Last 10

June 24 – July 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.


Friends with Money (2006) – Frances McDormand’s character at one point, lies in bed, depressed. Her and her husband are one of the friends with money. They have a nice house and own their own businesses. They’re successful and have a pretty good marriage. But McDormand, who’s just turned forty-three, is being consoled by her husband. At forty-three her life is just starting, he tells her. McDormand responds with a sad lament. “I feel like I’m just waiting around to die.” It’s a gut-wrenching psalm that is at the heart of depression. It’s interesting to see this form of pessimism on the screen. It’s a philosophy that doesn’t get examined as much as positivity and optimism do. That if we take all this away, all the distractions that we pile up and construct, that simple reality is still there, haunting us. But in the end, we have to guess, money helps while away the time and the agony. Money makes it more comfortable. We see that in Aniston’s character at the end. She meets a guy with money. He might not be the most attractive man and he may have his problems, like everyone, but there is the cushion of money. Being alone and poor is not recommended in this world.  


Drive a Crooked Road (1954) – The short, ugly, meathead, mechanic as fodder for the good-looking, beach-going, urbane bank robbers, makes for the most mean-spirited noir. Which is at the end of its run here. This is a good view of Hollywood and Los Angeles’ class structure. It’s all based on surface needs. And car culture has never been more of a symbol of man’s obsession with material and where it leads us, than in this movie. Status symbols at war with each other. One needs the other but the lower depths stay, the lower depths. Rooney works at a cavernous underground garage. The criminals that rope him in to their bank robbery, use a beautiful woman and an elevated house on the beach in Malibu. It’s the lure of love that gets Rooney though. Even that is unattainable to the poor.  


Fast Color (2018) – Octavia Butler. She was all I could think about when watching this. And that’s a really good thing to have on your mind. She seems to be imbued into every idea in this movie. A long lineage of black women in America dealing with powers they don’t quite understand. And it’s a power the white male wants to control. But they don’t understand it either, because if they did it, they might not want it. Because it’s the power to change the world. It’s a power to fix old wrongs. Deconstruct them and see the truth in the world’s beauty and bring it back together in an understanding that lasts. The family dynamic is what makes this film tearfully, tick. And it’s in that deconstruction and understanding of where you’re from and what you’re made of that makes it all the more satisfying.  


Crawl (2019) – This thing hits everything just right. You don’t even care when “Apex-predator all day!” is muttered in the middle of a hurricane. It all just seems to fit in this perfect horror-movie-logic. And Aja manages to say something pretty sly about dad’s and the beleaguered white male here. Because Barry Pepper as the father is given no remorse. He loses an arm and a leg and in the middle of that somewhere admits he’d been a real piece of shit in the past and maybe this is just what he deserves in life.  


Three Identical Strangers (2018) – When this doc is done with all its modern-documentary-unwrapping-like-an-onion-to-reveal-it-shocks-like-a-slow-crawl-toward-unbelievability, you’re relieved that the Nature vs Nurture debate is somewhere in the middle. You’re relieved that maybe we do have some say on where we’re going in our own lives. We’re relieved that this reality that we perceive might not be a simulation, where we’re all just pushing the right button to be fed. Well, that’s only a maybe. The other side of that maybe is a pretty dark experiment where the results can’t be seen until 2066. So yeah, maybe you have free will, but you won’t really know until Yale tells you in forty-six years.  


The Vast of Night (2020) – It’s all fancy camera work that screams look at me. While the acting says don’t look at me. Look anywhere else, but not at me. It’s as if Spielberg and Linklater took a walk late at night and ended up in some back alley, giving each other hand jobs. Which is an impressive visual, and I’m not saying this movie is anything but. If you’re dreaming of long, laborious takes with crows-feet-inducing acting, this is your jam.  


The Losers (1970) – It’s hard to take your eyes off of William Smith’s arms. He’s some rough action-figure come to life. He’s got that laconic smirk that shoos dialogue away with the wisdom of knowing words only fail us in the end. On the surface this seems a perposterous premise. A biker gang on a suicide mission in Vietnam?! But once the engine on this thing gets started you find yourself in one the grittiest looks at Vietnam ever put on film. And considering it’s filmed right smack-dab in the middle of the war, the touch that Starrett has here is rather amazingIt’s bug-nuts but it’s brilliant in its chaos.  


Aeon Flux (2004) – This just seems like a bad exercise. And we get that right from the beginning when they try to reproduce the Fly in the Eyelash. It’s just doesn’t work. The film can’t reproduce the creepy elasticity of the animated show.  


Guns Akimbo (2019) – Samara Weaving is fast becoming the Queen of the modern Action-B-Movie. Maybe it’s her hooded eyes or her appreciation for playing it stone-cold all the way down the line. She’s one tough gal with a piercing wit to go along with it.  She seems to revel in the spaces that allow her to scoff and turn a man’s will to dust. With this film, Mayhem and Ready or Not she’s struck gold as a latter-day Barbara Stanwyck, all blood-soaked and battered by the male world, but still ticking out insults.  


Desperados (2020) – It’s very rare in a romantic comedy for the woman to be the jerk. It’s usually the man who’s the child that struggles so much against the tide of adulthood rites. But here Nasim Pedrad plays an unbearable narcissist. So, unbearable you start to wonder why they even took a shot at the intended genre it’s in. Maybe if the tone was different this could’ve been an uplifting movie in the end. A story of a woman trying to become a better person. Here the vapid, horrible woman is played for laughs and goes over like nails on a chalkboard.  


Last 10

June 10 – 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.

Nostalgia (1983) –

“Unspoken feelings are unforgettable.”
The poet at the center of this movie says this to a little girl who’s wandered into this crumbling structure he stands in. It’s a set-piece only Tarkovsky could dream. Some alien land I know I’ve visited somewhere in my slumbers. He follows a clear, stream into this stone husk of a place. The water comes up to his knees. The poet’s a little drunk. He tells the little girl a story about one man rescuing another from a mud pit. When the two men were through with their struggle, that sit beside the pit and the one who’d been rescued says ‘You idiot. I live here.’ The poet finds the poetry in this. He’s a person mired in memory. The unspoken past blankets him with this deep melancholy. Space and time are not linear things in Tarkovsky’s worlds. The wonderous last shot of this movie is a true testament to that.

Loving (2016) – This could’ve been one of those films where they put the violin to good use. Notch it right at ten and pull the heart strings until everything is dry. But Nichols doesn’t do that. He keeps it simple and sedate. But not boring in anyway. Edgerton and Negga are flawless here. The people they’re playing were real people. They were simple people that just wanted to love and be left to do just that. There’s an earthy soulfulness in this movie that builds and builds until the world says, ‘Oh yeah, you’re right.’ These people were mountains. Standing the test of time.

