Ten Again

May 11 – July 12 

Couples in Crisis. Bend but don’t break, they say. But lots of relationships break, leaving people with only loneliness. The ones that bend are special. Malleable things to aspire to. To hold onto one another even in the harshest moments. 

That’s what half of these films are about. These ten that it’s taken me forever to watch. About couples who withstand the fire and come out, not better, but changed. Because all we can do is withstand the change of life.  

But the other half are about the one’s that break. Those sad cases we all have wish to do over. The thing that you learn watching these films, though; you need those failures to learn how to bend.

Save Yourselves (2020) – There is a groaning idea that all of us have of wanting to be less attached to our phones. Life was a lot simpler before the smart-phone. Information wasn’t at the tip of our fingers and no one had a trouble in the world. With all this info, comes angst and dread and weight of the world. If we could just unplug for a few long moments, maybe the cobweb of facts and figures and statistics would clear and the sheer load of data would be lifted and we could finally breath. So, we think of the best place to do this. To unplug, to unspool the extension cord of details. It always comes back to one place. The woods. A nice, little home you Airbnb, near a lake. The perfect place not to have an Alexis. That’s the idea, right. But maybe we’re just looking at technology the wrong way. Maybe it’s just part of our evolution as humans to incorporate ones and zeroes into our futures. How else will we know when there’s an alien invasion? We need to be ready for this. Fight technology with technology when the Tribbles come for our ethanol. Maybe spending less time with our phones is the wrong idea.  

The One I Love (2014) – Does therapy bring out our best self? Or is it all just an exercise in futility? A ruse to temporarily change a train of thought. This movie would suggest that therapy could be some evil plot to let the id out, and let it run amuck. Ted Danson’s therapist sends a couple to Ojai for an oasis-like couple’s retreat. The place is beautiful and comforting and the couple seem happy for the first time in a long time. But there’s a guest house that stands in for the inner-self. And inside the house are two con-artists. Con-artists of the subconscious. Two people, who look like the couple and present the most amiable sides of the couple, but really have their own motivations. Which is to escape that quest house of the mind and be free. Again, the id taking over the ego. Or, is it the other way around? Either way, the endgame of therapy is to find a balance between the two. And maybe that’s just what happens for the couple. An id and ego together forever.  

The Lovers (2016) – It’s a movie filled with images of people so wary of each other. Everyone treats each other like wild dogs. Eyes crowded with foreboding. Medium shots held for awkward seconds as characters measure and study motivations. Just what does this person want from me, their eyes say. But, all it takes is the right look. The one that says, hey, maybe, just maybe. Then the rollercoaster shifts into reverse and you’re remembering what it was like to be love with this person. To be so attracted to someone you can’t even stand it. Marriage is rarely a circle. It’s usually a straight line toward contentment or ruin. Rarely do you get a chance to loop back with one another and rediscover one another. See the person as new, but familiar. See that person as the adult they are. Because I believe we rut ourselves in the image of first meeting. We find ourselves wondering what happened to that person that made you feel that certain way in the first three months. Ask ourselves what changed? But it’s you who has changed. And your partner. We just don’t adapt. And the loop back is rare but it can happen with the right look.  

Bound (1996) – They’re sisters now. Sometimes the first film you make as a filmmaker is the most important. The one you put all your heart and soul into. The most intimate and personal you’ll get, is in that first one. You can imagine, now, the Wachowski’s as Corky and Violet. Two women hemmed up in a Neo-Noir of oversized, gangster burlesque. Two male filmmakers (at the time) trapped in genre. Two brothers trying to untie themselves from existing yolks twofold. It’s meta, they say these days. It’s a popular adjective to describe self-awareness. To describe something cleverly aware. Most of the time in your art, you’re just trying to work things out. Art is a good space to let go and let the sub-conscious roam out in the daylight. Only later does the journaling become meta. So, it is later. Twenty-five years later, and this film may very well be the Wachowski’s, not at their inception, but at their end. Not at their end as filmmakers but as men. At the end of being hemmed in as genre filmmakers as well. It only took one film for them to get to the Matrix. A film that took a handful of genres and pulverized them into modern mythology. But the Matrix wouldn’t be able to break free if it wasn’t Bound first. 

