Ten Again

With these last ten I sought out the Detective film. Not the classic Private-Eye or the dogged Police Detective (although one police detective did slip into this list), but the every-person who stumbles across obsession and never quite makes it back.

Most of them are ex-cops. Some are writers and directors and garbagemen and insurance investigators and bartenders and pathological liars. And most of them don’t know what they’re doing. But they do it anyway. They bumble along like shaggy dogs looking for buried bones.

There’s not an orderly, Sherlockian way to these films. They’re messy (some of them are just plain bad) and mostly forlorn and patient and not really intent on solving something sometimes. But they do tackle obsession and its processes of debilitations.

Spenser Confidential (2020) – There’s nothing funny about Peter Berg; other than the fact that he thinks he’s funny. He seems to be having fun mixing action and comedy with a touch of darkness in this world of crime. But he’s not odd enough to handle this gumbo. He’s just not an off-kilter guy. He’s just a dude. A dude drunk on dudes. A real man’s man. Somebody who probably thinks he’s throwback. A throwback to what, I’m not sure. I don’t think he’s sure either. Who know what inspiration he’s drawing from? Is he a Raoul Walsh fan? A William Wellman fan? Walter Hill? Maybe that’s the guy he’s paying homage to. But there’s no real grittiness of Hill’s best work in Berg’s. The latter’s action is derivative and campy, just like his dialogue and characters. He’s playing a video game when Hill’s creating cinema. Not to knock video games but Berg doesn’t even have the decency to consider the source material. I know, you have to separate them, they’re two different mediums, but I’d have to think if Berg was taking Parker’s characters seriously, the movie would be better. But hey, you have a shirtless Wahlberg backing you, what do I know.  

8 Million Way to Die (1986) – Another cop who fucks up, gets fired and transitions smoothly into private-eye-without-a-license-land. The set-up is fine, in a vague, intriguing, Los Angeles haze way. Something that involves a call-girl and drugs and that’s about it. Like, I said, it’s fine for LA. Some mysteries have started off with less. Moose Malloy anyone? But there’s no rabbit hole here. No twists and turns, and not much darkness outside of an addiction to alcohol, which Bridges sells the dickens out of. Well, maybe I’m underselling drug addiction. It’s as dark as you can get. And its undercurrent in this film shouldn’t be tossed aside so easily, given Bridges’ performance. But there’s nothing else holding it up. And Ashby knows that and switches to full-on improve-mode. Which gives us two scenes that are achingly terrible. The first one is half-way through the film where Bridges and Garcia face-off in a rooster fight. All one actor can do is get in the other’s face, while the other one can only repeat the phrase, “I don’t think so.” And the scene at the warehouse in San Pedro (a lot of fucked up shit goes down in San Pedro Hollywoodland) has the whole cast yelling at each other trying to figure out how to end this very bad movie, so we can get to the couple on the beach starting a new life.  

A Kind of Murder (2016) – Patrick Wilson as the Turtleneck Detective. He’s a writer; he keeps telling everyone, especially the flat-top boy from Mad Men. All those clippings of macabre murders and loose imaginings you shove into your short-stories gets turned against you. And Wilson is The Blunderer for sure. He gives his name and address out to murderers all willy-nilly. I mean, he even knows the man is a murderer. He seeks the killer out and gives him his name and address. You want to create a story. Not just write it, but live it. And keep telling people you’re a writer and convince yourself that none of it is real. But maybe your turtleneck fits too tight around your neck and tucking in your sweater is not all that great a look, and maybe you’re smoking too many cigarettes and not paying attention to that guy you know is a murderer inside that Frank Lloyd Wright house of the mind you live in. By then, though, you’re bleeding out in some sewer straight out of The Third Man and doesn’t matter anymore.  

Road to Nowhere (2010) – The director as detective. As the archeologist of story. The director as an excavator of character and whim. Hellman puts us inside another man’s movie. Another person’s art. He makes us conscious of every move being made. Conscious of the mystery of muses. Conscious of what it’s like to create and how volatile art can be. This may be the most self-conscious movie there is without drawing attention to itself. If that makes sense. There’s no flashy camera moves, or scene-stealing acting, just this Lynchian hum in the background of every scene. It makes you wonder what Hellman’s work has done for Lynch’s. Wondering can turn into guessing and spill into tone. And that may be where the connection lies. In those spaces of silences they share; where dream-states creep in the frames and film becomes more an embodiment of what happens when we close our eyes and sleep. Both directors are dreaming themselves into the real-world. Dreaming themselves onto the big screen. Making their own big, Hollywood messes.  

A Dark Place (2018) – A garbageman as detective. A blunt metaphor for the things and people that get thrown away in our society. The director wants us to know from the very beginning that this is Trump’s America. Somewhere in bumsfuck Pennsylvania. No doubt, somewhere in that weird western region that spawns all the doofus quarterbacks in the world. And to keep the bluntness going, Donny is a bit of a doofus himself. The movie never quite calls him that, though. The other characters are way nicer than you’d think. Well, as far as that goes. No one calls him slow to his face. They just preen around the edges of Donny being a little off. Which doesn’t seem very Trumpian at all. He and all those Q’Anon folks would let Donny have it. But maybe they wouldn’t. He’s one of their own. On a quest to expose a learned doctor of his pederast ways. Pizza-gate anyone. Is this a Q’Anon movie? Notice that the cop that covers up the murder of child that was being abused, and may be a pedophile himself, gets no comeuppance like the evil pediatrician, who gets an arrow through the neck from the surprise entrance of a crossbow at the end. I guess we don’t need to wonder what lives matter here.  

The Pledge (2001) – Retirement played out as a long con-game for a retired Sheriff’s detective. Obsession is a long, tormenting worm. It burrows down deep, so you can forget about it, and maybe find a way to live somehow fulfilled. But when it squirms, we come-a-running. Jerry Black gives it a one final go on a string of child murders, just after he’s retired, then seemingly puts the obsession aside and moves up to the mountains, buys a dilapidated gas station from Harry Dean Stanton and plans to fish his senior years away. And over a loooong middle act, we made to believe he has done just that, moved on into his glory years, even though he’s moved smack dab in the middle of the murdered-child-triangle. But the tug that Black feels is not the pull of a fish biting his line, but the squirm of the worm that’s he’s already swallowed; hook, line and sinker. And who’s on the other end of the line? Futility and the random chaos of the universe. If you get enough haphazard atom-smashing from the cosmos, you’ll be left mumbling outside a useless gas station too.  

Mute (2017) – In order to solve a mystery, one must be able to ask questions. The easiest way to do that is use your voice. Going around asking questions with your insolent mouth. It’s what Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe are known for; a swaggering muzzle that’s quick with a quip that usually gets them in and out of trouble. Jones goes the opposite way here. Where Harrison Ford’s Decker was a man that found himself trapped in the shell of Spade’s trench coat in a future cyberpunk LA; Jones’ Leo finds himself without vocal cords in a similar punkish-noir city of Berlin. Leo lost his voice in boating accident as a kid. We see him floating in the water, all slashed up by the boat’s propeller at the beginning. And he’s seen throughout the movie exacting his will over water like Aegir the sea giant. The whole thing is tinged in neo-noirish blues, as if this future underbelly is drowned in melted ice caps. It’s fairly on the nose, but it works. It’s not an off-world, world. The characters are always looking up and not down at a future cityscape. The crime doesn’t go as high as the Tyrell Organization, it stays in the gutter and deals with AWOL soldiers and black-market prosthetics and pedophilic surgeons. It works on the simple wisdom that loudmouths are usually assholes and the quiet guys may end up finishing first.  