Da 5 Bloods (2020) – The black experience in America as PTSD. The journey that Delroy Lindo’s Paul goes through is somewhat choppy and incoherent at times. Probably a lot like what PTSD feels like. He starts off as a MAGA guy! Maybe he stays one too. It’s hard to tell. Paul is a black, modern-day Fred Dobbs with a great, big ol’ albatross around his neck. The treasure here is gold, just like in Treasure of the Sierra Madre. And just like in Sierra Madre things like greed and ‘getting yours’ turn out to be futile gestures in the end. The mountains had their own rules in Sierra and the jungle has its own in Bloods. The difference here is that Fred Dobbs didn’t have son (that we know of) that represents the great redeemer. Future generations save the day. They always do. But have they for blacks in America thus far? There’s an answer to this question in the movie. Three white, French folks traipsing around the jungles a Vietnam, disabling land minds. That’s the only way to change things. White people have to own up and start disabling all these bombs we’ve built for suppressing other races.

In Fabric (2018) – It exists in some Alan Moore world of the British 80’s. Although it’s set earlier, it has this comic fascist-vibe of the Thatcher-era. Consumerism through fashion is given an absurd horror send up, where witches and a warlock curse a red dress and use it to make cheap labor in the end. Every filmmaker worth their salt seems to be obsessed with the outcome of capitalism. Here Strickland puts together these seizure-inducing montages ripped from old photos and newspaper ads. An intoxicating, occult ritual takes place every night on the television screen via a reoccurring TV ad. A Lonely-Hearts-Club is enacted out through newspaper postings and a telephone service. It’s pretty clear where advertisements stand in the war against the working class. Strickland weaves it in with such a Hitchcockian dark humor. And again, the shadow of Lynch prevails.

Perfect Blue (1997) – It’s a testament to this movie that you don’t know when reality is presented to you. Everything is so enmeshed. Fantasy and reality are one. Life imitates art or it’s the other way around. Just who is doing these killings? Who is stalking Mime? Is her online self her real self? In 1997 Kon nails social media before it even begins to take off. He nails the pitfalls of identity as well. The trappings of fame and trying to figure out if your art really belongs to you and how much of it belongs to those who interact and respond to it. In this age of swiftly, moving technology; what really belongs to us? Is your identity even yours?

Mississippi Burning (1988) – Gene Hackman is a good ol’ boy having a good ol’ time when we first meet him driving into Mississippi with Defoe. He’s mocking the Klan at the same time mocking Defoe’s uptight G-Man vibe. Just who is this guy? He’s smiling and having a good time in the middle of murderous Mississippi. He even finds time to pick up on a married Frances McDormand. We find out he was a sheriff of a small town in Mississippi at one point. And the way he squeezes Michael Rooker’s balls and makes Brad Dourif honestly think he’s next, is truly sublime. In fact, the idea that a movie has great big balls of its own has never been more prevalent in a movie. It starts with the that white freedom fighter getting his brains blown out and never looks back. It’s got a tremendous pace. And Hackman’s scene with Rooker isn’t the last time the threat of castration is used. There’s an amazing scene with a black FBI agent threatening R Lee Armey’s town mayor with a slit scrotum. This movie is pure, toxic-white-male energy on a hot-blooded alert.

Nocturnal Animals (2016) – Have you ever been in a relationship where you weren’t enough for the person you loved? They say they love you, that’s not the issue. You’re just in different places in your lives. But that’s a different kind of love to you. In fact, it doesn’t really seem like love at all. Through rich or poor, right. Through sickness and health, right. That’s what love is to you. Well, it’s a little more nuanced for some. In this modern world some people need a little more pragmatism with their love. For you it’s black or white. You love someone, you stick with them, you stand with them. And when they leave you because you’re not ambitious enough or wealthy enough, you lie in bed at night fantasizing about that moment when you reach success, and the joy you will take when that person you loved comes back in your life and you get to spurn them. This movie is a big Cormac McCarthy-middle-finger to that ex that crawls back to you, saying they always believed in you.

Schizopolis (1996) – Just what is self-actualization? Just where does it exist in the human mind? In Quantum Mechanics they say that by just observing a particle’s spin you change its trajectory. What kind of cosmic telepathy is that? This movie exists in whatever world we’d find ourselves in if the tenets of QM are correct. How many actualities can be produced in one human being? On how many levels are we playing or lives out? Do they all cohere into something that makes sense? Take a step back and look. I bet none of it makes sense. Probably makes about as much sense as that dream you had last night. Was it really a dream?

The Assignment (2016) – The real gender re-assignment here is the mystery. Whatever happened to Walter Hill’s balls? My guess is he thought he still had some by making this movie, but it’s just drivel. A man changed into a woman as punishment is just a terrible idea.

Persona (1966) – Is this a dream of an unborn child? A glimpse into the psyche of a mother unbound for a blip of a moment. When all the secrets and wonders of the universe are known in some cosmic, embryonic knowing. Before the unseen finger indents your lip and presses you to secrecy and welcomes you to the chaos of the world. I like to think it is some sort of template towards understanding something of this world. It’s right here in this movie that I don’t quite understand but know in my bones the treble of some space unknown.

Last 10

June 3 – 9

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.

Bob Le Flambeur (1956) – A great, long-con of a joke. A carefully planned heist that never happens. Bob is a gambler. So much so, he even has a slot machine in his closet. He wiles his nights away throwing dice and playing cards, comfortable with being an O.G. in Paris. Younger criminals come to him for advice and help. Bob’s there to give it, unless you’re a pimp. This world Melville creates is at the same time utterly alien and utterly knowable. It exists in some fantasy realm of American Noir and laissez-faire. Eight hundred million pulls Bob back in the game. A casino heist that Bob plans so meticulously that it rivals even Rififi. But Bob is Bob and Bob is a gambler. He starts playing cards and starts winning, big, and loses track of time. Like I said, it’s a cruel joke of being true to one’s self.

Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014) – There’s some gnarly Neo-Noir coming out of China today. This one is concerned with expendable body parts. And the casual dominance over women’s bodies. Women are trapped and smothered by men constantly. Put into positions and cajoled by men into ghastly situations. Is this about China being stuck in some dream of the past? A nation that still burns coal. The idea of another ice-age coming due to global warming. Women still being treated in this out-moded way. All of this is shot in alternately, bleak, monochrome daylight settings and neon-tinged nights. We don’t see who’s setting off the fire-crackers on the top of the roof at the end, but as the camera moves up the wall, we have a good idea. We’re not even mad when they cut to black before we get there. Another metaphor for stunted progress.

My Brother’s Wedding (1983) – Charles Burnett, man. He crams so much into eighty-minutes, it’s mind-boggling. A black-owned family business is the center-point of this rich tapestry of black LA. A second son who people can’t quite seem to understand. Even his own mother is at her wit’s end with him. Pierce exhibits this aimlessness that no one can come to terms with. It’s something that happens to second sons. An inherit rebellion resides in that position within a family. He’s constantly wrestling with everything. Playfully, with his father and his best friend who just got out of jail. With his soon-to-be sister-in-law and her family’s uppity station in the community. With his own beliefs, that seem to hang on him like that same, unsure smile. But underneath all that, Burnett is trending toward darkness. Pierce exists somewhere between the lifting-up and the pulling down. He sits idly by when his friend forces sex on a woman in the back of his parent’s business. But he visits his elderly aunt and uncle and makes sure they get their meds and reads from the Bible to them. His world exists in two planes. Life and death. A wedding and a funeral. But he misses out on both in the end. He’s a man a part. A fitting metaphor for the modern black male.