Someone Behind the Door (1971) – Charles Bronson is so bad in this that it makes you wonder how terrible the director felt about his ability to work with actors. You just can’t get past the utter drowning of Bronson in this. He’s playing an insane amnesiac and he’s rudderless. He has no idea which direction he’s supposed face or go. And maybe Gessner thought a hands-off approach would lead to an interesting motif. Because Perkins plays his evil, heartbroken neurosurgeon with the same matador approach. Just stay out of the way of the pitbullish Bronson. Perkins is light on his feet here, and pushes and cajoles Bronson into the perfect murder of his cheating wife. It just takes forever and once you get there, even the actors are tired and don’t quite buy the back and forth, which Gessner turns into an unending loop of man and woman forever trapped in their own discord.  

Vivarium (2019) – Finnacan wants to dig holes and never get there. Never get to China. Or Australia or anywhere that a gopher could stick its head out and see the endgame. It’s all in the mood he creates. He gets lost in it, and never sees the forest. It’s a sick game he’s created, in a Burtonesque burg, but without any of the charm or humor. It’s like focusing on the bassline and nothing else. What are we to think of this take on parenting? The nuclear family is exactly nuclear. A bomb ready to go off if you’re not prepared. You want the house and the lawn and whatever comes next. But are you truly ready for it? Not so sure that’s what the filmmaker is saying. No one is sure what is being said. Are there aliens in the world conducting experiments? Why the bulge in the neck, kid? We’re given some sort of answer when the mom finally resorts to violence. A literal pulling up of the rug to see what’s underneath. Irony. The father digging that hole for nothing other than for his and her grave. But what did the mother see underneath the rug? Just more visual gibberish. Nothing that understands the mystery of the story. It’s the curse of the cinema of Lynch.  

Miracle Mile (1988) – It ends in the white-hot heat of nuclear annihilation. Sorry for the spoiler. But not really. It’s a new couple in crisis. A newly minted couple. They’ve just met and the ending is just a coda for how some relationships burn. Burn like matches. You’ve experienced them before. Brief and fiery. That’s how some go. And that’s how this one goes. It’s a beautiful metaphor for its time. The Cold-War and its paranoia creeped all through the eighties. When would that senile Reagan finally fall asleep on the launch button? That’s the mania of the time and this movie captures it so well. It begins at the LaBrea tarpits. Woolly Mammoths being swallowed by the muck of fossil fuels once legend. In 1988 they’re being looked on by minds with less than random intent of destruction. It’s a willful evolution toward the manipulation of atoms. But in the minutia of all this is the slipshod nature of human beings and what they call love. Two people who feel the rolling time. Every second of it and choose to care for one another, even though this place they live in is nothing but chaos ending in white light.  

Eyes Wide Shut (1999) – The blueprint to the male mind in marriage. Or any other form of loving relationship. Everything seems to be going fine. You’re a doctor in New York City. You seem to be doing well for yourself. Nice home, wife and a daughter. Then one night you smoke a little pot (Kubrick wafting us into a waking dream) and your wife tells you about a time she had a fantasy about another man. Some guy in uniform that she saw for half-a-second. She didn’t even talk to the man, much less sleep with him. But it burrows its way into your male mind and turns into an erotic thriller you play back over and over. It drives you to walk the streets at night looking to get revenge. Revenge on your wife’s worthless dreams. All the way down a rabbit hole to a secret society. Kubrick has given us the pattern for maleness and why the world is the way it is. The male ego is at the same time narrow and obtuse. It only seeks to control what it can’t understand. Subject to massive over-reactions and pettiness. A man done wrong will seek to protect himself from the world. Even form clandestine communities so they can wear masks to hide their shame.  

Detective Story (1951) – Early on you get vaporized by Wyler’s visual acumen. These seamless shots and cuts and masterful compositions set you in this baleful mood. Something bad is gonna happen real soon. You can see a string connecting it to Lumet’s Twelve Angry Men eight years later. Not just the visuals but the examination of morality in confined places. The putting under the microscope of the fragile American male ego boxed in by civilizations and it’s ceaseless upward and onward movement. And in doing so, Wyler puts front and center misogyny women face in the systems men create. It goes right to the core of the control men seek over women. To control every aspect. Even their ability to create human life and every decision surrounding it. One system blaming the other. A cop blaming a doctor for all societies woes. An abortion doctor is verboten. A sure criminal. But when it hits down in his own backyard, the male ego crumbles. Black and white bleeds together into gray and the mind can’t take the uncertainty. Thank God for criminals with guns. You can always count on them. 