The Little Things (2021) – Denzel plays an ex-LA County Sheriff’s detective with tunnel vision. He’s been booted to San Berdoo and somehow wiggles his way into his former employer’s investigation of a string of killings. Young girls are being stalked and killed by Jerod Leto, in a deliberately off kilter performance. There’s never any question that Leto is their guy, yet there’s no evidence. But we’re made unsure the whole way through. So much so, you stop asking questions and begin to think about turning it off. Washington, Malik and Leto are all doing their own things here and the never seem to line up. Malik seems more interested in starring across Washington and leveling up his cool to the point that it’s just ridiculous chic. Denzel just seems bored. Leto, well, whatever he’s doing all, it’s about outlandish choices. The walk, the belly, the clinched teeth-talking and the contacts are straight from the serial killer warehouse on the Warner Brothers lot. At this point the movie is just a satirical comment on the obsession America has with the serial killer. It has to be, right? It’s the only thing that makes sense about this movie.  

Memento (2000) – The investigation as a never-ending tragedy. Trauma takes hold and creates a helix that we’re stuck in until we learn to heal. Leonard Shelby’s condition allows him to ride this figure-eight in a never-ending loop of evidence-gathering. Because that’s where the action is in a mystery. The slow, monotony of wool gathering. Little tidbits that leave you with nothing until it starts to look whole. And Shelby takes the evidence-gathering to a high-body-artform. He’s the Illustrated Man, if Rod Steiger were and insurance investigator in Los Angeles. His condition of constant short-term memory loss gives him the advantage of living in a choose-your-own-mystery novel. He’s a smiling and amiable young man with dementia. You think the mystery is happening to Leonard, when in fact he’s the pages in the book and people are reading him. They’re the ones choosing their own mystery to follow. Leonard’s just the carny, pulling the levers on the ride.  

Disappearance at Clifton Hill (2019) – David Cronenberg rises from the depths of Niagara like a Canadian Creature from the Black Lagoon. And being north of the border that entails a really nice, gray-haired man in an impeccably put together scuba outfit who happens to be podcaster. He welcomes a woman on the shore who’s a pathological liar as detective, which creates a similar experience as Leonard Shelby’s. It makes you untrustful of the narrative and a posits itself as squarely in the trope of the anti-private-eye. The genre is so full of insolent men who have a good bead on things well before anyone in their right mind should. Somewhere between the middle and end they just seem to pluck something out of nowhere with Sherlockian aplomb. But not the anti-detective. They seem to bumble around in their bubble of obsession, knocking things over and hoping to piss off someone with enough info to further the obsession along. See, they aren’t getting paid like a private-eye, it’s not a job ultimately, it’s fueled solely on a haunted imagination. Which is what we get here with Tuppence and Cronenberg. Tuppence having seen something as a child may be spinning her own true-crime stories that have nothing do with reality as an adult. Cronenberg’s doing the same thing with his podcast. It’s a cogent offshoot of our obsession with true-crime and the many media that profit off of it.  

Ten Again

I have decided to rename this from Last Ten to Ten Again. The former was something borrowed and seemed to hang around my neck as something more inauthentic rather than homage.

Also, I’ve decided to mix things up and stop watching with randomness and choose a style of film and watch ten of them. This group is the Bio-Pic, or the Great White Male. I’m kidding, but I’m not. I need to do a better job at this.

Richard Jewell (2019) – At first is seems surprising to get this kind of movie from Eastwood. But then again, it doesn’t, when you remember that he talks to invisible people sitting in chairs on a stage. But there’s gracefulness in his filmmaking. Always has been. His films have always been Hawksian in their efficiency and simplicity of design. There’s a remarkable flow to his stories. Always floating along a river toward that dam of emotional release. And this story may fit his renaissance simplicity as well as any. The story of a simple man, a law-enforcement-groupie, who still lives with his mother, who became an unlikely hero and a more likely villain. Underneath it all he’s just a sweet fool of a man. An under-educated, Falstaffian, Keystone Cop who stumbles onto one of the most hideous terrorists plots of all time. Which is where Eastwood’s silent, invisible friends rear their heads. His depictions of the FBI and media are mean-spirited and claustrophobic to say the least. It’s as if he’s trying to hide his alt-right propaganda inside an old-fashioned-Hollywood-system-American-hero-story. A wink of a takedown of Comey and CNN. But when we get the tears at the end, it feels real and justified and just for a minute, you let it in and feel the weight of it all.

Tesla (2020) – It’s more than fitting to make a biopic about Tesla and treat time as if it were a noose. Time as a circle. I’ve referenced it ad-nauseum. It seems as though I believe in it. But I have no proof. I see it all go by in one, long, slow line. That rope, stretched out taut and lean, with a few knots along the way. One thing a time, right. Not all things at once. As some physicist view time to be. All time ubiquitous. The past, present and future all happening at once. Philip K. Dick wrote a book where an aerosol can could spray the linear way and reveal all things happening at once. Maybe that was just an extension of what was in Tesla’s mind. He could see the future at least. And maybe he had a difficult time living in the present. And maybe the past haunted him. We can all relate to these three states. No wonder his crowning achievement was a coil. So, Almereyda takes the rope and curls it up in his movie, and plays all things at once and yet somehow tells a cogent story. Using the fencing in of things (the coil itself in Colorado Springs, that hauntingly sad scene outside the impenetrable tennis court) to build a visual motif of the prison of one’s own mind. It’s a tale of invention and commerce and unknowable love, but more so, it’s a tale of the noose that Tesla puts around his own neck because what’s in his mind only hangs him out to dry. The things he sees that are a hundred years away, maybe more, are simply that, unseen things, way down the straightened rope.  

Capone (2020) – This is just one long exercise in body horror. Trank digs into syphilis-horror and maybe shovels the grave too deep to climb out of. He gouges two trenches in Hardy’s face and reddens his eyes and alabasters his skin to create a monster. A gangster. A gangster monster. A man mutilated by his own vices. His voice cracks from some deep well of endless cigar tobacco. Whatever reality that surrounds him is made up of paranoid fantasies and memories drenched in infected blood. And rather overtly he’s constantly being compared to a reptile. He is living in Florida. Alligators abound.  A scene towards the end nails the aesthetic Trank has been building the whole time. Hardy as Capone has a rich, diseased-addled fantasy life. In one he prowls his Florida, mansion grounds with a golden Tommy-Gun, spraying his family to death. When they’ve had enough, he waddles away, a leather-skinned, white-bellied monster, back to his swamp, back to his poisoned-soup of a mind.  

Neruda (2016) – A concordance of political and literary invention. Pablo Neruda is on the run from anti-communists. Or Johnny Law, as the poet imagines in this noirish cat and mouse game, that begins and ends as a treatise on the relationship between the people and the state. One is always running from the other. And it’s not a game for one. Not only is it a neat political tome, it also works as an imagined bridge between politics and art, socialism and fascism. What is poetry but the laments of labor, the laments of sensitivity? Which seems to disappear in totalitarianism. The individual becomes a blank page to be manipulated by anyone with a loud voice or a thickly, inked pen. So, it’s not just the authoritarian that’s to blame, but the bourgeoisie poet as well. A drunken fan asks somewhere midway through the film; say the communists win, who will they all be like? Like her, a woman that’s scrubbed toilets all of her life, or like Neruda? Still, there’s a mountain range between the two and who knows if they’ll ever meet.  