Ricochet (1991) – This exists in a world of ridiculousness. A world of rapid impossibilities. But if you acclimate to the looneyness you’ll start to see a strange thing happen. You’ll see this white-male obsession with the black man. At one point we see Lithgow’s jail-cell-wall plastered with his obsession of Denzel, the cop-turned-detective-turned-district-attorney (which he accomplishes in leaps and bounds, maybe a comment on affirmative action; you never quite know where this moving is coming from). And in the midst of this demented collage is Denzel’s head on a female body, on her knees, bent over in the come-hither position. All the white man wants to do is fuck the black man. In ways the white man can’t even begin to process.

Selma (2014) – It sucks to not like this movie as much as I wanted to. But there’s something off with its energy. The quiet moments seem too quiet and filled with a guilt that doesn’t seem to express itself that well. And often times the casting of certain roles seems to stick out and the scenes are all wonky. The whole movie is wonky and moves at a snail’s-pace. Maybe that’s the intention. Maybe that’s the visceral feeling of how things have moved in this country for Black Folks. You can really feel it in the LBJ/MLK relationship. Progress works in centimeters for Black Americans.

See You Yesterday (2019) – There’s a moment early on that’s pure bliss. In a classroom Eden reads A Brief History of Time, her time-traveling friend reads Black and the teacher, who happens to be Marty McFly is reading Kindred. This movie is a great mix of Afrofuturism and New York coming-of-age-tale. The causalities of time-travel blend in perfectly with the realities of what black folks are dealing with on the streets. Police shootings can’t be undone. The crimes perpetrated by the white race can’t be undone. But we can all keep trying for a better future.

6 Underground (2019) – Michael Bay’s thoughts on billionaires is interesting. They seem to have similar thoughts on innocent civilians. Some of them are just expendable if said billionaire decides to save the world. It never occurs to said billionaire that carnage is not the answer. That maybe redistributing his wealth could be a good idea. But that would make for a boring movie. And, I think that is Bay’s biggest fear. Boredom. And people thinking he has a small dick.

American Dharma (2018) – Talk about a man bereft. Every time Morris calls out his contradictions, Bannon just looks like a bloodless shmuck. Bannon claims to understand these complex surgical things going on in America. He claims populism but surrounds himself with billionaires. Morris points this out and Bannon has no answer for it. There’s another moment where Morris presents this truth, his truth, that he’s scared of Trump and Bannon, and the look on Bannon’s face upon hearing this is one of a killer being told he’s a murderer. Bannon seems to hold Morris’ opinions in high-regard and the realization of what this filmmaker thinks of him is worth the watch. Morris is a wizard with his subjects. Here he weaves in Bannon’s hand-picked films and turns his through-line of duty and fate (what Bannon calls his Dharma) against him, whether he knows it or not.

VFW (2019) – Veterans of Foreign Wars. A handful of Vietnam vets, who’ve seen better days, congregate, drink and talk shit. The world this is set in doesn’t feel that lived in. It’s some half-ass take on the world of Judge Dredd. Just an excuse to have some characters who aren’t PC-pussies blow some people’s heads off and hack them to pieces with axes and all other manner of Fangoria fetishes. Yeah, we get it. No one likes millennials.

City of Hope (1991) – I wonder if David Simon watched this before The Wire. It’s got everything but the drug trade. A fictional town in New Jersey brimming with racial tension, homophobia, city-machine and police corruption. Sayles and Robbie Richardson weave in and out of these interconnected stories with such aplomb. It’s a beautiful movie of a city on the verge of collapse. And after a while you get this feeling, as the characters each come to their own threshold, of this grand inertness. There’s a great, big, cosmic STALL in the way we build and tear down and build up again in these cities we live in. It’s just one, giant trap. Mice on a wheel. David Strathairn’s character of the town kook spinning in out of scenes, regurgitating all the white noise and, at the end, settling into an inculcating, chortling, cry for help, is everything humans are in the modern world.

Last 10

May 27 – June 2
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.
High and Low (1963) – A house on a hill. They often look like castles in the sky, a faraway dream to tuck you in at night. Maybe someday that will be me up on that hill. But as time rolls by you still find yourself in the lower depths. But this is something we come to later in this film. Because it starts way up on that hill. It starts with shoes. Women’s shoes. And another corporate take-over, three-years past The Bad Sleep Well. The first hour is a chamber piece. A child is kidnapped but it’s the wrong kid. The police convene and Kurosawa stages his compositions, mostly in a large living room, as a queue to moral breakdown. Mifune’s character is on the brink of said corporate takeover when the kid is nabbed. He wavers and toils over a decision to use all of his money to pay the ransom or use it to buy the stocks to take over the shoe company. A company he feels need his integrity. Which is being tested by the second. Kurosawa places the cops in the foreground in a lot of these set-ups, as a sort of visual anchor toward what needs to be done. And they are sort of a moral keystone to this movie. Dogged and thoughtful and thorough. They take no one’s side, especially the corporate fat-cats who’ve pushed Mifune off his hill, labeling them assholes in the process. They almost seem to sympathize with the kidnapper at one point, agreeing with his assessment of the house on the hill being a monstrosity. Which is what drives the kidnapper to do what he does. Or so we’re giving in the last scene when he and Mifune meet in a prison lock-up. He’s driven to maniacal extremes by uncontrollable economic forces. The poor stay poor and the rich stay rich. Mifune gets almost all of the ransom money back. The kidnapper gets the electric chair. The High stay on the hill, the low stay in the gutter. Then again, maybe those cops are biased.

Blindspotting (2018) – There’s this beautiful but irascible conundrum at the core of this movie. Split-screens galore. The first one is the most effective. It’s the two America’s writ large in Oakland. White America. Black America. So intertwined and yet so far apart. One being the nail, and the other the hammer. The nail being a young black man in the last days of his probation, trying to navigate this new town of gentrification with his white, best friend. At first, the white friend with a black girlfriend and a mixed kid and a gold grill doesn’t seem the hammer. The white cop that shoots an unarmed black man as our black protagonist drives home one night does. And it’s against this backdrop that the movie examines a more fraught line of white appropriation. An appropriation that takes a direct aim at white hipsterism (Oak trees and their one hundred- and fifty-year-old stumps are hilarious and sad motif). And also, in a climactic scene, a direct look at an appropriation between friends. It’s a stunning look at the Two America’s.

4 Little Girls (1997) – Towards the end, Spike interviews George Wallace. He’s old and has a raspy voice. But he smokes a cigar like triumphant, white colonialist. He croaks to Spike that his best friend is a black guy. Then he parades said black guy in front of the camera for proof. The black guy looks sheepishly at the filmmakers. Wallace looks beat down but cognizant that cameras don’t lie. He’s right they don’t. They reveal exactly who you are. A coward who stands behind a paper-thin notion that proximity is some sort of alchemy for your fear. A fear you’ve funneled into hate which mushroomed into fire-hosing and snarling, dog attacks and finally blowing up little kids in churches. No, your alchemy is that you turned whatever humanity you possessed at birth into a cratered mass of moon rock, so remote that no one could possibly view you as a human-being again.