Presumed Innocent (1990) – The overly, ambitious, career woman and the deferring, talented housewife are anathema to each other in this, but they are rolled up in the same ball in the end. Man-eaters all of them. But this movie has a bit more subtlety than that. The legal system is the ultimate metaphor for man’s grasp on controlling chaos. What is law but an idea thrown against the maelstrom of nothingness? A chance to draw a line and say something matters. That’s what the law is. And that’s how the actors act. Holier than thou. Because they are the pinnacle of society. Without the law, where would be? Anarchy. But there’s a better question being asked by Pakula here. Where do women fit into all of this? Do they benefit from the system that men design? No, not really, is the answer. By juxtaposing these two women against one another, on the surface, we find them in the end, nothing but fatales. But if you take a step back and look at it as a whole, we find that it’s just the system that they’re wrapped up in. Where they find themselves, clawing and fighting to gain some sort of attention from their fathers.   

Tower of Babel


Communication is key. It’s a subject that seems to keep rearing its head. So much so, it almost feels as though we’re harping on it with questions not easily answered. 

Questions like, how can we truly understand each other if we’re not speaking the same language? Will we truly ever know what’s in someone else’s heart and mind?

The story of the Tower of Babel may hold the keys to all these questions. Maybe, just maybe, we can look back and decipher the clues to communication. 



Brothers Part 2


We seem at the edge of ease here. Not so much wrestling with ourselves or our pasts but in a place of cool contemplation. In a place where we can discuss the nature of communication and change. 

Because our lives are mostly these two things. Two things that we haven’t quite mastered and haven’t quite understood fully. 

But we’re both thankful to have this tool to dig away at the things that vex us in this chaotic world. 



We finally arrive at ourselves. After talking about our parents, we thought it only fair to turn the lens (or microphone) on one another, to see just how we got here.

It proves harder than you would imagine to go inward into one’s self. To really scratch the walls the ego builds for coping with the world. 

To get a view of one’s self as other’s do can be a jarring thing. But that’s what we’re here as brothers to do. Peel back the layers. 

Ten Again

Mar 9 – May 6 

Lovers on the Run movies proved harder to find and watch than I thought. It’s a genre maybe only popular in my head. It was something I thought as a young man just getting into crime novels that certainly had the most emotional resonance as genre. People who love each other, will go to the ends of the earth for each other. Even rob, steal and sometimes kill.  

Romantic love at its zenith! 

But with this batch of films, you find out that the genre is particularly malleable and love may have nothing to with being on the lam.  

In fact, romance may be the last thing you find.  

Queen & Slim (2019) – This may be the first lovers-on-the-run with a black couple as said sweethearts. I’m not sure if that’s true (I’m proved wrong with a movie below). But this movie treats itself that way. There’s a street-fairy-tale to the telling of this. A first date in a greasy-spoon diner. The girl is bored and in need of some attention, and not impressed. The boy is earnest and simple, a family man looking for his own makings of one. They don’t really hit it off. Enter America and its police. More of a nightmarish fairy-tale when the guns go off and they’ve killed a racist (they find out later) cop and have to go on the run; than a fuzzy feeling of being on the road from Johnny Law and living your own brand of freedom. But the couple does find that there are people out there who are willing to help. The black community has found their Bonnie and Clyde. Not because they’re Robin Hoods, but because they’ve somehow survived long enough to dream about getting away. Not getting away with it, but away from death. Away from the crushing boot of the white American dream. There’s an innocent structure to this movie that is only regurgitating what classic lovers-on-the-run have fed us for years. It’s simple but genius in its subversion of what white’s gave done with black culture from the beginning.  

Villains (2019) – It’s Mickey and Mallory on drugs. Which takes the edge off of them and subtracts a decade, somehow (It was just Oliver doing all the drugs). What if they were just kids looking to have a little fun; on a road trip to Florida? Then you run out of gas. You run out of gas when your lovers on the run. It’s just something that’s always overlooked. Passion gets in the way. The thrill of criminality and loose body parts just isn’t conducive to stopping at a gas station beforehand. We see it all the time. And it’s usually in the middle of nowhere. Here it’s somewhat in the middle of nowhere. There’s a house nearby, and Desperate Hours gets turned on its head. Because the married couple that lives there are stuck in amber. Stuck in some hardened remains of a shattered shot at having a family. The man’s shooting blanks and the wife’s all twisted up about it. None of it really makes sense other than the comment on male virility being such a fragile piece of glass all looped around ego.  