Henry V (1989) – There’s an amazing tracking shot at the end; Branagh’s Henry V carries a dead child over his shoulder, played by Christian Bale, the spoils and sorrow and horror of war, encapsulated in one continuous shot. It’s a stamp by Branagh. A stamp at the end of a movie he thinks important and vital. He’s giving it his all. He’s saying, “Hey, look, I can direct!” He’s saying, “Hey look, it’s Shakespeare done right!” But it’s laborious all the same. You may fall asleep without the wine in the park. You may yawn and lose track of your focus. You may linger on the window frame and not even lose your place. Because all these asides don’t mean much to you. The English and French locked in war for centuries is certainly interesting. But what of the poetry of it all? What of the words that speak to you? What of Shakespeare? Once more into the breech. We band of brothers. Oh yeah, that’s all there.  

Molly’s Game (2017) – Idris Elba has a scene, only one, where Sorkin as director, calms his cocaine-addled mind down and holds a shot and lets Elba be an actor who can command a screen. Before and pretty much after this scene, Sorkin seems drunk on his editing. It’s a whiplash of screw-ball dialogue and him as a director trying to keep up with it, instead of letting it play out in longer takes. Not once do we see Elba and Chastain in a two-shot, much less a master. Not once do we get to see them act in space, talking to each, talking over each other, in the confines of a room, feeling themselves through this mess, using Sorkin’s dialogue as a flashlight. Instead, we’re bludgeoned to death with a torch over the head, over and over. But saying that (harping on visual style is petty), there is something you can take away from this. Men are evil. Tobey McGuire is a cunt, and every man that plays poker is uselessly trying to find out what a man isn’t.  

Chaplin (1992) – The early Nineties seemed the heyday for big budget bio-pics and here you have Downey right at the cusp of his stardom. Attenborough gives us a somewhat anemic and shmaltzy take on the life of Chaplin. He provides all the bell and whistles and Hopkins seems a stand in for the director, who fashions himself as the hard-asking-question- biographer, but it all falls flat because Attenborough doesn’t have the balls to get gritty. And maybe that’s the way to go here, because what does it matter in the end, right. Do you want the nitty-gritty of the loosey-goosey nature of the silent-era, or do you want the life-time achievement award version of his life? I guess it comes down to the wider-range of audience. You’ll reach more people with the greatest hits, than the obscure album nobody knows existed. But then again, they don’t cover all the greatest hits. Where’s City Lights? It’s not even mentioned. Neither is Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd, two artists that he riffed off of and pushed Chaplin to what he became. Now you’re just being picky. It’s a fine, somber version of an icon’s life. Live with it.  

Becoming Bond (2017) – Early on you recognize the timelines don’t really match up, but you don’t really care. Lazenby tell his own story here and he’s backed up by the director’s hysterical reenactments. At one point the director asks Lazenby if any of the stories he’s told so far are true. Lazenby says, “Well, how could I remember it, if it wasn’t true?” Indeed. Or, you could just be making it all up. But we do know he was James Bond. Right after Connery. We do know he hadn’t acted a day in his life. A used car-salesman turned male model. All by the luck of the draw. The late sixties were wild, man. Especially in London, where the filmmakers acted tough but maybe had no street smarts. Which Lanzeby seemed to have enough of to bully his way into one of the most unlikely film stardoms ever. And saying that, his life up to the point of Bond, is one of the most unlikely lives as well. A cornucopia of goofballness that would rival Forrest Gump at being in the right place at the right time. In fact, it wouldn’t be far-off in saying George Lanzeby could’ve been on Winston Groom’s mind when writing Gump. 

Crown Heights (2017) – These stories are all the same. Always heartbreaking and sad. Always black men having the red-hot poker shoved up their ass, and always knowing whose name exactly is on the handle. White cops. White men who have no imagination and no mechanism in them to admit anything other than what they’ve been hired to do, which is to arrest and convict black men.  There are numbers put up at the end that say two million people are in prisons. One hundred and twenty thousand are innocent. It seems if you have an approximate number then you could do something about it. I wonder how many of that hundred twenty thousand are black men? And that’s why the justice system does nothing. At this point it’s easy picking for law enforcement. The whole system is set up for black men (especially) to continue their servitude post-slavery. We all know this and the only people doing anything about are black people themselves. Sure, there are a few white folks who chip in from time to time, but it’s the people like Carl “KC” King that jump through the hoops and crawl through the bureaucratic maze to free their friends in a modern-day underground railroad. But it’s not underground. It’s all above board and legal in America to enslave black men for profit.

The Birth of a Nation (2016) – This is an important story. Nate Parker knows that, but it’s too big for him. Too epic for a man with no film acumen. It’s amazing what can get made if you have to ability to sell a product. And that’s what this film is, a product. It’s not a piece of art. It’s not a movie, or a film, or a picture. Now, maybe hindsight is twenty/twenty, but this thing sold for over a million dollars at Sundance. A cheap thing to say after watching it with that knowledge. It’s not fair, I know, but this thing feels and looks like a Hallmark movie. That’s another extremely cheap thing to say. Cheap and cliché. But there’s no resonance other than the moment it clicks for Nat Turner as he preaches. It’s strange that Ed Zwick was a producer on this. There’s a scene Parker emulates from Glory that is just that, a surface homage that carries no weight. A perfect metaphor for this movie.  

Last 10

Dec 19 – Jan 5 2021 

Peninsula (2020) – This time it’s Escape from Busan. And it plays like a more emotional Carpenter movie. Where Snake Plissken is a pure noir character, a man with a name but enigmatic past, Jung Seok is the millennial verson of a tough hero, carrying a bag of emotion turmoil over his shoulder. It’s family noir that South Korea has pioneered over the years. Exploring the ties that bind through genre. More often than not you find children at the heart of these tales. Pushing and goading the adults into the heroic actions they must take. Does South Korea value their children’s capabilities more than we? Probably. It’s the kids that save the day in The Host, not the town sheriff, like in Jaws.  

The King (2019) – It seems an unlikely tale. More rooted in Shakespeare than actual history. Proof of that is obvious in Edgerton’s Falstaff. Yet, instead of climbing in the suit of bombastic theatrics, Michod soaks everything in doom and gloom. It’s more Polanski’s Macbeth, or Branagh’s Henry V. It’s shrouded in shrewdness. The whole film is nothing but a dark cunning. And Chalamet steels himself in this sharpness and it seems all the more unlikely his physical prowess on the battle field. But it works, until the end, when you find he was duped into invading France. But somehow all this heaviness and faux-far-sightedness works. Well, maybe Pattinson doesn’t work. The rest of it is a not-so-slow slide into the dark, convoluted veins of the British monarchy.  

X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008) – Faith and belief are a tangled mess here. The symbol of the snake eating its own tail. Scully’s practical belief system is the yin to Mulder’s far-out-their-faith-based yang. Mulder has not choice in keeping the faith. He has to believe that his sister is still out there. Scully is mired in her science. And that’s where we see her in this story, stuck between stem-cells and a Catholic hospital hierarchy. Stuck between a clairvoyant, pedophile priest and Mulder’s leaps of faith. She’s in this quagmire of contradictions. She doesn’t believe the priest but believes in the foggy, very-beginnings of stem cell research. Like all good X-Files stories there is always a place in the middle of magic and realism where one finds repose.  

The Dead Don’t Die (2019) – Polar fracking causes the dead to walk. We’ve never really been given a reason for a zombie apocalypse. It just sort of happens. You’re hanging out in a cemetery, lying comatose in a hospital bed, and suddenly you awaken to re-animated corpses. It just happens. But here it’s definitely our greed and avarice that leads to the end of days. A shifting of the planet’s axis and a psychedelic moon pull the bodies from the cold earth. It’s a nice set-up until everyone gets self-conscious and cute. Even Jarmusch seems to be a little bored by his own in-jokes until the zombie-killing starts. There he can unleash Tilda Swinton and her Scottish brogue and Samurai sword. He can never go back to those kids who escape the juvenile home (why are these kids even in this movie?) but he lets Tom Waits pontificate his poetry in the woods. None of it seems to add up. Ask Selena Gomez or Sturgill Simpson.  

