Apr 3 – 11
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.
RBG (2018) – This woman is something out of the world of Varda. If Varda were Frank Oz and wanted to fashion a mythical elf entering the land of American law. Where she’s a hero because of her patience and intelligence and bravery. Her ability to shift and change to her surroundings for the good of those less fortunate. She was building this tapestry to live by. Something that should’ve been there in the first place. She’s an amazing creation. And we thank you, Universe.
Andrei Rublev (1966) – My first job was at this video store in Dallas, TX. I was fifteen and wanted to be a filmmaker. The store was part of a chain of Blockbuster knock-offs. They had a decent foreign film section. Andrei Rublev was one of those double VHS cassettes. A rubber band holding the two plastic shells together. All the three-hour movies were packaged such. They were daunting, all those three-hour movies, The Godfather Parts One and Two, Reds, Spartacus, Ben-Hur and Gone with the Wind. But you’d seen them somewhere along the way. On TV or maybe a parent had sat you down and said “Watch this!” Andrei Rublev was different. It was Russian and leaning there on that top shelf of the foreign film section, not really caring if you rented it, secure in its place in film history. It was intimidating. Re-shelving Jamon y Jamon, Au Revoir Les Enfants, Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down and Man Bites Dog every week, yet Tarkovsky’s first masterpiece sat there untouched. I was fifteen, sixteen years old and knew I wouldn’t understand it. I would look at the cover box and wonder. And so, it went. I moved on to work about a thousand more jobs and the chain of video stores closed down. The whole movie watching industry and changed a handful of times and still I had not watched Andrei Rublev. Until now, twenty-seven years later. All three hours of it and I still don’t know what I watched. But I do know it was great.
Hell or High Water (2016) – Lord of the plains, that’s me. That’s the trick this movie plays on you, so deftly. It’s such a satisfying piece of work. A modern-day Jesse and Frank James tale. Robbing from the rich to give to the poor. But the poor being themselves and the land that they’re trying to keep is an imaginary prop for us as humans to worry about for thousands of years. The Comanches used to roam the plains. Did they think the land was theirs? Most definitely. Just like the white man felt when they wiped them out. Where ever your foot lands, humans think to roam. That’s the true sickness of human beings. Not being poor. No, the true disease is the idea of ownership.
Cop Car (2015) – The movie really starts to sing when Bacon arrives. The two kids marching through the prairie finding the cop car at the beginning is pastoral and picturesque and all I could think about was Eastwood’s A Perfect World. Something about children discovering the world of criminal adults against wide blue skies, dotted with puffy cumulus clouds, seems wholly American. But at some point, the day turns to night and the children learn that there’s no one out there to help them. Adults can’t be counted on. No one’s out there.
Dragged Across Concrete (2019) – Every scene is a tightly bored hole into the brain. Nothing drags but just seems to corkscrew its way to rot. We’re talking about systems here. Dysfunctional and corrupt systems that pit foes against each other. Racism and a bigotry toward change runs through these systems like its life blood. Violence as a vernacular, bops through these characters like their clipped dialogue. A bank robbery serves a magnet for the thin blue line. Drawing two black friends who’ve shared a criminal past together, and two crooked, white cops. The line gets skewed with black guys in white-face and white guys in black face. We all just want that pot of gold. The white cops seem to have the privilege and the advantage. They almost seem worn down by it too. Gibson and Vaughn are good and weary here, pushed into a corner by modernity. But the true gold here is Kittles and Jai White. Characters in way over their heads, they bring a humanism and grace to these OG’s. And Kittles in the end is the man hunting the lions.
Downsizing (2017) – There’s a Kubrickian montage about thirty minutes into this that veers towards a Full Metal Jacket/Clockwork Orange amalgam, but then it comes back around to pure Gilliamville when Matt Damon’s five-inch body is scooped up by a spatula from an oversized gurney. And things seem listless after the downsizing. The metaphor stalls out until Hong Chau’s (she’s absolutely amazing here) character shows up and everyone seems to find themselves wrapped up in her world. A world that still needs tending, regardless of the impending doom of rising waters.
Targets (1968) – Has there been a better movie about Charles Whitman? Is there even a movie about Charles Whitman? What a subversive piece of work from Bogdanovich. And it’s his first film! He’s got to make a movie with Boris Karloff wherein the footage from another Karloff movie, The Terror, has to be used. It’s a Corman Conundrum. But Bogdanovich manages to couch in two threads running along parallel lines that eventually converge. A truly melancholy dissertation on growing old in Hollywood and the industry’s total obliviousness to anything other than what’s filling their wallets. And then there’s the subtle psychological arc that he builds with the O’Kelly character. The scenes of him roaming around his house, building towards this terror are truly unnerving. And that ending with Karloff on the screen and the Karloff in real live stomping towards him at a drive-in movie is so cathartically pulp.
From Russia With Love (1964) – Bond has sex with four women inside the first hour of this movie. And a threesome to boot. This character is a syphilitic mess (Alan Moore deserves credit here). No wonder Spectre wants him dead. And they bait him with a pretty woman. It’s blatant and it works. Then they send in the heavy hitter. A young and monstrous Robert Shaw. Early on, Shaw stands bare-chested, at attention and gets sucker-punched in the stomach by a nasty, little Russian lady wearing brass knuckles and nary a flinch. That’s the test. That’s it. He passed. Shaw goes on to follow Bond around, even saving his life, so they can have this epic fight on a train. Really one of the best fights ever to be put on film. America wins. Sorry Russia.
In the Mouth of Madness (1994) – L. Ron Hubbard wrote a book called Excalibur. He claimed a man read it once and flung himself out a fourth-story window. He had to go bury it in the desert afterwards. The thought that the written word could induce such mania is nothing new. Carpenter uses the Lovecraft mythos (has anyone been more omnipresent in horror movies than Lovecraft? Anyone with longer tentacles?) as his engine to push this slick, horror movie down our ready throats. Is it the hubris of writers that Carpenter’s taking a fun poke at? The idea that writers are the creators of known realities. Could be true. What we know of history is all written word. But then again there were oral histories as well. And those tales have all but vanished over the years. The tales of the Old Gods faded during the transition. But in this movie, they’re back with a mouthpiece to spread their cosmic horror of pessimistic decay. Who would’ve thought somebody like Stephen King would rule the world some day?
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse (2018) – Great Expectations features pretty large here as a foundation for a pop-art bildungsroman. A fancy word for a coming-of-age story. But that’s sort of a reduction to the word. Because the word exudes epic. An epic coming-of-age story, where a sensitive soul goes out into the world with… great expectations. And this movie builds on that foundation, and builds and builds and builds, until Miles Morales’ story becomes something more than an epic tale of finding yourself. It becomes more of a fable. A legend wrapped up in quantum physics and multiple causalities. The new, modern bildungsroman.