River of Grass (1994) – You don’t always have to be in love to be on the run. You don’t even have to like the person you’re on the lam with. You just kind of need to find a person to be unstuck with. Or to meander through Dade County with, trying to unload your grandmother’s records. Reichardt uses an 80’s indie-vibe-synchronicity to weave a Stray Bullets-like story of lonely people, doing enigmatic things in the Everglades. A woman living with her cop-father leaves her kids behind one night after swimming in a backyard pool and accidently shooting the homeowner with a gun that one of Fessender’s friends finds in the street. The gun happens to be cop-father’s police-issued firearm, something he lost goofily chasing a crook. But she doesn’t actually shoot the guy, so all of this is just futile pocket change that could only happen in Florida. That could only happen to people way out there on the edge of things, wondering how the universe places them there in the first place. 

Thomasine and Bushrod (1974) – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid lives in this movie. Parks Jr must have been a big fan. Most people are. It’s fun and lethal and sexy. This movie shoots for that and succeeds. Maybe you’re thinking it’s more Bonnie and Clyde, just twenty years earlier and more pigment. Could be you’re right. Could be they’re paying homage to both films. But they’re blazing a new trail, all their own. It’s a great look into the modernization of not just the West but the nation as a whole. Like the Wild Bunch, it features automobiles in the world of horse thievery and itchy-trigger fingers. But this one features more automobiles. Like, a lot of cars, circa 1911. It’s amazing how they seem to pop up so suddenly. Just like Glynn Turman showing up as a Jamaican gunslinger, with a funny hat. It’s also kind of amazing that a movie exists like this one. A lovers-on-the-run-black-western. And Parks hits all the right notes (except for the Jamaican cowboy). Max Julien and Vonetta McGee are so sweet and fiery to each other. They’ve managed to squeeze in their own touching and realistic love story into everything else going on in this movie.  

Mean Dreams (2016) – It’s impeccably shot and paced. The kids are a bit out of their depth, technically and metaphorically. It works in this somber tone of a first-time-love always tip-toeing on a line of destruction. And it’s got a mean rural-noir plot at its center, that anchors it throughout. The line that’s always drawn in a young-love-on-the-run tales is more often than not between parents and children. More than just a generational gap where differences are cultural misfires, the older generation takes up the posture of a conquering army. Always encroaching with bitter smiles and heavy hands. There’s a distrust between the young and the old and never the tween shall meet. Bill Paxton plays that poison moat to the most scene-eating extreme. It’s funny, you don’t really think of him as a scene-chewer, but take a look back at his career and he’s that guy. In Aliens, Weird Science and True Lies. It’s usually from a wacky angle, but here it’s a whiskey-filled, venomous wrath. He’s a dark wit curled throughout this movie that’s lucky to have him. A movie savvy enough to know how to use him. Know that the genre needed him. 

Infamous (2020) – An interesting look at how fame is intertwined in the American consciousness of crime. Why commit a crime if you can’t be known for it? You don’t want your work to go unknown. It’s a coda taken to its zenith with the help of social media. The perfect platform for bandits on the run. Instant gratification. A world you can live in and be liked in by total strangers. But there’s one thing you have to do. You have to be interesting. All the time. Or risk losing people on an epic scale. Here the woman is bent on leaving her mark on the world. More Bonnie than Holly. More Spring Breakers than anything. Strange how that movie seems to influence this one. Florida setting and all. Youthful transgressions and all. Especially the exuberance and understanding of current technology and the way social media works and the avarice inherent in it all. These criminals on the run, the one’s that chose to rob banks or any place with cash-holdings, are never really into the money. They’re in it for the attention. For whatever reason, they’re looking to be liked. Or loved. Or hated. Just noticed. Because no one looks in the margins.  

