beside the pit and the one who’d been rescued says ‘You idiot. I live here.’ The poet finds the poetry in this. He’s a person mired in memory. The unspoken past blankets him with this deep melancholy. Space and time are not linear things in Tarkovsky’s worlds. The wonderous last shot of this movie is a true testament to that.

Loving (2016) – This could’ve been one of those films where they put the violin to good use. Notch it right at ten and pull the heart strings until everything is dry. But Nichols doesn’t do that. He keeps it simple and sedate. But not boring in anyway. Edgerton and Negga are flawless here. The people they’re playing were real people. They were simple people that just wanted to love and be left to do just that. There’s an earthy soulfulness in this movie that builds and builds until the world says, ‘Oh yeah, you’re right.’ These people were mountains. Standing the test of time.

Da 5 Bloods (2020) – The black experience in America as PTSD. The journey that Delroy Lindo’s Paul goes through is somewhat choppy and incoherent at times. Probably a lot like what PTSD feels like. He starts off as a MAGA guy! Maybe he stays one too. It’s hard to tell. Paul is a black, modern-day Fred Dobbs with a great, big ol’ albatross around his neck. The treasure here is gold, just like in Treasure of the Sierra Madre. And just like in Sierra Madre things like greed and ‘getting yours’ turn out to be futile gestures in the end. The mountains had their own rules in Sierra and the jungle has its own in Bloods. The difference here is that Fred Dobbs didn’t have son (that we know of) that represents the great redeemer. Future generations save the day. They always do. But have they for blacks in America thus far? There’s an answer to this question in the movie. Three white, French folks traipsing around the jungles a Vietnam, disabling land minds. That’s the only way to change things. White people have to own up and start disabling all these bombs we’ve built for suppressing other races.

In Fabric (2018) – It exists in some Alan Moore world of the British 80’s. Although it’s set earlier, it has this comic fascist-vibe of the Thatcher-era. Consumerism through fashion is given an absurd horror send up, where witches and a warlock curse a red dress and use it to make cheap labor in the end. Every filmmaker worth their salt seems to be obsessed with the outcome of capitalism. Here Strickland puts together these seizure-inducing montages ripped from old photos and newspaper ads. An intoxicating, occult ritual takes place every night on the television screen via a reoccurring TV ad. A Lonely-Hearts-Club is enacted out through newspaper postings and a telephone service. It’s pretty clear where advertisements stand in the war against the working class. Strickland weaves it in with such a Hitchcockian dark humor. And again, the shadow of Lynch prevails.

Perfect Blue (1997) – It’s a testament to this movie that you don’t know when reality is presented to you. Everything is so enmeshed. Fantasy and reality are one. Life imitates art or it’s the other way around. Just who is doing these killings? Who is stalking Mime? Is her online self her real self? In 1997 Kon nails social media before it even begins to take off. He nails the pitfalls of identity as well. The trappings of fame and trying to figure out if your art really belongs to you and how much of it belongs to those who interact and respond to it. In this age of swiftly, moving technology; what really belongs to us? Is your identity even yours?

Mississippi Burning (1988) – Gene Hackman is a good ol’ boy having a good ol’ time when we first meet him driving into Mississippi with Defoe. He’s mocking the Klan at the same time mocking Defoe’s uptight G-Man vibe. Just who is this guy? He’s smiling and having a good time in the middle of murderous Mississippi. He even finds time to pick up on a married Frances McDormand. We find out he was a sheriff of a small town in Mississippi at one point. And the way he squeezes Michael Rooker’s balls and makes Brad Dourif honestly think he’s next, is truly sublime. In fact, the idea that a movie has great big balls of its own has never been more prevalent in a movie. It starts with the that white freedom fighter getting his brains blown out and never looks back. It’s got a tremendous pace. And Hackman’s scene with Rooker isn’t the last time the threat of castration is used. There’s an amazing scene with a black FBI agent threatening R Lee Armey’s town mayor with a slit scrotum. This movie is pure, toxic-white-male energy on a hot-blooded alert.

