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.