Princess Mononoke (1997) – Humans on the run from industrialization. An unlikely love story. It’s love at first sight for one and hatred for one’s own for the other. The stakes are high in this phantasmagoria of animal gods and the seeping sewage of man’s wasteful energy. Digging into the earth for metal is treated as a disease of mankind in this fantasy tale. Bullets for our guns has caused a great sickness in the natural world. At the time that this was made it was more of an environmental message, and still is, but you’re mind kept help from wandering into what you may feel about gun control. The right to bear arms as a sickness unto itself. A black ooze that eats you up from the inside. It’s of a sort, anathema to the Lover’s on the Run subgenre. Where the men and women covet gunplay. Often times, psycho-sexually. It’s the one freedom that they have. The freedom to wield a weapon and plot your own course. Damn the consequences. But that’s what this movie is about. The consequences of civilizations. Miyazaki has made an environmentalist, anti-gun, Lovers on the Run fantasy film for all time.  

You Only Live Once (1937) – Certainly the Great Depression is the incubator for the Lovers on the Run movie genre. And Henry Fonda the patron saint of that era of blues. The era of the sulky, white man who can’t catch a break. He’s trying to go straight but nobody will let him. Nobody cares really. Not about reforming criminals, anyway. Never have and never will. But like most fatalistic noir, none of it is really the hero’s fault. At some point, someone eviler than you will steal your hat and set you up for a bank robbery. And your life will be just one wrong turn after another. But remember, none of it is really your fault. The universe is certainly conspiring against you. At least you have the unwavering, albeit incomprehensible, love of a beautiful women, who’s willing to go on the lam with you and have your baby. The best part about it is, is in the way that you thank her. You wait till the very end and thank her for loving you. Because it’s all about you and your woe. Just get make sure you get in the way of those bullets, please, and thank you. 

I’m Your Woman (2020) – A strange thing happens along the way. It’s sort of built into the genre. Strange things need to happen. The strange thing that happens here is that the man is present for just ten minutes at the beginning. And in his place a baby emerges. An adopted boy, later named Harry, becomes the fulcrum for a plunge into a neat crime-drama set in the seventies. It’s a nuanced look at feminism and race and the fateful roles that fathers play. And it’s all set against a Brubacker-like-Criminal-world. It takes its time, telling the story through a naïve Midge, a white gal so underwater at the start that everything out of her mouth is a question that Cal, who’s sent to protect her, views as just the many white annoyances that plague his job. And then we meet his family, and the whole story gets explained and turned on its head. Devious strings work their way through this plot. And Cal’s family are well-versed in navigating this complicated white-criminal world. It’s the structure they live in and the one that Midge is oblivious to. It’s a near perfect look at white domination and the misogyny that’s layered in our society throughout.  

Days of Heaven (1978) – The Proletariat Blues. Unskilled workers don’t unite here. They just get used and abused and misunderstood. When a ragged-faced foreman walks up to a hunched over Brooke Adams and tells her he’s docking her wages for ruining wheat bushels, he doesn’t offer guidance or information on how not to ruin bushels, he just walks away and threatens to fire them if they don’t like his management style. It’s America post-manifest destiny. The rolling wheat fields have been claimed and now they need to be worked. A perfect place for a loose family of vagrants fleeing the meat house of Chicago to settle in and look for opportunities. And be surprised by love. And be surprised by the triangular hardships of the open plains. But not be surprised by the crushing and wreathing of industrialism on the move. Not be surprised by that ostentatious house all alone on that prairie. Or be surprised at what malice lurks in that fresh-faced Sam Shepard as locust eat his fields and jealousy rakes his heart. But maybe we’re surprised at the end when Malick shows us that men will keep on breaking the world and women will endure.  

Ten Again

Women on the verge of something. That was the idea of picking these movies to watch. On the verge of what? A nervous breakdown? Possibly. Or just understanding.

I think Almodovar would have you think past the hysteria that a nervous breakdown would connote and think about just what verges women have been on for ages.

The verge I like to think about is the one where we’re at the brink of dismantling it all. I think these films represent that feeling. Let’s tear it all down and start again.

Feb 13 – Mar 4  2021 

Phantom Thread (2017) – Molding women is one of man’s favorite past times. And it’s one of Anderson’s favorite things to subvert. His movies have always been set in periods that are easier for this type of subversion. He’s made films about men, mostly. A certain type of man. Men that are demanding and rigid and not all together that human. They seemingly seek domination over women. Or sometimes, don’t seek them out at all. But when they do it’s always set in the ring of the wills. Always the boxing match of the soul with Anderson. And here it plays out over the plains of love. Day-Lewis is a dress-maker. A master of the art form. A bit of a puppet-master whose meticulousness seems rooted in an inflexible belief of self. Probably placed there by his mother’s love and Woodcock pays it forward in a secretive sower’s intent. But this waitress he picks up in some Ryan’s Daughter country retreat will not be hidden inside some piece of fabric. She will not be some hidden trinket sown into the lining of a coat. She’ll kick and punch and cook poisonous mushrooms to temper her own design on Woodcock. It’s a wonderful and heartbreaking game we play when we play with love. But we don’t always have to play the roles that are expected of us.  

