Sept 1 – 16
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.
Dial M for Murder (1954) – Ray Milland is a smarmy, controlled, uncaring creep in this somewhat of an English-murder-by-numbers-chamber-piece. He has everything figured out, even when he doesn’t. He’s so lithe on his feet (he’s a tennis player after all) and so determined to kill his wife that it’s almost comical. Milland plays it all with a smirk and wink and when he’s finally caught it’s all good in the game. The fact that Grace Kelly casually has a side-piece that she flaunts in her husband’s face without just a tinge of remorse might be the most remarkable thing about this film. Everything else is just an exercise in mystery writing.
The Fountain (2006) – In a sullenly sublime way, this film is the beginning of a trilogy that Aronofsky would fill out through the years with Black Swan and Mother! For all three are about a search within the human soul for an undying art form to be expressed. An art form desperate to get out of the deep, darkness of the psyche. In these films, art manifests often times through some sort of dark bodily omen. As if, the greatest sin a person can commit is to bottle up and push down the long dormant art that is within them. It can erupt and manifest in bizarre ways in Aronofsky’s worlds. Here he puts it all in one basket. Life and death in the form of an eternal tree. It’s common to see a tree as metaphor for all that is the universe in world mythologies. We’re all familiar with Yggdrasil. Here the tree of life is on the Road to Awe. At the end of it is the Mayan underworld of Xibalba. This is the root of it. The base. And on either side is a book. A book written by a sick woman on her way to death. She’s writing about Conquistadors and religious turmoil during the Inquisition. A time when suppression was law. Body horror everywhere. All the writer wants though, is to finish her story. Her soul mate to finish it for her. Which is the other side of the tree. Rebirth in the form a cosmological wonder bubble at the end of the heavens. It’s a grand cosmic story of finding one’s own art and expressing it.
White Boy (2017) – An interesting story about law enforcement entanglement and it’s obvious downward spiral of corruption. Detroit is a sick town. As about as sick as a supposed first world city can be. And it’s interesting to see the intersecting rows of pop culture and sensational journalism and local celebrity mix in America’s petri-dish called the war on drugs. But it’s the hammering away towards the end about how a white boy has been wronged without a word to all the black men in prison for dealing weed that rubs you the wrong way. Kid Rock rubs everything the wrong way. The filmmakers are probably white and oblivious to how this hits today. Or, they are aware and are choosing to fight themselves out of a perceived corner white males have been backed into. Either way, it hits wrong.
Project Power (2020) -The war on drugs is given to us in a super-power pill form. And what better place to do it than a town like New Orleans. They lean into the place and it works. They embrace New Orleans as a cataclysmic petri-dish of the highest order. They give the stage to a young girl who has dreams of being a rapper. Where others find their unique power through a pill manufactured by some conglomerate on an oil tanker, she finds hers through words. Through poetry. Through rhyme syncopation she makes life easier for her and her mother in a system set up for them to fail. It’s a really good take on the glut of super-powered movies we’ve been inundated with.
The Driller Killer (1979) – You wonder if all failed art could lead to a loss of one’s mind. Especially in the late 70’s New York that Ferrara depicts. The movie tells you at the beginning to play it loud. The dirty punk scene is loud and meddlesome and intrudes on every frame. The painter protagonist is appropriately tortured and angst filled and foul-mouthed and angry. He’s got a painting to finish on a deadline. He’s got no money and two women to support. An annoying punk band moves in the building. He’s got a penchant or charitableness for hanging out with the homeless. Who he turns on in the end in a brutal and forthcoming take on street people and how America views them as already lost and therefore expendable. But there’s a thin line of likeness to be drawn and stepped over between the mental states of our artist and the street people he at first studies and then kills. Aren’t we all odd and schizophrenic and loud and flailing in the night? Just some of us don’t choose to wield power tools with unimaginably long cords.
Venom (2018) – Elon Musk gets the super-hero-movie-villain treatment. He’s reaching out to the stars to insure the immortality of humanity. But like a lot of billionaire’s with bright ideas, underneath all that innovation is just an asshole with a look-at-me fetish. Grasping the consequences of one’s actions is not in the repertoire. Then along comes Venom, who’s a sentient, space blob looking for his one and only in Tom Hardy. They get along like gangbusters after a rough patch and somehow carve out a loveable anti-hero vibe. Also, Michelle Williams is in this for some reason.