Old Stone (2016) – This is black piece of noir out of China. You think our health-care system is fucked. A taxi-driver hits a guy on a moped because some drunk fare in his car distracts him. Instead of running he takes the guy to the hospital. And is forever on the hook for the guy’s medical bills. It drives his wife and kid away and him to drinking, wandering around looking for a way of this web. Hit and runs seem to run rampant in this city. At one point our taxi-driver watches as group of people gather around a woman who’s been hit and left for dead, and then everyone deciding they’re late for work and can’t bother to help. It’s a stark, raving, mad look at the psychology of doing the right thing or minding your business in this modern world. It seems nothing pays for the person on the streets. We all end up with our heads under a truck tire.

Selah and the Spades (2019) – A movie in the world of The Chocolate War and Brick and O. Teens already adept in the fast world of adults. They’ve built their cliques and fiefdoms and war silently with each other. The Spades is a bold choice for a name as well. For three young black people trying to find some footing at a hoity, white-washed prep school, it’s bold indeed. And the finding the footing here is the key. Finding their footing next to each other and walking forward together is a great ending. Or start.

Monsters and Men (2018) – What a time to watch this. The murdering of black men by white cops is an epidemic. We know all know it. Every character here knows it but the two corrupt, white cops doing all the murdering and illegal searching of black men on the streets. Even a black cop gets pulled over when he’s off duty by his own brethren. Six times in six months. Once a month a black cop gets pulled over by other cops. These white supremacists can’t stand the scrutiny. So, when a guy records them killing an unarmed black man, they frame the kid. You’re seeing this exact same thing happening now during these protests. The police attacking and arresting media members with cameras. It’s like they’re saying no one has the right to shine a light on them. They’re aren’t the law. They’re above it.

Atlantics (2019) – This takes a hard-right turn towards African folklore after about an hour in. It takes forever to get there. To this ghost story lurching towards worker’s rights. Possession in the form of white-eyed-zombified women. They’re coming back to get paid. Men lost at sea. Why were they going to Spain? For work? A new opportunity? It’s all a jumbled mess masked in this eternal love story.

Nightfall (1956) – This movie has such a languid pace. The first scene of Aldo Ray on the corner of Hollywood and Las Palmas, schlepping around for newspapers and conversating with some random dude (who’s not random at all, the guy’s an insurance man following Ray) almost seems like it should be in Pershing Square, depicting a male pick-up scene. Even when things get heated up and they finally go for the loot, they take a BUS from LA to Wyoming! Hey man, it’s just another lovely day on the Columbia lot. I wouldn’t classify this as Noir. With its happy ending and all.

The Two Killings of Sam Cooke (2019) – There’s a James Baldwin clip in the middle of this. Cooke was an admirer of his writings. In the clip Baldwin says that white people have to ask themselves why they needed a nigga in the first place. If he, James Baldwin is a man, not a nigga, then why did the white man have to invent something like that? Cause we’re bereft, as Toni Morrison said. White people are a scourge. Black lives matter.

Unstoppable (2010) – I used to hate Tony Scott movies. I had this snobby filmmaking aesthetic and thought his use of telephoto lens was just lazy and ugly. Then somewhere around Crimson Tide I was converted. All those soft hues behind characters became an art in itself. It became another character. A Tony Scott mise-en-scene. There’s also the total number of set-ups the man went through on a shoot, to create this tableau in the editing room and in the end product, of something that seems a mess on first look but on further viewings turns into a nerve-racking visual poetry. It works perfectly here with a Runaway Train movie.

Last 10

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.

Last 10

May 12 – 19

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.

Pickpocket (1959) – Everyone’s a zombie here. An intended affect. People are just floating around looking for a place to fit in. Constantly moving and shuffling around, fingering and grasping for some sort of purchase in this swirling world. It’s not a crime movie, it tells you that at the beginning. It’s some metaphysical poem to the lucidity of life. We’re all ghosts looking for eternity.

Get the Gringo (2012) – Mel Gibson’s back with his gravel-voice-voiceover via Payback. This is tiring two-seconds in. How does a criminal with this much invention and capability end up in a car chase as terrible as this at the beginning? And then in a Mexican Prison that just seems as the filmmakers had it mind to just dirty-up Disneyland a bit. Get the Gringo is a perfect name for this, though. Get you a white man. He’ll fuck it up for sure.

Fireworks (1997) – Kitano does a number on you throughout this film. He’s constantly testing your linear fortitude. His editing is ribald and choppy, moving like memories at the end of someone’s days. And it is for some. Kitano’s wife has leukemia but to talk about it would bring bad luck. A cruel joke. The bad luck is already here. Which makes you wonder whether life is made up of tossed coins or a succession of choices leading all the way down the line to where you’re at. Violence it swift and brutal here and Kitano composes Bresson-like pauses at the end of shots and meanders here and there and sits in this sweet, melancholy he’s created. It’s story that features cops and yakuza but it’s really about the fragility of life. It’s sort of a coda that brings his late-eighties and nineties to a close. He’s stopping to smell the flowers and paint them as well. It’s a moving overlap of art and life. They are one in the same. All of it’s just human expression. The violence, the empathy, the laughter, the sadness, the sound and color, all just memory bouncing off the walls of the mind.

Hotel Artemis (2019) – Jodie Foster and David Bautista needs a sequel. This movie is not quite half-baked. There’s something lived in here but it’s not quite fully formed. We’re just brushing around the edges. Maybe it’s just the fact that it’s set in the future-pre-dystopian Los Angeles. A city that lends itself too well to this go-to fantasy. Or nightmare. This feels like something that got butchered in editing. There’s a whole thing with Bautista at the end that’s a huge black hole in the film. Possibly a bad cutting room floor incident. But the thought of Foster and Bautista might bring you back to this in the future.

Digging for Fire (2015) – Joe Swanberg’s got loads of something in him. What that something is, I don’t know. He shoots loose and friendly. All of his mumblecore friends seem at ease in their roles. That’s just enough to get the job done. But that’s all it is, really. A job that they’re doing just enough on because they’ve already gotten over on us. You can see it in the actor’s vibes. They’re just on the verge of looking at the camera and winking. Speaking of brushing around the edges. There’s a moment in this film that makes it worth watching. A visual poetry he manages to reach towards the end that marks an obsession as nothing deeper than a three-foot hole in the ground. It’s a perfect metaphor for Swanberg’s work.

Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) – “On your left” has become sort of a mantra for me since seeing this movie the first time. It may be some sort of political sensibility mixed with a general sense of the geography you find yourself in in life. On the left in political terms means you’re a bleeding-heart liberal. But I don’t know if you would ever classify Cap as a bleeding heart. I’d say he’s liberal in the sense that he going to do what’s right. Wherever that lands him. And as the time trudges along in this land of Trump, you’d be hard pressed to argue that being on the left nowadays is the right place. Well, maybe not all the way left, but somewhere on that side, directly opposite of Redford’s character. It’s interesting to think about Redford’s unseen presidential tenure in the Watchmen television show, and tie it directly to the character he plays in this film. Someone trying to implement a system that eventually exists in that Watchmen time line. Cap fighting for an end to that is what makes this one of the best Marvel movies.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – This may be the best argument against artificial intelligence. And they present it with such and amazing villain in Ultron. Often times equally creepy and beguiling, James Spader seems the perfect voice for a genocidal A.I. bent on bettering the planet that he’s just been born into. Although, they do their best to tie this one into the train thundering along towards Thanos, this film seems to stand on its own. In its own unique comic-book world with a villain that rivals the aforementioned Titan.