Horse Girl (2020) – There’s some sub-culture I’m missing out on that has something to do with women who have unhealthy fascinations with horses. Not that they’re into bestiality, but a fixation is a fixation. And fixations tend to multiply into harrowing unifying theories. Like, how do you make it from sleepwalking to being abducted by aliens to you’re a clone, and connecting the dots as if one would naturally follow the other? Most of us have some experienced some trauma in our lives. Some of us more than others, and some of us more crippling than others. And sometimes that leads to fantasy. We’re made to think that maybe it isn’t a fantasy throughout. Baena goes back and forth on whether it is or not. At times I don’t think he really cares. Maybe he watched Repulsion one night, stoned, and thought, yeah, I’d like to make a Polanski movie. A Polanski movie by way of Greg Arakki. It almost works and then it doesn’t. It’s constantly oscillating in that nether region of a thought experiment.  

Possessor (2020) – This is some sort of video game, right. Some weird extension of eXistenZ. Some strange extension of fathers and sons. Fathers and sons that share the same occupations in life. Sharing not just choice of jobs they pursue but with what abandon they choose to pursue them with, and sharing the same obsessions over identity and the disconnection between mind and body. Sharing the same fascinations with the horror and ecstasy of violence and how it can be portrayed on screen. Just a general, dark playfulness with the idea that we’re just antic clay. And if flesh is just puddy to be played with, where does that leave the conscious and the sub-conscious? Is the body just a vessel? Just a bag of muscle and bones, and our minds seem to treat them as such. An occupational force that treats the other organs with extreme prejudice. I don’t know if the Cronenbergs really view the mind as some sort of mystical tyrant, but they do have some thoughts on it being a fluid creep. Something that has great potential but will always seek petty violence to prove its point. And what point is that?  

Barbara (2012) – If you think about Germany during the Cold War at all, as an American, you think of the Berlin Wall and communism versus capitalism. You think two sides separated by a massive brick wall and never the tween shall meet. But that’s not true of any border. Here a doctor is sent to a backwater town in East Germany for trying to emigrate to the West. Barbara’s punishment seems just a mere annoyance at first. She shuns everyone in this small town, turning her nose up, at any social interactions with the other staff members of this small hospital, especially a male doctor, who has the hots for her. Because Barbara’s got other plans. She’s still trying to escape to the West, with help from her lover, who she rendezvouses with in the forest for some romantic love play, and later in a hotel room, at which point the plan to get her out of the East is unfolded. But Barbara never stops being a doctor. She grows close to two of her patients and can’t cut the cords of her Hippocratic duties. Even going so far to send one of the patients, a young pregnant girl, off to the West in her place. Capitalist or Communist, whatever side you find yourself marooned; people need care.  

Forty-Year-Old Version (2020) – Is it your best version? The opinion more than likely oscillates from day to day. A seventy-year-old may tell you things are just getting started for you. A seventeen-year-old may tell you differently. And you know at this precise moment that you’re at a crossroads. Mid-life crises tend to happen that way. So, forty is an easy number to get caught up on. You spend the first half doing these things within the scaffolding of just living, and upon reflection, maybe they seem the wrong things, however your moods are swinging. The first half often seems like the side where you do the things you’re supposed to do, whatever the framework of your choices. Which leads you to wonder what exactly have your choices been. And what exactly has been standing in your way? Radha Black finds herself in this exact space and time. She finds herself at a wonderfully funny nexus of reinvention. At a place where poetry flows free. A place where no one can edit you. A place where maybe, just maybe, you can find and be the self you can live with.  