Outland (1981) – High Noon in space. Except Cooper is a man of the west and a loner by profession in that film. Here Connery has a wife and a kid and is not where he wants to be in the universe. And they leave him. His wife and kid leave him on a destitute rock in space. How lonely must one feel to be left alone in space? Cooper could get on a horse and go to the next town, breath oxygen and let the sun shine on his face. Connery can’t do that. Although, he could leave with his wife and kid. It’s not that they don’t want him around. In fact, they both love him very much and want him to leave that dusty, old moon. Like Cooper, Connery suffers from the same trope. They both suffer from the male-ego as heroic hope. The badges they wear are but a corrupt emblem they hide their loneliness behind. And ten thousand years of manifest destiny wills these men to “do something”, to stand up against other men doing bad things. But Connery differs from Cooper here. He recognizes himself as a cog in the system. In a corrupt system he is corrupt himself. Cooper may not have the hindsight Connery has out on the edges of space, the system was just getting started out there on the plains, but they are both trapped and the only way they know how to maintain who they think they are, is to protect themselves. Or to fight for people they don’t really know or have any investment in. It’s just an ideal in their head. An idea of what a man should be and do. Cooper’s is cloaked in the great sheriff of the west and is still pretty much intact. Connery’s idea is shattered but with a way out in the end.  

Stalag 17 (1953) – Never have you met a more robust and jollier group of POWs. Truly a grand illusion. Because underneath that jovial-can-do-American-attitude is an anxiety and paranoid contempt for not just the Germans that keep them captive but for each other. Who is the rat in the kitchen? It’s Holden for most of the movie, even though you know it’s not him. Even the movie gets ahead of itself and shows us who the real ratte in the kuche, before Holden finds out for himself. It’s an old Hollywood trick to make everyone feel like they’re in on it, to make the audience feel as if they are right there with the machinations of the actors. To feel as though you’re having as much fun as the actors are. Wilder works this technique as well as anyone and then turns it on us. His cynicism plays us all for saps when Holden, just before dropping through a hole in the floor, hopes he never sees any of his fine soldier pals ever again. Then he’s gone with a sarcastic salute. No band of brothers, these men. I guess that’s what happens to the losers, the one’s that get caught.  

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) – Eighteen years before Parasite, Park was working out his own thoughts on Korean, class-warfare. Park takes High and Low and rings it out into the gutter, and then follows the stream into the sewers. Where he meticulously piles rock upon rock, creating a crypt for all of us. Park imagines the modern world as a knotted rope, one balled-up fist leading to another. One errant act following another. Some men are laid off from their sweltering factory job. What are they to do? Get another job? There aren’t any. Plead with their old boss for their job back? Yes. But self-flagellation? Yes. It’s a Park movie. A man after Miike’s own heart. But instead of the world of Yakuza, it’s the world of the working class. And the big difference between the two? Desperation. Those yakuza guys aren’t that desperate. They’re just mean and bored most of the time. The working class are bored as well, but docile with deaf and dumbness. Well, that’s how the captains of industry see us. So, what is left for us sheep to do? Anarchy and Terrorism. Pretty simple. Get out on the streets and give out your red flyers and dream up your kidnapping schemes and hope no one dies.   

Syriana (2005) – It’s all mud. Connecting the dots in this is like sifting through black, liquified fossils. Well, it is about peak oil and the scavengers that crowd the desert looking to build walls around it. And this story only works if there just happens to be a dunce in the middle of it. Good thing George Clooney was free. He’s made an exorbitant living at playing the good-looking dunce. But here, they blunt his buffoonery with a few pounds and a beard and some Farsi. He’s been set up by so many people he that the movie almost turns into farce. Put this next to Burn After Reading and you’d have an incredible George Clooney double bill of dunces. At least BAF had the right idea to surround George with more incapable dimwits. Syriana just blames everything on the lawyers.  

The Unknown Known (2013) – This and Morris’ The Fog of War create this connected tissue of bureaucratic delusion. Pencil pushers that hide behind their service record (in which they served as said pencil pushers) and deluge their colleagues with millions of statistics and memos. Which is where this doc gets its impetuous. The Blizzard, they called it in the Pentagon. All the memos that Rumsfeld wrote in his reign of defense. A deluge of wasted trees. It’s all so passive aggressive until you drop a “they” when referring to our federal government. Oh, that’s when you see those squinted black eyes of Rumsfeld’s flash and buck and Morris corrects himself and says “we”. McNamara was a bit of dissenter, he asked questions that made some uncomfortable, he was political up to a point. Rumsfeld is pure prudency. So much so, that he scared even Nixon. Because what do you do with living, breathing conundrum of a man? He’s a walking quandary of a human being. There’s some C-Span footage of one of the many press conferences he gave as Secretary of Defense during the War on Terror. So many of Rumsfeld’s memos had to with definitions. How do we define these things we’re doing? He goes through a list of word he looked up the definitions to. He forgets one. A reporter throws it out to him. Quagmire. Oh no, Rumsfeld says, he won’t touch that one.  

Triple 9 (2016) – Kate Winslet and Gal Gadot play Russian Mafia sisters. Gadot has a kid with Ejiofor, who’s a former mercenary along with his pal Reedus. That’s all we’re given as background here. Two mercenaries, two corrupt cops and a drug-addled, fuck-up of a brother. It’s all hard-boiled down to its teeth. And Hillcoat is a dirigible of dinge. It’s summer in Atlanta and everyone has a glaze of sweat on them. No one’s taken a shower in three days. The men haven’t, anyway. The first time we see Woody Harrelson he looks like a he’s spent the night in the streets, fresh off a wake-n-bake, he walks over to a crime scene and hangs his badge around his neck. An Affleck (the one that can act) plays Woody’s ex-soldier-now-cop-nephew. He chews gum and watches You-Tube videos of military action in the Middle-East. His wife wishes he would just watch porn. Which is what this movie is, really. Crime porn. It’s got all you’d want in a post-Heat crime epic. Russian Mafia, Mexican Mafia, ex-Blackwater agents, dirty cops and Jesse Pinkman doing his best to fit in in the Dirty South. Everybody double-crossing everybody. The only one left alive is The Affleck. Well, ain’t that some shit.  

Last 10

Dec 1 – 18 

The Social Dilemma (2020) – There’s a fictional domestic story intertwined in this documentary about how our lives are basically simulations. A family struggling with the addictiveness of social media on our phones. It’s not a reenactment. Not now, anyway. Maybe in the future it will be viewed that way. Or maybe, I’m wrong, maybe it truly is a reenactment of what’s already happened. We’re certainly aware that these cities on the internet are bleeding our souls to just zeroes and ones. But maybe what we weren’t quite aware of was how these algorithms are just sentient worms, not feeding on our lives, but predicting them and then controlling them. Dystopia is brought up a lot here. Along with artificial intelligence. One day it will turn on us, like Skynet, and the world will be razed. But it seems that it’s already happened, just so much quieter than we imagined. So, yes, it is a reenactment at the core of this doc.  

Violent Cop (1989) – Everyone has gone crazy. A man says this after he commits the last murder of a spree that has gone back and forth between a Yakuza and a cop. The Yakuza has killed five people, including cops and some of his own gang. The cop has beat up a kid in his own home and run over a suspect with a car. He’s even tried to shoot said Yakuza in a police locker room. Yeah, it’s safe to say, everyone has gone crazy. The thin blue line has been obliterated. An old man gets beaten to death by a pack of young kids at night. That’s the world we’re given. And it ends with a peaceful agreement between two pencil-pushers and a woman typing, warily away on something that could be an ancient computer. It’s time for the beasts of the jungle to give way to the nerds and calmer times.  