The Bad Sleep Well (1960) – Kurosawa fits everything in this movie that he can. A gargantuan back-handed business deal is the backbone of the film, and at sixty-years-old it seems as fresh a subject as can be. We get a really calm and calculated Mifune here, at the start. Kurosawa makes you work for it. But you know you’re in good hands. His compositions and angles leave you wondering if you’ll ever see a more expert rendering of fatalistic noir. It’s got this sardonic wit that borders on hysteria. There’s an unseen men’s club called Noir. There’s even a ghost story that doesn’t even seem forced. There are tough guys with guns that come at night and revenge plot that you see coming but still seems emotionally fraught with pitfalls. There’s a deep, dark lunacy here, that ends in the rubble and wasteland of World War II factories. An end so fitting that it makes you wanna tear you own head off and shoot it into space.

The Furies (1950) – Stanwyck and Huston, with their faces so close together, egging each other on. Who will break first? Stanwyck plays Huston’s daughter, and it seems off at first. Maybe it’s an age thing, but it’s not that, Huston’s old enough to be her father. No, it’s something else. There’s something about Stanwyck, a switch she can flip, a smirk that withers a man’s spine. But Huston’s a fast-talking, formidable, daddy here and the whole movie is the two of them bouncing off each other like King Lear on the range. And that’s all fun to watch but the subplot that comes full bore in the second half here is what’s remarkable. They way its deals with land and the white man’s maniacal claim over it. Huston’s T.C. Jeffords is a land baron we’ve seen before, but Walter plays him with such bluster it borders on caricature. But the Mexican family he pushed off their land sees through that and gets theirs in the end.

Phantom Boy (2015) – Would you rather have the power of flight or invisibility? Well, this kid has both. It’s got a children’s book feel to it and it plays that out all the way down the line. A Dick-Tracy-like fairy-tale of a sick kid who dreams of being a Police Detective one day. And he gets to play out the fantasy in his delirium dreams of sickness. But with sticking to the children’s book format they miss out on some real out-of-body examinations.

Last 10

May 6 – 11

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.

Raising Cain (1992) – This is DePalma doing an autopsy on his own work. On his own psycho-thrillers. Stuffing everything he can into ninety-minutes. Every little kink and nod to his past work. But it’s mostly three of his films is harkening back to. And maybe a small nod to a fourth. Sisters, Blow Out and Dressed to Kill. And Body Double if you count the connection of Greg Henry here. It’s always interesting to see what a director thinks are his best or most interesting work. It’s also interesting to see DePalma overtly reference Bergman as the mad scientist of the Psycho-Drama. Not Hitchcock. Whom, DePalma has paid homage to diligently in the past (remaking Vertigo with Obsession). But he seems to run out of steam with his multi-leveled Eisenstein-steps routine at the end. Even DePalma seems tired of the schtick for now.

The American Soldier (1970) – It’s amazing to see Noir come full circle here. It started with German Expressionism and ends with a spectacular slow-motion finale that leaves you with the notion that existed all along in Noir. That under all those shadows and lights and tough guy acts of murder and misogyny, is that it’s all just homoerotic foreplay.

Fits and Starts (2016) – Putting yourself out there is difficult. It can be an almost crippling thought at times. To expose yourself and your art can seem counter-productive. Art can be like keeping a diary at times, and to open that up to others can be a lot like a teenage girl yelling at her mother for going through her drawers. It’s an incredible psychological leap to make. One that involves the acceptance of being torn down when what you may only be committed to is opening up. It’s a conundrum you have to come to in your own time and in your own way. And if you get there or you don’t, you’ll always have the place where the art comes from. It will always be a place where no one but you can touch.

Depraved (2019) – I kept thinking about Roger Avary’s Mr. Stitch when watching this. These two movies have some similarities other than being modern takes on the Frankenstein mythos. Mr. Stitch was hard to find back in the mid-90’s. Avary’s follow-up to Killing Zoe went straight to video. But it shares the same set-up as Fessenden’s Frankenstein. Specifically, the modern war metaphor. Troops coming home in pieces. A doctor, for whatever personal reasons, wants to create a superior modern man. Avary had Rutger Hauer go to waist in his film. Fessender does his best, and somewhat succeeds, with no-names. But the resemblance of the two-movies is uncanny. I wouldn’t put it past Fessender to do a remake of an obscure Roger Avary film, though.

Mayhem (2017) – This a completely cathartic quarantine movie. Early on they tell you it’s a law firm, but you get this sublime feeling that it could be any corporation in anywhere USA. They present this slickness that we all collectively imagine or can relate to if you’ve worked in that setting. It’s seamless integration into the filmmaking is a joy to watch. I guess that’s what you can say about Joe Lynch. He’s a slick technician. And it’s well-suited here. Steve Yuen is so good here. He’s all of us mired and entangled in whatever life we’ve chosen and are locked and loaded and ready to fucking go nuclear. And he’s got great chemistry with Weaver. She’s a revelation. While watching this it occurred to me this could be an instant action/comedy classic. Only time will tell.

Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) – It’s a bit eerie that Lewis and Romero are both from Pittsburgh. What’s in the water in that town?
There are groups of people who live in the South still brandishing Confederate flags (hell, all over the country, really. Trump has exposed that), in fact, having saved their Dixie Cups (whatever those are) and have indeed risen again (in a sense). I grew up in Louisiana and this sentiment was rare but often times glowering like a thick fog around Confederate monuments. In fact, when I was kid, one of the trips we’d make almost yearly was to Vicksburg. About an hour east of where I grew up, just across the Mighty Mississippi. You take this tour in your car and tune into a radio station and stop at each marker, the station describing the action. It takes you all day, the battlefield being so vast, the strategies so deep and encumbering. And at some point, you make it to this mausoleum high on a hill that overlooks this too green valley, the beauty of the spot snatches your breath away and you wonder how anything so horrific could happen in this place. But like James Lee Burke wrote, you stand in a place like this long enough an electric mist moves in and you find yourself standing there with the Confederate dead. That old ball and chain.

I like to think that Lewis has stood in that spot in Vicksburg or a place like it (hell, maybe Gettysburg) and let his loony sense of humor run free.

The Hellbenders (1967) – Somebody should write a book (RDJ as Paul Avery in Zodiac whispers “Yeah, somebody should write a fucking book”). Coffins and Corbucci as the title. In this film and in Django the coffin figures as a harbinger. Of death? Too easy. Yes, death is involved, but it’s more of a comment on the means at which the deadly scythe finally gets to us. In Django, it’s a hiding place for a horrible modernity on the horizon. In Hellbenders, it’s a mixed bag of avarice, racism and misogyny coming home to roost. A Confederate patriarchy gets what’s coming to it on a cracked, sheet of mud.
It’s fun to see Corbucci beat Leone to the punch in his casting of Joseph Cotton. Another aging leading man with shockingly blue-gray eyes, turned villain.