Doctor Sleep (2019) – We all put things in boxes. We’re constantly compartmentalizing. The human mind only works if order is introduced to the chaos called the universe. There are succubi everywhere looking to clean you out like a vacuum tube. We all know this. We’ve all experienced the draining of waking life. Everybody has a bit of shine; Danny Torrance tells us and Abra. He’s been suppressing his for a long time, having done the work of boxing up his hellhounds in coffins at the Overlook Hotel. But he has to go back to them, he owes a debt, Halloran (Carl Lumbly is so good here) tells him. So, he goes back with a plan to confront his old man and maybe somehow save a little girl. And it works, at a cost. That’s the thing about addiction and depression. Everything happens at a cost. Flanagan knows this. And the heaping costs of the Shining are way beyond heavy here. Somehow, he blends two, source materials together with surest touch to make his own elegy to horror.
Miller’s Crossing (1990) – Anything can happen. The roof could fall in. A piano could be dropped on your head. Hammett had this realization at some point while working as a Pinkerton. The world is chaotic and anything could happen. And nobody knows anybody. Not really. And ethics are as malleable as sand. The talk of ethical quandaries starts the film and works its incongruities throughout. Often times the idea of who is on who’s side and who is double crossing whom is reenforced by incongruous locations. Are we at Tom’s place or Verna’s? Does Verna even have a place? Where does Leo go for the second half of the movie? Tom is found by Verna in a boxing gym that we never see again. Where in the woods do they find Mink’s body? The mise-en-scene is always framed with that centered and controlled eye the Coen’s are known for, but here they cut a few corners to give you this simultaneous feel of control and confusion. A discombobulation in the most subtle way. It’s a line that the Coen’s have straddle throughout their whole career. The line of chaos and order. It’s never more present here, and in Hammett’s work they find of sort of symbiosis. A treatise on male psychology. Which is as fragile as a hat blowing in the wind.
Blue Collar (1979) – A shot is inculcated throughout. A Ford Motor Company billboard shot from afar with a telephoto lens. Sometimes jump-cutting closer to a digital counter that displays the number of cars Ford has built that year. It’s the math of industrialism that makes no sense to the characters in this film. Machinery is more important than man. Labor is but a tool to put away in desk drawer and pull it out when you need it. But the three main characters in this movie aren’t tools. They’re people. Rough and robust and raw at the mouth, but more importantly real, organic creatures that have families and work two jobs and have made mistakes in the past. And the cold world of capitalism doesn’t care about that. It’s just a mechanism looking for its next pieces. Along come these three men with low cunning looking to steal from the machine and what they don’t comprehend is that the machine is too put together. It’s seams and sockets have a cunning on a level all its own. Leaving the men with nothing but what it repels. Scraps and leavings to live on and hope for. But not much. Maybe in another life time, you’ll be born to better station. But here you’re just a digital number clicking away for bigger men to watch.
Miss Hokusai (2015) – The inward inertness of an artist’s life has never been more beautiful and melancholier and horrifying than here. The waves of Hokusai are passed down to his daughter. So, as they look, they are full of portent. Forever on the cusp of crashing. This is where the daughter finds herself; in that milieu of her father’s mind. It’s something learned rather than passed down. A bit of back-handed nurture rather than nature. The artist’s inner world is stunted and manifests outwardly in wild imaginative mythologies which in turn finds its way to a canvas. It’s a lusty, haphazard world of dragons and phantom hands and necks. It’s a misogynist world where a younger sister and daughter is being raised in a convent because she’s blind and everyone but the nuns are too weak to raise her. Artists don’t have time. Wonder what the mother’s problem was? But in this little, blind girl we find all the hopes and fears of her father and sister. The fear of losing the visuals of the world are counteracted by her heightened senses. Things you can’t put on a canvas. There are things that limit you as an artist and you are forever running those things down. It creates great art but shallow souls.