Nocturnal Animals (2016) – Have you ever been in a relationship where you weren’t enough for the person you loved? They say they love you, that’s not the issue. You’re just in different places in your lives. But that’s a different kind of love to you. In fact, it doesn’t really seem like love at all. Through rich or poor, right. Through sickness and health, right. That’s what love is to you. Well, it’s a little more nuanced for some. In this modern world some people need a little more pragmatism with their love. For you it’s black or white. You love someone, you stick with them, you stand with them. And when they leave you because you’re not ambitious enough or wealthy enough, you lie in bed at night fantasizing about that moment when you reach success, and the joy you will take when that person you loved comes back in your life and you get to spurn them. This movie is a big Cormac McCarthy-middle-finger to that ex that crawls back to you, saying they always believed in you.

Schizopolis (1996) – Just what is self-actualization? Just where does it exist in the human mind? In Quantum Mechanics they say that by just observing a particle’s spin you change its trajectory. What kind of cosmic telepathy is that? This movie exists in whatever world we’d find ourselves in if the tenets of QM are correct. How many actualities can be produced in one human being? On how many levels are we playing or lives out? Do they all cohere into something that makes sense? Take a step back and look. I bet none of it makes sense. Probably makes about as much sense as that dream you had last night. Was it really a dream?

The Assignment (2016) – The real gender re-assignment here is the mystery. Whatever happened to Walter Hill’s balls? My guess is he thought he still had some by making this movie, but it’s just drivel. A man changed into a woman as punishment is just a terrible idea.

Persona (1966) – Is this a dream of an unborn child? A glimpse into the psyche of a mother unbound for a blip of a moment. When all the secrets and wonders of the universe are known in some cosmic, embryonic knowing. Before the unseen finger indents your lip and presses you to secrecy and welcomes you to the chaos of the world. I like to think it is some sort of template towards understanding something of this world. It’s right here in this movie that I don’t quite understand but know in my bones the treble of some space unknown.

Last 10

June 3 – 9

I’ve stolen this idea from Film Comment. The only thing that’s different is that I’m not a known filmmaker giving you a list of the last ten movies I’ve seen.

Bob Le Flambeur (1956) – A great, long-con of a joke. A carefully planned heist that never happens. Bob is a gambler. So much so, he even has a slot machine in his closet. He wiles his nights away throwing dice and playing cards, comfortable with being an O.G. in Paris. Younger criminals come to him for advice and help. Bob’s there to give it, unless you’re a pimp. This world Melville creates is at the same time utterly alien and utterly knowable. It exists in some fantasy realm of American Noir and laissez-faire. Eight hundred million pulls Bob back in the game. A casino heist that Bob plans so meticulously that it rivals even Rififi. But Bob is Bob and Bob is a gambler. He starts playing cards and starts winning, big, and loses track of time. Like I said, it’s a cruel joke of being true to one’s self.

Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014) – There’s some gnarly Neo-Noir coming out of China today. This one is concerned with expendable body parts. And the casual dominance over women’s bodies. Women are trapped and smothered by men constantly. Put into positions and cajoled by men into ghastly situations. Is this about China being stuck in some dream of the past? A nation that still burns coal. The idea of another ice-age coming due to global warming. Women still being treated in this out-moded way. All of this is shot in alternately, bleak, monochrome daylight settings and neon-tinged nights. We don’t see who’s setting off the fire-crackers on the top of the roof at the end, but as the camera moves up the wall, we have a good idea. We’re not even mad when they cut to black before we get there. Another metaphor for stunted progress.