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018) – Once you get over the Ted Turner-colorization your left with just Peter Jackson in his garage playing with his Weta-sized photo shop. It was a terrible and horrific war, yes. What’s it to you to put color to old film-stock? It means that much to people to bring color to death. I don’t get it.

The Squid and the Whale (2005) – It’s the younger son that hits us in the gut. The beer-drinking, whiskey-swilling, Mini-McEnroe, who takes his mother’s side in this dissolution of a marriage and family. Maybe it’s his age, young boys love their mothers, but he sees his mom as a human being with normal wants and needs. He’s willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. The older son and the father-as-a-victim just view her as a slutty homewrecker. Linney plays the mom with a soulful flightiness. Daniels dad is maybe the best representation of oblivious, white-male, elitism put on film. The mother might have taken the first steps to end the marriage but it was the father that set the thing to rot a long time ago with his bloated, buffoonish, bullying, bipedal propping up of himself. And when Eisenberg finally remembers who is mother is, he seeks out that one memory, that one reminder, that one illumination, that all life is essentially a tightrope of hunger and pain. That every creature is asking the same questions. How do I eat and not get eaten in the process?

Haywire (2011) – Bill Paxton plays Carano’s father, as some Tom Clancy like figure. Was he a soldier once? We don’t know. We just know he writes thousand-page, military novels and lives in a large house in New Mexico. Where a strange moment occurs in the midst of an ambush gone wrong. Soderbergh choses to put the camera on Paxton, as the father, watching his daughter kill. It’s an arresting moment of the white-male gaze. The realization of what has been held back for so long, is suddenly bursting through, in all these fight scenes that Carano is immaculate in. She someone’s daughter, yes. Someone’s lover, yes. Someone’s grim-reaper, most definitely.

Last 10

Apr 28 – May 5

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.

Ms. Purple (2019) – The palm tree as a metaphor. Things are light as a feather in this movie but played for depth. It doesn’t work at all, really. The mom leaves them when they’re little tikes because, what, the dad doesn’t make enough money? And the dad is sick now, bedridden, but what’s wrong with him? Lovesick? Maybe. The two guys that wrote this probably grew up in or near Koreatown but the only thing we get is the somewhat pale, underbelly of the karaoke scene.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) – The American West is a wacky place. Or so it is for Cimino in the early 70’s. It starts in a church and ends in a school. Both look similar as stark white, symbols of steadiness and progression of manifest destiny into the west. But turned inside out here. Old bank robber buddies will shoot up a church and hide the stolen money behind the blackboard in a frontier school house. The sanctity of these places is all gone the way of bygone relics, moved across town for tourists to visit while they imagine what it was like to be Kit Carson. It’s all downhill from here. Just ask Dub Taylor. That old, ornery, station attendant. He’s got his finger on the pulse of hot-rodding, gas-guzzling America. We can’t slow down for fear of falling down. What is left to do when the land is conquered? What is left, is the lunacy under it all. What is left, is the money and guns made of war. There’s nothing left for them to do but to turn on each other.

Red Beard (1965) – Sickness is all tied up in one’s story and where they come from, where they’ve been. What got them to this point in their lives? In this movie Kurosawa seeks to entangle the doctors to the stories of sick patients. They’re not just doctors but therapists. You can’t treat the sickness without knowing where the mind is situated. And these stories are of the sad and the poor. Of devastation and destruction. Of earthquakes and poison and rape. Mifune as Red Beard teaches a Socratic method of patience and kindness and a subtle manipulation of the local politics. He’s got no remorse for an over-eating, rich businessman, but prescribes him a diet anyway. When a local madam is abusing a young girl, he does some brutal, bone-protruding damage to her sicced-on thugs, then immediately feels terrible about it and begins to treat them. And the abused young girl becomes the epidemy of his ideas of medical treatment. With enough kindness and patience, everyone is worth it. It’s hard work as Yasumoto finds out. But, possibly, maybe the only way to go.

Minority Report (2002) – I don’t know if you read Quentin Tarantino’s movie reviews over on his New Beverly sight, but you should, they’re really good. But he’s got this thing about obscureness. Or obscure to you and me, just simple movie going knowingness to him. He pulls these directors out of his ass and acts as if it’s on you that you don’t know this guy’s work. Well, it is. You should know all this shit, and it pains you that you don’t. Anyway, he’s got this boner for an old director named William Whitney. A guy who directed a bunch of TV and film you’ve never heard of, but what he was known for was his action set-pieces. Known famously (Tarantino likes to drop names, like you don’t already know he’s famous himself and works IN the business, you might’ve heard of him, he’s pretty big) by Burt Reynolds as a director who if things were faltering with a line reading, would just say fuck it, punch the guy. He’d add a fist fight instead of working out the dialogue. This feels like Spielberg a bit. But more in the line of keeping a muscle loose. An action muscle he likes to keep in shape. There’s a scene early on where he flexes it. But it looks a lot like something you’ve seen in his work before. Something he’s been rehashing since Raiders. There’s a conundrum in the source material he explores in fits and burst in this movie but you can tell he just wants to grab the dumb bell and splice in the old fist fight. It’s truly a director at odds with himself.

Mystic River (2003) – Here’s another movie that seems at odds to itself. Old crimes intersect with new. But everyone seems like they’re in their own movie. Robbins in some haunted vampire movie, Penn in some gangster-gone-straight-being-pulled-back-in and Bacon and Fishburne are in a buddy cop movie. Which is fine, if all of it didn’t bounce of each other with such deadness. Eastwood is at his best when directing down the line, one note, somber pieces. You’d think that would be the case with this, the subject matter and all, but the Bacon and Fishburne scenes are so good that they put every other scene to shame. They stick out and make the fragile moments all the emptier.

Shazam! (2019) – Magic is a form of family therapy. The film embraces magic full on and never lets it go. There’s nothing more magical in this move than the foster family that Billy Batson gets sent to early on. Maybe they exist somewhere in the world like this, but it’s got to be few and far between. But it’s an enchanting set-up for lost kid like Batson. But I don’t know if always rings true. Especially in the performances. At times, Levy and Angel seem at odd as Batson. So much so that it becomes a distraction.

Borg vs McEnroe (2017) – It’s a curious thing to find out that there was a little McEnroe inside Borg. A little brat who hates to lose. There’s an angry defiance in people who are as competitive as this. And pressures are piled upon pressures until they boil over. This is an incredible look into such a solitary pursuit that is tennis. An incredible look into the suffocation of fame and the utter immobility of it at times.

