May 20 – 26
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.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) – There’s a real Haneke vibe going on here. But where Haneke lets his actors breathe, Lanthimos smothers them with a pillow over the head. Taking robotic syncopations to a nerve-racking, Mamet-level craziness. And in a sense, it works for the paralyzation of this family. This family caught in the quiet chaos of this really weird kid whose father is dead because of a drunk heart surgeon. This might be the Joker movie you’ve been looking for. This kid might be the Joker if Stephen King wrote him with a sneaky form of nervous-system-ending-telepathy (But the kid’s name is Martin, which makes you think of Romero’s wanna-be vampire). But it could be just the second film in two years (see Destroyer) that Nicole Kidman gives a creepy guy a handjob.
Tenebre (1982) – The men in this are often well-dressed and wear the color blue. A blue that matches the Rome skies. A coolness the men sort of revel in. They revel in their fashion as an extension of their sexuality and dominance over women. The world is one-big titty hanging out for them to suck on. And literature has long been a place where some of these men have been hiding. Maybe not so much hiding but cultivating a cult of personality through their therapy on the page. But here the night is blue as well. A neon-lit gorging of Gordon-Lewis red spraying a white wall can’t imply a catharsis in this blue world. The writer is after all the king of HIS domain.
Dragon Inn (1967) – There’s a master at work here. King Hu has invented his own language. Or modified one we know so well and quickened it like a punk rock song. But only in parts. There’s long stretches of Lean-like beauty. It’s all so enthralling and never-faltering. A truly enduring, epic masterpiece. It’s a movie of time and relativity. Long passages seemingly take seconds and two-minutes of action can seem like hours. It’s a manipulation of one’s own movie-going prowess. And when we finally make it to the end, confront the bad guy, it’s not what we think it will be. This mad eunuch causing all the trouble is not just some sadist acting out a large-scale repression project. Or maybe he is some sadist, but when he’s mocked by the “good guys” for the very trauma that drives him, it gives him a sort of pathos before his beheading. A grand ending for grand film.
Knives and Skin (2019) – Along with Lovecraft, David Lynch may be the most influential artists in this new century. His awkwardness has become a film language in itself, and young filmmakers drown themselves in homage to his creepy silences. And Reeder revels in the Lynchian landscape. Blue Velvet is all over this neon-lit-high-school-noir. There’s a bit of Tim Hunter’s River’s Edge here as well. And she’s upping the “what the fuck” factor when a clown goes down on a fake-pregnant lady. Or when two girls fall in love and share knick-knacks they hide in their vaginas. She walks a thin line of Lynchian for the sake of Lynchian. But it coalesces in the end. The mania of adolescence bending toward feminism rings true in the end.
Boiling Point (1990) – Kitano pulls a doozy over on us. Bookended by a face in the dark. A young man in a port-a-potty, taking a shit, and then on to play baseball. It’s a strange loop of shit rolling downhill. That young man seems slightly touched in the head. A simple guy who just wants to pinch-hit for his team. But there’s always Yakuza around every dark corner in a Kitano film. They lurk there like violence. In fact, the Yakuza and violence are one in the same. Kitano is careful about how depicts it. At first, we’re not privy to the action, just the aftermath. Bloody noses and cracked faces. A sort of William Wellman approach. But as we move along and the gangsterism encroaches, we see the violence and its insidiousness. And Kitano’s character here is one of his most horrible creations. Beating and battering not just his right-hand man but his girlfriend as well. Forcing them to have sex while he watches and then demanding his friend to cut off a finger for some Yakuza-debt-sacrifice. Our young man is on the bench for all this just to get a gun. Shit rolls downhill. And when he’s finally called up to pinch-hit, he hits it out of a park he’ll never leave. It’s just an endless loop in hell. You wonder where Uncle Boonmee got the idea.
Batman: The Killing Joke (2016) – This is a tale of two people, supposedly. Barbara Gordon and the Joker. But the Joker gets short-shrifted with some flimsy flashbacks that don’t do the Alan Moore story any justice. Barbara though. Wow. She and Bats make love on a rooftop and Bats ghosts her. Strange set-up to say the least. It doesn’t quite play into the Joker thread. Neither does the Big-Brother-is-watching video system that Barbara’s helped her dad set-up all over Gotham. Which is funded by LexCorp. They never go back to this. It’s an uneven mess and Mark Hamill does his best, but he can’t save it.
Dolemite Is My Name (2019) – The screenwriters of this movie have been here before. They like this kind of story. This is Ed Wood in Blaxploitation. But where Burton dined on the details of the period, this one has a glossed over, greatest hits vibe. The idea that Ed Wood and Rudy Ray Moore exist in the same place, an enthusiasm for one’s own bad art and an unstoppable will to get it out there, is a good one. But this movie is foppish and too fairy-tale-warm and has none of the grittiness of the era.
I Called Him Morgan (2016) – This is a haunting film driven by a voice from the dead. A voice that’s as straight as an arrow and diving through a snow storm to some anguished truth. Jazz and heroin. Seems a cliché doesn’t it. Yet it’s just another truth. Or fiction. A melancholy note brought up from the depths of some soul. Only his soul. Lee Morgan’s could tell this story. He just needed a little help along the way. He got the help. But it wasn’t enough. Sometimes we don’t know what to do with love. It’s too much and it consumes us.
Kong: Skull Island (2017) – There’s a real Tropic Thunder vibe going on here. I don’t care how menacing Sam Jackson tries to look; he’s still trying to stare down a four-story-sized gorilla. Here’s another movie with multiple actors doing their own things in their own worlds and they never seem to meet. This movie’s supposed to be funny, right. John C Reilly certainly thinks so. And he delivers. Hiddleston is what? It’s a Bond try out, right? And Goodman is lost in this almost like his voice that seems to be wheezing out whenever he’s not sitting. Richard Jenkins even shows up and kicks rocks as soon as he’s able. It’s just a mess. Like most of these tent-pole monster movies, it’s just kitchen-sink filmmaking.
While We’re Young (2014) – Ambition seen through the lens of objectivity. But what is objectivity? It seems to change with each generation. What are one’s own moral guidelines and how do they hamper us? We set up these rules to live by and by the time we reach mid-life we would like to think we have a pretty good bead on things. But the world is for the young. They do the changing and we mid-lifers have to decide whether we’ll open the windows and let in the breeze. Because, it’s tough to see yourself as not young. It’s tough to see the rules change. It’s tough to see yourself as other’s do. It’s tough to see people for who they really are. Especially in the fog or modern technology and social media. Sometimes the only thing you have is the solace of loving the one you’re with.