Nov 14 – 30
Midnight Special (2016) – Close Encounters with the Hidden Dimensional Kind. Headed Southeast instead of Southwest. And the requisite religious nuts follow with a brutal efficiency. This is Spielberg without the light heart. Sub Jimmy Carter for Obama-era surveillance paranoia and you have this fever pitch millennial nightmare. In children we find power, it seems. Here it’s given the ultimate shine. Beams of light shoot out of his eyes and suddenly folks have seen… what really? God? The Way? Evolution? A MacGuffin? Probably more the latter than anything. It’s not the destination that matters but the journey. And it’s a good one. Tightly sealed and well oiled. It moves along and that’s the point of a film like this. Keep it moving and don’t think too much.
IT (2017) IT Chapter Two (2019) – The kids are so good that they lay waste to the second movie and its adult actors. The kids in the first movie are so dialed in and the emotional component is so raw and lived in that by the time you get to the second movie there’s nothing left but zaniness. How do they top what those kids went through? They go over the top along with the filmmaking. For the most part they succeed in making this as outlandish as it can be (IT is some sort of alien being that’s been here for a million years, or so, we think, we actually don’t rightly know) by doubling back on the trauma of childhood and externalizing what is probably the cruelest assortment of parents and middle-school bullies ever conceived. And to top it all off a killer clown is on the loose. So, yes, it is outlandish in its second part but rightly so. It’s an epic King construction in an era of bloated CGI and muscular film series. You just wish that this filmmaker had a bit of Flanagan in him.
Shirley (2020) – Stuhlberg and Moss’ characters play a most dangerous game. It’s freewheeling and full of insults. A darkly sardonic marriage that swims in the deep end of depression and alcoholism. The marriage is open to sinister ways of making art. It’s as if they’re literary vampires who need the blood of youth to get any work done. They need to twist and shape everything into mystery with condescension and masochism. There are moments of shared feminism which are promptly slapped down by Moss’ Shirley in service of her delusions and approval of her snooty arrangement with her husband. Their wicked game comes first, for in it, is a mutilated muse. It’s a selfishness at the heart of all art. From pain comes art, even if you have to create the pain yourself sometimes.
Riki Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991) – It’s as if Herschell Gordon Lewis died and was resurrected and migrated to China to make his version of a gory, kung-fu, Cuckoo’s Nest.
The Terrorizers (1986) – Does life imitate art or does art imitate life? Or is it some symbiosis of the two? Edward Yang plants himself right in the middle of this conundrum and simultaneously connects these characters in an intricate disconnection. It’s a tome of people who don’t really know each other and don’t know how to even begin to find out this information. But somehow there’s a book that might be able to explain it all. Its author says it’s says it’s just a work of fiction. None of the other characters can seem to live with that reality. Especially the husband. Does everything mean something? Is everything connected on some cosmic level? It’s the wife’s thought that none of it is real, it’s in that notion, that Yang finds his ambiguous take on storytelling. The things we tell each other and the things we tell ourselves are but a braid upon our backs. Yes, maybe it is all connected.
Mauvais Sang (1986) – It moves so boldly. It’s unabashed in what it’s paying homage to. It’s Melville by way of Alphaville, but bigger and more muscular and off-kilter. And French all the same. Poetic and in love with love. There’s a scene where Levant runs down a street at night to Bowie’s Modern Love. It’s a tracking shot keeping pace with him from across the street. Levant’s a twisted-up version of Buster Keaton. His movements look awkward and ungraceful for a spit second before they aren’t. He punches himself in the stomach because he never digested the concrete of prison. He dares a rival gangster to shoot him in the stomach, so as to relieve him of the giant knot in his gut. But it’s not the cold, cement walls of a jail that have imprisoned him. It’s romanticism as a whole. The romanticism of genre acts as a tape worm and he finally gets what he wishes, women fleeing his death by motorcycle and on foot. And they are not just fleeing him but possible the death of romanticism.
Jo Pil-Ho: The Dawning Rage (2019) – That South Korean-intricate-plotting is in full effect here. So much so, that it’s hard to follow at times. It’s widespread corruption with a dirty cop in the middle of it, but unawares of the larger rot moving around him. They call it an unlikely team-up. The cop and the young girl who’s a thief. But it doesn’t last long because the youth aren’t made for this world. And I guess that’s where the dawning of rage comes in. Because we find Jo Pil-ho at the end, stuck in amber in the back seat of a police-car seeing the ghost of a girl whose death is very much on his hands. The girl gives him a smile anyway, possibly absolving Jo. We all know he doesn’t deserve it.
Dead Presidents (1995) – Larenz Tate running through backyards as a teen blends right into him running through the jungles of Vietnam. The first three-quarters of this could easily be a companion piece to Deerhunter. The Hughes get the milieu of teenagers in the Bronx circa 1969 so right, you want to hang out there some more. But then we’re thrust into Vietnam and the brothers dutifully display their own take on that cabinet of horrors. Bokeem Woodbine’s turn as a soldier who hacks a guy’s head off and keeps it for good-luck is deranged and mesmerizing when you hold up to the what the character transforms into at the end. But the end is what lets this movie down. The robbery is forced and lackluster and not very well planned. Even the Hughes Brothers don’t seem to believe in it. Maybe the weight of such a heavy swing in their sophomore effort was too much for them to handle.
Burn After Reading (2008) – We’re at the tail-end of the Bush era. Almost seven years of the Patriot Act. Everyone is being watched. And everyone is aware of being watched. It’s this hyper-awareness that the Coens burrow into in such a black, sardonic way. What is it that we learned here? JK Simmons asks this towards the end. No one knows. We’re just watchers who can’t interpret what we see. It’s an entanglement of wires and obsolete workout equipment. Just what are we looking at here? The things that we’ve made and the games that we play, all the rules have been forgotten. We’re just left with our surface attentions and our vague paranoias, propped up by every spy movie we’ve ever seen. It’s not the Reagan-era, Clancy hero of Jack Ryan we see here, no, it’s the bumbling, Bushy, broadness of mid-level ineffectiveness, stretching out into the long lense of a surveillance satellite in space. We’re all being watched. But just what are they looking at?