Blow the Man Down (2019) – The shaping of patriarchal pageantry is at play from the very beginning. Or rather, the manipulation of man’s violent power over the world. A little fishing village on the coast of Maine serves as a backdrop for prostitution and multiple murders covered-up. Fishermen are tough folk. Tough men doing a tough job. There’s something mythical about it all. Songs are sung about it. Men at sea are facing the unknown. An adventure into the unforeseen. Which tends to bring back lusty and voracious men. Not that we see much of that here. One incident of lechery and assault leads two young sisters into a secret world of their dead mother’s making. An agreement to provide an outlet for all these voracious fishermen in the form of a bed and breakfast come carnal house. And this is where the movie finds itself in this land of ambiguity. A place where survival and contradiction have a life of their own. The women in this town are wrestling with old ways of survival. Because the old way of men is still hanging around, unable to let go. It’s a complicated surgery, unloosening the ties that bind patriarchy together. But these women are game.  

Nomadland (2020) – The west was once a place of opportunity for white folk. Some of those white folks are still holding on to that dream. The west is still there. Physically. But the world has changed. Amazon is everywhere and they seem to have the only jobs. It’s hard to be prideful when you’re poor. But these people have made this choice to be nomads. To live in vans or RV’s and wander around the west like pioneers of old. But there’s nothing left to pioneer. It’s just beautiful places for sad white folks who’ve been marginalized. At least they have beautiful places to go to; lots of marginalized people don’t have vans or RV’s they can hit the road in. Again, these white people have chosen to be marginalized. Yet, they still seem to be able to get jobs. They still have families to go back to. The choice to live on the edges of things is some sort of heroic deed in these people’s minds. They’re resisting the corporate machine. But, what about Amazon? Is that the point? No matter how far out you get, you’ll still need the corporations. Keep piling on the sadness Chloe.  

I Care A Lot (2021) – Should we just eat the old? Devour them to make more room. Cause that’s what we need, right, more space. And the elderly take that up in spades. And some of them are ripe for the picking. So are irony and sarcasm. So is the viewpoint that if you’re consumed by greed, you’re not that far off from being a gangster? It’s just an attitude, right. Blakeson plays it that way. If you take care of the details and don’t show any fear, most men are just bluster. You can railroad right through with a bag and a bat. There’s two women at the core of this movie that are figuring that out as they go. The devil really is in the details. The movie takes real pleasure in showing us every trifle being taken care of with Hitchcockian aplomb. And Pike is a mutated mixture of Vivian Leigh, Hedren and Grace Kelly and every other blond Hitch used as a punching bag. But it’s fifty years later and she can kiss her girlfriend on screen and be an eater of the old all at the flick of a cell phone app.  

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) – There’s a girl at the core of this. Way down deep in the core. She’s a telepath. We think. Yes, definitely. But there’s a man keeping her captive. He’s a doctor, we think. He’s something and he’s working through something. It’s all very murky. It’s all very Lynchian. It’s all very boring. The man is working through some existential crisis. Some long-ago acid trip keeps fucking with him. It’s 1983 and Reagan is on the TV and the synth is in full of effect. There’s a girl as an experiment. There are pale little children trapped inside Technonauts? Whatever this is, it’s not feminist. Well, maybe at the end. She wins. But the journey to get there is steeped high in white-male-emo-bullshit. It’s 2010, not 1983, and someone doesn’t know how deal with a black president. Maybe. I don’t know. It’s all incomprehensible and if I’d paid for it, I think I would be a little bit more pissed at having lost the time. But instead, I looked at the time every ten minutes and lamented at how impatient I’ve grown over the years. Or, is it justified to feel this way when you see a truly awful movie? 

Underwater (2020) – A woman on the verge of discovering the Old Ones. Lovecraft reigns in modern cinema. The movie starts out with one of the worst teeth-brushing jobs ever seen on screen. So bad is it, that one starts to think the movie might be a metaphor for the mouth and what lies beyond, down the throat and into the stomach. But the ocean has always been a place for metaphor. The mysteries of time and space have always had a deep place to preside. The depths of the oceans hold all the conundrums of the soul. So, making a correlation between the bottom of the ocean to the pit of the stomach is apt. And the movie’s underwater rig set design feels a lot like taking a journey through the lower intestines of a human body. On its way to the black, maw of the stomach. Where the real horrors lie. Down deep where they grow into unfathomable monsters. Kristen Stewart plays the woman on the verge of something well. She’s just enough skittish and plucky to make it through this and then remind us why she didn’t need to brush her teeth all that thoroughly.  

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.