June 3 – 9
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.
Bob Le Flambeur (1956) – A great, long-con of a joke. A carefully planned heist that never happens. Bob is a gambler. So much so, he even has a slot machine in his closet. He wiles his nights away throwing dice and playing cards, comfortable with being an O.G. in Paris. Younger criminals come to him for advice and help. Bob’s there to give it, unless you’re a pimp. This world Melville creates is at the same time utterly alien and utterly knowable. It exists in some fantasy realm of American Noir and laissez-faire. Eight hundred million pulls Bob back in the game. A casino heist that Bob plans so meticulously that it rivals even Rififi. But Bob is Bob and Bob is a gambler. He starts playing cards and starts winning, big, and loses track of time. Like I said, it’s a cruel joke of being true to one’s self.
Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014) – There’s some gnarly Neo-Noir coming out of China today. This one is concerned with expendable body parts. And the casual dominance over women’s bodies. Women are trapped and smothered by men constantly. Put into positions and cajoled by men into ghastly situations. Is this about China being stuck in some dream of the past? A nation that still burns coal. The idea of another ice-age coming due to global warming. Women still being treated in this out-moded way. All of this is shot in alternately, bleak, monochrome daylight settings and neon-tinged nights. We don’t see who’s setting off the fire-crackers on the top of the roof at the end, but as the camera moves up the wall, we have a good idea. We’re not even mad when they cut to black before we get there. Another metaphor for stunted progress.
My Brother’s Wedding (1983) – Charles Burnett, man. He crams so much into eighty-minutes, it’s mind-boggling. A black-owned family business is the center-point of this rich tapestry of black LA. A second son who people can’t quite seem to understand. Even his own mother is at her wit’s end with him. Pierce exhibits this aimlessness that no one can come to terms with. It’s something that happens to second sons. An inherit rebellion resides in that position within a family. He’s constantly wrestling with everything. Playfully, with his father and his best friend who just got out of jail. With his soon-to-be sister-in-law and her family’s uppity station in the community. With his own beliefs, that seem to hang on him like that same, unsure smile. But underneath all that, Burnett is trending toward darkness. Pierce exists somewhere between the lifting-up and the pulling down. He sits idly by when his friend forces sex on a woman in the back of his parent’s business. But he visits his elderly aunt and uncle and makes sure they get their meds and reads from the Bible to them. His world exists in two planes. Life and death. A wedding and a funeral. But he misses out on both in the end. He’s a man a part. A fitting metaphor for the modern black male.
Ricochet (1991) – This exists in a world of ridiculousness. A world of rapid impossibilities. But if you acclimate to the looneyness you’ll start to see a strange thing happen. You’ll see this white-male obsession with the black man. At one point we see Lithgow’s jail-cell-wall plastered with his obsession of Denzel, the cop-turned-detective-turned-district-attorney (which he accomplishes in leaps and bounds, maybe a comment on affirmative action; you never quite know where this moving is coming from). And in the midst of this demented collage is Denzel’s head on a female body, on her knees, bent over in the come-hither position. All the white man wants to do is fuck the black man. In ways the white man can’t even begin to process.
Selma (2014) – It sucks to not like this movie as much as I wanted to. But there’s something off with its energy. The quiet moments seem too quiet and filled with a guilt that doesn’t seem to express itself that well. And often times the casting of certain roles seems to stick out and the scenes are all wonky. The whole movie is wonky and moves at a snail’s-pace. Maybe that’s the intention. Maybe that’s the visceral feeling of how things have moved in this country for Black Folks. You can really feel it in the LBJ/MLK relationship. Progress works in centimeters for Black Americans.
See You Yesterday (2019) – There’s a moment early on that’s pure bliss. In a classroom Eden reads A Brief History of Time, her time-traveling friend reads Black and the teacher, who happens to be Marty McFly is reading Kindred. This movie is a great mix of Afrofuturism and New York coming-of-age-tale. The causalities of time-travel blend in perfectly with the realities of what black folks are dealing with on the streets. Police shootings can’t be undone. The crimes perpetrated by the white race can’t be undone. But we can all keep trying for a better future.
6 Underground (2019) – Michael Bay’s thoughts on billionaires is interesting. They seem to have similar thoughts on innocent civilians. Some of them are just expendable if said billionaire decides to save the world. It never occurs to said billionaire that carnage is not the answer. That maybe redistributing his wealth could be a good idea. But that would make for a boring movie. And, I think that is Bay’s biggest fear. Boredom. And people thinking he has a small dick.
American Dharma (2018) – Talk about a man bereft. Every time Morris calls out his contradictions, Bannon just looks like a bloodless shmuck. Bannon claims to understand these complex surgical things going on in America. He claims populism but surrounds himself with billionaires. Morris points this out and Bannon has no answer for it. There’s another moment where Morris presents this truth, his truth, that he’s scared of Trump and Bannon, and the look on Bannon’s face upon hearing this is one of a killer being told he’s a murderer. Bannon seems to hold Morris’ opinions in high-regard and the realization of what this filmmaker thinks of him is worth the watch. Morris is a wizard with his subjects. Here he weaves in Bannon’s hand-picked films and turns his through-line of duty and fate (what Bannon calls his Dharma) against him, whether he knows it or not.
VFW (2019) – Veterans of Foreign Wars. A handful of Vietnam vets, who’ve seen better days, congregate, drink and talk shit. The world this is set in doesn’t feel that lived in. It’s some half-ass take on the world of Judge Dredd. Just an excuse to have some characters who aren’t PC-pussies blow some people’s heads off and hack them to pieces with axes and all other manner of Fangoria fetishes. Yeah, we get it. No one likes millennials.
City of Hope (1991) – I wonder if David Simon watched this before The Wire. It’s got everything but the drug trade. A fictional town in New Jersey brimming with racial tension, homophobia, city-machine and police corruption. Sayles and Robbie Richardson weave in and out of these interconnected stories with such aplomb. It’s a beautiful movie of a city on the verge of collapse. And after a while you get this feeling, as the characters each come to their own threshold, of this grand inertness. There’s a great, big, cosmic STALL in the way we build and tear down and build up again in these cities we live in. It’s just one, giant trap. Mice on a wheel. David Strathairn’s character of the town kook spinning in out of scenes, regurgitating all the white noise and, at the end, settling into an inculcating, chortling, cry for help, is everything humans are in the modern world.