My Brother’s Wedding (1983) – Charles Burnett, man. He crams so much into eighty-minutes, it’s mind-boggling. A black-owned family business is the center-point of this rich tapestry of black LA. A second son who people can’t quite seem to understand. Even his own mother is at her wit’s end with him. Pierce exhibits this aimlessness that no one can come to terms with. It’s something that happens to second sons. An inherit rebellion resides in that position within a family. He’s constantly wrestling with everything. Playfully, with his father and his best friend who just got out of jail. With his soon-to-be sister-in-law and her family’s uppity station in the community. With his own beliefs, that seem to hang on him like that same, unsure smile. But underneath all that, Burnett is trending toward darkness. Pierce exists somewhere between the lifting-up and the pulling down. He sits idly by when his friend forces sex on a woman in the back of his parent’s business. But he visits his elderly aunt and uncle and makes sure they get their meds and reads from the Bible to them. His world exists in two planes. Life and death. A wedding and a funeral. But he misses out on both in the end. He’s a man a part. A fitting metaphor for the modern black male.

Ricochet (1991) – This exists in a world of ridiculousness. A world of rapid impossibilities. But if you acclimate to the looneyness you’ll start to see a strange thing happen. You’ll see this white-male obsession with the black man. At one point we see Lithgow’s jail-cell-wall plastered with his obsession of Denzel, the cop-turned-detective-turned-district-attorney (which he accomplishes in leaps and bounds, maybe a comment on affirmative action; you never quite know where this moving is coming from). And in the midst of this demented collage is Denzel’s head on a female body, on her knees, bent over in the come-hither position. All the white man wants to do is fuck the black man. In ways the white man can’t even begin to process.

Selma (2014) – It sucks to not like this movie as much as I wanted to. But there’s something off with its energy. The quiet moments seem too quiet and filled with a guilt that doesn’t seem to express itself that well. And often times the casting of certain roles seems to stick out and the scenes are all wonky. The whole movie is wonky and moves at a snail’s-pace. Maybe that’s the intention. Maybe that’s the visceral feeling of how things have moved in this country for Black Folks. You can really feel it in the LBJ/MLK relationship. Progress works in centimeters for Black Americans.

See You Yesterday (2019) – There’s a moment early on that’s pure bliss. In a classroom Eden reads A Brief History of Time, her time-traveling friend reads Black and the teacher, who happens to be Marty McFly is reading Kindred. This movie is a great mix of Afrofuturism and New York coming-of-age-tale. The causalities of time-travel blend in perfectly with the realities of what black folks are dealing with on the streets. Police shootings can’t be undone. The crimes perpetrated by the white race can’t be undone. But we can all keep trying for a better future.

6 Underground (2019) – Michael Bay’s thoughts on billionaires is interesting. They seem to have similar thoughts on innocent civilians. Some of them are just expendable if said billionaire decides to save the world. It never occurs to said billionaire that carnage is not the answer. That maybe redistributing his wealth could be a good idea. But that would make for a boring movie. And, I think that is Bay’s biggest fear. Boredom. And people thinking he has a small dick.

American Dharma (2018) – Talk about a man bereft. Every time Morris calls out his contradictions, Bannon just looks like a bloodless shmuck. Bannon claims to understand these complex surgical things going on in America. He claims populism but surrounds himself with billionaires. Morris points this out and Bannon has no answer for it. There’s another moment where Morris presents this truth, his truth, that he’s scared of Trump and Bannon, and the look on Bannon’s face upon hearing this is one of a killer being told he’s a murderer. Bannon seems to hold Morris’ opinions in high-regard and the realization of what this filmmaker thinks of him is worth the watch. Morris is a wizard with his subjects. Here he weaves in Bannon’s hand-picked films and turns his through-line of duty and fate (what Bannon calls his Dharma) against him, whether he knows it or not.

VFW (2019) – Veterans of Foreign Wars. A handful of Vietnam vets, who’ve seen better days, congregate, drink and talk shit. The world this is set in doesn’t feel that lived in. It’s some half-ass take on the world of Judge Dredd. Just an excuse to have some characters who aren’t PC-pussies blow some people’s heads off and hack them to pieces with axes and all other manner of Fangoria fetishes. Yeah, we get it. No one likes millennials.

