Apr 20 – 27
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.
Dark Phoenix (2019) – Why are the aliens in this movie so sinister? What’s their deal, man? Since the onslaught of the comic-book movie, never has there been a weaker set of character’s walking around, dead-eyed and monotone than these. These movies are proving more and more that the artists behind the CGI are why we’re watching these funhouse horrors. It’s definitely not for the actors.
Human Desire (1954) – Gloria Graham’s character lives near a railroad depot and her husband works for the railroad. He’s big bruising, boozing Broderick Crawford. He’s no good. None of the men are in this movie, really. Not even Grinning Glenn Ford. Even though at the end, the film tries to make his decision not to murder Crawford, a noble one. He’s just as weak as the rest of them. Even his buddy Edgar Buchanan is just a misogynist of the times, coating everything with a jolly laugh. Lang frames Graham’s character as a femme-fatale, but he subverts that trope by giving her some room to move. Her explanations make sense, even to a wily Ford. She’s been groped at and prodded and beaten on since she was sixteen. She’s been fighting and clawing her whole life. You don’t really blame her for doing what’s she’s done. And when she meets her end on that train, you blame every man that ever lived.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) – It’s starts off with an almost menacing tone. A Mario Bava-like-feel on these hazardous cliffs. The two women standing there on the edge of the bluff, framed by Sciamma in this overlapping profile, their heads turning to look at each other at a frantic pace, bordering on possession. In a sense, it is a possession. This movie and it’s ideas. That feeling of the overlapping of love and art. Art as the only means to an expression of something taboo. And in that sharing of the forbidden, there are intersecting lines of devastating beauty and bottomless inaccuracies. Where, in the apportionment of one’s own art there lies a connection. A connection that works its way into a bond. It’s there in the end, with the sharing of Orpheus and Eurydice, Vivaldi and the sacredness of the female body. They all overlap in the end, like folded hands in a painting. It’s a bittersweet tome of love and art.
Personal Problems (1979) – An ode to analog. Almost strange to look at the year this was made and think that. But it’s truly sitting down in the medium and going for it. Going for it with an all-black cast and crew. Bill Gunn and Ishmael Reed choose a scene early on to let you know that this is an insular, black story. And Reed’s actually in the scene. A group of black folks are sitting around a living room, or some room with couches in it, drinking and talking, when the only white dude at the party starts accusing Reed of being an Uncle Tom. Well, he doesn’t use those words exactly, but he’s shown to have made a bad decision coming to this party, the lone white dude, telling black folks how it is. How it is to these black people in New York city, is equal parts tedious and brilliant and lonesome.
Shadow (2018) – No matter what, Zhang Yimou is a visual poet. There are set-pieces in this movie that just murder you with their beauty. So meticulous in movement, yet so free in its imagination. All set to music. In fact, these characters are infected with this forlorn, sting music. It dictates their every step. It helps them figure out new strategies and new survival methods. But it doesn’t help them where it counts the most. Where we know music helps the most. As emotional triumphs. This movie is sad and wet and gray. Double crosses galore. And almost unfollowable at times. You don’t even care who wins in the end. But, there is Zhang Yimou.
Revenge (2017) – The male gaze is magnified. We see it early when Fargeat utilizes the binoculars as a motif. A rotund, Baby Ruth-eating hunter puts the sights on her face and mouth from across the patio table, which leads to more grotesqueness through-out with extreme close-ups. It’s a magnification of the leering man that leads to the most terrible of inevitabilities. But the woman here is Rambo (it’s hard not to make this connection), a Phoenix rising on a hallucinogenic mushroom in a cave, to turn THE GAZE outward, to extricate the phallic, and indeed bring blood like a sacrifice. A sacrifice harkening back to the days of matrilineal mythology.
The Big Heat (1953) – A brutal and cynical movie. The tossing of hot coffee takes on a new art form under Lang’s direction. The point of this film is to disfigure everyone, inside and out. Nobody is untouched by corruption. Again, women get the brunt and the burn of this. Cigarette burns, car explosions and the above hot coffee to the face. Underneath all this hot-male-rage is the casual flippancy toward the female body. And Gloria Graham is the Mother Theresa of the flame.
Lo and Behold: Reveries from the Connected World (2016) – It’s strange to see Hyman Roth show up at the very beginning, a professor at UCLA, one of the progenitors of the Internet. But it’s Werner Herzog. He’s asking whether we’ve asked ourselves certain questions. Like, are we better off with all this information at our fingertips? Herzog at times is treating it like a disease, the information age. And maybe it is. A disease within a disease. If you’re familiar at all with the philosophy of pessimism, then you know that there is the idea that man is nothing more than an aberration. Something akin to a virus. Building and building and building. To what end though? To go to Mars? And set up the internet on Mars? Do whales dream of space-travel?
Akira (1988) – Can you imagine the psychic trauma that two atom bombs dropped on your country elicits? Or induces, really. It induces an epic look inward, to turn that trauma inside out. To imagine a future where nothing has really changed. There’s yet another world war and we’re still dropping fission on each other. And it’s still all about the youth. Adults playing in their militarized world have co-opted some youth with progeria in their quest for power. Upwards of thirty of them, maybe. But we only see three and an elusive Akira. And then a fourth appears, but he’s older and progeria-less. But maybe more powerful than them all. This is where the question is asked of the adults. What exactly are you looking for? What kind of power is enough power? What sort of Pandora’s Box have we opened? Otomo goes all the way back to the beginning. Of everything. ALL THE WAY BACK to the beginning of the universe and the power of amoeba memories. It’s breathtaking and imaginative and fun. And after all these years it still seems to push it to the brink. To look inside and see the wonder of all this ugliness around us.
Hot Rod (2007) – This is a movie that jumps head-long into the man-boy sub-genre of comedy, without any pretenses. Whereas with a film like Punch Drunk Love which “sort of” seeks to elevate said sub-genre, Hot Rod is there to revel in it. It also seeks to point directly at why all these manbabies exist and act as they do. Something to do with not only their Daddies, but their Mama’s as well. It’s no wonder (amazingly so) that Ian McShaine and Sissy Spacek play Rod’s parents. This being the most important part about these manbaby movies. What about the parents?