Apr 12 – 19
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 Nice Guys (2016) – “Put a mustache on a Volkswagon and she’d say, wow that Omar Sharif sure can run fast.”
It’s Lou Costello as a mustachioed Gosling in the Porn and Smog days of L.A. Crowe’s Abbott is gone to pudge, and gravel has set in his throat. He’s the mean one, the tough one. I guess it’s always been that way between the two. Costello always finds the trouble. Falling down hills and what not. Always bumbling and falling toward danger, which in turn, somehow lands in success. Costello/Gosling is a man child looking for guidance from a real man, Crowe, who won’t give it. Or he just doesn’t want to give it because who is he to give any guidance, he’s half-crazed with brooding violence. No, it’s left up to Gosling’s daughter to pave the way morally. A familiar trope in Shane Black’s work. It works, again. Youth is what saves us in the end.
Night Moves (2013) – There’s a striking resemblance to Jim Harrison’s book A Good Day to Die. Two men and a woman, eco-terrorists, hatch a plan to blow up a dam and execute it. Harrison’s story was written in the waning days of free love and right smack in the middle of Watergate. Reichardt’s film is somewhere in Oregon 2013. But the politics are the same in both pieces. And the results are pretty much the same. One act that you think will blossom into a new world order, is really only an act of violence that leads to death and ruination. And Reichardt lives in that gloom. She films every scene with the expectation of doom. Harrison’s book ends with the main character getting drunk and lamenting his fate and whether he meant a damn on this earth at all. Here, we’re left with Eisenberg as a zombie joining the workforce yet again, trapped in and endless loop upon someone’s screen.
The Zero Theorem (2013) – Gilliam is a master of messes. His whole career has been one of making miracles out of beautiful confusions. And that’s all here. As soon as Waltz steps outside we’re plunged into a place that could be a kissing cousin to Brazil. The post-industrial mélange of smokestacks and crowded streets and loud colors and non-stop, interactive advertisements. It’s a world of sensory overload designed to crush the worker bee, keep them in place. And the Zero Theorem? Some equation that’s supposed to crack the enigma of life. Or it’s a loop back to nothingness, to before the Big Bang. It just doesn’t seem to coalesce amongst the utter creepiness of Gilliam’s old-man gaze.
The Crimson Kimono (1959) – It’s only fourteen years later and Fuller has the stones to make a movie in LA’s Little Tokyo with a Japanese-American lead. In a town where Japanese folks were bullied and harassed and sent off to internment camps. He tucks this social commentary into a police procedural. But it doesn’t stay tucked-in. The murder they’re trying to solve doesn’t even seem to matter. It’s more about male friendship in a PTS world. Male friendship trying to find a place in the modern world of 1959. Male friendships that exits wholly in the orbit of white-male obliviousness. But even heavier than that is the attention Fuller pays to a Japanese man and a white woman in embrace, in these extremely tight close-ups, that must’ve been an amazing experience on the big screen in 1959.
High Life (2019) – Early on Pattinson’s voiceover likens his memories to trying to out run a virus. He lives in a world where prisoners are sent off into space. A one-way trip to a black hole. But the prisoners don’t seem to know it’s a one-way trip. They’re too busy playing their part in Juliette Binoche’s witchcraft of fluid blendery. At one point she actually refers to herself as a witch. She’s some felonious doctor? Scientist? Conducting some sort of ritual to bring about the first space-baby. Later raping Pattinson in his sleep to get his seed and carry it in her cupped hand toward success in her experiment. (2019 was a very fluid year for Robert, see The Lighthouse). And the thing about memory being a virus you can’t outrun operates here as a massive through-line. Every dark part of us will travel. In fact, maybe that’s what black holes are. The universe’s toilet for all the bad fluids.
Loving Vincent (2017) – To have fit a murder mystery into this great and massive moving Van Gogh painting is mind boggling. But it’s not really a murder mystery. It’s more of a retracing of his last steps. And Van Gogh as a character is sort of on the fringes here. A letter to his dead brother has nowhere to go. But still it goes. Meandering through Northern France trying to land in someone’s hands that has answers to a man’s life and his sickness. It’s just a letter, but often times films are at their best when inculcating a motif. Words are wind, only the pictures remain.
The Town (2010) – There’s something missing here and I don’t know if it’s latent Affleck derision or it just seems to fall flat as a piece. There are some trying too hard and some not enough and some hit it just right. Affleck made his bones playing douchy meatheads. Here he’s trying to turn that into steely-eyed bank robber and I don’t think he’s trying hard enough. Whereas Renner is maybe trying too hard to be a wild card and Hamm is hitting all the right notes. It’s all uneven and Heat-in-Boston-lite.
Guava Island (2019) – Not sure this qualifies as a movie. It’s a 55-minute music video. But it’s wonderous all the same. An island fairy-tale run amok. Donald Glover is bursting with creative energy here. He almost seems possessed at times. Widening his eyes so much throughout this, as if he wants nothing more than to convince you that whatever lives him will surely get out and infect you. And it does.
Hail, Caesar! (2016) – The Tale of The Christ is rest of the title to the big sword and sandal epic Capitol Pictures is making. Instead of The Tale of Christ. As if putting emphasis on Christ is the joke itself here. Brolin plays a studio head/fixer named Mannix. Early on Mannix has a meeting with the top religious leaders to get their approval of his depiction of Christ (who’s only depiction we see is the back of his head, and maybe his feet on the cross). In a funny tangent, none of them can come to agreement on who Christ really is. And the gag is run all the way through to the end, when a production assistant on the set of Hail, Caesar asks the actor playing Jesus on the cross whether he’s a principle or an extra. Extras embodying the body-politic here, can’t be trusted. Jesus embodies both the body-politic and God. Caesar and the Roman Empire as Capitalism. It’s a stunning look into how Capitalism and Religion feed off each other. Because Mannix, the whole movie, is running from one to the other. From the confession booth to Caesar, from religion to capitalism. The 1950’s movie studio system wins in the end. But we all know what’s coming for it in the next decade. Nothing lasts forever.
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (2019) – There’s a stark image of Davis at the very beginning of this documentary. He’s staring out of a window on a plane. His broken-glass voice (it so hard to tell if it’s his actual voice or Carl Lumbly’s) states that if you want to be an artist you have to be willing to change. Nobody represents that more than Miles Davis. It was a surprise to learn how he approached every album he made. It was a total collaboration every time. His whole career was standing back and letting other people’s talent lead him/them in whatever directions the music took them.