Mank (2020) – It’s a story told in a fugue state. Alcohol infused with pathos and sadness, yet Fincher’s most playful film, his most personal(?). You say that because his dad was the screenwriter. But where The Two Jakes failed as a sequel, Mank succeeds as a prequel. Whether it’s true or not, is beside the point. Was Kane a work of fiction? Surely, you can say that. It’s a thinly veiled thing and Mank is just working off of that premise. It even, in hindsight, sets the groundwork for the same structure. Mank is the outline to Citizen Kane. Where Kane was pure, exuberant, transcendent filmmaking, its prequel is the dynamic nuts and bolts of its inception. A wonderful ode to the writer. A magnificent dream of the whole of things. As a writer is always trying to grasp the entirety. To make a full circle of things. To encompass what can’t be understood in the moment. Not to make a line from A to B but to twirl the thing around like a magician’s wand. Oldman as Mank says that to Houseman when he’s finished. It’s up to Welles to add the flourishes. And he did.  

Ugetsu (1953) – The line between the dead and the living is like the fog on a lake. At times it’s thick as stew and blunts the vision, other times it’s thin as soup and only but blurs the outlines. This is where the undone live. Those manic ghosts who are still reaching for the things that aren’t finished. They are still on the plane of understanding what the living world has done to them. Still trying to reconcile the things men wrought. War, violence, poverty and famine lead to greed, avarice and emptiness. This is a society trying to conciliate with its past. Trying to create some sort of harmony with all the ghosts of the past. 

Don Verdean (2015) – There should be more Sam Rockwell and Jemaine Clement buddy movies. There should be more adventures of Don Verdean and Boaz. Christian and Jew, fabricating lost relics for a little Lazarus church in Utah. Give the people what they want. It doesn’t matter if it’s the real artifact, just give us the feeling we want. Just let Reverend Tony Lazarus sell us on its authenticity, we won’t buy it, but it’s the effort and thought that counts, right. We just want to know other people have our backs. And will go the extra mile to show us what we want to see.  

The Headhunter (2018) – Sometimes less is more. It’s a cliché and a sub-genre in movies. You don’t have the money for all the monsters you want to show, so, you’re forced to show less. Which creates and inherently suspenseful artform. It’s self-conscious in a way, but it helps create an atmosphere. Which is what this movie is, sheer, muscular atmosphere.  

The Parallax View (1974) – Beautiful visual metaphors throughout. It’s Gordon Willis at his zenith. We’re given paranoid views throughout. Beginning with what we think is a static shot of a totem pole, put then the camera moves to our left to reveal Seattle’s space needle. People are framed oddly; on the extreme left or right in long-take-master shots. It’s unnerving and challenging but always impeccably done. The final scene renders the idea of a nation’s fractured existence being viewed at different angles. From the stage (the government) the chairs are red, white and blue. From the crowd (we the people) it’ blue, white and red. It’s a simple visual metaphor, but it’s devasting in its simplicity. What a cunning way to show the crippling dyslexia of America.  

Bombshell (2018) – Kate McKinnan’s character as a lesbian democrat working for Fox News is the story I want to see. Maybe that’s a harsh thing to say; ignoring the women this story is about. Because it wades into the gloss and pomp created by Fox News and never really seems that repulsed by it. They roll with the absurdity of it until it’s time to get serious. Which works, but you can’t help but think the better movie is inside that McKinnan character.  

Gozu (2003) – It’s hard not to see the Lynchian curve to this. The absurdity of life and death and sex. The absurdity of what gets off. It was just two years before this that Lynch made a movie about repressed, homosexual longings. Miike doesn’t try to be romantic about any of this, setting it in the male-dominated world of the Yakuza. It’s almost as if he got bored of making these types of movies and decided to lampoon them. Or maybe, looking back on his work before this, he was bored all along. Bored with men trying to out due each other in the lengths of their violence and cocks. And here’s where the Lynchian curve comes back around. Minami has a dream to towards the end. His brother comes back to him with a Cow’s Head as a head. The innkeepers (brother and sister) are off to his left, the brother sucking milk form his sister’s breast. The Gozu approaches Minami and licks his face with a plump, red tongue. Minami passes out and then wakes up from the dream. Mother’s Milk and the Brother turned into a woman. What does it all mean? Who knows in the world of Lynchian psychology? 

Woman on the Run (1950) – There’s a great sequence mid-way through this film, a montage of said woman on the run and a gangster masquerading as a journalist visiting the places, she thinks her husband on the run might be. It’s part travelogue, part scavenger hunt, part marital therapy, all rolled up into a noir. A tight fitting one at that. There’s nothing out of order here. A man trying to hide from gangsters and the police and maybe even his wife, all with a heart condition. Not to mention his wife is on the verge of divorcing him. This is one doozy of a black-eye noir.  

Last 10

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? 

Last 10

Oct 25 – Nov 12 

Exiled (2006) – There’s a door spinning in the air. Put there by the wonky gunplay of three individuals. It’s Hong Kong Heroic Bloodshed at its wonkiest. Brotherhood and redemption are front and center. The duty and honor part gets fudged and messed with in a crisscrossing criminality of Coenesque proportions. Of course, criminals would end up using the same underground doctor to treat their bullet wounds. It’s balletic not only in its character’s movements and camera work but also in its story machinations. Its world is saturated gangsterism. There’s nothing left to do but smirk and be cool. It’s the Wild Bunch in Macao. And we smile with them, knowing that doors only spin when you walk through them and that’s the only way forward. And the only way is forward, but it’s good to remember where you come from.  

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) – If Sarah and John destroyed Skynet, how did they send another Arnold back? There’s a scene in Arnold’s home that tries to put exposition to this but it’s so brief and futile you can see the writer’s just putting their hands up at the multiple-causalities of time travel. But this is the premise of this whole movie, and yet they treat it as if none of us in the audience really care either. Maybe we don’t. Maybe we just want to see Linda Hamilton back being a bad-ass. It seems the whole movie is channeling her. Feminism on the move. And Mackenzie does her best at channeling Hamilton. And Natilie Reyes does her dogged best even if she doesn’t really understand what her role is. She’s given a flash-forward scene into her importance in all this, but it lacks so much luster you can feel her ready to roll her eyes.  And we’re right there with her.

Death Note (2017) – Willem Defoe plays a Death God that looks so freaky and unnerving and yet so much like a mutated porcupine that we’re immediately put in a land of satire. And there the movie stays, on that edge of horror and laughter, with Defoe doing his Green Goblin at its zenith. Wingard rides this Raimi-like onslaught all the way to the end with such bravado and surety that one begins to wonder what’s in store for this man’s career. Ah yes, King Kong vs Godzilla. Checks out. But before we move on to bigger and brighter things I would just like sit in this neon-soaked giddiness and dream of a Lakeith Standfield sequel as L.  

The Stranger (1946) – Overhead shots galore! And they’re wonderous things. Welles always goes for broke. And his overt take on Nazism has aged well. It’s 1946 and he’s already hunting them down. Edward G is the most congenial of Nazi Hunters. Just ask Aldo Raine. He worms his way into this family in the most hospitable way. It’s a comment on how gullible Americans can be. And how diabolical the Nazi regime was. Welles’ character talks about Carthaginian Peace lasting two thousand years and one wonders how time is measured in those wastelandish years. Why is Welles’ character so obsessed with time? Is he running out of it in the most obvious of ways, or does he know something we don’t, in his mastering of clocks? No, he’s fighting a war that can’t be won. Father Time wins every time.  