City of Hope (1991) – I wonder if David Simon watched this before The Wire. It’s got everything but the drug trade. A fictional town in New Jersey brimming with racial tension, homophobia, city-machine and police corruption. Sayles and Robbie Richardson weave in and out of these interconnected stories with such aplomb. It’s a beautiful movie of a city on the verge of collapse. And after a while you get this feeling, as the characters each come to their own threshold, of this grand inertness. There’s a great, big, cosmic STALL in the way we build and tear down and build up again in these cities we live in. It’s just one, giant trap. Mice on a wheel. David Strathairn’s character of the town kook spinning in out of scenes, regurgitating all the white noise and, at the end, settling into an inculcating, chortling, cry for help, is everything humans are in the modern world.

Last 10

May 27 – June 2
I’ve stolen this idea from Film Comment. The only thing that’s different is that I’m not a known filmmaker giving you a list of the last ten movies I’ve seen.
High and Low (1963) – A house on a hill. They often look like castles in the sky, a faraway dream to tuck you in at night. Maybe someday that will be me up on that hill. But as time rolls by you still find yourself in the lower depths. But this is something we come to later in this film. Because it starts way up on that hill. It starts with shoes. Women’s shoes. And another corporate take-over, three-years past The Bad Sleep Well. The first hour is a chamber piece. A child is kidnapped but it’s the wrong kid. The police convene and Kurosawa stages his compositions, mostly in a large living room, as a queue to moral breakdown. Mifune’s character is on the brink of said corporate takeover when the kid is nabbed. He wavers and toils over a decision to use all of his money to pay the ransom or use it to buy the stocks to take over the shoe company. A company he feels need his integrity. Which is being tested by the second. Kurosawa places the cops in the foreground in a lot of these set-ups, as a sort of visual anchor toward what needs to be done. And they are sort of a moral keystone to this movie. Dogged and thoughtful and thorough. They take no one’s side, especially the corporate fat-cats who’ve pushed Mifune off his hill, labeling them assholes in the process. They almost seem to sympathize with the kidnapper at one point, agreeing with his assessment of the house on the hill being a monstrosity. Which is what drives the kidnapper to do what he does. Or so we’re giving in the last scene when he and Mifune meet in a prison lock-up. He’s driven to maniacal extremes by uncontrollable economic forces. The poor stay poor and the rich stay rich. Mifune gets almost all of the ransom money back. The kidnapper gets the electric chair. The High stay on the hill, the low stay in the gutter. Then again, maybe those cops are biased.

Blindspotting (2018) – There’s this beautiful but irascible conundrum at the core of this movie. Split-screens galore. The first one is the most effective. It’s the two America’s writ large in Oakland. White America. Black America. So intertwined and yet so far apart. One being the nail, and the other the hammer. The nail being a young black man in the last days of his probation, trying to navigate this new town of gentrification with his white, best friend. At first, the white friend with a black girlfriend and a mixed kid and a gold grill doesn’t seem the hammer. The white cop that shoots an unarmed black man as our black protagonist drives home one night does. And it’s against this backdrop that the movie examines a more fraught line of white appropriation. An appropriation that takes a direct aim at white hipsterism (Oak trees and their one hundred- and fifty-year-old stumps are hilarious and sad motif). And also, in a climactic scene, a direct look at an appropriation between friends. It’s a stunning look at the Two America’s.

4 Little Girls (1997) – Towards the end, Spike interviews George Wallace. He’s old and has a raspy voice. But he smokes a cigar like triumphant, white colonialist. He croaks to Spike that his best friend is a black guy. Then he parades said black guy in front of the camera for proof. The black guy looks sheepishly at the filmmakers. Wallace looks beat down but cognizant that cameras don’t lie. He’s right they don’t. They reveal exactly who you are. A coward who stands behind a paper-thin notion that proximity is some sort of alchemy for your fear. A fear you’ve funneled into hate which mushroomed into fire-hosing and snarling, dog attacks and finally blowing up little kids in churches. No, your alchemy is that you turned whatever humanity you possessed at birth into a cratered mass of moon rock, so remote that no one could possibly view you as a human-being again.