Daniel Isn’t Real (2019) – But he really is real. Right? From that beautiful swirling mass in space at the beginning, we’re to take that cosmic forces are at play. (Boy, has there ever been a better time for Cosmic Horror?) The answer is no, there hasn’t been a better time. It’s seems to have cascaded down from the first season of True Detective and it’s regurgitating of Thacker and Ligotti and landed firmly in the sub-genres of revenge and psychological horror. Which is where Daniel fits in. Into some hybrid of Craven-Cronenberg body horror where the notion of mental illness is literally something that stretches your mouth open so it can crawl inside and infect you. Consistently creepy piece of work.

Honey Boy (2019) – There are strings attached to all of us. Pulling us back in time. Forever pulling us back amongst the memories. The memories that often times suffocate and illuminate us equally. Stretching just around the corner, or seemingly going back forever, through space and time. The ones that are more immediate usually lead to our parents. Fathers for the most part always want sons. It’s an ancient longing to keep the genes and memories alive. A string that goes back a long way. But that more immediate thread that links father to son is fraught with psychological pitfalls and past damages. There’s a weight here in this movie of a man failed. Otis is a young artist with the weight of his father’s failed artistry slung around his neck and the way forward is not just a deep dive into his own consciousness but of one that he shares with his father. It’s never an easy reconciliation with abusive parents who hoist their own failings upon you. But maybe, just maybe you can cut the cord and get that chicken off your back.

Swiss Army Man (2016) – Towards the end it doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. But at the same time, it’s funny as hell. It’s one long fart joke. The ability to sustain such a joke is staggering and inventive. A tale about a man so sequestered within himself, so cripplingly closed off that he has to lose himself in the woods behind an unrequited love’s house and co-opt a washed-up dead body as a best friend just so he can learn to fart in front of people. Because farts are funny. And if you can let yourself go just enough, maybe you’ll make someone laugh and your life will change.

Last 10

Apr 20 – 27
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.
Dark Phoenix (2019) – Why are the aliens in this movie so sinister? What’s their deal, man? Since the onslaught of the comic-book movie, never has there been a weaker set of character’s walking around, dead-eyed and monotone than these. These movies are proving more and more that the artists behind the CGI are why we’re watching these funhouse horrors. It’s definitely not for the actors.

Human Desire (1954) – Gloria Graham’s character lives near a railroad depot and her husband works for the railroad. He’s big bruising, boozing Broderick Crawford. He’s no good. None of the men are in this movie, really. Not even Grinning Glenn Ford. Even though at the end, the film tries to make his decision not to murder Crawford, a noble one. He’s just as weak as the rest of them. Even his buddy Edgar Buchanan is just a misogynist of the times, coating everything with a jolly laugh. Lang frames Graham’s character as a femme-fatale, but he subverts that trope by giving her some room to move. Her explanations make sense, even to a wily Ford. She’s been groped at and prodded and beaten on since she was sixteen. She’s been fighting and clawing her whole life. You don’t really blame her for doing what’s she’s done. And when she meets her end on that train, you blame every man that ever lived.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) – It’s starts off with an almost menacing tone. A Mario Bava-like-feel on these hazardous cliffs. The two women standing there on the edge of the bluff, framed by Sciamma in this overlapping profile, their heads turning to look at each other at a frantic pace, bordering on possession. In a sense, it is a possession. This movie and it’s ideas. That feeling of the overlapping of love and art. Art as the only means to an expression of something taboo. And in that sharing of the forbidden, there are intersecting lines of devastating beauty and bottomless inaccuracies. Where, in the apportionment of one’s own art there lies a connection. A connection that works its way into a bond. It’s there in the end, with the sharing of Orpheus and Eurydice, Vivaldi and the sacredness of the female body. They all overlap in the end, like folded hands in a painting. It’s a bittersweet tome of love and art.

Personal Problems (1979) – An ode to analog. Almost strange to look at the year this was made and think that. But it’s truly sitting down in the medium and going for it. Going for it with an all-black cast and crew. Bill Gunn and Ishmael Reed choose a scene early on to let you know that this is an insular, black story. And Reed’s actually in the scene. A group of black folks are sitting around a living room, or some room with couches in it, drinking and talking, when the only white dude at the party starts accusing Reed of being an Uncle Tom. Well, he doesn’t use those words exactly, but he’s shown to have made a bad decision coming to this party, the lone white dude, telling black folks how it is. How it is to these black people in New York city, is equal parts tedious and brilliant and lonesome.

Shadow (2018) – No matter what, Zhang Yimou is a visual poet. There are set-pieces in this movie that just murder you with their beauty. So meticulous in movement, yet so free in its imagination. All set to music. In fact, these characters are infected with this forlorn, sting music. It dictates their every step. It helps them figure out new strategies and new survival methods. But it doesn’t help them where it counts the most. Where we know music helps the most. As emotional triumphs. This movie is sad and wet and gray. Double crosses galore. And almost unfollowable at times. You don’t even care who wins in the end. But, there is Zhang Yimou.

Revenge (2017) – The male gaze is magnified. We see it early when Fargeat utilizes the binoculars as a motif. A rotund, Baby Ruth-eating hunter puts the sights on her face and mouth from across the patio table, which leads to more grotesqueness through-out with extreme close-ups. It’s a magnification of the leering man that leads to the most terrible of inevitabilities. But the woman here is Rambo (it’s hard not to make this connection), a Phoenix rising on a hallucinogenic mushroom in a cave, to turn THE GAZE outward, to extricate the phallic, and indeed bring blood like a sacrifice. A sacrifice harkening back to the days of matrilineal mythology.

The Big Heat (1953) – A brutal and cynical movie. The tossing of hot coffee takes on a new art form under Lang’s direction. The point of this film is to disfigure everyone, inside and out. Nobody is untouched by corruption. Again, women get the brunt and the burn of this. Cigarette burns, car explosions and the above hot coffee to the face. Underneath all this hot-male-rage is the casual flippancy toward the female body. And Gloria Graham is the Mother Theresa of the flame.

Lo and Behold: Reveries from the Connected World (2016) – It’s strange to see Hyman Roth show up at the very beginning, a professor at UCLA, one of the progenitors of the Internet. But it’s Werner Herzog. He’s asking whether we’ve asked ourselves certain questions. Like, are we better off with all this information at our fingertips? Herzog at times is treating it like a disease, the information age. And maybe it is. A disease within a disease. If you’re familiar at all with the philosophy of pessimism, then you know that there is the idea that man is nothing more than an aberration. Something akin to a virus. Building and building and building. To what end though? To go to Mars? And set up the internet on Mars? Do whales dream of space-travel?

Akira (1988) – Can you imagine the psychic trauma that two atom bombs dropped on your country elicits? Or induces, really. It induces an epic look inward, to turn that trauma inside out. To imagine a future where nothing has really changed. There’s yet another world war and we’re still dropping fission on each other. And it’s still all about the youth. Adults playing in their militarized world have co-opted some youth with progeria in their quest for power. Upwards of thirty of them, maybe. But we only see three and an elusive Akira. And then a fourth appears, but he’s older and progeria-less. But maybe more powerful than them all. This is where the question is asked of the adults. What exactly are you looking for? What kind of power is enough power? What sort of Pandora’s Box have we opened? Otomo goes all the way back to the beginning. Of everything. ALL THE WAY BACK to the beginning of the universe and the power of amoeba memories. It’s breathtaking and imaginative and fun. And after all these years it still seems to push it to the brink. To look inside and see the wonder of all this ugliness around us.