Batman and Bill (2017) – Bob Kane and Stan Lee are the same person. It’s telling that this film chooses to use some footage from an Interview Stan does with Bob. They are both charlatans living off other artist’s work. Other artists, better artists. People with art in their bones whereas the charlatan has scant inspiration to pull from. But that’s why they’re usually just loud mouths who learn to talk over everyone and become the bully they were born to be. And people like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Bill Finger fall by the wayside. In some cases, like Kirby, your talent is a planet sized motor and you keep creating until there’s no denying your legacy. But with Ditko and Finger, their talent was festooned inside sensitive souls with not much bark about them. And the world, as we know, eats people like that up. Some, like Ditko, end up in obscurity screaming Ryndish tomes to nobody that will listen. And some, like Finger, end up all alone, buried in a Potter’s Field. So, this film was a quest for recognition and turns into a restoration of a family and when you see Finger’s name at the end, next to Kane’s, you can’t help but cry.  

Lawless (2012) – Tom Hardy has never been more rigid. He plays this West Virginia-backwoods-gangster as if they man were in traction. And the film seems to take its ambient cue from his performance. But the film doesn’t fully invest in this. Hardy’s character is a man of few words but when he chooses to speak it’s often philosophical and ethereal, and the film doesn’t take that tone. It’s often at its best when it embraces its violent lunacy (especially whenever Guy Pearce in on the screen). It’s a kaleidoscope of different tones. Shia’s character courts a young church girl and there’s a bucolic lilt to those scenes that often come crashing down into something darker and more perverse. Is Nick Cave commenting on the American Dream here? It’s all unclear. And it all almost works. You almost understand why Gary Oldman is even in this movie.  

Away (2019) – They forgot run in the title. Or motorcycle. One that never runs out of gas. Because it’s all a dream. A survivor’s dream. There’s something about guilt, it’ll follow you around everywhere. A giant made of black tar it is indeed. Dogging you every step of the way, sucking up all the life around it. The message here is murky. But there’s not always something being said. Just something being shown. Which is exquisite with mystery and portent. And maybe that’s the true nature of pictures in motion. Visual symbols to ruminate on and remember.  

Time (2020) – It’s staggering to think about the patience in this family. The unbridled belief in each other. The backwards system in Louisiana that gives a man 20-90 years for bank robbery. Seems a helluva span to yo-yo somebody along like they might’ve murdered someone. Yet, we’re not given the details of the bank robbery that starts this story. It’s a curious omission. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it fucks with the aesthetic of a woman telling her own story. Maybe it’s not an aesthetic but a way of being. Maybe we all know the story and it’s as old as this country and its set-up of white supremacy. Maybe it’s as clear as black and white.  

Looper (2012) – There’s a headache at the core of this film. It’s in the new and forgotten memories of Old Joe. It’s a clever metaphor for time travel in films. It’s just a headache to figure it out, so view it as a MacGuffin and move on. It’s a super-inside Twelve Monkeys joke. A colossal ode to La Jetee. Because everything’s a circle, right. Humans view time as linear. And none of us are lucky enough to be Billy Pilgrim. None of us are lucky or damned enough to be taken off to a galactic zoo. No, we’re stuck here, with our neurosis that begin in childhood, which sticks us in an error loop forever looking for wrongs to be righted. It all starts with anger, living inside fear, living inside a brokenness. Time travel is nothing but an outsized, metaphysical, micro-management. We just want to be in control. Enter TEKE, the ultimate form of dominance. The way to fix what is broken. But what are you doing but moving things around? The trauma is still there. The anger is still there to be dealt with. What will act as a balm? A mother’s love? A sacrificial act? Maybe both when they start and end at the beginning.  

Big Bad Wolves (2013) – There’s only one suspect. Everyone knows it too. Everyone. There’s even a slight head-fake, that on further reflection, seems even slier. Poison candy and cakes lead to the most gruesome child mutilation. Yet, this film has an awkward humor hanging over it. A humor pointed at authority and familial dynamics. It’s a strange tone to stretch into with a killer going around taking little girl’s heads off. You hate to say it works but there’s a Bong Joon vibe here. It’s a tough balancing act and the filmmakers don’t quite get the oomph in the denouement that there shooting for, but there’s something to be said for the pointed look at Jewish and Arab relations they make. Who are the barbarians, really?  

Last 10

Oct 4 – 23 

Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019) – The notion that nothing is real goes down a deep, dark well in this movie. The questioning of one’s own reality gets a meta-stamp in the form of a super-hero movies that leans heavily on computer generated surroundings and action set-pieces shot against green screens. It feels like Marvel flexing a bit. All this controversy over whether these movies are art or not. Or even films. It’s as if Marvel wants to remind you of all the artists behind the scenes clicking away twenty hours a day. It’s a keen flex and those people deserve more than their credit. I dig it.  

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020) – The thought of a woman, or a memory of a woman is forever trapped in a lonely man’s mind. His life could be thought of in this movie as flashing before his eyes, but it’s more of a slow digression into the back rooms of a shared familial psyche. A janitor rummaging through the halls of his forgotten memories comes upon something that got away, or something or someone who is still alive within him. We never stop loving someone. We never end things as we may think of ending things. Maybe our whole concept of endings is all out of whack. What happens to a memory when we die? Does it live on as some strange energy in the ether? But what a horror it is on the other side if it is true that memories are alive. To be trapped in a cave of ever shifting miasmas and phantoms, wondering just what you are doing here. Must be what it’s like to be a woman in this world. Trapped inside a photo in a man’s mind. Is that the modern, malaise of a woman’s strife? Possibly. Either way its’s rather horrific.  

The Death of Dick Long (2018) – Disarming comedy leads to a heartbreaking nuanced look at love and sexuality in pent-up Alabama. Sheinert uses the dirty, degenerative decadence of the Deep South to almost ape everything Jody Hill and Danny McBride have built. But his own uniqueness is there in the Zoo-like revelation. His ability to find a way to not so much to balance comedy and heartfelt-drama but find quirks and turn them into a whole movie is worth noting. Filmmakers like Hill, Hess and Wes Anderson have made similar livings on such skills. But where he had Paul Dano in Swiss Army Man to sell the quirks, here there are some relatively unknowns that do their down-home best and the world is at times David Gordon Greenish, there’s a lacking in the finality to every scene. Making it feel caught in some land of in-between.  

Without Name (2016) – Becoming one with nature isn’t all hugging trees and smoking weed and tripping on shrooms. Although, that’s where it starts for a land surveyor gets more than he bargains for. Because underneath all that lushness we call nature, is a black void. Just the nothingness before the Big-Bang. Kierkegaard is roaming these Irish woods. That may be him as that black silhouette the main character can’t quite get a word with. But if you stick with this till the end, you’ll find that bottomless void lies hidden in all of us.  

#Alive (2020) – When you discover that possibly the last man on earth is an idiot. You may want to stay quarantined in your cute little South Korean apartment while the zombies while away outside. But the thing, the virus, is not going away and fatigue sets in and little by little you start taking chances, until your feet finally hit the ground and you find that here are more sinister things than zombies out there.  

Christine (1983) – Another subversion of masculinity. This time it hits way below the belt and takes away a man’s car and makes it into a feminist icon. It’s an indictment on the patriarchal revolution of industry. The subversion comes in the form of the willful nerd we know so well, Keith Gordon. Who starts off as a bumbling geek who charges through puddles of water in his driveway like a four-year old and just happens to have the coolest friend in the world. So, the supernatural car from Motor City turns our nerd into James Dean in a week’s time. But that’s when the teardown begins. The subversion works because that James Dean persona is nothing but pomp and empty caricature. It’s just a role men have played out through the ages and gets imbued in the things they build. Extensions of a fading male virility. It all comes crashing down in a neat little metal box in the end.  

