May 6 – 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.
Raising Cain (1992) – This is DePalma doing an autopsy on his own work. On his own psycho-thrillers. Stuffing everything he can into ninety-minutes. Every little kink and nod to his past work. But it’s mostly three of his films is harkening back to. And maybe a small nod to a fourth. Sisters, Blow Out and Dressed to Kill. And Body Double if you count the connection of Greg Henry here. It’s always interesting to see what a director thinks are his best or most interesting work. It’s also interesting to see DePalma overtly reference Bergman as the mad scientist of the Psycho-Drama. Not Hitchcock. Whom, DePalma has paid homage to diligently in the past (remaking Vertigo with Obsession). But he seems to run out of steam with his multi-leveled Eisenstein-steps routine at the end. Even DePalma seems tired of the schtick for now.
The American Soldier (1970) – It’s amazing to see Noir come full circle here. It started with German Expressionism and ends with a spectacular slow-motion finale that leaves you with the notion that existed all along in Noir. That under all those shadows and lights and tough guy acts of murder and misogyny, is that it’s all just homoerotic foreplay.
Fits and Starts (2016) – Putting yourself out there is difficult. It can be an almost crippling thought at times. To expose yourself and your art can seem counter-productive. Art can be like keeping a diary at times, and to open that up to others can be a lot like a teenage girl yelling at her mother for going through her drawers. It’s an incredible psychological leap to make. One that involves the acceptance of being torn down when what you may only be committed to is opening up. It’s a conundrum you have to come to in your own time and in your own way. And if you get there or you don’t, you’ll always have the place where the art comes from. It will always be a place where no one but you can touch.
Depraved (2019) – I kept thinking about Roger Avary’s Mr. Stitch when watching this. These two movies have some similarities other than being modern takes on the Frankenstein mythos. Mr. Stitch was hard to find back in the mid-90’s. Avary’s follow-up to Killing Zoe went straight to video. But it shares the same set-up as Fessenden’s Frankenstein. Specifically, the modern war metaphor. Troops coming home in pieces. A doctor, for whatever personal reasons, wants to create a superior modern man. Avary had Rutger Hauer go to waist in his film. Fessender does his best, and somewhat succeeds, with no-names. But the resemblance of the two-movies is uncanny. I wouldn’t put it past Fessender to do a remake of an obscure Roger Avary film, though.
Mayhem (2017) – This a completely cathartic quarantine movie. Early on they tell you it’s a law firm, but you get this sublime feeling that it could be any corporation in anywhere USA. They present this slickness that we all collectively imagine or can relate to if you’ve worked in that setting. It’s seamless integration into the filmmaking is a joy to watch. I guess that’s what you can say about Joe Lynch. He’s a slick technician. And it’s well-suited here. Steve Yuen is so good here. He’s all of us mired and entangled in whatever life we’ve chosen and are locked and loaded and ready to fucking go nuclear. And he’s got great chemistry with Weaver. She’s a revelation. While watching this it occurred to me this could be an instant action/comedy classic. Only time will tell.
Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) – It’s a bit eerie that Lewis and Romero are both from Pittsburgh. What’s in the water in that town?
There are groups of people who live in the South still brandishing Confederate flags (hell, all over the country, really. Trump has exposed that), in fact, having saved their Dixie Cups (whatever those are) and have indeed risen again (in a sense). I grew up in Louisiana and this sentiment was rare but often times glowering like a thick fog around Confederate monuments. In fact, when I was kid, one of the trips we’d make almost yearly was to Vicksburg. About an hour east of where I grew up, just across the Mighty Mississippi. You take this tour in your car and tune into a radio station and stop at each marker, the station describing the action. It takes you all day, the battlefield being so vast, the strategies so deep and encumbering. And at some point, you make it to this mausoleum high on a hill that overlooks this too green valley, the beauty of the spot snatches your breath away and you wonder how anything so horrific could happen in this place. But like James Lee Burke wrote, you stand in a place like this long enough an electric mist moves in and you find yourself standing there with the Confederate dead. That old ball and chain.
I like to think that Lewis has stood in that spot in Vicksburg or a place like it (hell, maybe Gettysburg) and let his loony sense of humor run free.
The Hellbenders (1967) – Somebody should write a book (RDJ as Paul Avery in Zodiac whispers “Yeah, somebody should write a fucking book”). Coffins and Corbucci as the title. In this film and in Django the coffin figures as a harbinger. Of death? Too easy. Yes, death is involved, but it’s more of a comment on the means at which the deadly scythe finally gets to us. In Django, it’s a hiding place for a horrible modernity on the horizon. In Hellbenders, it’s a mixed bag of avarice, racism and misogyny coming home to roost. A Confederate patriarchy gets what’s coming to it on a cracked, sheet of mud.
It’s fun to see Corbucci beat Leone to the punch in his casting of Joseph Cotton. Another aging leading man with shockingly blue-gray eyes, turned villain.
They Shall Not Grow Old (2018) – Once you get over the Ted Turner-colorization your left with just Peter Jackson in his garage playing with his Weta-sized photo shop. It was a terrible and horrific war, yes. What’s it to you to put color to old film-stock? It means that much to people to bring color to death. I don’t get it.
The Squid and the Whale (2005) – It’s the younger son that hits us in the gut. The beer-drinking, whiskey-swilling, Mini-McEnroe, who takes his mother’s side in this dissolution of a marriage and family. Maybe it’s his age, young boys love their mothers, but he sees his mom as a human being with normal wants and needs. He’s willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. The older son and the father-as-a-victim just view her as a slutty homewrecker. Linney plays the mom with a soulful flightiness. Daniels dad is maybe the best representation of oblivious, white-male, elitism put on film. The mother might have taken the first steps to end the marriage but it was the father that set the thing to rot a long time ago with his bloated, buffoonish, bullying, bipedal propping up of himself. And when Eisenberg finally remembers who is mother is, he seeks out that one memory, that one reminder, that one illumination, that all life is essentially a tightrope of hunger and pain. That every creature is asking the same questions. How do I eat and not get eaten in the process?
Haywire (2011) – Bill Paxton plays Carano’s father, as some Tom Clancy like figure. Was he a soldier once? We don’t know. We just know he writes thousand-page, military novels and lives in a large house in New Mexico. Where a strange moment occurs in the midst of an ambush gone wrong. Soderbergh choses to put the camera on Paxton, as the father, watching his daughter kill. It’s an arresting moment of the white-male gaze. The realization of what has been held back for so long, is suddenly bursting through, in all these fight scenes that Carano is immaculate in. She someone’s daughter, yes. Someone’s lover, yes. Someone’s grim-reaper, most definitely.