Hot Rod (2007) – This is a movie that jumps head-long into the man-boy sub-genre of comedy, without any pretenses. Whereas with a film like Punch Drunk Love which “sort of” seeks to elevate said sub-genre, Hot Rod is there to revel in it. It also seeks to point directly at why all these manbabies exist and act as they do. Something to do with not only their Daddies, but their Mama’s as well. It’s no wonder (amazingly so) that Ian McShaine and Sissy Spacek play Rod’s parents. This being the most important part about these manbaby movies. What about the parents?

Last 10

Apr 12 – 19
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 Nice Guys (2016) – “Put a mustache on a Volkswagon and she’d say, wow that Omar Sharif sure can run fast.”

It’s Lou Costello as a mustachioed Gosling in the Porn and Smog days of L.A. Crowe’s Abbott is gone to pudge, and gravel has set in his throat. He’s the mean one, the tough one. I guess it’s always been that way between the two. Costello always finds the trouble. Falling down hills and what not. Always bumbling and falling toward danger, which in turn, somehow lands in success. Costello/Gosling is a man child looking for guidance from a real man, Crowe, who won’t give it. Or he just doesn’t want to give it because who is he to give any guidance, he’s half-crazed with brooding violence. No, it’s left up to Gosling’s daughter to pave the way morally. A familiar trope in Shane Black’s work. It works, again. Youth is what saves us in the end.

Night Moves (2013) – There’s a striking resemblance to Jim Harrison’s book A Good Day to Die. Two men and a woman, eco-terrorists, hatch a plan to blow up a dam and execute it. Harrison’s story was written in the waning days of free love and right smack in the middle of Watergate. Reichardt’s film is somewhere in Oregon 2013. But the politics are the same in both pieces. And the results are pretty much the same. One act that you think will blossom into a new world order, is really only an act of violence that leads to death and ruination. And Reichardt lives in that gloom. She films every scene with the expectation of doom. Harrison’s book ends with the main character getting drunk and lamenting his fate and whether he meant a damn on this earth at all. Here, we’re left with Eisenberg as a zombie joining the workforce yet again, trapped in and endless loop upon someone’s screen.

The Zero Theorem (2013) – Gilliam is a master of messes. His whole career has been one of making miracles out of beautiful confusions. And that’s all here. As soon as Waltz steps outside we’re plunged into a place that could be a kissing cousin to Brazil. The post-industrial mélange of smokestacks and crowded streets and loud colors and non-stop, interactive advertisements. It’s a world of sensory overload designed to crush the worker bee, keep them in place. And the Zero Theorem? Some equation that’s supposed to crack the enigma of life. Or it’s a loop back to nothingness, to before the Big Bang. It just doesn’t seem to coalesce amongst the utter creepiness of Gilliam’s old-man gaze.

The Crimson Kimono (1959) – It’s only fourteen years later and Fuller has the stones to make a movie in LA’s Little Tokyo with a Japanese-American lead. In a town where Japanese folks were bullied and harassed and sent off to internment camps. He tucks this social commentary into a police procedural. But it doesn’t stay tucked-in. The murder they’re trying to solve doesn’t even seem to matter. It’s more about male friendship in a PTS world. Male friendship trying to find a place in the modern world of 1959. Male friendships that exits wholly in the orbit of white-male obliviousness. But even heavier than that is the attention Fuller pays to a Japanese man and a white woman in embrace, in these extremely tight close-ups, that must’ve been an amazing experience on the big screen in 1959.

High Life (2019) – Early on Pattinson’s voiceover likens his memories to trying to out run a virus. He lives in a world where prisoners are sent off into space. A one-way trip to a black hole. But the prisoners don’t seem to know it’s a one-way trip. They’re too busy playing their part in Juliette Binoche’s witchcraft of fluid blendery. At one point she actually refers to herself as a witch. She’s some felonious doctor? Scientist? Conducting some sort of ritual to bring about the first space-baby. Later raping Pattinson in his sleep to get his seed and carry it in her cupped hand toward success in her experiment. (2019 was a very fluid year for Robert, see The Lighthouse). And the thing about memory being a virus you can’t outrun operates here as a massive through-line. Every dark part of us will travel. In fact, maybe that’s what black holes are. The universe’s toilet for all the bad fluids.

Loving Vincent (2017) – To have fit a murder mystery into this great and massive moving Van Gogh painting is mind boggling. But it’s not really a murder mystery. It’s more of a retracing of his last steps. And Van Gogh as a character is sort of on the fringes here. A letter to his dead brother has nowhere to go. But still it goes. Meandering through Northern France trying to land in someone’s hands that has answers to a man’s life and his sickness. It’s just a letter, but often times films are at their best when inculcating a motif. Words are wind, only the pictures remain.

The Town (2010) – There’s something missing here and I don’t know if it’s latent Affleck derision or it just seems to fall flat as a piece. There are some trying too hard and some not enough and some hit it just right. Affleck made his bones playing douchy meatheads. Here he’s trying to turn that into steely-eyed bank robber and I don’t think he’s trying hard enough. Whereas Renner is maybe trying too hard to be a wild card and Hamm is hitting all the right notes. It’s all uneven and Heat-in-Boston-lite.

Guava Island (2019) – Not sure this qualifies as a movie. It’s a 55-minute music video. But it’s wonderous all the same. An island fairy-tale run amok. Donald Glover is bursting with creative energy here. He almost seems possessed at times. Widening his eyes so much throughout this, as if he wants nothing more than to convince you that whatever lives him will surely get out and infect you. And it does.

Hail, Caesar! (2016) – The Tale of The Christ is rest of the title to the big sword and sandal epic Capitol Pictures is making. Instead of The Tale of Christ. As if putting emphasis on Christ is the joke itself here. Brolin plays a studio head/fixer named Mannix. Early on Mannix has a meeting with the top religious leaders to get their approval of his depiction of Christ (who’s only depiction we see is the back of his head, and maybe his feet on the cross). In a funny tangent, none of them can come to agreement on who Christ really is. And the gag is run all the way through to the end, when a production assistant on the set of Hail, Caesar asks the actor playing Jesus on the cross whether he’s a principle or an extra. Extras embodying the body-politic here, can’t be trusted. Jesus embodies both the body-politic and God. Caesar and the Roman Empire as Capitalism. It’s a stunning look into how Capitalism and Religion feed off each other. Because Mannix, the whole movie, is running from one to the other. From the confession booth to Caesar, from religion to capitalism. The 1950’s movie studio system wins in the end. But we all know what’s coming for it in the next decade. Nothing lasts forever.

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (2019) – There’s a stark image of Davis at the very beginning of this documentary. He’s staring out of a window on a plane. His broken-glass voice (it so hard to tell if it’s his actual voice or Carl Lumbly’s) states that if you want to be an artist you have to be willing to change. Nobody represents that more than Miles Davis. It was a surprise to learn how he approached every album he made. It was a total collaboration every time. His whole career was standing back and letting other people’s talent lead him/them in whatever directions the music took them.