The Legacy of the Whitetail Deerhunter (2018) – The kid and McBride make a great foil for Big Head Josh and the white-male doldrums. It’s satire, sure, and we don’t know if he shoots that deer at the end, but I guess there’s something to be said for a man in nature. Escaping the long fingers of cell-phone technology. Which is a constant struggle here. The wish to get back to analog and VHS wrinkliness. But there’s something else here besides technology pushing us toward the wilderness. People do it too each other as well. We push each other toward aloneness and the wilds of our selfish minds. Hunting animals is surely barbaric, but do we look at male bonding as something archaic and in need of cancelation? Maybe. But maybe it just needs a readjustment.  

Bacurau (2019) – Colonialism is too nice a word. It rolls off the tongue too smoothly. The world needs a darker sounding idiom for this foul shit the white man has perfected and infected the planet with. An evil that had invaded every little corner on the planet. White folks think the world is one big Most Dangerous Game. We view things as if it’s an issue of National Geographic. We like to go in knowing of our prey. Show us a documentary about what it’s like in a small Brazilian village. What are all the little soap operas going on amongst the villagers? Because this makes the pillaging and death all the sweeter. We’re sadistic people, us white folks. We get bored easily and need newer, more complex things to conquer. But technology has worked against us. When in the past it was the metal we forged and the animals we’d tamed that gave us our edge, but now we have to go about shutting off people’s tech. Make them disappear off the map before truly vanishing our foes. We really didn’t think that one through here. This little village had no play in them. They go to a well long valued as inalienable human right; the right to bear arms. And it’s beautiful to behold.  

The Berlin File (2013) – North Korea as the axis for international intrigue. This is a zip-line of forward movement. At times it seems to share a likeness to Infernal Affairs with its riffing of Woo-like camera-work. But it’s way less maudlin when dealing with the emotional motivations of its characters. There’s a marriage at the center of all this intrigue and betrayal that shines through before dropping to sadness. It’s heartfelt because everything is earned in this movie. A begrudging friendship emerges towards the end that reminds one of another Korean film dealing with people who find themselves on opposite sides of a demarcation line. JSA. Both end enigmatically, with just a whisper of hope that things will change.  

In a Valley of Violence (2016) – John Wick on the range. Okay, that’s too easy. But revenge for the death of one’s dog is a newer sub-genre. Ethan Hawke is no John Wick here, though. He’s much more agitated and mottled by his past transgressions in violence. And Ti West is much more into vague tonal shifts that exist in the Noodle Westerns he’s paying homage to. The actors often seemed loss. Maybe he should’ve dubbed them. West even seems to lose focus on his own film acumen. The actors are lost because he is lost. And the whole movie tip-toes along that line. There’s a hysteria at work here that seems intended but unsupported. It never seems to want to take itself over the edge. It just sits in this place of uncertainty and we the viewer is left wanting. 

Last 10

Sept 18 – Oct 3  

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. 

48Hrs (1982) – “I’m a ragtop man, myself.”  

Nolte’s Jack Cates says this at the end to Murphy’s Reggie Hammond in some tacit agreement that involves some stolen money (from whom is not really clear? The mob maybe?), prison terms and convertibles. The film is a bit of a ragtop itself. Hill is always shooting for the modern western. He gives you the rope-a-dope with the first few shots. Horses out on the range give way to a chain-gang and prison guards with cowboy hats and a big Indian with a prison break. An Indian breaking a white man out of jail. A white man springing a black man out of jail for two days to catch the cowboy and Indian. It’s screwball-action in Reagan-era America. A patchwork of lunacy that’s held together by Nolte and Murphy’s raw synergy. The Buddy-Cop movie some would call it, and its inception, but really its just an indictment of hate in America. 

The Miracle at Morgan’s Creek (1943) – The madness of the American mid-west during wartime. Sturges saw it coming and gives the baby boom it’s BOOM midway through the War. His screwball, hysteria is perfect for the war at home. Filled with local law enforcement and military staging points and the general mélange of people stuck at home during the war-time effort. It’s all psychological, as one character keeps as a refrain close to his heart. He’s some military boss keeping men in line and letting people know the state of the nation’s psyche is changing. Really, it’s just ramping up with competition stretching the frames of morality. Maybe seeing this world for what it really is; a chaotic clusterfuck that has no time for us. Especially the man who father’s sextuplets. A man who disappears in the night to go fight a war on foreign soil. This is the soul of Amercia.  

Cutter’s Way (1982) – And this is what happens to the white male in the end. He loses an arm and a leg and gets backed into his drunken corner. Depression levels out every step and desolation follows. It’s there in the music from the very beginning. It fringes on horror movie tones. It will not end well for a Vietnam vet with one eye. This movie is not so much about the whodunit but more about how the past is nothing but one long lament. A brutally, bleak film set in sunny Santa Barbara. It’s conflicting to the eye and wrenching to the soul. But Jeff Bridges continues his 80’s hunk-a-thon. Nobody wears blue jeans like he did in the 80’s. 

The Kid (2019) – “It’s the world we find ourselves in.” 

Ethan Hawkes’ Pat Garrett says this toward the end of this morality play. It’s just after one of his men has shot a child. It’s a tacit agreement we assume everyone made in the Old West. Anyone with a gun in their hand is free game. And the children are growing up fast these days is a familiar refrain in every era. The stories they are told are written by the victors, or the people left behind with their boredom. Hawkes’ Garrett seems to have good grasp of this. The story of Billy the Kid is the story of Rio Cutler. It starts with violence and end with violence. The stories they tell in between make no difference.  

Columbus (2017) – John Cho and Parker Posey are trapped in a mirror in one of Kogonada’s many long takes. A shot that acts as a fulcrum for how these characters feel and justly operate in this film. Modernist architecture sprouts up over the years in a small Indiana town. Cho and Richardson find themselves in an entrapment of awe throughout. Both trying to find some sort of spirituality in the things humans build. The push of modernity is but a prison we all find ourselves in. Best to push through it and find beauty in the art we make. It’s all we have, really. The notion of control comes in the form of building things. And we build and we build and we build. Becoming trapped in our own contemporaneousness. Building ourselves into a million-little boxes. It’s what we do. We build. It’s our only true gift. If you want to call it that. So, Cho and Richardson aren’t really looking for escape, really. They come to an understanding that the only true transcendence is not rising above it, but sitting in it, and letting it wash over you, and then maybe you can become a part of something.  

Alien Resurrection (1997) – Sexual metaphors are taken to their zenith when Ripley rips out the phallic-tongue-that-bites from a dead xenomorph and tosses it to Winona like a floppy dildo, as if to say, you’ll have to please yourself out in the void of space, I’ve gotten laid ONCE in five-hundred years. It’s hard out here for a clone. Ripley finds herself a lab experiment. When before, it was an experiment of maternal empowerment, now (in this film) it’s a strange mix of Whedon-retrograde and Juenet just of the City of Lost Children oddities. An off the mark mix for an Alien movie to say the least.  

Alien Covenant (2017) – At what point does Ridley Scott give up on trying to explain every nook and cranny of this universe? Not that I mind but this movie seems superfluous at this point. Do we need to know every iteration of the xenomorph? Yeah, we probably do. We can’t get enough of it. We can’t get enough of the creation egg. In Prometheus we were made fully aware that we were just a virus made by giant albinos. Here Scott can’t seem to get enough of Fassbinder. So much so that he has two Fassbinders, one who’s obsessed with perfecting another virus made by said giant albinos, and the other, who’s just a bore. A movie that is just superfluous at best. It’s almost as if Scott is telling us this is why he’s still making movies. Idle hands being the devil’s workshop and all. 