Old Stone (2016) – This is black piece of noir out of China. You think our health-care system is fucked. A taxi-driver hits a guy on a moped because some drunk fare in his car distracts him. Instead of running he takes the guy to the hospital. And is forever on the hook for the guy’s medical bills. It drives his wife and kid away and him to drinking, wandering around looking for a way of this web. Hit and runs seem to run rampant in this city. At one point our taxi-driver watches as group of people gather around a woman who’s been hit and left for dead, and then everyone deciding they’re late for work and can’t bother to help. It’s a stark, raving, mad look at the psychology of doing the right thing or minding your business in this modern world. It seems nothing pays for the person on the streets. We all end up with our heads under a truck tire.

Selah and the Spades (2019) – A movie in the world of The Chocolate War and Brick and O. Teens already adept in the fast world of adults. They’ve built their cliques and fiefdoms and war silently with each other. The Spades is a bold choice for a name as well. For three young black people trying to find some footing at a hoity, white-washed prep school, it’s bold indeed. And the finding the footing here is the key. Finding their footing next to each other and walking forward together is a great ending. Or start.

Monsters and Men (2018) – What a time to watch this. The murdering of black men by white cops is an epidemic. We know all know it. Every character here knows it but the two corrupt, white cops doing all the murdering and illegal searching of black men on the streets. Even a black cop gets pulled over when he’s off duty by his own brethren. Six times in six months. Once a month a black cop gets pulled over by other cops. These white supremacists can’t stand the scrutiny. So, when a guy records them killing an unarmed black man, they frame the kid. You’re seeing this exact same thing happening now during these protests. The police attacking and arresting media members with cameras. It’s like they’re saying no one has the right to shine a light on them. They’re aren’t the law. They’re above it.

Atlantics (2019) – This takes a hard-right turn towards African folklore after about an hour in. It takes forever to get there. To this ghost story lurching towards worker’s rights. Possession in the form of white-eyed-zombified women. They’re coming back to get paid. Men lost at sea. Why were they going to Spain? For work? A new opportunity? It’s all a jumbled mess masked in this eternal love story.

Nightfall (1956) – This movie has such a languid pace. The first scene of Aldo Ray on the corner of Hollywood and Las Palmas, schlepping around for newspapers and conversating with some random dude (who’s not random at all, the guy’s an insurance man following Ray) almost seems like it should be in Pershing Square, depicting a male pick-up scene. Even when things get heated up and they finally go for the loot, they take a BUS from LA to Wyoming! Hey man, it’s just another lovely day on the Columbia lot. I wouldn’t classify this as Noir. With its happy ending and all.

The Two Killings of Sam Cooke (2019) – There’s a James Baldwin clip in the middle of this. Cooke was an admirer of his writings. In the clip Baldwin says that white people have to ask themselves why they needed a nigga in the first place. If he, James Baldwin is a man, not a nigga, then why did the white man have to invent something like that? Cause we’re bereft, as Toni Morrison said. White people are a scourge. Black lives matter.

Unstoppable (2010) – I used to hate Tony Scott movies. I had this snobby filmmaking aesthetic and thought his use of telephoto lens was just lazy and ugly. Then somewhere around Crimson Tide I was converted. All those soft hues behind characters became an art in itself. It became another character. A Tony Scott mise-en-scene. There’s also the total number of set-ups the man went through on a shoot, to create this tableau in the editing room and in the end product, of something that seems a mess on first look but on further viewings turns into a nerve-racking visual poetry. It works perfectly here with a Runaway Train movie.