Capitol in the Twenty First Century (2019) – Here we are. For three hundred years we’ve wielded this thing with nothing but hopes and dreams. This is a slick rendering (cute movie cuts and all) of the anguish of life for most of us under capitalism. It’s too cute and chrome-like for its own good.  

Let the Corpses Tan (2019) – There’s so much style here that it becomes boring after a while. It’s so rambunctious that your attention starts to wander. You begin looking out the window for something more serene. Your bandwidth for jump cut is pu to the test. For what? Just pure flex, really. That’s all this movie is. It’s sheer muscular acumen. Filmmakers with something to prove. We all get it. It must be fun to have all the tools of film at your disposal and tell a story you want to see. But there’s nothing here that holds you.  

The Bedroom Window (1987) Curtis Hanson does his best Hitchcock by way of DePalma. It’s hard not to make a correlation to DePalma with how slick and post-modern this looks. But Guttenberg ruins every frame with his self-righteousness. His aw-shucks smile renders everything moot. There’s not a moment of this film that he doesn’t stick out like a clown at a funeral. It’s unnerving and at its best when the focus comes to the killer. When it’s actually leaning into the evil portent of the story. It actually becomes something more than Guttenberg’s untrusting smile. There he’s forced to deal with real evil. Or some film facsimile of it. Again, this film is just a duplicate of a distraction. So, there-in is the heart of Hanson’s critique of DePalma’s renderings of Hitchcock. Touche.  

Last 10

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.  

Last 10

Aug 4 – 28 

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. 

7500 (2019) – Never leaving the cockpit in a hijacked-plane movie is a novel idea. Tensions abound. But it grows nauseating and trite as it goes along. Levitt is game as always but he isn’t quite the actor that levitates things to some other level. He’s a character actor amongst other slight actors and the piece is just a piece and that’s all it is; just an idea, competently executed.  


Bit (2019) – Young women as vampires taking over the patriarchal power structure is exciting at times and a very contemporary, but the movie runs along the lines of Buffy kitsch, and it drowns itself in, at times, in the night-time-glamour-LA. Whatever that is to the audience, I don’t know. And the reveal of the Dracula character and his subsequent “scene” is enough to turn the damn thing off. But you don’t because you’ve come this far.  


The House That Jack Built (2019) – The notion that America is an unfinished house filled with self-important serial-killers is pretty dead on. Maybe too dead on the nose. Dillon being that dead-on killer who’s work of art at the end seems all too obvious. The meandering narration he shares with Bruno Ganz as Virgil is too dead-on, as they make their way towards hell. If it seems dead-on again, it is. It seems Von Trier is saying everything about America at its core, is a bit too on the nose. We’re murdering, misanthropes living in abodes we can’t quite imagine, much less build. Considering the state of our infrastructure and our current mental state, it seems dead-on.  


The Wanderers (1979) – Buffoonery abounds in this look at masculinity in the form of neighborhood tribes. It’s the early 60’s and there’s a massive holdover of style and pedantry from the previous decade. There’s a massive holdover as men as gorillas. Kaufman takes a cartoonish look at young maleness in crisis. And an even shallower look into a dated racial milieu. Don’t even mention the women, because the film hardly does. There’s a small, truncated moment at the end when the-times-they-are-a-changing is blatantly thrown in our faces, but even then, it’s too squeamishly physical to take to heart.  It’s just a tongue and cheek ode to men who still use Dapper Dan and like to think romantically about anything but women.  


Sun Don’t Shine (2012) – Sort of a throwback to the Indie days of the early nineties. It has that feel of that loose telephoto-lense-look. A lot of sweaty close-ups and hushed tones. Simple people on the run in Florida. Voice-overs that aren’t narrations but Malick-like ruminations. Thoughts put out there like poetry. Every lovers-on-the-run movie is aping Badlands and Malick’s ethereal film-language. But here it doesn’t quite reach that exquisite plain. It stays in the muck and mire of base beings without judgement. It comes off bland like maybe everyone is bored and decided to make a movie.  


Extraction (2020) – Children are disposable in this part of the world where the melancholic white guy comes to the rescue. To the rescue of a high-school-aged kid who’s kidnapped for some reason I never quite got a hold of. Warring Indian mobs, right? It’s not about that, I guess. It’s about the action. A lot of long takes. Someone’s been influenced by Gareth Evans and all that Indonesian martial arts cinema. And it’s not a bad knock-off when you have someone like Hemsworth carrying the load. Also, kudos to the Thor vs. Hellboy fight.  


Lucky Day (2019) – Roger Avary spent some time in stir, if you weren’t aware. He was sent up for manslaughter when he got drunk and decided to drive on the Pacific Coast Highway. Somebody died. A passenger. Here he makes prison-life art. He doesn’t do it very well. He’s just flippant and petty and too off the mark with his humor. Is he trying to work through any kind of guilt or embarrassment? It’s doesn’t look like it. Instead he seems to be geeking on his own work and taking sly, little potshots at bigger game (at one point there’s a shot on the street as a car pulls up to the curb and in the background there’s a sign for a store called Quentin’s Dupe Shop. What’s a dupe shop? More importantly, Avary’s still holding a grudge). His time in prison hasn’t given him more of an edge, just more faux loonyness and a need to tell people he’s still relevant and avant-garde-cool. Mostly he just proves that he can still make movies even after manslaughter. 


Christine (2016) – Rebecca Hall is dynamite here. She’s brimming over the edges. Her eyes coiled back in her head like a wolf in a cave with its uterus falling out. She’s just on the edge of explosion. It’s in her every move and every steely-look she gives every man whose motives don’t align to her skeptical gaze. It’s unnerving performance about a woman whose endings have been cauterized at every turn. There’s no place for an eccentric in this world she finds herself in. The only thing she can do is go inward, further into the cave and seek implosion. Seek the only true attention anyone seeks in this oblivious construction, just to be seen and acknowledged.  


Blue Steel (1990) – Before she shoots Tom Sizemore in one of the most satisfying deaths that ends with a man crashing through a window, Jamie Lee Curtis graduates from the academy and walks with relish down a New York City sidewalk. She walks between two women and they smile at each other. They smile at her because she’s got her police uniform on and her walk is just about the best dance you can see. It’s in recognition of femininity on the rise. A prideful knowing of what women are. But there’s always the maniacal male and the systems he has wrought on the world. Ron Silver is that patriarchal symbol writ large in the night. A brute expression of a rotten patriarchy. Not just rotten but perverse and twisted. JLC is doomed to fail as a police officer. Her own father spits negativity her way at the dinner table. This a movie soaked in misogyny. Soaked in blue light. Yet, JLC prevails with her laconic smile and lithe strut. 


City of the Living Dead (1980) – Worms and maggots reign. The conqueror worm is back in Fulci’s mashup of Poe/Lovecraft lore. And Fulci gives you all the gore-goods anyone would ever need. A dead priest comes back to life in a down formally known as Salem. He’s got a real Frank Langella vibe and make women’s eyes bleed to the point their insides come up through their mouths. But he’s real gentle about it. His underlings, newly-back-from-the-dead are the rude and rowdy ones. Choosing to crush the backs of folk’s heads to get to the brains. Also, those alive are driven to madness to the point of paranoia killing a kid with an industrial drill. It’s all madness here, for the Great Nothing is coming.